What’s the story?
We're always keeping a close eye on Irish chefs abroad, hoping that one day they'll make a triumphant return home, blessing us with skills learned from kitchens around the world, and filling our hearts and stomachs with joy and dishes never to have graced a Dublin menu before. Kevin Burke, who was head chef at Michelin-starred The Ninth in London was firmly on the watchlist, so when we saw that he was back in Dublin mid-pandemic there was a frisson of excitement at ATF HQ.
Very soon he popped up at Niall Davidson's Allta, who at the time were keeping us very well fed at home with Allta Box, and he soon became known (to us anyway) as the namelaka man, for causing a major obsession with the creamy ganache-like addition to their desserts. We figured he had sights on his own place, but weren't expecting it to happen quite so fast.
At the end of Summer 2021, Allta announced that they wouldn't be returning to their South Frederick Street site, and instead were opening Allta Winter House on the top of Trinity Street carpark (read our review here). And in the old Allta site? Kevin Burke was opening Library Street. Excitement was high, and we were delighted to be able to offer ATF Insiders first access to the soft launch in November. We were taken aback at the quality of food, wine and service on night one, but we were looking forward to a return visit once they settled into it.
Where should we sit?
The main dining room is modern and buzzy, with a high table down the centre and regular tables at the wall and window, but we were here for the private dining room (PDR), which can be booked for six to ten people. We feel like most Irish people don't understand the joy of the PDR because there aren't that many of them, but let us tell you, they are special places. It's like a restaurant within a restaurant, with your own waiters, your own music, your own menu, and total privacy for intimate / clandestine / potentially defamatory conversations with no fellow diners' ears to worry about.
If you're going to pop your PDR cherry, this is the place to do it. The room is atmospheric and comfortable, with retro furniture, low lighting, your own personal sound system, and plenty of space for whatever else you dragged in with you - presents, props, outerwear. We were six, but the table extends to seat up to ten. It feel really special to be in your own cavernous space away from the throng upstairs, and if you don't have a special occasion coming up as an excuse, you can totally make one up. Returned your library books on time? PDR. Back into your fitness routine? PDR. Finally managed to clear out the freezer? Definitely deserves a trip to the PDR.
What's the food like?
The team will send a suggested menu in advance, which is basically a bit of everything, and you can make changes as needed. They're also happy to cater for vegetarians as part of the group. You pay per dish as opposed to a set price per person, which we really liked as it means there's no hidden surcharge for taking over the room. There is a minimum spend of €100 per head for food and wine, but that's not hard to get to.
We started with all the snacks, and the legendary first mouthful that is choux pastry filled with horseradish cream, with a Cantabrian anchovy, pickled radish and lemon zest on top. This is the stuff of mouth explosions, the tiny bites you'll be thinking about for months afterwards. Then the most Instagrammed dish on the menu - crispy chicken wing with chanterelles and tarragon mayo. The wing has been deboned, with the meat turned into a chanterelle stuffed mousse, placed back inside the skin, breadcrumbed, fried and served with tarragon mayo. It's a lot of work, and it pays off.
Next up, Dooncastle oysters from Galway, whose sweetness is cut through with Bourgoin verjus (a kind of lemon juice substitute made from early harvested grapes) and a sliver of chilli. Then some pickled candy and golden beetroot, which you'll pop like sweets.
Perfectly chewy sourdough baguettes and Abernethy butter came with the small plates, the first of which was a pile of pear, radicchio, walnut and sheep's cheese, sitting on top of a sheep's yoghurt dressing, both from Velvet Cloud in Mayo. Make sure to mix it up with the spoons provided before diving into the sweet, salty, creamy, nutty, bitter goodness.
Make sure the chargrilled Porcupine Bank langoustines are on your menu. These sweet, chunky prawns (similar to Dublin Bay) are caught off the west of Ireland, halved and barely grilled in the shell, before being topped with shellfish bisque and lemon, and you will want a spoon for the juices left behind (or to have shown restraint with the bread).
Onto the bigger plates, and with two veggies and four carnivores we got to try a bit of everything. You might think you're risotto-ed out, but you haven't had the delica pumpkin version at Library Street, with sage, toasted pumpkin seeds and more sheep's cheese - parmesan who? It's so easy to overcook risotto, or have it sitting there a bit meh, like the forgotten sibling on the menu, but this had oomph from every angle, and we couldn't spoon it into us quick enough.
On special that night was a whole wild brill, chargrilled and served with Killary Fjord mussels, a herb emulsion, and a textured topping including onions and puffed rice. It's always a treat to order a whole fish like this, but if there was only a small number of you it could quickly derail your plans to eat everything else on the menu. It generously fed four, but could have easily stretched to six - we struggled to finish the meat on the flipside.
Our other main was a barely cooked roast saddle of lamb, with a kalamata crust and silky soft Jerusalem artichoke purée, and if you were only going to eat one piece of meat a week (even a month), this is it. It's so pink it's basically raw (think of it like sheep steak), and the flavour almost knocked us down. A perfect trifecta of ingredients, and a dish we want to taste again.
Sides were also plentiful and generous, providing an even backbone for the superstars up front. Winter leaves came again in sheep's yoghurt dressing, and red cabbage was nicely sweetened with apricots, apple and orange.
The other side you're going to try is the roast Carolus potatoes Lyonnaise, which came topped with truffle. They're chewy, fudgy, savoury little carb bombs, but if pushed would prefer our potatoes crispier rather than chewy.
For dessert we started with a gossamer light sheep's yoghurt mousse with blood orange, before attacking a couple of Paris Brests with stout namelaka, yuzu and espresso cream. Dessert in Library Street is in no way a downgrade on the savoury courses that came before, and that Paris Brest in particular is one of the most original desserts we've had in Dublin. We sincerely hope it never, ever leaves the menu.
What about the drinks?
The wine list has been a work in progress since opening, but on the night we visited the manager told us she had finally gotten it to a place where she was really happy with it. Margins are high and there aren't any bargains to be found here, so it's probably best to just close your eyes and go for it (but if you are on a budget there are wines on tap which will add considerably less to the bottom line).
We drank the cheapest sparkling wine, a Spanish blend made from the same grapes as cava (€68, we know, ouch), a white blend from Sokol Blosser in Oregon (€59), and a natural Cheverny from Clos du Tue-Boeuf (we didn't keep a record of the price but in the same region) which was our highlight. We enjoyed all of them, but there's barely anything under €40 a bottle so factor that into your budget.
And the service?
You might worry that in a PDR you'll be flailing around trying to get a server when you need them, but this didn't happen once. It was like they knew what we needed before we did. The whole thing was effortless and easy, and supremely relaxing. We spent about four hours there in the end and couldn't believe the time when we looked at our watches/fitbits/phones.
We also thought they got the food quantities perfect. It would have been easy to chuck a few more plates onto the table (and bill), bring down six desserts rather than four, but it was on the mark, and we didn't leave feeling sick or like we'd done ourselves damage through food (which we often do when left to our own ordering devices).
And the damage? Around €140 a head once 12.5% service charge was added on (their website states this goes directly to staff). Definitely on the pricier side for a meal out, but we felt it was money well spent and a really memorable evening.
The verdict? Library Street is a brilliant addition to the Dublin dining scene, and instantly tables there became some of the most sought after in the city (just try to get a Saturday night table booking before summer). This food feels fresh, original, they're not copying anyone else on the scene, they're just doing their own thing, and doing it so well. We love the main room with its floral installations, open kitchen and long table running down the middle of the room, but the next time you're going out to eat with a likeminded group, try with all your might to get the PDR, and settle in for something special.
Library Street 101 Setanta Place, Dublin 2 www.librarystreet.ie