Grown-up, canal side dining that's worth a trip for the butter alone
What’s the story?
Locks has been around since the 1980’s but has had more incarnations than Madonna. At one point it gained and lost a Michelin star within a year (as Locks Brasserie), which led to the restaurant closing in the summer of 2015. That Autumn, it was taken over by Conor O’Dowd (ex-head chef at Dax) and Keelan Higgs, who’d been a chef in Locks Brasserie for the past few years, along with Paul McNamara (ex-head chef at Etto). Since then it’s been gaining a steady buzz with one great review after another. Higgs has since moved on, and in February this year Locks announced that they had hired a new head chef, Chris Maguire, formerly of The Ledbury and Trinity in London (both Michelin starred). We thought it was time we went to check it out.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
If it’s a sunny day most of Dublin will be at The Barge, so you may as well join them. Otherwise The Bernard Shaw is slightly closer and has a good range of beers as well as cocktails and an impressive selection of no and low-alcohol drinks, in case you’re saving yourself for the wine list at Locks.
What’s the room like?
Really beautifully laid out, like being in a very plush house. The killer tables are the ones by the window, where you can gaze out at the canal all night, but the whole room is ultra comfortable. The private dining room upstairs has serious wow factor, and if we were organising a group night out or a little celebration it would be right at the top of our list.
What's good to eat?
The smart money’s in the chef’s tasting menu on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which includes five courses (different each week) for €45. There’s also a very good value market menu available from 5:30pm – 6:30pm Tuesday to Saturday, with two courses for €25 or three for €30. We went á la carte.
Whatever other choices you make, do not neglect to order the sea trout and dulse butter, which no description can do justice to. It comes with homemade sourdough and brown bread, and honestly if we’d had three courses of that it would have been worth the trip.
Another snack that’s difficult to fault was the whipped chicken liver with brioche, grapes and apple - beautifully light and perfectly balanced between richness and freshness.
For starters, we loved the roast cauliflower risotto with morels and truffle, which was an umami bomb. The violet artichoke, duck hearts and padron pepper (which came as a sauce) was more understated and didn't wow in the same way, but a nice dish nonetheless and the duck hearts were perfectly cooked.
From the mains their signature dish seems to have become the Delmonico salt aged rib-eye for two, with braised short rib, duck fat chips, salt and pepper onion rings and king oyster mushroom, for €65, so we felt we had to try it.
The rib-eye meat had extraordinary flavour, so much so that we wanted to eek out every bite, and the short rib and mushroom, which came on two separate plates, felt like more of a distraction. They would have been highly enjoyable by themselves but the steak was the star of the show and hard to compete with, and by the end we were getting close to the meat sweats. Saying that, if you go hungry, or don’t order snacks and starters, you will probably be very happy.
The salt and vinegar onion rings were a genius move and highly addictive, but the duck fat chips were more bendy than crispy, and we couldn’t understand the reasoning behind making chips curved and taking off their lovely crispy edges.
Dessert was a struggle after so much meat, but we wanted to try the peanut butter tart with banana milk ice-cream after seeing it all over Instagram. It was very well done, the milky banana perfectly offsetting the dense peanut butter tart.
What about the drinks?
We recognised barely any winemakers on the list which usually sets off alarm bells, but we had nothing to worry about. This is a list which has been put together with care and attention, and there’s a big focus on wines from Portugal, as GM Andressa is Portugese. Everything we tried by the glass was a good step above most restaurants in the city, including an Italian Vermentino, a Spanish blend of Treixadura and Godello, a red blend from the Douro in Portugal and an Italian Barbera.
And the service?
Our waitress couldn’t have been any more welcoming or lovelier, a rare find for restaurants at the moment, and another member of staff was happy to make wine recommendations and let us taste before deciding. It seems like a place where the staff are happy to be there.
This is grown up dining in a gorgeous canal-side location, close enough to town that you could walk, far enough away that it feels totally peaceful. Attempt to bag a window table, don’t miss the butter, and if you order the rib eye try not to gorge yourself on multiple courses beforehand. Next time we're going Tuesday or Wednesday for the chef’s tasting menu.
1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8