Big flavours from a Sunday night sharing menu in a former bank
What's the story?
Loretta's opening at the end of 2018 with promises of bringing "US-style comfort food" to Dublin 7. Chef/Owner Jimmy Wiley is originally from Colorado but has been living here for over 20 years, and was previously in the kitchen at 777.
Big flavours and family recipes seemed to be the name of the game and they've been quietly trucking away in Phibsborough ever since, admirably surviving Covid by running weekly takeaway meals - which we tried and enjoyed. They never seem to grab the neighbourhood restaurant headlines in the same way as some of their southside contemporaries, but lately we're hearing more and more people talk about how much they love it, and their Sunday night sharing menu seemed like the perfect excuse to give Loretta's another go.
Where should we sit?
The restaurant is in a former bank building and the room feels dramatic and modern, with its high ceilings, dark wood, tan leather banquettes and monochrome tiles. Shut your ears and you could be sitting in NYC. The best view of the open kitchen is from the tables in the back facing the bar, while the best natural light is in the front.
People who love comfortable seats will love Loretta's, with every table having the option to sit on a booth or banquette, and there are plenty of large tables, ideal for groups or families. When we were there there was one extended family of at least eight eating together, while other booths comfortably seated families with small children, giving them plenty of space for colouring books or general arm swinging - and yes they have high chairs too.
What's the food like?
The Sunday night sharing menu is packed with eye-popping plates you'll want to order, but while the small plates and snacks are well-priced, the mains seem very expensive. €75 for duck, €65 for roast lamb leg, €45 for chicken, without a potato or vegetable in sight (all sides are extra) and they're all said to feed two. We'd advise you to ignore this, as what we had fed three comfortably with leftovers for sandwiches the next day, so if you do your division like this, suddenly the prices seem a lot more in line with the norm (even if the norm is sky-rocketing by the day).
Choosing from the small plates menu will probably be agony, so your best bet is to bring your gang and try it all. The fermented potato blinis (a puffed up, fluffy, crispy pancake) comes topped with deeply coloured and flavoured cured salmon, watercress, and unlisted horseradish cream and slivers of candy beetroot, and if there's a better blini and salmon combo in Dublin we haven't eaten it.
Parmesan agnolotti with pumpkin and black walnut was another simple dish made special. The pasta clearly homemade, the filling the perfect amount of Parmesan, and the pumpkin sauce, pickled black walnuts and crispy sage coming together for a party in your mouth.
Lastly, the Korean-fried chicken drumsticks, and we can't understand why more people aren't shouting about these sticky, spicy, sweet, crunchy batons of beauty. People get on airplanes to eat chicken this good, and it's been sitting under our noses in Phibsborough the whole time. The only downside is it's not free-range chicken.
For mains, as we said, things may look uncomfortably expensive, but go in with the mindset that one will definitely feed three, and if you're two you can bring the leftovers home, they have containers.
The decision on which one to go for started well before we left home and took approximately two and a half hours, so check the menu before you get there. We decided on the wood-fired chilli with fermented green chilli, reasoning that the €55 price tag wouldn't sting as much as some of the rest, and this was a mammoth portion of pork. Just cooked and still barely pink, with tangy fire from the green chilli rub, and sitting in its own juices, there was also some puffed up pork skin on top, and any fears of "how interesting could pork rump actually be?" were wiped out sharpish. Also wiped out were any fears of it being tough or chewy.
For sides, there's no question that the "Loretta's chips" are homemade, and cooked several times. Skin on, golden and very crunchy, they arrived perfect, but did lose their appeal as they cooled, becoming more chewy.
Roast York cabbage with parmesan had been charred all over, crunchy and salty from the cheese and breadcrumbs, with that York cabbage sweetness underneath it all, while charred broccoli with a smoked Gubbeen sauce and truffle is up there with the best broccoli sides we've ever eaten. Whoever came up with this needs a payrise.
There were three desserts, and we skipped the Basque cheesecake fearing it wouldn't top the one we'd had recently at Elliot's across the road. Instead we had a cherry “pavlova”, with caramelised white chocolate chunks and honey sabayon, which we found too sweet and not overly interesting.
Much better was a buttermilk set cream with honeycomb, blueberry and fresh fig, which was light, creamy, fresh and full of fruit, without hurting our teeth.
What about the drinks?
The wine list has definitely taken a step forward since the last time we were here pre-covid, and now houses some interesting bottles like Frantz Saumon's pet nat rosé, Arianna Occhipinti's SP68, and even a Pineau des Charentes by the glass, but there's plenty of more conventional stuff too (which overtakes much of the btg list).
We tried the Alsation Riesling which tasted like it had been open too long, but the staff offered to change it for something else (the Verdejo which was fine). The Samurai Chardonnay was much better, and if going red it would be Judith Beck's 'Ink', no question.
How was the service?
Pleasant but a bit perfunctory. Our waiter was new and very accommodating, but no one asked how our food was or came to check on us at any point, which felt strange, especially as the restaurant wasn't full. If they had turned the smiles and general hospitality up a few notches it would have been close to perfect.
And the damage?
€145 for enough food to comfortably feed three adults (or a family of four), with pork to bring home.
What's the verdict?
We were hoping Loretta's would be good, we weren't expecting it to be this impressive, this confident, this finessed - every plate came as a welcome shock and a slap of flavours to the face. Forget your Sunday roast, get thee and your people to Loretta's for sharing plates, and the best antidote we can imagine right now to the Sunday fear.
162-165 Phibsborough Road, Dublin 7