This might be the best value tasting menu in town
What's the story?
If you're a regular ATF reader you'll know that we're big fans of Mamó, couple Jess D'Arcy and Killian Durkin's seaside sanctuary in Howth, so we expect everything they touch to be executed to the same standards across food, wine, service and setting. After Mamó came their food and wine shop (and now wine bar) Margadh a few doors down, then Barrow Market and Elm Epicurean, both in Dublin 4. The final addition to the family (for now anyway) was Margadh number two in the RHA Gallery just off St Stephen's Green, in the space formerly home to Coppa.
They first opened last October as a wine bar with simple sharing plates (ATF Insiders got a preview and loved it), but a few months later they decided to change tack, introducing a brilliant value tasting menu and more hot dishes á la Mamó. The RHA's location is just out of the thoroughfare of town, so you'd have to know where you were going to end up here - passing trade is practically nil. While this might not be great for a new opening trying to drum up customers, it does make for quite a peaceful dining and drinking experience - you're in the centre of town, but it feels more like a quiet lane in suburbia.
Where should I sit?
There are low tables along the floor to ceiling windows with beautiful views out at the restored Georgian houses on Ely Place. The tables themselves are slabs of wood build around internal pillars - lovely to sit at, but immovable so not ideal for larger groups. There are some small spaces for two (or one, it would be very easy to hide away here for a solo meal) and a couple of high tables, as well as some seats outside that are patiently waiting for plates of burrata and carafes of rosé.
What's the food like?
The new tasting menu is €38 which feels like remarkable value for Dublin right now, or you can order as you go from the small plates menu. The whole table has to take it so bear that in mind, but that's pretty standard.
The only choice you have to make is between olives or almonds to start. We chose olives and they were the usual Mamó good stuff - stone in, firm, a mix of types and sizes in good olive oil. And speaking of olive oil...
The one they serve at Margadh, with slices of sourdough for dipping, is a bombastic version aged in Lustau sherry casks, and we are obsessed. We've never made the trip to a restaurant before solely on the basis of their olive oil, but it would be justified in this case. There was much fruitless googling that night about where to buy it, leading to a dead end. If Margadh ever start selling this in their shop we'll fight off anyone in the queue.
First for the hot dishes was their 'market cheese' and onion croquettes with tarragon aioli. On the day we visited the market cheeses were Hegarty's Cheddar, Gruyère and another that we struggled to remember post biting into it. Mamó always does a good croquette, and Margadh does too, the perfectly crisped panko breadcrumbs wrapped around a filling tasting like an expensive bag of cheese and onion crisps, with the tarragon aioli adding a herbal, bitter-sweetness. Tarragon is to these guys what cheap parsley is to Italian chains, and we love that they're championing the under-used herb, illuminating all the ways to make the most of it.
Next came a toasted finger of sourdough with lemon 'aioli' (more like a lemon mayo, we couldn't discern garlic) and a single, perfect Cantabrian anchovy. More please sir.
After that came baby gem lettuce cups filled with Asian slaw, Skeaghanore duck breast and leg, and crispy ginger on top. This a messy one so best eaten over a plate, with both the duck and the slaw dripping with juices. At times the crispy ginger was a bit too over-powering, so make sure it's spread around, but the rest of the flavours and textures were in sync.
A burrata salad came with firm, crisp asparagus, fresh peas, toasted hazelnuts and freshly grated truffle. How they can get fresh truffle on a €38 tasting menu is the culinary equivalent of the riddle of the sphinx, and this was a note-perfect dish for a mild June evening.
Lastly for hot dishes came a fennel sausage ragu with homemade tagliolini (made in their central prep kitchen in Dublin 1) and Pecorino cheese. There were pickled green peppers in there, big chunks of meat and a slick of basil oil on the side, and as pasta dishes go it's everything you could want. Eat with a glass of Chianti for optimum enjoyment.
We raised eyebrows at a chocolate crème brûlée for dessert - why mess with a classic? - but it turns out a bowl of chocolate custard (dark and white in there) with a glass-like sugar top waiting to be shattered, and warm madeleines on the side, is a home run, and a subtly sweet and chic ending to a great value meal.
We say end. There's optional cheese, but is cheese every really optional? On the menu that night was Ballylisk Triple Rose from Armagh, Templegall from Cork, and Bleu d'Auvergne from France, and we ordered the lot. We hadn't seen that they were €4 each (so €12 for a cheese plate) which felt like a bit of a jump from the rest, but the plum chutney and toasted bread drizzled with olive oil were lovely additions, and if you share one you're talking about €44 for the tasting menu instead of €38. They could probably do with adding a supplement for replacing dessert, for those who favour savoury over sweet.
What about drinks?
The list here is tight and beautifully put together, with pretty good prices too. Any time we see a Grower Champagne for under €20 a glass we jump on it, and the Clair Obscur zero dosage on the specials board that night (€18) was an ideal opener with those early dishes, as was the salty Xisto Ilimitado Branco from Portugal (€10).
The Monteraponi Chianti (€13) was a no brainer with the fennel sausage ragu, and a glass of the Italian sweet wine Recioto (€15) went down nicely with the chocolate crème brûlée and the cheese. There was loads more by the glass we wanted to drink, and you'll be in safe hands whatever you pick.
How was the service?
Extremely welcoming, calm and intuitive, bringing us things we wanted/needed before we even had to ask, and full of helpful information and recommendations. It's a very relaxing environment, with no loud noises coming from the kitchen, and a chill out (at times venturing into jazz) soundtrack. It's somewhere that would be perfect for first dates, catch ups when you actually want to hear each other, and a post-work bite when you need to unwind after a tough day.
And the damage?
€147 for two tasting menus, the €12 cheese supplement, and four glasses of wine - one a Grower Champagne. If you didn't go for cheese and drank house wine you could do it for just over €50 a head before tip - a bargain by current Dublin dining out standards.
Margadh at the RHA might be the best value tasting menu in Dublin right now. It's not quite Mamó in the city centre, but it has the essence of it, showing the flair for flavour seen across the group, in a casual wine bar environment with zero pomp. You get the feeling if you just showed up here without a booking they'd move mountains to fit you in, and with that steal of a menu changing frequently it's somewhere you could go back to again and again. There isn't a whole pile of value to be had in Dublin at the moment when it comes to special nights out and restaurant tasting menus, which makes Margadh stick out all the more, and if anyone's going to weather the upcoming storm, we reckon places like this will be in pole position.
RHA Gallery, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2 www.margadh-rha.ie