It’s summer, and that means heading to the seaside if you’re not already there. If you live in Dublin there are plenty of options north and south of the city — the Dart, I’d imagine, has been jammers, as have the wonderful cycle paths that run along some of the coastal stretch.
Despite no telltale bucket and spade, I fear that my day-tripper status has been rumbled, as I’m led to a dark stretch of Siberia just one table from the loos when I arrive for an early dinner at the Purty Kitchen, in Dún Laoghaire. With no disrespect to the well-behaved sprog in the high chair perched at the side of the table beside us, I feel a gravitational pull towards the empty, more desirable window tables in the sunny distance beyond the family stretch.
A quick word and the preassigned machination of OpenTable is overruled, and so we find ourselves at a very nice table along with the locals, with plenty of room and a view of the impressive bar where south Co Dublin’s answer to Tom Cruise is doing a remarkable job slinging €12 cocktails. It’s a price worth noting, because the Purty Kitchen makes its margaritas with Cointreau, not cheaper triple sec, so I’m reckoning the cocktail game here is pretty good. It’s tempting, but there is still a sense that this is a place where you can drop in for a chat and just the one at the bar, so it’s two pints of Guinness (€5.60 each), the heads settling hypnotically as we unwind.
The last time I was here, the crab claws in garlic butter were the cat’s pyjamas. Scene dissolve and cutaway to 2021: Mark Heather and James Burgess now run the place, reopening in September with a refurb, a new chef, Graham Higgins, and a newly installed wood-fired oven.
[ Droolingly delicious fried chicken in Dublin 6 ]
[ The wine list is dazzling, the food is tasty, but the prices are punchy ]
They know their audience well, because the menu is full of the sort of dishes that regulars want to see in a neighbourhood restaurant, from the “visited some great chateaux in Bordeaux” table beside us to the families with well-behaved nippers, who are rewarded with a €10 kids’ menu.
The Argentinian prawns pil pil (€12), served sizzling hot in a skillet, would seem to be the rightful heir to the crab claws’ title, laced with a good level of garlic, chilli and coriander and served with a few sizeable chunks of bread, both benefiting from the fiery heat of the wood-burning oven. The salt-and-pepper chilli calamari (€11.50) has been cut into strips and cross-hatched so that it curls and cooks quickly; it is served with a wedge of lime and a light roast-garlic mayonnaise.
Main course choices range from moules-frites to burgers and steaks, but the Wicklow Wolf ale-batter haddock (€18) is way too good to pass up, as is the turbot special of the day, a hefty price at €30, but I reckon it’s worth trying as a test of the kitchen.
It is indeed a very good dish, the turbot cooked with precision in a well-judged prawn bisque with mussels and clams, although the crushed potatoes that are under the fish would have been better served on the side, to keep them crispy.
The battered fish with a bucket of piping-hot hand-cut chips is delicious and satisfying, just the sort of thing I want to eat in a restaurant like this. My only complaint is that I’d prefer mushy peas to the smooth, minty purée, and the wine list could do with a bit more attention. The by-the-glass choices are very limited, with obvious Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc options, and I settle for a fairly pedestrian Domaine LaRoche Chardonnay (€8).
For dessert, grilled pineapple (€8) is just a bit underwhelming, with strips of mango and a raspberry sorbet that somehow doesn’t manage to ring out the seasonality of summer like you’d expect, although I’ve heard that the menu is being updated, so this may well have changed.
The Purty Kitchen is the sort of local restaurant that you would be very happy to have around the corner from you, or indeed at the end of a nice stroll on one of Dún Laoghaire’s piers. There’s a well-run kitchen, and service is particularly attentive, in the nicest sort of way, even for blow-ins who haven’t been here since last century.
Dinner for two, with two pints, a glass of wine and one coffee, was €102
THE VERDICT Good neighbourhood food at a reasonable price
Facilities Clean, with free sanitary products
Music 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Motown and R&B
Food provenance Ocean Marine, George’s Fish Shop, McLaughlin’s butchers, Sysco, Keelings
Vegetarian options Heirloom-tomato salad, goats’ cheese mousse, Caesar salad, chargrilled cauliflower steak, some of which are vegan
Wheelchair access Room accessible with ramp, toilet accessible with ramp