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Esther’s review: A smart south Dublin restaurant with Mediterranean-style food

Assured cooking, great service and tasty dishes at this neighbourhood restaurant

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Address: 63 Deerpark Rd, Mount Merrion, Co. Dublin, A94 PN23
Telephone: 01 2123725
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€

Small plates and sharing plates were considered a new approach to dining when the absolutely wonderful, recently deceased Russell Norman opened Polpo in London’s Soho in 2009. Influenced by the bàcaris of Venice, the menu starts with cicchetti (Venetian snacks) and moves on to larger dishes that are designed for sharing.

Although the bare brick wall and filament bulb aesthetic that it also introduced seems to have waned, along with hipsters, the sharing plate thing is still very much in evidence in newly opened restaurants. As an aside, I should mention that Norman’s Venetian cookbook Polpo, is one you should add to your collection, and if you’re heading to Venice any time soon, check out the last chapter, which is an insider’s guide to Venice’s wine bars and restaurants.

Sharing plates, of course, are nothing new, not just in Venice, but in tapas bars in Spain, and in the Far East where food is shared from a tantalising array of plates. Yet, they’re not universally popular in Ireland. Some people prefer to order their own food and ringfence it, rather than negotiate the unwritten rules of how five prawns should be shared between three people. I’ve noticed that in neighbourhood restaurants, even if there are small plates, there is generally a safety net for ordering three courses.

At Esther’s, which opened in February on the premises that was previously home to Gaz Smith’s Little Mike’s, the format is small and large plates. The reality is closer to starters and main course, with a bit of sharing potential on the small plates course.


The room is set up to reflect the two approaches. On one side is an open kitchen with high stools at the counter, and more high stools at counters by the wall and the window. In the snug, where we are, it’s more of a cosy, sit-down-at-the-table sort of vibe. Both areas are full on a Thursday evening, so the owners, chef Derek Kelly and Nicole Keegan, must be doing something right.

The small plates include meatballs, cod croquettes and scampi, but I’m interested in trying the spicy fried chicken (€13), which turns out to be a good idea. It has all the appearance of a plate for sharing, with juicy chunks of free-range chicken that are encrusted in a crisp coating of golden breadcrumbs, dabbed with blobs of lemon aioli. The aioli may be a bit lacking in garlic but there’s a nice bit of heat in the spice.

Charred baby leeks (€11) are laced with ajo blanco, wild garlic salsa and a smoky pimiento tomato sauce. Chopped smoked almonds are scattered over, adding crunch. It is a considerably smaller plate of food than the chicken, so this might be a plate you will be keeping to yourself.

We’ve ordered white wine to go with our meal, a bottle of Gioninotto (€36), a Grillo from Sicily. It’s a fairly straightforward list, from two suppliers, so not a list to rummage through for unusual bottles. But there are quite a few bottles under €40, which I’m sure is much appreciated in a neighbourhood spot.

If you’ve decided to go for multiple small plates and share a large plate, the red prawn fregola (€32) is the thing to choose. If you haven’t tried fregola before, a Sardinian pasta, it is quite similar to giant couscous. It is tasty, cooked al dente and tossed in a generous amount of sauce that is flavoured with Spanish red prawns and tomatoes. Basil leaves are scattered over the dish, wilting and releasing their aroma.

Our other main course is John Dory (€35), the market-fish special, and a fish I adore. It is skilfully cooked with crisp skin and beautiful flakes of fish, on a bed of baby potatoes, carrots and asparagus, all doused in a buttery sauce.

There are two dessert options, or a cheese plate for €15, so we opt for the choux pastry (€10) filled with salted caramel and creme diplomat, sitting on top of a blackcurrant compote. The almond financier (€9) is topped with namelaka (intense chocolate ganache), orange curd and segments of orange.

Esther’s is a smart neighbourhood restaurant with a capable team who clearly have a feel for what their customers want. The service is warm and efficient and the Mediterranean-style food is skilfully cooked. I’m not a bit surprised that it’s full.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €146.

The Verdict: Assured cooking, great service and tasty dishes.

Food provenance: Kish Fish, Wright’s, Feighcullen Farm free range chicken, Peter Hannan, Keelings and Sheridan’s.

Vegetarian options: Grilled leeks, fresh rigatoni cacio e pepe, cheese.

Wheelchair access: No accessible room or toilet.

Music: Pop, in the background.

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column