A great addition to Dublin dining

A hidden garden in Dublin 4 is the setting for a new take on fine dining, without hushed reverence, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

A hidden garden in Dublin 4 is the setting for a new take on fine dining, without hushed reverence, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

THE FRIEND I’VE invited to dinner is on the bus to work when she gets her first chance to Google the venue. “Oh no,” is her first reaction. Not because it looks terrible, but because she’s wearing her “fifth-best dress”.

I can see her dilemma. Mulberry Garden in Donnybrook is taking a high-minded approach to food. It only opens three nights a week – Thursday to Saturday – and each week’s menu is different. Will one’s fifth-best dress be up to such a rarified atmosphere and will we have to spend the whole meal discussing every mouthful in churchy whispers?

It’s a beautiful early summer evening and the restaurant is where the old Ernie’s was on Mulberry Lane, which is a more prosaic and wheely-binnish place than it sounds.


The restaurant itself is lovely. A courtyard is planted with reassuring amounts of food – bay hedges, dill, some strawberry plants and thyme. There’s a small fountain (that looks like the mains leaks they had to fix in the big thaw) and lots of candles in storm lanterns.

Inside, the tables for two are generous and if this place got busier they could easily put four at our table with white-linened elbow room to spare. There’s a robust approach to pricing food. It’s €40 a head for the three set courses (with a choice of two options for each course, and a separate vegetarian menu). The price looks steep upfront. But the excellent house wines – an Alsace white from Hugel et Fils, and Tomaresca, an Italian red, are reasonably priced at €22 a bottle or €5.50 a glass. So the cost is where it belongs, on the food rather than sloshing over on to the wine, as has become the norm with chalkboard bargains.

We order two proseccos (€6 each) which come with a plump raspberry lying at the bottom, jewelled with bubbles.

The place is painted tasteful grey with a purple yarn stretched in taut random lines on one wall like a massive piece of 1970s string art minus the black velvet. The wine list is literally longer than your arm and comes strapped to a thin plank. Thankfully the menus are on small discreet note-sized grey paper.

We have a round, thick disk of unsalted nettle butter (not particularly nettley, just very green) with Atlantic sea salt to sprinkle if we wish. The bread course arrives quickly. Great bread is such an easy way to make a good first impression and here the opportunity is not missed. Top of the class in the bread basket goes to a fennel roll, warm from the oven, with a crisp, slightly-sweet shell and glorious flavoursome innards.

We’ve split the menu down the middle, as I imagine most twosomes will do here, with the proviso that what’s on your plate is for sharing.

My cured Clare Island salmon starter is a small, artfully arranged portion of this luscious fish, a miniature smoked haddock croquette (with no Oompa-Loompa dye in it), tiny cubes of beetroot, an avocado puree and crumbs of brown bread. It’s all lovely and best eaten with every element included on the fork. My glass of house white (€5.50) is crisp and good.

Maria gets the cauliflower soup (or velouté as a €40 menu demands it be called). Chef John Wyer (late of L’Écrivain) comes to the table with the soup presented in a hot jug to be poured over the centrepiece of beef cheeks wrapped in a celeriac shaving, almonds and drops of Donegal Rapeseed Oil. The almonds and rapeseed oil are like little punchy flavour “treasures” as Maria puts it, in what would otherwise be a quiet soup. My only quibble would be the celeriac-instead-of-pasta wrapping is lost in the other flavours.

My John Dory main course is great: simple, well-cooked fish with a crisp skin surrounded by a butter-laden sauce. Underneath the fish is a single poached Carlingford oyster, which adds a briny grittiness, and it’s all sitting on a heavenly horseradish potato mash.

Maria’s lamb is divine. (And as the daughter of a Mayo sheep farmer, she knows good lamb.) Here it’s rump of Loch Erne spring lamb and it comes on tomato-laced gnocchi with baby spinach. The only small quibble is a slightly too powerful caper sauce that tries a bit too hard and swamps the simple lusciousness of the tender pink lamb. Her house red (€5.50) is a delicious warm partner and we order two more as more diners begin to arrive and a buzz of conversation starts to build.

A light and lovely strawberry and hibiscus sorbet with a basil leaf gets us ready for the dessert course. Maria’s is a ginger-spiced rhubarb jelly on a long slice of white chocolate cheesecake. The cheese element of the cake is almost savoury, thick and gorgeous.

My cheeses are ranged from left to right in a flavour spectrum, a lovely light Killeen goat from Galway, the truly delicious nutty Glebe Brethan from Louth, some Ardrahan from Cork and a robust piece of Crozier Blue from Tipperary. They come with homemade, wavy rosemary crackers, and a honey and apple puree.

We are two very happy diners by now. And we have a new venue for that special night out where you can feel comfortable in your fifth-best dress but eat brilliant food. Because they’ve pulled this off, a high church approach to ingredients without getting precious or stuffy. The only shame is that it’s only open three nights a week.

So forget that the website gives a Bang and Olufsen shop as the landmark to help you find it. “Since when did a speaker shop and not the nearest pub become the point of reference?” Maria asks as we leave. Mulberry Garden is a great addition to the Dublin restaurant scene.

Dinner for two with two proseccos and four glasses of wine came to €114.


Mulberry Garden

Mulberry Lane, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, tel: 01-2693300

Music: Piped, easy-listening medleys drowned out as the restaurant fills

Facilities: Swish, with scented candles and Wildean witticisms painted on doors

Wheelchair access: Yes

Food provenance: A house speciality. Your meal's farmers, cheesemakers and fishermen are named on each week's menu

Dietary restrictions: Phone ahead to request the vegetarian, wheat- or dairy-free options