I’m a creature of habits when it comes to eating in Dublin. While I will happily try new places, there’s still a small list of restaurants I come back to time and time again. If I want a casual catch-up with a friend, it’s probably going to be Fish Shop, or the wine cellar in Fallon & Byrne. For a bit more of an occasion, it will be Etto, The Greenhouse or Forest Avenue. For cheap and cheerful, M&L Szechuan or Bunsen. I think I will now be adding Locks to this select list. I have been twice since the start of the year, and am already trying to figure out when my next visit will be.
Locks strikes a great balance between serving the kind of cheffy food you couldn’t make yourself at home while having an informal, friendly atmosphere. You can tell it’s a restaurant run by enthusiastic chefs who know the business, namely Keelan Higgs (formerly of The Greenhouse and Chapter One), and Connor O’Dowd (formerly of Chapter One and Dax) together with Paul McNamara (Head Chef at Etto). All of the staff manage to be both genuinely friendly while also being incredibly efficient and they know the menu inside out. It’s a cosy place to spend an afternoon, with great people/swan watching from the canal outside. While I like the spare industrial look a lot of Dublin restaurants have these days, there is a lot to be said for a restaurant with comfy chairs and tables big enough to actually fit the food you order. I really enjoyed the music as well, with a playlist including Bob Dylan, John Martyn and Tom Waits. I’m glad to find a restaurant putting some thought into what kind of atmosphere they want to create through music, instead of lobbing on some miscellaneous mid-90s ambient dance and calling it a day.
My most recent visit was for a lazy Saturday lunch with my parents to celebrate various things.We started off with three slices of freshly baked seeded rye-style bread presented with a homemade smoked trout butter while we waited for our starters.There was a special starter of beetroot, fennel, lardo and smoked yoghurt that day which came highly recommended it. I disregarded it, completely jaded as most people are at this point by the trope of beetroot starters that most Dublin restaurants offer. That was a mistake. While everything we had was fantastic, this was the standout dish. Chunks of roasted beetroot and mandolin thin slices were draped with cellophane thin sheets of lardo, and matched with large blobs of smoked yoghurt. The yoghurt was rich and creamy and tangy from the smoke, without the slight bitterness that yoghurt often has. I’d tried the excellent crispy pigs head starter on my last visit, so I opted for the salmon tartare with avocado and horseradish together with a glass of prosecco, because I am a South Dublin cliche. While it hit all the right notes, balancing richness with fresh flavours, the beetroot provoked the most serious food envy.
For my main course, I went for hake with cauliflower, spiced mussels and caper brown butter, with a generous sampling of my mum’s pick of guinea fowl with parsnip, pickled chanterelle and endive. The fish was melting and tasted like it had been plucked straight from the sea a few minutes before, with just the right amount of brown butter to compliment it without drowning out the delicate flavour. I had a crisp glass of Portuguese Arinto wine to go along with it. We ordered a portion of chips, and purple sprouting broccoli with lardo to round things out. The chips were among the best I’ve ever and despite all being quite full, resulted in the awkward “no, you have the last one” stand-off that is typical of Irish dining experiences. I finished off with a glass of oloroso sherry and a rhubarb and custard dessert which was pleasant, in a comforting nursery food way, if not earth shattering. My mum opted for a hefty cheese plate containing large wedges of Knockdrinna and Coolatin with home-made crackers which she kindly shared.
The prices here for the set lunch and early bird menus are incredibly reasonable. €28 for three courses of this calibre of food at lunch is outrageously good value. Our entire bill, with plenty of wine, extras and coffee, came to €175 for three people. The wine list is extensive, with lots of glasses on offer from €6.50 and bottles starting from €27. As well as that, they offer sherry and some Irish craft beers. They also serve a decent children’s menu, which is a great idea in a neighbourhood like this. While it’s only March, I think it’s going to be a challenge to find a better meal than this in 2016.
Locks, 1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, (01) 416 3655