One Saturday night a few weeks ago, we decided to go out for dinner. Regular readers of the blog might mutter that this isn't a surprise. We hadn't made any reservations, which is the height of folly in the current Dublin dining scene. Despite the economic pressures, good Dublin restaurants are experiencing high demand, and diners really need to reserve tables in advance. After a short hop on the bus, we found ourselves at Seagrass, Portobello, which appeared to have some free tables.
Seagrass was reasonably full when we wandered in at 8pm, but lots of diners appeared to have finished eating. This lead me to brilliantly deduce that there must be a popular Early Bird, confirmed later by the menu posted at the entrance. In another moment of Holmesian deduction (craft beer bottles on one table, bottles of cava on another), I realised that Seagrass must also operate a BYOB policy. In case I hadn't figured it out, droves of diners were arriving in with all kinds of plastic & brown paper bags. This appears to be one of the best kept secrets in Dublin. The most impressive thing about the BYOB policy at Seagrass is that they don't charge a corkage fee!
Chef Seán Drugan has a simple policy - offer great food and service at affordable prices while sourcing the best local and international produce. The Irish provenance was apparent in his starter of sauteed Kerry & Sligo mussels and wild clams with chili, herbs and lime (€9). The shellfish were perfectly cooked, served plump in the shells with a tasty broth that was both light and creamy.
|Clams & Mussels|
My slow braised beef terrine with tomato ketchup, mint cream and capers (€8.50) came served on a wooden board with a crazy shock of rocket leaves hiding the terrine. Digging underneath, I found what looked like a slice of set gravy. I have to admit that the mixture of cold & wet gravy just didn't work for me, despite the tasty tomato ketchup. The addition of mint cream and capers just added to the bizareness of the dish.
|Slow braised beef terrine|
At this point, we were at a fork in the road. His starter had been top notch, while mine caused the mind to boggle. I wondered aloud if we were dealing with a crazed genius chef. The score was tied, only the main course could decide for us. We had ordered the special, a lamb platter (€40 for two, or €25 for one). What arrived at the table was a thing of beauty, with immaculate presentation, worthy perhaps of Masterchef. Other diners even muttered appreciatively as it arrived at the table.
|Shoulder of lamb platter with roast vegetables|
The lamb was succulent and juicy lamb with the crusty flavoursome end bits also included, accompanied by hearty roast vegetables and sweet, sharp gravy. Our questions about the creativity of the chef were definitively answered as there was undoubtedly a cook of ability in the kitchen (if sometimes a little off-track).
We finished up and left satisfied, but other diners lingered after us. Clearly there is no pressure from Seagrass staff to turf out customers in order to prepare the table for the next set of diners. Seagrass was a refreshing discovery for us - excellent value (Early Bird offers 3 courses for just €21 all night Sun - Thurs, and 5-7pm Fri & Sat), relaxed service and a 100% free BYOB policy. The BYOB trend is surely set to grow this year, as wine sales in restaurants suffer due to over-priced wine lists. Well done to Seagrass for being ahead of the pack.
Seagrass is that rare elusive beast - the lesser spotted, good value, creative local bistro.
Addendum: Following our dinner, we organised to visit again with a party of six, where we dined on the Early Bird, and took advantage of the BYOB policy. Some of the quirkiness experienced on our first visit was still here, but there were zero complaints and lots of praise from our group for the meal. The fact that the meal cost only €150 (including some supplements and service charge) was an additional bonus.
Seagrass, South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 478 9595