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July 23, 2010 / joyful plate

Dublin holidays (1/2010)

(Originally written after the holidays visiting my partner’s family, January, 2010)

Dublin-upstairs/downstairs/sideways

Historically, Dublin was not a city known for high-end cuisine. Guinness rules-in fact, national campaigns like “Guinness is good for you” would lead the visitor to believe it’s an essential food group. Another complication about Dublin is that at Christmas, everyone takes a “proper pause” and you might be hard pressed to fine restaurants open in the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Signs posting “no food today” (an unintentional reference to bleaker times?) are not uncommon at the local pubs in the days immediately after the holiday.

I did, however find two great destinations while the rest of the Dubliners were eating their Christmas pudding  (as they should).

Upstairs

Avoca on Wicklow Street. Avoca is a famous Irish lifestyle store that was founded in the 1920’s but has connections as far back as 1723 to a County Wicklow town of the same name. The store sells merchandise with cheerful patterns of wools, pillows, throws and table wear, statement jackets and bags. Upstairs at Avoca, in a bright airy café set amongst Dublin’s rooftops, they serve one of the best breakfasts in town, in case you need a break from the ubiquitous “full Irish”. So good that I had to visit twice! Day one I had farm fresh eggs with chives, classic brown bread and roasted tomatoes on the vine. Day two, gorgeous pancakes with raspberries, strawberry and blueberry compote and clotted cream.

Downstairs

Discovering Fallon & Byrne on of those blustery rainy days is like like finding a refuge for lost foodies. Ahh! Gourmet packaged foods from all over Europe; think Dean & Deluca but with an Irish twist. Downstairs, located in the wine-shop is a gastro pub with a great spectrum of wines by the glass from Beaume de Venise/Southern Rhone to Priorat in Spain. Sit on long wooden benches and take in the aromas of fresh cut flowers (the lilacs in December were a nice touch).      I ordered a chunky Mediterranean fish stew…(insider secret — the best Irish pub food you can buy on a budget)-it came out piping hot, a bounty of prawns, cod and herbs and brown bread ….”will do ya’ for the day there now”.

Sideways

If you want to spend some time out of the city, take a short drive to Kildare. Near the college town of Maynooth you can stay or dine in the grandeur of the Duke of Leinster’s old estate, Carton House. Carton once belonged to one of Ireland’s most powerful families (the revolutionary Edward Fitzgerald lived here) and is still preserved as a fine mansion. The house boasts a very decent restaurant indeed – for dinner I enjoyed a classic Grilled prime fillet of Irish beef with potatoes while my companion had seared king scallops and a delicious lamb shank. For dessert, there was Banoffee made with flambéed bananas, caramel pastry with a lovely little kumquat. And, don’t forget the modern spa luxuries. In a modern extension to the house, there is a huge lap swimming pool as well as steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi. Carton is only a 30 minute drive from the western edge of the city center at the Guinness brewery. It’s a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year, but for me it was just about the perfect way to spend a day during an Irish rainstorm.

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