Lying on the southern bank of Dublin’s River Liffey, the area known as Temple Bar is steeped in Irish history. Once destined to be a concrete bus depot, the indomitable spirit of Dublin locals fought to have this historic Dublin area rejuvenated, restored to life and so become Ireland’s premier cultural quarter.
A fascinating History
When the Viking’s landed in Dublin in 795, Temple Bar was where they chose to call their home. Plenty of remains of their settlement is evident today at Dublin Castle, but it was the English Diplomat and Provost of Trinity College who bestowed his name on the area. Some 800 years after the Viking’s arrived, Sir William Temple had his residence and gardens in the area, and so Temple Bar was born. In 1707, a new Customs House opened (where todays Clarence Hotel stands), breathing life into the area, and resulting in a flurry of taverns, theatres and local businesses. Alas, the good fortune was short lived and when the Customs House moved into larger premises across the river, Temple Bar fell into disrepair and by the mid-20thcentury it has become an inner city slum. Fast forward to the 21stCentury and Temple Bar has morphed from a run-down ghetto to a vibrant, bohemian cultural quarter – along with a mecca for occasional hen and stag weekends. Whatever your opinion on the area’s reincarnation, one thing is sure. Temple Bar is home to some of Dublin’s best eating establishments.
Temple bar and Italy, a love story
Whatever your budget, the vast number of restaurants that line the cobbled streets of Temple Bar ensure there is something for everyone. While quantity may not indicate quality every time, there are an array of special establishments that make this lively neighbourhood well worth a visit.
As the name suggests, Skinflint (from those behind Jo’burger and the ever popular Crackbird) on Temple Bar’s atmospheric Crane Lane, appeals to diners on a budget. Don’t be fooled by the name however, the food is wonderful and the restaurant itself full of quirky little touches. Staff are beyond hip and the pizza toppings refreshingly unique. My favourite? The Tess – Pulled Pork, Fennel Seeds, Braised Fennel with Mascarpone Cheese. Skinflint proprietors are also responsible for revolutionising table booking systems with the now infamous #tweetseats. Short on cash? Simply tweet the restaurant with your preferred time and date and two diners eat for free every hour. Marketing genius – take note.
Sticking with the Italian theme, Toscana, on the Dame Street side of Temple Bar is ticking all the boxes. Winner of Good Food Irelands Best ‘Grow it Yourself’ Restaurant for 2013/2014, the proprietors grow up to 70% of their own organic fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs. They also use organic farm eggs for their dishes from the corn-fed hens on their Wicklow farm. Add to that gluten free pasta and a piano bar with live music and it’s no wonder that tongues are wagging about this gem.
The infamous Crow Street is home to another Temple Bar favourite, Il Vicoletto. With a three course set menu for just £25.90 available all evening, dining here won’t break the bank. The aptly names ‘Amalfi Seafood Bowl’ with white wine, garlic, lemon, parsley with garlic bread should certainly recapture pleasant seaside memories.
A place for creativity
The newest kid on the block is Rory Carville and Oliver Dunne’s Cleaver East on East Essex Street. Well known for his Michelin Star restaurant Bon Appetit in Malahide, Cleaver East is Dunne’s newest venture. The premise is simple – tasting plates to share, allowing diners to sample many dishes in one sitting. Dunne recommends 3 – 4 plates per person (there are both sweet and savoury options) and prices range from just £4 per plate and up. I look forward to trying the Lemon Cannelloni with Raspberry Curd and Raspberry Sorbet. Reviews so far have been very favourable – apart from the whole Lucinda O’Sullivan debacle……
The last Italian on our tour is Caffe Italiano, also on Crow Street and well worth a pit stop. Since opening its doors as a small Italian café, it has blossomed and grown into a fully-fledged restaurant serving an array of traditional Italian dishes. And they take their wine seriously too with offerings from Sicily, Tuscany, the Roero, Selento, Piedmont, Montepulciano, and Puglia. Open from 8 am daily, the coffee is particularly good.
And finally, a Temple Bar favourite, the Chameleon Restaurant on Fownes Street has been serving authentic Indonesian Cuisine since 1994. Everything is made from scratch in house and with The Chameleon celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, little more needs to be said. Downstairs houses the casual Asian Tapas bar, while upstairs you will find the more traditional restaurant – including Rijst Tafel (Rice Table) menus, a way of serving Indonesian food devised by the Dutch. Those who opt for Rjist Tafel receive several different dishes at the same time, plus condiments, perfect for groups of friends. There are plenty of options depending on your mood and for those in a hurry, take away meals are also available. With more awards under their belt than you can shake a stick at, The Chameleon is must when visiting Temple Bar.
Although small in size, Temple Bar has plenty to offer Dublin diners, with what we have mentioned here being the tip of the iceberg. Who could forget the Elephant and Castle and their legendary chicken wings, or Tante Zoe’s for Cajun Popcorn Shrimp. Murphy’s Ice Cream on Temple Bar Square is perfect for that après dinner treat or The Queen of Tarts for an afternoon pastry. There is a reason the crowds throng to Temple Bar – and it’s not just the ‘spirited’ atmosphere. Perhaps it’s time for a visit?