In recent years Dublin’s restaurant scene has experienced a bit of a boom; a much-needed and welcome cure for the Celtic Tiger hangover, and prime restaurants like Zaragoza, Dobbins, Buenos Aires Grill, the Greedy Goose, and The Vintage Kitchen among others enjoy much success in the aftermath of such economic starvation. Now as we enter a time of relative prosperity, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the country for some time, appetites for quality food are more demanding than ever, and there is an abundance of choice when it comes to delicious food in Dublin.
The success of Dublin’s restaurant business in modern times really owes a great deal to the restaurants that preceded it; Jammet’s and the Russell Hotel Restaurant introduced haute cuisine to Dublin, and set the standard for fine food at the beginning of the 20th century. Although they closed long ago, their influence is palpable in modern times. But what are the oldest restaurants in Dublin that remain open to this day? Which ones managed to survive the Second World War and weather the storms of economic recession, and are still around to tell the tale? We take a look at the history of Dublin’s food industry, with a focus on the oldest restaurants in the city that not only survived the bleakest of times, but now stand as some of Dublin’s most popular and successful eateries.
Our criteria for this list are as follows:
1) Restaurants in hotels (or simply pubs that serve food) don’t count
2) Must still be open today
3) Must be on the same premises since its opening
6. The Lobster Pot, Ballsbridge
In the early 20th century Dublin’s consumption of seafood was markedly high, and the fish trade was quite lucrative. It followed that by the 1950s Irish seafood restaurants were growing in number and, although influenced to no small extent by French culinary arts, they developed a presentation of style that was distinctly Irish. The Lobster Pot, established in 1980 and located at 9 Ballsbridge Terrace, has not only preserved a long-standing Irish seafood tradition with their classical fish dishes, but it’s one of the last true bastions of the classical table arts in Dublin.
The ownership has rested in the Crean family hands for nearly 35 years and remains one of the longest-running family restaurants in the city. The philosophy of the restaurant has always been “Fresh Fish” first, and they source it daily from trusted suppliers; their relationships have been forged over the restaurant’s 34-year history. Although specialising in seafood (Carlingford Oysters, Kilmore Quay Scallops, Clougerhead Crab Claws, Dublin Bay Prawns, Dover Sole, Turbot, Halibut, Sea bass and of course Fresh Lobster), the restaurant also offers Irish Beef, Racks of Wicklow Lamb, Silverhill Duckling and Game according to the season. This is one of the better and perhaps the oldest seafood restaurants in the city; it’s well worth checking out.
5. The Lord Edward, Christchurch Place
The Lord Edward began trading in 1967 when the infamous Red Bank Restaurant on Westmorland Street closed down. The owner of The Cunniam Tavern, Tom Cunniam, lived on the premises and the restaurant initially started serving lunch from out of his two small bedrooms. Word of the new restaurant quickly spread and soon he was open for dinner to huge success. In 1989 Tom retired and the business was bought by David Lyster, the son of a publican family from Stonybatter, Dublin. The Restaurant is still run to this day by David, his son Jim and the rest of the Lyster family.
The restaurant is named after Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who helped plan the United Irishmen’s Abortive Rebellion of 1798 against the Crown with Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone and Napper Tandy. Lord Edward was arrested in his hiding place in Thomas Street prior to the date fixed for the rebellion. In resisting arrest he was severely wounded, and later died of his wounds in Newgate Jail on the North side of the river Liffey. He is buried across the road from the restaurant entrance in St. Werburgh’s Church. The decor and food in The Lord Edward reminds one of days gone by. They strive to keep their dishes traditional and take pride in delivering a truly Dublin experience.
23 Christchurch Place, City Centre South, Dublin
4. Nico’s (1964), Dame Street
Nico’s restaurant is one of the oldest Italian spots in Dublin, serving Italian food with a distinct Irish influence. It’s been at 53 Dame Street since its opening in 1964, and is now owned by Emilio Cirillo who took over ownership from Nico Ruggiero in 1977. Nico ran the restaurant for 13 years and Emilio has successfully brought the small restaurant into the twenty-first century, where it has become one of the most popular restaurants in the city. Eleven years ago, Emilio and his wife Angela finally bought the building that houses Nicos (which dates back to around 1700) from the company that runs Temple Bar, and Angela has overseen its renovation and maintenance. “Upstairs”, says Emilio, “the building was in bits when I first took over the restaurant as it had been used as artists’ studios.”
Emilio is proud to say that “we have changed the menu very little in 36 years and that is because I believe what people want is good food on their plate. They don’t want fancy or flash dishes but want fresh ingredients cooked well.”
According to him the size of the restaurant, as well as the good quality food has a lot to do with its success. While Nico’s only has 50 seats, other restaurants can have up to 200 and this is a big fall to take when business isn’t good. Business at Nico’s is always good, and Emilio anticipates many more successful years ahead.
3. Trocadero (1956), St Andrew Street
During economic recession the restaurant industry is usually the first to feel the pinch. Ireland’s crippling recession in the 1980’s ensured that the country would become known as “the sick man of Europe”, and the nation’s declining health put many restaurants out of business. Trocadero battled through the recurring sickness of economic stagnation, though, and it remains standing on St Andrew’s Street to this day. Situated amid some of Dublin’s most loved theatres, Trocadero is spread over two 18th century red-bricks, enveloped in the arts, celebrating that culture with a rich décor of film and stage photography.
There are over 300 photos on the walls of the great and famous who have dined there at some point over the 57-year history of the restaurant.
The rich décor underlines the restaurant’s place as a long-established favourite of the Dublin theatre scene, while at the same time honouring its heritage as a Georgian dining room. The effortless mix of classic and modern is mirrored in the menus which reveal a strong commitment to Irish produce and a confident approach to providing excellent food. There’s a reason why Trocadero has survived the test of time, so why don’t you see for yourself what one of the oldest restaurants in the city has to offer?
2. Beaufield Mews, Woodlands Avenue
Beaufield Mews in Stillorgan is the oldest restaurant in Dublin that is still on the same premises. It has been in the possession of the Kirwan family since 1930, and opened originally as an Antique shop. Doreen Kirwan used to visit auction rooms around Dublin and the wider country, building up a collection of crockery and furniture. Finally, with a dining room-sized space full of chairs, tables, and antique dinner sets, it would have been foolish not to open a restaurant, and they opened it in 1950. At that time there were no other restaurants that were open outside of hotels, so it became the first stand-alone restaurant in Dublin.
Now, nearly 65 years later, the Beaufield Mews Restaurant still holds these traditions dear. The building has been restored and now houses two restaurants; the Coachouse on the ground floor and the Loft Brasserie upstairs. Antiques & art still adorn the walls and it has made sure to retain the traditional “olde world” feel.
1. Unicorn by Fiorentina restaurant, Merrion Court
The Unicorn is the oldest restaurant in Dublin that remains open to this day, but it is not on the same premises since its opening in 1938. It moved from 11 Merrion Row to Merrion Court in the early 1960s, but its relocation was only around the corner and so we’ve so graciously made an exception for it in our humble list.
The Unicorn has changed hands more times than anyone can count, though Graziano Careddu has taken over management since May 2014, and is expected to continue on as manager for presumably at least another few weeks, before a successor takes over the reins. But the Unicorn owes its modern success to his attention to detail in the many Italian-influenced European dishes that are now on offer. The Unicorn menu still consists of the favourite dishes that it has always had on offer, like Traditional Penne Arrabiata and their Homemade Gnocchi, as well as many new seasonal flavours brought on board by the new Head Chef Carlo Calvano.
In ‘The Book of Dublin’ (1948) it was described as offering “central European cooking and is very good. A quiet place for a slow meal and good conversation. The clientele is cosmopolitan, literary or artistic.” While the clientele has certainly expanded and changed over the years, the restaurant’s reputation has not. Its warm, modern and informal environment have stood the test of time, and will undoubtedly continue to offer excellent food and service (no matter who’s in charge).
12b Merrion Court, Merrion Row, Dublin
A Brief Explanation…
While these are the oldest restaurants in Dublin that are still open today, you might have your reservations (pun intended) about the list. Surely, we hear you ask, there must be a restaurant that pre-dates 1938? What about England’s tradition of culinary arts, you go on to scream, a history that stretches back to the 18th century, where many restaurants are easily over 100 years old if not more?? And why, goddamnit, is the oldest restaurant in Dublin so young in comparison?! The answers to these questions could well be long and complicated, pedantic and wholly speculative, but really the relatively short history of Dublin restaurants is most likely down to the short history of the Irish State itself, as well as Ireland’s political, social and economic disunity up until that long-awaited emancipation in 1922. Throw a sprinkling of recessions and two big dollops of World Wars into the mix and you’ve got yourself a half-baked explanation. So there you go. Do try and pay a visit to these restaurants, though, if not for the historical significance then for the fine food they all have on offer.