During the 1990’s there was one Dublin restaurant that stood head and shoulders above its peers. It was the place to be, the original celebrity hotspot. Tosca on Suffolk Street was known for its food, but more over for its vibrant atmosphere and ability to attract world famous superstars. It would draw Dublin’s in crowd, making it the place to be seen, and where you could even see a supermodel or rockstar yourself. The restaurant was owned and run by Norman Hewson, brother to one of Ireland’s most famous stars, Bono.
This celebrity by association meant that Tosca soon became a regular haunt for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, and even Bob Dylan. A famous musician or band playing a concert in Dublin, you may just see them in Tosca that night, if you were lucky enough to get a table. Let us not forget about a certain famous quartet called U2, who would visit when back home in Ireland.
Of course, no restaurant can survive solely on its reputation for being a pit-stop for the visiting famous. That has it’s perks, but Norman Hewson was no doubt aware of the fickleness of celebrity. Tosca still had to regularly churn out tasty food if it was to remain a success. Head Chef Aongu Hanley, who would later be the head chef for Cavistons Seafood Restaurant, would create dishes that Tosca would soon become famous for. A white bean hummus became a staple among its customers, chicken liver pate being all the rage at the time, while salmon tartare providing the necessary exoticism. Slow roast beef and herbed baby potatoes would also cater to Irish taste buds. The piece de resistance, however, was their “suicide by chocolate”, a dessert so over the top, excessive, indulgent and rich, that would naturally suit some celebrity tastes.
Tosca would ultimately close in 2000. What brought about the downfall of such a beloved institution in Ireland’s culinary world? Its location could not be more perfect, the dishes still sound tasty today, and it had a star appeal that very few businesses had. Were Irish people slowly becoming disillusioned with these grandiose showings of wealth? Was the restaurant world beginning to change and evolve? A look into Norman Hewson’s other business ventures may shed some light on the topic. Nini, a sandwich bar owned by Norman was always busy, as was his foray into healthy organic fast food with Nude. The latter may have been slightly ahead of its time, as we continue to see the rise and growth of healthy eating food businesses, as people scream out for more quinoa and kale.
Tosca’s light burned twice as bright as its contemporaries and as a result for half as long. It did get its fairytale ending however, when it re-opened as a popup restaurant in Smock Alley Theatre for one night in October 2012. It’s re-opening was to raise funds for the Self Help Africa Charity, a cause that reunited Tosca staff to return for one special night of service. The fundraiser raffled off unique art, prints from Jim Fitzpatrick, vouchers for restaurants like Chapter One, and an autographed 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby by U2.
The author John Banville summed up Tosca best;
“it was a haven of delight in a crass 1990s, with wonderful cooking and lovely staff.”