“I don’t think this is a gastropub,” my dinner date says, surveying the dining room as we sit down to a Sunday supper. “Well, it’s a pub that serves gastronomic food, right?” I say, in defense of The Old Spot on Bath Avenue.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a gastropub is “a pub that specialises in serving high quality food”, and that’s what The Old Spot does. The origins of the term gastropub is often credited to Michael Belben and David Eyre who opened The Eagle in London in 1991, after struggling to find a more traditional restaurant premises because of stifling rents in London. They transformed an old pub and changed how people thought about pub grub. In the 25 years since, the term gastropub has become a little all-encompassing, and has been hijacked by pubs and bars serving middle-of-the-road food. The Old Spot’s approach is a more true to the original idea.
“A lot of pubs call themselves gastropubs,” manager Conor Kavanagh tells me, “but we believe we’re the real deal.” The Old Spot first opened its doors on Bath Avenue in September 2014, when brothers Barry and Paul McNerney of Junior’s and Paulie’s Pizza joined forces with Stephen Cooney and Brian O’Malley of The Bath Pub. The idea was that The Old Spot could be as casual as you want it to be, but fit for a special occasion too.
You can grab a burger at the cosy bar to the front (The Old Spot’s cheese burger and fries is €16.95) but most of the eating takes place in a more traditional dining room to the back of the pub. On the walls hang vintage maps from New York City and ink drawings from Dublin University sports days dating back to the 1800s. It’s a lovely room, a good balance of relaxed and dignified.
Our waiter seems a bit world-weary by the time we arrive at 8pm on a Sunday, and I wonder if he’s had a long day. “I’d love a non-alcoholic cocktail, more sour than sweet, please,” I order. He arrives back with a strawberry and mint lemonade (€5), with no explanation on how this has been interpreted as more sour than sweet. It’s really refreshing and rather lovely, so I stick with what I’ve been given rather than causing a fuss. A second waiter brings our food to the table, and is full of Sunday charm, all smiles and cheer. They’re like yin and yang, these two, and in the end they complement each other, a sort of grumpy and good-natured duo to keep us on our toes.
A Sazerac cocktail (€12) is well received by my date, though he thought a colder glass would have elevated this most delicious of New Orleans imports. A glass of Albariño (€10) is recommend to accompany the pork belly (€26), a dish which has been exhausted by gastropubs all over the country, but which has been given a new lease of life at The Old Spot. It’s perfectly executed with layers of complementary textures – from sparkling, crisp crackling to juicy tenderness of the meat – running through this sliver of fine pork from craft butcher Pat McLoughlin, who also supplies The Old Spot with their beef.
We knock back a couple of Pacific Rock oysters from Harty’s of Waterford (€2 a pop), served simply shucked with the tabasco and lemon on the side. They arrive alongside our other starters, also from the sea. A plate of fat, sweet scallops (€14.50), gorgeously singed, are accompanied by crispy slivers of bacon and dehydrated shards of parsnip, topped off by a black pudding croquette. The gambas are a big hit (€13) when they arrive coated in a crumb of bulgar and crushed almonds, deep-fried and served on sticks, sitting atop a pool of ajo blanco, a Spanish bread sauce, lightly laced with sriracha oil. This dish packages prawns in a way I haven’t seen before and I relish the unexplored taste territory.
The star of the show is the wild venison (€29), supplied by Wild Irish Game in County Wicklow and cooked beautifully. It’s seasoned fantastically well and the balance of this beautiful pink meat with crispy kale, a creamy colcannon, sweet roasted beets and plump blackberries celebrates the arrival of autumn and all the gorgeous flavours that come with it.
Dessert is a shared portion of a well executed sticky toffee pudding (€7). It’s moist, spongy and true to its roots as an uncomplicated delight, an espresso custard on the side a welcome flourish.
Our experience of the menu shows a fine delivery of classic dishes, a cut above what has become associated with gastropub fare. Head Chef Fiachra Kenny, who has spent time in the kitchens of Forest Avenue, Pichet and The Green Hen, is steering a steady ship towards full Irish flavours. The price of dinner reflects the quality of the food, and our meal, which included a large bottle of sparkling water (€4) and a shot of limoncello (€4.80), comes to a total of €129.80.
The Old Spot
14 Bath Avenue, Dublin 4
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Killian Broderick