Wednesday, March 11th, 2020. I’m sitting in a heavily hyped, high-concept restaurant housed within a just-opened hotel in downtown Dublin. It’s 8pm, the only other people in the dining room are Andy and Red and they’re both at my table. We didn’t need a weather man that night to know which way the wind was blowing. Although fate, 5G, batshit or Bill Gates has intervened to deny so many the opportunity to read that review I’m not afraid to say right now to my editor that I will still be billing for those expenses. The pandemic has probably been more favourable to those involved in the production of the food that night than my verdict would have been.
This is of no consequence of course. Even as restaurants are slated to open in some form here (now in early July), there is a very real possibility that the relationships that we’ve enjoyed with these places will never be the same again, that we will never use them in the same way. We may not have suffered the horrors seen in the U.S and U.K but many are rightly bracing for the inevitable spike in numbers as our imbeciles are once more unleashed upon public houses.
I can only wish bona fortuna to those restaurants who are again seating customers (these decisions are existential) but I’m not ready to be one of them, not just yet. We all understand that the pleasure of dining out is not simply confined to the food, which is itself sometimes an irrelevance. This explains why folks were not camping out on Dawson Street to collect portions of vile Shepherd’s Pie from The Ivy during shutdown. Nevertheless, if you’re pining for a flavour of the before life, but would rather experience it from the shelter of your own crib, you have some excellent options.
I’ve never reviewed 777 before, despite (or perhaps because of) liking it very much and I felt a genuine pang when I peered into the dining room upon collection. What you are handed is essentially a boxed fiesta and if you add a bottle of their pre-batched margaritas you’ll soon begin to feel the same way. The kit also helpfully includes an instruction sheet to put the spread together but you won’t need it. There’s a little assemblage involved, reflective of the cuisine – the pleasure is in the doing, the annointings and foldings of things. Working some heat levels up and soothing others down.
As per directions we pound those ‘signature strong’ margaritas, busting out the totopos; chips, salsas and that textbook guacamole. Already fuckin with the Jesus. Superb lamb barbacoa taquitos with pea salsa shut down the conversation so we loiter outside our (downstairs) bathroom to deepen the 777 immersion and shoot the shit. After a a few minutes I bang on the door and enquire of no one whether everything’s alright in there. Everything’s cool. We devour mixed pepper rajas with the crunch of tostadas and the lactic tang of herbed ricotta before finishing with killer smoked beef tacos bolstered with chipotle mayo.
Some drinks later I consider clambering unsteadily onto the kitchen counter in tribute to the girls I’ve seen do so on the bar back in the day. *I swear. I’m talked down from the edge. Sides and dessert for two are included and I’m informed that the kit will remain available for collection until futher notice. This is still the best Mexican food to be had in Dublin, whether you eat it on George’s Street or not.
If 777 is the leery Saturday voice braying for one more shot (no-one had a gun to your head, cabrón), then maybe Charlotte Quay is the guy you reach out to on Sunday. He’ll (arbitrary gender assignation) put an arm around your shoulder and help you to feel better about your life choices. They’ll also deliver the food (within reason).
The menu here reads like a lullaby for those who are missing the standards, done well. The list is modestly described and pretty much each dish we eat is an excercise in execution. Gambas Pil-Pil is delivered as the very acme of that Tapas staple, the prawns firm and the sauce vibrant, sharp and piquant. A flatbread of glazed duck leg with charred pineapple and smoked Gubbeen didn’t make a lot of sense until we ripped into it and the sting of jalapeño brought it together. The rib-eye, perfectly cooked, is profoundly flavoured and nicely finished with some confit(ed) garlic butter. The french fries are out of sight, as is the dressing for the cress salad.
You want your dinner parties to work out like this but they never will. Buying ingredients and wishing won’t make it so. From a short list we sluice this down with a bottle of Claus Preisinger ‘Puszta Libre!’, a light Austrian (natural) red that is fast becoming modish. Don’t let that put you off, it’s a real thrill and the good people of Charlotte Quay will deliver it to you at off-sale prices. That should tell you something. Get two.
Doubtless many restaurants will fail to weather this storm and July’s openings might well be reversed by the time you don’t read this. We may not be able to help places to keep their doors open, but by clicking and collecting, or ordering delivery we may be able to help them help to help themselves, to keep their stoves lit and pay staff. This folks, is what those Covid payments are for.
At this level of food writing desk research often requires me to view restaurant’s websites for minutes on end. I see that Charlotte Quay has become a popular wedding destination and that makes sense, the situation is really quite something and the room is among the city’s most attractive. If you’re planning on getting married you should absolutely check it out. If it doesn’t stick you could totally toast the divorce at 777.
Words: Conor Stevens
777: All meal kits for two people available for collection Thursday-Saturday from 5pm-8pm and Sunday from 2pm-5pm. €50, 750ml bottle of Margarita, €40 (serves five).
Charlotte Quay is available for collection from Tuesday to Sunday 5pm to 9.45pm. See website for menu details and prices.