It’s Dorset, not Dorsette
It would be ridiculous, of course, to suggest that Dorset Street is a scene now but it totally is. One swallow might not a Summer make but two places where you might want to ingest food on this unlovely stretch must signal a shift of some kind. Maybe the rents are slightly less ruinous. The place generating the chatter is The Sea Food Bar. It’s on the Blessington St corner next to the tweakments place featuring a giant hypodermic syringe on its shopfront. Always a cheering landmark when viewed from the back of a taxi at 5am on your way home from the airport. It really does sound great though. The restaurant not the botox box. A lady I know has been talking the place up like you wouldn’t believe since it opened and I do believe her – even though it’s her job to talk places up. It’s on the list but the no reservation policy is a problem for me. This is also why I haven’t been into Bar Pez yet. Hanging out on Kevin Street just doesn’t hold the appeal it once did. I’m reviewing the other, older place down at the canal that isn’t news.
It’s a pub called Juno but considering that it used to be the Red Parrot they might as well have named it The White Blackbird. I never patronised the place but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t draw folks in for the food. “Bring us back a parrot,” the sooty-faced gurriers would (legendarily) cry from the bridge to the barge-drivers below – imagining that the vessels were undertaking voyages to exotic climes. Or perhaps poor schooling indulged a belief that parrots were indigenous to Mullingar.
The education of inner-city boys at the time was generally meted out by The Christian Brothers, a calling often answered by men who were neither of those things and little interested in educating. On a recent Wednesday night most of the other punters in Juno were callow middle-class kids (both foreign and domestic) excitedly chattering about the beginning of the university term. They probably wouldn’t know what you would mean by slumming it but might be better on the parrot provenance. The world is yours etc. Somebody else’s desk research tells me that the place is owned by the people behind The Fourth Corner at the end of Patrick’s Street and Happy’s Bar on Aston Quay. I don’t know about those spots but the model here is very much the MVP (minimum viable product) one. Give it a lick of paint and the crowd and ‘vibe’ will fill in the brand/expectation blanks. In a place where drink singular once meant pints plural, drinks might now mean “one Donkey Punch and one Blood Orange and Rosemary Margarita”. Please.
Old Dublin boozers have long memories though. When you sit in one of the old banquettes the upholstery seems to sigh as it releases spectres of sessions past and how to put it – you might want to take a table closer to the door if you plan to eat. You’ll certainly get more bang for your buck down the back. It could be some sort of high-concept scent installation that’s beyond me or – like young people enjoying The Wolfe Tones – an ironic appreciation gone awry. The result is nevertheless the same. Back up front beyond the miasma the service feels a little disconnected but that could be down to the fact that we are the only people eating (or planning to). Every place is slinging cocktails these days (with varying degrees of commitment) but every other time I ask for a dirty martini I’m told that there’s no pickle brine behind the bar. This time I came armed with a small measure of my own. Really. After our charming server had confirmed my seriousness she returned to tell me that they might not have the right vermouth. Just muddle through I say. The drink that returns is the colour of a fresh bruise owing to the addition of Martini Rosso. Quite the thing. The bar team might be a little green but they can’t be faulted for their enthusiasm and spirit of accommodation. The Blood Orange Margarita is pretty good.
You could describe the menu here as ‘comfort food’ or maybe fast food done with a little patience. There a lots of fried things and things in buns but such things needn’t be low brow and they’re done with wit and invention here. These are also the kinds of foods that tend to obsess over and taxonomise. If you want to understand what I mean I urge you to seek out JJ Goode’s recent field guide to American regional hot-dog styles in The New York Times. It is compendious. They don’t have a hot-dog on the menu at Juno but in a city lately beset with batterings the Black Pudding & Thyme Sausage here is a welcome feel-good story.
Compared to other battered sausages you might have had this one has just been roughed up a little. It is unusually light and fragrant and crisscrossed with black garlic mayo. Gambas are served on a thick slice of sourdough slathered with garlic, ginger and jalapeño butter and the result is absolutely killer. If you want to know why this starter of fresh Irish Prawns costs €14 then maybe check out this piece from our previous issue. Peri Peri Calimari is superbly cooked – tender and draped with the merest filigree of tempura batter. Whoever’s on the fryer here really knows what they are doing. The Bloody Mary Mayo that comes on the side is just one of the frequent deft touches that elevate many of the dishes. At this point we lean into it and order a pair of tequilas and tonics (a blackboard special) for a very reasonable €14.
Mains are not quite as successful – I’d prefer the grind on the smash burger to be a little coarser – but I applaud the kitchen’s decision to engulf it in an excellent three peppercorn sauce. The Fish Supper features very good skin-on fries (we are living through a crisp, golden age right now) but is let down by a flavourless piece of fish. The cooking though is again perfect. A heaping plate of Nachos with chopped, dry-aged beef is not so much a sharing dish as an orgy on a plate – all sticky and oozing and goo and spice. It’s a fun time. Juno is less a gastro-pub and more a youth-club for people who are careful with pronouns and appreciate attention to detail and value for money. At one point in the night an earnest young bean-pole of a man apologetically interrupts to inform us that there will be an Open Mic happening later. I declined but can’t seem to stop thinking about how it might have gone.
58 Dorset Street Lower,
Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Killian Broderick