As Greg the egg knows, the internet is large and it is difficult to read all of it. Nevertheless, the digital natives and pulpous Gen Zers who increasingly constitute my fanbase will have noted that Dublin is now cool and important, or perhaps cooler and more important than it was before the dawning of the information superhighway (a weird boomerism for how emoji get around).
I refer, of course, to the semi-recent pronouncement by the travel-taste-making wonks over at The Lonesome Planet, a website and advertiser that decides whether actual places are cool, uncool or Northern Ireland. It would appear that dear aul dirty Dublin is now deemed to be the seventh best city in the world. We can consider what ‘best’ might mean in due course. Since being made aware of the news (via an anonymous postcard), I’ve tried to feel it, as a Dubliner, to somehow become upgraded in kind. I even briefly imagined what it might feel like to be the seventh best man in Dublin, answerable to virtually nobody, save for my six clear superiors. Just as the good burghers of Merida (Mexico), Florence (Italy) and Gyeongju (South Korea) were collectively coming to terms with being bested by us in the metropolitan hit-parade, another bombshell dropped, its impact causing pigeons to suddenly take wing in desirable locations around the globe. In a move that few Liberty Belle regulars saw coming, Time Out Magazine doubled down to declare my own Dublin 8 the fifteenth coolest neighbourhood on God’s green earth.
As a late period Gen-Xer, it can be difficult to keep up with these seemingly arbitrary adjudications. Wasn’t Cabra supposed to be the shit mere months ago, or was it that Phibsborough was fuego? Who the fuck knows, but I decided to steer into the skid nevertheless, fully aware that the capital’s new planetary standing could be worth three-hundred plus words to my intro.
So zrub mi loda Stoneybatter, as they might say in Glogow, a perennial top-fiver on the ‘ten most-chill towns on Poland’s western border’ list. Hen’s Teeth in Blackpitts may, or not, be cool but many of its patrons probably consider themselves as such. It opened here in late 2019 as a hybrid space – an art-café where you could also browse vinyl records or design-literate coffee-table books. It also houses a commercial studio. I had heard that the food offering took a leap forward some months back, so we invited our friend and neighbour Oana to lunch. She’s pretty cool, having been born in a mid-tier Romanian town and brought up in one of the very best places in Connecticut. As we unmask and get our feet under the table, I’m initially disappointed at the apparent dearth of cool kids, but my wife (and style-guide) explains that those types prefer to identify as dorks these days. Huh! I suppose it’s a rebellion of sorts.
Start as we did with a plate of padrons and the ceviche to share. That ceviche is a killer crudo, sharp and electric to the tastebuds, with cooling cucumber and intermittent stings of jalapeño, but I’d prefer if the kitchen had used some plentiful native catch like pollack or ling rather than farmed bream. Burrata arrives very prettily plated with red and yellow melon and shreds of sorrel for brightness. Our guest boldly orders the Hispi (cabbage) before later leaning in and quietly asking what it is. It’s a tribute to her curious, questing spirit. Don’t be afraid to use the C word on the menu folks – it has lost its power to shock. Noli timere to order as a carnivore neither – it’s an unlovely but deeply delicious plate of food. The pointy brassica is split and charred, served with (I think) a dun slick of blended puy lentils and finished with a drift of Summer truffle. As modish as it gets. A plate of steak frites was on the other end of the fashionable scale and none the worse for it. I was gratified to see that the kitchen here favours flavourful cuts like bavette and rump. The latter arrived sliced and dressed in an excellent pepper sauce (how retro!) and accompanied by excellent fries and greens anointed with tart chimichurri. A round of their fun cocktails (no liquor) and a carafe of vin de soif rounded out a very agreeable lunch indeed.
On the following Friday night, I returned to see how such a casual place wears its evening (very chill) and to strike the burger off the list. The Sisyphean task of eating every burger available continues apace and in truth it’s a burden I’m happy to bear. I’ll shoulder that boulder. This one belongs to the genus of elevated fast casual, like Shake Shack with added earnestness. That’s in no way a slight. It’s a solid specimen. If it had been cooked medium-rare as requested you wouldn’t even be hearing about it. So, I commend the kitchen on their regulatory fastidiousness while bemoaning the regulation. This really needs to end. I shouldn’t need to remove my belt and shoes at JFK to get a bloody cheeseburger. Whatever.
We also enjoyed some crispy fried squid with an intensely moreish parmesan aioli. Service at our lunch was eager and smilingly tolerant of numerous questions that required answers from the kitchen. At dinner our charming server entertained us tableside for such duration that I felt slightly remiss for not pouring her a glass of Beaujolais. It’s that kind of place. I appear to have been unnecessarily resistant to the charms of Hen’s Teeth for some time now. It wasn’t that I didn’t get it, (I said to myself) it was that I had no desire to. It’s a symptom of early-onset middle age, like resenting youth or acid reflux. At worst, I feared it would serve as a refectory for the precious boys and girls ensconced in the luxe student dormitories. I was wrong. Consider me converted. This is a place that the area can use. When the new menu launched there was an amusingly honest piece of text at the bottom of the menu that read “To be honest with you, it’s turned out a lot better than we were expecting.”
I’ll echo that sentiment. You can shed the modesty folks, kudos to chef Killian Walsh and his crew. Hen’s Teeth really is that rarest of things, an interesting, ambitious and affordable restaurant in the world’s seventh best city’s fifteenth coolest neighbourhood. What an age we live in.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photos: Mark McGuinness