Camden Exchange opened in the space that used to be the exterior location of the RTÉ TV series Raw. I only sporadically tuned in but when I did, it was seriously dramatic. There’s no drama here now, on a cleverly furbished pub that’s both dark and cozy, and cool and calm.
But this new Dublin eatery hasn’t arrived without its fair share of drama. Owner Stephen Johnson (who also owns The Bleeding Horse) was given a court order in February to only run this spot as a restaurant and café/bar, and not as a public house, after his license application was met with objections by independent councillor Mannix Flynn and local business owners.
It really feels like a pub, though. It’s dark and, to me, the focus of the room seems to be the bar. However, the menu tells a different story. We’re hungry on the Sunday night we visit and, luckily for us, the prices are low and the portions are huge. It looks like Camden Exchange really do want to feed us.
But before that, we choose drinks. My friend goes for the BLT, a Bulleit bourbon shaken with mint sugar and fresh lemon juice. All the cocktails are €10 and the cocktail menu reads well, with plenty of interesting flavour combinations – chilli bourbon, rye infused with bacon, lots of ginger and strawberries. I’m fixed a gorgeous berry spritzer by the barman, who tells me ‘it’s not too sweet’ upon delivery. This is what non-drinkers want. I’m tired of being offered Virgin Mojitos or overly sweet drinks when I ask for something non-alcoholic. Loads of Irish people don’t drink but we still like to be in bars. Please try harder! I appreciate the effort put into my jam-jar mocktail (€5) at Camden Exchange. I like all of the staff. They’re casual but sweet, and we’re well looked after throughout.
I’m also pleased by two-thirds of our Share N’Graze choices. For €15, we share three generous boards brimming with tasty nibbles. The kale and parmesan pesto is the winner of the mezze, which comes complete with little jars of lemon hummus and a romanesco tomato dip. There are crunchy radishes and baby carrots on the side, alongside toasted flatbreads. We freak out over our Gubbeen cheddar and chive croquettes. They’re so good! Little fried balls of cheese coated in breadcrumbs. Simple but decadent pub food. We’re less impressed with the Bloody Mary prawns; the prawns are flavourless and the Bloody Mary sauce tastes like a poor man’s Marie Rose sauce. It’s not good.
The chicken is described as ‘farm-fresh’ on the menu. ‘Does that mean free-range?’ I ask my berry spritzer pal. He returns after asking the chef to tell us that it doesn’t. The chicken comes from FX Buckley’s on Moore Street, and I like how Camden Exchange have given over a third of their menu to list their Irish suppliers, which include the aforementioned Gubbeen, Toonsbridge and the Bretzel Bakery.
All the mains are €8 each (of course the chicken isn’t free-range at that price). My friend goes for the buttermilk-brined chicken breast in a fluffy Bretzel bap and likes it well enough, especially the accompanying Asian slaw. I choose the mini fish tacos, filled with deep-fried hake goujons. The fish is a little dry, and I could have done with more of the tasty chipotle mayo and avocado that were hiding under the goujons. I get a pail of thin chips on the side, which adds €2 to my total.
We share the only dessert on the menu, which is a pleasingly sweet honeycomb and caramel cake (€6). The bill comes to €56 even.
72 Camden Street
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Mark Duggan