You wait and wait for the right opening and like that, pow – one’s cup runneth over. Uno Mas has finally opened its doors (to tremendous applause), your Instagram feed is already replete with shots of Gertrude dishes, the Lucky Tortoise boys are in bricks and mortar at last and there’s some place called Grano that people keep annoying me about. Not to worry, line ‘em up and knock ‘em down, I’ll get around to those in due order. Owing to the monthly cycle of this publication the dog on the street has already been in to pass what passes for judgment on the place. Indeed, on the night of my visit, there’s another critic in the room wearing the expression of someone whose chips have been pissed in. I don’t see any chips on their table. Nevertheless, it’s my turn now.
Loretta’s is pleasantly situated at the junction of Doyle’s Corner on the North Circular road. The venerable boozer for which the corner is named has itself just undergone a very handsome makeover. Things are looking up as Phibsborough continues its apparent metamorphosis into a dormitory suburb of Stoneybatter – Drumcondra – watch yer house, literally. Let’s not talk about gentrification though shall we, revitalisation has a much more democratic ring to it. The socialist media warriors can stand down now and have a nice glass of Kombucha or Novichok or whatever it is that the righteous drink these days.
The place has only been open a wet fortnight when I’m joined by my current wife and Teelius, a photographer of our close acquaintance and a Northsider to his bones. Those that sired and begat me were from that direction too so I can and will say as I please.
He is already nursing a white russian (the drink, not a Slavic man) when we arrive and we are promptly moved to the best seats in the house, a spacious banquette with a view of the beautifully kitted-out kitchen. The room is pretty empty (it’s a Wednesday night) but boy, what a room it is. Designers Audrey Gaffney Associates have transformed the grand high-ceilinged corner space that once housed a bank, (and latterly, I believe, a legal practice) into one of the most attractive restaurant spaces on either side of the river. It is airy, lucent and inviting.
People who enjoy the meal now commonly referred to as brunch will be all over this like white on rice. It’s nice to see the space repurposed from such joyless mercantilism.The cooking (for the most part) is an expression of Southern-inflected American comfort food. It is a bullshit-free concept that inclines toward feeding people well and the folks behind Crow St should be taking notes on how to do it properly. The ghost in this lovely machine is chef Jimmy Wiley (ex 777), a native of Colorado Springs and a thoroughly nice guy. He has partnered for the venture with his brother-in-law Ciaran Donnelly and keeping it in the family looks like it’s paying off.
I’m told that there’s no pickle brine for my douchey martini but the Negroni that replaces it works like popping a pacifier in a baby’s mouth. Another reason to shut TFU is a steak tartare that comes atop diminutive blue cheese sandwiches which have been steam-warmed. It’s a statement of intent. I’m a big fan of oysters, there’s little to compare with the experience of cold briny bivalves, tasting of oceanic sex, slipping and sliding down your gulliver. I’m a fan of cooked oysters too. Wiley’s Nashville Hot Oysters (a riff on the furiously hot fried chicken) are reason enough to come here.
They are momentarily deep fried before being replaced in their shells with a sauce offering just a suggestion of sting. Sublime. Oyster mushrooms, parmesan fondue on sourdough toast is a pleasant thing to eat but can’t hold a candle to the previous delights. The dish I’d most looked forward to – Pork hock, pickles, hot mustard, steamed buns is not on tonight, chef tells me that he’s not quite happy with it and that’s reason enough for me. It’s back on now and I will be back for it. Venison chilli is a deeply involving bowlful, profoundly savoury and rich, shot through with the fresh heat of jalapeños and balanced with gouts of cooling sour cream. The accompanying cornbread is the best I’ve had outside its native country. If it’s not on the menu you should petition for it.
The dish that many will gravitate to is, of course, the Fried Chicken. They would be right to do so. Right now it is hands down the best in town. Perfectly moist thigh meat encased in a salty, spicy coating. The biscuit is perfect, the corn slaw more than an afterthought. Go get it. Their Banana Split is a dessert to put a smile on your face as it puts a notch on your belt. At least two of our party are instantly infantilised.
Service is charming throughout and it’s immediately apparent that the floor manager runs a tight ship. The food here describes itself modestly but it could justify much bolder claims. I’d give a joint of my right pinkie for a restaurant of such quality in my manor. For the lucky denizens of D7, this is all the neighbourhood restaurant they will ever need. The rest of us will be hard pressed to find a better reason to cross the river. This is a North Star to follow.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick
162-165 Phibsboro Rd