Restaurant Review: The Woollen Mills


Posted August 14, 2014 in Restaurant Reviews

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Do you think that there’s always someone in your family’s past who was your parallel? I’ve been told about a distant cousin Mary that had an Eating House in Monaghan town in the 1950s. They pronounced it ‘Ating House’ and it was a place the farmers ate their dinners at noon when they came into town for the weekly mart. She had a black and white terrier called Shamrock whom she let sit on a chair in amongst the farmers – this was when dogs were not often allowed in houses so this was seen as a little unorthodox. Plus, Shamrock was apparently quite vicious. Her patrons let her canine eccentricity slide because, I can only suppose, her food was good. I wish I had met her.

It’s cousin Mary that I’m thinking of as I walk through the doors of The Woollen Mills on Liffey Street to get a sweet bun and an equally sweet flat white to take away. Elaine Murphy – who opened, designed, runs and owns The Winding Stair – bought The Woollen Mills with her business partner Brian Montague in 2012. They’ve spent the last year transforming the four floors of their new business into an Eating House; you can take away treats or sit in near the kitchen on the ground floor, while the second floor houses a private dining room that is practically on The Liffey and an open terrace looking out over the ladies with the Arnott’s bags. At the top lies the bakery, run by Fred, Rebecca, Dave and Anais, who bake everything – the cakes, the buns, the bread, the scones – every day.

“The Woollen Mills has been one of the most iconic buildings and businesses in Dublin for over one hundred years,” their website tells us. “To have taken over this site is a serious privilege. Much like The Winding Stair, we feel like we are custodians of something very special… a piece of history. James Joyce worked here for goodness sake…how unbelievable is that?! We must do it proud.”

 

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The Woollen Mills instantly feels like it’s a part of Dublin. I happen to visit within the first hour of its opening in late June and it’s like it just appeared fully formed. Testament to Murphy’s experience and vision, this new business’ identity respects the space by fully owning it. It has a purpose. “To have a piece of Irish (and specifically Dublin) heritage is an honour. To this end, we hope that The Woollen Mills be quintessentially Irish, local and of its locale. We want it to be an ‘Eating House’, a house of food.”

We sit down to tinned Ortiz anchovies (€10) served on a platter with “too much” (that’s what the menu tells us – we think there is just enough) Cuinneog Farmhouse butter, potato sourdough toast, and a shallot, caper and lemon pickle. The bread particularly stands out; its crunchy crust surrounding a springy, sour, toasted dough. A Jerusalem artichoke hummus is easily devoured but we wish the accompanying sage-sprinkled potato wedges had been seasoned a little better as we generously apply our own salt.

The menu is divided into meat, fish, vegetables and Gruel, making divvying up dishes for sharing an easy task. For larger plates and bellies, a large bite of the Pork Roll in a brioche bun (€12) will please, though the accompanying greasy and chewy old-fashioned pork scratchings are an acquired taste. The ox tongue fritters (€12) with beetroot pickled eggs is a simple surprise. It challenges taste buds with saltiness and dark flavour.

Smaller courses on the night we dine, have a grey appearance. There are dull-coloured pickled vegetables and a roasted cauliflower salad looks limp. Don’t let that fool you. The vegetables are sweet and mustardy, while the cauliflower salad is full of bite and crunchy texture from chunks of celery, with sweetness from plump sherry-soaked sultanas and a final, pleasant bitterness from Young Buck’s blue cheese buttermilk dressing (€5). Everything can be shared and there’s plenty to eat.

 

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The drinks are not incidental, either. My dinner date’s Calvados lime and ginger cocktail (€10) started the meal with a zing. There’s a long list of craft beers to choose from, and later on in the meal, the German Tegernseer Hell (€6.95) makes the final cut. My blackberry and sage lemonade (€4) delights me every time a juicy blackberry gets stuck in my straw. As a current non-drinker, it is a relief to have something interesting to sip.

A Lumpy Langer cake with elderflower custard (€5.95) is ordered alongside A Plate of Nice Treats (€6). Our cakes, and the accompanying coffees, take too long to arrive (over 20 minutes from ordering) but when they do we’re faced with a light yet crunchy cake and a plate of homemade marshmallows, cookies and fresh fruit. The coffee is excellent. We’re on the outdoor terrace and we smoke throughout the meal, feeling like Spaniards defying the smoking ban.

Our bill comes to €64.95 because the combined €17.95 stricken from our bill for those desserts and coffees that were worth the wait. Delayed desserts aside, everything works. The staff are charming, the menu is accessible yet out-of-the-ordinary, and, most importantly, I want to eat there again.

 

The Woollen Mills

42 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1

t: 01-8280835

w: thewoollenmills.com

 

Words: Aoife McElwain / Photos: Mark Duggan

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