Guinness. Potatoes. Oysters. If asked to name three things that come immediately to mind on thinking of Irish food, those would be the ones popping up in my head. It’s embarrassingly simplistic, when I consider the broader picture – of the various other healthy and delicious edibles produced by The Emerald Isle. Take Dublin’s Coppinger Row, for instance. Self-styled as a Mediterranean restaurant, it serves local produce wherever possible. Last November I was lucky enough to visit this stalwart of the Irish food scene with Emma Kenneally, Editor of Lovin’ Dublin, and fellow bloggers and writers from the UK.
Located on a short cut-through between busy shopping streets in Dublin 2, Coppinger Row was pretty well-occupied for a Monday lunchtime, yet Emma assured us it would be positively heaving come weekend brunch. I was ravenous by the time we were seated, in spite of a spot of kedgeree before my flight from Heathrow, so I was more than ready to be fed. The selection of starters offered to our group by the chefs had definite Mediterranean influences, but the core ingredients were very much local fare.
Barbequed Carlingford oysters with Merguez sausage and spring onion were first to appear. Served warm in their shells, on a bed of Neptune’s necklace, each one exuded a magical mix of ozone and spice. The next platter was my absolute delight of the entire day’s eating: Jack McCarthy’s black pudding, from Kanturk, County Cork, garnished with baby leeks and gooey gorgonzola. Suddenly, I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, the fire sparking away, Toby jugs on the mantle, with plates of a proper, Kiwi fry-up before us on the dining table. My grandmother often served black pudding with her cooked breakfasts. It was store-bought but very tasty, not too fatty and decidedly too delicious to reject once I’d learned that the key ingredient of these dense, black sausages was BLOOD. As an adult, I’ve never found a black pudding as beguiling or balanced as those wolfed down during childhood winter holidays. Never, that is, until now. Mister McCarthy’s black pudding is smooth, almost completely devoid of lumps and fatty bumps, which I don’t exactly relish. Take a tin of black boot polish and you might start to visualise the look of the pudding, but there’s no way on this planet that you’d comprehend the taste and texture unless you’ve visited either Mr Jack McCarthy or Coppinger Row. Here, the black pudding was served on rounds of bread, resembling a tranche of solidified tapenade. The gorgonzola was melted atop these dark mouthfuls, with a green sprinkle of baby leeks lending a touch of spring to the presentation. I could write an entire post about this black pudding, but I won’t. Not today, anyway. The point is that if you like black pudding, this is one worthy of lengthy analysis and description and perhaps a quick trip to Dublin Town.
Next on the menu were Liscannor Bay crab claws, bearing all the characteristics of those you might find at a Floridian clam bake: big, fat, succulent, with almost tropical colouring. They sat upon a cushion of bread slices, drenched in garlic butter. Dare I say that the sopping, warm bread was just about as good as the claws? In this eating game I find myself avoiding bread much of the time, to save both capacity and calories, but this is not the place to exercise such wisdom. Eat. The. Bread. You won’t regret it.
Another platter from the sea was now before us: Kilmore Quay Mackerel with Moroccan spices, fennel, olive and orange. I’m a huge fan of this versatile, inexpensive fish. Then again, I don’t know many pescavores who don’t rate it well. Once more, the touch of exotic heat and fruits of the sun took my taste buds on a quick flit about the Med. Supple and silky was this Irish fish.
We were now able to diverge from the tasting menu that had been created for us, in order to try something of our choice from the menu. One of our group ordered the pulled pork, another the open meatball sandwich, which is apparently legendary here. Grilled steak on flatbread, dressed crab and crayfish with basil and lemon, spinach and ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola cream… all received pretty solid praise from around the table. We were off to eat again in a few, short hours, so in an attempt to reduce my intake I went for the vegetarian mezze plate and antipasto board. It was essentially a salad served on a breadboard with ramekins of houmous and tzatziki on the side. I do admit to being more accustomed to the antipasto components being distinct, instead of tossed together. That’s not to say that the mezze plate wasn’t good. Every chunk of artichoke, bite of mozzarella and salad leaf was, at the risk of being cliché, farm-fresh and flavourful and once more, the Med was right there, hovering bright in the background of this grey Dublin day.
Before leaving, we were treated to just one more taste of Ireland, this time its cheese. Cavanbert (rhymes with Camembert) hails from County Cavan. Cavanbert is one of Irish cheesemaker, Silke Cropp’s creations, with a raw cow’s milk base and more of a bite than its French cousin, Camembert. Irish mixed seed crackers from Sheridan’s cheesemongers were the accompaniment, and fine crackers they were, too, providing a crunchy alternative to the slices of rye bread.
In summary: Coppinger Row is a bit of a Dublin institution, especially for weekend brunch. Make sure you book ahead. If you like black pudding, you must try theirs; it has a creamy texture to rival any other I’ve eaten to date. The restaurant’s interior is tiled deep green and with the neo-industrial lamps, shelves of well-thumbed cookbooks and a subtly-lit décor, Coppinger feels just the right amount of modern with an Irish retro twist. There’s a sheltered terrace in the front and the staff are warm and enthusiastic about their local suppliers. Ask them any question about the menu, sit back and listen up as they wax lyrical about all foods Irish.
Coppinger Row – Off South William Street, Dublin 2, www.coppingerrow.com