I’ve been having bad luck on the review front over the past couple of weeks. First there was the restaurant that neglected to mention we’d be sharing our table with another couple until we turned up, hungry and looking forward to dinner. Er, no thank you. Then there was the place that had a fire in the kitchen the day I filed my (good) review – much worse luck for them than for me, of course – and won’t be back open for a few weeks. (Spoiler alert: it’s San Lorenzo’s on South Great George’s Street; put it on your list.) And then there was the restaurant where the chef was stuck in an airport somewhere rather than cooking our dinner. That didn’t turn out too well either.
ut a few weeks back, a friend brought me to Locks for dinner one Saturday night and I’d loved it. Because I’d been her guest and hadn’t paid for dinner, I wasn’t reviewing, but when I was scrambling around for a last-minute replacement, it was the obvious place. I booked in for Sunday lunch.
I’ve probably Locks more often than any other reviewed restaurant in Dublin, since I first wrote about it in Piranha, a student magazine in Trinity. (The notions!) It’s been through numerous incarnations and changes of ownership since then, but the canalside location makes its light and airy ground-floor dining room special, particularly during daylight hours, and never more so than on a bright, crisp spring Sunday when the city’s pooches are out in force, making for excellent dog- and people-watching.
The owners of Locks are chefs Paul McNamara and Connor O’Dowd, but since last July the head chef has been Andy Roche, who comes fresh from a couple of years at the two-Michelin-star Aimsir in Co Kildare. It’s a homecoming of sorts, in that he worked at Locks after graduating from college back in 2016.
On Sundays there’s a set lunch priced at € 45 with supplements for some dishes and, depending on how you view such things, it’s either a good or a bad thing that there isn’t a roast or a Yorkshire pudding in sight. Being a proper Irish mammy, my roast game at home is strong so I’d much rather something else when I’m out.
We start with a few small plates. I don’t think I’d ever eaten a smoked olive before I had them at Locks, and now I don’t want to eat them any other way. There are dinky little heart-shaped waffles smeared with mayonnaise and topped with wafer-thin slivers of ox tongue and pickled girolles, Dooncastle oysters with kimchi juice, daikon and “crispy bits” (puffed rice?) And two types of bread (Guinness and treacle, and sourdough made with BiaSol, a waste product from the brewing industry) with cultured butter with dillisk. We’re off to a great start.
Our starters proper are next. The delicate flavor of cured mackerel under a carapace of slivered navet turnip is enhanced by sheep’s yoghurt, horseradish and toasted kombu mayonnaise, while chunks of lobster hidden under sea beet complement a smoked sea urchin broth poured at the table. The tweezer skills Roche honed at Aimsir are in evidence in the delicate cups of shallot adorning a tartare of Wicklow venison with wild mushroom mayonnaise, juniper, barley and toasted sourdough. Tartare is on every menu these days, and this does not make me unhappy, especially when the texture is as good and the flavors as beautifully balanced as they are at Locks. (There are some horrors out there, be warned!)
A main course of monkfish with roasted chicken skin, Lough Neagh smoked eel (of which I would have liked more), fennel and sea purslane is meatily delicious, while the Delmonico of Petter Hannan’s beef is irresistible – it’s a Locks signature and there would probably be riots if it were ever taken off the menu. The sliced meat is ridiculously tender and comes with a teetering tower of tempura onion (such batter!) Dusted with dehydrated malt vinegar and an bone intense marrow bordelaise. Charred sprouting broccoli in a roasted hazelnut miso is all crunch and heavenly umami, while baby potatoes are dressed subtly with nori, black sesame and lemon.
A parsnip custard tart topped with dark chocolate comes with chicory coffee ice cream and is rather good, while the cheese trolley – due a revival – offers up delights such as the Gouda-style Old Groendal and pungent Soumaintrain. We drink the Coteaux Bourguignons 2019 from Albert Bichot (€ 47) and two glasses of Savagnin from the Jura with the cheese.
The bill for three comes to a fraction over € 300 before (superb) service, but if you avoid the dishes with supplements, you can spend far less. Right now there isn’t a restaurant in Dublin I’d rather go to for Sunday lunch.
1 Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8. locksrestaurant.ie
Stick to the vegetarian main course and dessert at dinner and you could spend as little as € 29pp.
Order all the snacks plus starters, mains, sides, cheese and dessert, and dinner for two will cost € 160 before wine or service.