Originally founded in 1976 by the late John O'Byrne, Dobbins blazed a trail and attracted a loyal and disparate following, from media types to captains of industry. In it's new incarnation Dobbins remains a favourite, for food, wine and people watching. Paolo takes a trip down memory lane and finds some good things don't ned to change.
Back in the early 70s when I was an undergraduate, I had a flat in Herbert Street. Apart from being close to Trinity, it also meant I was close to Scruffy Murphy's pub just off Mount Street and close to a newly opened restaurant called Dobbins. Sunday mornings tended to pass gently in Murphy's over the papers, and a couple of times a month I'd go for a meal in Dobbins with my then girlfriend, Susan Morley. In an era when nearly all of the restaurants in Dublin were part of hotels, Dobbins was the first of new breed, a stand-alone restaurant that was informal, made pretty good food and was affordable enough even for students.
There was a summer when about six of my friends were all working in Dobbins, and even Susie managed a two-week stint there working as a waitress. And then there was Humphrey Weightman, who started his career as a chef in Dobbins, and who later went on to be head chef in my restaurant in Wicklow. There were connections, all right, connections that reached right back through the years.
We were sitting in the new Dobbins, the artist Susan Morley and me, in a booth looking around at the new incarnation. It isn't just a make-over, it's a complete re-build and re-fit. The Nissen hut that served as the restaurant for over thirty years is gone, replaced with a purpose-built new restaurant that retains some flavour of the old. The booths are still there, more comfortable now, there's still the same sense of casual intimacy, but what you notice most is that the high domed ceiling is gone, because now there's an upstairs.
What hasn't changed at all in the new Dobbins is the value for money. When we sat down to read our menus, we had a choice of a table d'hôte and an à la carte. The table d'hôte dinner menu, which offers three courses followed by coffee or tea is priced at 35, and even the a la carte offers main courses at under 20. We decided that Susie would eat off the à la carte and I'd choose from the table d'hôte
The wine list runs to nine pages and there's value to be found here too. There's a page marked Spring Selection' which lists fourteen wines, mostly at 20. The mark-up is modest, a Louis Latour Macon Lugny is 25. The main list covers most countries and price brackets and includes some real treasures like a Corton Grand Cru from Maillard of the venerable 1949 vintage. People with deep pockets find plenty to spend their money on in the Cellar Selection' section, where the vintage clarets are listed. There are good vintages here, 1961, 66, 70, and 82 are all represented. A car coupled with good sense meant that we just had one glass of wine each, choosing from a list of seventeen wines by the glass. A glass of Albert Pic Chablis for Susie was 8.75 and a glass of Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon for me was 9.
Susie decided to start with the smoked cod fish cakes, which came with a slice of marinated salmon, aioli and a red pepper salsa. She kept to fish, and followed that with a grilled darn of halibut, which came with a shellfish mash and a lobster bisque. From the table d'hôte menu, which had five starters, four main courses and three desserts to choose from, I started with a crispy confit of duck spring roll and followed that with a confit of marinated belly of pork. I was tempted by the sirloin and the shank of lamb, but the promise of crackling with the pork was the decider.
Because of the way the restaurant has been designed it's in three main sections. There's the section that you first come to, a line of booths on your right, then the seating area widens out to a section of two tables or so, which is where we were sat, and lastly there's the section at the far end where the ceiling is higher where the large party were. That totalled a lot of people, so I watching to see how the serving staff were going to cope with it all. I needn't have worried, throughout the evening the service was prompt and efficient, not just for us, but for all the tables in our section. Actually, I thought it was rather impressive, given the busy night.
I'm not going to describe the food in detail, I'll just tell you that every dish we had was exactly as it was described, including a good dessert - a tasty crème brulee at 8.50. They were well-made dishes, nicely presented and pleasing to the palate. And when you think about it, isn't that exactly what a restaurant pitched at this price range should be doing? Dublin is not well served with mid-range restaurants, places where you can dine well for under 100 for two. Dobbins sits squarely in this bracket and offers a lot for your money. I liked the new room, its décor and lighting, the food was good, the service excellent and our bill for 105.93, which included a 10% service charge, was terrific value for money. The old Dobbins served its customers well for over thirty years, I'm sure the new one will do the same for the next thirty.