Union 8 restaurant looks splendid on a crisp Spring evening. It occupies a corner site on the junction of South Circular Road and Old Kilmainham in a cool Art Deco building, and its all lit up and has a covered heated terrace running down one side.
Inside the room is open and airy; a large square with the open plan kitchen down the back wall, while the two exterior walls are mostly glass. Simple decor adds to the sense of space, and there is some interesting art on the walls.
There is a warm welcome from the young team led by manager Marc, who hails from Valencia, and there is a nice vibe among the staff, who all seem genuinely happy to be at work.
They say themselves that this is a neighbourhood restaurant, and the menu reflects that somewhat, but if you were judging the neighbourhood from the dishes on offer Kilmainham has been twinned with Kensington, which is no bad thing because the menu is ambitious and there are plenty of dishes here I want to eat.
Seasonality is important and it shines through here with a menu firmly set in the seasons, with several game offerings including pheasant and venison. There is also cod with coco beans, corn fed chicken with lentils and seafood linguine. The burger is made from beef cheek, which should make it moist and succulent, and the special is halibut with a crayfish beure blanc. There is no doubt some thought and creativity have gone into this and its great to see the kitchen aiming high, rather than settling for the same old staples.
Starters brought us sea and land; Dee had the pork belly, served shiny and impossibly soft except for a thin crackling, and an unusual sweetcorn puree. The flavours fairly buzzed in the mouth, as a sneaky mouthful proved to me.
I had the scallop gratin, three juicy scallops served in a shell sitting on a selection of dressed leaves. The gratin was crisped up with the addition of almonds and the flavours combined to produce a delicious dish.
Main courses continued to impress; I had the venison, beautifully roasted and served pink, with a truffle mash, Parmesan crisp and roasted butternut squash. The venison was rich, tender and perfectly cooked and was beautifully complemented with the creamy mash and a thick jus.
Deirdre had the special, a piece of pan roasted halibut served with a crawfish beurre blanc and baby broccoli florets. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and firm, and the sauce was terrific, with an almost nutty quality.
We managed to find room in the special dessert tummy for two of the temptations, a blackberry trifle and a chocolate fondant. The trifle had a pistachio sponge and thick custard, with a blackberry coulis and large proud berry on top. This was a lovely surprise, the sponge was really nutty and complemented the custard and fruit beautifully.
The warm chocolate fondant was equally good, perfectly cooked, soft inside and with a salted caramel centre, it was served with honeycomb ice cream and it all came together perfectly.
We both really like Union 8. It is that rare thing; a neighbourhood restaurant that manages to be friendly and causal, while serving food that is interesting, inventive and delicious. Dee remarked on the way back to the car that we could do with one of these in our neighbourhood, but for now we'll either have to simply envy the good citizens of this part of Dublin 8, or get off the sofa and take a short trip for a very good dinner.