Paolo Tullio's Review
A few years ago I was lamenting the dearth of restaurants in Dun Laoghaire. Whether you saw it as a part of the greater Dublin conurbation or as a fairly large town in its own right, it didn’t used to have its share of restaurants. But something has changed since then. Dun Laoghaire’s dining culture is coming of age.
There’s a cluster of restaurants at the Pavilion complex and that’s been changing fast. Roly at the Pavilion is gone, soon to reappear in Dundrum, the Forty Foot has become La Bodega, Real Burger is expanding into the old Roly’s and just across the road Restaurant Na Mara has become Hartley’s. Dun Laoghaire, the capital of Soduco (that’s south Dublin county) also acquired the excellent Alexis last year. That’s a whole lot of flux.
The fine cut granite building that houses Hartley’s is from an era when travellers were accorded respect by architects. It was part of the railway station, and like all Victorian stations it was built to make the traveller feel important. Think of St. Pancras, King’s Cross, Paris’ Gare du Nord, Rome’s Termini, New York’s Grand Central and you see a pattern. Then compare it to today’s airports that are designed to make travellers feel like cattle, walking through zigzag crushes, removing shoes and belts and undergoing whatever new humiliations the airport authorities have dreamt up in the name of ‘security’. Frankly this is one case where I prefer the old to the new.
Inside you find high ceilings, huge windows and a pleasingly proportioned room with a large bar counter to your right and the seating areas to your left. The room still had the Christmas decorations up, but when they’re gone what remains is quite spare. Plain marble-topped tables, some banquettes around the sides and a wooden floor give it a Spartan feel, or if you prefer, minimalist.
I’d gone there to meet Taste of Ireland’s Gerard Carthy, and indeed it was his suggestion that we eat there. Two good meals there before Christmas had left him eager to get me to try it.
My first impression on looking down the menu was that the prices were very reasonable - plenty of main courses under €20 and starters well under €10. Given the surroundings this boded well even if the food was going to be average. I liked the menu choices - for starters there were classics like Caesar salad, seafood chowder, back ribs and goat’s cheese salad, but also interesting dishes like a Roquefort and fig salad, salt an pepper squid, and what I chose, wild mushrooms and a poached egg on brioche. Gerard decided on the ribs.
The rest of the menu lists a few pasta dishes, plenty of seafood dishes, various char-grilled steaks, a vegetarian tart and a chicken dish. Eventually after much discussion between us Gerard chose the fillet of halibut and I chose the baked smoked haddock, leek and Gruyere gratin.
There’s a good wine list in Hartley’s. Any list that starts off with a Manzanilla already has me hooked and, like the menu, it’s very well priced. There are wines by the glass, half bottles, dessert wines and fortified wines. The range of wines from €20 to €30 is well catered for and there are some very good wines on the list - Pieropan Soave, Varnaccia from Teruzzi and Puthod, Felton Road Pinot Noir and Frog’s Leap from Napa. Sadly with a non-drinking Gerard I was just window shopping. I decided to treat myself to a glass of Manzanilla at just €5. Sadly the Christmas rush had left them depleted of Manzanilla, so I had a glass of the very acceptable Saint-Bris white Burgundy at €6. Two large bottles of sparkling water completed our drinks order.
Our starters came and were nicely presented on large, plain white plates. Gerard enjoyed his simple ribs and I enjoyed my starter, although despite intense forensic investigation I was unable to work out what ‘wild’ mushrooms were on my plate. Whatever they were, they were a little fibrous and flavourless. Perhaps they were another casualty of trying to source food over the Christmas period. Still, we both enjoyed what we got.
The main courses arrived, a fine fillet of halibut for Gerard on a bed of mash with beurre blanc and a fish pie for me. I wasn’t expecting this, as the word ‘gratin’ doesn’t mean a pie. It means ‘with a crust’, usually a Duxelles sauce sprinkled with breadcrumbs and cheese and grilled. I’d been anticipating my smoked haddock with that sort of crust. What I got though, was a good fish pie, and at €15 very good value too.
We finished with a dessert between us, a chocolate hazelnut brownie with maraschino cherry ice-cream. Well made and tasty it finished of the meal nicely.
After that I got one of the best espressos I’ve been given in Dublin for a long time. Good coffee, properly made in the right cup, short and intense. A real winner. We left Hartley’s with a bill for €85.75 and that warm feeling that comes from a good meal. I discovered that Hartley’s is owned by the people who have Dali’s in Blackrock, a restaurant that I like, so it has a good pedigree. It makes a fine addition to Dun Laoghaire’s growing number of good places to eat.