Stairway to heaven
A real taste of ireland, a view over the liffey and wonderful winter comfort food
So, where do you take a returned emigrant from Tucson Arizona on a chilly night in December? He wants to feel he is in Dublin not a Parisian bistro or an Italian Deli. He wants quality Irish ingredients and he wants a good time -- it had to be the Winding Stair.
We enjoyed the small adventure of entering a plain door from a windy street, ascending creaking, winding stairs until we emerged into the cheery bustling room, buzzing with happy, pretty people. Our smiley welcome also boded well: "Of course, you can have the window table."
From our spot overlooking a brightly lit Ha'penny Bridge we could see no glum faces, nobody being ignored by their date or waiter, just lots of clinking cutlery and animated conversation.
Staff seemed to be constantly on the move checking tables and refreshing glasses and minding their patrons -- no sulky bored hipsters waiting tables in this joint.
The menu was another comforting feature with the producers of many of the ingredients name-checked, and proper winter food on offer.
The wine list is helpfully laid out by wine style from "minerally floral whites" to "aged and austere reds".
Classics are nestled alongside the obscure, eg Portuguese blends and Austrian wines mixed with Grosset Polish Hill Riesling and Dom Tempier Bandol.
We ordered a Soave made by that region's best wine maker Pieropan, which was classified in the "refreshing and crisp" section at €35. It was "refreshing and crisp" but also subtle and complex.
Myself and Tom were hungry but herself was feeling the Christmas over-indulgence so she chose the smoked fish plate and the option of stealing some extra bites from our plates. The delicately smoked fish was soon demolished, along with most of the 'fixins' as they say in Tucson (caper berries, pickles, dillisk bread etc).
Irish seafood chowder was rich and creamy but light enough to allow the fish flavours to sing out. It was packed with chunky fish, sweet mussels and, best of all, lots of Fingal Ferguson's chorizo from West Cork (his mammy makes Gubbeen cheese).
Tom's prawns on toast were perfectly simple and perfectly delicious.
Tucson does have bigger steaks and cheaper cars but you can't get seafood this good in most of Europe, and certainly not in Arizona.
My Hereford sirloin arrived pink and juicy with chunky homemade chips, fragrant tarragon butter and sweet, sticky onions. The onions overpowered the other flavours so I left them alone and concentrated on the meaty goodness. Now this steak needed chewing but this is as it should be -- the joy of a good sirloin is in the chewing, which brings out the juices in the meat and taste buds.
Tom's hake arrived on a celeriac mash island floating in a Dublin Bay prawn bisque and was a tiny bit dry. It did, however, flake well and tasted fresh and light, with the bisque offering a nice contrast.
Sticky pear and ginger cake was a warming winter dessert -- admirably sticky and gingery. Two clean, fresh- tasting espressos (not easy to find these days), and we were sated.
The Winding Stair has the best views in the city (maybe of any city), friendly attentive staff, excellent ingredient sourcing, a proper wine list and best of all; tasty unpretentious food. This is food worthy of a flight from Tucson, never mind a taxi ride from Terenure.