Review: L. Mulligan Grocer, Dublin

9th January 2014
Pól Ó Conghaile

An Irish pub that doesn’t do Guinness?

An old-school boozer serving French press coffee with egg timers? Or delivering bills inside the kind of Oxford Instruments maths sets in which we kept our protractors, set squares and compasses as schoolchildren?

Welcome to L Mulligan Grocer – a traditional pub and grocery that has transformed itself into one of the best gastro-pubs in Dublin.

At every turn, the rituals of the Irish pub are both celebrated and subverted here.

Arthur is passed over in favour of craft beers brewed by “Aidan, Owen… Gráinne, two Liams, Mark & Peter.” The Rochefort 10 served with my Chicken Kiev is brewed by Belgian Trappist monks. It’s 11.3% alcohol, dark as stock and so thick it might technically qualify as food.

The first time I visited, with the family, our initial impressions were exactly what you’d expect of an old Stoneybatter classic… all worn wood, snug partitions and beery musk.

“What’s that smell?” our four-year-old asked.

“A pub,” his mother replied.

Then I noticed the lotions and potions that punters were drinking – bright nectars in pint, pilsner and tulip glasses. Venturing further, the room opened up into a brighter dining area whose chunky timber tables could have been hacked from old masts. Staff in jeans and striped aprons shuffled back and forth, dispensing menus in dog-eared novels.

It’s not just beer, cider and whiskey getting the TLC. Producers and ingredients are lovingly listed, be they burger buns from the Paris Bakery on Moore Street or black pudding from ‘Sir’ Jack McCarthy in Cork. Apparently Howth’s Kish Fish texts its fresh catch daily.

A starter board (pictured above) features a rustic arrangement of black pudding croquette topped with a kick of beetroot pesto, deliciously sweet pork and apple slider, a perky homemade piccalilli, garlic mushrooms, sourdough toast and an indulgent little dab of bacon jam resting on a silver teaspoon.

It’s like a hymn to the humble pig, priced at €11.50.

l mulligan grocer review

Mulligan’s is also famous for its Scotch eggs (pictured above), which you can order encased in a mix of rare-breed pork or as a vegetarian option with Hegarty’s cheese and “mustardy leeks” (€6). I went for the former. The crumby exterior had crunch, the egg that all-important sticky yolk, and sides of relish and Dijon Mayo lifted the dish without overwhelming it. Nice.

Mains are hale and hearty, ranging from Moules frites with Hoegaarden mayo to venison and smoked bacon boxty burgers and rib-eye steaks. A herb-crumbed haddock with ‘Jenga’ chips (€15.50) is an enormous portion, juicily done with mushy peas and tartar sauce.

Not everything chimes. We found a jar of spiced potted crab, sealed with a hunk of butter, to taste strangely dry. On a separate visit, a perfectly moist Chicken Kiev oozed with Inishowen whiskey butter, but accompaniments of ham hock mash, corn puree and warm bacon slaw tasted lacklustre and overdone. They added nothing to a fine breast of chicken.

The reaction to feedback was encouraging, however. The crab was taken off our bill. A ramekin of pickled red cabbage was brought out as an alternative to the bacon slaw – a sharp and summery little serving that picked things up perfectly.

I loved the feel of the place. L Mulligan Grocer eschews the contemporary stylings of gastro-pub competitors like The Exchequer, Ely or The Chop House – opting instead for heritage, authenticity and a warm and toasty nostalgia. But the devil is in the detail.

Tables are reserved with letters spelled out in Scrabble trays (below). Fresh flowers are dipped in jam-jars decorated with brown paper and string – evoking the grocer’s days of yore. A small brown paper bag of sweets is brought along with the bill.

l mulligan grocer review

One heads-up: if you’ve got kids along, lunch (Fri-Sun) is the way to go. The bathrooms are as old-school as the bar, and weekend nights bring a weekend crowd. The atmosphere is warm and convivial, but a pub is a pub, and family visits should be plotted accordingly.

Our favourite desert was a gluten-free apple and ginger crumble. A cheeseboard centred around a creamy slice of David Tiernan’s Glebe Brethan, a hunk of Coolea Gouda and a crumbly, piquant blue with a dab of honey was a lovely closer for €8.

I didn’t even notice the Guinness was missing.

The tab:

Lunch for two adults and two children came to €54.45; tip extra.

The details:

18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; 01 670-9889; lmulligangrocer.com.

L Mulligan Grocer Review originally ran in The Irish Examiner.