Category Archives: Ireland

Dublin : Blackboard Bistro

For my last Dublin post, I thought I’d talk a bit about my favourite Dublin restaurant. Like most major European cities, Dublin has a density of great eateries; from takeaway to sit-down-white-linen, its really a matter of desired atmosphere and budget.

In a pub one night I chatted with a group of 20-something Dubliners working for Google. The Googlites had several restaurant recommendations, all of which I tried but Blackboard Bistro was my favourite.

I was expecting Blackboard to be full with a waiting list but I discovered, much to my delight, it was only half full for the early lunch rush at noon. Located in the basement of a building off a main Dublin artery, it compensates for a lack of natural light with very well-thought out architecture, casually-sophisticated decor and music that walks the line between soothing and progressive.

Service here is top-notch in a city priding itself on personable interaction. The measure of good service, for myself, is accurately gauging the mood and pace of the patron. I was down-timing from a hectic morning rushing about the city centre and I was looking for a leisurely pace; I got it. Thanks Declan!

BlackboardBistro5 BlackboardBistro4
BlackboardBistro3 BlackboardBistro1

So, the main focus is food and you could just randomly pick a few items, like I did, and I’m certain you will be thrilled.

Mushroom Soup
Mushrooms, varied, roasted, pureed, condensed, mixed and thickened with what I assume is potato. Put that in a bowl with something creamy. Anything else would not take the edge off of a Dublin damp-cold November day so effectively. Or so deliciously.

Grilled Hake
Locally-sourced and prepared with a bent toward the middle eastern with chili flake, cumin, coriander, saffron and lemon. Served atop baby potatoes mashed with baby spinach and probably just a wee bit of butter. The flavours burst forward from the fish and it’s accompanying spices just a vividly as the colors do in the photo.

Basil Panna Cotta
People who know me know I rarely eat sweets. However I could not resist a try of Basil Panna Cotta with Tomato Jam and Basil Seeds. Panna Cotta is just a step away from being ice cream or at least thickened yoghurt. The chiffonade of basil that found its way into mix gave the dessert a herbal and citrus note which paired extraordinarily well with the sweet but earthy flavours in the tomato jam. This is the most innovative spin on the traditional Italian sweet I’ve seen to date and it would be one of my first requests on a return trip to Dublin.

Price is nudging toward the high side however the quality, innovation and service is likewise high. Compared with the other high end lunch spot I visited, Pig’s Ear, which was certainly excellent, I preferred Blackboard Bistro for service, innovation and presentation.

Lunch: 30 Nov 2013

The Blackboard Bistro | 4 Claire St | Dublin 2

Dublin : National Gallery And Museum

The National Gallery and National Museum are two separate entities close together in the center of Dublin 2. There are several branches of the National Museum but the Archaeology Branch is closest to the National Gallery and definitely worth a stop if you’re visiting the area.

The National Gallery contains a collection of works from Irish artists as well as other exhibits. While small, the Irish Art collection is impressive in its range of genres and techniques. Be prepared for crowds since tour upon tour dump their human contents into this space. Allow at least 45 minutes for the Irish Art section.

The National Museum, Archaeology is the place to visit if you want to see millions (literally) of artifacts found on Irish soil. Its an impressive collection as a whole but the spotlight for me was the collection of gold objects; the workmanship is commendable even by modern standards. Allow a minimum of 2 hours just for the major exhibits.

DublinNationalMuseum4 DublinNationalMuseum7
DublinNationalMuseum9 DublinNationalGallery7

Dublin : Christchurch Cathedral

Like Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral is another Dublin landmark central to most paths through the city centre. I discovered it on a westward trek from Dublin Castle; it was a good 2 hour stop. There was a God thing going on whilst surveying, so out of respect I did not photograph the inside, but I recommend a pass through.

The seat of The Church of Ireland, Christchurch was originated in the 11th century but what you see today is the result of heavy renovations in the early 19th century and some follow-up renovation in the 20th century.

DublinChristChurch DublinChristChurch2
DublinChristChurch20 DublinChristChurch15

Dublin : Guinness Storehouse

No trip to Dublin is complete without a stop at Guinness Storehouse. I doesn’t matter if you like Guinness or not, the complex itself is interesting and the well-constructed exhibits explaining every last detail of the Guinness making method are fascinating. The views atop the complex are noteworthy and for those who do drink Guinness, a complimentary pint awaits as long as you don’t lose your ticket. Food Courts here are fair to good and the obvious recommendation is to try the Beef & Guinness stew. A pint of Guinness to pair is obligatory.

DublinGuinness17 DublinGuinness13
DublinGuinness27 DublinGuinness4

Advice on transport, walk the Liffey to Watling St. then head south to Thomas St., then west until you see the Storehouse signs, which will be to the south. I did not follow my own advice and arrived in the Portobello neighbourhood, way off course. In Dublin terms this is a ‘bad area’ but honestly I did not find it any worse than Hell’s Kitchen. In case you’re looking for falafel, Portobello has density of mid-east shoppes and I did get to use my Arabic to get directions out. Its always fun to surprise a Sryian guy with my knowledge of Arabic, however limited.

DublinGuinness33 DublinGuinness11
DublinGuinness23 DublinGuinness2

Dublin : Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle held various roles since it’s creation in the 12th century. It was the seat of British rule for quite some time so I get the sense there are mixed feelings about the site from the Irish perspective. But now its basically an Irish government complex and tourist attraction. The interior is well-preserved and decorated in various period pieces,  however it can be crowded and almost impossible to photograph.

Whilst touring the complex there were several Christmas activities in progress, which seemed premature, given it was Thanksgiving weekend, however it did add a bit of color to the otherwise gray outdoors.

DublinCastle10 DublinCastle13

If you are in the Dublin Castle area, ’round back there is an interesting museum, the Chester Beatty Library, which will appeal to history, art and manuscript buffs. Don’t miss a walk about the Garda Memorial Gardens directly across from the Beatty, it is a tribute to past members of the Garda (police).

DublinCastle3 DublinBeatty

Directly across from the Dublin Castle is a NYC-small tart shoppe – Queen Of Tarts. It has a very simple menu – savory tarts and dessert tarts, a few of each. I wedged into a small table and enjoyed a bacon-leek tart (quiche) while watching the density of wool-clad souls hustle down Dame St. Service here was personable but the hectic and cramped space may not appeal to everyone. The tart was incredible; dense, filling, bacon dominated the flavours but the leek, Gruyere and potato refused to be ignored. Side salad was a nice touch as was the apricot chutney. Considering its one of the few meals I had in Dublin under 10 Euros, it was also one of the more memorable.

QueenOfTarts2 QueenOfTarts1

Lunch: 30 Nov 2013

Queen Of Tarts | Cows Lane, Dame St | Dublin 2

Dublin : Trinity College

Its size and location in the center of the city make Trinity College a must-see stop whilst touring Dublin. Invariably, you will pass by it on the way to anything else and the landscaping, sculpture, architecture and exhibits here are noteworthy.

DublinCollege21 DublinCollege13
DublinCollege8 DublinCollege6

I made two stops at Trinity. One to pop off some photos and get a general feel. The other to see the Book Of Kells exhibit. The Kells exhibit is good; giving a comprehensive history of  the Celtic Monk-created artifact containing the Four Gospels of the New Testament. I don’t have much interest in organized religion but its a technically interesting and well-preserved bit of local history – I recommend.

DublinCollege17 DublinCollege11
DublinCollege3 DublinCollege15


Leaving the exhibit was a departure into anachronistic-chic; it was dark (at 430p)  and the neon lighting, Irish trip-hop music and skinny-jean-high-top-sneaker clad students permeating the campus were strangely complementary to its 16th century roots.

Dublin : The Liffey

When visiting a new city I always try to find a navigation anchor; some part of town, a street or landmark easily found from which I can launch to other areas. In Dublin I found  the Liffey River, which cuts east-west through the centre of town, was the best anchor for me.

Walking the Liffey is scenic and lively, it also affords direct access to many of Dublin’s architectural and cultural highlights. From the Liffey you can also see the real estate-squatting influence of Google.

DublinLiffey10 DublinLiffey12
DublinStPaulsChurch2 DublinLiffey3

Clockwise from upper left;

  • East-bound Liffey, Ha’Penny Bridge
  • Tower commemorating Dublin’s 1913 Lockout, interesting history
  • West-bound Liffey; follow this for Guinness and Jameson!
  • East-bound Liffey; St. Paul’s Church and Four Courts area

Ireland Pre-ramble

I’m back. Most people already know about my miles run to Dublin. Miles run, as in a lower cost, higher miles trip to boost my frequent flyer miles level so I can continue to upgrade to first or business for virtually nothing. Its what my NYC friends call a Upper East Side problem.

With 4 days on the ground I did not have much time to sample even Dublin, which was the only destination on the roster. But, I did learn that I will go back. Coastal and pastoral scenery, art, beer, whiskey, seafood, beef, architecture – all exceptional. But the real attraction here is the Dubliners themselves; warm, fun-loving, slightly sarcastic and self-effacing people who can talk all night about anything. Everywhere I went the Dubliners would want to know what I was doing and if I was enjoying my time. They would suggest off-the-path sights, even to the point of walking me to them and introducing me to the sight coordinators. They are direct, if not blunt, but it is not intended to offend, rather to communicate effectively; social engineering is pivotal to Dublin life. The Irish sense of nationalism is the strongest I’ve ever witnessed in Europe, if not anywhere.

More to come on Dublin over the next week.