This month, forget standard “pre or post” dinner tipples and make cocktails and small plates the main event. Ciara McQuillan rounds up the smartest spots …
THE ROOM The understated interior of the uniquely Irish Bar 1661 combines traditional and contemporary to great effect. Leather banquettes, mismatched artwork and moody lighting sets the scene with comfy snugs aplenty. ON THE PLATE Winners of the coveted title of 2022 Irish Bar of the Year, the team at Bar 1661 has two admirable aims: “to introduce the world to poitín, and lift Irish cocktail culture to fresh heights”. The inimitable Belfast coffee with bán poitín, cold brew, cream, demerara and nutmeg has certainly realised both ambitions. The bar snacks are equally Irish, with “food you don’t need a fork for” gathered daily from Dublin markets. Indeed, forks are redundant when it comes to slurping Irish oysters or grazing over charcuterie plates from Ispíní and Gubeen, cheese from Durrus with almonds, olives and hummus making the grade for the all-important cocktail nibbles. WHAT ELSE? Bar 1661 comes from the same stable as those who brought us Craft Cocktails, top quality pours that can be enjoyed at home, without the sticky mess that making syrups can often entail. This winter sees the addition of three new margarita blends, the spicy one, the fruity one and the smoky one, just in time for festive fiestas. Bar 1661, 1-5 Green Street, Dublin 7, 01 878 8706; www.bar1661.ie.
THE ROOM A Venetian-inspired joint that’s reminiscent of a Fellini film set and all the glamour that evokes. Campari pendant lights and vast mirrors add a certain oomph to the space where every detail has been considered. ON THE PLATE The clue is in the title with cicchetti translating to small snacks or side plates traditionally served in a Venetian bacaro, or bar. The term itself is all-encompassing when it comes to the actual dishes and in its Dublin incarnation, it refers to a selection of stuzzichini (appetizers), fritti (fried foods), pasta e al forno (pasta and baked dishes), panzerotti (deep-fried mini calzone), carne (meats) and verdure (vegetables). All are small plates designed to be shared, making them perfect for nibbling on with an excellent negroni or cocktail of choice. The fritto misto for two (€14) with flour-dusted, deep-fried calamari, prawns, whitebait and courgettes is the standout dish. WHAT ELSE? In the drinks department, it’s all about the spritz with a selection of other classics on the menu. A Garibaldi (Campari with fresh orange juice) is always a good choice and the Aperol spritz is good value at €10. Open seven days a week from 12pm. Aperitivo Cicchetti, 47 Nassau Street, Dublin 2, 01 539 2919; www.aperitivo.ie.
THE ROOM Paying homage to Latin American culture, Paladar is a vibrant space, with art and sculpture from Latin American and Irish artists, a spectacular glass installation by Glanmire-based Eoin Turner Studio, and plants from Cork Rooftop Farm. ON THE PLATE In Cuba, the word paladar comes from the Spanish word for palate and refers to a small, family-run restaurant. In Cork, Paladar translates to dramatic cocktails and colourful small plates, including roast cauliflower, green mole and grated Brazil nuts and fish moqueca, a fiery Brazilian fish stew of sautéed vegetables and dendê farofa (toasted cassava flour cooked with oil). Try the powerful Coffee & Cigarettes cocktail with Johnnie Walker Black, Ardbeg ten-year single malt, coffee liqueur, Punt e Mes vermouth and mole. WHAT ELSE? Paladar comes from the team behind the award-winning Cask Bar which promises “fine vittles” and cocktails. Paladar, 6 Bridge Street, Victorian Quarter, Cork, 021 229 0045; www.paladar.ie.
PARLOUR BAR AT HADDINGTON HOUSE
THE ROOM Dainty, quaint, nostalgic. Any one of these adjectives perfectly describes the recently refurbished Parlour Bar at Haddington House. Textured walls, pale pink curved seating and an abundance of velvet will have you channelling your inner movie star from the golden age of Hollywood. ON THE PLATE Similar to Oliveto, the restaurant at Haddington House, the menu at Parlour Bar has a distinctly Italian slant. Choose from Cerignola olives with garlic and rosemary oil, lamb arancini, with parmesan aioli and red pepper or cured salumi plate with homemade pickles and house sourdough. As expected, the cocktails are top notch, my favourite being the Sakura, with Remy Martin, Disaronno, orgeat, passion fruit, vanilla and yuzu. WHAT ELSE? Take a moment to look at the exquisite hardback cocktail book which weaves the tale of former resident and bon viveur Abigail Haddington through stunning images, words and of course, cocktails. Parlour Bar is open seven nights a week for cocktails and with the bar food menu served Wednesday to Sunday. Haddington House, 9-12 Haddington Terrace, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, 01 280 1810; www.haddingtonhouse.ie.
THE COCKTAIL BAR AT THE MERCHANT HOTEL
THE ROOM Entering The Cocktail Bar at The Merchant Hotel feels like stepping back in time. Vintage Baccarat chandeliers, dark woodwork, ornate ceilings and dim lighting make the perfect backdrop for the exquisitely prepared cocktails and delicious food. ON THE PLATE The food menu runs the gamut from a charcuterie plate for two (£24.95) to a dry-aged ribeye steak with spring onion mash, rocket, parmesan salad (£35.95) and everything in between. As expected, for a hotel of this calibre, the quality of the food is first class, served daily from 12pm–9pm with cocktails flowing until 1am. Speaking of cocktails, the list extends to over 40 pages and includes sections such as the Jerry Thomas, named after the author of the world’s first cocktail book How to Mix Drinks: The Bon Vivant’s Companion, published in 1852. WHAT ELSE? If, for some reason, The Cocktail Bar hasn’t assuaged your cocktail or culinary cravings, Bert’s Jazz Bar, also in the hotel, is another option. The Merchant Hotel, 16 Skipper Street, Belfast, 0044 28 9023 4888; www.themerchanthotel.com.
THE BLIND PIG SPEAKEASY
THE EXPERIENCE A glam cocktail bar, speakeasy and restaurant, The Blind Pig is a vaulted underground space with stone detailing and intimate, moodaltering lighting. First timers will enjoy the theatrics of the hidden location, only revealed after a booking has been made. ON THE PLATE The Blind Pig is a classic cocktail bar with a full menu to satisfy even the hungriest tippler. The food is New York Italian at heart and reasonably priced for the city centre location. The seafood and meat options are plentiful, and there are a couple of vegetarian options too. The spaghetti with fresh Irish lobster, brandy, garlic, basil and tomato sauce (€29) sounds like the perfect plate and grazers will enjoy the sharing charcuterie plate with Italian artisan salumi, cheeses, and olives. The cocktail menu is cleverly designed with each concoction categorised by all-day, aperitif or afterdinner, with flavour profiles also helping when it comes to decision-making or pairing with dishes. WHAT ELSE? Most nights, you can expect to be serenaded by live music as you dine, with performances that will transport you back to the Jazz Age, with a modern twist. The Blind Pig, secret location, Dublin 2, 01 565 4398; www.theblindpig.ie.