The Pig’s Ear: Are the Dubs keeping it a secret?
In America we seem to celebritize everything. So, there’s no shock that good food became the latest trend a few years ago. Now, good food can be found around every corner. It’s also no surprise that we’ve turned our chefs into celebrities. Whenever we see them at book signings or on the street, we clamor for their attention, their autographs and locks of their hair. In Dublin, it’s the opposite. Young creative chefs are appearing throughout the city, but they’re hard to find. They are lurking in the shadows, hands and minds feverishly creating magical things that deserve celebrity-esque attention.
With a lot of effort, research and multiple suggestions from locals, I found a restaurant called The Pig’s Ear. Standing on Nassau St, in the general direction of the address, I practically got whiplash trying to spy out the restaurant across the massive crowd of students and tourists and transportation traffic. Finally, with hawk’s eyes, I spied the black and white awning with white text, a loose illustration of the glorious swine and a fuscia door. Please, don’t blink, you’re bound to pass it up. Behind a narrow stairwell lied a modest room with eleven tables, white patterned tablecloths, rustic hardwood floors, and great windows facing the backside of Trinity College. This place would have a line out the door if it were in San Francisco. Two-course lunches (€15,95) and early bird two-course dinners (€19,95) that are a revelation at what’s to come in Dublin. Hopefully.
I didn’t have a reservation and didn’t know if I could eat without one. I mustered up some courage, poked my head into the dining room and searched for a hostess during universal non-rush restaurant hours, 2:30pm. I asked if I could come in for an early bird dinner and the gracious hostess said it would be no problem. I moseyed down to the National Museum and returned to the Pig’s Ear at 5:30pm. That’s right, I’m old and I eat dinner at 5:30pm. Am I in communist Spain?!*
The meal started off with Ireland’s mainstay, brown bread and butter. Our starter was a salad consisting of black pudding, transparently thin apple slices, fingerling potatoes, watercress, garlic aioli and it was all served on a thick and dark wood cutting board. The mild black pudding was like chocolate cake, with its steel cut oats lending a toothsome quality and there was no metallic taste of blood. This contrast of modern, traditional and rustic turned me into a black pudding convert. Brilliant.
Organic Irish Salmon, potted shrimp, samphire (sea beans), almonds on a bed of “champ mash” and finished with a lemon butter jus. This is exactly what I was looking for. It was contemporary and clean, a nod to Ireland and their British ties, but took advantage of the abundant natural resources that Ireland used to export, seafood. The champ mash is basically a puree of potatoes and spring onions and a centuries old Irish recipe. The samphire was perfectly crunchy, a slight salinity and asparagus-y. The Salmon was still opaque in the center, the skin crispy. The buttery jus was light and seemed to cleanse your palette after every bite, preparing for the next. And since we returned from the Irish coast the previous day, I certainly tasted the smell of the sea and smelled the air. Or, dimethyl sulfide if you’re a realist.
Ireland’s mainstay made another appearance in their homemade brown bread ice cream with yellow man. Makes perfect sense, considering brown bread uses molasses as a sweetener. What’s yellow man, you ask? It’s honey comb. The yellow man was crushed into small bits on top of our ice cream, loaning a sort of bitter and burnt note that would be unappetizing on its own. But, with that sweet and creamy ice cream, it turned into a nutty component.
This place is amazing and I just hope that Dubs are realizing what a jewel they have in the city centre. This meal shows that The Pig’s Ear’s head chef, Mr. Stephen McAllister, is paying some seriously close fucking attention to the meal, symphonically storytelling. If you’ve managed to pay attention yourself, between stuffing your gob of delicious food, you’ll notice the meal started and ended with brown bread. “The Brown Bread (is) one of the few natural glories left to Western civilization,” wrote Richard O’Conner in “The Irish, Portrait of a People.” I’d agree. Given to us in a traditional preparation and then in a modern, this is where they’ve been and this is where they’re going. It’s not only the mainstay of Ireland, but a damn good bookend to the meal.
* Doesn’t actually exist.
You can find The Pig’s Ear here: www.thepigsear.ie/
4 Nassau Street Dublin 2, Ireland
Telephone: 01 670 3865