My friend arrives for lunch carrying a large shopping bag. She’s making the most of her first trip into the city centre since March and has bought a padded down coat that will be her designated ‘eating out of doors’ wear for the winter months. Within half an hour, the labels are off and the coat is being christened.
f you want to have even a semblance of a social life this winter, you’d better get one too, although by the time you read this Locks will have installed awnings, heaters and screens to keep things cosy as temperatures drop.
Locks is a Dublin institution, one of those restaurants for which everyone has a soft spot. These days the restaurant is under the stewardship of Paul McNamara (also a partner in Uno Mas) and Connor O’Dowd, and under current restrictions is operating outdoor dining, takeaway and dinner-box options.
We are happy to be sitting outside in the sunshine at one of the handful of tables arranged along the side of the restaurant, on Bloomfield Avenue, with a view of the swans on the canal a few feet away.
I don’t think any of us has the headspace for over-complicated food at the moment. Damien Grey of the Michelin-starred Liath is launching a street food project, and last weekend Cuan Greene, formerly of Bastible, sold out his kebab offer at Gaillot et Gray in short order.
At Locks, a short menu focused on familiar, comforting dishes reads the room. There’s no compromise in terms of the quality of ingredients, and the (amazing!) sugar pit bacon ribs and steaks still come from Peter Hannon in Moira, Co Down, who supplies luxury London department store Fortnum & Mason and counts Nigella Lawson among his fans. (Hannon will shortly be launching a range of bespoke hampers in conjunction with our own south of the border superstar butcher, Pat Whelan.)
We start with beautiful bread: Guinness and treacle, neither too sweet nor too heavy, and an airy sourdough with a chewy, tasty crust, better than anything I have achieved at home, even after all these months of practice. I know Locks’ signature smoked trout and dillisk butter to be a wondrous thing but unfortunately it’s too cold to spread properly and the flavour doesn’t come through. No matter, it’s a small quibble – our only one.
There are room-temperature mussels à la Grecque in a simple tomato sauce, and oysters dressed with a riff on the classic mignonette made from compressed shallot and apple cider vinegar. The oysters from John Ward at Dooncastle in Connemara sing of their ‘meroir’ – the waters in which they are farmed adjoin fields in which sugar beet was once grown and lend a distinctive residual sweetness.
And then the simple joy of impeccable fish and chips. The freshest of cod in a crisp tempura-style batter; hand-cut, skin-on triple-fried chips seasoned with smoked salt; minted mushy peas and a hand-made tartare sauce. Classic combinations work for a reason, there is no need to mess about when each element is this good.
A steak sandwich comes on more of that fine sourdough, griddled this time, the char adding another layer of flavour to tasty meat, with a few watercress leaves for bitter bite and a couple of onion rings for good measure.
Call me basic, but I love a truffle and cheese fries as much as the next person, and the Locks version – with smoked Gubbeen and truffle custard dolloped about the place with abandon – is hands down the best I’ve had, although a cardiologist might not necessarily concur.
We finish with a chocolate peanut butter slice that’s all goo and loveliness, with texture from puffed rice that saves it from being de trop, and a plate of good cheeses – Ballylisk, Mossfield cheddar and Fourme d’Ambert – with a seeded cracker, quince and a few slices of crisp Granny Smith.
The bill for two, with water, a bottle of Vermentino, the Costamolino 2018 from Sicily (€40), an aromatic white with bright acidity, comes to €126.75 before service.
ON A BUDGET
Chicken Caesar salad with good free-range chicken from Sean Ring’s farm in Co Kilkenny is €12.
ON A BLOWOUT
Half a dozen oysters each, grilled monkfish with green curry sauce and tiramisu will cost €79 for two before wine or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Lunch at Locks is always a treat, no less so on the terrace.
THE LOW POINT
The smoked trout butter was too cold to spread.