Is it worth getting a taxi? Designated dining trips, from super Circa in Terenure to polished Potager in Skerries, are all subject to this taxi test, all the more difficult to satisfy on a rainy Friday night when staying in feels infinitely cosier.
These are the kind of restaurants where foot fall will fail to be enough, word of mouth and the power of social media are the foundations on which bookings are built. An intriguing Instagram feed packed with all things wild and foraged was enough to get us venturing out of familiar territory to Stepaside recently.
The ire of Dublin taxi apps aside, we found ourselves happily perched by the window in Woodruff, watching as this young restaurant steadily filled up with hungry diners, impressed with the cool and contemporary feel of pale wood and deep pine green features.
Many guests, we note, are greeted with hugs and welcome backs – Woodruff is clearly a popular spot already in this sleepy south county Dublin village. And why wouldn’t it be? They’ll even make space for a Friday night walk-in, likely to win them a warm place in the hearts of locals.
That said, the menu most certainly speaks to a broader audience of food lovers, name dropping all the right people. With familiar favourites like Ballymakenny Farm and butcher Rick Higgins making appearances, we feel in good company here.
Uber modern decor matches this kitchen’s approach to Irish cookery – bang up to date, morsels cured, fermented and salt-baked to heighten the very best of Irish artisan produce.
Opening with snacks, a shard of a potato crisp, so earthy Mr Tayto would weep, was topped with thick, House-Cured Venison and a Wexford apple chutney. Marvellous mouthfuls.
“Which is the winner guys?” our smiling host asks as he clears away two empty plates, the other formerly home to two plump Salt Cod Croquettes which were definitely more than a satisfying snack.
A lighter starter followed in the form of Mooncoin Beetroot, Figs and Rockfield Sheep’s Cheese. This salad could have done with a tad more on the cheese front but the subtly salty shavings of Rockfield played nicely with Mooncoin’s warm and sweet candy-coloured beets and some juicy figs.
Salt-baked Celeriac with Confit Egg Yolk and Crispy Kalettes was a more luxurious choice of opening act. When veggies are this good, side stepping meatier dishes is easy, although lithe shavings of in-house cured Skeaghanore duck breast took this plate to another level altogether.
At our neighbours’ table, a mallard starter looked like €9 exceptionally well invested, with a plump breast and vibrant carrot purée – food envy was setting in slightly until mains arrived.
Every primal instinct at the table took over and dictated that the mammoth Higgins T-Bone before us be greedily dunked in buttery bearnaise and devoured savagely.
Alongside, Ballymakenny long-stem broccoli bathed in yet more butter and some hazelnut finished off a lavish Friday treat and was all that was needed to complete a beauty of a steak experience. The chips, on this occasion unfortunately rather average, could be overlooked when every other box was ticked so convincingly.
On my side of the table Roast Pheasant was a stellar example of the wild bird’s versatility. From perky and juicy breast to a puffed and gamey sausage roll of sorts, a deeply rich jus pulled every element together with more deliciously crisp kalettes. I had little choice but to send back yet another clean plate and was perilously close to being defeated.
After our foraged feast, my genuinely torn dining companion insisted on tackling the dessert menu – he loved everything listed from Woodruff Creme Brûlée to Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding, and I could offer no help in tackling two desserts.
We settled on the one, Roast White Chocolate Mousse, and narrowly resisted a pairing of nearby Wicklow’s Moineir Strawberry Wine.
An aerated and crucially, caramelised, white chocolate cloud caused eye rolls of pleasure – like being back on Southend Pier with a bag of doughnuts, he tells me. A boy contented and exquisite dessert, even meal highlight, on first bite. In hindsight, the snacks may have been a step too far, but I’d struggle to swerve them on a return visit.
Our bill for two snacks, starters, mains, one dessert, unlimited sparkling water and a bottle of rather delicious Sangiovese came to €120.50 excluding service, which was warm, welcoming and all you want it to be.
We begrudgingly opened the aforementioned taxi app and headed towards home, discussing verdicts throughout the journey. For lovers of fine Irish food, we conclude, it would be a grave mistake to side step Woodruff in favour of somewhere more convenient or less of a trek.
This is the kind of spot every neighbourhood wishes they could call their own, and Stepaside is very lucky to have it. Book your visit, while I sit here still cursing my traitorous appetite for not living up to the challenge of a second dessert.
Review By: Darina Coffey
Unit 7 The Village,
T: (01) 558 1362