The term ‘Speakeasy‘ became synonymous with the prohibition era in the United States during the 1920’s & 30’s when the government signed into law, legislation banning the production and sale of alcohol throughout the country. Illegal taverns started to quietly appear to feed a nation’s appetite for booze with it being estimated that New York City alone had between 20,000 – 100,000 Speakeasies at one time. They were “so-called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbours”.
Prohibition has long come and passed but part of it’s modern day legacy is some of the fantastic bars you will find around the world that still keep themselves hidden to the naked eye. Paradiso in Barcalona comes across as a Pastrami shop to a passerby but step inside the faux freezer door and you will find one of the best cocktail bars in Europe.
Californian burrito bar Pablo Picante opened on Baggot Street in 2009, igniting the Dublin burrito scene and introducing Tortas (Gourmet Mexican Sandwich) to us for the first time. Pablo now has 4 locations in the city but at Claredon Market things have been taken to another level. You will still get favorites like The Healthy Hombre or A Senor Slim Delgado with their famous Cremosa salsa that has earned cult status on the foodie scene but it’s the wall of hot sauces that will no doubt catch the eye on arrival.
Yes, you guessed it. There’s a secret door, and up the stairs you will find the Mexican tequileria El Silencio FFF. El Silencio – The Silence, projects a hint of irony as while the exterior is hidden, the interior is loud with the slanted ceiling covered in Mexican themed dive bar stickers, some large graffitti and a name adorning lit up sign. FFF stands for “First Food Free” where your first drink is accompanied by a tapa, a typical tradition in most Mexican cantinas. The graffiti reads “A Toda Madre” which in Spanish translates to “At full Mother” and owner Colm McNamara informs me it basically means “at full velocity”, “balls to the wall” or such. Colm says he took inspiration from everything from the movie From Dusk till Dawn, the Latin-American hard rock scene to the sinister world of cartels (the Santa Muerte statuette positioned in the centre of the bar will be familiar to Breaking Bad fans).
But what about the menu? It’s time to order and we get right to work dissecting through the sheet of tacos and toastados. With our first drink comes the aforementioned free tapa, this changes weekly and we are blessed with a small plate of chorizo and potato.This taste brings on a wave of hunger but luckily we are waiting only minutes before our ordered dishes start flying out out of the kitchen and to the table each as soon as it is ready. This style of service is perfect for someone who just wants to stop for the quick bite or for ourselves who want to work our way through as much of the menu as possible. We are first to work on Cheech & Chong €5.5, chicharrón Cuban-style with a tasty dollop of salsa, these pork rinds are a wonderfully chewy snack to start that accompanies the alcohol really well. Roll on TripleZ €8.5, this cornflour quesadilla is stuffed with chorizo and comes with a couple of sauces for dipping but try out the hot sauces that sit upon each table from Dublin chilli maestros Scarlet For Yer Ma. The Mango and Pineapple is Excellent.
The speciality is the tacos and we must agree as we devour through Cochinita Pibil – braised pork shoulder & Mexican pickled onion, El Verde – Salsa verde chicken, jalapeno aioli and purple pickled slaw, Cheese Steak – Slow-cooked flank steak, cheese and chipotle. The tacos are really top quality coming at between €7 and €10 for a portion of two and are well filled with a decent three bites in each. The slightly crunchier Tostadas were another gem, Chipotle Prawn Cocktail a blue corn tortilla stacked generously with decent sized prawns dressed in citrus and chipotle with avocado.
The menu has a strong emphasis on “flexitarian” diets, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options including the Vegan Prison Tray €12.5 – Chipotle-Peanut oil tofu & avocado, fried aubergine & salsa negra, green spicy rice and Mexican beans.
As much as the food is excellent and service fast and sharp, the real stars of the show are the Margaritas. Tequila takes centre stage with a range of blancos, resposados and añejos on offer throughout the menu but it is the simplicity of the half salted rim concoctions that will no doubt make El Silencio FFF a new cocktail hot spot. We loved the The Classic or Tiki Rita with pineapple juice and coconut or a CherryCokeMezcalSour for something unusual but delicious.
Dessert Margaritas are on the menu so how could we say no? Mexpresso Rita plays like an espresso martini but swap the vodka for a reposado tequila and be in for a real treat. There is also a selection of class cervezas and some creative non alcohol options.
The atmosphere is laid back but buzz with a DJ playing some great tunes each night, the mixture of booths and bar seating keeps the movement and laughter mixing between customers throughout the evening. I’ve already visited 3 times for drinks in December and can honestly see this being one of the coolest bars in Dublin for 2020. El`Silencio currently opens Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm til 12.30am and can be booked for dinner or drinks through instagram @el_silencio_fff
Looking to spice things up this new year? Take a trip behind the hot sauces.
El Silencio FFF
4 Clarendon Market, (Off Sth Wiliam Street) Dublin 2
Written by: Christopher Mellon @dublinsocial