Comfort Food Classics in Stylish Surroundings – SMS Café Review
Restaurateur John Farrell certainly knows a thing-or-two about running successful restaurants. His first, Dillinger’s, located in Ranelagh proved to be a huge hit and was quickly followed by The Butcher’s Grill nearby. A short time later came the Mexican-themed 777 on South Great George’s Street in the city centre.
They say that good things come in threes and this proved to be the case with Farrell’s next venture – a trio of restaurants on Drury Street which opened under the Super Miss Sue (SMS) banner. Despite sharing the same building, each restaurant has its own space and distinct personality.
Firstly, there is Cervi – the SMS Chipper, named after Giuseppe Cervi who was responsible for opening Dublin’s first fish and chip shop on Great Brunswick Street in 1900. Then there is Luna named after Farrell’s daughter. It won Restaurant of the Year at the Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards in 2016 after less than a year in business and has a sophisticated New York-style, Italian-influenced menu. Finally there is my recent dinner destination, the SMS Café which offers a more casual dining experience.
Like all Farrell’s restaurants, the SMS Café is beautifully decorated. Inside, it has a cool vibe without feeling intimidating. A sturdy wooden bar runs along one side facing an array of yellow formica-topped tables and bentwood chairs. These tables are the perfect spot to sit back, relax and watch passersby through the street-side windows.
There are also a few sizeable booths with black leather-upholstered seating which would be ideal for group dining or an intimate dinner à deux. Large back-lit jars of pickles on shelves cast an almost eerie glow onto dark walls whilst a fried egg shaped neon light adds a touch of humour.
From the easy-to-navigate menu you can choose from a list of starters or ‘Tasty Bites’ which include Egg Mayonnaise and Sausage Rolls to heartwarming main courses such as Baked Smoked Haddock, Cheddar, Cabbage & Cream. I could almost hear the Chip Buttie in the ‘Sandwiches’ section calling to me but was distracted by other treats on the menu and I genuinely had a difficult time trying to narrow down my choices.
Whilst mulling over the menu I decided to order a Bloody Mary (€12) from the small cocktail list. I’ve always had a soft spot for this tomato juice based cocktail. For me the best Bloody Marys have a detectable savoury edge which comes from the inclusion of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tabasco. This one did not disappoint. I particularly like the garnish of a cornichon, olive and pickled quail’s eggs which were skewered together and balanced on top in place of the more commonly seen stick of celery. My companion’s Aperol Spritz (€9.50) was also lovely.
In the end we decided to pick three starters to share between the two of us. At first glance Bubble & Squeak and Fried Egg (€6.50) was a humble looking dish which comprised a fried-egg sitting atop a potato cake. Bubble & Squeak is traditionally made from leftover cooked cabbage and potato which are mixed together, shaped into patties and then pan-fried before being served.
Bubble & Squeak apparently gets its name from the sounds it makes as it is cooking. This version was absolutely delicious and included crushed potatoes and cabbage which still retained some bite. A decent amount of chopped chives running through the well-seasoned patty imparted a gentle onion flavour whilst the expertly cooked egg with its still runny yolk provided a ‘sauce’ that brought everything together perfectly.
The Split Pea and Ham Hock Soup with a Poached Egg (€6.95) was also fantastic and contained a generous amount of meat and chunky vegetables. My grandmother, who was a great cook, always maintained that in order to be delicious, soup must be made with a great stock and this was evident here as the broth tasted wonderful and gave the finished dish a great depth of flavour which was further enhanced by the addition of the poached egg.
Eggs in various forms feature quite heavily on the menu which effectively showcases their versatility to good effect. Scotch eggs are a personal favourite but can be tricky little devils to make as you never know until you cut into one whether it has been cooked properly.
As far as I’m concerned the yolk should be runny… and so it was with the Scotch Egg & Homemade Brown Sauce (€6.95) at the SMS Café. The creaminess of the yolk against the crisp breadcrumbed exterior and succulent sausage meat was a total joy to eat. Special mention should be made of the homemade brown sauce which was excellent and far superior to any of the popular mass-produced versions that are available.
We both decided on hearty main courses. I opted for the Half Roast Chicken, Mash, Peas & Gravy (€16.95) because it sounded comforting and reminded me of one my favourite childhood dinners. Food has the ability to evoke powerful memories and as I ate the moist and flavourful chicken I was transported back to those happy family meals. Velvety, butter-rich mashed potatoes, peas and meaty gravy completed the dish.
Across the table, the Steak & Kidney Pie, Mash, Peas & Gravy (€14.95) was also going down a treat. Served in an individual pie dish, it was packed full of tender meat, chunky vegetables and topped with a crisp and flaky puff-pastry crust. The pastry had been glazed with egg yolk before baking which resulted in a beautiful burnished bronze colour that made it look very inviting. This was a wonderful dish, full of gutsy, robust flavours.
We also ordered a shared side of Cauliflower & Cheese (€4.95) which in retrospect, given the generous size of our main courses was probably unnecessary. That said, it was very tasty with a well-flavoured cheesy sauce that coated the quite heavily seasoned cauliflower.
The SMS Café has kept it simple on the dessert front, merely offering Homemade Apple Pie (€6.45). We decided to order one to share between us and we were both delighted that we did so as this wasn’t just any apple pie but rather a deep-dish, lattice-topped version jammed full of sweet apples and gently flavoured with cinnamon. It was made with a sweet shortcrust pastry that melted in the mouth and was accompanied by a cloud of chantilly cream on the side… and yes… we DID lick the plate clean.
We finished off our meal with a couple of Americanos and both agreed that we had been treated to some fabulous food. The food in the SMS Café is matter-of-fact and unpretentious but great care has gone into each dish. I really enjoyed my meal, though fully admit that we probably over-ordered mainly because we found the menu so enticing. Service is efficient and delivered in a friendly manner and we found the staff chatty and well-informed about the menu and ingredients used.
Areturn visit is definitely on the cards as I know I will need to satisfy my Chip Buttie yearnings and also want to try the All Day Breakfast!
Super Miss Sue
2-3 Drury Street
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.