Big Sister is great for finding out about cool new places to eat in Dublin, even though she lives more than 4000 miles away. Yet her suggestions are always spot-on. The Pig’s Ear on Nassau Street has been a must-go-to destination for some time. Irish dishes, using Irish ingredients, are created by Irish hands – and in good hands they are: kudos to chef Stephen McAllister and his team for one helluva meal. I was lucky to dine with someone who appreciates everything the pig has to offer, from its ear to its….well, the bit where the curly tail is. I brought The Bearded Chef along.
The entrance to The Pig’s Ear would be rather inconspicuous on Nassau Street, were it not for the striking hot pink door and black and white striped awning, sandwiched between an old Oirish shop selling nameplates and The Runner Bean cafe. With joyful trepidation, I led the way up the flight of stairs to the dining room entrance, itself also somewhat inconspicuous as it looks like swinging hospital doors. As you push through, wondering if you’ve made some mistake, you find yourself smack bang amidst the other diners. This is owing to the fact that The Pig’s Ear is tiny, about the size of my sitting room, minus the horrendous terracotta carpet and curtains (sorry Mammy). The welcome is immediate. We hadn’t made a reservation, choosing to show up at 8pm on a Wednesday night. There was a table in the corner for us, right by the window, looking out onto Trinity’s rugby pitches.
As it was somewhat of a clink-worthy occasion, The Bearded Chef and I started with a glass of Prosecco each – grand. I went for the Thinly Sliced Wild Wood Pigeon with Juniper, Beetroot, Wine Apple & Walnut Dressing to start; he had the Pork & Ham Knuckle Brawn with Mrs Beeton’s Carrot Jam, Almonds, Pickles & Toast. My starter, I was informed on ordering, was actually carpaccio. Now, I’m sure some people might balk at the idea of raw pigeon meat but I was feeling adventurous and I couldn’t let myself down in front of Himself so Pigeon Meat Salad it was for me. And you know what? It was totally bangin’. The meat practically melted off the fork it was so tender. The merry shindig of meat, pickle, slivers of rye crisp and toasted walnut made this dish go KABOOM! I polished it off easily, using some large pieces of shaved fennel as scoops for what remained on my plate. The Bearded Chef enjoyed his pork knuckle, praising its sweet but savoury elements. He wanted more toast points for eating with the pork as one was a bit stingy. He was impressed by the “elegant but rustic” presentation of the dish: mason jars with lightning closures abound at The Pig’s Ear, all served with a spoon sticking out.
In-keeping with my desire to be the adventurous gourmand I went on to order the Haunch & Sausage of Wild Wicklow Venison, being a virgin of this meat also, served with Roast Potato, Root Vegetable Purée and Dark Chocolate. I was told of the chef’s recommendation to enjoy the venison medium rare and I was certainly not one to dispute the master. Meltingly tender slices of crimson venison were stacked like yummy, meaty pancakes, gooey, bitter dark chocolate taunting me on the top stack and peeking out throughout the layers. The earthy, sweet vegetable purée balanced the bitter cocoa texture beautifully. As for The Bearded Chef? What can I say, he likes his pork. Coming in second to the pork knuckle starter was Slow-Cooked Fermanagh Pork Belly, Pearl Barley, Lakeshore Mustard Mash, Pumpkin Purée and Cider. The pork belly was as it should be: crispy on top, tender in the middle, fatty on the bottom and oh so sweet throughout. I can remember my first experience of this oft-maligned cut of meat: it was like eating a meat cloud. And I have never looked back. The mustard mash was also really yummy which is high praise indeed from me because I don’t like mash and I don’t like mustard.
The last course. Although we were getting happily stuffed, I definitely still had room for dessert. That, to me, is the mark of a well-balanced course: just enough to allow you to taste and combine every component completely, but not so much that you’re unable to clear your plate.
I ordered the Brown Bread Ice Cream with Apple & Cinnamon Compote and Crushed Yellow Man. Himself had the Warm 70% Chocolate Tart with Caramel & Salted Butter Ice Cream. We both ordered Irish Coffees. There was quite a wait for the dessert, so much so that the ice cream had begun to melt beside the chocolate tart and enough time to allow my brain to register that my stomach was almost full – not good! I wished the brown bread ice cream had had bigger chunks of brown bread, but it still was a pleasant texture in what was essentially (very nice) vanilla ice cream. The yellow man – homemade honeycomb to you and me – was really special. A delicious bang of honey as the crunchy bits fizzled and melted in the mouth. I had quite forgotten about the compote at the end so it really played no great role in my dessert, which was a pity. The chocolate tart was very good: thankfully not too sweet, just right to end a big meal (though Himself had difficulty finishing it so Happy Food Baby did her duty and pitched in). Shame about the melted ice cream – there is little excuse for allowing ice cream to sit out, especially when it’s hanging out next to a warm gooey tart. The Irish coffees were great!
In all, including a glass of prosecco each, a pint of Carlsberg for Himself, two starters, two mains, two desserts and the Irish coffees, the bill came to €121. For fine food, friendly service, a wonderfully intimate atmosphere with lovely decor, this is a decent price to pay, in my humble opinion. I will certainly be eating here again, as it’s upmarket without a hint of pretension. I’d bring The Mammy, or send her with The Three Nutty Sisters, as she can be hard of hearing. Despite the fact that the restaurant was 90% full, it was still blissfully calm, so no need to shout over your raw pigeon salad.