The Church Cafe, Late Bar & Restaurant
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In all the years I've lived or visited Dublin, I'd never made the time to eat at the Church
Pub, though I used to pass it almost daily. A gloriously restored 17th-century de-sanctified church, Even more popular now, it's a great idea to make reservations for dinner, whether in person, by email, or by telephone. They serve pastries starting at 11 am with a special for pastry and coffee or tea and both a lunch and dinner menu. If you're fortunate to be there for dinner, plan your reservation for 7 pm. That's when the live musicians start and possibly some Irish dancers throughout the evening, Sundays through Thursday.
Walking in, the bar commands your view, shiny and twinkly brass with gleaming bottles and great lighting, but the pipe organ in the back is a close second. The unparalleled ambience made me think of the abandoned churches in the United States. If only I wanted to run a restaurant, this would be a great idea board for other locations.
The musicians sit under the large stained-glass window along Jervis Street. If you'd like to be up close and personal and sit near them, don't plan to have an intimate conversation with your dining partners. But it is good craic, after all, and isn't that what you're in Dublin for?
I was seated at a two-top in the balcony facing the musicians about halfway up the church. I had a great view of the musicians and bar. There must have been a lot of martinis being shaken not stirred as hard as those bartenders were working. Research for this article taught me (I'm a non-drinker) that if a cocktail contains citrus, cream, or any opaque ingredient, you shake it to mix with alcohol.
The servers were swamped but cheerful. My server, Florencia from Argentina, greeted me promptly and interrupted me rarely. It seems they expect diners to stay a couple of hours and enjoy the show. The food and drinks are brought by other servers… I kept re-directing things I hadn't ordered to the next table down. It was an interesting way to see what everyone was enjoying.
It's easy to see people seated on the same level and the same side as you with open viewing obviously coordinated to favour the musicians. The acoustics are as great as you would expect in a church with a pipe organ. It's difficult to see anyone on the lower level because the bar is so large.
While their lunch menu is similar to the evening menu, I noticed that the steak and oyster options were amplified. I'd eaten a rather late lunch based on my tour schedule of the day, so skipped their offered appetisers of soup of the day, deep-fried crispy calamari, the church chicken wings, roaring water Bay mussels, Dublin Bay prawns, Guinness and plum glazed baby back pork rib, fully loaded nachos or vegetarian nachos, roasted crookneck pumpkin and goat cheese salad, feta and orange salad or grilled courgette and fried chickpea salad.
I really appreciated that they save the servers from several questions right on the menu. They have multiple vegan options and list the 20 most common allergens on the bottom of the menu so you can make your choice accordingly.
I was particularly impressed that the fish and chips were gluten-free, as was the chocolate and peanut butter brownie. My choices made, I sat back and enjoyed the fiddle and guitar combo as I reviewed options for the next time I visit.
Several family members will appreciate their oysters offered by the half dozen or the dozen served with a housemaid green apple mignonette and traditional mignonette with spicy Tabasco sauce which can be added as you please and lemon, grilled filet of fresh Irish cod (my choice next trip or the roast beef if we're there for lunch).
The burgers or steaks will keep most of the meat eaters happy and the house specialties, the Irish Chicken Supreme or traditional Irish Wicklow lamb stew will get you a taste of Ireland. Be sure to ask for the chef's special of the day.
I'd chosen my chocolate and peanut butter brownie as soon as I learned it was gluten-free. When it was delivered, the chocolate was a flourless torte with a drizzle of peanut butter in the centre and across the top. Served with a very small side container of ice cream, blueberries, and strawberry with a sprig of mint, it topped the night. The black tea was strong, and a glass of water helped balance all the flavours.
Other dessert options include homemade apple crumble, lemon tart, vanilla cheesecake, a Banoffee sundae (shortbread crumbs, bananas, butterscotch sauce), Kinder Bueno Sundae (hazelnut sauce, popping candy, chocolate topping, or a Peach and strawberry Eton Mess sundae containing crushed meringue, fresh peach & strawberries, strawberry sauce.
While I've enjoyed the Eton Mess at other restaurants in the past, it wasn't until this evening that I checked out its history. It is thought to have originated from Eton College in the late 1800s. It's a traditional English dessert with a mixture of fruit, crushed meringue, and whipped creams. Hmm. Interesting what you can learn when you go to church.
Their extensive drinks menu was impressive, even to a non-drinker like me. The types of beers, wine, and cocktails was one thing, but an entire page filled with choices of gin and tonic blew my socks off. My fellow photographers from my Pantanal Jaguar trip enjoy their G&T so I've been mindful of it ever since. I posted the list in my WhatsApp group with them as soon as I saw it and had the members "binging" in throughout my meal commenting on how impressed they were with the selection.
Having the luxury of not being rushed out, I sat back and enjoyed the performance of the musicians with a couple leaping to the short platform in front of them for a song every 45 minutes or so. Their brief Irish dancing roused the crowd to stand, clap, cheer, and film.
Once the check was settled, I walked down two flights of stairs to the ladies' room. It's the longest restroom I've ever seen in a restaurant, with gents to the right and ladies to the left with no real obstruction between the two. A few sinks and shelving with mirrors along the wall allowed women to apply makeup out of the stream of traffic but the brilliant bit is the seven sinks in the centre island on the ladies' side. I counted five on the men's side.
On the way from the restroom, you'll spy a large cellar dining area perfect for parties. They can cater events up to 1500 people.
Next time you're in Dublin, make a point of visiting the Church, locally known as the Church Pub.
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