I’ll have a glass of the mystery wine- I said, the waitress smiled and came back with a naked green wine bottle with white question marks hand painted all over. It reminded me of a clue left behind by The Riddler and in fact I was now trying to decipher the enigma: the right guess and I’d be taking a bottle of it home, courtesy of The Exchequer Wine Bar in Ranelagh.
The place opened in 2014 and it’s the second venue with the name (the first Exchequer has been in Dublin 2 since 2009). The concept speaks to today’s wine lovers: elegant yet unpretentious, with a mix of the famous and the obscure, the affordable and the luxurious.
On arrival, my friend Dani and I were promptly brought to a table for two I had booked over the phone the day before. It was 7:30 pm on a Thursday and the only two tables empty at the ground floor had a little metallic “Reserved” sign on them. We were given the wine list, the dinner menu and a small snacks and bar bites menu, and while I excitedly ventured to a glass of the unknown, Dani went for a Daniel Chotard Sancerre 2014.
We noticed, and welcomed, the fact that the wines were offered in the traditional 175 ml glass but also on 125 ml servings, convenient if you want to try several wines instead of a lot of the same. Another positive note about the list was how ample it was: over 50 wines by the glass and twice as many by the bottle. The origin of the wines was diverse as well, with a stronger presence of French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, but a fair amount of New World specimens and bottles from less mainstream parts of Europe.
As the sipping began we decided to go for a combination of flavours from their Bar Snack Menu to accompany the wine. The small bites are individually priced at €5 so it made sense to go for their deal and so we got 5 for €20. Despite the place being very busy and with only two staff members on sight, our order was taken only seconds after sustained eye contact.
Here’s what we ordered: Cured salmon, beetroot, watercress and croutes; Exchequer black pudding croquettes and apple pureé; crispy squid and Gubbeen chorizo aioli; Irish buffalo mozzarella, rapeseed oil and rosemary salt; and crispy pork skins with beetroot relish. We agreed to change that last dish for olives with sourdough since they’d run out for the evening.
Everything arrived quickly and simultaneously, the cooked dishes still hot even after a mini-photo shoot. The crispy squid and the Exchequer black pudding croquettes were deemed as the best value of the bunch. Both were well seasoned and crispy, and they were also our favourites flavour wise.
We had a second look at the wine list and before ordering glass two, I took my chance at guessing what was in my now empty glass. My Italian suspect was found not guilty and while my friend ordered a glass of her own to try to unravel the puzzle, I decided to put myself in the hands of our waitress, who later we found out was a sommelier.
I asked her for a white wine that was floral, rich and not too acidic. Her suggestion, a Gewürztraminer (Tramin Gewürtztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Italy, 2013) sounded just like what I was looking for and tasted even better.
While full glasses of wine replaced empty dishes I took a moment to give myself a little tour of the upstairs area and discovered a romantic fairy-light illuminated courtyard on the first floor and a cozy terrace bar above it. They were more intimate and less crowded and more suitable for a date or a small party. As the place was so comfortable and inviting, our stay prolonged, and we felt like snacking again; Dani got a portion of chips and I got a dessert. The chips were hot and crispy, the cheesecake was delicately flavoured, creamy and not overly sweet, which we appreciated.
Back on the ground floor, we realised how it was nearly 10:00 pm and almost every available chair was taken. A look at the people around us suggested that the majority were groups of friends and most of them seemed to be between their late twenties and forties. My friend and I agreed that the whole “mystery wine” thing would be a cool ice breaker for a date and there were in fact a few couples bonding over glasses of their own. She had her chance to guess as well and was remarkably close although not enough to take the bottle home.
Our bill included two small glasses of wine and two full sized, an assortment of five bar bites, a portion of chips and a dessert for a total of €65. By the way, after much insisting and promising we wouldn’t tell any other diner around us, they whispered the secret identity behind all the ???s. To our surprise, it was a bottle of…
Photography by Dani Desio
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.