Grafton Street at Christmas is simply magical: the lights, the festive energy, the music and of course, the shopping, combine to make one feel like a character from a holiday movie. If you know where to look, the enchantment will continue once you’re ready for a bite or a drink (or both), but during the busiest of seasons, sometimes finding a table is closer to The Nightmare Before Christmas than to Love Actually.
Shortly after the lighting of the Christmas lights in Dublin city centre (and by shortly I mean almost immediately after they switched them on), I found myself wandering the illuminated high street before heading to Lemon & Duke. Named after the two streets that intersect on its conveniently located front (Lemon Street and Duke Lane Upper), the venue is a sophisticated fusion of a casual dining venue, modern pub and a sleek cocktail bar.
If you ever visited the site when it was The Grafton Lounge, you won’t recognise it as the corner went from a handy but generic spot, to a place that truly stands out.
Lemon & Duke opened about a year and a half ago and at the time, it made headlines partly thanks to the fact that rugby stars Rob and Dave Kearney, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien were behind the venue. While it’s not really a sports bar, they have two projectors that are used to screen important rugby matches.
One of the bar’s most unique features is the unpasteurised tank beer they serve, so unique that in all of Ireland, there’s only one other place where you can taste it (L&D’s sister bar, The Bridge 1859, in Ballsbridge).
Contained in an eye-catching set of three 500 litre tanks proudly displayed on top of the bar, this revolutionary system makes it possible to pour incredibly fresh and flavourful beer, which they import from Plzeň, Czech Republic. Nathan, who was looking after my guest and I for the evening, pointed out that they replenish the tanks every three or four weeks, ensuring that it will always be poured at its best.
All the staff I spoke to during my visit were well informed and friendly, a mark of a fine bar. The brew itself was a very pleasant surprise; an absurdly creamy head, a full body with soft hops and aromas of baguette and light caramel.
And as enjoyable as it was, I’d struggle to say it was my favourite after having tasted the bar’s most popular signature cocktail, the Cherry Popcorn Sour.
The drink gave me an “Alice in Wonderland” feeling that evoked the way Lewis Carroll’s heroine savoured the “very nice” contents of a not-at-all-suspicious bottle simply labelled as “drink me”. She tasted “cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast”, and I am happy to inform that my potion swapped the turkey bit for the pleasant warmth of Irish whiskey and the cinematic flavours of popcorn.
We were getting peckish so we had a look at the evening food menu. Not too hungry for mains, we went for small plates. We ordered the Fivemiletown Goats Cheese and Beetroot Salad (€7), the Seared Yellowfin Tuna (€8) and a bowl of Sweet Potato Fries with Sriracha Alioli (€4.50). Little did we know the portions were larger than what the prices and the word “small” on the menu had lead us to believe.
The fish was just in the right spot between raw and cooked, soft and nicely complimented by the dressing. The salad was a colourful and contrasting mix of flavours and textures and the sweet potato fries were hot and crunchy.
One praiseworthy feature on the food menu is the fact that they proudly state that all their meats are of Irish origin, a note followed by a list of all the trusted suppliers they work with.
Cocktail number one was so delicious, and the dishes turned out to be such good value that we did the right thing and opened the drinks menu once more. My guest, who has a soft spot for the tipples on the sweet side, ordered the Plump Old Man, a combination of Jameson Black Barrel, Crème de mûre, plum bitters, lemon juice, fresh blackberries and egg whites.
It had a harmonious balance between fruity sweetness and toastiness, which reminded us of a punnet of ripe berries on a wooden chest.
My appreciation for rum drinks, especially a classic Daiquiri, has been well documented so I couldn’t not try the Hanging Hemingway. Named after the writer who took the lemony cocktail to stardom, this floral and herbal twist felt as if the legendary tipple had a twin, and that twin was mad into foraging.
Lemon & Duke proved to be strong both in food and in drink, with reasonable prices, friendly staff, comfortable and inviting decor and well chosen music. I enjoyed it so much that a few days later I went back to Lemon & Duke. As I sit writing now, a booking for a Christmas brunch under my name rests in their books.
The bill, including three signature cocktails, a glass of tank beer, two small plates and a portion of sweet potato fries came to €56.70.
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.