What is the secret to running a successful restaurant for more than ten years? A question many a Dublin restaurateur has asked over the past few years.
With rising rents and a fairly chronic chef shortage it’s no surprise to see that there have been several unfortunate casualties in the industry over the past twelve months. However one Dublin stalwart has managed to not only thrive for over ten years but has also continually evolved without losing any of its old school charm.
Hugo’s on Merrion Row is a bit of an institution in restaurant circles, Gina Murphy proprietor and front of house extrordinairre is a one of a handful of unique and charismatic individuals who know the importance of good service and genuine warmth.
We had reviewed Hugo’s quite some time ago when Kieran Guilmartin was Head Chef and ironically enough it was the recent and rather sudden closure Restaurant Forty One, just around the corner in Residence that had brought us back to review it again this time under the competent hand of newly appointed Head Chef Peter Byrne, previously Executive chef of the award winning Sika restaurant in Powerscourt Hotel.
Byrne had a brief stint in Residence before the Press Up group swooped in and decided to change the direction of the venue entirely beginning with a full refurbishment. Being a classically trained chef Byrne decided to exit stage left and take up the helm at Hugos.
A new chef and new menu was enough to spike our interest, and we booked in on a very busy Friday evening and arrived to a buzzing room.
Hugo’s hasn’t changed a lot in ten years decor wise, it’s had a freshen up but Murphy has resisted trends and instead stayed true to what the essence of Hugo’s is in its design – comforting, warm and inviting, to be fair not something you come across often these days in Dublin venues as very inch counts.
First things first…if you like wine this is a spot that should be on your vino radar. Hugo’s have managed to collect an eclectic and interesting cellar over the years, well priced and very well laid out, with each and every wine having a concise tasting note — more of this please!
We settled on a glass of Monte del Fra, Valpolicella Ripasso 2015 which is available on the Coravin system by the glass (€13.50), perfect if you are a designated driver but fancy indulging in that one special glass. Worth noting that by the glass options begin at €7.25 if you are watching the pennies.
Food wise Byrne has refined the menu to six starters and six mains, mostly remaining fairly classical aiming to please most palates.
There is a good spread on the starters from Torched Mackerel and pickled kolrabhi to Oxtail and Celeriac ravioli, we kicked off with an impressive opener of Seared Wild Yellowfin Tuna (€13.50), beautifully dotted with avocado puree, a fragrant yuzu jelly and a dashi dressing, lending itself that umami flavour that completely accentuates any dish.
Across the table, a Taste favourite arrived – Whipped Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese (€9.95) elegantly surrounded by organic beets, heirloom tomatoes, artichoke and a welcome drizzle of basil oil, a simple taste of an Irish summer on a plate.
While tempted by the veggie option of Potato Gnocchi, asparagus and a poached hens egg, the inner carnivore creeped in and the Challans Duck Breast (€30) was swiftly ordered. Seared and served medium to rare (as it should be!) rosy inside, crispy skinned with foie gras, roast parsnips, madeira jus and heart attack inducing whipped potato. Easily the hero dish of the night.
Our second main of Roast Fillet of Cod (€25.95), sautéed baby spinach, sliced baby potatoes and a sublime caramelised cauliflower, (that could possibly convert even the biggest haters to this often vilified veg) was an equally delicious plate and decent value for money in this neck of the woods.
One dessert proved more than a match for us, a generous Strawberry Panna Cotta (€9), a beloved pudding, about which as Jay Rayner once noted “A good panna cotta, if it’s set right, is meant to wobble like a woman’s breasts”… and we can confirm that Hugo’s wobble was certainly on point.
There is no doubt Peter Byrne has put his stamp on the menu, with Murphy manning the front with the ease of a pro and a warmth that is unparalleled, these two make an incredibly impressive duo on the Dublin dining scene. It’s safe to say Hugo’s continues to hold a special place in our hungry hearts, if you haven’t been there is no better time to change that.
Dinner for two with one glass of wine and two coffees came to €108.05