On the ground floor is the bookshop of my dreams – all wonky shelves, leather chairs and an old record player spinning vinyl. Upstairs, via the winding staircase that gives it its name, is what appears to be the Irish restaurant of my dreams, lined with shelves of books and walled with wine.
To the Irish, literature isn't something to be silently worshipped but a form of communion, a series of loud and insistent voices, telling stories and weaving yarns. They approach eating and drinking the same way, although the voices are louder. Much louder. You have to drink in sheer self-defence, because if you don't drink, you won't shout, and if you don't shout, you won't be heard. The Winding Stair restaurant only gets loud when it gets full. But then, it's always full.
The loudest voice here, metaphorically speaking, is the soft brogue of Elaine Murphy, who became general manager when the entrepreneurial Thomas Read Group bought the place in 2006. It had been something of an institution in Dublin since the 1970s, so the locals were dismayed, but as far as I can see, the bookshop is still a treasure, and the old coffee shop is now a fully fledged, smoothly run restaurant specialising in traditional Irish cooking – a rare enough thing in contemporary Dublin.
A keen student of the gastropub, Murphy has created a charming dining space in the large first-floor room. By day, the sun streams through the tall windows, bouncing off the waters of the Liffey, and at night the bare brown tables glow with tealights. I can reach out to the shelf behind me for a copy of Sir William Hamilton's Lectures, but instead content myself with the menu, which is just as illuminating.
It is a virtual honour roll call of some of Ireland's finest produce, including Fingal Ferguson's charcuterie from Gubbeen, Frank Hederman's smoked fish from Cobh, Jane Russell's Irish bratwurst from Kilcullen and Bill Hogan's and Sean Ferry's cheeses from Schull. It is also a hymn of praise to the potato: Irish leg-of-lamb chops come with cheesy potato bake; poached smoked haddock with cheddar mash; pork belly with champ; fried plaice with boiled spuds; and Irish Aberdeen rib eye with griddled potatoes.
The first thing to hit the table – a wooden plank of Hederman's silky smoked salmon, his gutsy smoked mackerel and fleshy soused and smoked Irish mussels (£10.50) – tells me all I need to know about The Winding Stair. This is stunning produce simply presented, accompanied by little egg cups of crème fraîche, pickled cucumbers and caperberries, and dark, chewy dillisk (seaweed) bread.
A light, creamy Irish seafood chowder of whiting and haddock (£7.50) is real comfort food, while the accompanying slab of Ferguson's smoked bacon and treacle bread is a meal in itself.
The French-driven wine list goes beyond the obvious. A wine-savvy waiter steers me to a couple of gems available by the glass; a silky, raisiny '04 Luigi Righetti Amarone (£7.50) and a rich, opulent '06 Huia Pinot Gris (£7) from New Zealand.
Main courses are massive. Big, thick, satisfying slices of boiled Irish bacon collar (£18) lean up against a mound of mash the size of a baby's head, a mass of buttery cabbage and a good dollop of parsley sauce. A thick, meaty ray wing (£17), coated in brown butter and tiny nonpareil capers, packs even more of a punch, served with a tangy sauce gribiche and a rubble of well-coloured chips.
To finish, a slab of moist, moreish upside-down apple cake (£5) is served with a drizzle of gloopy sticky toffee sauce that turns it into a pud.
What a treasure. The Winding Stair combines serious wine and food with the comfortable ease of a gastropub and loud bonhomie of a local boozer. Dublin definitely has something to shout about. *
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin,tel: 00 353 1 872 7320. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £95 for two, including wine and service
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