Over the years, the hustle of Dame Street has spread south. George’s Street and Aungier Street have sprouted hip restaurants and bars. Wexford Street has spiralled into a hotspot for nightlife.
Now, the transformation is spreading all the way to Portobello. At least that’s what Russell Wilde – the head of Richmond restaurant – says. And, probably, hopes.
On Richmond Street South, his restaurant is a new sight for passersby. Sat among long-standing takeaways and BYOB restaurants, it is at the upper end of the market down here. Though it isn’t too formal, and Wilde says it’s good value. Head chef David O’Byrne previously worked at French restaurant La Mere Zou on Stephen’s Green and Mulberry Garden in Donnybrook.
Wilde considers himself lucky to have found such a well-trained chef, when Ireland is currently suffering from a shortage. “He has the experience and the energy,” Wilde says.
Together Wilde and O’Byrne came up with Richmond’s menu, which right now includes an 8oz burger, braised lamb-neck fillet, cod, roast duck and pan-fried potato gnocchi.
Because of O’Byrne’s previous experience, Wilde says the menu was originally too refined and had to come down a peg.
“We’ll leave out the caviar,” he says.
It still looks fabulous, but it’s cheaper. The burger, a mandatory dish, according to Wilde, has quickly become his favourite. Main courses range from €16 for the burger, up to €27 for an 8oz striploin steak.
“We just want to serve his food in a really nice place,” says Wilde.
Wilde has no qualms about the future success of Richmond. Although this is his first business, he is confident – happy with his choice of chef and premises, along with 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, most recently at the Butcher Grill in Ranelagh.
Since opening its doors two weeks ago, Richmond has done a steady trade. Early last Thursday evening, around 6.30pm, the seats were half full.
In fact, Wilde looks forward to his first review and competing with The Butcher Grill and Bunsen in what he calls “the battle of the burgers”.
Maybe Richmond is competing in this battle with The Butcher Grill, where the menu lists a burger for €20. But it’s hard to imagine that it’s fighting for the same diners who eat at Bunsen, where burgers start at just €6.95.
A Refurb for the Books
To the right of Richmond, Mexican food store Picado did up its building last year. To the left, there remains a derelict shell of a building. Not too long ago, Richmond wasn’t much different.
“A lot of people are quite affectionate about this building, because it used to be The Gigs Place,” says Wilde.
Well-known among musicians, taxi drivers and late-night wanderers, The Gigs Place was, from the 1970s onwards, a shebeen.
Open from midnight until 6am, it accommodated showbands who wanted to relax after playing, and people looking for some grub on their way home from town.
The Gigs Place was famous for its fry-ups, and one of the city’s few late-night alternatives to the expensive clubs on Leeson Street.
Wilde says people keep asking him about it, telling him they were courting their wives when they used to visit it, he says. “We’ve even had a few guys late at night, walking in and looking very confused,” he laughs.
Having initially rented the space two years ago, Wilde has since spent every penny he has refurbishing the derelict site – and an awful lot of sweat and tears.
He’s gotten rid of the iconic white-plaster facade, neon signs and arching window of The Gigs Place. “It was really incredibly tacky,” he says.
Though he wanted to keep the booth-style seating, he had to compromise because of size restrictions.
He describes the rest of the building, which he says dates back to 1856, as quirky and beautiful. “For me it was just an opportunity to get it back to its former glory,” says Wilde.
Formerly a greengrocer, an undertaker’s, a café and a hairdresser, as well as a late-night bar, the building needed a lot of refurbishment.
Wilde has retained some of the old features, including the bare steel supports and wooden beams.
At the front of the restaurant, there’s a hinge sticking out of the wall. It’s from an old gateway back when animals would have been kept downstairs and people slept upstairs, Wilde reckons.
Upstairs fits another 20 customers – on top of the 28 seats downstairs.
Smooth jazz vibrates through the restaurant, with a bit REM thrown in too. The old feel of wooden floors and exposed red bricks is balanced with some contemporary art and modern decor.
Richmond opens Wednesday through to Sunday for dinner, and serves brunch on weekends as well.
Wilde already has plans to extend Richmond’s service in January with a quick and flexible lunch menu and a discounted set menu on Tuesdays.
Cheap Tuesday, suggests Wilde. Or Taco Tuesday? “Or something that sounds better,” he chuckles.