Since its low-key opening in May, The Donnybrook in Dublin 4 has aimed to create a relaxed local bar and restaurant vibe, filling the void left by the closure of Kiely’s earlier this year.
Previously trading as O’Connell’s, the establishment now offers high quality food, a range of screened sporting events and live music, all with a full licence, in a bright and contemporary space. I spoke to Oliver Dunne, owner of the venture, to find out how The Donnybrook has been received since its opening, what their future plans are and how they hope to cater to a wide demographic.
“It takes a while for people to figure out exactly what the place is,” Oliver said, when speaking about locals inspecting the pub. “It isn’t just a restaurant or a pub – it’s both. Essentially it is a social space – you can choose.”
The main ethos behind The Donnybrook, he continued, is that it is first and foremost a pub, with pub food at pub prices but of restaurant quality. The overall reception since its opening has been very positive, with people already embracing it as their local.
Oliver and his team took over the operation in 2018 and continued to trade as O’Connell’s for a period, mostly to fulfill existing contracts, but also to figure out the vision for what would become The Donnybrook. As it turns out, they felt no need to make any interior structural changes, instead refreshing the decor. The existing layout naturally lent itself to a division for separate dining and drinking spaces, so people can enjoy a quiet meal, watch sport or listen to live music and have completely different experiences.
“If you are having your dinner in the restaurant and other people are watching a match in the bar you wouldn’t even know,” said Oliver.
Oliver, himself is a Michelin trained chef with over two decades experience, has had a busy few years. In 2015, he famously rescinded his Michelin star for Bon Appetit in Malahide by turning the restaurant into a more casual eatery, a move that turned the space into one of the busiest multifunctional restaurants in North Dublin. He has since found continued success with Cleaver East in Temple Bar, and Beef & Lobster on Dame St.
The Oliver Dunne Group is now one of the most well known hospitality businesses in the country, and this has allowed for a smooth transition into The Donnybrook.
“If I needed ten chefs tomorrow I could have them,” he said. “There is strength in being part of a group.” Clearly, his experience has made the whole process relatively easy, which he also attributed to the quality of his twenty staff.
In terms of the menu, The Donnybrook relies heavily on feedback from customers to establish what works best for them. “We are constantly testing the water with the menu,” he explained, stating that since opening they have changed their menu three times in total.
If specials are popular, they are added to the menu on a more permanent basis. The menu offers a wide range of food to suit everyone, ranging from Herefordshire beef burgers with truffle mayonnaise, to fish tempura, and vegan options. The menu is confident and offers bar food with a twist; high quality ingredients caefully prepared by well trained chefs.
The restaurant has recently started a weekend brunch and well received weekend roasts with Angus beef, as well as serving sandwiches throughout the day and a children’s menu. The bar has a regularly changing menu of craft beers, as well as menu of ten cocktails, designed by their mixologist Graham.
Variety is certainly the spice of life and this appears to be core to Oliver’s set of beliefs regarding the Donnybrook. “You have to keep evolving,” he said when discussing how they aim to have live music one night a week, potentially jazz, with a sound system, whilst still catering to other customers who might potentially want something different.
“Once you stagnate it damages the business,” concluded Oliver.
The Donnybrook is definitely trying to catch a wide demographic of locals – from families out for Sunday lunch to couples dining on a Friday night; from groups looking for Friday post work cocktails to of course sports fans looking for somewhere pre or post-game.