18 June 2011

Dining late into the evening in Little Jerusalem

‘Little Jerusalem’ ... a painting in Little Jerusalem in Wynnfield Road, Rathmines (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Little Jerusalem was once a popular name for the area west of Portobello to beyond and Leonard’s Corner, where the South Circular Road meets Clanbrassil Street. Towards the end of the 19th century, this part of Dublin attracted a large Jewish immigrants and refugees, many of them fleeing pogroms in the Baltics and Eastern Europe

Most of the Jewish families that once lived in Little Jerusalem have moved out to leafier southern suburbs, and while the Dublin Jewish Museum survives, all the synagogues in the area have closed their doors.

However, there is another Little Jerusalem close to Portobello – a Middle Eastern restaurant in the narrow street behind Slattery’s pub in Rathmines.

There is excellent Palestinian and Lebanese food in several Dublin restaurants, including the Silk Road Café at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin Castle, the Cedar Tree (Byblos) in Saint Andrew Street, and Rotana Café in Richmond Street, near Portobello Bridge.

Four of us were in Little Jerusalem last night [Friday] for a meal. We brought our own wine, and we ended up staying there for 3½ hours. Although the place is a small shop-front with few tables – which makes booking essential – we never felt rushed as we relaxed in the ambience, enjoying the Egyptian and Lebanese music and the Palestinian paintings on the walls, which also display beautifully embroidered Bedouin dresses.

Despite the looks from the outside, this is not another take-away – although they do take-aways and deliveries. This Little Jerusalem is the creation of Abraham Phelan, who also runs the award-winning Silk Road Café. But you could say Little Jerusalem is more “ethnic” than the Silk Road Café, and it has the advantage of being open in the evening.

The vegetarian mezza or starters include but also foul moudammas (fava beans simmered in olive oil), hummus, musabaha (hummus mixed with chickpeas, lemon and olive oil), falafel, baba ghanoush and a variety of batata (potato) dishes, all served with freshly-baked naan bread that is closer in taste and appearance to Turkish bread than pitta bread.

For my main course I had a selection of vegetarian dishes in a mixed mezza, including some wonderful falafel. For non-vegetarian diners there are also traditional Palestinian and Lebanese dishes with lamb, chicken and fish.

We finished with Arabic coffee – as good as any Greek or Turkish coffee you’ll get.

Little Jerusalem, at 3 Wynnfield Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6, is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 5 to 10 on Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 to 11.30 on Thursday, and 5 to 12.30 on Fridays and Saturdays. Telephone 01-4126912 to make a reservation. They also offer cookery classes and outside catering.

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