Elephant & Castle is no new kid on the block. In fact, it’s been there so long it would be difficult to picture Temple Bar without it. A true Dublin institution. Aware that this always busy-always buzzing spot needs no introduction, I thought it only fair to do a little review; as I’ve been a handful of times over the last couple of months.
Going back a little further than my recent visits, I vividly remember coming here the odd Sunday as a child. It was just as energetic back then too, and I remember watching the Popeye and Olive Oil dolls intently on the shelf above, hoping a passing server would take pity on my yearning and take them down for me to play with. I’d be lying if I said they don’t still catch my eye when I’m waiting in the foyer to put my name down for a table.
After over 20 years in the business (25 to be exact according to Facebook), how often are Popeye and friends dusted?! Do children try and scramble on their parents shoulders and try to take them down? Do staff kick out misbehaving children? Where did these Popeye dolls even come from?! Why aren’t the dolls on display elephants from Babar? Babar had a crown, that would cover both the elephant and castle side of things. See? Burning questions. But an elephant never forgets, and people never seem to forget this restaurant either. It’s the perfect balance between tourists and regulars, and you’ll never see an empty seat.
Before we get into why you should go – Elephant & Castle don’t take reservations online or over the phone; tables are given on a walk-in basis. What I tend to do is go there first when I arrive in the city, put my name down for a table, go about my business and come back for my allocated time. I recently went for lunch on a Friday, asked for a table around 14.30 and was asked to come back at 15.15. Not bad at all, and it gives you the chance to visit one of Dublin’s many bars for a pre dinner drink. If you’re a party of 3 or 4, I would recommend asking for the booth at the back. It’s my favourite spot! You’re still very much immersed in the sights and sounds of the fantastic atmosphere yet you have your own little snug to discuss whatever you please. Like a well crafted plan to pilfer the Popeye dolls. If you want those window tables at the front, you need a bigger party.
Despite the place being packed round the clock with people everywhere, the vibe is distinctively relaxed; and the staff are all chilled out and friendly. Service is prompt and sometimes you get a few different faces to your table, which is totally fine by me, it’s a good system they have going. Before you order drinks you’ll get a jug of ice water to your table and your glasses will be topped up throughout – an important simple element for me which is sometimes forgotten when a restaurant is crazy busy.
Drinks wise we knew what we wanted, but a very nice server asked if we would like any recommendations. We ordered a glass of prosecco and a glass of The Accomplice Chardonnay (really nice and love the bottle, very memorable!) Both were very well priced. Bottles of wine and prosecco don’t cost the earth either, considering the location.
The menu is varied and interesting, and it’s clear to see great care went into its crafting. There are so many options, you’d never get bored. However, some folk don’t even look at the starters part of the menu, for if you go to Elephant & Castle, you start with the wings. Up until recently, I hated chicken wings (Yeah, I know…bludgeons are included in this post.) Now I love them, and want to try them everywhere.
These wings are hella famous. Almost every table top in the place is adorned with a basket of glistening wings, smothered in E&C’s secret sauce. They are really, really good. My only gripe that day was I didn’t get as much sauce as usual, but asking for more would be selfish – they churn those things out so frequently to the masses, I know enough has to go around. The sauce is rich and spicy and you can smell the wings approaching from a mile away. Served with blue cheese sauce, they’re perfect for sharing, or not sharing. When I see almost every table enjoying their famous wings (the term ‘chicken wings’ come up in Google after you type Elephant & Castle, for goodness sake) I wonder how many bones are discarded at the end of the day. Several bags? Do they have a bone collector? More burning questions.
I’m a mussel freak, so I took the liberty of ordering those too. You can’t go wrong with mussels. The sauce is what makes these ones extra good – they’re served with fennel and tomatoes in a garlicy white wine sauce.
When the girl serving us saw the pile of empty shells but a bowl full of sauce, she asked did I want a spoon to eat it like soup. Who is this girl, if not the love of my LIFE?!
For mains, my sister ordered the Elephant Burger, on a gluten free bun. Portions are generous and served on big sturdy plates. E&C is also the only place I know in Dublin that offer to pack up your leftovers in a doggie bag to take home without even having to ask.
Back to the burger. This burger is served with curried sour cream, streaky bacon, scallions, cheddar, tomato and a side of fries. Their fries are also very good fries.
My Mother (with her ever virtuous intentions) ordered the pan-fried Irish salmon with scallion mashed potatoes, samphire (love that stuff) and varech butter.
As I’m supposed to avoid yeast for a while (long, boring story) I ordered king prawns with ginger and lime couscous. I knew this would be good, but ordering something light and non-yeasty and burgery, I wasn’t expecting anything outstanding. This to me on a menu would be a safe dish for me, but everyone is different, obviously.
Well now, let me tell you – I was pleasantly surprised. This dish was amazing, every bite better than the last – it was creamy, citrusy and the prawns were succulent and buttery. I was going to eat the tails but remembered my table manners. I also remembered I’m not a barbarian. It looks like it’s no fuss, no frills; but it’s a serious dish in terms of flavour. Deathly serious. A ninja dish. It was one of those ‘If this was my last meal, I’d die happy’ moments. I don’t see it on the online menu, but I highly recommend it, and really hope it’s still available.
So there you have it – a reminder of one of Dublin’s finest establishments that you pass by regularly or probably haven’t been to in a while. Keep it on your radar, it won’t disappoint.
My next plan is to try their brunch menu! It looks wonderful. I go for brunch locally every week with friends. If I can convince them to go further afield, that review will be up here quicker than you can say Babar.
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