Eating out in Dublin: where to go to stay on-plan
I get asked, at least three times a day – usually on Snapchat (say hi @rosemarymaccabe and get ready for a lot of dog videos) – for advice on eating out in Dublin. Since I lost weight, I've been pretty vocal about my 90% clean diet, so it makes sense that I'd be a good person to ask for restaurant recommendations! Plus, you may have noticed, I love food. The thing is, I'm not on a particularly complex diet: I eat fresh meat and vegetables with every meal, consume minimal amounts of dairy, little or no wheat or gluten and almost no complex carbs. The 10% of my diet comes in on Saturday nights, where I usually have pizza from Paulie's – I like to think I'm making up for the dairy and gluten shortfall from the week! But finding restaurants that will cater to my dietary requirements – no, thanks, I don't want a sandwich; can I have some chicken with that? – is more difficult than you might think.
This guide will not be for you if you're vegetarian; I tend to eschew veggie joints now, because I need to hit my protein targets while also keeping carbohydrates low (I use MyFitnessPal to track my macros). Nor will it necessarily be right up your street if you're on a medium-high carbohydrate plan (you lucky divil). But for those of you who want high-protein, low-carb and medium fats, here's where I tend to go when eating out in Dublin.
This clean eating joint in the Powerscourt Town Centre in Dublin city is, hands down, my favourite place to go for "clean" lunch. The one issue I have with it is that I can never go and not have the sweet potato fries; they are unreal! So I try to keep my Counter Culture visits for days when I've managed to keep my carbs super-low otherwise.
My meals of choice: the pork chops with sweet potato fries, which I think are only on the midweek menu, are amazing. It's such an odd one, right, because I would never usually choose pork chops. I think it's a throwback to when my mother – Mum, I love you, honestly – used to cremate the crap out of anything that found itself under her grill. But these are succulent and so, so tasty. Then, the turkey burger (also served with sweet potato fries, obvs) – which comes with avocado and salad – is also unreal. I somehow manage to burn turkey burgers myself, every single time I cook them, but this is perfect: charred on the outside, moist on the inside. Lastly? The prawn skewers – on the rare day when I find myself with some self-control, because though these are delish, they don't come with my beloved fries. Sigh.
It's kind of an unlikely one, right? But this burger joint – with locations in Rathmines, Smithfield and Dublin city (just off South William St, on Castle Market) – has loads of really delicious, clean options that'll have you hitting your macros while also feeling seriously satisfied. Just avoid the fries, sugary lemonades and, y'know, bread.
I have two favourites that I go for – although, as I type this, I realise that one of them isn't 100% clean. Oops! So, if I'm feeling super virtuous, I go for the beetroot salad. If I'm in trouble, carb-wise, I lose the raisins (they're so yum, but bump up those carbs something fierce and are, basically, just sugar) and I always ask for it without the bread. Because if that bread arrives on my plate, you know I'm gonna eat it... I have mine with spicy harissa chicken, and if I need an extra protein boost, I get an extra chicken breast for €2.50. Bargain! The other option I favour is a nude Moletsane burger, cooked medium-rare (Jo Burger will do that for you, unlike so many other annoying burger joints – I like to take risks with my cuisine!). This comes with an incredible peanut-chilli sauce, which is where the slight cheat comes in. Not only am I on a nut butter ban (cos I have no self-control when it comes to PB), but the sauce also contains sugar. But I reckon it's, like, a whisper of sugar. A tiny sprinkling.
Er... Let's move on, shall we?
Despite the name, Alchemy Juice Co doesn't just serve juices. Its BT2 cafe does a mean line in soups, salads and protein balls. Plus, if you do want to go for a juice, you can get a pure green juice that contains almost solely vegetables – which my PT Niamh has personally approved.
Once I tasted their chicken pad Thai, it's quite literally the only thing I can order in there. Now, there's a really strong chance that everything else is just as tasty, but I don't care – it's incredibly delicious and comes with home-made almond butter, and you know how I can't resist that... (What?! I can totally order nut butter in a restaurant because they exercise portion control!) It comes with vegetables instead of noodles, and the chicken is so very good. (Why is it that chicken you grill at home never tastes quite as good as it does when you buy it in a restaurant? Answers on a postcard!)
I also have a seriously soft spot for their spirulina balls, which taste kind of weird but also kind of good. It's an experience!
The Bare Food Company
Okay, so this one's not exactly in Dublin – or, rather, it's not at all in Dublin. The Bare Food Company is in Drogheda, but worth the 40-odd minute drive.
As you can see, my dining companions didn't exactly go for the "clean" options, but at the Bare Food Co, everything is sugar-free and freshly prepared on-site. I went for the chicken skewers, house-made slaw and a mixed salad, with sweet potato fries on the side. They also do a selection of sugar-free desserts; we shared the raw peanut cookie, which was insanely good, even though I'm not technically supposed to be having desserts... Did I tell you that, before my new food regime, I tried to have dessert with every meal? Even breakfast! I'm a big dessert person.
With that in mind, I am determined to take one of my cheat meals to go back for their Sunday brunch menu and chow down on that French toast, served with Nobó ice-cream... Dreams come true!
Top tips for eating out in Dublin – and eating clean
- If in doubt, go for steak. It's one of the cleanest things on the menu: pure beef, cooked the way you like it, and there is no restaurant in Ireland that will refuse to serve this with a side of green veggies. Not one. It's a super simple way of eating out without compromising on your diet.
- Ask for what you want, and explain what you need. You'd be surprised at how many restaurants will accommodate you – especially if it's just tweaking something they're already offering, like how I remove the bread and the raisins from my Jo Burger salad. It might just mean going for a burger with no sauce, and no bun – and asking them to beef up the side salad. Somewhere else, it might mean scrapping the muffin from your eggs Florentine, and asking them to substitute some bacon instead. If you don't ask...
- Avoid sauces. At first, I found this really difficult, because things tasted super bland to me, coming from a high-sugar, loaded-with-everything-available diet! But sauces are where a lot of the bad guys hide – like sugars (see my Jo Burger Moletsane sauce, for example!) and unnecessary fats. (Point to note: not all fats are bad – I'll sometimes ask for garlic butter if I feel like having a sauce and have space in the day's fats allocation!)
- Lastly? Don't be afraid to just have coffee. I know, I know; before I started this whole thing, I hated the friend who would show up for lunch and refuse to eat. Why? Because it made me feel guilty! If you turn up for a meal, find the restaurant has nothing that will work for you (I often find this is the case in the super-fancy restaurants, where everything comes with potato foam, or the lamb has approx 20g of lamb in it and 80g of buttery mash) and can wait an hour before eating, suck it up and ask for water and a black coffee. It won't kill you (or me!) to go hungry for an hour or two, and there's no worse feeling than spending €25 on a lunch you didn't even want. Rage!
All of these recommendations are my own, and none are influenced by any of the restaurants involved; I have never been invited to review any of the above three, and the closest I got to a freebie was when Alchemy provided the treats at a Brown Thomas event! (I did once ask Joe Macken, who owns Jo Burger, if he'd consider introducing a loyalty scheme, and he took one look at me and said, "No, because you'd eat me out of house and home!") For more on my honesty policy, check out my disclaimer.