Among the plethora of cuisines on offer at Boston restaurants, Irish food doesn’t exactly rise to top of mind, despite the city’s love of Irish pubs. Because just what is Irish food? Hint: It’s not the chicken wings and mozzarella sticks at your favorite pub. Not corned beef and cabbage, either, which is “not a thing in Ireland,” according to chef Aidan Mc Gee of Ireland’s county Donegal.
Then consider the Dubliner, which Mc Gee is opening across from Boston City Hall on June 27, as a gift to a city with such a deep connection to Ireland. The refined Irish pub — a partnership between executive chef and owner Mc Gee, owners Oran Mc Gonagle and Will Mc Carthy, and the East Coast Tavern Group — focuses on how people are eating in Ireland today. Think fresh, local proteins and vegetables; flirtation with pared-back Scandinavian preparations; and dishes Mc Gee has perfected along his two-decade career at Michelin-starred restaurants in Great Britain, most recently as the executive chef of the Corrigan Collection. He draws inspiration, too, from his childhood on a farm in Ireland where his former-chef dad planted vegetables and has reared a rare breed of Irish lambs for over sixty years.
After 14 years in London, Mc Gee and his wife, Heather, recently moved to Boston; she’s starting a career in nuclear weapons testing at Harvard. He’d visited here before, and in a bit of kismet, the Kinsale — the previous occupant of the Dubliner space — was the first pub he tried. “Was it fate?” he asks with a laugh. “I don’t know.”
This is his chance to design a menu on his own for the first time. The inaugural offerings include pearl barley dumplings (“like Irish arancini,” he notes) and house-smoked salmon, and Scotch eggs, along with hearty smoked ham-hock terrines. There’s a bounty of vegetables, too: kale salad topped with imported Irish cheese and pine nuts, plus Vermont burrata paired with marinated tomatoes and lime-honey vinaigrette. Classics like fish and chips and shepherd’s pie sing with Mc Gee’s elevated preparations. Then there’s the house-baked Irish soda bread topped with lobster, lemon mayonnaise, and scallions. Mc Gee thinks of it as an “Irish lobster roll” that’s emblematic of the menu’s “if New England married Ireland” vibe.
The menu will change with the seasons, and diners can expect venison and wild berries come autumn. What will remain, though, is a steadfast focus on imported Irish artisan cheeses — oak-smoked Gubbeen from Cork to rich Crozier Blue sheep’s cheese from Tipperary — in a partnership with Bord Bia, the Irish food board headquartered in Dublin. Diners can try a flight that pairs cheeses and whiskeys from each of Ireland’s four provinces and then journey across the rest of the 60-strong whiskey list.
Mc Gee hopes, too, that the Dubliner will be a destination for his Sunday roasts — with Yorkshire pudding, gravy, and all the trimmings — which the Sunday Times once crowned as the best in Britain. “It’s comfort food, and it’s kind of like home,” he says. “That’s what hospitality is. If you invite somebody into your house, you feed them, and you give them as much love as possible, and that’s what we want to do.”
Since Sunday roasts have been savored in the United Kingdom and Ireland for generations, perhaps it’s no surprise that the design of the staggering 8,300-square-foot space hat-tips to the past. The Dubliner is meant to feel like a Victorian Irish pub with a bit of class, with upholstered benches, antique-like wallpaper, and grandfather clocks sourced from local antique stores. The back bar features a custom wall made of three antique Georgian fireplace mantels and etched glass mirrors. The team sourced decor like a Powers whiskey mirror from a shuttered bar in Ireland.
The huge layout lends itself to a choose-your-own adventure, split between two rooms. Hit up the livelier pub side for after-work drinks and a casual meal, or visit the lounge room for a more subdued dinner service paired with live music from both local performers and musicians from Ireland. Then there’s the patio, where folks can crush frozen margaritas all summer long.
This is something the team has wanted to do for a while, says owner Mc Gonagle, who also hails from Donegal: “to create the biggest Irish bar in Boston but really lift it up a level regarding things like service.”
And what’s a pub without libations? “It’s a big thing in Ireland how Guinness is presented to people,” Mc Gonagle says. Along with training staff on the perfect pour, the team designed its own 20-ounce tulip-shaped glass, “which is what would’ve been originally used for Guinness in Ireland,” he says, instead of the brand’s modern gravity glass. Beyond beer, there are cocktails such as the Dubliner, a twist on a Manhattan, with Roe & Co Irish whiskey, orange liqueur, bitters, and a green maraschino cherry, and a carefully made whiskey list includes standouts like a Redbreast 27-year-old whiskey and a 24-year-old single malt Teeling.
After a painful few years for the industry, Mc Gee is happy to see the recent wave of bars and restaurants opening in the city, inviting people back downtown again. And he’s already looking forward to the future. “This is the first of a bigger picture,” he says. “Down the line we’ll get to that ultimate fine-dining experience in Boston of authentic Irish cuisine, on the scale of something like French Laundry, that’s very innovative. That is going to happen, and you’re the first I’m telling that to.”
The Dubliner (2 Center Plaza, Boston) opens June 27 and will operate from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.