Behind the duck egg façade of Hugo’s on Merrion Row lies a restaurant with a tantalising secret. Before I divulge, I must make it abundantly clear that even before being privy to this juicy piece of info, Hugo’s was, and always will be, my go-to restaurant in Dublin. Boasting deliciously stunning dishes in a relaxed, upscale environment, Hugo’s is always top of my list when it comes to culinary offerings on the Emerald Isle. Daytime dining is relaxed and informal, whilst the evening is a more sophisticated affair. The dishes are simple, yet delicious, the quality of ingredients evident in every bite. Gina, the proprietor, hails from a family heavily entwined in the hospitality arena. Her years of working and setting quality standards in the industry, teamed with her sincere warmth and care for her clientele, have culminated in a restaurant where every customer is a friend. Hell, it’s the “Cheers” of Ireland, only, sadly, I have a plane ticket home the following day so I can’t prop up the bar and share stories all day.
I was just sitting down to lunch (the silkiest, croque monsieur I’ve experienced outside of Paris) and having a casual scroll through the Hugo’s social media feed when a shot of Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters fame, if you don’t know this, I insist you download their back catalogue immediately) working behind the bar popped up on the feed. Less than 24 hours before I had arrived there with my brother, a rock guitarist and huge Foo’s fan himself, Dave Grohl, the rest of the band and tour crew had been partying in an independent restaurant on an unassuming Dublin street. There was no way I was leaving without the backstory to this, and so ensued an afternoon of the wonderfully amusing storytelling that the Irish are so famous for. We popped open a bottle of Gamay 2016 Domaine a Deux, a great afternoon wine as recommended by Shane, and sat down with Gina to discuss all things food and rock over dessert.
Hugo’s opened in 2007, bringing Gina’s vision of a lively, classy bistro-style restaurant featuring an Irish menu with French influences to life. Their head chef, Peter, leads the team in creating innovative, imaginative dishes, using fresh, locally sourced produce. The food is upmarket without being pretentious, as is the interior and atmosphere. What Gina has created goes beyond regular hospitality: throughout the afternoon, dozens of people dropped in to book a table or just to say hello. She knew everyone by name, everyone’s backstory, everyone was a friend. This genuine respect and care is probably why Rihanna held her Thanksgiving at Hugo’s a couple of years back, or why Pearl Jam, Metallica and other rock legends choose to dine here when recording and performing in Dublin. The musicians who drink and dine here aren’t made a fuss of, there’s no commotion or revelry, they are just looked after the same as Gina and her staff would care for any other patron. We’re all equal here, no rigmarole or commotion, even if you’ve sold millions of albums. Everyone is on their best behaviour, with the exception of the group of “annoying Americans” who insisted on singing Happy Birthday to a young lady on her 18th. Those “annoying Americans” were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they were only trying to be nice.
The casual nature of Hugo’s and Gina’s reluctance to brag about what goes on behind the scenes means you can still get a table here without silly waiting lists or being ushered out as soon as you’ve finished dessert (although it can get pretty busy during the evenings so booking is advised). The food is well priced, but the craic is priceless. For great food, great booze, and a warm and friendly atmosphere to boot, Hugo’s is the place to go. And you never know who you might spot there…
Hugo’s is located at 6 Merrion Row, Dublin 2. Bookings can be made online at www.hugos.ie or by telephone on 01-676 5955