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Winding upstairs

The Interview
Aine McGuire

Winding upstairs for scrumptious food

The Interview

Padraig Burns

IT shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that Mayo people are starting to feel at home in ‘The Winding Stair’ restaurant on Ormond Quay in Dublin.
The head chef there is Áine Maguire from Newport and she has used her connections with home to bring a small bit of Mayo to Ormond Quay. Kelly’s Butchers, Newport, Clarke’s Fishmongers (Ballina and Westport) and Chris Browne from Louisburgh are just three of the suppliers whose produce is really getting the Dublin foodies’ tongues wagging.
‘The Winding Stair’ opened under its current management team about three months ago and Áine was appointed as Head Chef to design the menu for the new launch. Owned by the Thomas Read Group, which is one of the largest catering groups in Dublin and owns around 18 catering establishments in the city, the new owners didn’t want ‘The Winding Stair’ to lose any of the character that had so charmed Dublin people for decades.
They succeeded. If you want further evidence, just ‘Google’ Winding Stair and you’ll read some rave reviews. One man went as far as describing the place as his ‘favourite place on earth’. Heady praise indeed.
Its ground floor is still home to one of the capital’s favourite browsing bookshops while upstairs the quality of the food being served has started to attract the crowds. And the reviewers. The difficult to please Tom Doorley of the Irish Times and Paolo Tullio of the Sunday Independent have both penned glowing reviews of their time spent eating there. Those guys tend not to sit on the fence when they’re critiquing a restaurant so when Doorley wrote that ‘within seconds of sitting down to lunch I suspected that this was going to be good. When I left I was walking on air’, you gather that the place must have something fairly good going for it.
Áine explains that it’s all about the food, right through from the way it’s reared to it being served on the plate.
“I think people genuinely do care about the manner in which an animal is reared and if they know that the producers really do care then it does help. What we’re trying to achieve here is to serve food that your grandmother would have made all those years ago. I say to our chefs here when they’re looking for ingredients that if your granny didn’t have it in her kitchen, you won’t find it here.
“What we’re doing here seems to be working and I think that people who come in here are delighted that they can get simple, straightforward Irish food served to them in a Dublin restaurant, ‘’ she said.
Bacon collar with organic Savoy cabbage and parsley sauce is one of the best sellers. Fish also features strongly on the menu, with one of the most popular fish dishes being smoked haddock, poached in milk with onions and white cheddar mash. There’s quite obviously a big west of Ireland influence going on in the menu and Áine is delighted that she can use food from Mayo.
“Obviously, I knew all about Kelly’s having grown up in Newport so it made sense for me to go to them. Clarke’s supply us with organic Clare Island salmon, which they smoke themselves and Chris Brown supplies us with rear pig meat and autumn lamb. Chris is just a small producer but he’s fantastic and it’s great that we can use his produce. The beef we use comes from Galway. Sometimes, getting the food from Mayo to Dublin can be a bit awkward because we like to keep travelling time for our food to the minimum but we get there, though it would be great if there was a cold room on the train,’’ she said.
And as if to prove that ‘The Winding Stair’ is becoming like a home from home for Mayo people, one day last week three of its tables were taken up by people from Westport.
“It’s great when you see that because they’ve obviously heard about us and they have made a conscious effort to get here.’’ she says.
With one eye on the future, Áine believes there’s a market for a Winding Stair type of establishment in Mayo, maybe in Westport or Newport. When she does decide to return to this part of the world, she’ll bring her experiences picked up from her stints at Ballymaloe, Delphi Lodge, Private Chef (France) and, before her move to Dublin, at the Helm in Westport.
“I suppose eventually that would be the goal, to go back to Mayo and live there again. I’m sure that there’d be a market for this type of restaurant. I’d like to think so,’’ she said.
In the meantime, when she’s not satisfying the appetites of the citizens of the capital, Áine somehow finds the time to write a cook book which will showcase many of the producers that supply ‘The Winding Stair’, from the craft butchers to the cheese makers and the organic farmers. 
That should be worth waiting for.