Keshk Restaurant Review: “It’s busy and lively, but the food at this popular BYOB hangout feels like it’s caught in a time warp”
It’s a rugby Saturday – Leinster are playing at home and have just bid farewell to the French upstarts – and Upper Baggot Street, the stretch between Pembroke Road and the bridge, is busy.
It looks very different from the Nevill Johnson photos filmmaker Alan Gilsenan uses so effectively in his Ghosts of Baggotoniathe name coined for the area by writer Brendan Lynch in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Locals back then included Kavanagh, Behan and the others, our very own Irish bohemians. But Parsons Bookshop is now an insurance company and the pub names are mostly different. There are burrito restaurants, a branch of Sprout and across the bridge Carolyn Swift and Alan Simpson’s Pike Theater on Herbert Lane, which once hosted a scandalous production of The rose tattoois long gone.
So does the infamous Catacombs nightclub, which operates in the basement of 13 Fitzwilliam Place and sounds like a veritable den of injustice.
Things have come a long way in terms of quality and range of food in Dublin and what must have felt fresh back then doesn’t anymore
I don’t know what then occupied the premises on Mespil Road which is now Keshk, but Keshk itself has a long lifespan for a restaurant, having opened its doors in 2009. It’s been renovated in the last year or so, but its website still features restaurant critic recommendations from more than a decade ago; the latest is from 2012.
I guess Keshk felt new and exciting back then when there were few other restaurants here offering Middle Eastern cuisine other than The Cedar Tree on St Andrew’s Street; The tree of doing nothing in Bray was closed a few years earlier. In recent years things have come a long way in terms of quality and range of food in Dublin and what must have felt fresh then doesn’t anymore.
I can think of half a dozen places that fall into the broad Middle Eastern/Mediterranean category (Keshk describes its menu as leaning towards Mediterranean cuisine, with some Greek, Turkish and Lebanese dishes) where the food is livelier than here.
We start with a shared appetizer platter, intended to be a showcase of what is on offer. It features feta fritters covered in a sesame crust (think Greek take on the 1980s fried Camembert classic), battered shrimp, some stuffed vine leaves, falafel, and arayes (ground beef on flatbread). The platter is accompanied by one dish each of hummus and baba ganouj and a basket of flatbread. It’s all usable, but nothing stands out; the baba ganouj is the best element. The table we are sitting at is too small to hold the food and we end up having to rearrange things and balance dishes on top of each other. It’s not very relaxing.
Char-grilled lamb kafta is nice and succulent, although the lamb chops we see on our way to other tables look even better (as they should, for €35.95). Moussaka is boring, eggplant is slimy. (It’s not as good as the version we make at home.) Mains come with a free side: Potatoes are hot but not crispy enough; grilled vegetables (eggplant, peppers, mushrooms) are greasy and unpleasant. The retro-style presentation — the balsamic dressing squeezed out of a bottle over the salad with the kafta is pure ’90s — doesn’t come off as ironic and gives Keshk the feeling of being stuck in a time warp.
We finish with a shared dessert of baklava squares served with whipped cream made with filo instead of kataifi pastries. Dusted with crushed pistachios, they’re about as tooth-splittingly sweet as you might expect, and perfectly fine if that’s what you’re into.
Keshk isn’t licensed to serve alcohol, so it’s BYOB, which I think is one of the reasons for its continued popularity. If you’re going out with a group, it seems like a good idea to decide on a place where you can bring your own alcohol. It helps keep the bill in check, and the non-drinkers don’t subsidize the soak.
But even given the lack of a corkage fee, Keshk isn’t as much of a bargain as you might expect. Our bill with two large bottles of water comes to €89.35, and when you factor in a tip (the service is excellent) and the cost of a bottle of decent red wine (€25) from Baggot Street Wines around the corner, this mediocre meal , eaten at an uncomfortable table, ended up costing us €65 a head.
But the place is hopping and the rugby crowd and groups celebrating birthdays seem happy so what do I know?
Have soup and hummus or baba ganouj with pita for lunch for less than €14.
Share a mixed starter platter followed by lamb chops and dessert for two for €115 before drinks.
keshk, 73 Mespil Road, Dublin 4, D04 RH63, keshk.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/keshk-restaurant-review-its-busy-and-buzzy-but-the-food-at-this-popular-byob-haunt-feels-like-its-stuck-in-a-time-warp-42323348.html Keshk Restaurant Review: “It’s busy and lively, but the food at this popular BYOB hangout feels like it’s caught in a time warp”