Is Dublin’s Bison Bar home to Europe’s best US-style BBQ joint?
It takes a stone hearted soul not to come away endeared by Dublin. Whatever the purpose of your visit, chances are you’ll fall for the roguish charm of the Irish capital and its myriad pleasures. It’s a pilgrimage that’s absolutely worth making, not least if you’re on the troll for some serious foodie culture. From its bounteous coastline to deep-rooted traditions of agriculture and cattle rearing, there’s something to fill every belly in Ireland. So where do you start?
If you want to dine at Michelin-starred joints and drink in chichi Bono-style luxury, that’s definitely on offer. But the real charm of eating in Ireland is its more humble edge – like a gorgonzola sandwich and pint at Davy’s, the watering hole (and Dublin’s oldest gastropub) made famous by Joyce’s antihero, Leopold Bloom, in Ulysses.
One area that locals will typically warn you off of is Temple Bar, which is to Dublin what Leicester Square is to London, the Champs-Elysee to Paris, or Times Square to New York. There’s little doubt that this is a warning worth heeding, but my recent trip to Dublin revealed one establishment worth seeking out – even if it does mean dodging the odd bit of projectile vomiting and the corresponding rows of seedy (but hilariously named) kebab shops.
Down on Wellington Quay, on the outskirts of Temple Bar and overlooking the Liffey, sits the Bison Bar & BBQ. The venue’s outer appearance is neither inviting or off-putting, with the subtlety completely belying the peerless trashtronomic delights inside.
It’s a simple, no frills menu complete with kitchen roll and a workmanlike beverage selection – the main pull is the 14 hour smoked meats coming out of the kitchen. As soon as you walk in, the senses are assaulted by the heady aromas of slow-cooking flesh. Dinner is served tray-style, with an option of one meat, a combo platter, or a taster plate featuring all of the chef’s creations, which range from chicken to sausage and pulled pork.
I was severely tempted by the everything plate, but ended up resisting and diving in classic ‘cue style with a brisket and ribs combo. After only a few minutes in the Bison, I’d already heard more than a few Gaelic-lilted seals of approval from fellow diners. “Fucking sublime” was probably the one that summed up the experience to come best.
The brisket was, without doubt, one of the best things I have eaten all year – gorgeously fatty, crispy on the corners, and with smoke-stained pink tinges here and there, it was simply awe-inspiring. Honestly, you’d think that the Irish had started rearing their famed Dexter cattle on a 20-a-day Camel diet, that was how smokey this beast was. Ribs were similarly high-quality, if perhaps a tad overshadowed by the superb brisket (and my poor photography).
Accompaniments were also excellent. Particular praise is reserved for a punchy coleslaw that benefitted aesthetically from being flecked with poppy seeds, and flavour-wise from a small smattering of chopped gherkin. Another standout was the homemade BBQ sauces, especially the mustard-based one, which I would buy it by the crateload were it available.
Bones of contention could be found, if necessary. The food lost its heat very quickly, a shame as the portions were so generous and the food so arousing that you couldn’t help but want to take your time with it. Last orders also caught me out on my first attempt to dine here – the Bison calls time on its BBQ at 9pm. I know that we weren’t in the Med, but it did strike me as perhaps a tad early (though I’ll happily concede that this lot know what they’re bloody doing). Whatever the case, you’re advised to beg, steal, and borrow time to fit in a trip to Bison BBQ if you’re in the Irish capital.
In retrospect, Dublin has always had a lot to recommend it to the hungry traveler, and I was pleased that my recent trip showed that it was at once maintaining its rich heritage, and adopting with gusto some more recent foodie trends (namely the ones from the US). I only had the chance to sample a small smattering of eateries – locals sing the praises of burger joins like Bunsen and Jo Burger, too, and I’ve promised myself a return trip – and of my other ventures F.X. Buckley proved a very competent steakhouse, while Base WFP turns out serious pizza at a couple of locations as well as serving the best cup of coffee I’ve had outside of Monmouth.
But really, these were amuse bouches. If you’re coming to Dublin anytime soon, there’s really only one place that should be on your list. Put aside your fears of being a mistaken for a tourist and make for the Temple Bar area and Bison BBQ. There, what may well be Europe’s best BBQ joint awaits. I’ve fattened myself on pretty every rave reviewed ‘cue joint around – from history boy Bodean’s to Brighton’s BBQ Shack, the BBQWhiskeyBeer pop up and of course the iconic Pitt Cue Co – and this is the one that I most want to go back to.