How to spend it in . . . Simone Rocha’s guide to Dublin
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“Although I live in London now, Dublin still feels like my hometown. I loved growing up here, just a short walk from the centre, and I went to college in The Liberties, the historic part of the city close to the Liffey. When I’m back for weekends, it’s usually all about family and friends, pubs and long walks.
At Christmas, the city is at its very best – well, its most merry anyway. Christmas Eve is wonderful, with women selling flowers in the streets and everyone last-minute panicking. My boyfriend, Eoin, might be delivering turkeys around town – his father is a butcher – so he brings the birds to the nuns or to friends in the pubs, in which case, it’s more family time for me. Regardless of the season, I always find the city to be authentic and somehow poetic, and being here sets me at ease.
Saturday mornings begin with my dad [John Rocha] going out to get the papers and some sausage rolls from the local petrol station. Once fortified, I’ll walk into town. I love the pace and the way you can float around and bump into old friends – it feels like nothing has changed.
First, I’ll stop at our coffee place, 3fe, then have a wander in my favourite shops. I go to Sheridans, the excellent cheesemonger on Anne Street, for Comté and maybe a nice goat’s cheese and their Irish brown-bread crackers. There are wonderful bookstores – particularly Ulysses Rare Bookshop on Duke Street, which has amazing finds such as a first edition of The Train by Thomas Kinsella, or old classics like Black Beauty with illustrations by Cecil Aldin, from around 1930. I also love the bookshop in the Gallery of Photography, in the heart of Temple Bar, overlooking Meeting House Square, where I always find a big mix of old and new photo books.
For clothes, I’ve always liked the vintage stores: Jenny Vander has rails and rails of pieces with a slightly 1920s feel, while A Store is Born sells clothes from across the decades. The best fashion store is Havana, in Donnybrook, owned by the incredible Nikki Creedon, who I’ve been working with exclusively for years. She sells brands from Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons to Rick Owens.
After shopping, I like a simple lunch – maybe a cheese toastie with mustard at Grogans, a pub in the middle of town that is traditional and down-to-earth. I always love the fresh fish at Cavistons in Glathule too – ideally, baked Kilmore hake or seared king scallops with ginger and lemon. If I’m feeling more adventurous, it might be the Roundwood Inn in County Wicklow for lunch after a drive through the Sally Gap, or a walk in scenic Glendalough. The crab claws, oysters and chips at this former hunting lodge are always excellent.
The Francis Bacon Studio in Hugh Lane Gallery, which was moved, piece by piece, from 7 Reece Mews in London, is amazing, and my favourite spot for a bit of afternoon culture. The Irish Museum of Modern Art is incredible as well for its collection of modern and contemporary work. I’ve had so many wonderful visits there, from the first time I saw the work of Louise Bourgeois – my early exposures to her art continue to inspire me and my own design – to a Nick Cave gig last summer. It’s set in the beautiful grounds of the 17th-century Royal Hospital Kilmainham, a short walk from where I studied at the National College of Art and Design.
On Saturday night, I’ll either have people around for supper or I’ll go out with friends to Etto, a restaurant opened a few years ago by friends of mine. Their menus are seasonal, but I always love the côte de boeuf and red-wine prunes with mascarpone – heavenly. They’ve just opened a second restaurant called Uno Mas, but I haven’t made it there yet. After dinner, I love the Irish Film Institute, which shows a mix of independent and classic films. The perfect ending to the night is a bag of crispy chips from Leo Burdock for the walk home.
Sunday morning starts with brown bread or classic Irish soda bread from McCambridge, served with local smoked salmon. If the weather is nice, you’ll find me at Forty Foot [a promontory of Dublin Bay at Sandycove], where I’ll go for a swim in the sea, maybe followed by a visit to one of the city’s wonderful museums. The old Collins Barracks now houses the National Museum of Ireland, which has amazing pieces by Eileen Gray. And the Natural History Museum, with its creaky floorboards and taxidermy animals that look like they have been there forever, is another of my regular stops.
Sunday lunch is always in our family home, cooked by my mother: roast chicken – with my granny’s stuffing – and potatoes. After a leisurely meal, we spend time around the fire reading or watching sport, and it’s peaceful. I always love being in Dublin, but I never manage to see everyone I want to see or do everything I want to do before it’s time to leave for London again.”