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DINING OUT | ★★★

Redefining Irish pub fare at the Dubliner

Chef Aidan Mc Gee serves gorgeous Sunday roasts and some of the city’s best fish and chips.

Inside the Dubliner, where the Guinness is properly poured and the fish and chips are some of the city's best.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Head in on a Sunday morning and it’s a scrum: Manchester United wins its first trophy in years, and the crowd — for it is a crowd — goes wild. Maybe they’re fueled by the full Irish breakfast here at the Dubliner, the Irish pub that replaced an Irish pub, the Kinsale, longtime inhabitant of this space across from City Hall. Or maybe it’s the proper pours of Guinness, capped with that perfect creamy foam, a texture to make trendy TikTok coffees weak with envy.

Wait until later in the day and the mood has mellowed. There’s a band playing traditional Irish music within good earshot of the bar, beside a green and white phone booth from which a gentleman suddenly emerges (how long was he in there?) to begin dancing. In the big back dining room, grown-ups eat while the kids play. There’s a Sunday roast dinner on offer, served from noon until it’s gone, and though the beef is lovely — thick slices with rosy centers, edged in brown and rich with bites of fat — it’s the sides that win the day. Roast potatoes, salty with extra-crisp exteriors and creamy insides. Yorkshire pudding the size of a head of cabbage, soft and eggy and steaming hot when ripped open. There’s a pitcher of gravy for pouring, and creamy horseradish sauce for invigorating interjection.

The Dubliner opened last June, with chef and Donegal native Aidan Mc Gee heading up the kitchen. He previously worked in London fine dining, at Michelin-starred restaurants like Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. At gastropub the Truscott Arms, his Sunday roast was recognized as one of the city’s best. Now that roast is here: Mc Gee relocated to Boston during the pandemic when his wife, an expert on nuclear issues, was a fellow at MIT and Harvard. He connected with the folks at East Coast Tavern Group (Emmet’s, Carrie Nation, and more) and joined forces to open this Irish pub where the food is a highlight, not an afterthought.

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The Dubliner's fish and chips is one of this city’s finest versions, First writes.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Mc Gee told the Globe before the restaurant opened that one of his goals was correcting this country’s misperceptions of modern Irish food: It’s not all potatoes. “What new Irish food is, it’s wholesome, a bit like the people. It’s approachable, not overly fussy, no micro herbs or anything,” he said. “It’s simple, clean, and very much a farmer and fisherman approach. And Irish cheese is amazing. We just need to shout louder about it.”

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Consider the Dubliner his opening statement. There is that roast, if you can make it in on a Sunday. If you can’t, consider the fish and chips, the other best thing from the kitchen. It is one of this city’s finest versions (Mc Gee seems to have a knack for that): a nubbled slab of fresh, perfectly cooked haddock encased in golden batter, atop a bed of ridiculously good fries. The chips are triple-cooked, a technique out of Heston Blumenthal’s playbook — fluffy inside and shatteringly crisp outside. The dish also comes with curry and tartar sauces. Look, modern Irish food is certainly not all potatoes. It is many of the same things modern New England food is, centered on excellent local ingredients prepared simply and with skill. But at the Dubliner, I’m just saying, the potatoes make a pretty strong case for themselves.

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The Dubliner's bacon and cabbage dishBarry Chin/Globe Staff

Oysters here are just oysters, no fanciful flavor descriptions or varietal names, and a server looks confused when asked what kind they are. And that’s just fine when they’re fresh and cold and nicely shucked, on ice with lemon, mignonette, cocktail sauce, and Tabasco. Simple pleasures. For lunch one day, I share some with a friend, along with a very nice, runny-yolked Scotch egg and the fish and chips. We can’t stop eating, it’s so good.

I’ve written a few dishes out of the memory, though: pearl barley dumplings, or “Irish arancini” as my friend calls them, nicely fried but heavy and bland; a disappointing seafood chowder, presenting well in its white china tureen, topped with a puff pastry crouton, but with an oddly sour flavor. On another visit, the Irish stew is all wrong, pale as the chowder and skimpy with lamb chunks amid the carrots and potatoes.

Chef Aidan Mc GeeBarry Chin/Globe Staff

I’d really like the farmhouse bread and butter to be exemplary, but the brown bread is somehow both mealy and stale, there’s some kind of generic focaccia-ish situation, and the butter is nothing special. The first place I can remember being blown away by regional ingredients, truly understanding the beauty of “letting them speak for themselves,” as the chefs like to say, was a UK gastropub by the sea, eating bread and house-made butter with flavor and texture like I’d never tasted before. I don’t expect every bread basket to be that bread basket, but when it’s a menu item (albeit at $5 reasonably priced, as the menu generally is) and not a tide-you-over freebie, I hope for a little more.

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If it’s a missed opportunity, other dishes hit the nail on the head. Bacon and cabbage is a fine representative of Irish cuisine, comfortable yet also elegant. (“Wholesome” really is a good word for this quality.) The bacon isn’t the thin strips of American breakfast, but thick, bone-in loin edged in fat, cured and with a salty, ham-like flavor. It’s served with mashed potatoes and sauteed cabbage, a pool of perfectly pungent mustard sauce on the plate. Everything here goes together, just so.

The Dubliner's Scotch eggBarry Chin/Globe Staff

Not every dish at the Dubliner is classic pub fare. There’s a nicely seared piece of salmon over corn and squash risotto, for instance. And slow-cooked beef cheek would be at home in any bistro in the city, tender and silky with gelatin, deep and rich in flavor. It comes over mashed potatoes, dark brown juices pooling all around, and sweet, tender confit carrots. This, unexpectedly, winds up being a favorite dish at the table.

For dessert, sticky toffee pudding often makes an appearance, with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. It’s a bit dry but does the job. Should’ve tried the Irish cheese instead, per Mc Gee’s words; perhaps I was addled by my cocktail, the Dubliner, a smooth mix of Irish whiskey, orange liqueur, vermouth, and orange bitters. (I also did not try the Pornstar Martini, a mix of vanilla vodka and passionfruit with a shot of prosecco on the side, but it appears to be a popular order.) Nonalcoholic versions of house cocktails are also available. In addition to Guinness, several Irish ales are on offer, but the beer list skews more local; Downeast is the only cider on tap.

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A properly poured pint of GuinnessBarry Chin/Globe Staff

The old place looks good, updated from its Kinsale days with new bars and thematic wall art, leaving some of the nicer touches (woodwork, stone walls) intact. Many of the bartenders and servers are from Ireland, and service is attentive; sometimes the food takes a long time to arrive. St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, and the Dubliner has a lineup of live music planned, with brunch served until 11 a.m. It’s a fair time to try that full Irish breakfast — eggs, Irish bacon and sausage, white and black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, home fries, and toast — or those pitch-perfect fish and chips. You’ll be back on Sunday for the roast.

When it comes to food, the Dubliner is one of the better Irish pubs in the city. Next we need a stylish, upscale spot showcasing serious Irish cooking. “I want to do a fine dining, contemporary restaurant down the line,” Mc Gee told the Globe last year, and I hope he sees that through. Modern Irish cuisine deserves a strong local champion.

THE DUBLINER

★★★

2 Center Plaza, Downtown, Boston, 857-317-2695, www.thedublinerboston.com

Wheelchair accessible. Outdoor seating in season.

Prices Appetizers $5-$18. Entrees $18-$48. Desserts $6-$18.

Hours Mon-Fri 11-2 a.m., Sat-Sun 10-2 a.m.

Noise level Is Manchester United winning? Are you seated next to the musical act? If not, conversation is easy.

★★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★★ Excellent | ★★★ Very good | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No stars) Poor

Interior of the Dubliner.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/file

Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her @devrafirst.