Probus Wines is a quirky little spot, inhabiting the triangle of property that divides Fenian St and Denzille Lane, running parallel to the heart of Georgian Dublin in Merrion Square. There are tables made from reclaimed whiskey casks, and mismatched benches that look like they could have been reclaimed from one of the fancy office buildings that back up onto Denzille Lane.
When Paul Fogerty took over this off-licence in 2010, he applied a lifetime of wine knowledge, acquired through his background in hospitality in his home county of Galway, to reinvent the offerings of this space. He was also an early adopter of the Irish craft beer movement, his fridges filled with the blossoming brews of O’Hara’s and Eight Degrees Brewing from day one.
Tuesday lunchtime sees a consistent flow of customers stream into this little deli, a testament to the under-served office workers in this curiously quiet neighbourhood. Once Fogerty had established the space as a reliable place to come for good booze, he began to slowly introduce a food offering until it developed into the lunchtime spot it is today. Over the years, a commitment to Irish producers, and often an emphasis on producers from the West, has been a special attribute.
Like lots of my fellow early autumn diners when I pay it another visit earlier this week, I go for a small cup of soup (€3). There are two choices daily, mostly vegetarian, and today I go for a carrot and coriander which tastes reassuringly homemade (because it is). It’s tasty, devoid of fuss or secret additives.
The air-dried beef sandwich (€5.50) is something special. The beef is sourced from Sheridan’s Cheesemonger, one of this deli’s main suppliers, and it’s paired with thin slivers of the outstanding Killeen goat cheese. “Marian from Killeen’s is one of the best cheesemongers in Ireland,” says Fogerty, in awe. “She was making manchego there recently. There’s nothing she can’t do.” Throughout our chat, he lists off the various suppliers and producers he has ties with, such as an organic fruit and vegetable farmer in Oughterard and Colleran’s butchers in Galway.
When he first opened the Dublin branch in 2010, Probus Wines also had an outlet in Oughterrard but it didn’t make it through the recession and, three years ago, Fogerty moved all his Probus operations to Dublin. He still has connections with Oughterard as one of the directors of Wild Bat Brewery alongside Barry Davey and Enda Cleary, the brewers of this dark yet light lager.
On my visit, a coincidental convergence of craft brewers unfolded before my eyes when three micro-brewers, one of them being Wild Bat, happened to meet each other in Probus over lunch.
The coffee is made using Bailie’s Coffee, a superb Belfast-based roastery, and it’s brewed in Probus in a comfortingly old-fashioned way. It arrives in a tall white mug, and though the flat white (€2.60) may not win competitions for its milk-to-shot ratio, it hits the spot. There’s a gluten-free brownie which Fogerty developed with one of his gluten-intolerant customers in mind, and it’s very good. It’s fudgy rather than cakey, with a nutty edge thanks to the ground almonds that substitute the flour. “We’re a little limited with space here,” admits Fogerty, referencing the lack of kitchen room, “but we do our best with what we have.”
With their homemade relishes, soups, pestos and red onion marmalades, they’re doing quite well within the limitations, thanks to the clever choice of pairing what they can do with what they get from elsewhere. They’ve chosen their suppliers well, with sourdough bread from Bretzl Bakery and brown bread and baguettes from Hansel & Gretl around the corner on Clare Street.
Probus Wines is simple and no-frills, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by the unassumingly comforting flavours on offer within its humble walls.