DublinTown Profiles – Trocadero
Trocadero is known for an authentic taste of the glamorous side of Dublin life. Luxurious fabrics and rich wall finishes blend seamlessly with Art Deco details, bringing a contemporary edge to the five rooms. The rich décor underlines the restaurant’s place as a long-established favourite of the Dublin theatre scene, while honouring its heritage as a Georgian dining room.
Trocadero has been open for over 58 years, making it the second oldest restaurant in Dublin. When you step into Trocadero you are transported to a time of grandeur with red plush seating and gold accessories and soft lighting. Famous faces line the walls. As we sat down with Robert Doggett, the manager of Trocadero, timeless jazz music filled the restaurant and we listened to him spill all of the restaurant’s secrets from what famous celebs had visited, why Robert Sheehan was told he wasn’t getting a table, and how the restaurant keys ended up in a gambling pot.
…here’s my sister asking for Shakira and it turns out it’s actually a thing. It’s a form of garnish, pulse, lettuce type thing that we all get on our salads now, which resembles Shakira- it’s small and tiny and pretty. But that’s how food has advanced.
_______________________________________DT: We hadn’t realised Trocadero was one of the oldest restaurants in Dublin; tell us a little bit about it’s history.
RD: Well, it’s 58 years old. If you do the math I believe that is 1956. If you look back, at the recent works that was done on Grafton Street, they put up hoarding every now and again, you’ll see a Trocadero banner coming out, I think it was from 1918. Where the AIB bank is on Grafton Street, the upstairs there was the Trocadero restaurant, way back when. In the picture as well you can see a guy with a bowler hat on Grafton Street and like this a-board type thing saying ‘Trocadero Grill’.
People who reminisce about here, remember it being a Greek restaurant or an Italian restaurant, when it’s actually been an everything restaurant. It was from Mascaa, lasagne, it was every country under the sun. But it was very exotic back in the 1950s early 60s.
_______________________________________DT: How long have you been here?
RD: I’ll be here 30 years in May. I remember I started here as a chef, and myself and Selaney O’Brien [SP] in the kitchen, we’d come in to do our prep around half 3 in the afternoon, because back then it was a very different scenario. We’d open at 6 o’clock in the evening, and because shows and the theatre would start at 8 o’clock.
Generally people would’ve had time to go home after work and change, shower, put on the gown and the suit, come back into town, and go to the 8 o’clock show. We would come into work and do our prep in the kitchen and we’d go for coffee, to go for a coffee we actually had to cross Grafton Street from here, to go to the Buttery Brasserie [SP], which is now the Grafton Lounge- we’d go there for a cappuccino.
Or there was this one place called Giovani’s on Grafton Street. Literally that’s where you had to go for a coffee. Go back to the 6 o’clock opening and the theatre, it’s changed now that most shows start at half 7, because Ireland’s mimicking Britain. It’s kind of geared around public transport and getting home late at night.
Also, we would’ve had last food orders at 12:30pm, because we would get a lot of after-theatre actors finished work, they’d have the time to have a smoke in the theatre, talk to a few people, and then come up here and have a late supper and a few bottles of wine. Rattle around and leave at 4, half 4 in the morning, because they could. Now if they are seen to have a second glass of wine, Jesus that would be a problem, they wouldn’t get a job in Love/Hate! Which seems wrong, you know? But everything changes; it’s just the way it is.
_______________________________________DT: How has working in the restaurant changed over time?
RD: The restaurant used to be very dark, it used beauty board, with is fake wood, on the walls and it made the place very dark. Thus making it a very late-night place for after shows, or as a winter place.
Any changes that have happened over the years have been so gradual and so subtle, that you don’t really know it’s happened. The red was the original colour of the restaurant. It was red everywhere. Red on the walls and all the fabrics were red, it wasn’t very nice, but it was of its time. It was a bit more hap-hazard, you would just stick things up for the sake of it.
_______________________________________DT: Did you find it difficult to adapt or to keep moving with the times?
RD: Three words: deep fried brie. That’s it, that’s the answer. Deep fried brie. We’ve had, back to Selaney who worked in the kitchen with me, she had arrived from London and had been working in some kind of posh Italian restaurant in London, and brought this deep-friend brie notion with her, with a cranberry sauce. And it was just wow, I mean heart attack on a plate, but brilliant. But we take it off because it’s done to death, but then we get people asking for the deep fried brie. So we kept taking it off the menu, and had to keep putting it back on.
We had to start using different shapes to mix it up. We had every shape under the sun – square, round, triangle, topped up, spread up, and everything else all over the years. But last year we took the bull by the horns and took it off the menu. People do adapt, it’s like the smoking ban overnight ya know? It’s unreal. This place was so congested with smoke; the smoke atmosphere was part and part of the place. Almost like a speak easy after midnight, it was absolutely incredible. But as I said, over night that all stopped. But as a nation we do adapt pretty quickly.
_______________________________________DT: I think you have to adapt to certain things, because there are some things you just can’t change.
RD: Yes, I suppose we create our own futures in many ways. Even taking a photograph off the wall is not taken lightly. Just because someone is deceased doesn’t mean you take them off the wall, because they’re families or friends come in to remember them.
But in saying that, your man Louis Walsh was in here a few weeks ago with Joann and they were sitting down at the back there and they looked at the photographs and he says ‘They’re all dead.’ And I said, ‘That is disgraceful, you cannot say that about people, they are not, the cheek of you!’ And he just looked back at me and said, ‘they should be.’ Fair play to him for his wit and all that.
It’s kind of interesting, I’d have headshots for the actor to sign when they came in and then I’d put them on the wall. They were delighted to have their photos on the wall, and were very proud of all that. But I find that the younger generation the 18 – 25 year olds, it’s kind of hard to get them to buy into it.
_______________________________________DT: Do you have any stories about any young actors?
RD: Well, I was home in County Meath a couple of months ago and I had seen your man Robert Sheehan who is brilliant actor, who did Love/Hate for a couple years and all this sort of stuff, and he rang his agent here in Dublin and said he wanted my phone number for some obscure reason, only to book a table. And I gave him my number and asked him to text me first, or else I wouldn’t pick up a strange number, so I got a text from him saying, ‘I’m coming in on Tuesday at half 7, is it okay to come in and see you?’ And it’s only because we share first names that we have a bit of a slagging going on since the first day we met. I said, ‘of course, no problem.’ And I hung up and sent him back a message and said, ‘No Robert, by the way I’ve asked you three times for your photograph. No photo, no table. Goodbye.’ I was really only messing, but then his Irish agent rang me and said, ‘What time are you there tomorrow before Robert comes in, we’ll have the photo there for you at 5 o’clock.’ But I had to bully him into it.
It’s a bit of a mind field, we’ve had some of these since 1990 for example, but we don’t actually own it. It’s the property of the photographer to this day. It’s a bit mad.
_______________________________________DT: Now that you’ve mentioned the head shots, has that always been a tradition of Trocadero?
RD: Well, I’ll refer back to Eddie the Greek, when he was here he had photos about a metre’s length on one wall. But he was great friends with the likes of Jim O’Dee and Ursula Doyle, his wife, and he loved going to all the theatre shows, and he is the one that started that relationship with the actors and directors and stuff like that.
He loved the Broadway shows, and travelled to the states quite a bit. Apparently he had a table in the window here and that was his gig, he just sat here all the time eating. Eddie was a huge gambler also. Himself and the few of the guys used to play poker in the Wicklow Hotel, which is now COS, and then also at the Gresham. So on Sundays and Mondays they played poker in one and then poker in the other. As I said he was a really serious gambler, and one of the nights at one of the venues the keys of the restaurant were thrown into the pot, and he lost the restaurant to a guy called Willie Murray. Willie Murray took over and said, ‘it’s my place now, but I’ve never run a restaurant in my life, stay on as manager.’ Which he did, until he died, about 35 years ago.
_______________________________________DT: Has the menu changed over the years at all?
RD: It has. If I plucked one out from somewhere I’ve hidden at home, you wouldn’t recognize it.
_______________________________________DT: How would you describe the menu style now?
RD: We’ve gone from a time when people thought it was Italian and they thought it was Greek, probably because of the Greek owner etc., moved then to what we were doing best was grills. So racks of lamb and steaks. So we decided that perhaps we were a grill restaurant, and then we get the odd call – a vegetarian was coming in. And God help us, the vegans.
I thought that was a good answer to something, someone asked me ‘what strikes you down most with terror?’ And I just said, ‘one word: vegan.’ Because it’s just so easy to get wrong, you have to make sure everything down to your cooking oils doesn’t have something passed through it. So we decided we were more or less a grill restaurant, and now because our fish is very strong, so probably an Irish Mediterranean, perhaps Modern Irish Cooking.
Austin our chef has brought wonderful things to the kitchen. And now I feel old because I hear them talking about something and my sister is a chef here and I heard her say to one of the other guys, ‘pass me more of that Shakira.’ And as far as I’m concerned Shakira is a singer. Who has eaten here by the way, and she is so tiny! I looked at her that night and said, ‘who is that beautiful looking girl?’ One night she was here, it was quite quiet, sitting with her husband or whatever.
But anyhow, here’s my sister asking for Shakira and it turns out it’s actually a thing. It’s a form of garnish, pulse, lettuce type thing that we all get on our salads now, which resembles Shakira- it’s small and tiny and pretty. But that’s how food has advanced.