With the Epicurean Food Hall Closed, What's Become of Its Delicacies?

Soon after the Epicurean Food Hall on Liffey Street opened, it became a trove of hard-to-find food from around the globe.

You could get Italian, Brazilian, Turkish, Greek, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Spanish dishes – and there was always the chipper for less adventurous diners.  The communal dining area was perfect for friends with conflicting food cravings.

Last month, this all came to an end as the food hall quietly closed its doors to the public after 16 years.

The Epicurean Food Hall had introduced Dubliners to Japanese temaki, sushi wrapped in cone-shaped toasted seaweed, and Brazilian pastels, golden fried parcels of sweet and savoury ingredients.

It even brought us Ireland’s first burrito bar, according to Cathal Power the manager of Saburritos, which started as Taco Taco in the food hall, when it first opened all those years ago, and went on to open four more stores.

“It will really be missed,” he says. “We got our start there. Without that, we wouldn’t be in the business we are in.”

Power says the hall’s format of small, affordable units and a large eating area allowed food businesses to get a start without much finance. The city needs more places like this, he says.

Power and his staff were surprised and upset by news of the closure. Though they were caught off-guard, Saburritos was lucky.

The team already had plans for another city-centre outlet. For the most part, staff were redeployed there immediately after the food hall’s closure. “Thankfully,” says Power.

But a couple of temporary staff had to say goodbye; many of the new store staff were hired and trained before Christmas and news of the food hall’s closure was only announced in January.

Rafael Mello Galho of Rafa’s Temaki was also shocked by the closure after three years as a tenant. “It was very good for me there,” he says. “I could expand business there.”

Both Power and Mello Galho say many of their loyal customers expressed disappointment at the loss.

Time for an Overhaul

In recent years, as spicy food and fragrant food and rolled-up food became more available around the city, the Epicurean Food Hall lost its exclusive edge. As the years flew by, it also began to deteriorate and become a bit beat-up.

In January the landlords, Layden Properties, decided it was time to overhaul the premises, take it in a new direction.

“It was a success for a number of years. Ten years plus,” says a senior representative of the group, who wouldn’t give his name. “But it’s come to the end of its lifespan.”

He says it closed because tenants couldn’t make enough money to survive. Between small margins and competitive pricing within the food hall itself, the business model wasn’t feasible for them, he says.

“It’s not a case of us, the landlords, being unfair,” he says. “We’ve helped all the tenants as much as possible.”

The units in the food hall had some of the lowest rents in the city centre and Layden Properties invested in tables, chairs and lighting for the premises, he said, and the company wasn’t charging costs that it normally would.

About six months ago, on a visit, the food hall looked rundown and grubby in comparison with other food courts around the city centre, says the spokesman. It needed a revamp.

But as the company didn’t envisage tenants closing and refurbishing their units, it decided to overhaul the building and give it a new purpose, he says.

It’s true that some were struggling there. La Corte, a long-time tenant that served Italian food and drink closed months ago.

The Ugly Duckling closed its premier premises in the food hall after finding more success at its second haunt over at the George’s Street Arcade.

Power, of Saburritos, agrees that the place had gotten a bit forlorn, but is adamant that it just needed to be run better. “I don’t think it needed to close,” he says. “The place had great potential.”

Where Did They All Go?

Despite the suggestion that the restaurants weren’t viable businesses, some are still making a go of it. With two months’ notice to vacate the food hall, they scrambled to find new homes.

Fusion Brazilian Grill didn’t have to go too far. With assistance from Layden Properties, it relocated beside Lott’s Bar. Istanbul continues to sell kebabs on Liffey Street. Rafa’s Temaki is already up and running at 32 Parliament Street.

“It’s very positive so far,” says Mello Galho about the new location. His regular customers are already coming by, and he’s found a bunch of new ones through takeaways, deliveries and later opening hours.

Marco’s Fish and Chips has no plans to reopen. And though we couldn’t get in touch with Asian Fusion, Layden Properties’ spokesman is under the impression it will not be reopening either.

Valencia, which served paella and tapas at the food hall for the past two years, couldn’t be reached. But the restaurant sounded on Facebook as if it hadn’t given up, stating: “We hope this is not a goodbye, but a see you soon.”

Ramos Ats, owner of the Greek restaurant Ramos, had been in the food hall since 2007. He wants to open elsewhere as soon as possible, but hasn’t managed to find an alternative yet. “We are working on it,” he says. He recently put forward an offer for a place in Temple Bar and is hopeful he’ll get it.

We didn’t manage to reach the owners of Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia, or the Brazilian pastelaria, and are unsure of their fates.

Deals Deals Deals

With construction at the site well under way, the Epicurean Food Hall’s former tenants are convinced it will become the city’s latest Dealz. Some are even insistent that we’ll see its launch in two months’ time.

Layden Properties’ spokesman said that isn’t true.

A spokesperson for Dealz said they could not confirm anything, as the company doesn’t comment on store openings before all plans are finalised.

Local councillor Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats thinks it’s a shame the food hall closed.

“The Epicurean Food Hall was a great place where you could get random food — like Greek and Turkish,” he says. “It’s a loss to the city. People will travel into town for that.”

He believes the city loses footfall when places like this close and hopes it doesn’t become another Dealz. “[People] wouldn’t travel into town for a Dealz,” he says.

While Layden Properties’ representative said the site won’t be a Dealz, he wouldn’t confirm any plans.

Will there be a single tenant in future? He admits having lots of tenants can be troublesome, but he speculates that there could be some new restaurants on the site.

All he’ll share for now is this: “Something exciting will be open by the end of the year . . . with a new face and a better use.”

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Louisa McGrath: Louisa McGrath is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

Reader responses

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G-dog
at 19 April 2016 at 13:40

It shall indeed be missed, although seemed to have a Marmite-like quality amongst people I knew.

The Epicurean Food Hall had introduced Dubliners to “Japanese temaki”, sushi wrapped in cone-shaped toasted seaweed.

Although temaki is originally Japanese, I think its important to mention that the temakeria style is a Japanese-Brazilian fusion invention. 😉

Joab de groot
at 4 November 2016 at 01:08

Really sad that this place has closed and always went to it when visiting Dublin! The Italian restaurant was a great hit and I would be most great full if you could forward me there new address as the food was outstanding!

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