Eating Out: Match day fare at Croke Park hotel a far cry from a ham sandwich in tinfoil
The Sideline Bistro, The Croke Park, Jones’ Road, Dublin 3 (00353) 1 871 444
A HAM sandwich. A solitary piece of meat between two bits of white sliced bread you haven't sliced yourself. If you're feeling fancy the ham might be crumbed. If you're feeling fancier still, there might be a smear of brown sauce or salad cream (or mustard for the grown-ups). There will be butter.
Wrap the whole lot in enough tinfoil to help Lady GaGa recover from running the London Marathon and you’re done. Almost. Don’t forget the tea.
Now you’re ready to head off somewhere down the country to a town whose population has swelled for this summer Sunday afternoon. Or if you’re really lucky, down to Croke Park. A ham sandwich and a flask of tea, all served from the boot of a car in a north Dublin side street. The GAA on a plate, without the plate.
It's been that way as long as there's been boots on cars. And though you can still hear the rattle and crunch of tinfoil up and down the country, the match-day refuelling experience has changed at GAA headquarters more than anywhere else in the three decades since I first travelled down with genuine hopes of seeing Antrim win All-Ireland hurling semi-finals. Google it, kids.
Back then, if you wanted something to eat, you brought it with you, unless you were happy enough with a bag of Tayto (why are they a different colour down here?) and some chocolate (four baaaaars for pound!).
Now, inside the massive, modern stadium you can get burgers and curry chips and sandwiches and a pint of Guinness, a glass of Chardonnay or a can of Captain Morgan Mojito.
Outside, across Jones' Road, instead of those tables weighed down with Marathons and Moros there's the Croke Park hotel. It's looks as far removed from flasks of tea and rounds of sandwiches as the towering Davin Stand is from the old Canal End. Sleek and cool, it's all dark wood and bright marble tiles.
When we visited, the bar was split around 70/30 in favour of culchies ahead of Donegal's Football League match with Dublin. The Sideline Bistro was quieter but with a similar demographic. It's a smart, tidy, pretty featureless room with the hum of the open kitchen taking up one side of it.
The lurid pinks and oranges of the Donegal gear on young supporters tucking into their sausages and mash and burgers provided the only real colour in the place. Not that it's unpleasant – it's just nothing you won't find in any newish hotel in any number of places.
The menu was standard enough too, with soups and salads the starters, from €7 to €12, and main courses including fish and chips, roasts, burgers and steak sandwiches all around €15 and €16.
The menu bore little resemblance to the one you'll find on the hotel's website – the one on the internet looks much more interesting – probably because Croke Park was open for business that night. As a result there was a 'match day special' of soup – vegetable, as if you had to ask – a roast and apple crumble. The GAA on three plates.
The lamb was a nicely cook piece of leg, the slices with the right combination of crispy and melting fat amid the tender meat. It came with roast carrots and parsnips, spuds (mashed) and more spuds (roast) and a gravy with a whack of rosemary. It was good, solid mid-table Division Two stuff, even for €16 – though in a Dublin hotel that's the least you'd be paying.
The fish and chips were better, a huge slab of flaky cod in a crisp batter with hulking, skin-on chips. Mushy peas, tartare sauce – lovely. Also €16.
Desserts were all €7 but instead of that crumble or the pear and almond tart or Baileys cheesecake, afters ended up being a Snack bar (one for a euro) at half-time during the floodlit League match that was being shown live on satellite television. Yeah, things have changed, but not utterly.
If you fancy something a little more casual in the Croke Park hotel before a match, the bar menu is worth a look. The first thing you'll see: A ham sandwich.
Fish and chips €16
Roast lamb €16
Guinness x2 €11.20