- a blog about food and value

The Buttery at Trinity

trinity-college-dublinI’m probably going to be lynched by the world’s politest mob for this.

I met up with a staff member from Trinity College Dublin’s staff last week for lunch. We hadn’t made any plan in advance, so I thought I’d see what lunch was like in TCD’s canteen, The Buttery.

It’s in a cavernous, wood-panelled, old hall. An impressive and grand space with big long tables. Full of pictures of austere old deans or college presidents staring down with their cold, dead eyes. I fully expected a gang of young wizards to hop onto their broomsticks and fly off to class.

That magic didn’t materialise. As soon as I sat down to my meal, I thought: what’s the point of this place anymore? For €9.85, I got paella, without a wedge of lemon. I’ll grant that paella can be tricky and often doesn’t work out. This was ok-ish, maybe. But I kept biting into something quite gritty, and all it really tasted of was a somewhat sour fishiness.

I was asked what sides I’d like with that, so I assumed they were part of the €9.85. My best options were cubed turnip and peas and sweetcorn. In hindsight, “just the paella” might have been wiser. The lunch companion had some meatballs with two sides. It looked fine; the type of food you’d expect from a college canteen.

The cashier didn’t really seem sure of the price breakdown when I subjected her to the type of grilling that makes people not want to eat out with me.

Trinity students have the best campus in Ireland slap bang in the middle of town. Just two minutes away from The Buttery, there’ s a huge choice of cafes and restaurants in town offering much cheaper, much nicer food. On the way out, I noticed the menu of Trinity’s fancier restaurant, The 1592. Mains were around the €25 mark, and the “Supreme of Chicken”, “farce”, and such makey-up words as vermoulade and tian – you know the standard nonsense – got my back up from the get-go. Apparantly, it’s where the Trinity Business Alumni meet up with “high-profile” speakers. Bankers and the like. I didn’t look inside.

When I went to UCD, we were stuck with “the restaurant” and Nine One One donut and sandwich bar for the first few years, until they brought in some comically disappointing “competition”: more sandwiches and carvery (When I left, in fairness, they opened Elements restaurant: a good value, quality option). But back then, unless we hopped on a bus or walked 20 minutes to the Olive Tree at the Clonskeagh mosque, we had no choice. Trinity students do. So why was The Buttery so full?


  1. I finished in Trinity in June and haven’t been to the Buttery since but when I was there, there never were any dishes over the seven euro mark so I’m wondering where they’ve pulled dishes like the paella came from?

    But I used to eat there quite a bit and had things like lasagne with garlic bread for 4.50, a burger for 4.50, pasta bake with 2 veg for 4.50… maybe this is what the other students were eating??

  2. The Buttery is so full because students don’t buy ten euro dinners there.

    If you were eating in the dining hall you were probably eating from the non-student counter at the far end of the serving area. If you had elected to eat from the first counter, you would have been eating from the student menu, which is frequently totally yum. The student special- a full plate of food and either soup or dessert- is €6, and that is as dear as it gets- there is a student budget dish for €4.95, and a plate of beans and chips is less than €3.

    But you’re not a student.

  3. Ah… Thanks Ciara. Maybe I just had a bad meal – as I said paella can be tricky. €6 for the student special is good value, but as you point out, I am not a student. Not anymore anyway, graduated last year 🙁

    I guess I wasn’t familiar with the multiple counter set up. The Buttery are obviously not aiming their food at people outside the uni.
    I still wouldn’t pay €9.95 for the non-student price again though! Much cheaper and nicer options elsewhere. Which begs the question – why are non-students (presumably staff) paying for this?

  4. Paella with a side of turnips? What?

  5. You must have been at commons in the Dining Hall or something. There are no portraits of grandees of yore in the Buttery, it is a dark and functional sort of place where I ate many’s the plate of saudages & chips for well less than a tenner.

  6. I was told I was being brought to The Buttery. But maybe it wasn’t. I’ll find out.

  7. Hogwarts? Except, a shit Hogwarts where they can’t cook paella. 🙂

  8. You were in the Dining Hall. The Buttery is below there, with traditional meals such as reasonably nice Lasagne for €4.95, watery bland pasta for €3.20….basically, not worth what you pay for it.

    Catering on campus isn’t good, there’s no true cheap alternative in the vicinity. Best plan is to go to the JCR under Pearse Station, where any toasted sandwich/pannini is €3 including a free tea or coffee, or better still, bring your own sandwich.

  9. I think you went up the large stone steps? then you were in commons and not the student Buttery. If you were in the Buttery you went down the side of the steps not up them?

  10. ehh….make your own lunch?

  11. Ok, if it was The Commons, it was still pretty poor value. I feel I should even things out by trying The Buttery, but my experience of TCD’s catering was quite off-putting.

  12. Peter,

    Flembox was right. You were dining in the Dining Hall for lunch, not commons (waited meal for dinner each evening, free to Scholars of the college).

    You were eating lunch, and by the sounds of it, from the more expensive, still as tasteless, staff menu.

    The Buttery is similarly poor and of equal bad value.

    Make your own, or go to the JCR.

  13. To further clarify, the Dining Hall has a staff dining area and a dearer hot counter; but you can also dine in the Dining Hall proper (the Hogwarts room you were in) either from that menu, or from the student hot counter, which is the same menu/prices as the Buttery below it.

    Phew! I hope that clears everything up!

    The JCR is amazing- a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea for TWO EURO. And they offer the only realistically priced coffees and “fancy coffees” as they call them in the entire city, best I can tell.