Declan and Donal — the best deli in Dublin?

Brothers Declan and Donal O’Hora talk about inflation, TikTok stardom and operating one of Dublin’s most beloved delicatessens

“At one stage, the prices were changing on a daily basis […] It has been cruel. The inflation part of it has just been cruel, and it’s not really getting any easier.”

Declan and Donal’s menu Photo Credit: Sean Kavanagh

If you have spent any time on TikTok in recent months, you would have likely seen a video of somebody proclaiming that they have found ‘the best deli in Dublin’. 

Some of these videos are self-promotional, while others are just keen young influencers who are full of hyperbole about the quality of their local chicken fillet roll.  

There is one deli, though, that has garnered a disproportionate amount of attention for their food — Declan and Donal’s.  

Declan O’Hora has been operating on Bolton Street for over 40 years. He originally opened his shop as a newsagent in 1983 and soon began selling food and drink to students and construction workers in the area.  

“In the early ’90s it changed gradually from starting to sell a few cups of tea and a couple of rolls to selling more and more [food items] and the deli kind of took over the newspaper,” Declan said.  

Declan was joined by his brother, Donal, 15 years ago to create Declan and Donal’s. At this point, the shop had become a deli full-time, which makes sense — why on earth would you sell newspapers when you can make food this good? 

I, like most young Irishmen, consider myself something of a connoisseur when it becomes most deli products. 

So, purely for research purposes, I decided to abandon my New Year’s diet and order myself a spicy chicken roll. 

The soft, fluffy bread roll was like nothing I’d ever seen in a deli, and it was evenly spread with just the right amount of sauce, which is essential for any good roll.  

It’s in the meat filling, though, that Declan and Donal’s get its reputation. The chicken fillet was piping hot, surrounded by a crisp and flavourful spicy breading, which left a layer of spice on the back of the throat long after it had been eaten.  

The chicken itself was incredibly juicy and a far-cry from the ‘mystery meat’ that you can find at many delicatessens. 

I had to throw out the last couple of bites of my roll due to the sheer size of it — though I did consider stuffing myself until I felt ill just to savour the taste — and Declan says that their emphasis on high quality food and large portion sizes is all about looking after their customers.  

“We’re very much geared towards people who are out working all day, and we try to give them substantial sandwiches that would keep somebody going for a good part of the day,” Declan said.  

“You have to try and look after people. That’s what it’s all about. It is trying to have fresh products and good quality products for people,” Donal added. 

In recent years, many businesses on Bolton Street have closed either through lack of business or the challenges posed by COVID-19, and with inflation rising rapidly since the pandemic, Declan and Donal have not been immune to the challenges faced by most businesses.  

“At one stage, the prices were changing on a daily basis […] It has been cruel. The inflation part of it has just been cruel, and it’s not really getting any easier. There’s no let-up with it at all, and with the VAT rate going up as well for hospitality, it’s just once thing after another,” Donal said.  

The price of chicken fillet rolls has been used as somewhat of an inflation marker in recent years — and could be seen as Ireland’s answer to the ‘Big Mac Index’ — yet even when faced with ‘cruel’ levels of inflation, Declan and Donal have managed to keep their food at an affordable price.  

“We’re very aware as well that people’s wages haven’t gone up, so you just can’t keep increasing your prices because your costs are [going] up, you have to try and provide something at a price your customers can afford,” said Declan.  

Following the pandemic, Declan and Donal’s received significant attention from influencers on TikTok who raved over the quality of their food.  

Since then, both 98FM and the Irish Independent have done pieces covering the shop, and the brothers say that their newfound fame brings them both pride and confusion. 

“It’s a lovely thing. I suppose at our age, we understand it, but it is a tiny bit baffling, but it’s really good and its lovely to see,” Donal said.

While the roll I got from Declan and Donal’s was without doubt the best I’ve ever had, that’s not the reason I will be going back for more. 

The shop has a friendliness about it.  

I’m not sure whether it’s Declan’s jolly demeanour behind the counter — or the fact that you’re as likely to hear somebody ask for ‘the usual’ than start listing off menu items — but there’s a sense of community in Declan and Donal’s that you won’t find at your local Centra or Circle K.  

Despite the unpredictability of the food industry and changes in the area, I see no reason why Declan and Donal’s can’t operate for another four decades. Our only hope is that there will be another generation of O’Horas to run it when they’re gone. 

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