Farmhill: 'A Scarlet Heifer burger and fish finger sambo ticked all the boxes'
Farmhill, 9 Farmhill Road, Goatstown, Dublin 14. (01) 441-3871
I'm in the middle of moving house and, between the packing up of the kitchen, the difficulty in finding crucial pieces of kit (we've existed without a salad spinner for the best part of a month, not easy in high summer), the running down of the store-cupboard, freezer and fridge, and general summer laziness, we've been eating out more than usual.
A couple of weeks ago, en route to the cinema (Wiener, in case you're interested - an excellent documentary about the failed 2013 New York mayoral campaign of Anthony Wiener, in which the man married to one of Hillary Clinton's principal advisers, Huma Abedin, self-sabotaged himself and his campaign by an inability to stop sexting. Poor Huma), we stopped off at Farmhill for an early dinner.
The restaurant opened almost a year ago, and one of the owners is Paul O'Connor, who is well-known and liked in the Irish food community. He is a champion of the Tipperary Food Producers, an organisation that punches above its weight when it comes to promoting the products of small and artisan producers from the region. Paul knows everyone there is to know when it comes to food critics, and Farmhill was widely and positively reviewed at the time, but I kept putting my visit on the long finger. I wasn't sure that I had anything to add to the swathe of column inches that had already been written about a neighbourhood restaurant in Goatstown, a perfectly nice but rather dull south Dublin suburb.
Then I heard that Anita Thoma, formerly of Il Primo, had joined Farmhill as its head chef. Il Primo, tucked away on Montague Street off Harcourt Street in Dublin city centre, had a long-established reputation for serving high quality Italian food and wine, and for being a restaurant in which some of the city's best-known restaurateurs (I'm thinking in particular of Ronan Ryan, formerly of Town Bar & Grill and now of Counter Culture, and of John Farrell, the man behind 777, Dillinger's, The Butcher Grill and the glamorous Luna) served their apprenticeships. Il Primo closed last year, to the sadness of fans of Thoma's cooking. But Montague Street's loss is good news for the population of Goatstown and its environs.
Although Thoma has only been at Farmhill for a short while, her influence is already apparent on the menu and we spot a couple of her signature dishes straight away.
The menu is short and unpretentious, with a few daily specials on the board. The early bird option is keenly priced at €21.50 for two courses and €25.50 for three. We mixed and matched a bit, as some of the specials aren't included on the early bird.
A special starter of chilli and garlic prawns sat on a bed of wilted spinach on top of a slice of toasted sourdough. It's one of those winning dishes that everyone likes and this was a fine version, although a price tag of €15 felt steep. A crayfish and avocado salad with lemon aioli, and an apple, Crowe's bacon and Inch House black pudding (spot the Tipperary influence?) salad were generous and tasty - three starters between the four of us was plenty. For mains, a Scarlet Heifer burger and a fish finger sambo that ticked all the boxes, both served with excellent hand-cut fries, and the Thoma dishes: a gloriously rich risotto of asparagus and Taleggio, and tagliata, a plate of marinated sirloin strips, with rocket and aged Parmesan. We finished with a pair of desserts - a 'tropical bowl' with fruit and Boulabane sorbet from Tipperary, and a good lemon tart.
Farmhill is an all-day, all-week operation, serving up scones and Crossogue jam in the morning, lunch and dinner during the week, and a brunch that has the locals queuing out the door at weekends. It is clearly already a hit, and the arrival of Thoma in the kitchen augurs well for the coming months, particularly once autumn arrives with the seasonal bounty that makes that time of year a favourite with chefs. As it stands, Farmhill is the neighbourhood restaurant that everyone wishes they had at the end of their road, with multi-generational appeal.
The bill for four, with a bottle of Albarino, from a mainly sub-€30 list, came to €136 before service, significantly less than we paid for an inferior meal we ate in another restaurant elsewhere in the city - the same week.
Farmhill does exactly what a neighbourhood restaurant is supposed to do, and does it very well, at a fair price. I wouldn't be surprised if estate agents aren't already listing 'within walking distance of Farmhill' on their brochures as an enticement to would-be house-purchasers.
ON A BUDGET
At breakfast, toast with orange and Campari marmalade is €2.50. Add tea or coffee for €2.50 and that’s breakfast sorted for a fiver.
ON A BLOW OUT
The prawn dish that we had, followed by a fillet steak with crushed baby potatoes, spinach, asparagus and garlic butter, and a selection of Irish cheese, would cost €53 per head before wine or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Good food, great hospitality — this is an unpretentious neighbourhood restaurant that delivers.
THE LOW POINT
That Farmhill is not around the corner from my new house.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Karl Whelan (pictured) heads up the kitchen at Luna on Drury Street, currently the hottest restaurant in Dublin’s city centre and the place to head for a night of high glamour and great food. It’s a high heels establishment, no doubt about it. Come September, though, Whelan will be honing the art of bi-location as his new Hang Dai Beijing duck eaterie will open for business on — where else? — Camden Street. Expect fabulous interiors (John Farrell is helping out, so think 777 Chinese-style) and queues out the door.