Foodies bring home a taste of the Big Apple
If you're looking for something a bit special foodwise, try Fallon & Byrne, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
WE often go abroad, see various enterprises and say to ourselves: "That would be a great idea, we could do with one of those at home." But how many of us follow through with the idea? It takes guts and endeavour to do it, but to do something the size and proportion of Fallon & Byrne takes real courage.
Paul Byrne and his wife, the former journalist Fiona McHugh, took an enormous leap of faith in 2006 when they took over the massive old telephone exchange building on Dublin's Exchequer Street and opened a vast New York-style food emporium with a deli on the ground floor, a restaurant on the first floor and a casual eatery cum wine cellar, the Lower Depths, in the basement.
Byrne, from Newbridge in Co Kildare, got the idea when living in New York.
He explained: "My uncle was a shareholder in a New York restaurant group and we were involved in the building of restaurants such as Smith & Wollensky, the Manhattan Ocean Club and The Post House.
"We also lived in the East Village and were within walking distance of the iconic Dean & Deluca deli and Balthazar, the fashionable brasserie.
"These are the places that influenced us and we thought something like this would go great in Dublin."
They celebrated their fifth birthday at Fallon & Byrne in April. They had originally only intended to open a deli, but Eircom wasn't interested in letting them have just one floor, so they decided to put a restaurant upstairs and a function room on the top floor where they could hold weddings and so on.
Fallon & Byrne took off from the beginning but obviously their range of stock has increased greatly in the course of five years. It is now undoubtedly the place to go if you want something unusual.
"Some of the items are expensive products but they have cost us that and we also have entry-level products," said Paul.
The racks in the centre of the food hall are chock-a-block with labels and names from all over the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with Irish artisan products.
Rachel Firth, who lives in Portugal, has been the buyer from the start and she is constantly sourcing new products for them, buying in a lot of stuff direct, rather than going through a middleman.
Caiscina Belvedere Italian organic-rice products stand beside Vertmont North American and Canadian specialty rice, while Edmond Fallot extra-fine French gherkins and moutardes blend happily with the nearby Llewellyn's Irish Balsamic cider vinegar.
There is also a great variety of olive oils and a huge range of exotic fruits and vegetables just inside the door, which leads you on to a coffee area.
Walk around the periphery of the vast room and they have pretty well everything you could think of covered, the deli counters are laden with enticing salads and pastas, Irish and continental charcuterie, pies, noodles, cheeses, fresh truffles and pre-prepared dishes, such as gluten-free beef bourguignon.
There is a gorgeous meat counter with all manner and cuts of meats and game, French trim loin of pork or racks of lamb, French saddle of rabbit or quail, Barbary duck legs, aged diced beef, tournedos of beef, whilst the nearby fish selection looks straight out of the water.
Fallon & Byrne has become a social hub, a way of life for many people during their working week for that great value sandwich and soup they do for just €7 -- or to browse and chill at weekends.
The restaurant upstairs is one of the nicest rooms in town. In the past couple of years, the owners have adapted the menu to suit the times.
"We don't do formal lunches upstairs anymore, we just had to adapt. We are not even in the right part of town for it, so we have a much more casual menu upstairs and that works very well for us."
The Lower Depths is a big room with communal tables, walls lined with some of their 400 wine varieties on sale, and a distinct cosmopolitan feel. The wine list offers a wide variety of wines available by the 12.5cl glass, 50cl carafe, by the bottle -- it also shows a takeaway price for these.
"The chunky mediterranean fish stew served with baguette is very popular", said Paul. All of these dishes are priced from €7.50 to €12 and available right through from noon to 9pm Monday to Wednesday, Thursday to Saturday up to 10pm and on Sunday from 12.30pm to 6.30pm.
People can also take their deli food down to the Lower Depths to eat it.
The restaurant menu for dinner has starter prices from €6 to €10.50. Fillet steak tartare with horseradish mousse, quail's egg and lemon cress is a modern twist on the old classic. Sweet and sour mackerel is with apple fondant, smoked bacon and French cress, whilst chargrilled asparagus spears are with crisp Serrano ham, duck egg and wild garlic and spinach dressing.
Saddle of rabbit has smoked bacon mousse, pomme noisette, peppered pears, baby vegetables and a white Balsamic jus, whilst oven-baked salmon and artichoke veloute has a crab brandade and shellfish emulsion.
Byrne reiterates that it's all very much a team effort, speaking very highly of his executive head chef, Tom Meenaghan, Mark King, head chef of the restaurant kitchen and Nick Noakes, who is head chef of the production kitchen.
Paul and Fiona have three young children but he credits Fiona with being "the powerhouse". "I am more out front, while she is in the office looking after everything," he said.
"If someone were to ask me would I do anything differently, I would say, because we were so enthusiastic about the food, the one area that we probably overlooked was administration -- financial -- and that came back and bit us."
Last September Fallon & Byrne had to pay €733,000 to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of interest, tax and penalties, in relation to the under-declaration of VAT.
Asked about the impact of the recession, he said: "There was a drop, but not as big as everybody else in similar businesses. Our restaurant is up year on year and the deli and wine cellar are steady."
This dynamic duo are certainly doing their utmost to make Fallon & Byrne a real Dublin legend.