Saturday 20 December 2014

Newcomer doesn't fade away

Published 13/01/2013 | 06:00

Dylan McGrath is probably one of the best-known chefs in Ireland at the moment, thanks to his appearances on 'Masterchef'. But before that show brought him to the attentions of the whole country, he had made quite a name for himself with his extraordinary cooking skills in a restaurant called Mint.

It was here that Dylan got his Michelin star, and it was here too that he learnt a lesson – it's very hard to make money from a restaurant with 35 seats.

The recession came and Dylan reassessed, giving up the haute cuisine and bringing us Rustic Stone, a restaurant where the diners cook much of their own dinner on hot lava stones. It has been one of the few recession successes, bringing a new style of eating to George's Street and a new style of informative menu as well.

So when Dylan opened his newest venture, Fade Street Social, it caused quite a stir among the foodie community. The expectations were high – after all, it was Dylan McGrath who was heading up this particular venture.

Cleverly, it opened bit by bit. First, the tapas bar opened, and only when that was ticking over like clockwork did they open the restaurant proper.

By the way, although it's called a tapas bar, don't expect Spanish food. It's tapas only in the sense that the dishes on offer are tapas-sized. Both the tapas bar and the restaurant have been designed to showcase Irish food.

You probably know that I'm not in the habit of reviewing restaurants that have only just opened their doors – I like to leave them settle in before I visit.

This week, I went with Marian The Blonde to the restaurant, which had been open for just three weeks. I would have preferred to have left it a little longer, but at three weeks I thought it would still be good.

Although you're reading this in January, the visit was before Christmas, and that did have an effect on our meal.

For a start, it meant that the menu was quite short. Again, cleverly, they decided to keep the menu short while they found their feet in the Christmas rush. I'm told that they'll be expanding the menu this month.

Also, they intend to make more use of the impressive wood-fired oven that dominates one corner of the dining room, where it sits at one side of the elevated kitchen.

It's easy to see that a chef has been involved in the layout here: the kitchen isn't a cramped space tucked away in an awkward corner, it's huge, and it's elevated above the dining room, so watching the brigade at work is easy.

The interior is attractive – lots of exposed brick, very high ceilings, exposed air-extraction and some mighty pieces of bog oak on the walls, one above our heads looking like a monstrous sea serpent.

The menu is entirely in keeping with the interior design: its typography is modern and the way the menu is sub-divided is novel. It's in four parts: starters, flat breads, stewed and braised, and charred and smoked.

There are six starters: a bag of bread, a white pudding and cabbage soup, oysters, smoked salmon, scallop and corned beef.

There are three flatbreads, which are a kind of pizza and come from the big wood-fired oven, and they're in two sizes, big and small.

There are three stews – a beef stew, a lamb stew and a rabbit stew – then from the charcoal grill there's a pork chop, a rump steak, a sirloin, and two fish – blossom (pollack) and salmon.

As you can see, it's a menu composed of simple dishes that wouldn't overly stretch the chefs with complexity, so these dishes were going to succeed on the basis of their flavour and the skill in their execution.

A special of the day was smoked wild salmon, something neither Marian nor I were going to miss out on, so we ordered that and a bag of bread.

For mains, Marian picked the lamb stew and I picked the rabbit.

There's a pretty impressive wine list, which goes on for many pages, making it one of the longest wine lists I've seen in Dublin for a while. It's fairly priced, but expect to spend around €30 for a decent bottle.

I was also taken with the beer list, which is also very long and lists a lot of craft ales. I had the Kildare-brewed Trouble Brewing, which I really liked, and Marian had a non-alcoholic cocktail which not only looked good but also tasted good.

The smoked salmon was excellent, and it came with Irish trout caviar which we ate with the fresh breads. To go with them we had unsalted butter and Frank Hederman's smoked butter, which is a delight.

Our main courses were good: Marian's lamb stew was a reworked classic, with pieces of lamb, crispy balsamic fillet, spiced potato mousse and with flavours of celery and lovage.

I had a braised leg of rabbit, which had been cooked with white wine, tarragon and smoked bacon. I liked the taste of it and it was tender, but I would have preferred a little more of the sauce that came with it.

We were joined for dessert by Marian's daughter Sophie and artist David Uda, and we had three desserts which we shared: a trifle, a banoffee and three scoops of sorbets.

Both the trifle and the banoffee were deconstructed and not the classic dishes, but they were tasty enough, although heavy on the sugar and cream. The sorbets were two flavours, cherry and banana. The cherry was excellent; the banana was too sweet for my taste.

After the meal, we went upstairs to check out the very smart cocktail lounge on the first floor and above that again was the roof-top smoking area with fine views over the rooftops of Fade Street.

Our bill came to €114.60, which I thought was fair value. I look forward to seeing what the fuller menu will offer, and what else will come from the fine wood-fired oven in the future.

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