Our food critic is impressed to see the food and service have improved at this compact Camden Street wine bar
The last time I visited Frank’s on Camden Street, I didn’t have a great experience. It was still basking in the glory of an over-hyped opening, which seemed to have gone to the restaurant’s head. Stools at the central island were at a premium, and the service was so cool, it verged on frosty. It was too much of an effort for anyone to describe the dishes as they were plonked down in front of us, and by the time we made our escape, neither my daughter nor I had any wish to return.
Two-and-a-half years on and things are very different. (Although there’s still no bread.)
There’s a new chef, for one thing, and a fresh, friendly team on the floor. The staff smile, and there’s an unpretentious vibe. On one of the first warm evenings of the year, the tables out on the pavement are full, but we slip straight into a slot inside. Frank’s is still walk-ins only, and because of the configuration, with a large, wide central island, it’s best suited to twos and threes — conversation would be difficult with a larger number.
Frank’s operated as a bottle shop when restaurants were closed during the various lockdowns, and its wine list — focu—sed on minimal intervention wines from small producers — is a delight.
In the small kitchen area at the far end of the room is David Bradshaw, most recently the number two at Clanbrassil House. Before that, he was at the Michelin-starred Lyle’s in London, and he brings something of that restaurant’s spare, modern aesthetic to Camden Street.
The ‘small plates’ menu is short, and you can go for smoked almonds, olives, cheese and charcuterie if that’s your preference. We order everything, with the dishes arriving as they are ready, and in no particular order. I know this is a style of eating that irritates some, but it’s fine by me.
The first dish out is scamorza, ’nduja and cauliflower croquettes with a romesco sauce. Croquettes may have become ubiquitous in the past couple of years, but there’s a reason for that, and these are well-judged and tasty, with a piquant heat from the Calabrian sausage and lightness from the cauliflower. The pale orange sludgy romesco is well-balanced and thankfully not dominated by red pepper as can sometimes be the case.
A simple bowl of pristine crudites — radishes, carrots, beautiful bitter leaves, all crispness and colour — is a joy to behold. The accompanying sauce garrigue is all herby deliciousness, with sage to the fore and a slick of olive oil for good measure. You rarely see a dish as simple as this on a menu in Ireland and I don’t understand why, because when the core vegetables are as magnificent as they are here, it’s a strong statement of kitchen confidence.
Every wine bar needs a signature Insta dish and, at Frank’s, it’s the Hegarty’s crumpet with cabbage and ransoms — the fluffy, slightly chewy crumpet topped with greens submerged under a flurry of micro-planed cheese. It feels substantial and generous, and costs just €4.50.
Mackerel comes with peas and brassica in a wide, shallow bowl. The surface of the barely cooked fish is dark, the flesh sliced with sashimi-like precision. It sits in a broth of smoked bones, buckwheat shoyu, meadowsweet vinegar and preserved clementine, restrained and elegant.
Scallops with celeriac purée, vivid green parsley and tiny — I think — ransom capers are beautifully cooked, although for a dish containing at most two scallops, the €16 price tag seems punchy, and the celeriac strikes too wintry a note on this summer evening. Our final savoury dish is a simple pasta of fresh tagliolini with hazelnut and breadcrumbs, the sauce, which is over-salted, made cacio-e-pepe style from the cooking water.
To finish, an elderflower crème brûlée with fermented honey and toasted buckwheat that is low-key and rather lovely, the sweetness kept in check, the textures interesting, the scattering of little blossoms very pretty.
As you’d expect, Frank’s has a decent selection of wines by the glass, as well as vermouth and white port. We start with the Domaine Rijckaert Arbois 2019, a full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay from the Jura, at €12 for a 125ml glass, and progress, on the recommendation of our server, to a bottle of Claire Naudin’s La Plante Bourgogne Rouge 2020. (“She can do no wrong,” he says, and he’s right.)
Our bill comes to €153.50 before service. The stools are no more comfortable than they were on my last visit — it’s probably deliberate, to discourage lingering — but everything else about Frank’s has gone up a notch.
You could have the Hegarty’s Cheddar crumpet and a glass of vinho verde for €11.50.
Order one of everything and you’re looking at a bill of €107.50 before wine.
Frank’s, 22 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2. franksdublin.com