Review: 'I'm a fan but 3fe could up its game in terms of service'
3fe, 32 Grand Canal Street Lower, Dublin 2. 3fe.com
The 3fe story is mostly about coffee, and there will be few who don't have some awareness of the genesis of the business in the third floor lobby of the Twisted Pepper nightclub on Abbey Street, back in 2009, nor of owner Colin Harmon's reinvention from IFSC high-flyer to Coffee Angel apprentice to champion barista.
3fe is a byword for good quality coffee in Ireland, and you'll find its brews in some great cafés and restaurants around the country, including Brother Hubbard and Sprout in Dublin. If somewhere is serving 3fe coffee, it's usually a good indication that they will be as rigorous about the quality of the rest of their offering too. The coffee is also available to order online and one of the best presents you could give a coffee-aficionado would be a subscription to their monthly delivery service.
Harmon opened a stand-alone café on Grand Canal Street back in 2012 and its presence there has enlivened a dull stretch of street. It's become a handy meeting place for people working in the area and, of course, its status as a coffee destination makes it a magnet for start-up, tech and creative types, who rub shoulders with the boys and girls from NAMA and Communicorp down the road.
On a Sunday morning, though, many of these have been displaced by families with young children and the clientèle is less studiedly cool than during the week. (It's hard to maintain an aura of insouciance when you have a raging hangover and your three-year-old twins are kicking up a fuss because they would rather be at home in front of Dora the Explorer eating Nutella straight from the jar than accompanying you to brunch with your smug friends who were tucked up in bed last night at 10pm, the way you would have been if you had any sense. Any sense at all.) Yes there are still a few loners working away on their MacBook Airs, displaying scary prowess with all manner of organisational programmes, and a coterie of the usual international riff-raff that you find in these parts, but it's more chaotic than during the week and the decibel level is definitely higher. We're loitering inside the door trying to figure out if there's a queuing system for tables but the staff don't appear to see it as part of their job either to welcome us or explain the system, so eventually we flag one of them down. "There's no list," he says, incredulous that we might think that there was, "you just wait for a table to come free and pounce." So that's what we do and then, because we know how it works, one of us goes up to the counter to order.
At brunch, there are four menu options, which keeps things simple, each priced at €12. Handily, there are four of us so we get to try one of each. The eggs Benedict is the winner, with a couple of poached eggs sitting atop slow roast, falling apart ham, char-grilled sourdough (in my country, we'd call it burnt, but perhaps that's me being picky) and a decent quantity of hollandaise. The fluffy buttermilk pancakes are good too; they come with crisp bacon, berries and a maple crème fraîche with nuts and seeds. Less successful are the creamy mushrooms with goats' curd topped with fried eggs on sourdough with a truffle dressing - there's an awful lot of food on the plate but it lacks seasoning and flavour; the mushrooms are the bland button variety and the dish would have been much better with field mushrooms. A dish that's described as 'potato and caramelised onion hash, black, pudding, poached eggs, fennel hollandaise sauce' doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. The potatoes are undercooked, there's not enough black pudding and the eggs are too firm (the poached eggs for the Benedict were perfectly runny). We finish with a round of Revolution Bakery's amazing doughnuts (toffee apple crumble, salted caramel, raspberry custard), and excellent (as you would expect) coffees. A waitress spills water over one of our phones while she's clearing the table and barely apologises. The phone's OK thanks to quick action with a napkin on our part, but the lack of interest on her part strikes a bum note. The loo is scruffy and could do with a spruce up. When I get home I check the website for food provenance information and can't find any. For a place that provides an awful lot of information about its coffee and where it comes from, I'd like to see 3fe tell its customers something about where its food comes from too. It could start with the eggs and the ham.
Expect to pay about €20 a head for brunch with drinks and something sweet to finish.
I returned for lunch. The menu is short and I think changes weekly. I had the €10 daily special: a root vegetable and lentil hand pie, served with raita, dukkah, apricot chutney and a salad of blood orange with roasted heirloom carrots and chicory. The pastry was excellent - light yet robust enough not to fall apart when picked up - and the combination on the plate worked well. My pal had the soup and sambo combination (also €10) - a curried root vegetable soup with raita and dukkah that was hearty but under-seasoned (there's no salt on the tables) and a terrific ham and cheddar sandwich with rocket and a great winter slaw featuring roasted hazelnuts on a brioche bap. We were in a rush so didn't have anything to follow apart from coffee, but the home bakes look pretty damn fine. Lunch for two with coffee was €27. All in all I'm a fan, and I'll go back again for lunch, but 3fe could up its game in terms of service and interaction with its customers.
On a budget
Soup and brown soda bread costs €5. It's a substantial portion. 3fe serves breakfast too.
On a blow out
3fe's not a place for a blow-out, and it doesn't serve alcohol so it's never going to get very expensive. You'd be hard-pushed ever to spend more than €20 a head at lunchtime, even with a piece of cake and a coffee.
The high point
The low point
The sense that although 3fe cares very much about its coffee, it doesn't care quite so much about its customers. For people who haven't been before, the ordering process takes a bit of getting used to and can be intimidating; no one seems to have time to talk newbies through the coffee options on offer.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
For anyone who spends time in London either for work or pleasure, one food blog worth following is rocketandsquash.com, written by city lawyer-turned-chef and food writer, Ed Smith (above). Smith gets around to a good number of restaurants, established and new, and also provides a great round-up of recipes appearing in the UK press each week. At a time when so many food blogs are dull and same-y, this has quality writing and is one that is worth subscribing to, even if you never find yourself in London.