Review: Fallon & Byrne - 'F&B's mackerel pâté is a thing of beauty'
FALLON & BYRNE, The People's Park, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. (01) 230 3300, fallonand byrne.com
Dún Laoghaire has had - literally - its moment in the sun this summer, thronged with people from other parts of the city wanting to swim at the beaches at either end of the town and explore its seaside charms. The sailing schools have been full of youngsters twirling around in Oppies, joyously capsizing into waters that have been unnaturally warm. (Just wait until winter, when the sailing gets tough and sorts the women from the girls. They won't be laughing then.) The hot food stalls at the Sunday market in the People's Park have been raking it in, whatever about the traders in cheese and vegetables and bread - the prosaic basics of everyday life - who tend to do better outside of holiday season when there are more actual shoppers than grazers.
I've heard good things about the evolution of Oliveto at the smart Haddington Hotel, not having eaten there for years, but we're out of luck landing a booking; and another restaurant that's been encouraging me to come and visit, Feast at the bottom of York Road, has a notice in its window saying that it's on holiday until September - which seems odd.
So we decide on Fallon & Byrne's outpost in the People's Park, which, by the sounds of it, has also had a good summer. A friend who lives almost next door tells me a story about a birthday party in the restaurant one summer's evening, the noise attracting complaints from another neighbour. My friend's son, on the way home from a night out, intervened in the confrontation between the irate neighbour and the restaurant staff, pointing out (a) that it wasn't that late, (b) that the party-goers had great taste in music, and (c) that if they, who live right beside the park, could put up with it, then so should the complainant. Live and let live.
We visit on yet another of those warm evenings, the light lingering late, and the park filled with parents and children playing and eating ice-creams. It feels like another country.
We've booked a table but it's inside and, of course, we want to eat outside. A helpful waitress finds us somewhere to sit and have a glass of wine while we wait for an outside table to come free, and she drops back regularly to keep us up to date. Even though the staff are in the main very young, they make up for in smiles and general pleasantness what they may lack in formal training.
It's an all-day menu, with sharing plates, salads, sandwiches and some main courses. It's a dull read, and one of those - thankfully now rare - occasions when there is little to excite, no dish to set the heart racing, nothing that both of us want, requiring one to capitulate.
We settle on a seafood sharing platter that's woefully short on provenance information, comprising dressed crab with cucumber and apple, smoked salmon, mackerel pâté and prawn cocktail. To my mind dressed crab - a wonderful dish, executed properly - uses both the brown and the white meat of the crustacean. Here it's white only, and it's fine, but lacking in the sweet flavour of, for instance, the Lambay crab that you'll find on the menu at Michael's in Mount Merrion and which is now my benchmark.
F&B's mackerel pâté is a thing of beauty - you can buy it in their shops - and it doesn't disappoint here: it's smooth, creamy, lemony, rich, delicious. The smoked salmon is grand (although I'd have liked to know its origin), as are the tiny prawns in a watery but dill-heavy dressing.
In its favour, the seafood platter is a generous serving and would make a fine lunch for two, at a cost of €18.95. A portion of roasted and salted Spanish almonds is similarly plentiful, for €4.95.
By way of mains, there's a yawn-worthy dish of hake with a 'cassoulet' of beans and chorizo (it's not cassoulet) and 'sprouting' broccoli that turns out to be the regular kind, and another of too-wintry braised Comeragh mountain lamb with broad beans, pea shoots, artichoke that tastes as if it's straight from the jar, feta and olive crumb. There's no quibble replacing the sautéed potatoes that are intended to accompany this with more broccoli, but this is dull fare. We're not tempted by any of the desserts so opt instead for dessert cocktails - Toblerone and tiramisu - because even though we may look like a sensible pair of SoCoDu matrons, we are just one step away from Magaluf in our hearts. The former is a concoction of Bailey's, Crème de Cacao, Frangelico and fresh cream, while the latter comprises Kahlua, Bailey's, rum, Crème de Cacao and cream. Truth be told, they are pretty much indistinguishable, but pleasant enough, in a don't-tell-the-dentist kind of a way.
It seems odd to me that Fallon & Byrne as a business should set the bar so high when it comes to its food halls in the city centre and Rathmines, where I am an enthusiastic and regular shopper, but be satisfied with such an unprepossessing offer in one of its restaurants. It's a menu in need of a root-and-branch review.
Our bill, with a bottle of smooth organic Cantina Tollo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (€34), and one of San Pellegrino, came to €122.55 before service.
6/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
There's an early-bird menu served between 5pm and 7pm each day, with two courses priced at €22.95.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Two people sharing a seafood platter and ordering rib-eye steaks, sides and desserts such as chocolate and caramel mousse would run up a bill of close to €100 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Eating out of doors on a warm summer evening.
THE LOW POINT
A desultory food offering that appears devoid of - and I hesitate to employ such an overused word - passion.