THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: CrackBird, Dublin

I had received warnings shortly after arriving in Dublin that a trip to CrackBird could be dangerous, for, as the name implies, it can easily become an addictive habit. As a result, I held off until I had a particular visitor to stay who I knew would appreciate the opportunity to eat ‘posh KFC’ guilt-free.

Although essentially fried chicken is what CrackBird does, comparisons between this restaurant and that well known American fast food chain are meaningless. The owners of CrackBird are a very successful restaurateur team who also own Jo’Burger and Skinflint. These restaurants too, have taken the foods that we hate to love (burgers and pizzas respectively) and elevated them to new heights with quirky touches and culinary flair.

Located on Dame Street, just south of Temple Bar, the simplistic wooden banner above the full-length windows make CrackBird easy to spot among the neon lights of its neighbouring restaurants. And inside, the individuality of this busy spot continues, with walls decked with cool art works, wooden tables, and trendy looking staff. One look at your placemat, which handily doubles as the menu, will tell you that you really need to like chicken to enjoy a meal here. CrackBird does not falter in its intention to serve up Ireland’s most commonly eaten meat, but it aims to do so in an imaginative and most importantly, downright delicious, way.

CrackBird’s focus on chicken is so intense that the Menu is devoid of a single dessert. Certainly surprising, but it made us feel slightly less guilty about ordering a meal of a size to make the Irish rugby team proud. Between the two of us we chose a half-bucket (4 pieces – a thigh, drumstick, wing and a breast) of Buttermilk Chicken, the same order of Soy and Garlic Chicken, and some Chicken brochettes with a curry yoghurt crust. To accompany the star ingredient, we opted for some hand rolled croquettes, some sweet potato noodles, a carrot and cranberry salad, and on recommendation from friends who frequently visit CrackBird to feed their addiction, the burnt lemon and whipped feta sauce.

Like the style of the restaurant itself, the food was presented in a relaxed yet well-considered manner, which highlighted its inventiveness. Just managing to restrain ourselves until the waiter was a reasonable distance from our table, we delved into the buckets and commenced our chicken fix. The chicken was everything it should be: tender, juicy, and with expertly crisped skin. Both the buttermilk and the soy and garlic coatings gave great depth of flavour; the former offered both creaminess and a crunch, while the latter provided warmth and a well-measured saltiness. The curry yoghurt crust on the brochettes was another inspired topping, which worked perfectly with the sweetness from the carrot salad. The croquettes could have been marginally crispier, and I wasn’t taken with the noodles which, served cold, were a strange, almost slimy texture, but these were minor complaints. With a lashing of the feta sauce, which would have worked wonders on far inferior dishes, I was more than satisfied.

With chicken now so readily available at often very cheep (sorry) prices, it is easy to forget that it is a bird which, if cooked skillfully, can hold its own against its meatier rivals. A visit to CrackBird is a successful reminder of this, and it was a relief that the cost of the (exceptionally large) lunch was reasonable (€50), as I have no doubt I will be joining the crowds who give into temptation and head back for more.

More information here: www.joburger.ie/crackbird.html

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: Whitefriar Grill, Dublin

It is a big claim when a restaurant promotes themselves as “the best”, and one that in my experience invariably leads to disappointment, so it was with trepidation that I booked a table at Whitefriar Grill on Aungier Street for a lazy Sunday morning brunch. After a walk up the canal to build up appetites, we arrived at a modest restaurant front below a red awning. The lack of ostentation surprised me – for a restaurant so ready to boast about itself, I was almost anticipating a red carpet welcome. A step through the small porch brought us face to face with another unexpected addition – a DJ booth complete with DJ – not exactly the ideal hangover cure. Or so we thought.

Actually, the atmosphere in the compact restaurant was exactly what was needed for the occasion. The DJ played well, with a good mix of well-known tracks and a few more eclectic jazz sounds, but nothing which interrupted conversation. Like its exterior, the inside of the restaurant is devoid of flashiness: exposed brick walls, wooden furniture and a central wooden bar keep things simple, with flashes of red from the curtains, a few quirky art works on the walls, and little plants in metal plant pots adding just enough detail to keep things interesting.

The restaurant was buzzing with fellow brunch-goers, many of whom appeared to be regulars, satisfied that they had settled on the best brunch spot in town. Despite the constant stream, service was slick but also friendly. My companions had suitcases which were immediately taken by the Maître D’, and a jug of water and glasses appeared on our table without request. Small things maybe, but they were noticed and appreciated.

So far, the Whitefriar Grill was ticking all the boxes, but obviously, the proof is in the eating, and so we began a comprehensive examination of the menu. If I am out for dinner, or even for lunch, I normally look to try something new, and appreciate a chef who picks unusual ingredients. However, brunch is the ultimate comfort food, and alongside twists on the classics, I was hoping for the choice of some old favourites: there are some dishes that just shouldn’t be messed with. Fortunately, the chefs at Whitefriar Grill agreed with me, and the Menu was an excellent balance of familiar flavours and a few more ‘exotic’ options. While we deliberated, we enjoyed the Whitefriar’s virgin cocktail, L’Orange – muddled orange with grenadine, fresh limes, sugar and topped with 7Up – which was not too sweet and deliciously refreshing.

After much consideration, between us we opted for the ‘Whitefriar Grill’, the ‘Vegetarian Eggs Benedict’, and the ‘Gambas Benedict with spinach, avocado salsa and lemon hollandaise.’ All three dishes were cleanly presented on rectangular white plates. The lack of distracting garnishes demonstrated the restaurant’s confidence in its food, and rightly so, as it all looked incredibly tasty. The meat components of the Whitefriar Grill were all top quality – the black pudding was a particular high point. The lack of toast was a little surprising, and we were slightly taken aback by having to pay an extra €2 for a side, but it was properly grilled sourdough bread so our irritation was swiftly forgotten. The Gambas Benedict was a very intelligently constructed dish. There was just enough lemon both to cut through the richness of the hollandaise and to complement the gambas. The subtle heat from the avocado salsa added an extra dimension, and the muffin was lovely and light, and acted as the perfect sponge for the sauce. Both the Benedicts came with thick cut chips: an unnecessary but nevertheless, welcome addition, especially when they were dipped into the homemade baked beans accompanying the Whitefriar Grill.

Full, but willing to indulge our sweet teeth on a special treat, we ordered the chocolate fondue to round off the meal. The proportions of the dish were a little out – we ended up inelegantly spooning the chocolate from the fondue bowl once we had finished off the pineapple chunks, homemade marshmallow and some out of this world peanut butter fudge – but the chocolate was excellent quality so this wasn’t too much of a problem.

I am hesitant to accept the Whitefriar Grill’s label as the ‘best brunch spot in Dublin’, but this is mainly because there are so many alternatives I have yet to try that it would be unfair to agree without further investigation. However, I am happy to conclude that for atmosphere, service, price (our bill came to €45), and most importantly, for food, the Whitefriar grill deserves a great deal of praise. Without any pretension, it delivers exactly what is needed on a Sunday morning.

More information: www.whitefriargrill.ie

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: Fade Street Social, Dublin

Over the past five months, I have come to view Dubliners as the most upbeat and fun-loving people: this, despite continuous news of the dire state of their economy. Their enjoyment of a good time is infectious, and their ability to drink is infamous. However Dublin as a drinking capital perhaps overshadows its reputation as a culinary centre. The city may have taken longer than many of its western counterparts to catch on to the business of ‘eating out’, but in the last few decades, Dublin has branched out far beyond its roots, and opened its eyes to international cuisine in a serious way.

The fact that despite the recession, not only are established restaurants flourishing but there is space, and indeed demand for, new eateries, including Dylan McGrath’s latest venture, Fade Street Social, is testament to Dublin’s commitment to improving its position in the food world. Of course, a name like Dylan McGrath (judge of Irish Masterchef among other accolades), provides certain advantages from a marketing point of view, but also raises expectations. Dubliners may have entered the food scene belatedly, but they are a discerning crowd, and the premature closure of Gary Rhodes’ Rhodes D7 in 2009 is proof that they will not be won over by a name alone. So with this in mind, it was with a truly Irish attitude that I entered Fade Street Social on a wet and windy Wednesday evening to sample for myself the newest hot spot in Dublin city centre.

The project to convert 8000 sq ft of space on Fade Street into a one stop gastronomic destination began in July 2012 and the care and consideration taken with the interior design is clear to see. The use of warm colour, and bench-style tables, copper napkin rings and specially commissioned ‘street art’ illustrations on the Tapas menus, combine to create a perfect relaxed modern environment. Satisfied diners improve the atmosphere of any restaurant, but McGrath has ensured that his customers will feel confident the moment they sit down by opting for an open kitchen, and by hiring well informed, attentive, but far from stuffy, waiting staff. The ground floor is split into a Restaurant and a Tapas bar, while upstairs there is further space to enjoy the Tapas, and also a ‘drinks only’ area with low cow-skin seating and quirky wooden tables.

In order to make the most of my visit, I joined some friends who were eating in the restaurant, before moving on to the Tapas bar to enjoy some nibbles and cocktails myself. Reports on the restaurant food were resoundingly positive. The flatbreads from the ‘Woodfired’ section of the Menu were described as incredibly satisfying without being heavy, with such interesting taste combinations – the pumpkin, pork and chestnut in particular – that it was no struggle to finish the healthy portions. The Salmon with crab sauce under the ‘Charred and Smoked’ heading, with Cauliflower fondant roasted in nut-brown butter as a side was apparently mouthwateringly good. If Dylan McGrath were a contestant rather than a judge on Masterchef, he would have been delighted with the feedback.

There is an increasing trend towards experimental cooking. This is undoubtedly something that should be encouraged, but I have found on other occasions that the resulting dishes have fallen short of my expectations. Fortunately, there are no such problems at Fade Street Social. The Tapas Menu makes for an exciting and amusing read, and the food that arrived, delivered every way that I had hoped. Mini Lobster Hotdogs with melted hazelnut butter in a brioche roll, Crispy Chicken pieces served with truffle popcorn, and Pumpkin Macaroni with spring onion and Parmesan all demonstrated a perfect balance of fun, flavour and ingenuity. There is little in the way of subtlety, and there is no holding back in the use of cream and butter, but as long as you eat the dishes in the Tapas style (and you aren’t on a diet), then I would be surprised to hear any complaints.

I am struggling to find fault with Fade Street Social, and it would seem that the rest of Dublin is inclined to agree with me if the stream of eager diners entering the restaurant throughout the evening is anything to go by. Yes, the prices are fairly steep in the restaurant, but (depending on how restrained you are) actually the Tapas menu is very reasonable, with dishes between €6 and €10. If the initial level of popularity continues, it may be a while before there is a spare table, but it is certainly a table worth saving up for.

More information here.

http://www.fadestreetsocial.com/

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman.