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.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISS: Indie Dhaba, Dublin

I have to admit that as much as I love going out to eat, I suffer from that well known condition which can sometimes spoil the occasion: Menu Panic. There have been many times when I have left my companions waiting as I dither over my choice, only to spend the rest of the meal enviously eyeing up their plates and subtly suggesting that it would be nice to share. Tapas restaurants do offer a solution to the problem, but there’s only so many patatas bravas a girl can eat, so news that a restaurant bringing ‘Tapas style dining to Indian food’ had opened in Dublin city centre, was music to my ears.

Situated in an innocuous building on St Anne’s Lane in the centre of Dublin, two floors below ground level, Indie Dhaba is a surprise to all the senses… low lighting in a range of colours matching the brightly coloured crockery (and as we were soon to find out, also the mini pappadums and fryums), lively music creating a very buzzy atmosphere and smells to tempt even the most unyielding of taste buds.

Once seated, and with menus in front of us, we began the epic task of choosing what to have. My hopes of quick decisions were swiftly dashed (in the end, we had to ask a passing waiter for some help with translations), but the structure of the ‘tapas style’ menu meant that I wasn’t going to be stealing from my companion’s plate when she wasn’t looking. After some deliberation, we chose Pappadums and Fryums topped with Indian Vegetable Ratatouille, and some mathari sticks with a selection of four dips to nibble on while we sipped on a Ginger Rogers and a Pineapple and Cardamom Martini. Unfortunately, there was little of our Small Plates left by the time the cocktails arrived – a sign of how moreish they were but also an illustration of the slow service which continued throughout the evening. However, both cocktails were very refreshing and the use of spices was a pleasant change from the often overly sweet syrups used in so many drinks.

It was hard to tell whether the ad hoc arrival of our Large Plates was deliberate or not, but it allowed us to savour the taste of some truly delicious dishes. A simply served whole sea-bass, in a marinade of shrimp, green chilli, coconut, coriander, turmeric and kokum paste was stunning. Without overpowering the delicate fish, the marinade was warming yet fresh, and with a squeeze of lemon juice, the dish was complete; no other accompaniment necessary. We were slightly more conventional with our second Large Plate, picking from the Old Favourites section a Lamb dish cooked with apricot and plum sauce with whole Indian spices. Eaten with Brown Onion Pulao rice and a truly indulgent fig and goat’s cheese naan, this was comfort food with a twist, at its best.

The continued lack of attention from the waiters actually had one advantage as we had plenty of time to digest and make room for desserts. The dessert list didn’t disappoint in its display of authenticity and ingenuity, but with not quite enough room for more rice (this time in the form of a chocolate rice pudding), we opted for Rose-petal and Gulab Jamun Cheesecake, and a selection of Ice creams. The cheesecake was heavy but had a delectably creamy flavour and the rose water sorbet provided a welcome contrast. The ice creams themselves were very tasty – the chocolate in particular was a good balance of richness and sweetness – but what we had assumed to be a chocolate sauce on the side of the plate, turned out to be a caramelized balsamic glaze, which overpowered the ice cream and left an unpleasant aftertaste – a step too far in experimental cooking.

For three courses and two cocktails each, the bill came to just under €100 (£84), more reasonable than many of the restaurants of this level in Dublin. If the benefit of the doubt is given to Indie Dhaba, and the undeniably poor service is put down to teething problems, then it is certainly a place that deserves recommendation (maybe a few weeks down the road). The atmosphere is ideal for dinner with friends, and both the food and cocktail menus step away from the norm and nine times out of ten succeed in delivering interesting and delicious taste sensations.

More information on the restaurant here.

http://www.dhaba.ie/

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Miss, Lucy Freedman