La Cucina
Farrier & Draper
Powerscourt Townhouse
South William Street
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 677 1220

Irish Daily Mail
27 August 2016

Farrier & Draper, which opened very recently in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, has a pretty amazing bar in a city that has quite a few licensed premises of distinction. It struck me that there’s a huge gulf, these days - in Dublin at any rate - between a “pub” and a “bar”.

I think it may have all started when some restaurants started calling themselves Such-and-Such Bar & Grill, in an attempt to woo the Irish male, in particular, away from the pub, to sever that umbillical link to pints and Sky Sports and food kept warm in bains maries and dehydrated under heat lamps.

Actually, if that was the object, the exercise has been an abject failure. The city and the country at large are liberally endowed with pubs that serve average drink with little or no grace, and atrocious, industrial food that would cause a riot if served in one of our correctional facilities.

You see, the Irish publican had it so easy for so long. Pour drink into customers, wipe the bar; ask them if they have no homes to go to when closing time comes around. Simple.

But a lot of consumers have become... what should we call it? Sophisticated? Well, perhaps that’s pitching it a bit strong. A lot of consumers want a bit more; they have been to countries where pubs... sorry... bars, have a bit of style.

In fact the “bar & grill” nomenclature that kicked off a decade ago or so refers to this style. It implies a touch of New York sophistication, of San Francisco style, of Mad Men loucheness. Not a toasted special or a package of crips in sight.

Stand at the bar in Farrier & Draper (is that a reference to Don, by any chance?) or in Luna and you will see what I mean.

Of course, all of this is intimately connected with a trend that would have been considered, at best, a huge challenge when I was growing up, viz. forging some kind of connection between the drinking of alcohol and the consumption of food. There are still circles in which this kind of talk is seen as heresy.

Farrier & Draper’s food offering is down in the basement – a rather dark and very warm basement – and it goes by the name of La Cucina. So, Dublin has a new Italian restaurant, with an Italian chef called Riccardo and this has to be a good thing.

La Cucina is not in its element in August; it has a cosiness that means it will come into its own as the evenings draw in and Autumn draws on. And I think the menu will evolve too, not that there was anything wrong with what we ate. I just feel that the kitchen here is being too careful to cover all the bases.

Polpette, proper meatballs (and more a “thing” in Italian-America than in Italy itself) made a fine, rib-sticking starter. The texture was light, the meat had proper flavour, the tomato sauce had been long-cooked for intensity. I think it was a shade of terracotta but, to be honest, it was quite hard to see my hand in front of my face. Bits of melting, creamy mozzarella scattered over this dish was a pleasingly decadent touch.

Arancini promised truffle and porcini (what the French call ceps and we call penny buns) and these are things to which I respond like an old war horse getting a whiff of cordite. But it was a mixed bag; they were, indeed, little balls of risotto encased in crisp breadcrumbs. But the risotto was flavoured, Milanese style with saffron and the truffle was in a cream sauce. I was assured that there were porcini involved but I think it must have been in homeopathic quantities.

Linguini with clams is a dish to which I return, time and time again. La Cucina’s version was good although such a heavy hand with the cherry tomatoes was not entirely a good idea. The clams were fine, the portion huge (I finished it for lunch next day), but it lacked a certain something. Maybe a spoonful or two of intense, salty shellfish broth?

On the other hand, the prawn risotto was first class and I don’t say that lightly. I’m browned off at how many chefs think gritty, chalky, undercooked rice is right and proper in this northern Italian classic.

Here the texture was perfect, the consistency correctly somewhere between solid and liquid and the flavour! Oh my, the flavour! Sweet, buttery prawns, lifted with tangy, zesty lemon. So simple, so perfect.

Puddings were not really an option after all of this. With a bottle of wine and of mineral water, the bill came to just over €90.