38 Parnell Square West
Phone: 01 874 7778
Irish Daily Mail
10 December 2016
It was a sad day for food in Dublin when that exceptional chef, Joy Beattie, decided to hang up her whites at The Hot Stove, a restaurant that pretty much doubled the availability of serious cooking in the north inner city. That was back in October (Kevin Thornton carried on a little longer in Dublin 2) and now what was once The Hot Stove has become Mr Fox.
Mr Fox is a sattellite of Stephen McAllister’s The Pig’s Ear on Nassau Street where he has created a very distinctive and refined take on Irish food. I have eaten there with Trish Deseine and with Nick Lander of the Financial Times and we were universally impressed. There’s a combination of wholesome earthiness and very skilled delicacy that has become the hallmark of the kitchen there.
I’ve known Stephen for many years, of course, because he and I met on the first series of The Restaurant back when it was made on location in The Queen’s in Dalkey. That would have been 2003 and my old friend Paolo Tullio had discerned in Stephen a serious talent.
Mr Fox has Anthony Smith as head chef who, according to the website, has cooked around the world but has come home now to his native northside Dublin.
The menu has a lot of the earthy wholesomeness of The Pig’s Ear and, yes, a lot of the delicacy too. It’s an informal place – no crisp white linens or other trappings of “fine dining” (a phrase I abhor) and elbows would be quite comfortable on the table.
But, on the other hand, the food has a very impressive refinement; even when simple, there’s been meticulous work to get it right.
The menu reflects the way that more and more of us eat these days: how many of us have a starter, main course and dessert at home except at Christmas? We’re much more inclined to graze, in a sense.
Mr Fox does what it rather modestly calls ‘snacks' but which, in reality, are small starters. Then there are more substial dishes under the heading of “starters” and “larger plates”. I especially like the suggestion for sharing: a cote de boeuf and barbecued short ribs and much besides. For €59 that strikes me as a good deal.
Anyway, we started with three snacks but they turned out to be elegant little dishes which would serve any but the most bucolic appetites as, well, starters.
Pig’s head, smoked pear and pickles were, in a sense, just those elements. But the pig meat had been teased into strands and formed into cubes, breaded and crisped. They were intense and would have been better, perhaps, with a more gelatinous texture (may be a bit of trotter would help).
Devilled eggs, chipotle and Goatsbridge trout caviar from County Kilkenny were a joy. First of all, as a nostalgic throwback to the best of the 1960s, secondly with the updated spice element and, thirdly, with the textural contrast and salty, savoury tang of the fish eggs.
A piece of toast with rosemary and wrapped in a gossamer sheet of salty lardo was simple heaven.
Our one larger plate comprised very, very rare venison with salsify that was just caramelised and properly earthy and sweet as this unsung hero of root vegetables is at its best. Cabbage, always good with game, provided a certain mustardy crunch, blackberries just the right note of fruitiness and trompettes de la mort, those tiny black mushrooms combined with this for real Winter sous bois flavours.
It was a dish that looked deceptively simple but ate like a symphony.
Our other dish, technically a starter, was a picture. A beef marrow bone had been halved, the marrow mixed with snails, the whole lot impeccably arranged and fortified with dollops of bright green parsley purée. This dish tasted intensely earthy, very real, very rooted in where food comes from, i.e. the soil. I would travel for this.
Menus that present me with multiple dilemmas when ordering are less rare than they used to be but are still a pleasure to encounter. Mr Fox tempted me with several alternatives: crab ravioli with cockles and mussels, deer tartare with Jerusalem artichoke, partridge (with anything!), something referred to, mysteriously, but alluringly, as “Clementine ‘super-split’”...
I expect you will have got the picture by now. This is very modern food but it’s all very grounded and it has roots in tradition, not just in the classical sense but also in terms of where we live. There’s a sense of humour too (they do a “little treat” called “Mr Fox “Walnut Whip””) which shows that, while the skills and the thinking are serious, customers are not expected to sit in respectful silence and worship at the altar of gastronomy. More of this please!
Our bill, with mineral water, two glasses of wine and coffee, came to €89.35.