CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, and of course Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, both claim that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled off was convincing us that he didn’t exist.
The idea of hell is different however and that idea lingers on — I think most of us find it easy to imagine that such a place of endless torment could exist.
We all have our own conception of what our personal hell might be and if I ever end up there I’m fairly sure the soundtrack to my tortures will be AOR music from the 1980s on an endless loop.
You know the sort of songs: Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘The Power of Love’; Van Halen’s ‘Jump’; ‘Betty-Davis Eyes’ and Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ (I really wish I could).
Dining at Mr Fox on a wet and windy night last month and being aurally assaulted by this music was bearable (just barely) thanks to some precisely cooked food to distract me, but I really cannot conceive of worse music to dine to — Norwegian Death Metal would be preferable.
Mr Fox is just up from the Rotunda Hospital and opened before Christmas under chef Anthony Smith with backing from Stephen McAllister of The Pigs Ear.
The à la carte menu is broken into snacks, starters, mains and desserts and there are lots of well thought out pairings here such as devilled eggs with chipotle and Goatsbridge Trout Caviar and fried leeks with smoked eel and gribiche.
I didn’t try these dishes but you know from the description that they will work.
The meal began strongly with good sourdough bread served with Parmesan cream and cep butter topped with crumbled dried mushrooms for extra umami.
We hoovered the bread just in time for an oyster ‘snack’ each — briny sweet raw oyster topped with apple and yuzu gel to add a subtle but welcome accent.
Crab Ravioli with cockles and mussels (€13) had light satiny pasta and a generous filling of crab, and snails on toast with parsley sauce were excellent and a good contrast and also somehow a complement to some roast Bone Marrow.
Tender venison loin was cooked rare and offset with earthy salsify with a blackberry or two to add sweetness; Duck breast was properly pink with kale, rhubarb and onion which served to nicely showcase the perfectly cooked duck.
At €25 and €26 respectively these were not cheap dishes but they just about got away with it.
Our side order of chips were crispy but drowned in smoky paprika powder which rather obliterated all the other flavours in our mains so order with extreme caution.
The wine list is short (or manageable depending on your viewpoint) and has some well chosen wines beginning at €24.
We chose the Domaine des Coutures Saumur-Champigny from the Loire at the (relatively) fair price of €39.
This is an obscure wine region in the Loire that specialises in red-fruit flavoured Cabernet Francs so praise is due for its appearance on the list as it was excellent and a fine foil for the duck and venison dishes.
Desserts in Mr Fox set quite a different tone to the mains and all were plays on childhood treats — ‘Walnut Whip’, ‘Mr Fox Bounty’ and Blood Orange ‘Super-Split’.
The tonal shift for the desserts was interesting and maybe I should lighten up, but I actually consider dessert to be an altogether serious matter — it is, after all, the chef’s final chance to impress.
To be fair these were tasty and fun but I’m not sure the walnut whip deserves the praise it has received elsewhere, especially in comparison to the blood-orange granita and ice-cream and the excellent creamy-coconut ‘bounty’.
A French critic might mutter ‘pas sérieux’, but that would be harsh.
So doesn’t this food sound fairly good?
It was, but every 90 seconds or so some unpleasant memory from the 1980s intruded on our conversation and interrupted the flow of the meal. Service was friendly but also a little erratic and I confess I’m not a fan of the room.
So Mr Fox is not hell, but it certainly isn’t heaven either — a few tweaks and attention to detail might tempt me back, but next time I’m bringing headphones.
A meal for two with snacks, starters, mains and desserts plus a bottle of Saumur Champigny (€39) and two glasses of port cost €159.75
Tuesday-Saturday: 12pm-2pm, 5pm-9.30pm
Mr. Fox is serving some nicely crafted classical French-Irish food with modern touches and some fun elements but the parts are not quite a whole. PS bring headphones!
Mr. Fox, 38 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1