AS YOU may have gathered by now the Dublin restaurant scene is as vibrant as it has ever been and the great news is that the standards are staying high. If you want to experience it you could start at the bottom of South Great Georges Street and walk towards Rathmines and you will pass several excellent restaurants at all price ranges on this route alone.
Last week I wrote about a fun Korean influenced fried chicken restaurant called Chimac on Aungier St (which follows on from Georges St) and a few weeks before it was Lucky Tortoise just opposite, an Asian dim-sum restaurant. In the past I have reviewed Caffe Amore, Taste at Rustic, l’Gueuleton, and around 20 restaurants on this stretch — I could easily do around 10 more.
At the upper end Camden St as you approach Portobello you will find one of the best Chinese restaurants in Dublin — Hang Dai which I revisited recently after the pub and it was wonderful — the Sesame Prawn Toast, the Duck and the Aubergine in particular. A few doors up is Pickle, one of the country’s best Indian restaurants that gets better with every visit — just be warned you will leave sweating you will eat so much.
Between these two is Delahunt for more classical European cooking with Irish ingredients — Gazpacho with Scallop Tartar and smoked olive oil for example, and while it is excellent I was delighted to see they have taken over the butcher shop Franks a few doors down and converted it to a wine bar with small plates.
Franks is deliberately casual so you can’t book and on the night I visited with an old colleague and mentor (let’s call him Bluesman) the large communal table was completely full — we were happy to wait by window for space to free up.
The wine list rounds up many of the best low intervention wines on the market and is sourced from reliable importers such as Le Caveau, Findlaters/Fíon and Tindals.
It was a warm evening so lightness was required so we opted for a bottle of Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling from the Mosel (€42). It was a perfect choice, an exquisitely balanced wine hitting the exact mid-point between sweet and dry and a little lighter in alcohol at 10.5%. The joys of good Mosel wine lie in their poise and balance and this had long lees contact giving it rich texture and lingering complexity on the crisp finish.
We began with some smoked salted almonds and almost luscious green Nocellara olives (€3.50 each), both some of the best examples I’ve tasted. The first dish to arrive was two mini hockey-pucks of Ham Hock terrine served with blobs of Parmesan cream, slivers of pickled vegetable and a thick smear of brisk spicy Jalapeño sauce. A perfect dish with the rich meat terrine contrasting nicely with the sauces and bits and bobs on the side.
Grelot pearl onions were caramelised a little and served with a nutty flavour-packed romesco sauce and topped with creamed Gorgonzola — a creative and nicely balanced mix of flavours that suited our wine perfectly.
Next up was another winner with the wine — a light tartar of Sea Bream with avocado that was easy on the citrus and took more flavours from lovage and a smoked tomato broth, followed by ripe peaches with ricotta and a salty sweet crumble — a nice lift to the palate after the fish.
Violet Artichokes with Duck Hearts and Hazelnuts (€15) was again well balanced with the duck hearts textured and rich tasting.
A mature piece of Durrus is a beautiful thing and here it was served with some brisk apricot apple chutney (€9) and we finished with a delicious dessert of Gariguette Strawberries with sour cream and chicory crumble.
Everything in Franks is cooked from scratch so there is no bread (‘I might if I had an oven,’ the chef quipped to me when I asked), and while most dishes are relatively simply constructed all have surprising and brilliant complexity.
This is communal dining and you will end up chatting to your neighbours as we did (some renowned restaurateurs as it happened) and trust me you will be wonderfully fed and watered.
A meal for two including a gorgeous bottle of Mosel Riesling, snacks and several shared plates cost €115
: Franks is a casual wine bar with a great wine list serving small plates of top quality, freshly prepared food around a communal table, a wonderful addition to an already vibrant part of the city.