Glovers Alley: Fine dining returns to the Fitzwilliam Hotel
Lisa Cope - 2nd April 2018
What’s the story?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or following the wrong people on twitter) you’ve probably heard about Glovers Alley, the new fine dining restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Thornton’s in the Fitzwilliam Hotel. Headed up by Dubliner Andy McFadden, once the youngest Michelin starred chef in London, we don’t think a Dublin restaurant has ever gone as big on pre-opening PR, and they took a bit of flack over some pretty absurd language on their website (thankfully mostly gone) and the promises of delivering something Dublin has never seen before. Regardless of the slightly bumpy start, we think the city is in need of more high-end dining options and were glad to see one of the 'Murphia' return home, so we went to check it out for ourselves.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
You’re right off Stephen’s Green so the options are endless. Presuming you’ll be in your Sunday best, the Horseshoe Bar in The Shelbourne is always good for pre-dinner/lunch bubbles, or La Ruelle wine bar is off Dawson Street. For cocktails, beer and rugby-player spotting, Lemon and Duke is close by too.
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What’s the room like?
Not as pink as it looks in pictures. Very plush and clearly no expense spared when it came to decor. There are three main rows of seating, with a mix of banquettes and free-standing tables, and there’s a separate private dining area which was busy hosting a scarf launch/lunch on the day we were there. It feels modern but very comfortable, and we loved the lack of white tablecloths.
Staff tend to hover in front of the bar which is slightly disconcerting, as you feel like you’re always being observed, but we’re not sure what the solution is to this. It’s the layout of the room, and there’s nowhere else for them to go. The upside is you won’t have to wave your hand around trying to get someone’s attention.
What's good to eat?
We would recommend the tasting menu, which felt fairly priced at €60 for lunch, considering there were three snacks, a lot of incredible bread, six courses, a pre-dessert and petit fours. There were twelve elements in total, and while we wouldn’t be spending €60 on lunch every week, it felt like good value.
The first snack was disappointing – a parmesan gougère, which didn’t taste of much – but the following two were very good. Foie gras sandwiched between two crisp pieces of tuile, and more crispiness in the form of chicken skin topped with taramasalata and seaweed. Not a combination we would have put together but it all worked.
The bread selection must be one of the best in town and we gluttonously tried it all. We’re still dreaming about the parmesan and black olive bun, which was like a savoury version of a cinnabon in the best possible way. Butter is from Abernethy and we had to restrain ourselves from eating it by the spoon.
The tasting menu changes daily, but high points for us were curried cauliflower with crispy ham hock, and rabbit with carrots, grapes and tarragon. Rabbit came in the form of an incredibly tender, skilfully cooked loin (no mean feat for such a lean meat), a pastilla (deep-fried pastry) and a teeny tiny, totally delicious rabbit rack, which we didn’t even know was a thing. There were also a couple of brightly coloured splodges of sauce on the plate which didn’t really add anything and we felt unnecessarily complicated things.
We were less keen on the brill with beetroot, cucumber and anchovy, the brill being the weakest part of the dish. The chewy, sweet beetroot, which had been dehydrated then rehydrated was the high point and we think they should start selling it in bags to go.
A pre-dessert of cardamom panacotta with mandarin granita and Thai basil didn’t taste much of cardamom but was delicious nonetheless and nicely refreshing after the array of flavours that came before it. The main act of grapefruit, white chocolate and lime mascarpone was really beautiful, delicate but full of flavour, nicely balanced between freshness and sweetness. The dark chocolate, sesame caramel petit fours are another item we think they should sell on the side. Crazy good.
What about the drinks?
As you would imagine, the wine list is extensive and excellently curated. Margins are a bit on the high side but no more than we would expect in a restaurant pitched at this level. There’s a nice selection by the glass and the sommelier recommended some good pairings, including a pitch-perfect German Riesling from Emrich Schönleber, a dry Pedro-Ximenez called Dos Claveles from Spanish producer Toro Albalá, and a really cracking Mencia from Raul Perez, also Spanish.
And the service?
Very professional but a little stiff at times – lots of ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Sir’ – which is great if that’s what you’re in the mood for. We were very thankful for head waiter Bill, formerly manager at Bastible, who was a breath of fresh air in a slightly nervous feeling room, cracking jokes throughout lunch and generally being an excellent addition to the experience.
Glovers Alley put themselves in the firing line by talking a big game pre-opening (although we have it on authority that Andy McFadden had very little to do with this) and some critics have been only too happy to take a shot. It’s not perfect yet, a couple of dishes didn’t wow, and it would be nice to see them relax into things a bit more, but there is some very skilful cooking happening here, in an ultra-luxurious room, and we would think zero chance of a bad service experience with a 5-star floor team led by GM Ed Jolliffe (ex-Chapter One). They're not planning on sitting still any time soon and we would predict that it’s only going to get better over the coming months as things settle down and they find their comfort zone.