Note Bistro: Get in quick before it joins the impossible to book club
Lisa Cope - 28th May 2022
What's the story?
Note's evening wine bar and daytime bureau (café to the lowly amongst us) opened at the end of October to all the adulation, with promises that the 'bistro' part of the trilogy was coming a few weeks later. Weeks and months passed and still no sign of a fully fledged menu, but their bar snacks got slowly more interesting - to the point where two national critics went in to review on the basis of those alone - bet they're raging now. Still, we waited, until a couple of weeks ago when a post appeared on their Instagram page announcing bistro bookings were now being taken, with lift off 10 days later.
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Note is owned by three friends - Andy Collins who owns the aesthetic Eden that is Indigo & Cloth in Temple Bar, and brothers Acky (the Creative Director of a design company) and Essa Fakhry (the chef). We first came across Essa after a stand-out meal at NY-style Mexican 777 a few years ago, finding out afterwards that he was heading up the kitchen, and when we saw him travelling off to other parts of the globe to stage in some uber-cool restaurants we knew he wasn't messing around.
What's the food like?
This kind of menu is our all-time favourite, with snacks, small plates and larger ones, and no minimum order or demand on your time and wallet to have three courses. A few weeks ago there was also a chef's menu for €70pp where they brought you food with no decision-making involved, but that seems to be on hiatus for now. Most likely because at the time we visited it was just Essa and a commis chef in the kitchen - which became all the more impressive as the dishes started to roll out.
For the first time in quite a long time we wanted every single dish on the menu, all killer, absolutely zero filler, and whittling it down to a generous amount for two was as close as we've (thankfully) come to slow, painful torture. Begrudgingly and after at least 20 minutes of torment, we settled on a snack, three small plates, a medium and a large. Coming here with a group would be a great way to get through most of the menu and leave having ticked every bistro box - but be aware, it's changing all the time so could be completely different when you visit.
We skipped the sourdough with Glenilen butter because once we saw 'anchovy toast' there was no other option. At first it just tasted like really good toasted sourdough dripping with butter, but then you come across a little nugget of anchovy and an accompanying salty explosion. A great start.
We go all starry-eyed emoji seeing ceviche on menus (it happens so rarely in this country of ours so full of fish), so we were right onto Note's Stonebass ceviche with lime, oregano and jalapeño, with unmentioned orange segments and slices of radish. It wasn't just a highlight of dinner, it was a highlight of the entire year so far. Staff told us Essa prepares it like an aguachile (soupier and less marinating time) and you will be fighting over the last few drops of that turbo-charged juice with the slightest hint of heat at the end. Ceviche, aguachile, whatever it was, it's difficult to imagine it could tasbetter than this, and if it doesn't stay on the menu permanently we'll be first in line with our placards.
We'd ordered the lobster au homard (which technically means lobster au lobster) not knowing what to expect, but out came three stuffed mezzelune in a soupy bisque, with some chopped cucumber and more lobster meat on top. We love lobster in all its forms, and this had it coming at you from every angle - in the pasta, in the sauce, in the chunks on top. Everything else on the plate shone a light on the star ingredient, from the deeply flavoured bisque to the finely diced cucumber, with nothing threatening to overtake its subtle flavour - skillful and sensitive cheffing.
Next another ingredient so rarely seen on menus here, white asparagus, with Shepherd's Store cheese and toasted hazelnuts. The asparagus was barely cooked so still had crunch, and was generously covered in the nutty cheese sauce, with another flurry on top, and toasted hazelnuts hiding within. White asparagus has a brutally short season, and if we only get to eat it once a year we want to eat it like this.
Next, another dish we've never seen on a menu here (are you sensing a theme?) - Vitello Tonnato, a Piedmontese dish of cold, sliced veal with a kind of tuna-flavoured mayonnaise on top. Super juicy, delicately flavoured meat, a dollop of subtly tuna tasting mayonnaise, and some caper berries to jolt your palate back to reality, resulted in another dish with forks clashing at the end, and not even a smear of sauce left.
Lastly (sadly) for savoury we went for the pork chop with coco beans and salsa verde (which we were told had just been changed up to include nettles). A truly excellent pork chop is synonymous with London wine bars, and this transported us back there for five minutes (if it even lasted that long). We loved that the juicy meat came sliced, sitting in a pool of pork jus - a distant relative of the bone-dry, chewy chops most of our parents served us growing up. Our only complaint was a lack of crisped up fat/crackling, but maybe that was down to a lack of manpower. The salsa verde was no worse for having nettles in it, and the perfectly cooked coco beans are forever perfect with perfect pork chops
From the first night the bistro menu launched we were getting exclamation-laden messages from readers containing sentences like "the croquettes changed my life!", and "just had the best tuna I've ever tasted!", and we knew from a quick social stalk that they weren't Essa's sister/aunt/housemate, so we were feeling optimistic sitting down to dinner.
Where should I sit?
It's basically a choice between the bar or the main floor. We love the banquettes by the window so that would be first pick, but sometimes you just want to have the elevation of a bar counter, and if you're dining alone there's no better place to sit and have the chats with staff.
We also tried a side of their potato mousseline, which was basically potato flavoured butter - and there ain't nothing bad about that.
Desserts were on the more simple side - an affogato with hazelnuts and homemade coffee liqueur poured over the top (you won't need that post-meal espresso), and madeleines that would give St John a run for their money. If you don't end a meal here with them, you haven't really been.
What about drinks?
Even though Note is a wine bar first, they haven't let standards slip on cocktails, beer or cider. Bar manager Alan makes his own limoncello, the coffee liquor for the affogato, and no doubt countless other concoctions to be found within the cocktail list. For us the only way to start is with a glass of their grower champagne, a (relative) steal at €17 a glass, when many places around town are charging €25 a glass for Grand Marques muck.
In a place like this we love to drink by the glass and try as much as possible, and the person you want making recommendations is the wine brains behind the operation - GM Katie Seward. We basically let her take the wheel bringing us pairings for each dish, and over the night tried Fiano from Campania, Vital (a new grape on us) from Lisbon, dry Pedro Jiminez from Catalonia, Cru Beaujolais, and Loire Valley Chardonnay. Without fail, every pairing made the dish in question taste even better, and we could count on one hand the amount of places with a hit rate this impressive.
The only addendum we'd add is that the low margin wine prices we raved about at the start have taken a bit of a jump. There's still value to be had, particularly at the higher end of the price range (that Marguet Shaman grower champagne is less than €15 more than you'd pay retail to drink in), but prices at the lower end now feel more in tandem with average prices around town.
How was the service?
As lovely and professional as you would hope for. Food and drinks were perfectly paced, and we were never left to wave someone down or with empty glasses or plates for long.
And the damage?
€195 for two before tip, including champagne and cider to start, a wine for every dish, and an extra to end the night. Definitely on the higher end of dining out spends, but you could do it for considerably less if you just got one bottle of wine on the lower end of the scale. Our advice though would be to go and do it right.
Regular London or Paris goers will recognise the need for a wine bar/bistro like Note in Dublin, and we've finally got it - hopefully the first of more to come. This is somewhere that would hold its own in any buzzing European city, and we selfishly dread word getting out and it joining the "impossible to book" club of Library Street, Variety Jones and the rest.
Rather than "giving the people what they want", Essa Fakhry is stirring, saucing and banging pots to his own drum. Rather than looking exhausted and stressed at serving an entire restaurant with such little backup, he seems relaxed, confident, invigorated - like he's finally cooking the food that's at his core. We've already got our next booking for Note Bistro in the bag, and suggest you do the same before everyone finds out about it.
26 Fenian Street, Dublin 2
Thu - Sat 17:00 - 00:30. Sun 17:00 - 10:30