A New York-style addition to Dublin's elite dining crew
What's the story with D'Olier Street?
It's a partnership between Mr Fox owner/chef Anthony Smith, and couple Jane Frye and James Moore, who were based in New York up until a year ago. Smith and Moore are old chef buddies, having cooked together in One Pico 16 years ago, before Moore (who's Australian) moved to NYC. Smith then followed, and the two lived together, meeting Frye (who's American) in the interim. Smith returned home to Dublin to open Mr Fox in 2016. You caught up?
When Moore, who was head chef at two Michelin-starred Atera in New York at the time, told Smith he wanted to open his own restaurant, he somehow managed to convinced him to do it in Dublin, and New York's loss is most definitely our gain. Frye and Moore are married, and while Frye's background was in food media and not service, she's spent the last year learning the ropes at Mr Fox, while the couple's first restaurant together took shape.
In October they announced a star signing in pastry chef Mina Pizarro, who's worked at some of the best restaurants in New York, including Le Cirque, Per Se and Veritas. If people weren't paying attention before, that made them sit up straight. D'Olier Street opened at the start of December, and we could barely restrain ourselves from running in, but thought we'd let them get over silly season before seeing what they're all about.
Where should we sit?
This room has been home to mediocre bistros and busily-decorated tourist traps over the years, but it's never been allowed to shine like this. The high ceilings, modern design and muted colours feel more than a little New York, and everything about it feels grand and special occasion worthy, in the most of the moment way.
The seats most in demand will be the eight around the chefs counter, but it's actually at table level. This may be a negative as you don't get quite the bird's eye view into the kitchen that you can higher up, or a positive as your legs aren't dangling off a stool for two hours. If you're not bothered about seeing chefs plate dishes, the other tables dotted around the room offer a bit more privacy for romantic redezvous or clandestine chats.
What's the menu like?
It's billed as a ten course tasting menu for €82, but be aware that each of the snacks is considered a single course, as is the bread, a teeny bite of pre-desert and the petit fours to finish. We think the optics would have been better to describe it as a five-course menu with added extras - under-promise and over-deliver.
Those first two snacks were a plump Connemara oyster with bracing yuzu and herbacous thyme, and a perfectly crisp nori tartlet with bluefin tuna, ginger, roe and sesame oil. Two for two - a great start.
After that came silky foie gras custard with a thin layer of quince jelly, a quenelle of quince chutney, toasted walnuts, and the most perfect, golden, mini English muffins. Light as air inside, crispy and rubbly from the cornmeal they were fried on top of outside, this is a killer dish that's already the talk of town.
Next came hamachi (also called yellowtail or amberjack) crudo, with apple aguachile, basil oil and unbilled Jalapeño and toasted almonds. We love dishes like this, the kind that act like an electric jolt to your palate, all acid and heat, curing and then cutting through the hamachi's oily texture.
Next came salmon with miso buttermilk, trout roe and baby leek, and confession: we haven't eaten farmed salmon since watching Seaspiracy and getting a major ick about it. The creamy, umami-laded sauce is lick the plate clean material, little balls of roe popping as you slurp, and the baby leek was just cooked to retain the slightest bite.
Salmon feels like an odd (maybe safe) choice, and while it's cooked beautifully in a sous vide before being blowtorched to finish, we'd much prefer to see a local and/or wild fish here instead.
Then the bread course, which to be fair, deserves its own course. It deserves its own restaurant. The seeded pretzel restaurant. 10 courses of this pretzel in slightly varying forms. Where do we queue. This particular one with cultured buttermilk had us ooohing and aaahing, smelling and chewing, grabbing staff to tell us what magic lay within. Savour every bite. Ask for a second if you're brave.
The last of the savoury courses, and the main proper, is billed as "Ribeye. Carrot. Pistachio." We don't usually grumble about a bit of steak when eating out (except when served on a wooden chopping board that's been set alight), but this felt flat, and like another safe choice. The meat (from superstar butcher Peter Hannan) was very tender (we presume the sous vide had been used again) but lacked flavour, and the pistactio crumbed, meltingly tender carrots and the jus were perfectly nice, but it was missing the magic.
With the steak they serve slices from the fat cap (which was predominantly fat), and perfect rectangles of confit potato, a crispy shell encasing a butter soft interior.
Before dessert comes a tiny bite of coconut and passionfruit mochi as a palate cleanser - unrelated to the freezer mochi on Asian restaurant dessert menus across the city. Then the dish of the night, the one that we'll still be thinking about years from now, the one that might be our dessert of the year and we're only one month into 2023.
A perfect, firm circle of riz au lait (French rice pudding), comes topped with elegantly pipped pastry cream, crystalised mango and mango sorbet, before a cardamom caramel is poured into the centre. The ooohs and aaahs returned, and we found ourselves gazing into the kitchen at Pizarro, wondering how we could make her fall in love with Dublin and never leave.
Petit fours to finish of black sesame shortbread and chocolate fudge brownie were pleasant but unmemorable - that mango rice pudding is a hard act to follow though.
What about drinks?
You're in very safe hands when it comes to wine. Scott White (formerly in Aimsir, Mr Fox and Patrick Guilbaud) is the sommelier, and the list is full of interesting bottles you'll want to drink and pour over on the list, all with an indie producer lean.
We started with a glass of grower Champagne from Antoine Bouvet (€22), and if you like high end fizz you should too - it's the best possible start to your dining experience, here or anywhere else.
The wine pairing is €65 for five glasses and we thought it really delivered. It started with cava with the snacks, two whites, a red, and an incredible Jurançon from South West France with that mango rice pudding - and we thought it couldn't possibly get better. A (lovely) Albariño with the hamachi crudo was the only match that didn't gel as well as the others, but it's a hard dish to pair with its acid and heat, so we're not sure what would have worked better.
We did one pairing and tried a couple of different glasses from the list, including an Austrian Pinot Blanc and a Mallorcan red blend, and wasn't one that let things down. We finished with a glass of Taylor's 10 year old tawny port, which is never a bad way to end an evening.
How was the service?
Frye is a warm and welcoming host, looking genuinely happy to be there greeting and looking after her guests, without anything being forced. Everyone we encountered was smiling and lovely and it felt like there was a ripple of excitement at being involved in a new opening like this.
The kitchen was one of the calmest we've ever seen, with barely a conversation to be heard, everyone gently going about their work, looking completely confident in the role they were playing. They haven't changed the menu since opening and we think this is a smart move to let the staff bed in and get into a well-oiled rhythm.
What was the damage?
You're looking at €147 a head with the wine pairing (and our single glasses added up to around the same), so don't expect to come out with much change under €300 for two if you're doing it properly. It's a big spend and comparable to prices being charged at the best restaurants in the city (including Michelin stars). You could just get a bottle of wine to share between two, but you'll still be looking at circa €250 with a tip, so it won't be a meal to enter into lightly for a lot of people.
We also flinched at their tip guide at the bottom showing what 15%, 18% and 20% tip amounts to. These are astronomical tips for most Irish people, especially at this spend, and it's likely to cause embarrassment when someone asks to put "just" 10 or 12% on the bill.
We're dizzy with delight for Dublin that D'Olier Street has joined the limited crew of restaurants operating at this level, in the most modern of dining rooms, with this kind of skill in the kitchen. An experience that might have been ten a penny in New York is standout here, and while we think some parts of the menu need adjusting and pushing outside of tried and tested formulas, we'd be surprised if they don't take the feedback they've had so far and keep driving forward.
We would wager the next few months are going to bring more settling in, more ideas down, more dishes rising up, and with a Michelin visit undoubtedly in their near future, we're marking this as one to watch for a future star.
D'Olier Chambers, D'Olier Street, Dublin 2