Grub Spy 'Fallon & Byrne sure know how to treat an octopus'
Fallon & Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2
It's a wonderful soft autumnal evening as we depart Grafton Street and head on up Wicklow Street, one of Dublin's most popular shopping and tourist traps, until we find good old Fallon & Byrne, still pulling them in like busy bees to a jam jar.
The food emporium/deli section here is seldom the type of place you would do your week's shopping - a weekend shop for a special show-off dinner party, maybe.
In fact, when it comes to a bit of exhibition, shopping at F&B's grocery department is still an absolute corker. In truth, though, I was on a revisit to check how one of my favourite restaurants is coping with the 'new normal' dining-out set-up. I am delighted to report, with fewer seats and some strict adherence to social distancing, the vibe here is just about very nearly like old times. Extra marks immediately for keeping the menu clear and unpretentious.
Up first, are some juicy, nicely cooked scallops with a silky celeriac purée, mild nutty-flavoured shimeji mushrooms, sugar snaps for texture, and bacon bits for added flavour. And they sure know how to treat an octopus here. Roughly sliced and served with spiced black quinoa and splodges of black olive aioli, this is as good as it gets.
On our server's recommendation, we try the squash and artichoke risotto. What saves this becoming a boring, vegetarian non-event is a succulent slice of summer squash, cooked fondant-style, smears of squash purée, and the balancing sharpness of charred leeks. The white risotto is cooked exactly the way we both like it: loose and bursting with flavour.
Our server also scores big with his wine recommendation. A Pouco-Comum Alvarinho from Portugal has quality in spades and works amazingly well with the fish and white risotto - and how we loved F&B's monkfish: accompanied with an extravagantly filled prawn ravioli, it is a particularly tempting rendition.
Lubricated with an easy-going mustardy thermidor sauce and served with some freshly wilted chard on the side, this is obviously a kitchen that cares about fish and about presentation.
Desserts start well. Served with scoops of ice cream, the peach and apricot knickerbocker glory is a big, multilayered stack of gooey, creamy gorgeousness.
When it comes to the crumble we ordered, the blackberry and apple part is delish, but unfortunately, the majority of the crumble topping has gone AWOL. The honey and ice cream help matters, but do not save the day.
Part wine bar, part food hall and part restaurant, F&B is located in a former art deco-ish telephone exchange, and has long been a place where tasty things happen.
Thankfully, the burgeoning green shoots of recovery are evident here, as with most of our hard-working restaurants, but they still need and deserve our support and respect. Ireland's eating-out vibe has been altered, but it is gradually becoming no less enjoyable.
Fallon & Byrne, with its sister outlet in the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire, is now, I suppose, becoming a mini-chain. Pre-lockdown, the expansion was a logical commercial step, and while not yet at full throttle, luckily all the signs are starting to look good.