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Restaurant Review - Frank's

Restaurant Review - Frank's

Wednesday 25 September 2019

‘Hold the camera over the plate’, said the woman facing me at the communal counter in Frank’s, a hot new wine bar on Camden Street, as I tried to ‘discreetly’ snap what we were eating. Pretty much everyone nowadays is shooting pics on Instagram before their Nordic pickled herring has had time to slither through their gullet, so my photography shouldn’t have attracted attention. However, it did remind me of another occasion when a lady close beside us leaned over and said, sotto voce, “I know who you are, would you like to try my (half-eaten) starter?” 

Frank’s, is the epitome of ‘up close and personal' at a high-top communal table – but, are we really comfortable with communal dining? Do we have the panache and swagger of our Spanish and Italians Euro-cousins? On my visit, people were retreating into little cliques, giving neighbours the cold shoulder and avoiding eye contact. It felt like being at a dinner party where no one was speaking to one another.

It’s all about small plates at Frank’s, where Canadian chef Chris Maguire, ex The Ledbury in London and more recently Locks, works quietly at the top of the table. Set in a former pork butcher’s shop, Frank's is the baby brother of Delahunt’s — where Harry took Meghan for lunch on their honeymoon trip to Dublin. We didn't hear what they ate or whether there were any when ‘Harry met Sally’ moments at the table.

At lot has been tweeted about the no reservation policy in Frank’s, and being allowed 1.5 hours at the main table, but when my friend Mary and I whirled up by taxi, two stools vacated – and, in fact, there were periods when there were lots of free spots with no one beating down the doors.

Finger food
The menu was concise with “snacks” of Nocellara olives (€3.50) or smoked almonds with Amontillado sherry (€7.50). Small plates were €12-€15 and we ordered three to share. First up was morcilla, with Roscoff onion and smoked eel (€13). Call it morcilla, boudin noir or black pudding, this was not of the sausage variety, but a soft-baked drisheen-style pudding. Scattered with a quartet of seared onion leaves, the smoked eel was no more than a one inch piece cut into three of the tiniest slivers, so small it lost all relevance to both itself and to the dish. Our next plate, girolles with Parmesan, chicken wings and aubergine (€12) looked like a tasty toastie sans bread – three boneless chicken wings, the mushrooms and Parmesan all melded together – tasty, but at €12… 

Our third dish, spiced beef ‘barbacoa’ with potato crisps and Jalapeno (€15), looked good until you removed the potato crisp topping to reveal little thimble-sized beef ‘bits’. Hard and dry, with gelatinous threads through each little piece, I asked our server what sort of beef it was? “Cows fingers”, he replied, “they’re between the Chateaubriand”, which may sound high-end, but didn’t elevate their status in my eyes anyway. Like any dirt-cheap cut of meat, they’re only suitable for long slow cooking, mincing, or dog food!

“Do you not like them?” He asked, looking at our plate. “No”, I said, “the topping is nice but the meat is awful”. “Not everyone likes them”, he replied glibly. Why the hell leave them on the menu then? There’s a lack of information in only describing the dish as spiced beef – why are they hiding it? Yet, “cows fingers” was on the printed-out bill, for which I resented being charged the €15.

We finished by cleansing our mouths with a dessert of charred apricots, cut with carmelised yoghurt shards, on heather honey (€9).

The same glass is used with whatever wines you may try – they’ll rinse it, if you ask. They also have Chinese chopstick-rests for your cutlery, but there’s something ugly and intrusive about your big dirty knife and fork sitting up beside you between courses.

I know it’s all very cool and so on, but I’ve had amazing small plates with much better ingredients at lower prices in other places. So, for basically a dollop of drisheen, three chicken wings, “cows fingers”, and tweaks, €40 for the three main plates had us wondering if it was all a case of the Emperor's New Clothes.

With a bottle of Biodynamic, Periage Winery, Fattoria di Vaira Vino (€30) and service, our bill came to €86.

22 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2
Tel: (087) 917-5198

First Published In The Sunday Independent