Why Dublin needs a landmark like Fallon & Byrne
"AN epicurean's dream" is how The Dubliner described Fallon & Byrne, when it gained an entry into the magazine's Top 100 Dublin Restaurants list within a year of opening.
And in those three words, the strengths and weaknesses of the iconic Dublin food hall/restaurant are evident.
Because while it immediately established a reputation for dealing in high-quality produce, much of it unavailable anywhere else in Dublin, the very use of the word "epicurean" would have put many punters off, fearing an infestation of kumquats, aoli and fenugreek -- the holy grail for south Co Dublin foodies, but the very essence of all that was arsey about the Celtic Tiger for the rest of us.
And, yes, it's easy to dismiss Fallon & Byrne as some poncey mecca for "foodies", as the Wicklow Street establishment can be its own worst enemy in this regard.
Consider the first item on their dinner menu -- "Puy lentil & leek Wellington, caponata, harissa dressing".
At €18.30, it's a dish which, though only seven words long, contains three things most people will have never heard of.
And if an insight into the average F&B shopper were required, you need look no further than comments made by co-owner Fiona McHugh in an interview last April, when she herself admitted that she didn't shop around for better value: "I should, but I don't" -- an attitude that clearly extends itself to F&B central, where time-poor, scarf-heavy customers coo over over-priced broccoli, when Dunnes across the road patently stock it, and pretty much everything else, far cheaper.
But while F&B's current financial troubles -- the Revenue Commissioners are seeking to have it wound up due to the €1.4m it owes them -- will not garner much sympathy amongst the average Dublin shoppers, those who shrug their shoulders at what may be commonly perceived as the death of another jumped-up vestige of the Celtic Tiger years should not be so quick to judge.
Price was never the point -- shopping in Fallon & Byrne makes potato blight pock-marked Irish customers feel like they aren't, well, Irish -- if only for a glorious Gouda or Gruyure moment.
And away from the overpriced staples and exotic condiments of the Food Hall, the popular basement wine bar, where knowledgeable sommeliers encouraged clientele to enjoy drinking without the express purpose of getting s***-faced, was attracting a loyal and growing following.
Further delights were to be found on the first floor restaurant where, despite the occasional collapse into pretentiousness, head chef Tom Meenaghan was dishing out excellent fare.
The red banquette seating gave the room a New York feel, and specialised in saliva-inducing burgers and aged fillet steaks.
Most tellingly, its financial woes are not, it seems, the result of reckless investment in non-core businesses -- its owners have pretty much stuck to what they know -- but rather poor management structures which allowed a huge debt to be run up with the Revenue Commissioners by one incapable, and patently untrustworthy, member of the team.
The Revenue are perfectly within their rights to get tough with F&B, and should certainly be commended for their no-nonsense approach to collecting what's due.
But F&B was, and is, an ambitious project, and should be celebrated as such, rather than another casualty of resentment Republic.
To coin a popular phrase, F&B's fundamentals are sound, and they will hopefully trade their way out of their current compote, sorry... jam, and look forward to retaining their status as a true landmark in culinary Dublin.
If nothing else, where is one supposed to find decent peach puree for one's Friday afternoon Bellinis...