New food at the Fitzwilliam Hotel
The food is better than the hype at theDublin hotel’s new Citron restaurant
American author Bill Buford begins his brilliant book Heat with a killer quote from chef Mario Batali about the job of a restaurant kitchen. It is to “buy food, fix it up and sell it at a profit”.
Put it like that and everything else is window dressing. I’m reminded of the quote when a press release arrives that gushes about the redesigned Citron restaurant in Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Hotel.
Something smells like damp as you climb the purple-carpeted stairs up past Kevin Thornton’s photographs: a forest floor carpeted in wild garlic and an animal sucking on its mother’s teat. But instead of continuing up the next two flights of stairs to the Michelin-starred Thornton’s, you walk across a sandblasted glass gangplank to Citron on the mezzanine.
Outside the sun is smiling over the city but we could be anywhere and anytime: night, day, winter, summer. Citron is at the back of the building and a thick wall cocoons us from natural light. So it’s downlighters and a cluster of large pebble lights that cling close to the ceiling (any dangling and they’d be brushing heads) in this low-ceilinged space.
There’s plenty of opportunity to admire the “graphic counterpoint” between the crisp linens and the “new dining chairs with a hint of mid-century retro . . . upholstered in three shades of leather” described in the release because they’re all empty.
Enough about the overselling of a modest hotel dining room. The new chef Philip Mahon is doing a decent job. Although we have to get to the mains to find his mojo. Mahon worked at Marcus Wareing’s the Berkeley and was a sous chef in Dylan McGrath’s Mint, according to the press release.
My friend Paul has wandered up and been asked whether he wanted fine dining or the restaurant? The air of consolation prize that question holds might not be the best way to sell it. “It’ll be fun dining,” he says.
We order a bottle of the Spanish rosé as a tribute to the distant summeriness outside.The appealingly simple menu of four starters, four mains and three desserts is embossed Father Jack style with the lower case word: food. The wine list says: “drink” on the front.
There’s the “ooh posh” moment of the amuse bouche, delicious pastry cheese balls and potato cylinders with a warm creamy filling topped with a surgically mandolined radish slice.
I love the mackerel in my starter. It’s been torched to a golden-crisped finish. It arrives in lidded glass bowl filled with oak smoke which feels like a tribute act to the man upstairs.