Undiscovered city centre gem
Francesca's restaurant offers assured cooking from a hotel chef who cares - so why isn't it busy?
Restaurant Title: Francesca's restaurant
Proprietor: Patrick McLarnon
Address: Brooks Hotel, 59-63 Drury St, Dublin 2
Phone: 01- 6704000
Let’s start with a promise. The only time you’ll read the word passion in this column is when it’s followed immediately by the word fruit. Can we please stop talking about having a passion for food? Instead, let’s discuss chefs who care. We imagine they’re shiny-eyed and young. They’re in their first big gig. And at the end of the night they tour the tables and feel the love in return for their hearts on a plate.
You don’t expect to find them doing a 15-year stint as a hotel chef. But when you do it’s a little like pulling out a beautiful forgotten garment from the back of the wardrobe.
A hotel restaurant is an old-fashioned idea. Even the name of this one, Francesca’s, in Brooks Hotel in Dublin’s Drury Street has a peach satin napkin nostalgia feel to it. In this buzzing dining district it’s the last place many people would think of having dinner.
The bar has, in the past, struck several patrons of my acquaintance as the perfect spot for an affair. “Are you a resident?” I’m asked when I book a table. “What’s your room number?” the barman asks my friend Paul when he orders a cocktail in the bar before dinner and sends a gleeful “Julia Roberts eat your heart out,” text to his sugar-mammy.
A hint that Brooks might have an edge was when recent celebrity guest Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a tour of the kitchen and a demo of how to turf-smoke a lamb steak. They gave him a souvenir sod of turf so he could try it at home.
Patrick McLarnon has been the chef in Brooks for 15 years. He’s a blogger ( patcooksirish.blogspot.com), forager and gardener. He once tried to put a pumpkin patch on a flat-roofed part of the hotel. It meant clambering through a bedroom window to tend it. I know this because I rang him the morning after dinner. But first back to the night before.
The dining room is large, modern and comfortable, with banquette seating and angled mirrors. Our veteran waiter flaps the sharply-ironed linen napkins out with a snap and drops them into our laps after we sit down. “Now this is a hot plate,” he warns later as he holds it just out of arm’s reach, as if not sure whether I’m to be trusted.
There are four lovely things on this piping hot plate: a disk of feather soft Fivemiletown goat’s cheese, pureed sweet potato, a small tangle of dressed leaves and some toasted pumpkin seeds. I’d like a little something else crunchy to put all these lusciously soft things on, so I eye Paul’s curly melba toasts. He’s having the duck liver pate. I’ll hazard a guess it’s onions and livers fried on a pan, drizzled with brandy and cream, blended to a moussy smoothness and topped with clarified butter.