In the heart of Rathmines, behind window drapes along the Castlewood Avenue side of the Swan Centre obscuring the work within, there has been a hive of activity. The finishing touches are being made to the new Fallon & Byrne foodhall and self-service eatery. The vegetables are being arranged like succulent still lifes, and the pizza oven is blazing. Around each corner – and there are lots, in the large curved space of interlocking zones – there is bustle and action as the countdown has begun to opening this weekend.
"This is my stomping ground," says Fiona McHugh, MD of foodie emporium Fallon & Byrne. She and her husband, Paul Byrne (the B in F&B) live in nearby Ranelagh, and she loves the buzzy urban village. She is overseeing this new outlet in their kingdom and it's all hands on deck: the chief financial officer is putting the wine in racks, and McHugh warmly greets her brother Peter and sister-in-law Fiona, who have been busy stacking shelves. She smiles. "The family has been roped in!"
And there are a lot of shelves to be stacked in this nearly 10,000sq foot space, the latest F&B, joining the original four-storey foodhall-restaurant-winebar which former journalist McHugh and developer Byrne opened on Exchequer Street in Dublin city centre in 2006, and the restaurant in the beautifully refurbished Victorian pavilion in Dun Laoghaire’s People’s Park, which has been operating since 2014. The Rathmines food hall, even without the seating area and terrace , is larger than the 5,000 sq. ft city centre shop.
So this new shop makes three, and food lovers in Dublin 6 and environs can dine on a wide range of food to eat on the spot or take home, or find high quality or hard-to-source ingredients on the shelves. “The people who shop with us are into food and cooking,” McHugh says, so as well as the traiteur-like counters you’ll find, as in Exchequer Street, “esoteric ingredients that you can’t get elsewhere”.
The team has been working on the Rathmines shop for over a year, taking over a number of outlets in the refurbished Swan Centre and a large new contemporary extension. It was due to open in early 2017, but “we overestimated our ability to do it in the time. Or rather, we underestimated the time it would take to do it all,” says McHugh. It’s a vibrant, busy and modern outlet, picking up on many of the threads of the city centre grocery: the same parquet flooring, fans in the open ceiling, Metro shelving.
It’s a big space, fulfilling a lot of food functions. As well as the posh grocery and artisan food, there’s an extensive cheese and charcuterie counter (including hand-cut Iberico hams and some 100 cheeses), fish and meat, a rotisserie offering chicken, porchetta and beef brisket, as well as omelettes in the morning, and a vast selection of vegetables. This last is the heart of the shop says McHugh. As well as several varieties of tomatoes imported from Italy, and a range of mushrooms, there’s the unusual: Dragon red fruit (from Vietnam, like kiwi but milder), kiwano melon horn (you scoop it out and eat it), and granadilla from Spain. Where is it sourced? “The suppliers are a secret!”
There’s a smallish “curated” selection of wine, a nuts and seeds area where you choose how much you want from dispensers, and a large deli counter that will serve sandwiches, salads and meals made by F&B chefs.
In the middle is a centrepiece statement: a gorgeous grey stone counter laid out in a square, with copper overhangs and inserts, which came from Spain. This is the barista and pastries counter. It looks like it was hard to source itself. “It’s a thing of beauty,” says McHugh. It is.
The street entrance from Castlewood Avenue (there’s another from inside the centre) goes straight into what McHugh calls the “Italian quarter”, with a pizza oven, and fresh pasta being made as we watch. Right in front of that is a chocolate dipping fountain, a slushie machine (“but with fresh juices”), a crêpe and waffle station, and a gelato. Here, the ice cream sits in an extended 1970s Fiat Cinquecento that’s been Byrne’s special project. He had it extended (like a mini stretch limo) and painted pistachio green. As we pass they’ve just added two more ice creams to the selection that will be made daily: one with Ferrero Rocher, the other with Jammy Dodgers.
Customers can bring their food home from the self-service counters, or take it, with a glass of wine, to a table in the dining area (seating 70), or outside to the south facing terrace (with patio heaters and a retractable canopy) on Castlewood Avenue.
Neither the fitout nor the food comes cheap; the grocery, as in Exchequer Street, specialises in quality and hard-to-get products; for particular recipes or tastes rather than to feed a family daily.
The selection of food to eat in or take home, made with food from the grocery, is aimed at a wide customer base dining casually, and is manageably priced. Rotisserie meals are €9.50 and hot sandwiches €7.50, omlettes €7-€9, cheese and charcuterie plates (from black truffle brie de Meaux to Napoleon cheese with Francis Miot black cherry jam) to eat in €7.50-€18, crepes and waffles €4-€6, hand-made pasta dishes €8-€8.50 and home-made pizzas with enticing looking toppings (Gorgonzola, wild mushroom, spinach and pine nuts; or mozarella, anchovies, capers, artichoke hearts and Kalamata olives) €10-€12.
It sounds like it’s been a busy time for McHugh and Byrne and their team (about 50 people are working in Rathmines; plus 180 in the city and Dun Laoghaire combined). Now the new foodhall is up and running they move on to working on their new table service restaurant, in the old Lenehans hardware shop nearby in Rathmines; they are reluctant to put an opening date on it (possibly given how long it took to get the foodhall up and running), but the plan is for some time in 2018. All this for a couple in the middle of selling their home, and planning to move their family to a new house in the area. McHugh says cheerfully that they didn’t plan for it all to be happening at the same time, it is just the way it happened.