First Look: Something very new for the Dublin dining scene

A pork butchers has been transformed into restaurant where the chef cooks at a communal dining table

The communal dining table at Frank’s, opening today at 22 Camden Street Lower. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill

Frank's, a new opening on Camden Street in Dublin, from Darren Free, the chef turned restaurateur who also owns Delahunt, on the same street, brings something completely different to the Dublin restaurant scene.

It's walk-ins only at this one-room restaurant and wine bar, with a 20-seat communal dining table. At one end of this, there is a tiny cooking area from which one chef, Chris Maguire, will prepare and serve a casual menu of snacks, four main courses, a dessert and a cheese.

The original shopfront has been retained.

It’s quite similar to the counter dining set up at Forest & Marcy on Leeson Street, but there is a kitchen behind the scenes there. Maguire, a Canadian who previously worked at Locks on Windsor Terrace, will cook and plate up literally inches from those in the seats at that end of the table, and will deliver dishes to diners around the table once they are completed.

The handsome dark green panelled room that has been created from Frank’s, a former pork and bacon butchers, is dominated by the gigantic rectangular Corian table, and there are wines lining shelves around the room.


But outside, the shopfront has been preserved, a deliberate move from Free. “I loved the outside of the shop, and when it came up, I knew I’d keep it as it is and still call it Frank’s.” The renovations took eight months to complete and were done by Darren himself, along with his dad Ed, and his dad’s pal Dick.

The spring salad with sourdough and creme fraiche at Frank’s.
Foie gras, apple, bonito, bitter leaves and brioche.

The menu is concise, and topped by two snacks – olives (€3) and barley crackers with beef and black garlic (€3), with more of these to be added. The main courses will be limited to four, however, and the opening menu has poached trout, seaweed trout broth (€10); spring salad, sourdough, creme fraiche (€8); lamb breast, padron pepper, navet, gnocchi (€16); foie gras, apple, bonito, bitter leaves and brioche (€12). Dessert is coffee panna cotta and the cheese is Boyne Valley blue, with poached pear (both €9).

Darren Free: “I think Dublin is ready for communal dining.”

“The concept is a wine shop that offers one communal table for people to share a laugh and a few small plates. We wanted to create a place with a casual atmosphere where people can spontaneously call in and browse the shelves for something nice to take home, and maybe have an interesting glass of wine or two, paired with some great food,” Free says.

The wine offering will include 10 wines on tap, four reds, four whites, a sparkling and a vermut, all from WineLab, as well as bottles covering the natural, old and new world spheres.

"Kevin Mogg, who has worked with us a Delahunt for several years, and was at Ely Wine Bar previously, has designed the wine list," Free says. "We are working on a fine wine list too, where we will stock some really special wines and will only have one or two available, so when it's gone, it's gone. Our suppliers will be dropping interesting bottles into us weekly."

There is a twist on the wine pricing too, with bottles in three price categories for takeaway – list price minus a certain amount, rather than corkage added. “For example bottles over €40 will have €10 taken off, bottles between €40 and €45 will have €15 off, and so on.”

There is a third Canadian in the staff mix too – Grace Davis, who moves over from Delahunt to take on the managerial role. Davis sees the new opening as being somewhere diners can head to when they make a spontaneous decision to eat out. "At Delahunt, tables get booked up so far in advance, so this is another option."

Prices are keen, with 125ml glasses of wine starting at €4.50, and that €8 salad, somewhat sparsely described on the menu, actually being a generous serving of quality ingredients, artfully plated. So how is the venture going to make any money?

“At Frank’s a big part of our inspiration was to strip back the extra bits that have made running a venue in Dublin challenging, so that we can focus more on customer experience and create good relationships with our suppliers. The costs associated with running a restaurant, such as booking systems, phone, utilities, staff, waste, glassware and crockery are ever increasing.

“With Frank’s we have focused on reducing, and in some cases eliminating, these costs. Reducing costs has given us the opportunity to pass on these benefits to our guests, with reduced prices. That being said, our guests will have to be ready for a unique experience, walking in rather than making advance bookings and using the same glass and cutlery throughout their meal.”

Frank’s, at 22 Camden Street Lower, Dublin,  will open from 3pm until late, Wednesday to Sunday, and will be available for private hire.