Here’s a beautiful idea: a talented chef with a couple of days’ prep in his back pocket stands at a pan and cooks delicious things, including one dish that has you day-dreaming about it a week later. You sit feet away and when the food is ready it is put on a plate and handed to you. At the end, a bill comes that is surprisingly reasonable.
“When is the Frank’s review going in?” my husband will ring to ask just as I start writing, like some telepathic trigger has sent a panic alert to his brain. We want to hug Frank’s to ourselves but they prised it from my greedy grip. Bag open. Cat gone. Our new secret favourite place shared.
You need to get to a stool in a former pork butcher’s shop in Camden Street. There are no bookings taken in Frank’s. It’s a wine bar with a counter in the window and one high polished Corian table flecked with glass the colour of barley sugar, with a row of stools lined up on either side. The panelled walls and ceiling are the bottle green of my old school uniform. The last remnant of old Frank’s is the shop sign over the door and the tattered burgundy awning as grubby and unglamorous as the interior is sleek. In the window, Frank’s logo features the chequerboard design of chefs’ trousers.
The chef is softly-spoken Canadian Chris Maguire, who has cooked in Locks and nearby Delahunt, whose chef owner Darren Free is the man behind Frank’s. We sit side by side as the shared table is slightly too wide to allow conversation to flow across it once it gets busy. But that’s fine. All eyes will be on the food.
The menu is the size of a small birthday card and we can eat everything on it without straining belts or bank cards. Wines are reasonably priced, served in small glasses rather than the goldfish bowls to which we’ve become accustomed. A vermouth the colour of cough syrup costs €3.50.
The fun starts with a simple plate of ajo blanco. Ajo blanco means white garlic, but it is also a type of thick, cold, summer soup typically made in Spain with garlic, soaked bread, milk and ground almonds. There’s an almost chewable texture to Maguire’s version and it is topped with braised purple-sprouting broccoli whose frondy heads have precisely the scooping qualities you need to maximise your nutty garlicky sauce intake with every swipe.
The delight is that the food at Frank's is better than most sit-at-a-table restaurants
Then there’s a barley cracker with globe artichoke petals and a leek puree that could happily sit shoulder to shoulder with a Michelin-starred snack. Asparagus is served as short spears sliced surgically down the middle and arranged alternately green side up and white innards side up with a set of buttermilk and dill sauces and oils that make the recently trendy ingredient that is buttermilk a real keeper.
Then there’s the dish we’re still talking about. It’s a plate that looks like someone tipped a yoghurt pot over a jumble of stuff, a muffling blanket of creamy white sauce on top of the rest of the elements. Underneath are just-seared scallops, sweeter than most I’ve tried and threads of lightly-pickled cabbage with juicy golden raisins studded through it. The sauce is made with ham, not pink chunks of it, but some kind of an infusion of the hammiest of hocks, all of it aerated for a truly delightful piggy creamy kick.
Canoes of pearl onions
On the slightly larger plates there are pillowy house gnocchi draped with butter fried oyster mushrooms, all surrounding a 63-degree egg cooking in its shell in a water bath. The result is a fudgy yolk that oozes with a sluggish slowness rather than the gush of a regular poached egg.
It’s dishes like these that make me love chefs. Yes, you could make this at home but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. A plate of smoked beef rump doesn’t taste smoked but that’s fine because what it does taste of is luscious juicy beef topped with canoes of pearl onions filled with tiny blobs of cheddar sauce. It’s the most expensive dish on the menu at €15.
There’s one dessert. It’s coffee panna cotta (which could be called an espresso shot panna cotta because it has got a kick). It is topped with crisp crumb of brown bread, fried (I’m guessing), in butter and sugar and an aerated mousse that is like getting your hands on the mixer when someone’s about to pour the mousse into the bowl to set and licking it clean. Finally, there’s a plate with a triangle of perfect Boyne Valley Blue, a crumbly gorgeous goat’s milk cheese and a poached pear cut so precisely it might have been done by laser.
Frank’s boils the restaurant experience down to its bones, lean and spare and utterly in tune with the casual “let’s go get a bite” urge that feels easier than planning and booking a table in an actual restaurant. The delight is that the food at Frank’s is better than most sit-at-a-table restaurants. What’s not to love?
Dinner for two with a vermouth and a glass of wine came to €72
- Verdict Fast, casual food just got great
- Facilities Nice
- Music Great
- Food provenance Limited. Boyne Valley blue name-checked
- Wheelchair access The room and toilet are accessible but tables are above regular wheelchair level
- Vegetarian options Limited