It's not often you walk into a restaurant to be greeted by a magnificent taxidermied fox, standing upright, holding a perplexed looking pheasant with a jaunty looking shotgun broke open over his shoulder. I never figured that Mr Fox was the kind who needed to resort to weaponry to catch his prey.
This fine fellow is part of the foxy decor at the smart Mr Fox, a basement restaurant located on Dublin's Northside. Previously occupied by Joy Beattie's Hot Stove Restaurant, this location is just a stone's throw away from the illustrious Chapter One. The closure of Hot Stove however tells us that adjacency to Irish cooking royalty is not enough. Will Mr Fox be smarter?
|Mr Fox interior design|
The omens are good for Mr Fox. Stephen McAllister from The Pig's Ear is Chef Patron, with northsider Anthony Smith as head chef. The intention is to create an informal atmospheric bar and dining room, using the best of local and seasonal ingredients.
The interior has changed little since the days of Hot Stove. The caramel leather chairs are comfortable but blend beigely against the soft green walls. I find myself wishing for some stronger pops of colour to brighten the room. The bar area benefits from stronger paint colours with retro furniture making it a nice spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.
|Interior at Mr Fox|
We dine at lunchtime, and are second diners in the restaurant on a Saturday. We're given both the Lunch and a la carte menus, and choosing the Lunch menu is a no-brainer. It's one of those rare menus where you don't feel short changed by going for set prices.
My starter of deer tartare is simply exquisite, reminiscent of dinners in Michelin-starred restaurants. A snow of fried artichoke crisps cover a mustardy tartare mix, sharped by the occasional redcurrant. A generous piece of organic seatrout comes lightly torched, with smoked and pickled beetroot and salty little pops of trout caviar. For some inexplicable reason, the smoky notes instantly transport me back to my grandmother's kitchen and her open fireplace.
|Deer tartare with artichoke and redcurrant|
|Organic seatrout, smoked beetroot and fennel|
The torched theme continues with cod, served atop a corn succotash with charred lettuce. Notes of red pepper, chorizo and sharp lemon temper the sweetcorn. Braised lamb neck falls apart easily, with a sticky jus glazed on top. A dollop of smoked ricotta is cooling with saltiness coming from chopped black olives. It's a perfect dish to mark the transition from winter to springtime.
There's a short selection of side dishes on offer including baby carrots tossed in spicy njuda sausage and fresh coriander (all sides €4). They're utterly moreish and I devour the portion. Sprouting broccoli in a soy and honey dressing is also delicious, but is a somewhat odd note given the harmonious European-style cooking. And although we didn't order them, a mistake in the kitchen means that a portion of perfect fries dusted with smoked paprika and perfect homemade garlic mayonnaise arrives at our table.
|Cod with corn succotash, chorizo and charred lettuce|
|Lamb neck with smoked ricotta, pomme puree and carrots|
|Carrots, njuda and coriander|
The wine list at Mr Fox is as smart as the place itself, with several choices for wine by the glass. Several of the wines come courtesy of Winelab, who import wine in casks, and serve to order, thus ensuring high quality at affordable prices. A glass of Winelab French Sauvignon Blanc is well priced at €6.95, while I go for Rondan Crianza Rioja (€8.95).
Two courses are excellent value at €21.95, and extending to three courses would cost €26.95. We're stuffed however, and decline dessert, even though I've heard magnificent things about the house version of Walnut Whip.
We leave highly impressed. Fantastic Mr Fox indeed.
Mr Fox, 38 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 874 7778