Not the most auspicious location I thought as I browsed the web looking to get a handle on chef Peter Clifford’s MO … Son of Michael Clifford, one of Ireland’s most revered chefs – well-respected by Marco Pierre White, no less – who passed away, tragically, at 52. A childhood course in Ballymaloe under his belt. London stages in Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, 15 by Jamie Oliver, and Tom Aikens. Peter also did a stint in Ireland’s only two-star Michelin, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. So, all-in-all, good pedigree for a 25-year-old kitchen wonk.
The building (not handsome) has a long history of failed restaurants, but, if I’m honest, I love seeing anyone with the cajones to take a build-it-and-they-will-come punt on a location. That kind of gamble has worked in the past and as we entered I thought Fennel could be a swell stop-off point on the way to, or from, the airport, as much as it could be for anyone in the locality who enjoys a spot of localised haute cuisine.
We were the only two people in the restaurant and went for the three-course lunch; a good value €24 apiece. There were a couple of misses here and there (one dessert was a little heavy-handed with the gelatine in spots, the cod was only seasoned on the skin, and a side of Lyonnaise potatoes seemed a tad past its prime) but those were very small things and we were being picky, so overall, pretty impressive.
For me, each course had a great handle on presentation, flavour and technique. To start: a fresh, flavour-packed, colourful plateful of toothsome pink, yellow and purple beets; petals of pickled pearl onions (that increasingly ubiquitous addition to dinner); and a number of earthy splashes and piquant swooshes combined to create a perfect palate-stimulating starter. My main, a quail, boudin noir and grilled apricot number was very, very good too – no complaints. My closer of pistachio mousse (and ice cream) with strawberries and a lovely dark chocolate and peanut brittle was beyond reproach.
+1 this week was a persnickety chef and was dutifully niggardly in his praise. However, he did enjoy it, overall. I thought his cod main was delicious and the pig’s cheek risotto starter, although a little heavy/wintery had him cooing enthusiastically.
Service was friendly and eager to please. The room, cheery as it is, did appear to be trying
to appear more luxurious than it is – faux stone (wallpaper) is not a great look and maybe go easy on those filament bulbs, guys. That said, it was comfortable and we settled in nicely.
I’d love to see this place hopping busy (I imagine Peter is the kind of chef who shines under pressure) with a solid floor crew, a more pared back (dare I say, Scandi?) aesthetic and a decent soundtrack in the background. The wine list could do better too. But, like I say, overall, I’d mark Fennell out as a contender. Watch that space, I know I will.
The bill, with coffee and wine came to an entirely worth it €64.50.
Fennel is open Wednesday to Sunday for lunch from 12pm-4pm; and Wednesday to Sunday for dinner from 5.30pm till late.
01 704 4005;