This atmospheric younger sister to Stephen McAllister's Dublin 2 dining destination, The Pig's Ear, opened to well-deserved acclaim in November 2016.
A smartly welcoming basement beneath two town houses, it is on the west side of this busy Georgian square in the former Hot Stove premises and has upped the ante once again in an area that is home to one of Dublin's most iconic restaurants but not otherwise well served with quality dining options.
Arriving down the immaculately maintained steps from the bustling street, the door is opened by a welcoming host to reveal two bright dining rooms - the first clearly the original kitchen of the house above, with its original fireplace intact - a really lovely bar and an impressive outdoor courtyard where lunch tables will be hotly contested in fine weather.
Traditional tiling, exposed brickwork, elegant toffee-coloured seats and good lighting create a tasteful and comfortable space that’s as conducive to a business lunch as a group celebration or romantic date.
At the helm is Anthony Smith who, after years of cooking around the world, has come back to his roots to delight north city diners with his seasonally led menus and modern style. Fans of The Pig's Ear will sense a shared philosophy - and perhaps a little overlap of specialities, such as a delicious Wicklow venison tartare - but Mr Fox is very much its own place and part of its charm is the unusual dishes that you won't see elsewhere.
The high quality and careful selection of ingredients is very evident, and there's a light sprinkling of name checked items too - Carlingford oysters (individually priced), perhaps, and Goatsbridge trout caviar - although it would be nice to see who the many excellent suppliers are, and for the friendly and helpful staff to be better informed about provenance (although they are more than willing to check details with the kitchen).
A short lunch and pre-theatre menu focuses on quality and interest rather than offering a wide choice (how many early dinner menus kick off with pig's head and smoked pear...?, and an adventurous à la carte is available for lunch as well as dinner.
When dining à la carte in winter, nibbles such as tartine sourdough bread with whipped cep butter, parmesan and burnt leek are brought to the table with a flourish, along with a pretty, piquant 'snack' like devilled egg, chpotle and Goatsbridge trout caviar - a sign of things to come, soon followed by the likes of fried leeks with smoked eel gribiche, or bone marrow, snails, parsley & toast ...
'Larger Plates' are equally exciting, with a pleasing emphasis on game in season - what game lover could resist the lure of partridge with roast barley, pear and chanterelle?
Desserts are a fun affair, often playing the nostalgia card with creative renditions of the sugar-laden treats of yore, such as Orange 'supersplit' or Walnut Whip. In the Guide's experience portions are generous, with a Chicory coffee 'ice berger, for example, more than enough to share between two - and the retro theme extends to the petits fours ('Little Treats') which include a Chocolate Marshmallow 'Tea Cake' to nibble with your coffee.
Offering quality with value and close to The Gate, this is a hot spot for savvy pre-theatre diners - and a great destination in this nascient 'cultural quarter', with a new City Library planned at its heart.