After bleating on about how Irish restaurants can’t get steak right, I went and had a steak with my friend Roz last night.
We had planned to go to Le Cafe des Irlandaises on George’s Street, but were disappointed to find it closed down. Instead, we were lured by Fallon and Byrne‘s (Exchequer St, Dublin city centre) very attractive all evening pre-theatre menu, where you can enjoy a main and a starter or dessert for €24, and all three for €28.81. Depending on what you choose, it works out anywhere between three to five euro cheaper – although, notably, veggies are better off ordering from the a la carte.
So, steak then, please. I’ve had the rib-eye in Fallon and Byrne before and found it to be a most delicious cut, served with thin and crispy fries and a smooth, rich béarnaise of perfect consistency, alongside a well-dressed salad of very fresh baby leaves.
Roz followed my lead, and we ordered the cheapest wine: a French Petite Syrah costing €22. Roz got a generous slab of rare steak, cooked to perfection: it’s no mean feat for a chef to chargrill the outside without overcooking inside. My rib-eye was also delicious, although it was a much smaller piece of meat than Roz’s, and it was far from the medium-rare I’d asked for. I didn’t really mind, because it was so tender and overflowing with flavour, while the chips and sauce were excellent.
But I’m not one to not complain, so when the maitre’d or manager asked if everything was okay – and Roz tells me I was very friendly and polite here – I said that my while steak was really fantastic, it was closer to well-done than medium. Roz piped in that hers was bigger. His response was heartening, highly professional, and very human.
At first he offered to replace it, but I insisted that it was fine: the steak was nonetheless gorgeous. Later, he came back to apologise, and told us he was taking the wine off the bill. I was very pleasantly surprised. I even behaved like an Irish person: ah, no, it’s not necesary, are you sure, and so on. Then I told him I hadn’t been angling for anything extra at all – I had thought they might bung us a complimentary coffee – but he insisted that they should have got my steak right. He was so incredibly decent that I’m almost reluctant to write this, for fear that the restaurant’s generosity and great customer service will be taken advantage of. But I couldn’t let service like this go unremarked; the contrast with Marco Pierre White’s response to a similar situation is notable.
We continued our delicious meal, never once having to top up our wine or water, and never once straining for a waiter’s attention for more water.
We were being somewhat cheeky in our decision to split the starter and split the dessert, and there’s plenty of restaurants that wouldn’t facilitate this at all. But the staff at Fallon and Byrne, without us asking, brought an extra plate for us to share our deliciously presented sweet and sour mackerel with apple fondant, smoked bacon, and cress. This was a dish for those who like strong flavours: the fish cooked by citrus juices, with the acid perfectly balanced by the sweet, crisp apple. The bacon added a savoury touch, and the cleansing cress brought a light simplicity and freshness to the complex dish. And the mackerel was clearly very fresh – not the usual, completely unhelpful “in today” fresh, but rather “recently dead” fresh.
Dessert was also served with generosity: two spoons brought as standard, with a rich dark chocolate and orange mousse topped by a gentle orange ice-cream and served with hazelnut and chocolate biscotti (a biscuit whose crunch often makes it seems a little stale, hard and oversweet; here it was fresh and firm, yet melted in the mouth).
This was top-notch meal despite the steak mistake, with great value, professional and flawless service. We left a €12 tip on a €48 bill. On every level – from ingredients through to preparation, service, and atmosphere – this is a restaurant that really respects its customers and fully deserves all the business that comes its way. Enormously impressive.