A plate of tender venison (€26) is paired with plump blackberries, sweet salsify, autumnal chanterelles and a lick-the-plate jus is as nourishing and rejuvenating as taking a walk in a beautiful forest. Before the venison, we’ve been treated to a simply stunning plate of baby leeks (€8.50), fried in a light batter and served with a creamy gribiche laced with smoked eel. Who’s behind these delicious dishes? It’s the approachable yet impressive cooking of Dublin-born Anthony Smith, Head Chef and owner of Mr Fox.
Smith, who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland, New York and Australia, partnered with Stephen McAllister and Andrea Hussey of The Pig’s Ear to take over the premises on Parnell Square, previously home to Joy Beattie’s restaurant The Hot Stove. Smith calls Hussey, who is also the co-owner of The Pig’s Ear and was once manager at L’Ecrivain, the brains of the operation. Together, Hussey and McAllister are helping Smith to lead a team that includes many of the previous staff at The Hot Stove.
When the team had found the premises but before they had decided on a name, Smith was wandering down Francis Street one day. He came across an eye-catching stuffed fox, standing on its hind legs and holding a pistol, in an antique shop. He bought it for the still un-named restaurant. “Then I heard a story about Kitty O’Shea,” Dublin-born chef Anthony Smith tells me. “When she was organising liaisons with Charles Stewart Parnell, Parnell used the code name of ‘Mr Fox’. It seemed like a good name for a restaurant on Parnell Square and, because I already had the stuffed fox, it felt like a sign.”
Mr Fox moved in last year and opened their doors in November. “We’re not going for a Michelin-star style,” Smith points out to me over the phone after my visit. “We want to be the best casual dining offering on the northside.”
Also served up to us on our visit is a partridge dish (€24), with this succulently gamey bird paired perfectly with sweet, roasted pear and parsnip. A deer tartare (€11) to start is exquisite, and there’s beautiful sourdough bread on the side, served with a stonkingly good Parmesan cream, sort of a like a cheesy fluffy butter. We start everything off with a little snack of devilled eggs (€6), made with a chipotle-tinged filling and topped with Goatsbridge trout caviar, a fancy take on one my favourite retro party snacks. The menu is seasonal and will change regularly to reflect that.
The decor is largely the same as it was in Beattie’s time, though there are a few additional fox fixtures, such as the stuffed fox that Smith found on Francis Street. The room is tasteful and spacious, yet it’s a space that struggles to contain an atmosphere. I had the same issue with it when it was The Hot Stove. Perhaps it’s the beautiful tiled floor creating a problem with acoustics, or that the shape of the room with its centre piece of an antique stove is too much of a hark back to its original purposes as a basement kitchen in a grand house.
But making drastic changes to the interiors or structure of a room is not something a new restaurant project on a tight budget can do much about immediately, apart from perhaps bringing in a skilled interior designer to make the most of what they’ve got. “We have been focusing on getting the food and the service right,” says Smith. “I think some people expect restaurants to be perfect on day one but we want to be here in 20 years time so we will be working constantly on improving everything, all the time.”
The wine menu looks impressive and fun, with a good selection by the glass and some ports and sherry on offer too. But I’m disappointed that, like so many restaurants, the same exciting spark and attention to detail isn’t applied to the non-alcoholic beverages as it is elsewhere on the menu. Non-drinkers have a choice of Coca-Cola, 7Up or a tonic water. This beverage blindspot is widespread and, though I understand a large portion of diners do enjoy wine with their dinner, it irks me that non-drinkers and designated drivers are repeatedly overlooked. “Our next mission is to work on our bar,” says Smith when I call him on this. Mr Fox are not alone in having to make this improvement in terms of a non-alcoholic offering, but today they’re in the unfortunate position of bearing the brunt of my built-up frustration.
At Mr Fox, you’ll find an exciting, accessible menu served by a great team. There’s a playfulness and informality in the menu, such as their delicious Cloudpicker Coffee Iceberger (€7) or their fancy version of a Walnut Whip (€2.95). It packages Smith’s careful cooking in an open, friendly way and the food makes it a delight to eat here. Our bill, which includes two glasses of tonic water and a 15 percent tip to reward the warm service, comes to €101.85.
38 Parnell Square West