The old interweb is a magic thing, sometimes. In one evening a few weeks ago, while catching up on some work and watching Masterchef Ireland, just by keeping one eye on Twitter and posting a few tweets, I’d:
a) won dinner for two at Fade Street Social
b) made a date with a long-lost friend to reunite over a fancy lunch together at the Greenhouse, whose chef Mickael Viljanen was featured on the programme that same evening.
Well, we found that we weren’t the only ones with that bright idea, as the Greenhouse’s phone was inundated the next day, so they couldn’t give us a reservation for the only day that suited us. But by that stage, I’d booked my Friday off, and our plan was afoot, so we simply decided to find another fine-dining venue with an affordable lunchtime option. After a recommendation from a friend, Thornton’s was booked – well, if you’re going posh, you might as well go Michelin-star posh.
I had a little thrill of excitement (sad, I’m fully aware) all that week as I looked forward to my indulgent Friday afternoon off. The chance to dress up just for lunch; a reunion, a gossip, a glass of wine or two while everyone else is at work…the ingredients of a dream afternoon.
When I arrived at Thornton’s, on the first floor of the Fitzwilliam Hotel, the first thing that struck me was the warmth. As my heels sank into the carpet, I was greeted by name, relieved of my coat and guided to my table, immediately feeling a sense of occasion as I looked around the dining room and out over a wintry St. Stephen’s Green. At 1.30 on a Friday, the restaurant was full, and when Dara arrived we excitedly surveyed the other tables, the room and the menu all at the same time, wondering who in Dublin these days can afford to do this on a regular basis.
In the spacious room, I was taken by the position of the seats at the tables. Even though the round tables (which can probably seat from two to four people) are set quite far apart from each other, the chairs at each are positioned so that you’re always sitting slightly at an angle to the diners at the tables nearby. So the overall effect is that we were all part of one big lunch group, giving a cosy feeling while maintaining each table’s privacy. I loved it.
Right after we’d ordered from the lunch menu (three starters, three mains, three dessert options), we were presented with an amuse-bouche of brill. This was a tiny, crisp ball of delicious white fish sitting atop what I’ll slightly ignorantly describe as “some class of foam” – I didn’t catch our lovely French server’s description. This led perfectly into our chosen starter of scallops with truffle foam, two beautiful meaty scallops surrounded by a yellow foam and two flakes of truffle.
Hovering between the three main course options on offer, I eventually chose venison with potato fondant, chanterelles and Valrhona chocolate sauce. It would be easy to gently mock, as we did when our mains first arrived to the table, the size of the portions, but this would miss the fact that this is food ultimately filling to the senses, if not the hungriest of bellies. Beautifully medium-rare, the venison was drizzled with the bitter chocolate sauce (or more precisely, gravy – but who would eat chocolate gravy), surrounded by tiny chanterelle mushrooms, with a miniature stack of fondant potato sitting nearby on the plate. Exactly the sort of dish that you might pay a fortune for in equivalent surroundings at a later time of day, and we relished every bite.
After passing on dessert (two courses is €35, with dessert bringing the price per person up to €45), when our coffees arrived we decided we needed something sweet to go with them, so we ordered some petits fours.
The little tray that subsequently arrived represented for me, the best value of the day – five perfectly crafted miniature desserts added only €4 extra to the bill. I could have sworn I saw our waitress hiding a giggle at us trying to hack a teeny-weeny raspberry tart in two with a dessert knife as we attempted to divide them up equitably…
For two set lunches, with the addition of two coffees; a single glass of a fantastic Ribera del Duero (€12); and the petits fours, our bill came to €94 for this slice of Michelin-worthy Irish cooking.
No doubt, this is how the other half live, and I’m sure it will be a while before I can afford to return to Thornton’s for dinner. But Thornton’s seems to appreciate and respect that for most of its customers these days, a visit here probably does represent a special treat. The atmosphere is formal, yet warm – it feels like a special occasion, but you don’t feel guilty if you laugh out loud, and the staff strike the perfect balance of being attentive and available, appearing to smoothly top up our water or dust crumbs from the pristine white tablecloth, and then blending into the background.
As we sat finishing our coffee, we couldn’t help but be delighted when Kevin Thornton, having spent time chatting to two besuited business types in the corner, came over to our table, introduced himself and chatted with us for a few minutes about our lunch and our plans for the rest of the afternon. We were impressed to see him do the same with most of the other tables, too.
Thornton’s are now into their Christmas season, where the set lunch price rises to €47. Book it for a special occasion if you have one, or wait ’til the New Year and invent one – they’re the best kind.
Thornton’s Restaurant, 1st Floor, The Fitzwilliam Hotel, 128 St. Stephen’s Green. +353-1-4787008