Nestled at the southern end of central Dublin’s busy Dawson Street, just a stone’s throw from the verdant oasis of Trinity College, is Farm Restaurant. In Ireland up to about thirty years ago, locally produced food was something taken totally for granted. It was a country blessed with an abundance of native food. Ireland’s produce, although largely seasonally dependent, was not stressed by arduous journeys from far corners of the globe. Small farmers and local fishing fleets provided its meat and fish. Then affluence made its appearance and the Irish palate rebelled and yearned for more thrilling fare. Exotic dishes that called for long-haul ingredients such as avocados and mahi-mahi and passion fruit became all the rage.
More recently, however, in tune with local food movements elsewhere, a recalibration has occurred. There has been an emergence of informed appreciation of the value of native foods, fresh from local farms and waters or crafted by artisans. Significantly, the Slow Food Movement (founded in 1989 by Carlo Petrini as an outgrowth of his campaign against a McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome) has put down strong roots in Ireland, with Slow Food Ireland coordinating 14 convivias (chapters) throughout the country. It is here that Farm finds its niche. The restaurant was established some half dozen years ago with the stated mission to provide “affordable, homemade, locally sourced food, and as much organic and/or free range as [it] can.” It has prospered and now has a companion restaurant on Upper Leeson Street, a little over a mile away from its original location.
Farm announces itself on Dawson Street with a chalk-board on its outdoor patio, listing daily specials. Inside, the restaurant occupies a long, narrow room but due to its front wall of glass and interior of caramel-colored walls, pale wood floors, sleek tables and funky light fixtures, it has a streamlined, light and uncluttered feel.
On the spring day that I stopped in, the lunchtime menu included starters such as freshly made soup, homemade chick pea hummus and spicy organic chicken wings. Among main courses were Spanish omelette (organic eggs, mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes and baby potatoes), organic beef burgers topped with dry-cured local bacon and Gubeen cheese (farmstead cheese from the Ferguson family farm in coastal West Cork), and a wild mushroom and goat cheese risotto made with St. Tola goat cheese (from a herd of Saanen, Toggenberg and British Alpine goats reared on 65 acres of organic pasturelands in County Clare). Not to mention fish pie (salmon, cod and haddock in cream sauce, topped with apple and shallot mashed potato and a hint of cheese), a dish for which the restaurant is by now famous.
Main courses are accompanied by green salad or shoestring fries. Optional sides, such as champ potato (a traditional Irish dish made by combining mashed potatoes and chopped spring onions, butter and milk), sautéed onions and mushrooms and fresh vegetables of the day, are also available. The menu is clearly presented: in addition to a vegetarian section, each dish is accompanied by information about its properties, e.g., protein, gluten and vitamin content. Farm has an early bird menu (until 7 p.m.) and a childrens’ menu that successfully strikes the tricky balance between juvenile tastes and nutritious fare.
My attention had been caught by the day’s advertised lunch special, smoked salmon over pasta, baby spinach and tomato. This definitely had the potential to be interesting. Too much smoking and the intense flavor could dominate everything around it. On the other hand, in skillful hands it could prove to be a satisfying variation on an old Irish favorite. Feeling adventurous, I decided to go for it.
A neat feature of the restaurant is a little electric button on each table. I assume it’s a buzzer – although mercifully the patrons are spared the noise of any buzzing. When you are ready to order or when you require something, you simply hit the button and someone materializes to take care of your needs. In my case, it was Marina Sarosi, the friendly and informative manager.
I started with a selection from the varied wine and beer list, a Helvick Gold blonde ale, produced by Dungarvan Brewing Company, one of Ireland’s craft breweries. Launched in 2010, the brewery on its website notes its philosophy as one of purity: “We keep the beer in its purest form by bottle-conditioning it. It isn’t filtered, isn’t pasteurised and is naturally carbonated. We always start with the best quality ingredients: Maris Otter malt, full leaf hop cones and the limestone rich water of Waterford.” Served in a frozen glass, this outstanding blonde ale had a very refreshing, hoppy bite to it.
There need have been no worry about my choice of main course. It was excellent. The organic salmon was very lightly smoked (in house). Tossed with penne pasta in a light cream and mustard sauce and accompanied by baby spinach and sweet cherry tomatoes, it was simply delicious. The delicate flavors of the ingredients blended beautifully and not one overwhelmed another. The restaurant was lively with lunchtime activity. Diners at nearby tables seemed to be enjoying spicy beef noodles with vegetables and Farm’s famous fish pie.
Desserts such as organic ice cream or Bailey’s Cream bread and butter pudding were very tempting but it would have been overdoing things. I settled for a café americano.
For around €20, Farm’s central location, pleasant surroundings, quality food and very attentive service represented excellent value.
[Farm Restaurant (City Center South), 3 Dawson Street (Between Lord Mayor’s Mansion & Trinity College), 353.01.671.8654, Lunch & Dinner: Daily 11:00AM-11:00PM, www.thefarmrestaurant.ie]