When opening a new restaurant there is one factor that determines it's success more than anything...location location location. It's the reason that McDonalds can be found on High Streets and in airports..because of the footfall. A tiny minority of restaurants are so good that people will travel to them anywhere and the definition of a 2 star according to Michelin is "excellent cuisine, worth a detour," and their view of a 3 star (the ultimate accolade for a restaurant) is "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". That system was designed with French Chateaus in mind but if you plan on visiting the Whitefriar Grill you too will have to make a detour as it is on Aungier Street which doesn't happen to be a restaurant hot spot in Dublin. It is however only a 1 minute walk from St Stephens Green and a similar distance to the trendy restaurant packed George's Street. This is the same venue that Conrad Gallagher had his latest restaurant but they have totally revamped the place and it looks lovely on the inside but is surrounded by an off license, some run down pubs, a hostel and a college none of which are traditional neighbours for a restaurant. The only reason I went here is that I live around the corner on Camden Street but I can't see many other punters stumbling upon it.
So the location is rubbish but what about the food. Luckily the food was very good and the service was even better. The place is warm and had some pumping tunes when I was there. Hip hop doesn't normally work in a restaurant like this but the atmosphere is spot on when you walk in and the staff were super welcoming.
The starter of Puy Lentil and marinated artichoke salad with roasted red peppers and feta cheese was tasty and decent for €7 but I'd have paid more to get high quality feta cheese and some fire roasted pepper instead of the cheapish salty cheese and fairly tasteless peppers. As salads go though it worked well and the lentils were tasty which is never an easy feat to achieve.
If a restaurant like this is to survive though it needs a signature dish that will get people talking and the good news is they have that with their wonderful "surf and turf" 28 day aged rib of beef with garlicky gambas and thick cut chips. I'm a huge fan of this dish and have had it all over the world but it is rarely done right but the guys in Whitefriar have nailed this one and it makes for incredible eating. The steak was beautifully rare and tender and the Gambas were massive and juicy and both were covered in lovely garlic butter that the chips could be dunked in to perfectly. The rocket and the perfect portion size mean that I finished this just full and relishing every last mouthful wishing it would never end.
The dessert was a simple Eton Mess that was decent without being mind blowing. Too much fruit and not enough meringue but that is only me being picky and others would have loved the fresh fruit.
Half the experience in a restaurant is the service and it was absolutely flawless here. The 4 staff were busy and unusually they all looked after the entire place rather than having their own tables or areas. That is normally a recipe for disaster but it worked perfectly as the young enthusiastic staff all had huge smiles and massive attention to detail. It's a big call but this was some of the best service I've had in Dublin and it turned the meal from a 7 to an 8.5 for me and will bring me back again. As usual though something that needs fixed is the annoying website with stupid PDFs on there making it cumbersome to get the info. Note to restaurants...nobody wants to download PDFs!!! Just put them on the site!
I went for some of the more expensive items on the menu but there is great value to be had here. It's well off the beaten track which makes me worry about them in the long run as a business but with service like that and a signature dish as mouthwatering as the surf and turf hopefully this place will work. It really really deserves to because you can tell from everything they do the staff are giving it their best shot.