The latest Avoca to burst forth – fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus – is a neighbour of the Aviva stadium and will presumably be enthusiastically welcomed by nine-fivers in the vicinity.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never got the Avoca thing. On the clothes and interiors side of things, I find their shops produce an almost-instant migraine. I know the aesthetic is aiming for nostagia and a sense of abundance but I find that much pretty floral in one space bordering on aggressive. On the food side of things, €18 for a scrap of broccoli salad seems, well, criminal. And I know the broccoli salad is “the best” and you love their scones but the attraction was never there for me.
Avoca is the hot guy in school that everyone fancied but you never quite got why.
He was textbook hot at best but everyone else seemed completely enthralled by him, even though he’s never uttered a single interesting thing because he’s never had to. Then one day you see him with wet hair after PE and you kind of get it. The Avoca equivalent of this for me was when I encountered the rotisserie shop in the Avoca Monkstown. The chickens get me every time I stray near there, so when Avoca Ballsbridge arrived, I was open to a new crush.
View this post on Instagram
TICKET GIVEAWAY! We’re giving away one pair of tickets for Tuesday’s Fashion and Food Event with @image.ie! Promising to be a fabulous evening celebrating all things fashion and food, there will be bespoke cocktails and delicious canapes for guests, plus scintillating conversation from our wonderful panel. All you need to do to be in with a chance of bagging these coveted tickets, is follow us here on Instagram, like the post, and tell us why you’d love to win!
There’s a few intriguing elements to the new store, a top class bakery and quality butcher counter, are both joined by a ‘pop up’ counter that will host an ever-changing roster of hand-picked, up and coming chefs and concessions. Currently Páng, the Kevin St fave and purveyors of the city’s best Vietnamese snacks and rice paper rolls are in residence. Through the food hall, up some stairs and past the wine section (there’s wine on tap for tasting) is Fodder, the restaurant and bar (a first for Avoca).
The place is half full when we arrive for lunch on a rainy Thursday. Business lunches and people with babies seem to make up the majority of the crowd and all manage to be co-existing in the large, airy space. Fodder gets top marks for comfort straight away. No one is butting elbows with their fellow diners and the chairs and banquette seating are practically cosy, especially as we look out on the driving rain.
An abundance of greenery and light recalls something akin to an art deco greenhouse and feels worlds away from the bustle of the foodhall never mind the hectic street outside.
Here, I’m afraid is where the gushing must end. The menu at Fodder struck me as a little bit ‘food by numbers’. The starters – soup, pate, salmon, with scallops and chorizo being the wild card – seemed disappointingly standard. The mains were willing to strike out a bit more with croque monsieur and mussels, nduja bucatini pasta and braised cheek in brioche but it all seemed a bit predictable.
A behemoth operation like Avoca is perfectly placed to take some risks on this menu but conversely they don’t want to because their brand has thrived on being familiar and being reliable. And their success is undeniable. From a single fairly rustic family operation, siblings Amanda and Simon Pratt created a lifestyle empire and in the early years had a very distinct food offering that cleverly comprised the things we love about home cooking, with flavours and ingredients that promised something new.
Consistency in business is key and Avoca are consummate professionals but the average diner’s palate is evolving. Restaurants and cafes are serving a far more engaged and discerning customer and this generation want innovation as well as good provenance and rotisserie chickens.
For our starters we had the chicken liver pate with apple jelly and crispy chicken skin (oh they know how to grab me) and the cured salmon with wasabi avocado puree, capers and pickled grapes with lime yoghurt. The pate dish was good and I liked the addition of the apple jelly where ordinarily a layer of clarified butter seals the pate, whereas the organic salmon, a delicious piece of fish, was let down by a busy plate of colour and dollops but not much flavour. I got no pleasing mustardy heat from the wasabi puree and the promised capers didn’t feature at all. I did like that the salmon was sliced somewhat thickly, giving real meat to the dish.
Main course arrived and the impact was excellent. Avoca are slick, every plate is eminently appealing with colour and a sense of the plentiful. Indeed there is a sense of generosity here that runs from the portions to the excellent service but again I felt the meal lacked oomph in the taste department. The lamb burger with tzatziki and fries was perfectly pleasant but I couldn’t say it was bringing anything new to the table. Well executed but ho-hum. My ricotta, quinoa and sweet potato fritters made an entrance on a large wooden board with abundant sides of dips and a very good salad of pickled carrots, greens and heavily spiced dukkah. The fritters were nice but not quite hot or crispy enough, not great in light of the extended pause between courses. The flavours were mellow which worked well with the acid of the carrots and the spice of the dukka but sadly the all-important texture let the whole thing down.
Thankfully, the desserts were a slam-dunk. Chocolate pave with a delicate salted caramel ice cream was pure heaven while a riff on banana and macadamia nut parfait with toffee popcorn and chocolate ice cream was a chewy, salty, sweet hit.
There is a lot that is working at Fodder, the vibe was relaxed and the smart dining room feels like a haven where one could while away the afternoon. However, while the front-of-house team were unfailing in their good humour, the meal was punctuated by several long gaps between courses, strange as the restaurant was emptying around us. If I had to boil it down, I would say, overall, Fodder is playing it safe. Like the hot guy in school everything looks good but doesn’t have a whole lot to say.