Editor's note: sadly, Thorntons will close in October 2016.
This restaurant is on the first floor of the Fitzwilliam hotel on St Stephens Green, with a view out on to this attractive square. Thorntons has been here since 2002, after relocating from the Rathmines district, where it had been since its opening in 1995. The current dining room is quite large, and can in theory accommodate 80 diners at any one time, though 55 is a more normal level of capacity. Kevin Thornton is the head chef, and he was in the kitchen this evening. Tables were set with good quality white linen and were widely spaced. The room itself has a fairly low ceiling, brown carpet and upholstery, and some fairly superfluous modern muzak was playing in the background on the evening of my visit. Three courses were priced at €76, though as will become clear, some extra little dishes appeared in addition.
The wine list was substantial, with around 500 different wines on offer, starting at €28. Examples were Penfolds Koonunga Hill Riesling 2010 at €40 for a wine that you can find in the high street for €13, right up to prestige wines such as Vega Sicilia Unico 1991 at a rather chunky €745 for a wine that will set you back €371 in the shops, and the famous Chateau d'Yquem 1947 at a rather steep €4,862 for a wine that can be found for around €2,990. Generally markup levels seemed high by Dublin standards, but still lower than is common in central London. I treated myself to a bottle of the lovely Etienne Sauzet Chassagne Montrachet 2007, which was a relatively fair €120 compared to a retail average price of around €65. A bottle of mineral water was a hefty €6.
A selection of bread was made from scratch in the kitchen. Rolls included white, brown, onion and chive, pistachio, basil and tomato and walnut and raisin. These were well made and had good texture, around 16/20 level on average. An initial amuse-bouche was smoked mackerel with Noilly Prat (vermouth) sauce and finely diced vegetables, with a separate glass of tomato juice with cucumber and poitin (spellings vary, but an Irish hooch distilled from potatoes or barley). The mackerel was oddly presented inside a glass with a lip curving in at the top, making it quite awkward to actually get at. The vegetables and a creamy sauce were fine, but the mackerel itself was not of particularly high quality (I confess that eating fish just after spending a fortnight in Japan has probably made me more critical than usual in assessing fish quality). Still, I did not think this dish worked that well (13/20).
Next came a hollowed out sea urchin, presented with a flurry of dry ice for no obvious reason. Inside the shell was urchin roe from the west coast of Ireland, juice of urchin sauce and seaweed, and more brunoise vegetables. In what was an unacknowledged and blatant copy of the Fat Duck's iconic "sounds of the sea" dish, a little box appeared covered in seaweed and oyster shells, inside which a device played a recording of seaside noises. If I ignore the theatrics, the quite creamy sauce was pleasant, if not particularly strong in sea urchin flavour (14/20).
My starter was back on sounder classical ground. Langoustines (Dublin Bay prawns as they were quite reasonably described here) were served in a prawn bisque flavoured with summer truffles and garnished with chives. The langoustines were really good, having lovely flavour and being carefully cooked, the summer truffles (so often a tasteless ingredient) here adding a pleasing earthy note (17/20).
Next was a loin of venison with pea purée, a sphere of carrot drop, and a garnish of foraged herbs (wood sorrel and fiddlehead) with a rosemary sauce. This was a pleasant dish, the venison good rather than dazzling (15/20). My main course was duck with red cabbage, served with purple potatoes and spring herbs. The duck was of good quality, cooked pink, the cabbage very good, with a little reduction of the cooking juices: solid classical cooking (16/20).
A pre-dessert of passion fruit creme brûlée and mango sorbet was lovely, the mango particularly ripe (17/20). My apple tart tatin was also nicely made, served warm with with pressed apple, pain d' epice ice cream and a little glass of cider granita (16/20). Coffee was good, offered with a selection of somewhat adventurous petit fours including chocolate with lavender, bergamot marshmallow with balsamic, and a mini opera cake. I wasn't convinced by the texture of the cake, and generally the petit fours seemed a step down in gear after the good desserts (14/20).
Service was very attentive and friendly throughout the evening, though I did not need breadcrumbs to be swept up after every course, messy eater though I am. The bill came to a rather high €209, but this is unrepresentative since I had a good bottle of wine to myself. It would be quite possible to eat three courses and share a modest bottle of wine here for around €100 in the evening. There was apparently a cheap €25 lunch menu on offer too. Overall this was a good meal, with the cooking seeming to me on sounder ground when it stuck to its classical roots than when it strayed into modern territory.