When Robbie Burns was Head Chef at Fallon and Byrne, the ethos of using local became embedded in his soul. After four years of service to this Dublin food institution, Robbie’s long held ambition and next move was simply to open his own restaurant. His home stomping ground of Swords has been the fortunate recipient of Essence Bistro, the cosy eating house where he plies his skills to promote Ireland on every plate.
Robbie has brought the word ‘local’ to life in Swords. As he says ‘when we say local – we mean local.’ His supplier list includes three Dublin butchers for Irish beef, plus a direct contact with the farmers who produce beef on Lambay Island. Pork is sourced from one butcher supplier while chicken comes from Cappoquin in Co.Waterford, via another. Robbie’s organic Irish Salmon hails from Atlantic waters off Clare Island, Co. Mayo. Rainbow trout, from renowned fellow GFI Approved Provider producers Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co. Kilkenny, often makes an appearance on the menu. Traditional Irish and seasonal vegetables are used to great effect to accompany this veritable array of core ingredients. North County Dublin is taken up with acres of vegetable farms. Robbie has forged direct connections with the farmers in this area, where all his traditional vegetables are grown. Smart additions come from GFI’s In Season Farm ten minutes drive away – tiny baby radishes, parsnips, carrots, beetroots and other veggies in season, with uber chic micro salads like pea shoots, cress, mizuna, rocket and green broccoli leaves, to jazz up the plate visually and in taste terms.
Dining space at Essence is compact and minimalist in décor but cosy in ambience. The open plan room is tastefully arranged, non fussy in style – with a separate dining room for private parties or to seat the overspill of customers on busy nights. The real message at Essence is not flash interior design over content, but rather translates from the literal meaning of the word ‘essence’ – as Robbie says ‘the intrinsic, fundamental nature or indispensable quality which determines character.’ So there are no secrets here – except the secret of good cooking with Irish ingredients –which underlines every plate. Robbie and Owen, his brother and fellow chef, can be seen in action during service – the open serving hatch as views directly into the kitchen. Even in the busiest of times, the boys make it look easy to turn out modern European dishes at lunch and dinner. Essence’s famous Irish beefburger and lunchtime dishes like the homemade Bolognaise sauce served with pasta are made from quality Irish beef cuts minced here in the kitchen. Steaks are a highlight – Thursdays Steak Night offers juicy ribeye or striploin with house fries, salad and accompanying sauce - great value dining for two. Week night Early Bird Menus, plus a weekly Seafood Night and Couples Wine and Dine night, introduce the happy prospect of eating out more often, with an affordable pricing strategy.
At lunch, time is of the Essence – excuse our pun! The current 10-10-10 Express Lunch Menu features ten dishes at ten euros for two people, served in ten minutes! A genius idea which has attracted many business workers from Swords and surrounding areas. Once a month, a themed six course dinner menu distills the strict sourcing ethos at Essence into its purest form. Robbie is so strict on his Ten Mile Tasting Menu he’s currently in the process of creating his own cheese to feature here – realising there isn’t a cheese made within the bounds of that tight radius. The Bovine Tasting menu features beef in all it’s glory, from cuts like elegant beef fillet to slow cooked beef cheeks – all given the Burns treatment.
A well constructed wine list also integrates the ‘affordability’ factor. House wines and wines by the glass are budget priced. Smarter choices remain in the mid to late twenties in euro terms. If a classic wine is what you want – it still won’t cost an arm and a leg to push the boat out a little further.
What really comes across at Essence is Robbie’s total passion and enthusiasm for the ingredients of Ireland, and the simplest ways of presenting them. Together with his mindful eye to affordable dining, and a sassy space in which to showcase that, we reckon Robbie Burns’ Essence is only set to rise as a benchmark dining room for others to follow.