Ireland's latest Michelin offering Heron & Grey change the menu in its entirety every two weeks
Heron & Grey, Blackrock Market, 19a Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin. (01) 212-3676
'Artichoke - Orange - Leek'. It's a spare description that doesn't tell us a whole lot about the dish that we're about to eat, so it's just as well that Andrew Heron, one half of Heron & Grey, Ireland's newest Michelin-starred restaurant, is on hand to fill in the gaps. Heron is a mile-a-minute talker, so we don't feel bad calling him back to the table several times with requests to run through the elements 'just one more time'.
The tiny 22-seater in the depths of Blackrock Market landed the coveted accolade earlier this month. I ate there for the first time back in February and wrote at the time that I doubted that I'd eat a better meal during 2016. As the year draws to a close, I feel vindicated.
Michelin did itself proud by recognising chef Damien Grey's cooking as outstanding, confounding critics who say that the guide sets too much store by the accoutrements of 'fayn dayning' and not enough by the food. It's a tight ship, with only three members of staff including the owners. (They are soon to be joined by the talented Eric Heilig, the chef behind the excellent North East pop-up, which celebrates the food of his native Pomerania.) The pair take it in turns to serve the food, and they clear up at the end of the night. The restaurant seats 10 people at 7.30pm, and another 10 an hour later. A table for two is deliberately left empty, and dinner is served just three nights a week.
Heron and Grey set themselves a formidable challenge from the outset, in deciding to change the menu in its entirety every two weeks, and vowing never to repeat a dish. A system of careful flavour-plotting is worked out on a grid and then they analyse the effect on the taste-buds of each element of every plate. The tasting menu is no casual progression of dishes; there is nothing ad hoc about the sequencing. Each dish is planned as a stage on a journey that leads the palate through the five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami) and combinations thereof, and back to the middle from the extremes at either side of the grid. If that sounds pretentious, forgive me. Elvis Costello said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and sometimes words are inadequate to describe food: you just have to eat it. Andrew and Damien explain it better than I do - without pretension - and if you do eat at Heron & Grey (currently booked out until August 2017), they will do so.
So, back to 'Artichoke - Orange - Leek', the first dish on Menu 19. (As you read this, Heron & Grey is coming to the end of Menu 20, and gearing up for Menu 21.) But first there's a tangy, crusty, perfect house-made sourdough with seaweed butter. And here's a lightly-foamed, creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup poured over artichoke crisps, a charred pearl onion, Pedro Ximinez vinegar gel and an orange 'gastric' that cuts through the richness of the soup. And that's just the first course of nine.
Next comes 'Spinach - Snail - Trompette', dramatically black and vivid green, with salt-baked sweet chervil roots encased in charcoal dye, and earthy, autumnal flavours. The first 'surprise' (there will be four in total) is a wild Irish oyster with buttermilk foam, and elements of ginger, and little gourd (an Asian cousin of the cucumber) on a sea-bed of fermented rice, finished off with smoky bonito flakes. It's luscious.
'Game - Apple - Fig' is a sticky boudin of pigeon, foie gras and duck with a treacle glaze, offset by fresh apple in an apple cider vinaigrette, figs cooked with jerk spices, and a crumble of almonds and dehydrated porcini. The palate cleanser places orange juice cut with bitters alongside sour lemon ice and a plum jam with a smidgeon of sweetness, and it sets us up nicely for 'Beetroot - Hazelnut - Rocket', a dish devised by Roisin Gillen, who works in the kitchen alongside Grey. It's a twist on the ubiquitous beetroot and goat's cheese salad, satisfyingly complex, with a twisted puff of dried tapioca flour flavoured with beetroot juice on top.
The first dessert is the multi-faceted 'Passion Fruit - Lime - Ginger', with tart notes and shards of meringue for texture. Again, there's a restrained hand with the sugar. It's followed by the cheese course: manchego with a flat lavash cracker flavoured with fennel pollen, muscat grapes, and lemon gel. And finally, there's the signature chocolate five ways - it's the only dish that doesn't change, because Grey says that every meal should contain chocolate - featuring dark chocolate ganache, a praline feuilletine, Caramello mousse (a nod to Grey's Australian roots), biscuit dough and chocolate snow, offset by puréed berries and freeze-dried raspberries.
In terms of wine, put yourself in the hands of Andrew Heron and let him pair the dishes for you - he'll pour a half-glass to go with each course and you'll get to try some unusual, and some downright funky, wines, amongst which you may find some friends for life. We particularly liked the chardonnay-style Texier Adele from the Rhone, which Heron served at his own wedding a couple of months back.
In a nutshell: Heron & Grey is wonderful. Our bill with matching wines came to €203.50 before service.
10/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The dinner menu costs €48. There's no choice, although H&G will do their best to accommodate dietary requirements. Billed as a five-course menu, customers can expect a few extra 'surprises'; on the night of our visit there were nine courses in total.
ON A BLOW OUT
The dinner menu costs €48. After that, it's down to water and wine.
THE HIGH POINT
Joyful, inventive food that's different to what you'll find anywhere else in Dublin.
THE LOW POINT
Call me old-fashioned, but I wish Heron & Grey had a loo of its own.