Restaurant review: Hard to beat... Heron & Grey
Heron & Grey, 19A Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin. 01 2123676 / 087 6083140
It's only the end of February, and I'll be surprised if I eat many better meals this year than the one I had in a tiny shoe-box of a restaurant tucked away in the depths of Blackrock Market a couple of weeks back.
Anyone who had the good fortune to visit James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert's Canteen restaurant will know the space that I'm talking about. Sheridan and Humbert moved on late last year, and are due to open Canteen Celbridge, on the Main Street in the Kildare town near where they live, in the coming weeks. Further into the market is the quasi-shed in which the wonderful Fish Shop, now happily established on Queen Street in Dublin 7, had its beginnings. So you could say that Blackrock Market has form as an incubation hub for start-up restaurants.
Although the new occupants of the corner unit - Heron & Grey - have undertaken a refurbishment on a shoestring, it's still not a premises about which I'd find it easy to wax lyrical. All the more credit to the proprietors - front of house chap (and bread-baker when he's allowed), Andrew Heron, and chef, Damien Grey, that they have succeeded in pulling off a minor miracle, producing sublime food that transcends the unprepossessing room. There is something endearing about the pair, who are doing everything at H&G - and I do mean everything, Heron doubles up as the kitchen porter, washing dishes between delivering food to the tables - themselves.
Andrew and Damien have each amassed experience working in a string of restaurants in Ireland and Australia over the past 15 years. They are not neophytes, but it's a sign of the times that this is the modest little place in which they have opened their first restaurant. There has been muttering over the past while about how, in central London, it's almost impossible (for reasons of cost) for any independent restaurant to secure premises, and that all the new openings are chains, which makes for a homogeneous and repetitive food offering. Although it's not that bad in Dublin yet, it's true that most of the exciting independent openings are happening in Portobello and the area around Camden Street and the South Circular Road, rather than close to South William Street, where rents and key money are now prohibitively expensive to anyone without serious backing.
Anyway, enough about the premises. Let's talk about the food.
The five-course tasting menu is priced at €48. When my husband made the booking, Andrew Heron was at pains to ensure that neither of us had any food allergies or dislikes as there would be no choice. On the night, there were two additional amuses, but each course is small, so it's not too much food. The menu is strictly seasonal. At the end of our meal, Damien explained that the dishes will never be repeated, "so that we don't get bored or complacent". The dishes we had will not be on the menu when you visit, but will give you an idea as to the kind of food to expect: complex, inventive, subtle, excellent.
First up, a dish of truffle custard served with duck jerky - intensely-flavoured dried out shards of duckiness, and grated white truffle adorned with a sprig of chickweed and squid ink salt. So luscious, with incredible mouth-feel. Then beetroot in four different forms (marinated, pickled, purée and meringue) with labneh instead of the ubiquitous goat's cheese, dried blood orange, rocket oil, chestnut purée and a delicate honey pepper. Gorgeous combinations. A piece of hake atop a sous-vide oyster, surrounded by beer-infused pickled ginger, crisp seaweed and salsify braised in fish stock, with a few chanterelles (fried and foam of) for good measure, an essay in the essence of the oceans. Then, an amuse of blood orange and lemon bitters by way of palate cleanser. A meat course of super-tender venison cooked sous-vide, with salt-baked parsley root, a soubise of Roscoff onions and a whiff of cranberry.
A dessert of lemon with wood sorrel and olive oil, featured elements of curd, poppyseed cake, Italian and French meringues, a gorgeous olive oil gel and vanilla cream, while an amuse (that was really another dessert) of chocolate five ways - ganache, dehydrated, mousse, praline bar and popping candy - included orange marmalade, espresso, dehydrated milk and Cadbury's drinking chocolate and was about as far away in terms of sophistication from a Terry's Chocolate Orange is it's possible to get.
If this sounds like labour-intensive, creative, and technically ambitious food, you're right. Which is why Heron & Grey deserves your support. Please book a table right now. If it's a success, then they'll be able to move on to somewhere a little less rudimentary, and free up this lucky premises to act as an incubation unit for the next promising independent restaurant start-up.
Our bill for two, with a €38 bottle of Cotes de Rhone from a list that has been inherited from Canteen and will be changing over the coming weeks as Andrew Heron gets to put his own stamp on things, and a bottle of sparkling water, came to €138 before service.
On a budget
You can have a two-course lunch for €23 on Friday and Saturday. That sounds like a bargain to me.
On a blowout
Dinner is €48 for the five course set menu and, while Heron & Grey will accommodate dietary requirements, there's no à la carte menu.
The high point
The best new restaurant that I've encountered in Ireland in a long time - inventive, exciting cooking that's got personality and oomph, traits that the food shares with the proprietors, Andrew Heron and Damien Grey.
The low point
Blackrock Market is dingy rather than edgy.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
I was in Paris recently, and visited two moderately-priced restaurants that I'd recommend to anyone planning a trip to the city. The first, Pirouette, in Les Halles, was suggested to me by Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine. There's a two-course set lunch for €20. My à la carte starter of black rice risotto with Comte cheese, truffles and salsify was exceptional. The second, Liza's, is in the 2nd arrondissement, and serves modern Lebanese food in a stylish room that would convince you that you're in Beirut. The mezze platters are crammed with delicious flavours and cost around €25.