From no-shows to star turns: how Heron and Grey secured latest Michelin award
It is the tiny restaurant where the chefs wash up and flavours are plotted by graph
Published 08/10/2016 | 02:30
It is days after the tiny twenty-two seat Heron & Grey restaurant in Blackrock Market was awarded the country's sole new Michelin star.
You might think that the owners, front of house man Andrew Heron and Australian chef Damien Grey, might not yet have come back to earth. They might still be in London, drinking champagne, scoffing caviar, planning world domination.
But instead, they are back at work, doing their best to respond to the deluge of calls and emails looking for a table. There's a steady progression of locals coming to peer in the window of the modest little restaurant and congratulate Blackrock's newest celebrities.
"The week before we got the star was our worst week ever," says Grey. "We had lots of no-shows and people cancelling at the last minute. We were freaking out a bit.
"We'd closed for a couple of weeks and just back from Andy's wedding, thought we were starting to build momentum... then it just fell apart."
The people who failed to show up must be feeling pretty foolish now. Heron & Grey is booked out until March 2017.
It only opens three nights a week and doesn't turn tables. So only 66 people are lucky enough to eat there each week.
When Heron & Grey opened, the owners did everything from food preparation to washing up. They have since been joined by another chef, Róisín Gillen, a second-year student at Cathal Brugha Street. But they still do their own washing-up. Heron is hand-slivering orange peel for the tasting menu, while Grey is examining a tray of wild mushrooms picked that morning in the Dublin Mountains. "He cooks on the fly," says Heron.
So what's so special about the food at Heron & Grey?
Grey does not restrict himself to using all-local ingredients. There are officially five courses, but most nights there will be another three or four.
This week, there's Bluefin tuna, Muscat grapes - and those foraged mushrooms. Each plate is small, so that there is not so much food that it becomes an endurance test - nor, says Grey, so little that diners will be looking for McDonald's afterwards.
The progression of dishes is plotted on a graph that analyses the dominant notes - sweet, sour, salty, umami and so on.
"If something is predominantly sweet, then we'll follow it with something rich and umami-based. Then the next course will be sweet and sour, so the taste buds get pushed back. A palate cleanser brings everything back to the middle.
"There's no eating in a straight line. If you can get someone's tastebuds to jump from extremes back to the middle, it's not shocking, it keeps the taste buds entertained."
But one ingredient that doesn't feature on the menu at Heron & Grey is beef. "All the years that I've worked in Ireland, I've been dealing with owners with that old mind-set that you need to see beef on the menu and carbs in every dish," says Grey. "We want to prove that's not true, partly because of the environmental impact. I have used potato once or twice."
They have no plans to move to bigger premises.
"Look we're not stupid," says Grey. "We know that Heron & Grey as is has a shelf life; every restaurant has a shelf life. But we have a business plan that we are going to see through.
"It's a big learning process for us and crucial that we finish this project."