Sick to death of worthy and tasty, not to mention brown-hued dollops, Lucinda O'Sullivan found her heart was all a-flutter as she dined on exquisite fare in an 18th-Century jewel of a Dublin townhouse
The past couple of years have led to a lot of changes in the restaurant industry and, for many, this has just meant survival: the survival of the fittest, or of those offering the best deals.
What has also happened, at all levels, is that there has been very little innovation or excitement. So many chefs have dived into providing worthy and tasty French bistro-style food, but there is not a lot of excitement in worthy or tasty. What I am seeing, week after week, is a sameness. There's a lot of heaviness, brown dollops and smears: nothing that makes your heart flutter.
However, Graham Neville, head chef at Residence on St Stephen's Green, could never be accused of serving up dull fare. He has that exquisite lightness of touch and dexterity that really appeals to me. Residence is the private members' club founded by the Stokes brothers of Bang fame, who lived up to the name in spectacular fashion. The whole feel in this Irish Georgian building is 18th-Century Parisian townhouse, with lots of French-grey paintwork and French furniture sitting well with the amazing Lafranchini stuccoed ceiling.
Residence is now owned by businesswoman Olivia Gaynor-Long, with Seamus Dooley as general manager and Marie Chawke, of Aghadoe Heights fame, as executive director of business development. While it's a private members' club, Restaurant FortyOne is open to the public.
There is undoubtedly something special about dining in such a jewel of a house, and looking out over St Stephen's Green. It was really nice, too, to feel one was somewhere which had a special ambiance to it, and sublime service. However, it's not at all intimidating. This is also a very hip place, so you are more likely to have a rock star in one corner than a banker -- these days, anyway.
Dinner offered a six-course or an eight-course tasting menu at €64 or €88, or an a la carte menu which had starters at €9.50 to €18.95 and mains at €29.50 to €35. Starters included foie gras served two ways -- warm with a walnut crumble, or salt-cured with Minus 8 Verjus. Wild Atlantic brill was served with confit of organic onion and a prawn bisque; while slow-braised fennel came with goat's cheese. My friend Rena and I went a la carte, kicking off with a butternut squash veloute amuse bouche, which combined vibrant colour with an exquisite intensity and density of taste, and which had a sheared crab slice on a cocktail stick. To follow, a quartet of perfectly seared scallops and Irish yellow-fin tuna (€16.50) for Rena were in cluster formation, sitting in a zingy Vietnamese broth. Annagassan smoked salmon (€18) formed a circular palette for a rondelle of Clogherhead crab, on which a trellis of julienned apple matchsticks created a very pretty and fresh picture. It tasted lovely, too, along with some nice, home-made breads.
Seven mains included roast duck breast with celery, beetroot, girolles, and a Szechuan-scented sauce; while monkfish was served with Swiss potato, squash, and a mariniere sauce. A loin of Wicklow venison (€33.50) proved tender and delicious on a parsnip puree, circled with little jewels of gnocchi, and a pepper sauce. Wild turbot (€35) for me, was a chunky tranche, lying on a mattress of cracked wheat in a Martini sauce, topped with a luxurious tweak of caviar and ribbons of cucumber.
For dessert, an artistic confection of parfait of prune and Armagnac (€10) with poached mirabelle plums was the perfect not-too-sweet pudding, while Rena had a splendid malt souffle (€10). With all of this we had a lovely bottle of Majorcan Anima Negra An/2 2008 (€38). They have an excellent three-course pre-theatre menu at €36, and a great three-course lunch menu at €25, and, also for lunch, a five-course tasting menu at €35.
Dublin can be heaven . . .
Restaurant FortyOne, Residence,
41 St Stephen's Green,
Tel: (01) 662-0000