Good Mews: Mulberry Garden,Mulberry Lane,Donnybrook,Dublin 4
If the chef at Mulberry Garden felt pressure from a restaurant full of food critics, he certainly didn't show it, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, who was charmed by the concept and the sweet setting
In an episode of the TV show Frasier, the irrepressible Crane brothers have a stab at opening a restaurant where, amid the first-night high jinks, the mythical food critic Gil Chesterton arrives blathering: "I don't usually review on first nights, but I made an exception for you -- and brought along 12 other food-critic friends." And so it seemed as we arrived into the new Mulberry Garden to find two other critics already ensconced. There we were, Paolo Tullio in one corner, Myles McWeeney in another, and, finally, yours truly. No pressure, chef.
I had quite forgotten what a lovely space is occupied by the former Ernie's Restaurant, subsequently Poulot's. Tucked away in a laneway in Donnybrook Village, this mews-like restaurant is clustered around a sweet courtyard garden. I had reservations about the unusual concept behind the menu, but I was won over: that said, its success will depend on maintaining a degree of excellence high enough to titillate and draw the punters.
The concept is simple. You might say it is a pop-up restaurant of sorts in that it pops up only three nights a week for dinner -- Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- offering a three-course table d'hote menu at €40. This menu sports just two starters, two mains -- one meat, one fish -- and dessert or cheese. It changes weekly and majors on Irish artisan produce.
Surprisingly, there is an extensive wine list from €22, extending up to a Chateau Gruaud-Larose 2eme Cru Classe St Julien 1991 at €160, plus loads of cocktails, whiskeys and other spirits.
The venture of Brian Lennon -- of the popular eatery 120 in Ranelagh -- with business partner Laura Peat, its head chef is John Wyer, ex l'Ecrivain. "Our Producers This Evening" are listed on the back of the menu and for us professional chompers it could only be "one of each course". A French-style domed, glazed pie filled with shoulder of rare-breed pork rose to the occasion. It sat on homemade sauerkraut in a grainy mustard veloute with white beans, tarted up with a party-dress garland of watercress, which added colour and a crisp, fresh contrast. A perfectly poached free-range hen's egg was sitting on Jack McCarthy's black pudding, sprinkled all over with crushed brioche and hazelnut crumb, tweaked with a grilled scallion and Jerusalem artichoke veloute, this was certainly no wallflower either. Both starters were delicious, as were breads with nettle butter, and it hit us that The Mulberry Garden had real possibilities.
Succulent, pink, roast breast of Skeaghanore free-range duck on braised butterhead lettuce, with Gubbeen bacon, roast-potato puree and melt-in-the-mouth caramelised baby onions, more than kept Brendan amused. Wild Atlantic hake had lightly smoked new potato slices, mini towers of sweet organic beetroot topped with slivers of zingy-tasting radish, and was napped with capers and brown butter -- it was also excellent. Thought went into all of these dishes and the devil was in the detail.
A slick-looking slice of pistachio cake "could have been heavier on the pistachio element" said one of the male critics -- men are so difficult. With pistachio praline, and an apple concasse topped with a scoop of yogurt and fennel sorbet, I didn't see much left on the plate.
Sharply presented Irish artisan cheeses -- Ardrahan, Glebe Brethan, Crozier Blue, Killeen Goat's -- were served with red onion marmalade, Granny Smith apple and Lannleire Irish honey puree and feather-light rosemary crackers.
The atmosphere was good, some sort of hip music was billowing out, and the lights were dimmed. If they keep the food at a really interesting level, this could become a hot spot.
With a bottle of Rolf Binder Hales Shiraz 2008 Barossa Valley (€34), water at €3.95, and optional service, our bill was €130.
Tel: (01) 269-3300
Sunday Indo Life Magazine