Hotter than ever... The Greenhouse
Joshua House, Dawson St, Dublin 2 (01) 676 7015
If you keep up with restaurant trends, you'll know that fine dining is distinctly out of fashion. But what does that mean? Does it mean that it's all about burritos and burgers these days, and you can stuff your foams and foie gras? Does it mean that the days of getting dressed up to go out for dinner are over?
Yes and no. Eating out is more democratic than it has ever been. Many of the rules have been jettisoned. You'd be hard put to find a restaurant (as opposed to a golf or sailing club dining room) in the country that has a dress code. That's a good thing. Who wants to be told what to wear and pay for the privilege? Prices are down across the board; eating out is better value than it has been in years. That's a good thing, too.
Rip-off Ireland is, if not dead and gone, then heading that way. (Could someone please pass the word on to our biggest tourist destinations, because some of them don't appear to have got that message yet?) And quality is up. It's rare to get a bad meal in a restaurant. That's another good thing. More restaurants are producing better food, even if there is a creeping uniformity to the menus that they offer.
While the general standard of food has improved, the number of restaurants serving exceptional food has not increased hugely. When asked for recommendations for truly great food in Dublin, I am still trotting out pretty much the same list that I did a couple of years back. One of the places that I often suggest is The Greenhouse, where Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen is in the kitchen. Viljanen made his name at Gregan's Castle in the Burren, and moved to Dublin a few years ago, to partner chef/restaurateur Eamon O'Reilly (who owns One Pico amongst other places) in this new venture.
Viljanen was one of the first of the Irish-based chefs to embrace the philosophy of Rene Redzepi and the Scandi new wave of cooking. In the Burren, he was surrounded by incredible riches in terms of the wild food available on his doorstep, but he transplanted the sensibility to Dublin with apparent ease.
Anyway, I'd been happily recommending The Greenhouse to anyone who asked, when I realised that I hadn't actually eaten there in over a year. It was time to remedy the omission, and to make sure that my endorsement still stood.
I can report that it does. And how.
I wouldn't usually wax lyrical about bread, but I'll make an exception in this case. Both the rye and the sourdough deserve mention, not least because of the whipped brown butter with hazelnuts that accompanied the latter. By God it was divine. Rather than the six-course tasting menu, or the five-course surprise menu, we went for the three-course set dinner priced at €65. As is often the way in upper echelon restaurants such as The Greenhouse, we ended up getting extra canapés, plus petit fours, so that it was as good as ordering the tasting menu in terms of the number of different things that we were able to try.
First up, delicate beetroot meringues with horseradish and trout roe, a Parmesan and malt vinegar crisp (could Viljanen be persuaded to go into commercial production and competition with Tayto?) and a tiny tartlet of chicken liver with pear and pain d'epices. Each morsel delivered an incredible mouthful of flavour. A second round featured tender buttermilk-fried rabbit, an intense gougère with aged cheddar custard and a crumbling sheep's cheese sable biscuit. It's such an exciting way to start a meal, with tantalising promises of the vibrancy to come.
The set menu offers just two choices per course, so we were able to cover the entire menu between the two of us. Foie gras royale with apple and walnut is rarely off the menu at The Greenhouse; it's luxurious without being overwhelming, the acidity of the apple cutting across the richness of the mousse. A little extra taster of Lincolnshire smoked eel on sourdough toast was sublime, the smoking robust enough for the fatty fish; the eel features in a dish on the current tasting menu with apple, chicken wing and hazelnut. Charred mackerel came with cucumber, elderflower, an oyster beignet and macerated grapes: another example of an impeccably balanced plate without too much going on.
For main course, there was rump of Slaney Valley lamb with barbecued neck, broccoli, asparagus and salty sea herbs, and a tranche of turbot with shellfish essence and peas, broad beans and courgette with smoked yoghurt and spiced butter. These are sophisticated, carefully composed plates that illustrate Viljanen's distinctive style, the subtle bringing together of good ingredients with cutting edge flavours and techniques.
For dessert, Gariguette strawberries with basil, cheesecake cremeaux and yuzu beignet, and a bar of dark chocolate and caramel, with peanut butter and banana.
Our bill for two, with a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Poliziano, 2011, a glass of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and a 10-year-old Madeira, impeccable cheeses, and two bottles of water came to €248.90 before service. Unless you are very, very lucky, you are not going to have dinner at The Greenhouse on a weekly basis, but when the occasion merits serious food served without snootiness in a glamorous room, give it a try. And let's hope that this will be the year that the Michelin inspectors give Mickael Viljanen the star that he deserves.
On a budget
The two-course set lunch is €29. As at other high-end restaurants, lunch at The Greenhouse is a bargain, and you'll often find other tables occupied by young chefs on their day off, drinking tap water, worshipping.
On a blowout
The six-course tasting dinner menu with matching wines is €133 per head before service.
The high point
When the standard of food is as high as it is at The Greenhouse, it's hard to pick a stand-out dish, but the Lincolnshire smoked eel on toast should not be missed.
The low point
That we had to leave.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
If you have a freezer, then buying meat in bulk can be great value. CaorAcla's Achill Blackface Lamb, which grazes on the herby, heathery pastures of Achill Island, is the lamb served at Chapter One, Thornton's and Fallon & Byrne, and is also available to domestic customers. Half a new season lamb costs from €65 plus delivery, while a whole animal is €120 - €160 depending on total weight. For that, you get two legs, two shoulders, two rolled breasts, two neck fillets, 24 loin chops, eight gigot chops and two kidneys. Which sounds like a lot of lamb. See caoracla.com