Mulberry Garden D4 Review: Cultivating a new approach
A few years ago on a visit to Singapore, I went to a hawker market. These are street markets that are owned by the state, which lets stalls to hawkers who provide cooked food.
What makes the system interesting is that each stall makes only one dish, and sometimes a stall has been making the same dish for three generations. With specialisation like that, they tend to get very good at the dish they do.
It's set out in a horse-shoe shape and the centre is filled with tables, where customers sit. You get your starter at one stall, your main from another and your dessert from another.
Street or pavement restaurants around the world work the same way. They make one dish, and if a passer-by likes the look of it then they stop and buy.
There is often no menu in simple Mediterranean restaurants . You're simply told what the day's offering is and choose accordingly. But in northern Europe, the commonest way of offering food in restaurants is by way of a menu.
Most restaurants offer you two -- an à la carte with every dish priced and a table d'hôte that offers a more limited choice for a set price. When I had my restaurant, I had only one menu: a set dinner that offered a choice of five starters, five main courses and five desserts for a fixed price. It changed completely every two weeks. If you drove out to Annamoe, it wasn't just for one course -- you had to have three, as there was no à la carte.
So menus come in different guises and with different price structures. But the menu I came across this week is, I'd suspect, unique in that the choices are cut to the smallest number possible -- two per course. The menu is priced at €40 and this new restaurant is called Mulberry Garden.
I know the building well. It used to be called Ernie's and is in the lane behind Kielys in Donnybrook. I knew it when it was Ernie's and, after it changed management, we filmed two series of 'The Restaurant' there. It's been redecorated rather prettily inside, and the garden that has given its name to the new restaurant has been replanted and redesigned. Inside it has clean, elegant lines, good napery, well-spaced tables, good- quality glassware and cutlery and, it must be said, very good service.
I was there with Gerard Carthy, who'd eaten there a couple of weeks earlier. The menu in the Mulberry Garden changes every week, so all the dishes were new to Gerard. Well, that meant five dishes in total, since one of the dessert choices was a cheese plate, which is not the work of the chef.
Before we'd even got our starters, the restaurant began to look like an Independent Newspapers staff party. First, Myles McWeeney arrived with his wife, then Lucinda O'Sullivan with her husband. Three reviewers on the same evening has to be some kind of record.
The menu on the night went like this: rare-breed pork shoulder pie or poached free-range duck egg with white pudding for starters, then breast of free-range duck or hake for main courses, then pistachio cake or cheese for dessert.
Gerard chose the duck egg, I chose the pork pie, we both had the duck, then Gerard had the cake and I had the cheese.
The wine list came clipped to a long, thin board of olive wood and listed about 40 wines. There were some interesting choices, but no bargains -- house wines start at €22. I had a glass of Crianza from the Rioja, Gerard had a glass of Chablis to start, a glass of red Amadieu for mains and a glass of dessert wine to finish, which brought our wine bill to €27.75.
Freshly made breads came to the table with a very good olive oil in a ramekin to dip into. We settled in, enjoying the fresh, zingy taste of the olive oil and the breads. The menu itself is as tiny as the choices, but on the back of it all the suppliers were listed, including Mrs Sutton's duck eggs, from near me on the Calary.
That's a big part of the charm of Mulberry Garden -- the emphasis is on artisan produce and it's mostly organic.
I really liked the simplicity of Gerard's dish. The perfectly poached egg came with brioche, some white pudding and grilled scallions, all of which went very well together. I got an individual pie, which came with white beans, homemade sauerkraut and a velouté of Dalkey mustard.
The pork shoulder had been braised and shredded, and then used to fill the pie casing. This too was a good dish.
When we'd ordered the duck breast we were told, "It's served pink". That suited us both just fine. What we got was a very tasty duck breast, each with a peppered crust that was not pink, but rather medium/well done. No matter, it tasted very good, as did the accompaniments of roasted lettuce with bacon lardons from Gubeen, a purée made from roasted potatoes and baby onions.
Which brings me to my reservations. When your menu price is for three courses, you're committed to a dessert, since you're paying for it. One of those is a cheese plate, so if you don't like cheese there's no choice at all. That night's pistachio cake is a dish that would certainly go down well in Sicily, but I suspect that in northern Europe a dry, nut-based cake is not high on many people's list of likes. Surely if there's going to be just one sweet, shouldn't it be chocolate-based?
And that's really the nub of my reservations: one unusual sweet is too small a choice. Even on 'The Restaurant', we ask non-chefs to make two of each course. Surely a professional chef who came from L'Ecrivain could manage two?
Good food, good service and very pretty surroundings will make Mulberry Garden a success I'm sure, but I think there may be a need to rethink parts of the menu.
The bill was €120.80.
Value for money 6/10