Seventh heaven at FortyOne
41 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2 (01) 662 0000
For starters, let's clear up one lingering issue about Restaurant FortyOne. Although it is located on the first floor of Residence, the private members' club on St Stephen's Green, the restaurant is open to non-members, and tables can be booked by anyone. Residence does offer other eating opportunities, but these are available to members only.
It would be stretching things to say that Dublin's old school private members' clubs are renowned for the quality of their food. Their cellars undoubtedly yes, but their food? No. But Residence is a different kind of club, and its owner, Olivia Gaynor Long, takes the eating side of things seriously. So seriously, that she has handed over a large section of her private garden in Killiney to chef Graham Neville and Restaurant FortyOne's gardener, Kieron Lacey.
Now in its fourth summer, the garden at Kenah overflows with fruit and vegetables destined for the restaurant kitchen. There are beans and peas and lettuces, and every herb that you've ever thought of, plus a few more besides. White, red and black currants, gooseberries, blackberries and raspberries all just waiting to be picked and despatched into the city centre. Neville says that having the garden has influenced his cooking, inspiring him to move away from a reliance on animal protein and to focus more on vegetables, in keeping with the way that his customers want to eat these days.
On a fine summer's evening, the room overlooking St Stephen's Green is bathed in sunlight. It's an elegant space, with ornate original plasterwork, plush furnishings and starched white linen tablecloths. Our fellow diners include a group of well-connected engineers who reveal themselves to be astute and knowledgeable foodies. It sounds as if, between them, they have eaten just about everywhere worth eating in the country. (When their conversation turns to GAA, it's inevitable that one of them pipes up: 'Of course, I know Seán Óg.') There's a loved-up young American couple, and a dapper German in a boating blazer entertaining his parents.
I'm not the biggest fan of tasting menus, as you can end up losing the will to live at the half-way stage if the food is heavy and the portions too large. But I had eaten at Restaurant FortyOne at an event a few weeks before and been impressed by Graham Neville's light touch, tripping through a multi-course marathon so deftly that somehow one didn't feel as if one had over-eaten. And my guest was hungry. Famished, he said. So we steeled ourselves for the seven course surprise tasting menu (€75), with matching wines (€60).
First up, a dainty taster of tuna tartare with a modest tranche of seared albacore tuna, accompanied by wafer-thin slices of the prettiest candy-striped beetroot fresh from the garden in Killiney, a sliver of sesame cracker, and a glass of bone-dry Pouilly Fumé, Domaine de Tabourdet. Summery and lovely. Next, the only dud dish of the evening - a salad of garden leaves with slow-cooked egg and fermented barley. It sounded like an exercise in seasonal simplicity, but was ruined by the egg which, our waiter told us, had been cooked at 63 degrees in a water bath to achieve a 'custard-like consistency'. Something had gone wrong, though. Our eggs had runny, unpleasant whites that spilled unappetisingly over the leaves and stolid yolks. A simple soft-boiled egg would have been far better. The sweetness of the fermented barley did little to help, but the pinot noir-style Morey Saint Denis, Domaine Marchand Grillot compensated for this one glitch in an otherwise impeccable meal.
The sommelier paired a courgette flower stuffed with prawns in a lovage sauce - gorgeous - with Domaine Schlumberger, "Saering" Riesling Grand Cru, extracted from the bottle using the new Coravin system which ensures that the rest of the wine in the bottle remains drinkable indefinitely. Next, an unusual but inspired matching of lobster, tail and rillettes, and warm foie gras with nectarine chutney, served with a burnt toffee Sauterne Chateau Barbier. Luxurious in every way. Full-flavoured breast and leg of pigeon came with a mouthful of onion tart, broad beans, tiny beech mushrooms and a robust rioja, Ramon Bilbao, Gran Reserva. Another beautiful plate.
And then it was on to the puddings. Toasted organic oats with yoghurt ice-cream and berries from the garden at Kenah, paired with Jurancon from Chateau Jolys, Cuvée Jean, followed by poached peach with roast and frozen lemon, accompanied by a Tokaji Aszu, 5 Puttonyos, Disznoko. From A Very Serious Cheese Trolley, with the cheeses arranged according to type and intensity of flavour, we chose Roquefort, Epoisses, Durrus, St Tola Ash and Cáis na Tire, all in perfect condition and served with a 10-year-old Smith Woodhouse tawny port. Petit fours of rhubarb macaroons and chocolate truffles were the final instalment.
After service tonight, Graham Neville and his team are off on their holidays for the next couple of weeks, but Restaurant FortyOne will be open again for dinner on August 18. It's a restaurant that has a sense of occasion about it, without being in any way over-formal, and is a fine place to bring visitors. A few weeks ago I wrote about The Greenhouse, around the corner on Dawson Street, and my hope that this year it would get the Michelin recognition that it deserves. Like Mickael Viljanen, Graham Neville is a multi-award-winning chef who is in line for a nod from the tyre company inspectors. Fingers crossed.
On a budget
At lunchtime, you can have three courses for €35.
On a blowout
At dinner, the seven-course surprise tasting menu with premium wines will set you back €215 per head.
The high point
Graham Neville's food is sophisticated and contemporary. It's quite an achievement to be able to devise a tasting menu of seven courses that is light and sustains interest right through to the end, rather than feeling as if it is an endurance test.
The low point
The slow-cooked egg dish just didn't work.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Marks & Spencer's Guest Brands collection is an interesting and eclectic assembly of good things to eat. The latest addition to the range is Scarlet & Mustard Pumpkin Oil (€15/250ml) which is full of vitamins A and E, Omega 3s, zinc, phytosterols (to fight bad cholesterol) and tryptophan (to boost the mood). Said to be of benefit during the menopause, pumpkin oil is flavour of the month with Gwyneth Paltrow and other slebs, but don't let that put you off as it also tastes pretty good on a salad. Try tossing some on roasted sweet potato with feta and toasted pumpkin seeds.