Forty One, Residence
41 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 662000
I want to take up Residence at swanky club
In our CEC (that's Current Economic Climate), exclusive membership-only clubs feel like strange bedazzled fossils from The Land Before Tiger. Most of them became aware of the fact that private club membership ranked just below a weekly manicure on the necessity scale, so it wasn't long before we saw clubs relaxing their membership prices or even doing away with membership as business began to fall.
Residence, however, is still an exclusive members-only club, although you don't have to be a member to get into their restaurant, Forty One.
Set in a Georgian house on St Stephen's Green, Residence was started by the Stokes Brothers in 2008, who have since become a sort of two-headed symbol of boom-to-bust tragedy, and is now owned by Olivia Gaynor-Long, who took over in 2010.
Residence has always been an intimidating exclusive club, with its elegant façade and hostesses situated directly inside the narrow entrance door, like gatekeepers to glamour or very well-dressed bouncers.
I'm not a member of Residence, but I've been on a few occasions for work meetings or for drinks with friends who are members. I've always loved the welcoming interior (once you get past the door mob), the relaxed sitting-room and the luxurious fabrics, the friendly service and the fact that this Residence feels like an actual residence, as opposed to a once-beautiful building that has been modernised.
They've kept original features and have resisted the temptation to knock down walls. So there are a series of antechambers and reception rooms that operate well as private meeting rooms or dining rooms.
I've always found the clientele more interested in seeing who was looking at them than what their companions were talking about, which put me off a little.
However, upstairs couldn't be more different. On the first floor is restaurant Forty One, led by young Irish chef Graham Neville, who trained in France and Chicago and worked with Kevin Thornton for seven years. He's following in the footsteps of his Michelin-starred mentor as Forty One won Restaurant of the Year 2012 and Gaynor-Long has made him a member of the board, to thank him for an 80pc increase in covers in the past two years.
The restaurant is divided into two rooms, both beautifully decorated in cream with shots of pale silk and velvet bolster cushions that add a distinctly luxurious feel.
This has to be one of the most handsome dining rooms in town. We sit in the front room, with views onto St Stephen's Green and across the room there is what can only be described as an old bag, loudly complaining about the mozzarella, which she says, several times, 'is like leather', except she pronounces it 'lath-ar'.
She trills that the scallops are excellent, however. We sit as far away as possible and don't order the mozzarella, just the same.
As it is so early, there are not many people at table yet, although I am ecstatic when a real housewife of Dublin city arrives with a bad case of face filler. This is definitely my new favourite place for people-watching.
We are offered some bread by our waiter, whose service is almost geisha-like.
He removes our wine glasses with an arcane move, performed with one hand, that ensures the glasses do not clink together and sets the lid of our butter dish at an angle to reveal the butter (which is not actually butter, in keeping with the chef's philosophy of replacing butter and sugar with olive oil and fruit juices where possible), again without making a single sound.
This impeccable service is all carried out with an incredible ease, which means there is no stuffiness that might make you keep your elbows off the table.
Residence is expensive, so my companion and I decide to go for the pre-theatre menu, excellent value at €38 for three courses (and we discover later on that this also includes tea or coffee and petits fours of truffles and macaroons).
The menu is small, with no vegetarian option on the main course.
I go for Annagassan smoked salmon, twice- cooked crispy hen's egg, baby leeks and truffle, créme frâiche and my companion went for seared Dinish Island scallops, cucumber and strawberry gazpacho.
We feel like novices taking psychotropic drugs for the first time as we taste everything, widening our eyes and arching our eyebrows at each other as the complex flavours develop on our tongues like perfume on skin, from top notes, through heart notes to base notes.
This is serious stuff. Both dishes are faultless, tender, melting.
Our geisha comes back between courses with his crumb sweeper, which ranks next to a handbag stool on my checklist of items that determine exactly how posh a restaurant is.
For mains, I have roast Moulard Duck breast, Oldtown heritage carrots, bobby beans and coco beans stew, mainly because duck is generally poorly done and I think this will be good test. Needless to say, it is perfectly medium-rare, tender and moist.
My companion has Wexford milk fed lamb, aubergine emulsion, Kenah Hill garden leaves, marjoram-scented lamb jus, which again is perfectly done and tastes unbelievably complex for what is essentially a rustic, traditional dish.
The mains come with a generous dish of roasted baby potatoes. The servings are not large but neither of us can finish our mains.
We just about manage to squeeze in dessert, a chocolate tart with iced yoghurt (very virtuous) for me and an apple tart with ice-cream for my companion.
Considering our main courses would ordinarily cost in and around the €30 mark, the pre-theatre menu deal is phenomenal value for what is probably amongst the finest dining in Ireland. Forty One is doing what it does with style, passion and imagination and I can't imagine it will be long before Neville has his own flagship restaurant.
Recommended: Scallops, chocolate delice
The damage: €76 for two pre-theatre deals, which consists of three courses, petit fours and one tea and one coffee
At the table: Real Housewives of Dublin City
On the stereo: The sound of silence, literally (not the Simon & Garfunkel version), which is so refreshing!