Long, long ago the legendary Dick Whittington left his rural homestead for London, along with his cat, to make his fortune and ended up becoming the city's lord mayor.
I don't know whether Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen has a cat, or whether he wants to be Lord Mayor of Dublin, but he has left his job in Gregans Castle in Co Clare for the bright lights of Dublin, setting up right next door to the Mansion House.
Viljanen is working now with Eamonn O'Reilly, whom I believe to be one of the best chef restaurateurs in the country. O'Reilly has One Pico restaurant in Schoolhouse Lane and The Box Tree restaurant and gastropub in Stepaside, and has now created a chic ambiance in his former Bleu Bistro on Dawson Street, which is now called The Greenhouse.
The Greenhouse offers two tasting menus -- five courses at €68 and seven courses at €78 -- and for what I would call the normal, frequent diner, there is a set-dinner-menu option with two courses at €45, or three courses at €56, with a choice of two starters, mains, and puddings. Having had Viljanen's food before, and in the interests of the experience, we opted for the seven-course tasting menu at €78. Matching wines were available at €35/€45 -- we didn't avail of them.
It used to be all about tall food, but nowadays it is all about food artfully arranged with wild flowers and other elements of nature. From the moment the dining experience began, with two canapes of mini green-apple meringues filled with creamy herring roe and tweaked with powdered bacon fat, we were led through a veritable archipelago of sensory flavours, colours and palettes. Yet, at the end of it all, we felt great, and neither heavy nor bloated. This is the art of a good tasting menu.
An amuse bouche had a white ceramic duck's foot holding an eggshell filled with Parmesan croustade, into which was poured a mushroom sabayon. Foie gras royale, in a glass, had a surprise -- a frozen apple sorbet element, leading through to the lush richness of the foie gras parfait. Next up was a square of roasted mackerel, alongside a slim tube of veal tongue and eel cannelloni, dotted with avocado cream, slivers of radish, and a raisin dressing. This was followed by celeriac baked in rye, surrounded by Cherry Valley duck hearts, truffle, milk solids, hazelnut and sorrel. The fish course was pollock -- this was accompanied by brown shrimp, wild garlic, confit egg yolk, crispy ink and malted chicken jus. Rare Wicklow lamb was paired with sweetbreads, liquorice, dried, sweet organic carrots, olive, date, dill and vinegar. After this, a fresh aromatic dish with rhubarb, rose water, celery, white chocolate and milk had me wanting to lick the plate like a child. Yet more was to come, with an enormous plate of orange colours drifting sublimely through sea buckthorn, passion fruit, coconut and coffee caramel. Petits fours consisted of apple and hazelnut lollipops, eucalyptus chocolate morsels, and a white chocolate and potato macaroon. Beautiful, Nordic-style crispbreads and rye breads also featured.
The Greenhouse is the significant restaurant opening of the year and it is a veritable treat. When I think of some of the hip places I have come out of recently -- with ridiculous bills -- it made the skill, expertise and dining experience at The Greenhouse seem like a total snip. They also do a 2-3 course lunch menu at €25/€30 as well as a five-course lunchtime surprise tasting menu at €55.
Our bill, with a glass each of Baumard Coteaux du Layon 2007 (€8 each) and Dionisio Ruiz Ijalba 2009 (€9 each), optional service and one espresso (€4.50) came to €214.50.
It was the first night and Chef Viljanen was at the door on departure. "Was it OK?" he asked earnestly. I can say now: "Yes, Chef -- it was more than OK. It was bloody marvellous."
Tel: (01) 676-7015