Refuel: Salon des Saveurs * * * *
16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01 4758840
We Irish are a peculiar race. The country has been robbed blind by builders and bankers, public servants (and their spouses) have been caught up to their oxters in the State coffers, and we've a Government that can't tell the difference between a ransom, a bribe and a golden handshake.
Yet, some of the most sanctimonious rhetoric I've read about the boom years, and the characters it spawned, was reserved for Conrad Gallagher when he opened his new restaurant in Dublin last month.
There wasn't so much as a press release about the opening night, but thanks to a bout of viral schadenfreude in south Dublin, the chattering classes arrived in a stampede, apparently expecting the head of John the Baptist. They were rampant in their nastiness: the décor was described as cheap, the location was criticised for not being prime enough, the food was hammered for being passé. Gallagher, we were told, is out of step with "the zeitgeist". But surely Gallagher embodies "the zeitgeist"? In a spectacular fall from grace, he has experienced bankruptcy and exile, cancer, then jail, extradition, and acquittal. Then came marriage, divorce, then remarriage, followed by more bankruptcy. Reportedly, even his children's toys were seized in a bid to meet his huge debts in South Africa.
Gallagher is still in his 30s -- a lesser man would have buried his head in the sand and prayed for the tide to come in. But, instead, he came home and, it seems to me, we should cut him some slack and acknowledge there's an entire generation who weren't in a position to experience Gallagher's cooking first time around, but might like to try it now.
The deal at Salon des Saveurs is this: there are four tasting menus, from €24 to €54, each with five courses. You can opt for wine pairing, which also costs €24 to €54 -- or you can order by the bottle or glass as you go. Everyone at the table must order the same menu, although concessions are made for vegetarians and people with allergies. Thems the rules. And they're fair enough, however I wasn't impressed by the lack of credit and laser card facilities, and I disapprove of the 12.5 per cent service charge.
We had the €24 menu, which kicks off with a giant's thimble of parsnip soup, or "veloute" to be precise, adorned with a slick of vanilla oil for silky sweetness. Alongside it was an immaculately turned out prawn, dressed with pimentos and tarragon. So far, so subtle. Next came two dainty blocks of wasabi cured salmon, rolled in dill, and accessorised by pickled pear, ginger and radish. A clean but potent combination of flavours. Our third course was risotto with soya beans, calamari, chorizo slivers, rocket and crème fraiche. It was a divine combination of creaminess, smokiness and peppery leaves -- and what a revelation the soya beans were -- adding extra crunch to the carnaroli.
By now we'd reached the somewhat tipsy conclusion that a wine pairing per course was a glass of wine too many. We moved from white Burgundy to spicy Bonarda for our next course: daube of beef with celeriac mousse, pearl onions and fava beans. Expert trimming, a slow marinade and patient cooking made for the most succulent, dark and intensely flavoured meat. Out of touch with the zeitgeist? Show me a restaurant that's opened in this town in the past six months that doesn't serve beef cheeks -- if only they could do it as well as Gallagher.
The menu rounds off with a quartet of apple-based desserts: crumble, brulee, toffee apple and a souffle. Our meal was faultless.
You don't go to Conrad Gallagher to eat the whole hog, you go for an experience -- and that was what we got. He has recruited some of the best front-of-house people around -- Bruno Berta and Magali Chamson -- so service was a treat. Five courses for €24 from a twice anointed Michelin-starred chef is gastronomic democracy. And Aungier Street is only off the beaten track if you are middle-aged, and dare I say it -- out of step with the zeitgeist.
TYPICAL DISH: Squab with sage and liquorice
RECOMMENDED: Daube of beef
THE DAMAGE: €108 (including service) for a five-course tasting menu with wine pairing for two people
ON THE STEREO: Jazz
AT THE TABLE: The Meeja
WHAT TO WEAR: LBD
DO SAY: C.O.D
DON’T SAY:Is that a Felim Egan on your wall?