Chapter One: 'I had a contented glow after a faultless meal'
Chapter One, 18-19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. (01) 873-2266
''Occasion' and 'wear'; could there be any combination of words that hold equal promise of such aesthetic terror?"
Those words are not mine (dammit) - they belong to the fashion and costume designer, Peter O'Brien, whose elegant creations are currently to be seen on stage in the Gate Theatre's production of The Constant Wife. The sentiment applies to restaurants as much as it does to clothing. Of course there will always be reasons to make an effort with one's clothes, but the gussied-up, mother-of-the-bride type ensemble (complete with - please no - matching fascinator) that the term implies has its restaurant equivalent, the kind of place that prides itself more on a dress code, toadying service and vulgar ingredients (gold leaf anyone?) than it does on its food. And it's not somewhere that I ever want to eat.
But in the same way that you are not going to wear your gym gear to a wedding, when there's a milestone to be marked, or an achievement celebrated, then you want to do that in a restaurant that feels somehow special, a place that's a few notches up the formality scale.
I hadn't eaten at Chapter One for over a year, not since the departure of manager, Declan Maxwell, to John Farrell's Luna. I had a concern that the atmosphere might have changed, that he might have taken some of the magic with him, but that hasn't happened. Sharon Shevlin remains a warm, smiling presence at reception. New manager, Danny Desmond, and sommelier, Ed Jolliffe, and the other familiar faces on the floor, run a ship that's as tight as it should be considering chef Ross Lewis' Michelin star but with an ambience that strikes that perfect balance between serious and relaxed. No one at Chapter One is going to bat an eyelid if men aren't wearing jackets.
"Fridays are back," says Jolliffe and the evidence is all around us; the room buzzing gently, bottles of wine and crisp linen on the tables. And really, is there anywhere else that you'd rather be on a Friday lunchtime than at a corner table in Chapter One's very comfortable dining room, trying to decide between the six-course tasting menu (€55) and the three-course lunch (€39.50)?
We opt for the three-course lunch, but there are extra bits and pieces along the way. The first: a little taste of rose veal terrine with grilled apricots, and green almonds that bring an early summer freshness to the plate; the balance between the savoury terrine and the honeyed sweetness of the apricots is just perfect.
A starter of cured mackerel with smoked mackerel rillette and warm potato pancake, buttermilk and dill, is a fabulous use of humble fish, the little drops of intense green dill oil bring both colour and flavour. Jumbo green asparagus is oven-roasted with Cuinneog butter and seaweed, and served with pickled shiitake and a rich Hegarty's cheddar emulsion, with a sourdough crisp for crunch. The red cow Parmesan ravioli are umami-heaven, bathed in a braised oxtail minestrone with celeriac and basil to remind us that, despite the grey day, it is actually summer.
An extra taster of fish - John Dory I think - with white asparagus and cucumber butter, accompanied by nettle and potato dumplings, and then it's on to main courses. My skate with a fricassee of mussel and fermented horseradish, cauliflower and smoked seaweed stock is exquisite, each element carefully brought together to make the complete dish so much more than a sum of its parts, while guinea fowl comes with fresh peas, Swiss chard, and roasted grelot onions in a pool of dark, sticky jus. The breast of the salt march duck is coated in bonito-flavour sesame. Duck and tuna, who would have thought it? But it makes perfect sense. The leg is served crisp, juxtaposed with blood orange, braised endive and crushed kohlrabi.
As ever there are Chapter One's signature potato croquettes (a description that does not do them justice) and silky pommes purée with scallions and crunchy shards of potato skin. To finish, a delicately salted butter ice-cream with soda-bread mousse and sour buttermilk, and a hot 70pc chocolate mousse, layered with barley and hazelnut milk, roast coffee ice-cream, and a lemon jelly that sounds out of place but isn't. Cheeses are - of course - impeccable.
And then there are coffees and petit fours, and the contented glow that follows a faultless meal. Leaving aside the bottle of champagne that we started with, lunch for three with a bottle of Friedrich Becker Pinot Noir Pfalz 2012 (€54) and lots of fizzy water, came to €237.70 before service. That's more than good value.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
On July 28, the Wildflower Supper Club will be popping up in Olive’s Room in the Red Stables in St Anne’s Park, Clontarf. The café is named after Lady Olive Ardilaun, wife of Arthur Edward Guinness, Lord Ardilaun, who once owned the St Anne’s Estate. Chef/nutritional therapist, Jennifer Creedon, will be serving a plant-based, gluten- and refined sugar-free three-course dinner, using vegetables grown in the café’s own allotment. Tickets are €27 from eventbrite.co.uk/e/wildflower-supper-club-tickets