Either I'm getting soft, or the calibre of the restaurants that I'm eating in is getting better, so apologies for the lack of stinker reviews. I'll have to look harder to find somewhere dreadful to write about.
he latest of Dublin's excellent new restaurants is Forest & Marcy, a sister establishment to Forest Avenue, around the corner on Sussex Terrace. Some months back, John and Sandy Wyer hosted a series of Sunday night pop-ups to showcase the cooking of Donegal chef, Ciaran Sweeney. The food was exciting, innovative, and augured well for the prospects of the new permanent venture that the three were developing at the time.
Forest & Marcy is located in the premises that some will remember as the former home of Rigby's. To say that the interior has had a makeover would be an understatement; it's unrecognisable. Gone is the narrow corridor and the grungy-diner vibe, and in its stead a slick, modern space that's at once sophisticated and inviting. There's no booking, so we arrive early-ish for dinner and we're lucky to get seated immediately, up at the counter. There will be more of a wait for those who arrive later, and for anyone hoping to nab one of the few tall tables. (Forest & Marcy will not work for a group of any more than four, so it's not a place to go with a gang.)
The schtick is that there's a menu of small and some larger plates, and that you order as few or as many as you like. So it's as conducive to dropping in for a couple of small plates and a glass of wine on the way home from work as it is to making a night of it, as we did.
On the night that we visit, it feels as if we are anywhere other than Dublin. The evening is positively balmy, and the other customers pleasingly cosmopolitan, glossy-haired, and well-dressed. There is a definite whiff of international mover and shaker in the ether.
We kick off with a couple of cold snacks, both vegetarian. A quinoa crisp is pure crunch, topped with goat's yoghurt, pickled and fermented carrots, and shavings of fresh summer truffle. It feels bright, light and generous: when did you last get fresh truffle in a dish that costs €4? An artichoke crisp made from tapioca flour and artichoke purée that's been roasted and caramelised is served with cep cream, roasted hazelnuts and tiny pickled mushrooms and onions. The combination is exquisite.
And then on to the hot snacks. Fermented potato bread is Ciaran Sweeney's signature dish, a play on his grandmother's traditional "fadge". It's served with bacon mousse and a barbecued bacon and cabbage relish, and together the elements of the dish pack more flavour than any plate has a right to. (It's wonderful). The brandade is a spin on the traditional dish, layered with red pepper and olive oil emulsion, caramelised onion, and a potato, cod and roast garlic mousse, with crisp cod skin and lemon purée. The only dud note is the poached cod belly; it's not hot enough and the texture is icky. The dish doesn't need it.
Next up, beef tartare served with a raw oyster emulsion, garnished with raw celeriac and tarragon powder. Tarragon and beef are sublime together - think of the classic pairing of steak and bearnaise - as are beef and oyster. It's both subtle and lovely. Seaweed potatoes with mussels and buttermilk is a dish inspired by Sweeney's memories of his grandfather using seaweed as a fertiliser when sowing potatoes. Here, he bakes the new potatoes in seaweed butter and powder at a low temperature and serves them with a buttermilk emulsion, mussel vinaigrette, crisp mussels and pickled seaweeds. It's a dish that you never want to finish. Lamb comes with a barigoule (broth) of artichokes, a risotto made from samphire rather than rice, the 'grains' bound together with a vivid spinach and parsley purée, anchovy mayonnaise and black olives. The textures are beautiful together, and the natural seasoning provided by the sea vegetables a triumph.
Our final, gorgeous, dish is shoulder of suckling pig confit, served with wild garlic gnocchi, lettuce, an intense pistachio paste and a vinaigrette of broadbeans and girolles, with hints of brown butter and mustard seeds somewhere in the background. For dessert, a lime-leaf tart custard tart with strawberry and hibiscus sorbet and a coconut mousse, that marries notes of sweet and savoury and is light yet full-flavoured, and cheeses in impeccable condition. Our bill, with a bottle of Fleurie (€45) comes to €147 before service. The menu changes monthly, a good reason for going again very soon.
Value for money: 9/10
On a budget
Plates range in price from €4 to €18 and you order as many or as few as you like. You could try a couple of plates — perhaps the quinoa and fermented potato dishes — and a glass of wine for less than €20.
On a blow out
A food spend of €90 for two people would satisfy the heartiest and most curious of appetites. Add a bottle of champagne (€86), water and service and you’d be looking at a bill of €100 per head.
The high point
Innovative food that majors on flavour.
The low point
At the moment, it’s not open for lunch, except on Sunday.
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
At Forest & Marcy, they serve Nyetimber English Classic Cuvee 2010 (€75), a sparkling wine produced in West Sussex at Nyetimber Manor, a former monastery once granted by Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves. The retail price is usually around €55/60 so that’s a good price for a wine that’s always a talking point, as well as being a worthy rival to French champagne. Made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes, the wine has balance and complexity, creamy, rich aromas and delicate, lively bubbles.