Wednesday 13 December 2017

Restaurant Forty One: 'Dining to dress up for in a beautiful Georgian room'

Restaurant Forty One, Residence, 41 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2 (01) 6620000

Fine dining: Restaurant Forty One
Fine dining: Restaurant Forty One

Katy McGuinness

Restaurant Forty One has for many years suffered from its location, although it is one of the best in Dublin. It's on the first floor of a Georgian house on the east side of St Stephen's Green that until recently was also home to Residence, a private members' club. Many thought that the restaurant was only open to members, when this was not the case. The consequence: Graham Neville's excellent modern Irish food with a spare modern sensibility that never compromised on flavour did not get all the attention that it should.

Residence was first associated with the Stokes brothers, and more recently with businesswoman, Olivia Gaynor. Now it has been taken over by Olivia's brother, Peter, and his business partner John Ó Coileáin, who has the Scarlet Heifer butchers in Foxrock village. The pair are behind a number of Dublin food ventures, including Beeftro and Clodagh's Kitchen at Arnotts.

Along with the change of ownership, there are other changes. Residence is no longer a members' club; it's fully open to the public and there are plans to develop its events potential. For now, though, there's a casual lunch offering in the garden, with Restaurant Forty One serving a more formal menu up on the first floor. Graham Neville has moved on to Dax, from where the initial reports are as good as one would expect. Peter Byrne, who has come from Sika at the Powerscourt Hotel in Enniskerry (formerly a Gordon Ramsay restaurant), and who also spent many years working under Ross Lewis at Chapter One, is behind the stoves.

Because the house is wider than the Dublin Georgian norm, and the staircase ascends around three sides of the entrance hall, rather than straight up opposite the front door, progress to the first floor is very grand indeed and this brings a sense of occasion to a meal before you even get to your table.

On the first floor, there are two dining rooms, the smaller to the front and the larger to the back. The front is one of the loveliest rooms in Dublin, with ornate plasterwork and views over St Stephen's Green. The decor is classic and elegant, the colour palette subtle, and, if I were to pick one dining room in Dublin to bring visitors from abroad that would give them a sense of the Georgian city, it would be this. (In fact, there's an Irish chap at one of the other tables doing just that, schmoozing an Indian businessman who remains unfailingly polite throughout the meal even as his host, who may have over-explored the wine list, tells him that he loves him.)

A seven-course 'surprise' tasting menu is priced at €75. There is also an à la carte, from which we order. The prices are on the high side for a restaurant that does not have a star; three courses from the à la carte will cost only fractionally less than the tasting menu.

An amuse of almond soup with marinated scallop and salted peaches topped with a brown butter crumb is a fine harbinger of what's to come, with bitterness from nasturtium, the visual pop of a bright green basil and parsley oil, and intensity from pinky beige shellfish oil. Beef tartare comes with pickled egg yolk, oyster emulsion, more nasturtium and crisp bulgur wheat; a nicely balanced dish in terms of flavour and texture, the bulgur crunch a good counterpoint to the squishiness of the other elements.

A circle of seared yellowfin tuna is perfectly cooked (that is, hardly at all) and accompanied by a quenelle of Lambay crab meat and blobs of avocado purée. Delicate slivers of radish, sesame seeds and a loose yuzu jelly bring a subtle Asian dimension to a simple dish highlighting the quality of good ingredients.

We can't come to a butcher's restaurant and not order meat. The fillet of Ó Coileáin's beef, with a burnt onion purée, white asparagus, and a bone marrow and hazelnut crumb, is tender and full of rich flavour, while the pink loin of Comeragh mountain lamb, is served (as is the way these days) with a breaded croquette of slow-cooked shoulder, alongside a purée of wet garlic, roast grelot onions, gorgeous baby artichokes and tom-berries, miniature tomatoes.

The cooking is assured, the presentation elegant, the flavours confident and the menu has been written to appeal to customers rather than to serve the chef's ego. You could bring anyone to Restaurant Forty One.

It's impossible to order anything other than Wexford strawberries when they first appear on a late spring menu; here they come with a sweep of shortbread and white chocolate, coconut and lemon balm and the promise of a good summer. Cheeses are impeccable, served from a proper cheese trolley.

Service is good, if a little too much. With a bottle of Camins del Priorat from Alvaro Palacio (€58), a G&T, and two glasses of wine, our bill comes to €249.10 before service. At a time when fine dining is becoming ever more casual, Restaurant Forty One is somewhere for those who like to get dressed up and put on their heels to go out for dinner in a beautiful room.

THE RATING

8/10 food

8/10 ambience

7/10 value for money

23/30

ON A BUDGET

On the current lunch menu detailed on the website, you could choose seared tuna followed by lamb with cheese to finish. The three-course lunch costs €35, about half the price of dinner.

ON A BLOW-OUT

The seven-course tasting menu with matching wines will set you back €290 for two, before service. If you decide to go for the a la carte, the wine list could get you into serious trouble.

THE HIGH POINT

Restaurant Forty One is a class act.

THE LOW POINT

That some of our fellow diners did not understand the difference between indoor and outdoor voices.

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