Restaurant review: Chapter One - Ten out of ten for food, ambiance and value
18-19 Parnell Square North, Dublin 1; chapteronerestaurant.com
Graduation season is under way and the question of where to go for the celebratory lunch is back on the agenda. In my house, there was no hesitation. Not to come over all sentimental, but there are achievements and occasions that are worthy of being marked - this was a hard, five-year slog and there were times when the end seemed an awfully long way off - and I can't think of a better place in which to do that than Chapter One, where the front-of-house team is peerless, adept at making a Michelin-starred restaurant experience relaxed and unintimidating.
So, after a morning spent teetering over the cobbles in Trinity, with all the attendant tossing of mortar boards in the air, giddy posing in front of the Campanile, and bad wine and desultory canapés in the Dining Hall, we headed for Ross Lewis' calm basement in Parnell Square. Chapter One has been in business for over 20 years now, defying the geography of the city and its southside bias, quietly going about its business. Ask people in the restaurant trade where they like to go for birthdays and anniversaries, or even just to cosset themselves for no particular reason, and the answer will often be here.
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Unlike many shoutier establishments, Chapter One does not employ a PR company - I have never received a press release encouraging me to write about it - and in this regard it has something in common with some of my other favourite Dublin restaurants: Etto, Uno Mas, Liath, Variety Jones and The Greenhouse. (I'm pretty sure that I have never spotted a discount deal for any of these restaurants on a voucher website either.) They just go about the work with a quiet confidence in what they are doing, honing and refining, implementing subtle tweaks that keep making things better.
Some of those refinements are in evidence on this most recent visit to Chapter One. The silky pommes purée cut through with scallions, always a delight, are now made with smoked buttermilk and if I have encountered a more sublime dish this year then I can't think what it might have been. And the dish of salt-marsh duck with bonito and sesame, a winning combination that has been on the menu for a couple of years now, has triumphantly evolved to include smoked black pudding.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Lunch starts - as perhaps it should every day - with classic cheese gougères dusted with shards of truffle and a taste of duck consommé with Paris brown mushroom and foie gras agnolotti. Starters of smoked organic salmon with a Lambay crab pancake, peas and a cherry blossom vinaigrette, and a classic terrine of chicken and foie gras with pickled garlic scapes and wafer-thin mandolin slices of green apple, are immaculate, while fricassée of rabbit with girolle mushrooms, parsley and Parmesan is deeply, satisfyingly savoury. The flavour of green asparagus is intensified by roasting and combines beautifully with St Tola and Japanese tapioca.
Crisp skinned red mullet - one of my favourite fish - comes with mussels, mousseron mushrooms (also known as 'fairy rings' with a spicy, cinnamon-like taste) and spinach, while rib of olive-fed pork is accompanied by a hearty trotter and lentil sausage. There are flavours of beetroot and pear by way of accent to the duck.
Paris-Brest is all the rage at the moment and Chapter One's rose and mascarpone version, served with Irish raspberries, is as pretty as a picture, bedecked with colourful flowers, while flavours of milk and honey are restrained and soothing, and warm chocolate mousse scented with Guinness as rich as one would expect. Cheese is, of course, in perfect condition.
We were six, but the bill for two with a bottle of the Vóila 2017 Assyrtiko from producer Lyrarakis in Crete (€45), would have come to €133 before service - as good a bargain as one will find anywhere in the city.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course lunch on Fridays costs €36.50.
ON A BLOW-OUT
If you really want to push the boat out, book the chef's table for a group of between four and six. The seven-course tasting menu is €110 per head, with a Reserve Cellar selection of matching wines another €80.
THE HIGH POINT
A perfect balance between serious food and relaxed ambience.
THE LOW POINT