The decision not to give Forest Avenue a Michelin star is inexplicable
Forest Avenue, 8 Sussex Terrace, Dublin 4. (01) 667-8337
Food in Ireland has improved so dramatically over the past few years that it's sometimes hard to remember what things were like in the bad old days. We take it for granted now that we are more likely to get a good restaurant meal than a bad one, particularly in Dublin.
Over the space of a few short years, we also have grown accustomed to the modern tasting menu. John Wyer was, I think, the first chef in Ireland to start offering this new style of menu when he and his wife, Sandy Sabek, also a chef, put on the first Supper Club Project pop-ups about five years ago. I remember going to one of these events in a guest-house in Ballsbridge and leaving on a high, having eaten 10 courses of some of the most exciting food that I had ever encountered, each course so carefully balanced that it was somehow not too much food. It felt like the start of something important.
John was formerly the head chef at L'Ecrivain, and Sandy the pastry chef in the same restaurant. After a couple of years of pop-ups, during which time John was one of Lynda Booth's head tutors at The Dublin Cookery School, the couple managed to scrape together the resources to open their open place, in a former pizza parlour opposite the Mespil flats on Sussex Road.
That was three years ago, and Forest Avenue - named after the street on which Sandy grew up in Queens, New York - has since quietly established itself as one of Dublin's essential restaurants. The Wyers don't use a PR company, and they don't do flash. They just get on with the business of serving up consistently excellent food, in a restaurant that, thanks to Sandy at front of house, never feels stressed or over-crowded.
Earlier this year, the Wyers opened a second establishment, Forest & Marcy, around the corner, in partnership with chef, Ciaran Sweeney. It's one of the best new restaurants to open in Dublin this year, with the ambience of a wine bar.
Back in the spring, I had Forest Avenue's tasting menu one evening, seated at a table with a view of Wyer and his chefs working methodically in the open kitchen. On this occasion, we went for lunch on a Friday and opted for the three-course lunch menu rather than the full tasting.
Wyer's food has evolved over the years and, while it remains resolutely seasonal, he does not restrict himself to Irish ingredients as by doing so he would rule out opportunities for flavour that would otherwise be open to him. That means that, unlike some hyper-local restaurants, you'll find ingredients such as lemons and Parmesan and Comte in the larder at Forest Avenue: if something is going to make a dish better, then Wyer will use it. It's a liberating way to work.
First to the table is a chewy-crusted caramelised onion bread with house butter, and spiced flat breads with a homemade ricotta. All utterly delicious. Next up, a miniature Waldorf salad wrapped in celeriac and topped with a sliver of dexter beef salami, with a dollop of caper and raisin purée for contrast, and a tapioca cracker with cep custard, hazelnut and grated foie gras that's luscious.
Agnolotti has become something of a signature dish at Forest Avenue. Today's version is filled with aged Parmesan, there are sweetcorn and pickled runner beans in the sauce puddled around the pasta at the bottom of the deep bowl. The flavours are intense; it's a lick the bowl moment. A salad of carrot and fig with duck prosciutto, pumpkin seeds and goat's yoghurt is like a colourful winter scene dusted with snow; fresh and light.
Perfectly cooked plaice burnished to a light golden colour is served with parsley root and crisp, melting cavolo nero in a seaweed butter with chanterelles, while greengages and salted lemons contrast with the leg and loin of strongly flavoured Comeragh mountain lamb, served with olive and crushed potato. Wyer pairs rump and rib of beef with black, fermented garlic, charred hispi cabbage and a little remoulade of broccoli stem.
For dessert there are nice contrasts in a bowl of autumnal plums with a sheep's milk ice-cream, and treacle pudding dusted with whey caramel, and the simple elegance of Galway Goat cheese with a purée of apples and candied walnuts.
We pushed the boat out with two excellent bottles of wine. The St Aubin 2014, a creamy, rounded white burgundy with notes of almond (€98), and the Greywacke 2013 Marlborough pinot noir, a powerful red with delicious fruit and spice (€62). With water and coffee, the bill for our lunch for four came to €299.50 before service. Lunch for two, with a more modestly priced wine (such as the lovely organic Saladini Pilastri 'Falerio' from Le Marche, €32), would come in at around €100, and I can't think of a more pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.
I can't finish without noting that there was an expectation that Forest Avenue would have been awarded a Michelin star this year. The star for Heron & Grey is warmly welcomed by all, and seen as an indication that Michelin can shake off its frumpy shackles and give the nod to a modest establishment serving exceptional food. The decision not to give a star to Forest Avenue is inexplicable.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course lunch menu is priced at €26.
ON A BLOW OUT
The six-course tasting menu, available at both lunch and dinner, is priced at €50/60; matching wines are €55. Add water and coffee and you'd be looking at a bill of €240 for two before service.
THE HIGH POINT
John Wyer's food is amongst the very best in Ireland at the moment. Forest Avenue is a very special restaurant.
THE LOW POINT
A slight regret that we went for the three-course lunch menu rather than the six-course tasting menu. Oh well, we'll just have to go back.
9/10 value for money