Forest Avenue 8 sussex terrace, dublin 4 01-667-8337 HHHHI
A Marriage made in heaven
Minced pies and mulled wine. A three-part harmony of White Christmas being sung in the snow, with mistletoe. That feeling when your present-wrapping is behind you and a blazing fire beside you and a glass of something delicious before you. Some combinations really do add up to more than the sum of their parts.
And they're not always the most likely of combinations. Opposites can prove perfect pairings. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave singing Where the Wild Roses Grow together. Forest Avenue's chocolate mousse and sea salt ice cream and sweet red Tannat-Malbec dessert wine.
The pair behind one of Dublin's most interesting restaurant openings enjoy a similar synergy. John Wyer is a soft-spoken fella from Cork, Sandy Sabek a straight-talking gal from Queens, NYC (home to the ubiquitous Forest Avenue). They met in the kitchen. They married. He creates finessed savoury food, she conjures up kick-ass desserts.
They both love bold combinations, thinking outside the box and having fun with food. They've both done the Michelin schtick (in l'Ecrivain, where they were head chef and pastry chef). Later they ran the Supper Club Project together, hosted in Lynda Booth's Dublin Cookery School where they were tutors. Then John opened Mulberry Gardens, where he tested Dublin's resistance to a weekly changing set menu with minimal choice. It was only a matter of time before they found their own place to call home, and they've chosen this two-floor space next door to O'Brien's off Leeson Street to do just that.
The concept goes further than Mulberry Gardens, but the same marriage of carefree adventure and careful confidence is here. If you go on a weekend night, as we did, you'll be getting the five-course tasting menu. At €48 a head, it ain't cheap, but it sure ain't expensive for the quality of what you get.
Brioche-style potato bread and tangy homemade crème fraiche set the tone. Then a flurry of "snacks" cranked up the flavour-factor, each delivered with pride by the head chef himself.
The salad course of salt-baked celeriac with slivers of sweet pastrami, scatterings of pickled vegetables, hazelnuts and landcress and feathery shavings of horseradish was possibly my favourite, followed closely by the third course. A peeled, perfectly soft-boiled egg sat atop steamed black cabbage and home-made orecchiette ("little ears") pasta. Chef shaved some frozen brown butter over the lot, I burst the egg and its yolk swam among the earthy trompette mushrooms and sweet squash puree. Both dishes were presented and executed beautifully, and nailed that more-than-the-sum thing you're after in a really well-conceived plate of food.
My main course didn't. Don't get me wrong, the cod was perfectly seared and fell apart in moist shards of pristine flesh. But the unheralded salsify and kale dominated. Only on the final forkful did I glimpse what the pairing of pureed broccoli, spiced miso butter, almonds and mussels might have been, had it been as perfectly balanced as the rest of the cooking. The seared loin of venison, however, was a masterclass in cooking meat rare so that flavour and texture can shine. Braised venison acted as a relish, pickled quince as a textural counterpoint, and black walnuts as a seasoning, while the carmelised orange beetroot tasted like candyfloss gone feral. Brilliant.
Dessert was that sublime marriage of chocolate cremeux (think airy-light mousse) and sea salt ice cream with pear and spiced bread. We passed on the suggested dessert wine, having enjoyed the house cocktails (sake, cucumber, lychee and ginger ale) and Rolf Binder Eden Valley Riesling from the interesting little list through which our excellent waitress steered us with great enthusiasm. She was delighted when we drank our Cloud Picker single origin drip coffee neat and unsweetened. Petit fours of doughnuts and custard did the trick.
Is Forest Avenue perfect? Not yet. Is it fun, and delicious, and trying to do something different? Absolutely. And do all the elements add up to a dining destination worthy of your time and money? Damn right, even if just to see how this quirky newcomer settles into the unique groove it has carved out for itself.
WHY GO: For an adventure in top-notch food served in laid-back, linen-free style
WHAT TO ORDER: The tasting menu removes the FOMO of ordering, but don't miss the house cocktail (€9)
WHO TO BRING: A glammed-up date -- remember, the diners bring the colour
HOW MUCH: €48 a head for food, plus whatever you drink