Sunday 17 December 2017

Paolo Tullio: Striking gold on the green

Paolo TUllio

I've been hearing about Residence for quite a few years. It's the kind of club that has attracted a lot of people I know and many of them have said to me that it's a place I should review. However, I didn't think there was any sense in reviewing a dining room where only members could eat, closed to the average reader.

If you've followed any restaurant news in the past year, you'll probably know that Residence, once the brainchild of the Stokes twins, went into receivership and was subsequently sold. Along with the change in management came a change in policy, and now Residence is open for lunch to all comers.

I took that as my cue to finally visit it. It's housed in one of the prettier houses on St Stephen's Green, a three-bay, ivy-covered gem with all manner of original features intact. The entrance hall is quite spacious, and here you'll find a concierge sitting at a desk to welcome you, reminding you that this was set up as a club. Like many of the houses surrounding the Green, it's bigger inside than you might expect -- a kind of Tardis effect.

A very elegant staircase leads you up to the dining room. If you look around you as ascend, you'll see the very beautiful stucco work on the ceilings -- Italianate and dating from the 1700s. Most of the first floor, which was presumably the piano nobile, is comprised of dining rooms.

My guest, Anthony Fitzgerald, and I got a table in the room at the front of the house, overlooking the Green. Like the hallway, it has an elaborately decorated ceiling, a fine marble fireplace and a general sense of comfort and style.

With surroundings like this, you could be forgiven for thinking that the menu would have prices that would make your eyes water. There is such an air of luxury and comfort, right down to the fine napery, shining glassware and furniture, that you can't help but feel your wallet will be in for a battering. Then, you get the menus.

I have to say, my initial response was surprise bordering on shock. The three-course lunch menu is €25, a price that you could find in some very ordinary eateries. And these were not simple, cheap dishes: starters included seared scallops and salt-cured foie gras, and mains included Atlantic cod, duck breast, free-range chicken and loin of venison -- all dishes that you might expect to see with a premium price attached.

I let Anthony choose first and he went for the scallops followed by the venison, so I chose the braised fennel followed by the duck breast. Good, freshly made breads arrived along with some sparkling water, and we settled in to await what looked on the menu like a well-thought-out meal.

At this point, it's worth saying that the chef in Residence is Graham Neville, who was head chef in the Michelin-starred Thornton's across the Green. That provenance was instantly on show when the starters arrived. Both plates looked as pretty as a picture, beautifully presented and decorated. It's a level of detail that you find only in the best restaurants, where every element on the plate has been considered and perfected.

Anthony's scallops were, of course, perfectly cooked and were complemented with a bisque made from their coral. Delicately flavoured, they could have been served in the most expensive dining rooms in the city.

Ever since I'd ordered my starter, I was wondering what you could do with fennel to make it exciting. I needn't have worried. A red-pepper purée and Bluebell goat's cheese accompanied the tiny fennel bulbs, a combination of flavours that I thoroughly enjoyed.

With the starters finished, it was obvious that we were in the hands of an accomplished chef and we started to really look forward to what the main courses had to offer.

No surprises, then, when I tell you they were every bit as good as the starters. Anthony's loin of Wicklow venison had been sliced into medallions, was cooked quite rare and came with a Cognac and pepper sauce. Alongside it was a delicious parsnip purée and sprouts -- very seasonal -- and on the table between us was a small pot of the most delicious crushed potato and bacon.

I tried very hard to limit my consumption of the potato, but eventually gave up on this self-deprivation and ate loads of it, it was so delicious.

Every bit as good as Anthony's venison dish was my duck. Apart from the tender breast, there were some of my favourite mushrooms -- girolles -- plus beetroot and celery on the plate, all combined with great attention to detail and skill.

Of course we had desserts -- we just had to see what the kitchen was capable of. We ordered an apple tart tatin and a poached-pear cheesecake, both excellent.

If I've given you the impression that Residence has turned into some kind of charity soup kitchen, dispensing wonderful food at knock-down prices, in the interests of balance I have to tell you that, like everywhere else, they need to make money. Clearly it's not on the food, but it's on the drinks.

Very few wines on the list are less than €30 and you'll pay €3.70 for an espresso, which may be a record.

But here's the thing: you're happy to pay it because you've probably had one of the best- value meals in the city. Anthony and I shared a bottle of a decent Valpolicella priced at €38, which brought our bill, including a 12.5pc service charge, to €111.26.

Irish Independent

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