Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at The Greenhouse, Dublin 2
It seems to happen about once a year. That's when I leave a restaurant in a state of excitement and with a burning urge to tell you about it. What excites me, of course, is good food, but more specifically I get excited by new ideas and novel flavour combinations coupled with great culinary skill.
To put the following into perspective, so far this year I've eaten in a three-star Michelin restaurant and two two-star restaurants, which are representative of the very finest restaurant food available, or at least should be.
So if I'm excited by what follows -- and I am -- then it follows that the food must have been better than what I got in the starred restaurants.
I had gone to The Greenhouse, Eamonn O'Reilly's newest venture, which is a revamped Bleu with chef Mickael Viljanen at the helm.
If you follow foodie news, you'll know that last year Mickael won Chef of the Year for his cooking in Gregan's Castle.
This was the year that I intended to drive to Clare to taste Mickael's food, but since he's moved to Dublin he's spared me the long drive.
The evening began well, as The Blonde and myself found a parking spot on the Green, just round the corner from The Greenhouse. We arrived in The Greenhouse to find a much-revamped interior, plush upholstered seats and very beautifully set tables.
The dining room isn't large, and it's divided by an accessibility ramp that leads to the kitchen. Three tables are on one side of this and the rest on the other, behind a screen. We got a table up the steps, behind the coffee machine.
Even a brief look at the menu makes it clear you're in the hands of an inventive chef. Here's a few quotes from the dinner menu: salmon poached in chicken fat, duck hearts, a confit egg yolk, burnt aubergine and a dessert of green tomatoes -- all new to me.
We had a few dining choices, there was the seven-course tasting menu at €78 or five courses for €68, or there was the set dinner where two courses were priced at €45 and three were €56.
We decided that we'd both eat from the set dinner menu, which offered two choices for each course. That meant we could divide up the choices perfectly between us. Here's how it went: the salmon for The Blonde followed by the lamb, and the foie gras royale for me, followed by the cod.
The first thing that arrived at the table were the breads, two kinds in a linen bag with a heated base keeping the breads warm, and a dark Finnish bread, which was served on a marble base.
Shortly after that came the amuses bouches, three of them. A dark Parmesan crisp, two small savoury truffles and, most extraordinary of all, two small savoury meringues with a filling of smoked fish eggs. This last combination exploded in my mouth creating taste sensations that were entirely new to me.
Normally The Blonde doesn't go big on cheffy stuff, but she was being seduced by this meal. The amuses bouches left her happy, but the starters left her even more so.
She picked the salmon poached in chicken fat, which came with horseradish, avocado and radishes. The plate was very prettily presented and despite her abhorrence of fat, she pronounced the salmon delicious.
Meanwhile, I was enthusing over my foie gras, which was served as a parfait in a small Mason jar and was topped off with a frozen apple puree and walnuts.
Next came the lamb and the cod. The Blonde's dish of lamb consisted of rump and belly of lamb with wild garlic, burnt aubergine and poivrade artichokes from France.
The lamb had been marinated and slow cooked, which resulted in The Blonde saying: "That's the best lamb I've ever eaten."
I had the cod. When you cook fish there's a very brief window in time when the raw fish becomes a just-cooked fish. Ideally that's how it should come to you, but it does need expert timing. That's how I got it -- perfect, with a couple of perfectly cooked scallops alongside it and the whole drizzled with a fine bouillabaisse.
There was also a small yellow confit egg yolk, which had a texture and a flavour of nothing I've had before. It was cooked sous vide, which is fast becoming the chefs' choice of cooking method for many dishes. If you haven't met it before, it involves vacuum packing what you want to cook and cooking it in a water bath, normally at a low heat for a long time.
It was obvious to us both that we'd have to try the desserts. The Blonde tried the passion-fruit souffle and I had the green tomato and Glenisk goats' milk sorbet. The idea of a savoury dessert isn't new to me, but this was superbly done.
The Blonde said: "Taste this souffle." I replied: "No thanks, I want to keep the savoury taste in my mouth." She insisted and I tried it.
Then it became a fight between us to finish it. It was utterly delicious, perhaps one of the nicest things I've eaten.
With our tea and espresso came eight utterly delicious petits fours, one of them an onion toffee. It might sound weird, but the sweet onion and toffee went well together. It was just another example of the flavour bombs that you can experience in The Greenhouse.
If you're the sort of person that enjoys the kind of food that you'd never be able to cook at home, then this is a restaurant that you should try. It was by a long way the best meal I've eaten in the past year.
If Mickael Viljanen hasn't picked up a Michelin star by next year, I'll be amazed. We left after paying a bill of €139.85, which to my mind was also great value.
Tel: 01 6767015
On a budget
The best option for budget dining is to go for lunch. The menu is priced at three courses for €30, or two for €25 and it offers a few choices, including the delicious passion-fruit souffle.
On a blowout
The obvious choice for a blow-out is to go for the €78 seven-course tasting menu for dinner. You can further up your bill by choosing the matching wines, which will add an extra €45 per person.