Restaurant review: 'Restaurants don't stay in business as long as this one without doing something right'
5 Molesworth Place, Schoolhouse Lane, Dublin 2. onepico.com
I've said it before and I'll say it again - restaurants are about so much more than food. It's now so rare to get a bad restaurant meal, particularly in the capital, that the intangibles - the myriad factors that combine to form the 'experience' each time that we visit a restaurant - are more important than ever. They are the reason why one establishment fails to excite, while another thrills. I hadn't eaten in One Pico for several years when I return one Thursday lunchtime. It's one of those restaurants that has been part of the fabric of the city for a long time, the premises formerly home to Oliver Caffrey's Polo One, an establishment of undeniable glamour, back in the day. Restaurants don't stay in business as long as One Pico has done without doing something right and I've been hearing good things about chef Ciaran McGill's food for a while.
I'm with a journalist friend who last ate here as the guest of another restaurant critic several years ago. She understands the drill - I get the seat with the view so that I can survey the room. In one corner there's a newly elected MEP, his back to the room. The days when politicians such as Charlie Haughey sat centre stage in the Mirabeau and Le Coq Hardi, without giving a fig about who might be taking note of what they were eating and drinking, are long gone. At another table, two men are drinking serious reds. It's only 1.30pm but they are already well into their second bottle and it doesn't look as if it will stop there. Two women kick off a celebratory lunch with a glass of champagne; the other tables are occupied by business lunches and small groups of friends and families. Despite the fact that the restaurant is full, there is an almost complete lack of buzz in the room. Voices are muted, and the soft furnishings and acoustics of the room ensure that the noise level never rises above decorous.
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A starter of pea veloute is the first confirmation that the positive reports of Ciaran McGill's cooking are spot on. At the bottom of the soup plate is a little heap of fresh peas flecked with shards of Iberico ham, on top of which sits a single raviolo of 18-month aged Parmesan that's savoury and delicious. The veloute is poured into the soup plate from a jug. It's vivid green and heady with the promise of summer. Lobster ravioli come in a deeply flavoursome crab bisque, adorned with shavings of summer truffle and what I think is a shellfish oil; a luxe and lovely dish.
A modestly-sized piece of cod is accompanied by a trio of deep-fried florets of cauliflower and cauliflower purée, with mussels, Goatsbridge caviare and capers. The pop of the caviare and astringency of the capers are a nice counterpoint to impeccably cooked fish.
Delicate violet artichokes, nettle gnocchi that don't taste of anything much, a Coolea fondue that makes up for it and hazelnut vinaigrette, with thin (flaxseed?) crackers for crunch and texture is a fine vegetarian option. Pommes purée with aged Comte and crispy shallots sounds sublime but is dull once all the interesting stuff on the top is gone.
We share a pudding of Valrhona manjari cremeux with almonds, whipped ganache and tonka bean ice cream, that is rather good, although the subtlety of tonka beans continues to be lost on me.
Service is unobtrusive, as lacking in personality as the restaurant itself. I suspect that's deliberate, part of a strategy that has positioned One Pico as a city centre venue that can be all things to all people, somewhere to mark an occasion, entertain a client, treat an elderly aunt. If that makes for a dull experience, then so be it; Ciaran McGill's food is excellent, and you can always bring the buzz with you.
Our bill for lunch for two comes to €124.25 before service, which just goes to show how the cost of a €25 set lunch can creep up. The total includes a €10 supplement for the lobster, €5.50 for the side order of mashed potato, €12.50 for that shared dessert, €35.75 for three glasses of wine and a whopping €11 for two double espressos.
ON A BUDGET
Stick to the two-course set menu, and lunch for two will cost €50 before drinks or service.
ON A BLOW OUT
If you visit One Pico for dinner and eat lobster ravioli, turbot with white asparagus, cockles and courgette flowers, and buttermilk panna cotta, the bill for two will come to €147 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Ciaran McGill is cooking to a very high standard.
THE LOW POINT
One Pico lacks personality.