Review - Heron & Grey: 'A 12-course meal of dynamic, innovative, flavoursome food'
HERON & GREY, Blackrock Market, 19a Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin. (01) 212 3676
A number years of ago, I threw my name into the hat for a booking at El Bulli, Ferran Adrià's three-Michelin-star restaurant near Roses in Spain, then officially the best restaurant in the world. I don't remember exactly how the process worked, but you had to email in your request... and wait. I didn't hold out any great hopes - there were all sorts of statistics about how many applications the restaurant received compared to the number of diners who could be accommodated, so it was a truly great surprise when the offer of a table for four came through. Adrià's food was extraordinary. I don't remember the final bill other than that it was hefty, but it was definitely worth it.
Last year, I was in Modena on holiday and of course wanted to eat at Francescana, Massimo Bottura's restaurant, which has three Michelin stars and was the best restaurant in the world in 2016 (it currently holds the number-two spot). There was no availability for any of the days that we were going to be in the city, but I put my name down for every lunch and dinner service - eight in all - and crossed my fingers. A week before the trip, I got an email offering us a table for lunch. It's the most money that I have ever spent on a meal (the 10-course tasting menu is €250, the wine pairings another €140) but I have no regrets.
A couple of weeks ago, I was with a group of people who are involved in working with or writing about food in Ireland, and some were complaining that Heron & Grey, a tiny restaurant in Blackrock, Co Dublin, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2016 after less than a year in business, had become "precious" and "developed notions". I was curious to know how they had formed this opinion, as my experience at the friendly H&G has never been anything but wholly positive. Delving a little deeper, it turned out that they were annoyed that it was so difficult to get a table; some of those complaining so bitterly had never actually eaten there.
Heron & Grey is a tiny restaurant, with just over 20 seats. Because its proprietors, Andrew Heron and Damien Grey, are committed to work/life balance in an industry not naturally conducive to this, they open only three nights a week. That means they will feed just 60-odd diners each week, so if you want to eat there, you have to familiarise yourself with their booking system and make a note in your diary as to when the next monthly release of tables will be, just as you would if you were trying to secure a concert ticket. Your chances are just as good as anyone else's. (And H&G operates a waiting list; tables do come up and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.)
Assuming that you do manage to get into H&G, what can you expect when you get there? Well, not the food that I ate there last month, because by now the menu will have changed entirely. (If you look at the restaurant's website, you'll be able to see a list of the seasonal ingredients, many from H&G's own allotment, with which the kitchen works.) What you will get is a 12-course meal of dynamic, innovative and - most importantly - flavoursome food that will surprise and delight. There might be the ascetic simplicity of a dish described as 'Allotment Kimchi - Herring - Kohlrabi', or the 'Refined Unwaxed Lemon Textures', which another restaurant might label a palate-cleanser. You might eat pigeon with wild garlic and hazelnut, or fermented sheep's cheese and blood orange. You will always have chocolate in one form or another. The menu is structured as a slow progression throughout the five tastes, starting with bitter, followed by sour, all the time leading towards a clear expression of salt and savoury flavours, before finishing with sweet.
"The menu establishes each taste in the palate slowly throughout the course of your meal," Andrew Heron explains. "As your palate builds in experience, so too does the menu in complexity of flavour. All menus then finish naturally in sweet, where your palate will begin to shut down as sugar will dominate all other flavour profiles, thus leaving your senses at their rightful conclusion: satisfied. Wines are also mapped in line with this graph. Our whites assist and heighten characteristics of the food, while our reds, as a contrast, focus on acidity, spice and bitterness, so will push and contest the flavours in a dish."
For this multi-sensory experience, with each dish served and explained (and how!) by the enthusiastic and endearing proprietors, you will be asked to stump up the not-so-grand sum of €74. If you order a full pairing of wines - and you really, really should, because you will not find these in other restaurants, and they change according to each menu and the selection is brilliant - then it will cost you another €53. Expect to pay around €150pp in total including service and water.
The pair say that they have always regarded H&G as a "test kitchen concept" which has evolved to something greater, but is still a stepping stone to a more ambitious idea. Hence nine out of 10 rather than a perfect score, and I'll look forward to enjoying H&G's continuing evolution.
10/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
If you skip the wine pairings and drink tap water, dinner will cost €74 per person.
ON A BLOW-OUT
If you have the full wine pairings, dinner for two with sparkling water will cost around €300 including service.
THE HIGH POINT
Lovely Leo was at the next table.
THE LOW POINT
The only low is that Heron & Grey can accommodate just 60-odd diners each week, which means that, for the time being at least, it's an experience open only to those who have their wits about them when it comes to online reservations.