Review - VM Restaurant: 'Gary O'Hanlon's talent is making VM a destination restaurant'
VM Restaurant, Viewmount House, Dublin Road, Longford. (043) 3341919
We are sitting in the bar of VM Restaurant having a look at the menus and about to order a pre-dinner drink when eagle-eyed Beryl Kearney gives me a hard look.
"Were you here before?" she asks.
It's been at least five years.
"A while ago," says I.
"Thought I recognised you," says she.
That's professionals for you.
I'm with my friend, Rebecca, and our booking is in her name. I have done everything I can to ensure anonymity, but by the time we sit down at our table, I am pretty sure that word has made its way to the kitchen that there's a critic in the house. I have no idea before or during our meal whether chef Gary O'Hanlon is on duty - it is high summer after all, and chefs like to take holidays just as much as the rest of us. The food is as excellent as I expected it would be, and the service is calm and unflustered, but there is no post-service tour of the dining room. It's only later that I get a text from himself hoping that everything was OK with our meal.
You'll know O'Hanlon as the chef on TV show The Restaurant, and from his numerous media appearances. He is, and I do not mean this in any derogatory way, a telly chef - and will soon be adding another string to his bow when he takes part in Celebrity Operation Transformation. O'Hanlon also happens to be a chef who is regularly recognised at awards ceremonies, praised by critics, and admired and liked by his peers. An all-round sound chap who puts himself out there in the best possible way.
One of the reasons for his visible presence in the media is to attract people to his restaurant, which is co-located with the rather lovely Viewmount House in Longford, a Blue Book property run by Beryl and her husband, James.
Viewmount was built in 1620 by Lord Francis Aungier, Baron of Longford, a commissioner of the plantations of Munster in 1616, and Longford in 1620. Subsequently, Thomas Pakenham, who inherited the property when he married Elizabeth Cuffe, a grandniece of Lord Aungier, gave Viewmount a Georgian make-over in the 1700s. Inside all is peace and tranquillity, the rooms are country-house comfortable, and the breakfast is epic. The grounds are beautiful.
There's a commendably short dinner menu, with just four starters, five main courses and four desserts. To get things off to a good start, there's an amuse of Goatsbridge smoked trout and caviar, with little blobs of avocado, a dollop of horseradish remoulade, a matchstick of Granny Smith apple, and a single stem of watercress. The flavours combine brilliantly; it's punchy and delicious.
I'm hoping that Rebecca won't order the braised pig cheek with shiitake marmalade, roast onion celeriac purée and mustard seed, so I make a big deal about how much I think she'll enjoy the Dublin Bay prawns in kataifi pastry, which is the one that always reminds me of Shredded Wheat. The strategy works out as planned. It's a win-win - the pig cheek is rich and luxurious, and the prawns, hidden under a tangle of salted rocket, are plump and lovely, with teasers of red onion compote and mango mayonnaise.
There's a superfluous middle course of either jelly of Richmount Farm elderflower with organic natural yoghurt or a carrot soup. Both are perfectly fine, just too much. (Portions are much bigger down the country than we are used to in Dublin.)
By way of main course there's duck breast glazed in miso, served with yuzu gel, bok choy and a sauce with notes of soy and star anise that's impeccably cooked and full of big flavours - the dish anointed with a snow-like substance that turns out to be freeze-dried duck fat that tastes amazing as it melts on the tongue.
Excellent John Stone beef with vadouvan (a French take on curry spicing) rub comes as slices of tender, pink meat with a curried aioli. There are sides of potato croquettes, potato mash and broccoli. We are starting to feel full.
Dessert is a shared mocha creme caramel topped with cardamom ice-cream, redcurrants from the garden and gorgeous little cinnamon and walnut biscuits, and the cheese board comprises Crozier Blue, O'Brien's Aged Cheddar and St Killian Brie, all of which are just perfect.
With a bottle each of Givry (€45) and water (€5), the bill for two came to €170 before service.
I've been mooching around the country a good bit this summer and it's given me more of an insight into the differences that exist between the restaurant scene in the capital and outside. (It's not just the two types of potatoes.) In Dublin and other urban centres, a restaurant has a decent shot at survival if it is good, no matter how esoteric its offering.
That's not the case in other parts of the country, where a restaurant has to cater to everyone from the young couple on a special date (very cute they were too), to a family birthday, to the business colleagues having dinner, as Restaurant VM did on the night of our visit. Gary O'Hanlon is doing a great job keeping all of the people happy all of the time - lucky Longford.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
VM's three-course €35 early bird is available Wednesday to Friday from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. It might feature the braised pig cheek, the pappardelle with asparagus, garden peas, broad beans, lemon pesto, Parmesan cream and pine nuts that our waitress said is her favourite dish, and a vanilla bean mascarpone cheesecake.
ON A OUT BLOW
Dinner is €60, after that it's down to wine.
THE HIGH POINT
Gary O'Hanlon's talent makes VM a destination restaurant.
THE LOW POINT
It's time to lose the leather chairs.