22 Dawson Street
Irish Daily Mail
12 November 2016
That old truism about great dishes tasting of much more than just the sum of their parts came to mind last week as I experienced what has to be one of the three or four most wonderful things I’ve ever tasted.
It was so good, I had to pinch myself in the late lunchtime quiet of the dining room of Amuse on Dawson Street while the Luas works continued right outside the window.
Put simply, there was a piece – an ingot, given the cost of the raw material – of yellow fin tuna loin, totally raw and completely without any grain or fibre to it. In a sense it was like the most amazing jelly you can imagine. It tasted of tuna and sesame and very, very fine soya sauce. And there was more: little explosions of flavour in the form of dabs of gel or tiny pools of liquid.
Put together on a fork and allowed to melt – literally melt, on this occasion – in the mouth, all the elements suddenly had my tastebuds doing something between an ecstatic dance and a firework display. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. This dish has to be experienced.
However, I decided to email the chef Conor Dempsey to ask exactly what was on my plate and this is what he said: “Loin of yellow fin tuna, Parma ham, pickled carrot, cucumber gel, pickle, ginger purée, tapioca pearls marinated in 3 year old organic soy sauce from Kamebishi, Okinawa, Japan, sushi rice and sesame cracker, ponzu dressing.”
“All our Soy products come from the last House in Kamebishi making Soy Sauce and other fermented products 100% organically using traditional techniques,” he added. “Their fermenting cedarwood barrels are up to 400 years old and require no additional bacteria to start fermentation.” I think you probably get the picture here.
But this was the tasting menu. There’s even more.
An amuse bouche comprised three little crisps, each with a different topping. A purple potato crisp came with goat’s curd, blueberry and powdered raspberry. The nori seaweed and tapioca one was with liver parfait. The squid ink and quinoa one came with a hazelnut and shrimp combination that is impossible to describe; this will be a recurring theme.
In addition, there was a little portion of pumpkin and coconut mousse, warm, with sea trout roe. Each of these were explosions of flavour, wildly eclectic contrasts of texture, of fruitiness and acidity, umami and every taste sensation you can imagine, all in harmony, all meticulously judged, all synergised.
Exactly the same can be said of each course in this outstanding meal.
I would need twice this space to describe in detail each dish so I’ll confine myself to, if you like, the headlines. Variations on sweetcorn included toasted kernels, a curd and even the fried silks that sprout from the top of the cob; there were tiny marinated anchovies, an intense broth of Roscoff onion with mirin and – I’m told – a little seaweed oil.
After the tuna came a piece of cod topped with mugi miso (fermented from barley) with a dashi reduction and yuzu gel (from the rare and expensive Japanese citrus fruit) plus the crunch of filaments of pak choi and the richness of a butter and dashi emulsion.
Then came breast of pheasant, cooked quite pink and therefore, unusually, really moist. The rest is a kind of pleasurable blur but Conor’s email fills in the gaps. There was salt-baked pak choi and a raw pak choi slaw, fermented soya beans and fermented chilli, ginger, raisins and a reduced broth made from the bones. The taste of the pheasant was not lost or even muted in this remarkable spectrum of elements; everything shone through with amazing clarity.
Pudding was outstanding too: a brilliantly concentrated, almost savoury chocolate ganache, a blackberry mousse in a perfect sphere, the tartness of pineapple sorbet and an undercurrent of Asian spices.
I was blown away by Conor Dempsey's food just over two years ago. On this occasion I found his cooking has reached new heights. What he does is unique in Ireland.
You could argue that his lack of Michelin stars is a scandal; I prefer to think that it underlines how Michelin no longer knows its fat arse from its elbow.
It’s the kind of meticulous, precise, obsessional cooking that you will find if you look hard enough in Paris, Berlin, London. That we have a restaurant like Amuse in a city of not much more than a million souls is nothing short of a miracle. I just hope enough of us appreciate it.
That fashionable Nordic thing, the Scandi schtick is very then. This Franco-Japanese cuisine, for want of a much more subtle name, is way ahead of the curve.
The tasting menu for two came to €80 before wine or service. And as we were marking my daughter’s TCD Commencements I went a little mad and ordered Meursault.