18-19 Parnell Square
Phone: 01 873 2266
Chapter One’s cooking is brilliant but never flash, to the point where it’s a case of art concealing art. It’s profoundly Irish. It’s also very, very sophisticated. Eating here is often a revelation.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on what’s unique about Chapter One and the best I can do is to mention, in addition to sensational, imaginative, disciplined cooking an outstanding sensitivity to what individual diners want. It’s a place where I feel relaxed enough to put my elbows on the table but, equally, it’s the kind of place where people of a different bent can luxuriate in formality. The staff seem to take the emotional and sociable temperature of the customers and titrate the treatment accordingly.
I once took a foreign billionaire to lunch at Chapter One, as one has to from time to time. His request was for the best restaurant that’s closest to the airport and I reckoned that Ross Lewis’s eating emporium just about fitted the bill.
Just about, in terms of location, I should stress. It’s amongst the very, very best. If there is such a thing as a best restaurant it may well be it. It is also one of the very few meals in the world where I have eaten more than one simply flawless meal.
Anyway, said billionaire told me after he had folded away his napkin: “That’s possibly the best meal I’ve had in ten years.” We agreed that it was also the best lamb that we had ever tasted – Caor Acla, the mountain lamb from Achill in County Mayo of which Mr Lewis is a champion.
In that little story lies the kernel of what Chapter One is all about: taking exceptional produce and applying a kind of culinary wizardry to it in order to present to us, on a plate, something that tastes intensely of itself but which is framed, if you like, in a context of other flavours and colours and textures that don’t compete but which enhances the overall effect.
Too many chefs, even ones with great talent, don’t know when to stop. In effect, their love of showing off interferes with the food. But Ross Lewis has that draconian self-discipline that is born of true confidence and, as a result, his cooking has a purity and intensity that could occasionally be confused for simplicity. But there’s nothing simple about the dishes and their journey from raw material to work of art.
Chapter One’s commitment to the best seasonal produce might sound like a cliché at this stage; it’s a mantra that is so overused as to have lost much of its meaning. But it was pioneered in Dublin at Chapter One from day the restaurant opened in 1992 and it remains absolutely true to that philosophy.
I’d go so far as to say that Chapter One does two very important things. The cooking is brilliant but never flash, to the point where it’s a case of art concealing art. Not that it ever looks easy, at least not once you taste.
And the second thing is this. Chapter One is rooted in a sense of place and it’s profoundly Irish. It’s also very, very sophisticated.
It has a Michelin star, if you care about such things. More importantly, it has one of the best wine selections in the country while every member of staff is absolutely devoted to making sure you have a good time – while understanding, by instinct, how you yourself define that. It’s a form of magic.
Chapter One is on the north side of the city which is the less fashionable bit. If you worry about such things, please leave space for the rest of us.