IN WHICH I TACKLE THE THORNY TASK OF
REVIEWING A FLAWLESS MEAL
18-19 Parnell Square
Phone: 01 873 2266
Irish Daily Mail
26 November 2016
Writing a review of a flawless meal is not easy. Mind you, it’s not something that I’m often required to do, the reality of life being as it is.
I’ve been reviewing restaurants for over twenty years and a great deal has changed. It used be a case of choosing places somewhat at random, eating there and reporting back.
I don’t take the random route any more; instead, I try to seek out the good places, essentially because writing about rubbish restaurants isn’t much fun for me even if some readers enjoy a good public roasting. It probably appeals to the same instinct that encouraged the crowd to pelt the unfortunate folk in the stocks with rancid turnips.
Anyway, there was no risk of my having to dip my pen in vitriol when I decided to lunch at Chapter One. You could transport it to anywhere in the world and it would still get the same plaudits.
I mean, there are people who fly in to Dublin just to have lunch there. Seriously. And you know what? I don’t blame them (although I will admit to a luminously verdant sense of jealousy).
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.
We had the set lunch and asked Ed Joliffe, sommelier and much more, to choose wines for us. This is what I always do in restaurants at this level; they know much better than I do what will go with what and such places will never con you into drinking something hugely expensive.
A herb crusted kromeski of Achill lamb was a little box-shaped affair composed of filaments of profoundly lamby meat, obviously very slowly cooked, encased in a very fine green crust – more a powder of herbs, really – served with pickled dulse (and some crisped too) and a little crunchy kohl rabi.
This was an outstanding dish for its sense of origin. The lamb’s sweetness and marine tang was pointed up by the seaweed while the herb element reflected the kind of grazing these lucky animals have in terms of wild plants. It takes a certain kind of genius to think of this combination and then actually translate it into a reality.
My better half had wood pigeon terrine studded with little cubes of foie gras and dotted on top with piped parfait of foie gras. Sharpness was provided by mirabelle plum and a gel made from the same; crunch was by way of crisped cubes of brioche.
Then came breast of pheasant, cut into two halves, perfectly moist (which, if you’ve ever roasted this game bird, you will know is a remarkably elusive state) and served with a very elegant little tower composed of much of the rest of the bird, cooked slowly, some of it smoked. There was also a little barley risotto, intensely savoury, and a mushroom purée that was the essence of Autumn woodland with the loud pedal firmly applied.
Skate, a much undervalued fish, was stuffed with a little crab meat. This was, by Chapter One’s standards, a simple dish, the seafood’s straightforwardness emphasised by lovely green tastes in the form of cucumber butter (how do they do that?; again, it was essence of cucumber), and tiny, minerally nettle dumplings. And there was glazed salsify, something of which we need to see much more.
Our one dessert was a remarkable composition of elements in one glass – a small tumbler, really – into which a spoon was plunged to the bottom to bring up all the strata in one mouthful: there was a hot very dark chocolate mousse with – I think – malted barley milk, roast coffee ice cream and, finally the citrus cut of lemon jelly. The pastry chef must have been a conductor of orchestras in another life.
We also had three cheeses, each in impeccable condition: West Cork’s Durrus, Ulster’s Young Buck and, new to us and a great discovery, Via Mala from Switzerland.
With mineral water and two glasses of wine this legendary lunch came to €122.45.
So, flawless then? Yep. Flawless. Ross Lewis and head chef Eric Matthews head a truly exceptional team. I salute!