18 Merrion Row
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 678 8872

Irish Daily Mail
20 February 2016

If you want evidence that Michelin has its head stuck in the unpleasant end of its own gastronintestinal tract, just consider that some months ago Etto received the patronising pat on the head that is a bib gourmand.

In Michelin Think (and bear in mind it comes from a galaxy far, far way) this means, in effect, that Etto offers pretty good value on a night when you’re slumming it away from the essence of foie gras encased in 24 carat gold leaf on a bed of fermented white truffle and a jelly of raw, screaming langoustines. A night when you don’t really give a damn and just want brilliant food and good wine, served with grace and a smile.

This is what gets my chevre about Michelin and I could bore for Ireland on how they just don’t get it and are in thrall to the market and money and demographics. But fear not. I won’t. Michelin is boring enough without me going on about it.

When a restaurant gets any kind of Michelin recognition, I do my damndest to ensure that this doesn’t impinge on my judgement. And I had had a great lunch at Etto (and reported on it here) long before the poor old Michelin inspector rolled up there.

When I went back, this time for dinner, I’d forgotten about the bib (which, come to think of it, sounds appropriately infantile) and so was able to judge the experience as... well, just an experience.

It was the end of a long week and my wife and I were pleasantly reunited in Dublin on a rainy Friday night. We managed to get a table thanks to a cancellation and went along just to relax and eat.

We were not disappointed. Now, Etto is one of that new and still rather rare breed of restaurant in Dublin that does not stand on ceremony but, rather, puts the emphasis all on the food. There’s no starched linen, the tables are close together, it’s all sans frills. Like Locks and Bastible and Forest Avenue and that ilk, it’s the polar opposite of the dead hand of fain daining… sorry, “fine dining”. If you need someone to put a napkin in your lap, Etto will fail you.

It’s one of those restaurants where they want to share their enthusiasm for good food, off-beat food in many instances. There’s no shame in asking what something on the menu is. I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t ask about the osso colla because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean “bone glue”,  which is what my highly imperfect Italian suggested; but I was distracted by the rest of the menu.

Johann’s ox tongue carpaccio was not raw, as I half expected, but cooked and cold, cut in wafer thin slices and presented with little cones of pickled kohl rabi (looking like tiny Hallowe’en ghosts) and a snow storm of grated Parmesan. It was good but could have been great with a bit more acidic zing to counterblance the richness. Just a little would have done the trick, but Homer nods.

Golden, caramelised chunks of Jerusalem artichokes, earthy and minerally, were balanced with the crispness and sweetness of dessert apple slivers and the saline tartness of brittle fragments of Manchego cheese.

The simplicity of a piece of cod (I’ll resist the temptation to say that it passeth all understanding) grilled á point and served with chickpeas cooked with chorizo and something quite close to a bisque, or so it seemed, was an exciting balance between earthiness and elegance with a further dimension of buttery spice.

Thick slices of roast duck breast, on the pinker side of bloody, came with the bittersweet counterpoint of braised endives and, cleverly, the sweet but not too sweet influence of Pedro Ximenenz, the darkest and sweetest sherry of them all. Simple? Well, yes, at first glance it was. But so carefully balanced.

And there it is again. The cornerstone of the cooking at Etto. Balance. That seems to be what it’s all about. And the proof was, literally, in the pudding.

It was blood orange posset, a very old form of dessert, a kind of set curd, sweet and creamy, with a sharp sorbet and tangy yoghurt with ginger bread, all dished up in a tumbler, looking as if it had been thrown together. But it wasn’t. It was cleverly constructed in a way that all the elements could work together. Balance again.

With plenty of wine by glass or carafe and a glass of tawny port to finish, our highly intelligent dinner came to €140.

Michelin has awarded stars for food based on mere rote learning. The cooking at Etto is, by contrast, effortlessly smart.