8 Sussex Avenue
Phone: 01 667 8337
Irish Daily Mail
12 December 2015
The fact that it has taken me so long to return to Forest Avenue – a little over two years – is a tribute to Dublin’s burgeoning restaurant scene. So much has been happening – and so much of it good – that it’s hard to keep up, let alone to return to great discoveries made along the way.
It’s also a restaurant that doesn’t do any shouting. From the very start, it’s been an understated, softly spoken kind of place that adopts the most polite take-it-or-leave-it attitude that you can imagine. By which I mean, there are people who will get Forest Avenue and lots of other people who won’t.
There’s another quiet aspect. The kitchen here is open – very open – and most of the tables have a view of what’s happening there. It’s a model of calm, precise, choreographed work by the team, no raised voices, just a sense of common purpose. And there’s a sense of something else, too: commitment to doing something really well.
Forest Avenue is all about the food. There’s no signage outside, just a copy of the menu stuck in the window. There are proper glasses and cutlery, of course, but no table cloths or standing on ceremony. There are breeze block walls painted white. Nothing distracts from what’s happening on the plates.
The name, incidentally, comes from the street in Queen’s, New York, where front-of-house Sandy Wyer grew up; her Irish husband, John, heads the kitchen.
The tasting menu starts with a series of beautifully crafted little morsels of taste: whipped goat’s cheese with truffled honey, slow cooked filaments of beef encased in a crisp breadcrumb lozenge, a tiny tart of silky chickpea puree with bacon jam and Gruyère, rising to the crescendo of a soup of mushrooms with pickled mushrooms adorned with an ethereal baton of pastry topped with fine duck confit and foie gras.
So, even before we got down to the actual, you know, courses, we were eating things of such delicacy, such impeccable judgement, such intelligent refinement that we were beginning to purr.
Then came a salad of muscat pumpkin, in three different forms, ranging from silkiness to bite, spiked with the citric tang of clementine, the sweetness enhanced by a touch of beetroot, crunch and bitterness brought by delicate drifts of tardivo radicchio and, centre stage, nuggets of burrata, the creamiest of mozzarella. This is a dazzling spectrum of tastes, textures, even colours, all combining to create an essential overall taste.
The next course was, in a sense, the essence of seasonality. Slices of tender but earthy roast celeriac partnered with winter chanterelles (the brown topped ones) with wilted gem lettuce (very fashionable, but very good), Parmesan and duck prosciutto made in house, the latter crisped under the grill. This dish was all about umami, intensely savoury, deliciously unexpected, planned and constructed with true knowledge of the intrinsic qualities of each of the raw materials. It was a symphony, and that’s not a phrase I use very often.
Main courses offered a choice between plaice and venison. The fish was browned, just, in the pan, and mounted on a bed of tiny, sweet mussels with melted leeks, a chastely discreet kiss of cauliflower and a baton of stout salsify (which was a smidgin undercooked and therefore a bit tougher than ideal; the only flaw in the whole meal).
Meltingly tender venison, rare and juicy, packed with flavour but not aggressively gamey by any means, came with Hamburg parsley root (reminding me how rarely this is seen in Ireland and also to grow it next year), the most delicate red cabbage I’ve ever encountered and some intensely mushroomy trompettes de mort. Surely, I don’t need to add further comment?
We finished by sharing pud and cheese. There was what I can only call a little ingot of chocolate tart, so dark, so rich, so concentrated that it recalled the umami of earlier dishes, served with brown butter ice cream (the clue is in the name; it was fabulous). The cheese was the zesty and bracingly fresh and lightly blue Persillé du Marais made with goat’s milk in the Loire region.
Espressos were impeccable, and that includes the temperature of serving (which is not as common as you might imagine). The tasting menu which we enjoyed costs €59 for the six courses, our plentiful still and sparkling filtered water, unlimited, cost €1 per person. Needless to say, we went to town a little on the wine side, but wine prices start at €7 for a decent glass.