Forest & Marcy
126 Upper Leeson Street
Phone: 01 660 2840
Irish Daily Mail
28 May 2016
At the risk of sounding like a gossip columnist, I have to say that the “hottest” restaurant opening of late in the capital has been Forest & Marcy on Upper Leeson Street. It’s not just because it is, in a sense, an offshoot of Forest Avenue, where John and Sandy Wyer have been wowing the foodistas with dishes that reset the rules for Dublin eating. Nor that Ciarán Sweeney is the chef, a man whose pop-ups similarly rewrote a lot of rules.
It’s also in a seriously fashionable part of the city (I counted at least two multi-millionaires on the Wednesday evening I visited and they were just the ones I recognised) and the fit-out is a lot more lavish, though in a restrained and less-is-more kind of way than the ad hoc minimalist chic of Forest Avenue.
Forest & Marcy is destined to create waves. I visited earlier than is my usual policy but I see that my fellow critics were like greyhounds out of the traps. I gave it ten days to settle down and I have to say that the cooking was flawless, at least in the handful of dishes that we chose to try.
I want to stress that this is not a restaurant where you go when you want a big feed. The food here borders on tittilation and I have no problem with that. There are lots of places where you can go if you just want to fill up. Some of them are very good, the rest of them do fuel rather than a food experience.
Forest & Marcy, which thinks of itself as a wine bar, suits my appetite but it won’t be to everyone’s requirements. This is urban feeding to the Nth degree, not based on the needs of people who have done hard physical work during the day nor those who have been conditioned to confuse bulk for quality.
Ciarán Sweeney’s dishes are, in their varying ways, jewel-like and precise, small exercises in flavour and texture, where the sum of the parts is always more than seems to make logical sense. They are the very essence of what you don’t do at home and, in that sense, are all about cutting edge restaurant food. They are experiences, intriguing, mysterious, always compelling.
But the menu descriptions are bald and basic, as if to lull you into a sense of expecting less while delivering a whole lot more. Take “fermented potato bread, bacon and cabbage” which weighs in at €8.
“Fermented” ticks a very fashionable box but the potato cake that appears on the plate, slightly blackened on both faces, is light and deliciously acidic. Smeared with the accompanying bacon cream, silky smooth and profoundly savoury, it becomes a crazily delicious riff on traditional Irish flavours with memories of childhood deliriously tripping off it.
So good it is, that the cabbage, sweet, blackened and caramelised, with crunchy bacon bits, is almost forgotten but completes a glorious picture.
Whipped brandade (essentially featherlight mashed potato and salt cod) is surrounded by what I can only call petals of fresh cod flesh, only just cooked, with a sharp, intensely lemony topping and accompanied by strips of floured, crisp cod skin, a kind of marine crackling. All this at €6.
“Quinoa, carrot, goat’s cheese & truffle”? Well, anything that makes quinoa, that dull and sometimes soapy grain, interesting gets my vote. And how. The quinoa formed dark brown crisp bases for wafer thin slices of pickled carrot, dollops of etheral cheese and films of Summer truffle. This is possibly the best €4 I’ve ever spent.
Beetroot, skewered on a length of licquorice root and served with a Bordelaise sauce (essentially a classical red wine reduction) and toasted walnuts was bizarrely beautiful, the licquorice subtly emphasising the sweetness of the beet, the sauce providing a sharper counterbalance.
Lamb, artichoke, anchovy and samphire, the dearest dish at €18, was equally small but intricately designed to put the rare meat centre stage, enhancing its natural flavour almost magically but using elements that, in various traditions, are traditional. It was, by a very short length, the dish of the evening.
Well, of course, we could have gone on but we are more than satisfied. These dishes are about intense experiences of flavour, texture, drama and elements of surprise. Less is more and you need to stop before your senses get bamboozled.
They are not, as I say, for people who need a lot of substance. They are for people who are looking for something different, something intensely delicious.
If Forest & Marcy were in London, it would be flavour of the month. Indeed, it’s a very London menu, despite being based very clearly in Irish produce.
Our bill, with a few glasses of excellent wine, and sparkling water, left change out of €100.