THE ROUTE TO HAPPINESS?
PAST THE IVY, ONTO DAWSON STREET
AND TURN DOWN SCHOOLHOUSE LANE.
Phone: 01 676 0300
Irish Daily Mail
27 October 2018
There’s something about this time of year, as Autumn starts to bite, with cooler mornings, a suggestion of mists and a touch of mellow fruitfulness, that puts me in mind of lunch. Not lunch in the sense of fulfilling the need to re-fuel in the middle of the day, but lunch as almost a kind of ritual, something to be savoured and lingered over.
It’s not often that many of us manage to do that, and I’m no exception. What was even more exceptional, on this occasion, was that I found myself in Dublin on a Friday. In normal circumstances I would have left the capital for home before the M7 develops a nasty dose of vehicular atherosclerosis.
It was very pleasant to return to One Pico, after several years and for two reasons. Firstly, the bush telegraph has been consistently reporting food even better than we’ve been used to over the years. And secondly, because the quiet, calmly efficient, ultra-professional dining room is somewhere to which you can retreat, and imagine yourself miles away from the bustle of the Dublin streets that are only metres away.
Being a Friday, there was a subtle suggestion of letting the hair down, although a high proportion of the very largely male clientele would have had problems doing this in a literal sense. Men in expensive suits, with expansive waistlines, ordered bottles of Grand Cru Saint-Emillion. As you do, if the bank balance permits.
But something rather wonderful happened as we perused the menu. A large table of south-east Asian people gasped as one of their number got down on one knee, proposed to another, was accepted, and popped a ring on her finger. And the somewhat staid, be-suited clientele all burst into spontaneous applause.
But what of the food? Well, a potato and leek velouté was like silk and tasted intensely of itself. This was poured, at table, over three little jewel-like ravioli of smoked bacon with those tiny but wonderfully flavoured wild mushrooms known as trompettes de mort. I noticed the menu here left out the mort bit, as references to death at lunchtime can dampen the appetite.
An ingot, so to speak, of dense, ham hock terrine had its richness cut by a green purée that was flavoured with lovage, a herb that has to be handled with great care as its pungency can be devastating. And it was. Filaments of crisp green apple added texture.
It takes confidence to produce a dish as ostensibly simple as the cod with savoy cabbage, pumpkin, mussels and smoked yoghurt. Yes, I know it doesn’t sound simple but every element had a rôle here and there was nothing redundant (although the smoked yoghurt could have been more assertive). Chefs who are not sure of themselves tend to keep throwing in extra bits until confusion reigns.
No, this was properly disciplined cooking: a seared piece of cod, cooked perfectly, two triangles of crunchy, dark green, bubbled cabbage leaf, a silky pumpkin purée and a baton, so to speak, of pumpkin flesh just cooked, firm but yielding. And the mussels, as scattered outbreaks of sea flavour.
Braised short rib of beef, falling apart with the tenderness of prolonged cooking, and varnished – so to speak with its own glossy, deeply savoury gravy, had its earthiness emphasised by key Autumnal flavours, crunchy cavolo nero (or Tuscan kale), Jerusalem artichoke and a single, fleshy chanterelle. Hearty stuff, but given a very elegant makeover and, again, disciplined; there was not a single redundant frippery.
One Pico has an actual cheese trolley, something you don’t often see these days. I like the way this piece of mobile furniture adds a certain gravitas to the consumption of dairy produce, but only if its contents are in peak condition, as they were here. Special mention for the exceptionally creamy French cheese that I think was a Brillat-Savarin.
With plenty of mineral water, wines by the glass and good coffee to finish, the bill for our pretty outstanding lunch came to €150, including service.