THIS IS NO NEIGHBOURHOOD RESTAURANT.
IT'S THE NEW DUBLIN DESTINATION.
7 Church Street
Phone: 01 802 9406
Irish Daily Mail
22 June 2019
There are certain triggers in a chef's CV, ones that induce a sense of confidence when going to check out what they are doing now. But they are fewer than you might think. Bouquets of Michelin stars don't always mean... well, anything at all. But the words "Chapter One" and "Forest Avenue" have the authority of, say, Galileo talking about the movements of the planets.
And so it was that we ventured to Skerries in search of Potager. Skerries is further than we thought, but we would have travelled four times the distance for the meal that we had.
The person whose CV contains those magic words is Cathal Leonard who, with Sarah Ryan, has created Potager, modestly described as a "neighbourhood restaurant" in what had been the Red Bank since God was a teenager. Gone are the fussy detail and dubious art collection. Now it's understated greys, sound-absorbing carpet, crisp napery and elegant glasses.
To cut to the chase, Cathal's cooking is meticulous, infinitely detailed, disciplined, thoughtful, mildly playful, carefully creative and comes with the confidence that comes with not just well-honed skill but years of experience.
But this is certainly not what I think of as tortured food involving tweezers.
The compulsory tasting menu with a choice of two main courses (such good value at €55 that I had to pinch myself) is, quite simply brilliant: exciting, surprising and with virtually every element tasting intensely of itself.
We started with potato bread and beer and malt brown bread which we proceeded to load with Cuinneóg butter and ricotta (homemade, I'm guessing) fortified with chive and just enough lovage, the pungent herb that can become a thug if you let it.
Then came a curiously lovely pairing: a little beetroot cracker with something fermented and somewhat cheese-like atop, all crunch and freshness, plus a crisp tiny piece of buckwheat pasta enveloping some earthy rabbit. Both so small that they were gone in one mouthful, so there may have been more to them than that.
And then - speaking of everything tasting intensely of itself - a little helping of silky, savoury, magically concentrated celeriac soup. To be honest, this is a case of you just had to be there, the kind of dish that could be a danger to restaurant critics.
After a piece of cured organic trout, leaping with flavour that was further enhanced by a whey dressing and the gentle but discernible acidity of sorrel came a salad of baby red plum tomatoes with a vivid green granita that tasted of herbs, mint certainly and perhaps some basil, in a slick of tart yoghurt with a flavour of zesty lime. Or was that coming from the dots of what appeared to be broad bean purée? It simply didn't matter.
As a precursor to the main courses, there was an intensely savoury limb of octopus with a rich garlic purée, a sweet nugget of cauliflower and the crunch of pumpkin seeds. And it was certainly more than the sum of those parts.
At the main course stage we diverged: there was hake simply cooked with lardo, the Italian cured pork fat, courgette and its flower, and tender, tart pickled cockles. The remarkable thing about this dish was how the hake could be heard clearly above those - courgette aside - loud competing flavours.
Loin of rabbit was stuffed with its own offal, delicate in flavour, moist and sweet, enhanced by the sweetness of a carrot purée and the sheer savouriness of garlic scrapes (the now wildly fashionable green shoots). A dinky little "shepherd's pie" of rabbit was undeniably cute but seriously over-salted, the only misjudgement of the evening.
Desserts were set sheep's yoghurt with a thrillingly strawberryish sorbet, white chocolate and a touch of mint, and a somewhat less elegant but still very pleasant riff on beetroot and cherries.
I have one piece of advice regarding Potager. Beat a path to its door. This is no neighbourhood restaurant. It's a destination. And Skerries is half an hour from Dublin by train, as it happens.