RESTAURANT FORTY ONE
41 St Stephen's Green
Phone: 01 662 0000
Residence changed hands early in 2017 and Graham Neville, who had put Restaurant Forty One firmly on the map with cooking of exceptional finesse moved to Dax. I have yet to assess how his replacement is doing.
In October 2016 Residence ceased to be a members' club. It is now fully open to all.
One of the finest restaurants in Dublin is, essentially, hidden away in a Georgian house on St Stephen’s Green. Although in a private club, non-members are welcome.
The people at Residence like to say that they dig food, literally. It’s true. The owners have a large kitchen garden at Kenah Hill in Killiney, overlooking Dublin Bay, and fresh produce is sent in to the restaurant daily. This simple but impressive fact sets the tone.
A little recent history. Residence was established at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom years and, as sure as night follows day, its founders...well... foundered. However, it was rescued and is now under inspired new ownership. The current regime applies very high standards and Residence is one of the most pleasant retreats in the heart of the city.
Now, the “club” thing is confusing, of course. You don’t have to be a member to eat here but membership confers certain benefits which need not detain us here. But they are worth checking out on the website.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise here is the restaurant and the fact that the food is amongst the very best in the country. This is thanks to the genius - not too strong a word - of Graham Neville, the chef who spent much of his earlier career in the the demanding kitchen of Kevin Thornton.
Thornton is much given to talking about food as theatre and while I generally think that food is much better simply as food, I do agree that really exceptional restaurant cooking always has a serious visual impact. It is, if you like, something of a performance. Graham Neville, however, keeps a firm and strict rein on the drama and produces dishes soundly rooted in the classic tradition with his own always restrained twists. The result is cooking of a very high order, exceptionally refined, often very delicate, always impeccably balanced.
The set menu of three courses at lunchtime is so good that frequent pinching of oneself is required. It’s that hard to believe. There’s also an equally good value pre-theatre menu if you can bear to vacate your table by a very reasonable 7.45pm.
There’s much talk of provenance on the menus and Graham Neville’s deft cooking coaxes maximum flavour out of excellent raw materials, often using blissfully synergistic combinations such as this one which I described thus: “A single, stately, plump scallop, impeccably cooked on a searingly hot pan, sat in the centre of a bisque made from its coral: silky, rich, topped with its own cappucino-like foam, with sweet onion lurking in the depths with just a hint of truffle.”
Actually, the last time I ate there I had this very dish yet again. It was even better and there was a lot more than a hint of truffle. It was a triumph, seduction. Roast turbot with a pumpkin risotto was a salutary reminder to me, not one of the great pumpkin evangelists, that everything depends on the chef, his judgement and his seasoning. It was a delight.
Finally, a word about the building. This tall, narrow old house is delightfully quirky, with cosy panelled rooms and comfortable armchairs. The restaurant itself is, in fact, a series of rooms, intimate and quiet. At the front there’s a remarkable sense of place, thanks to the terrific view of St Stephen’s Green. The icing on the gateau, by the way, is a splendid sommelier who is a wizard at matching food and wine.