STELLAR LUNCH COMBINES GREAT COOKING WITH UNERRING CHOICE OF WINES. NOT BY ME, BUT BY A GREAT SOMMELIER
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud
21 Upper Merrion Street
Phone: 01 676 4192
Irish Daily Mail
30 September 2017
It’s as constant as the northern star, as predictable as October following September. Whenever I write about Patrick Guilbaud’s someone will claim that spending this kind of money on a meal is morally indefensible when there are homeless on the streets and refugees trying to cross the Med.
They never raise this when I’m writing about anywhere else, so I’m a little puzzled – while fully accepting that the plight of the homeless and the refugees are shocking scandals.
The bill for our lunch – and it was virtually flawless, a concentrated form of pleasure that can never be done cheaply – by the time we had added an appropriate tip came to a little less than the price of three tickets to see Neil Diamond later this month. Depending on the pub, it amounted to between 40 and 50 pints of beer. It was about the same as four reasonably positioned seats for Ireland v Argentina at what I still call Lansdowne Road. The best seats cost more.
So, like everything else, it’s all relative. But because it involves food, it can be an emotive issue. I’m not at all sure that this country has fully recovered from the Great Famine.
Anyway, to table!
The standard was set with an amuse bouche of startling intensity combined with ethereal lightness: a foam of brilliantly green garden peas with tiny nuggets of ham and equally minute croutons for crunch. It wakened the palate.
Then came tataki of Irish blue fin tuna, in other words the fish had been seared on the outside for mere seconds and then sliced to reveal perfectly raw flesh in squares, each framed by its barely cooked outside. Irish tuna has more texture than tuna from warmer waters and this degree of chew made a pleasant change. Amalfi lemon oil cut the richness while a tart purée of avocado, which at first I took to be a massive payload of wasabi, along with toko crostini, finished this delicate, flavour-packed starter.
By Guilbaud’s standards our other starter was very simple: just wafer thin slices of barely cooked pink beetroot dressed with candied walnuts and counterpointed by sharp, salty Ardsallagh goat’s cheese. Pretty as a picture, we felt it would have been even better with a slightly higher proportion of cheese.
In the mains, we knew what to expect in “fillet of wild halibut” with citrus but what was “carrot and tandoori”? The answer was a velvet smooth, buttery purée of carrot with a haunting, subtle, almost distant suggestion of curry spices. With fish cooked to the nano-second and the tart balance of pink grapefruit, this was an unexpected delight.
Veal wrapped in prosciutto and cooked to the lightest of pinks was topped with sliced ceps and a raviolo (or pasta parcel) of more wild mushrooms. A fabulously concentrated jus and toasted hazelnuts emphasised the seasonality and earthiness of the dish.
At pudding, a pear and chestnut croquant (a perfect little cylinder of paper-thin crisp caramel filled with the purée) was so light it threatened to fly away, despite its deep taste which was further enhanced by a Poire Williams sorbet.
Impressive and lovely as this was, it was surpassed by the simpler hot Guanaja chocolate fondant with a stout ice cream: rich, bitter, sweet, malty, amazing.
We asked the new sommelier – Guilbaud’s first Irishman in the job – Joey Scanlon, to pick a glass of wine to match each course and we were stunned by his unerring judgement and also by his youth. He introduced us to wines which were new to us and, quite simply, fascinating.
So not only does RPG produce stunning food – as a Michelin two-star restaurant is supposed to do – but it delivers another hemisphere of pleasure from the cellar to create the perfect whole.
The restaurant’s recent refurbishment introduces subtle elements of art deco and a surprisingly restrained gold leaf ceiling. It’s a temple of gastronomy.
Our lunch was indeed stellar as was the service which delivered it. The cost, if you have been unable to work it out from my earlier comparisons, was €300 or a little over twice what regular readers will recall I paid for a totally indifferent meal in one of Dublin’s newer and more fashionable places in recent months.