Taste at Rustic
17 South Great George’s Street
Phone: 01 707 9596
Irish Daily Mail
11 July 2015
Dylan McGrath is a chef with a great deal of talent and a lot of ambition. Fortunately, he also has the discipline to exploit both.
I first tasted his food at Mint, when he was very young and a little wild. But within the slightly manic style it was clear that this was a man who understood tastes and textures at an instinctive level.
When the crash came and the Dublin restaurant trade received a long overdue kick in the balance sheet, Mint was one of the casualties. Dylan McGrath could have headed off for pastures new where he could have spent the better part of the last decade garnering Michelin stars in somewhere like New York of Sydney.
But, perverse to the end, he stayed in Dublin, did a lot of thinking about how to make restaurants work in a challenging climate and invented two new concepts that captured the public imagination and started to make money.
They are Fade Street Social (well named in view of the sociability of the small sharing plates and the buzzingly convivial atmosphere) and Rustic Stone (the stone referring to the finish-your-own-steak on a hot stone idea which some of us recall from the early days of the Bad Ass Café) which broke new ground in terms of taking an openly nutritional approach to menus while, amazingly, remaining fun.
Now, with Taste at Rustic, Dylan McGrath has demonstrated, yet again, that he is not just a very talented chef, but one with a keen grasp of business opportunities, not just here in Dublin but, eventually one imagines, overseas. All three restaurants are unique, meticulously planned, hard to copy and, above all, designed to run with the smooth efficiency of a Lexus.
Taste at Rustic has a menu that is predicated on, well, tastes, all five of them: sweet, salt, bitter, umami and sour. All of these can be experienced through the media of seven kinds of dish: miso broth, nigiri sushi, maki, sashimi and ceviches, kushhikaki/antichuchos (grills), nabemono (stockpot) and desserts.
And, yes, it does look a little complicated although, if you take the time to examine the menu in detail it’s both fascinatingly different and, actually, quite navigable. On the other hand, you can take the easy way out, as we did, and take the omakase approach, a Japanese word which, I gather, roughly means “can you just choose for me, please?”
Sushi is taken so seriously here that the best tuna is imported directly from Japan and rice is cooked from fresh several times in the hour so as to ensure a perfect temperature (because, ideally, the sushi should be the same temperature as your lip when you eat it.)
And, of course, it proved to be the best I’ve yet tasted (although I’ll admit that I have yet to visit Japan). Native prawn, tuna, John Dory with a film of lardo crudo (cured pork fat) and smoked olive oil, wagyu. All exceptional, jewel-like and taken as advised by Dylan, flipped over on the tongue so that the fish or meat makes contact with the palate. And taken with pickled ginger between mouthfuls.
With the sushi we had dashi broths, one deep and dark and an exercise in umami (which is, in effect, the essence of meaty, Marmitey savouriness), the other a lighter, sweeter version fragrant with – I’m guessing – coriander leaves. Taken in combination with the sushi, we found our tastebuds doing a little jig of excitement and pleasure.
And so it continued through sashimi dressed with yuzu, the rare and expensive citrus fruit and rare wagyu beef varnished, in a sense, with a glossy, profound reduction of burnt onion stock and speckled with fine bonito flakes (a form of dried tuna).
And there were skewers of chicken antichuchos, simmered in a stock of Peruvian herbs and finished on a tiny charcoal grill at our table, gloriously juicy and moist. The finishing-at-the-table theme continued with slices of rare duck breast which we held in a nabemono pot of simmering garlicky game broth.
At this stage, things get a little hazy, so bombarded had our senses become with unfamiliar pleasures but I do know that there was a fantastic little seaweed salad, luminously green, salty and delicious and gossamer light beignets of sweet corn. And, of course, the miniature doughnuts cooked in coconut oil and anointed with black salt that came with sake ice cream (a new experience, and one I’d like to repeat) and a miso dipping sauce (think salted caramel and you have some idea).
All of this meticulously prepared food, served at a leisurely pace as each dish was ready, cost just over €100 which I reckon makes it outstanding value. Dublin has a new milestone restaurant.