Ever since it was announced that Mickael Viljanen would be moving to Dublin to cook in The Greenhouse I’ve really been looking forward to eating his food again; the meal I’d had in his previous restaurant, Gregans, was outstanding and given the reviews I’d been reading of the new venture, I didn’t expect to be disappointed. And I wasn’t.
The rest of my post is probably going to read a bit like a love letter but this was by far the best meal I’ve had in 2012 and I really don’t think there’s anyone in Dublin cooking in as modern or creative a way as Viljanen. And by modern I don’t just mean ripping off Noma which is what that has started to mean in the UK and elsewhere; it’s not to say there aren’t foraged ingredients but they embellish rather than dominate and the food could never be described as austere or parsimonious.
We ate here three weeks ago but the menu has already changed a bit – although not on the website – so some the dishes we had probably aren’t available now. The amuses bouches were one of the highlights with the signature savoury macaroons (smoked eel this time) especially good and a far nicer than it sounds duo of crispy dried cod skin amongst other small nibbles. The bread was delivered in a bag kept warm with hot stones and there was a wonderfully decadent brioche that I ate far too much of.
We went for the full tasting menu with matching wine which comprised seven courses beginning with one of the standouts, foie gras (as a mousse and, unusually, frozen) and apricot, spiked with earthy smoked walnuts; the walnuts were a beautiful touch and are an ingredient it’d be great to see on menus more often. The sommelier paired this with vermouth rather than a dessert wine and it was a great success.
Then there was salmon poached in chicken fat with horseradish and avocado that tasted differently every time you took a spoonful followed by the only thing on the menu since day one: baked celeriac with duck hearts and a creamy sauce laced with truffles that made me want to wilt it was so good.
The only misstep of the night was the final fish course of cod with scallops, sea purslane, cauliflower and a dainty piece of toast dotted with an egg yolk fluid gel; everything combined well but the dish was way over-seasoned, just far too salty. Still, it was redeemed by the fantastic paired wine of the Stonier 2005 Pinot Noir; moreover, it was good to see a red accompanying fish as it can be boring having four or five glasses of white during a tasting menu.
The savoury part of the meal finished on a high though, slow-cooked lamb belly, artichokes and spinach puree all tied together with a hay-smoked sweetbread that was theatrically unveiled, replete with a large puff of smoke, tableside. The sauce, which apparently was an anchovy emulsion although it didn’t taste of anchovy, was absolutely wonderful; a deep and rich reduction that coated the mouth.
Of the desserts, the first shaded it for me, a very light and refreshing combination of strawberry, elderflower, basil and, curiously, red chard (this actually really worked) along with a goats milk ice-cream. I would have liked a bit more elderflower but it’s a minor quibble. The final dish of a chocolate ganache with passion fruit had more unusual ingredients in the form of an onion caramel and yeast ice cream: the onion worked brilliantly but the ice cream didn’t really taste of much to me. The accompanying sweet wine was also excellent, picking up the onion flavour but not allowing it to overpower.
In fact, it’s worth mentioning that all the wine matches were brilliant (if I haven’t mentioned them individually it’s more because I didn’t take note of them as they were being poured) and on talking to the sommelier it was quite obvious how much thought she’d put into each of them.
So, that’s the gushing over but there were a couple of small issues, service overall was excellent but we were left waiting for nearly fifteen minutes at the start of the meal before anyone took our order and one of my courses was served while I was in the bathroom (the same happened to the person dining beside me as well); these are basic errors for a venue aiming for a Michelin star and also fine examples of First World problems on my part.
I don’t want to end the review on a negative when there’s so much being done right: the techniques are cutting edge, there’s flavour combinations you would normally never see that exude flair and the plating is spectacular at times but it would all mean nothing if food didn’t taste as good as it does. I’ll be interested to see if the restaurant is rewarded in January. The total bill, not including tip, was €246.