Paolo Tullio's Review
You probably know that TV’s favourite effing chef, Gordon Ramsay, was once a footballer. That got me thinking that maybe you can draw parallels between the world of footballers and the world of chefs. For a start the job of a chef, like a footballer, is physically very demanding. Fourteen-hour days spent on your feet in a hot kitchen are common enough. Like football, that’s a young man’s game. To labour the analogy, when chefs get into their thirties their preferred option is become an executive chef. You can liken that to being a football club manager. It’s a job where you organise others to do what you used to do yourself.
And to stretch the analogy even further, you can think of restaurant kitchens as teams. These teams can then be categorised into divisions, just like the football league. So for want of a better system you could say that Ireland’s Premier League of restaurants is composed of the ones with Michelin stars. That’s a small league of four restaurants, but if they’re the Premier League, who’s in the first division?
I’ll offer you some candidates, but this isn’t a complete list. Eamonn O’Reilly’s One Pico, the restaurant in Dylan Hotel, Dylan McGrath’s Mint, Neven McGuire’s McNean’s Bistro, Kevin Dundon’s Dunbrody House, Ballymaloe House and very definitely this week’s restaurant - Oliver Dunne’s Bon Appetit.
Oliver is the chef who brought Mint to gastronomic attention. Now he’s opened his own restaurant in the long-established Bon Appetit in Malahide. The artist Susan Morley was back in town, so I asked to her to accompany me there. We arrived early enough and chose to go directly upstairs to our table rather than stop for an aperitif in bar downstairs.
Upstairs you find a comfortably laid out ’L’ shaped room with well-spaced tables, upholstered chairs and linen-covered tables. The menu offers two choices; two courses for €50 or three for €65, but be warned, you get a whole lot more than you expect. It begins even before you order. While we perused the menu humming and hawing, the canapés arrived. We got a sparkling apple and elderflower foam which was beautifully crisp - a real appetite stimulant. Alongside this was an exquisite foie gras parfait with a port jelly on top.
By the time we’d had these we were ready to order - Susie ordered the rabbit salad to start followed by the John Dory and I chose the sweetbreads to start and followed with pigeon. Since we were both driving, we decided on a glass of Chablis each and one glass of Rioja.
The wine list is really competitively priced with a very modest mark-up. For example a Sipp Mack Pinot Gris is €21, a Spanish Tempranillo is €15 and a glass the wonderful Mas Amiel is €6. Staggeringly, a big bottle of mineral water is €2.50, which has to be the cheapest in Dublin.
Before the starters arrived the amuse bouches did. A long glass dish with three compartments; a pea and coconut froth in one, a small raviolo with langoustine and lobster inside and a BLT. Not a sandwich, but a glass with tomato juice on the bottom, a piece of bacon next and then topped up with a cos lettuce purée.
It’s worth describing the choreographed ballet that happened when any of these titbits arrived at the various tables. First a folding table is brought in, followed by a commis waiter with the tray of goodies, then the waiters take them to the tables. All with military precision.
So when the starters arrived we’d already had two courses and slices of really delicious breads. Susie’s rabbit salad was composed of slices of rolled loin served with artichokes and broad beans while my sweetbreads were served as a boudin or sausage, stuffed with morel mushrooms, asparagus and truffled celeriac purée. As you can imagine appetites were flagging at this point, but the arrival of a lime and basil sorbet got those gastric juices flowing again.
Susie’s John Dory was presented as fillets and around the plate was a crab soubise and a crab velouté. My pigeon dish was breast of squab cooked very pink and served with fondant potato and puy lentils. These were faultless dishes, made with consummate skill, beautifully presented and served with the highest level of professionalism. In fact, every single piece of meal was the result of skill, time and dedication. If you were to add up the man-hours expended in the kitchen for the whole thing you’d be close to a hundred, a staggering level of culinary output.
At this point we felt a dessert between us would be plenty, so we ordered the olive oil parfait with a hibiscus syrup. Before that arrived the pre-desserts did, a rhubarb compôte with vanilla cream and a rhubarb granita. If we’d known about these we’d never have ordered dessert. After the ice-cream, which was delicious, came an array of petits fours that sadly we couldn’t finish since we were so full. We had to leave behind the nougat, the strawberry jelly, the Bailey’s chocolate truffle and a raspberry and dark chocolate garnish.
Look back through that list of dishes, titbits and sweetmeats and consider that it’s priced at €50. Even with average food that would be good value, but when all of the dishes are prepared to the highest standard it becomes possibly the best value gastronomy in the country.