For several years now, serious chefs and restaurants like The Greenhouse (Mickael Viljanen), Gregan’s Castle (David Hurley) and The Pig’s Ear (Stephen McAllister) have been bringing a New Nordic nous to bear on our emerging Irish cuisine. Their food is among the best I’ve eaten.
At the same time, a new breed of cafes and hangouts – Kai in Galway, for instance, or Brother Hubbard and The Fumbally in Dublin – have been rocking the rustic minimalism that Scandinavia does so well, bringing oomph and found-object funkiness to the country’s casual food scene.
Finally, in Forest Avenue, we have the best of both worlds.
Here is the first Irish restaurant, as far as I can see, to successfully mix a polished fine dining experience, a Scandinavian sensibility and a genuine (as opposed to affected) hipster attitude and aesthetic. The result is one of the most exciting arrivals of the decade so far in Dublin.
I’m not immediately won over, mind you. John and Sandy Wyer’s restaurant is a relatively new addition to D4, and its design – though well-executed – strikes me as a bit passé. From the rough-hewn woodwork to the star tattooed on the chef’s elbow, from the boys’ gallery of beards to the Manolo Blahnik book propped up beside the loo, it all feels a bit late to the party.
But the look is only one ingredient. What the Wyers have done with their careful mash-up of counter-cultural spirit, short but intricate menus and attention to detail comes off brilliantly in its totality.
Diners choose between a residents’ menu (three courses for €33) and a six-course tasting menu (€48, with a wine pairing priced at €38). From start to finish, the dishes are beautiful… at times, tantalisingly so.
Plush pieces of beef carpaccio (above) are presented on a white plate with pickles, horseradish and smoked oyster mayonnaise. A scoop of Annagassan crab with smoked salmon, chilled courgette, radish and cucumber is like a little solar system in the galaxy of its aquamarine pottery plate.
Scallops are cooked to a T, glazed and tangy on the outside and fresh and succulent within. Duck breast (below) is pink as a wound, with crisp, spicy skin arranged alongside two caramelized carrots (salt-baked, according to the menu), black pudding, a coriander-infused puree and golden raisins.
Breads are springy and fresh, served on a smooth wooden plate. A hunk of Triskel goat’s cheese (below) is played like a riff off pear and candied pecans. A desert of yellow peach, pistachio nuts, custard, yoghurt and elderflower is light and pert… a nice pick-me-up before the petit fours.
The food is pretty flawless. And it’s brought to us by a denim-aproned chef working under heat lamps in a wide-open kitchen, by service staff in almost comically casual threads… t-shirts, trainers, boxers showing over belts. The result is a fresh and fun approach with huge crossover potential.
Sure, it wears its influences on its sleeve. And you could argue that Irish food won’t truly take its place at the top table until it moves past Copenhagen and Williamsburg, until it delivers more than local twists on global trends.
But Forest Avenue is a terrific twist. And the talent at play ensures that the experience clicks, whatever my reservations. Wyer is superb chef, his staff explain the dishes excellently, give a gorgeous wine recommendation (a Saladini e Pilastri Montepulciano at €8 a glass), and €48 is great value for the quality on offer. Long may it continue.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine came to €122.50, tip extra
8 Sussex Terrace, Dublin 4; 01 667-8337; forestavenuerestaurant.ie
This review originally appeared in The Irish Examiner.
Kewords: Forest Avenue review