A few weeks ago I opined that it mattered not a jot whether or not a critic was recognised on walking into a restaurant. My logic was based on the joint premise that (a) it is difficult, if not impossible, for a restaurant to gear up its act at a moment’s notice and (b) no critic worth their salt would be induced to pen a more positive review by the provision of an extra amuse bouche or a free after dinner drink. In the light of my most recent dining-out experience I feel the need to modify my opinion.
I am not one of those who are impressed by what I call ‘The Fawn Factor. Unfortunately, there are some critics who love to be recognised and have sycophant staff lavish attention on them. Never mind the food, wine or ambience, the more the staff grovel, the higher the restaurant scores seems to be the methodology by which such ‘critics’ judge. Of course this shouldn’t matter to those of us who have higher ethical standards. Problem is, it impacts on us all for, at this point, over-servicing commences. Manager, waiter and sommelier appear in quick succession, anxious to ensure the critic and his companion, who by now in their eyes have assumed the status of the Sultan and Sultana of Brunei, are having their every whim, real or imagined, pandered to. At some point the law of diminishing returns kicks in; the constant repetition irritates rather than soothes. Other guests get resentful of the attention lavished on critic and guest. This scenario occurs mainly in new restaurants. Mostly, it’s down to nerves. It happened most recently at Amuse, a new restaurant in Dublin 2 where manager Yann Giovanelli, sommelier Lena Duhamel and wine consultant Jean-Baptiste Letinois, good professionals all, queued up to ask MsD3X and I timorously were we having a good time. My response to them was but two words – “Chill, guys”.
There, that’s off my chest. Now I can get on with relating just how good Dawson Street’s latest is and what a great night Ms D3X and I had there. Amuse is the lovechild of Conor Dempsey, a Dublin-born chef who, despite stints at Marco Pierre White’s The Oak Room, La Côte Saint Jacques in Burgundy and La Jules Verne in Paris, 8 Michelin stars between them; also at La Mère Zou and Dax (7 years) and a period spent helping build up the reputation of The Chophouse on Shelbourne Road, has largely flown under the radar here. For those who, like me, constantly find themselves on the wrong side of the impenetrable mining region formerly known as Dawson Street, the restaurant is located on the right hand side (standing with your back to St. Stephen’s Green) near success d’estime, Greenhouse. The dining room is pleasant, verging on chic, with exposed brick walls and lampshades resembling nón lá, the Vietnamese conical hat. The restaurant describes its culinary schtick as ‘Franco-Asian’ and indeed daikon, kimchi, yuzu and like ingredients featured copiously on the menu. Dissecting this after the conclusion of our meal, D3X and I decided the Franco-Asian appendage is maybe a tad over emphasised and that it is more helpful toy think of Conor’s cuisine as extremely fine cooking in the modern idiom, the de rigueur pictures-on-plates painted with a broad palette of colours and textures of which some but not all are Asian inspired. It is also perhaps worth stressing that there is little if anything on the menu that would frighten the less adventurous.
One thing that particularly impressed us was that tables are far enough apart to facilitate private conversation, allowing us to rattle away all night. The menu is fairly concise, though it does include two ‘tasting’ options, of five and seven courses, named ‘Summer’ and ‘Amuse’ respectively. These we passed up in favour of the three-course set dinner which, for €35 seemed very good value. An amuse bouche, a creamy seafood broth gained favour. Then we were into our starters; for her, the pan-seared prawns of good provenance, augmented by red cabbage slaw, shaved coconut and a Vietnamese dressing, familiar to me from time spent in Hanoi. I really yearned for the wood pigeon but it was unavailable that night. Quail was offered as an alternative, accompanied by ‘chic pea’ curd, squash and palm purée, to-die-for Medjoul dates and pretty slices of utterly tasteless black figs, a sad contrast with the lush, succulent brown ones I had pulled from my own Sandymount tree for a lunchtime dessert earlier that day. We drank wine, French white, a sub rosa grape from a sub rosa region, recommended by Jean-Baptist. It worked well, coping admirably with my main course. Here I’ll admit I did pull rank. I am no great fan of chicken unless I’ve been introduced to the bird’s mam and dad so I leaned on our waiter to swap it for the saddle of Brittany rabbit off the tasting menu. My request was immediately complied with and so I got to enjoy one of the best mains I’ve had in aeons with firm apple, hazelnuts, matcha tea and the added bonus of a quenelle of mushroom duxelles. The rabbit was delightful; farmed, I presumed, but though the texture was soft as butter the boned and rolled saddle sang with flavour. Meanwhile D3X was climbing into the roast rump of mountain lamb with kohl rabi, navet and a dollop of savagely energising kimchi, a truly brilliant dish I’d initially had my eye on (must be getting soft in my old age. Fancy me allowing a guest to have first pick!). She found another winner for dessert, a nicely pliant coconut panna cotta, delivered, in three separate bowls, with a delicate melon broth and darkly astringent blackberry sorbet as accompaniment. Meanwhile, I contented myself with Roquefort cheese with adornments that not only looked stylish and pretty but helped counterbalance the extreme salinity of this aggressive fromage. We concluded with a cappuccino and an espresso, the latter a tad tarry and over-extended, and some rustic-looking and exceedingly well conceived petits fours.
In conclusion I’d say that Dublin has got itself another good restaurant, both food and ambience-wise. The cooking is deft and confident and though the menu is not over long there is enough variety to ensure that boredom, deadly enemy of the regular diner-out, is kept well at bay. The wine list, mainly French, is sound and prices are fair. We spent €120, including two glasses of dessert wine in addition to all the foregoing and thought it good value indeed. My companion, I understand, has already rebooked for a party of friends.
Amuse, 22 Dawson Street, Dublin 2 Tel: (01) 639 4889