You've got to hand it to the Georgians. They knew how to build a fine house, of which a fair amount survive in Dublin, despite the efforts of mid 20th-Century developers. Originally, most of the wealthy Georgians built their homes on Dublin's Northside, centred on Rutland Square and Mountjoy Square. But the Earl of Kildare caused a bit of an upset when he built his newest residence, Kildare House, on the "lesser" southside. By moving to the Southside, the crafty Earl was able to build the biggest residence of them time, resulting in a fair amount of social envy.
The fickle fashionistas followed suit, and soon Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square and St Stephen's Green were established, lined with many elegant residences. Following Irish independence, these fine buildings sometimes fell into disrepair and were even regarded as being "un-national". Many fell to the developer's demolition ball, even going as far as knocking an entire block to build the ugly ESB head office on Fitzwilliam Street.
|Aviation cocktail before dinner|
Thankfully there are no modern monstrosities at 41 St Stephen's Green, which is home to the private members Residence club. Even though it is a symptom of Celtic Tiger largesse, it has survived and continued to develop. Today it plays home to Restaurant Forty One, under the command of chef Graham Neville and voted the Restaurant of the Year 2013 from Good Food Ireland. 2013 has been a year of continued success for Graham, and I was eager to taste his cooking for the first time.
Following a cocktail aperitif in the downstairs bar (where my Aviation cocktail was disappointingly light on the maraschino), we were taken upstairs to the beautiful dining room. Downstairs, the staff had been playfully dressed in creative Halloween costumes and the walls were decorated with gothic-themed daguerrotypes. But upstairs, all was serious with muted golds and champagne colours overlooking a streetlamp-lit St Stephen's Green. Before too long, it was time for the first dish from our 6 course tasting menu (€75.00); a plate of roasted heirloom vegetables with a stunning 36 month aged Parmesan emulsion.
|Roasted heirloom vegetables with 36 month aged Parmesan emulsion|
From there, we progressed to exquisite seared scallops, simply served in a puddle of sweetcorn, a wonderful sweet partnership. Rich foie gras, a gourmet's delight, came served two ways, with seasonal elderberries for a tart bite. A piece of meaty wild turbot was paired with crushed Jerusalem artichoke and a delicate pumpkin mussel nage. It was a knockout dish.
|Foie gras two ways with poached quince, elderberries and walnut crumble|
|Wild turbot, crushed Jerusalem artichokes and mussel pumpkin nage|
The seasonal focus continued with roasted grouse served deliciously pink, alongside a single large meaty cep. It was a ballsy meat-lovers dish, served with a little jar of wonderful reduction, but yet it retained a sophisticated balance. We were then invited to choose a selection of cheeses from a wonderfully stocked cheese trolley, accompanied by a cornucopia plate of dried and fresh fruits, quince and crackers.
Finally it was time for dessert, a delicate white chocolate cylinder filled with passion fruit and a refreshing elderflower sorbet, mirroring the elderflower berries on the earlier foie gras dish. I generally find passionfruit too sweet, too acidic but here the soft fatty sweetness of the white chocolate cut through the tangy fruit. A simple selection of petits fours, including delectable macarons, was provided to finish our meal, even though we had declined tea/coffee.
|Roasted grouse with ceps|
|Artisan cheese plate|
|White chocolate, passionfruit and elderflower sorbet|
|Selection of petits fours|
Throughout the meal, I had been impressed by the confident simplicity of the dishes, which belied the delicate flavours and skilful cooking involved. Despite his French training, Neville eschews traditional creams and fats to create his sauces, but instead relies on lighter techniques. If the pumpkin and mussel nage is any example, then this is an approach worth following. His food is clean and light, even when dealing with the most substantial of ingredients.
Our serving staff had been excellent over the course of our meal, but we definitely felt like the youngsters in the dining room (and trust me, we're not that young). It felt a little odd as Neville's food is not old in style; it's a younger interpretation of French dining. Throughout the meal, Himself and I kept finding something to praise, something to scoop up with our fingers, joyously cleaning every last morsel off the plate. Who cares what fine dining etiquette recommends. Food this good shouldn't be left on a plate to be returned to the plate scraper in the back kitchen. It is a celebration.
Restaurant Forty One, The Residence, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1662 0000