Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

[Review] Amuse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

 I've eaten at Amuse before for the evening tasting menu and was immensely impressed. Unfortunately, the matching tasting wines made an equal impression on me and my photos of that night grew progressively blurrier. But the French-Japanese cooking of chef Conor Dempsey lingered in my memory, calling for a return visit. Then a recent email arrived from Amuse announcing a three course set lunch menu for €35, which includes a glass of wine, a half bottle of water and tea or coffee. 

Located at the St Stephen's Green end of Dawson Street, Amuse is a small, but perfectly presented restaurant. The theme is perfectly executed French style cooking with a strong Asian influence. It's utterly unique by Dublin standards and is surely under scrutiny from the Michelin inspectors. (However, I am skeptical about Michelin in Ireland, given the other great restaurants who are yet to land a star).

To start, we were presented with an amuse of pureed aubergine, topped with black sesame and peanut, which concealed a small piece of anchovy sushi. My starter of goat's cheese curd was elegant simplicity with intense dashi infused grapes and quinoa crisps. Pork belly marinated in hoisin was served with apple, a sweet shrimp tartare and kombucha dressing. 
Amuse of aubergine, sesame, peanut and sushi
Goats cheese curd with dash infused grapes and quinoa crisps
Hoisin marinated pork belly with apple and shrimp tartare
Both main courses were exquisitely presented on pleasing, simple, white plates with a slightly raised rim. His main course of seared Atlantic cod was meaty and beautifully cooked. It was accompanied by sweet potato, mouth puckering intense baked lemon, a wonderful peanut satay and a shire miso dressing. My choice of guinea fowl absolutely blew me away, especially with the sweet and salty crusted neck (?) meat and wonderful dabs of coconut sauce.
Seared cod of fillet with sweet potato and satay 
Guinea fowl with green vegetables
The superb standard of cooking was maintained with the dessert courses. We shared two desserts, one of milk chocolate with blood orange sorbet and dried ginger and a second being a celebration of strawberries with white chocolate. I often find it hard for restaurants to maintain a consistent standard across savoury and sweet courses, but no such issues here. 
Milk chocolate with blood orange sorbet
Strawberry and white chocolate plate
In addition to great food, the wine service at Amuse is also to be commended. With the set course menu, you are limited to a single red or white, but I was impressed by the crisp Côtes de Gascogne Colombard. Later, when it came to desserts, sommelier Léna Duhamel presented us with two superb sweet wine options, one red and one white. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't take a picture of the labels.

The food at Amuse is complex and joyous. It's a complete world apart from the minimal ingredient approach we recently experienced at Relaæ in Copenhagen. On my first visit, I had been impressed. On this second visit, I was blown away by the increase in performance. The dishes feature flavours that are light and ethereal, but balanced against strong and vibrant notes. Presentation is meticulous with a mind-boggling level of detail concealed in the smears and dabs of every plate. 

For me, this is the best fine dining restaurant in Dublin right now. And a €35 lunch is a very affordable way to experience this superb venue. 

Amuse, 22 Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 639 4889
Twitter: @Amusedublin

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

[Review] Relae, Copenhagen

Sometimes you come across a district that is achingly cool, in a genuine way and not in a "trying too hard" way. This was the feeling we encountered as we got out of our taxi on the quiet street of Jaegersborggade in the Copenhagen district of Nørrebro. 

Relæe comes from two Noma alumni, Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen. To be honest, having Noma alumni in your kitchen is pretty much de rigeur for any self-respecting Copenhagen restaurant. At the time of writing, the restaurant is ranked No 53 in the World's Best 50 Restaurants. Located on a corner, the interior is deceptively simple with an open kitchen, white walls and plain wooden tables. But as always, the devil is in the details and we find that our cutlery, napkin and menu are located in clever drawers concealed within the table. This is self-service, Scandi-Michelin style.

What makes Relæ even more unique, in a country of unique cooking, is that practically all of the ingredients are organic, while all the wines are natural. The topic of natural wines is causing some strong debate in the wine world right now, so the offering of an all-natural wine menu is a strong statement.
The menu at Relæ
Table drawer with cutlery, menu and napery
The menu offers a 4 course omnivore or herbivore tasting menu for 440 DKK each, rising to 725 DKK for a 7 course tasting menu. All options include filtered water, sourdough bread and olive oil. We choose the 7 course option, but paired with the tasting wines from the 4 course menu (395 DKK). 

The courses started to arrive: fried salsify with a mushroom juice for dipping, an intense aromatic broth with bright green drops of pine oil, dense and chewy sourdough with a vibrant olive oil. So far, so good. This was followed by a stellar combination of bergamot ice, lumpfish roe over which was poured a green ransom broth. 
Salsify with mushroom broth
Broth with pine oil
Sourdough bread with olive oil
Bergamot ice, lumpfish roe and ramson broth
Next up was a simple plate of shredded sunchoke, mushroom and walnut. This looked somewhat like a hedgehog on the plate, but in the mouth, I found flavours emerging and blending together in a way I could not have predicted.  Baked, pureed potato was served with brown butter and citrus, yet another combination that surprised and amazed me. 
Sunchoke, mushroom and walnut
Baked pureed potato with brown butter and citrus
All was going very well so far, but then we were served two dishes which drastically changed my perception of Relæ. First up was a dish of celeriac with local havgus cheese and coffee. My first impression was of whiteness, and this didn't really improve upon tasting. Eating the bland ribbons of celeriac was simply tedious. However, the dish of slow-cooked Sødam chicken which followed has taken the crown of worst dish I've ever tasted. After just one forkful, I found myself pushing the plate away. For me, there is nothing attractive about boiled chicken, especially when it has been deliberately cooked in such a way as to retain the textures of raw chicken. The colour is wrong, the texture is wrong and when combined with insipid parsnip, it was all just too much of the wrong stuff. 
Celeriac with havgus cheese and coffee
Sødam chicken with parsnip and sesame
Goats cheese and wine
Our waiter warned us that our first dessert of frozen yogurt contained a hidden surprise. Underneath the grated egg yolk, we found an incredible salted egg yolk. In contrast to the nadir of the slow-cooked chicken dish, this was the zenith of desserts. This was followed by another excellent little stone bowl of almonds and marscapone, enhanced by black olive bits. 
Frozen yogurt dessert with salted egg yolk
Almond, marscapone and olives
In my mind, Relæ has the distinction of serving one of the singularly most unpalatable dishes I've ever tasted. But the meal also showcased simple ingredients with a laser-like intensity. The memory of the lumpfish roe and potato dishes will linger with me for a long while, not to mention the egg yolk dessert. 

It was also quite fun to enjoy a natural wine tasting alongside our meal. I must admit that I didn't particularly take to most of the wines served. There were some good glasses that I would happily drink again, but unfortunately, I didn't get to write down their  details. For the most part though, I'll stick with wines produced through modern techniques. I think I'm just not quite ready for the musty, even manure-like aromas of natural wines just yet. 

Sometimes you need to be reminded that Michelin dining is not always about enjoyable fine food. Sometimes it should make you think, it should make you react (good or bad), it should educate you and it should make you form an opinion.  Relæ gave me a good shaking, challenging me with regard to what I liked. It is creative, it is modern and it is well worth a visit. 

Restaurant Relae, Jægersborggade 41, 2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark
Tel: + 45 3696 6609
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