“Is this the end of fine dining?” was the clickbaity headline that followed René Redzepi’s announcement that Noma, the world’s best restaurant, was no longer sustainable, amid the rising costs of actually paying interns and serving a €470 multi-course menu.
Arguably, tasting-menu fatigue had already hit our shores, not so much a weariness of live ants and centenarian mahogany clams as of menus where the kitchen gets to decide what you’ll be eating, and can plan what to order to minimise waste. Which actually is a good business model, and good for the planet and all that, but is not always what the punter wants on a special night out.
D’Olier Street opened in December with an €82 tasting menu, after much time had been spent spiffing up the ground floor of the listed Dublin 2 building. It is a restrained, beautiful room, accentuated by a handsome bar; a chef’s table where, if it’s your thing, it costs no more to watch the chefs at work; and well-spaced tables.
The team has spent years in New York. James Moore, who leads the kitchen, was head chef at the two-Michelin-star Atera; his wife, Jane Frye, heads the front-of-house team, and Anthony Smith, the third partner, owns Mr Fox restaurant. Scott White, the manager and sommelier, previously held the same role at Aimsir. As you’d expect, it’s a beautiful wine list, although, as is increasingly the case, most bottles are more than €50. We keep costs down with a bottle of Ciello Blanco Catarratto for €38, but the €65 wine pairing has some lovely matches.
For snacks we start with a Connemara oyster that has a dab of yuzu curd, a shade too sweet perhaps, and a fragile nori tartlet that is filled with precisely diced bluefin tuna, with ginger bringing a touch of heat and aromatics. A foie-gras custard with warm English muffins is light and aerated, with some sweetness coming through from port. Quince and a few walnuts on top add a nice textural note.
Hamachi crudo, Japanese yellowtail, follows. It’s similar to tuna, and is served raw, mixed with cubes of apple, almonds, thinly sliced rings of jalapeño and strands of daikon; all very fresh and tasty, with a floral aroma as a marinade of jalapeño, basil and apple is poured over. A pretzel with cultured spread of butter, labneh and scallion oil is delicious.
Next is a well-conceived dish that’s a looker but is let down by the main ingredient. The frothy miso buttermilk sauce dusted with trout roe is certainly something I’d like to eat again, but not with farmed salmon, even if it’s organic, and especially if it has been cooked sous-vide in a water bath, protected in a vacuum-sealed bag. It’s a technique that has its applications, allowing food to be cooked at a consistent temperature, but it is questionable whether it is right for fish, where it ends up denatured, in a limbo between raw and cooked.
The same technique has been used for cooking a very fine salt-aged Delmonico steak from Peter Hannan, which would have benefited hugely from straight-up cooking over flame. Instead, after a consistent spell at 55 degrees, it has been finished under the grill and has not had enough contact with savage heat to develop the jagged outer char that makes this such a primal treat. Carrots coated in crushed pistachio and the Middle Eastern flavours of dukka are an unusual accompaniment to a dish that otherwise has a classical bent, with crispy gratin potatoes on the side.
But perhaps this is designed to tie in with the dish that follows, a moulded ring of French rice pudding with mango sorbet, which gets a steady stream of warm cardamom caramel poured into the centre, carrying the Middle Eastern thread from the previous dish.
It is perhaps this that has me thinking about the menu as a whole. There are flavours of the world, but I’m not quite sure what stitches them together. It feels slightly disjointed, and perhaps a little bit earnest, with everything neatly coloured inside the lines. There is a great team here who have invested heavily in what they are doing, and my sense is that caution is stifling spontaneity. I am hoping that they’ll let rip and enjoy the ride. And perhaps boot out the energy-sucking water bath while they’re at it.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and two bottles of water was €204.
THE VERDICT: A tasting menu of studied dishes in a beautiful room
Music: Ambient, Nicolas Jaar and Real Estate
Food provenance: Glenmar fish, Hannan Meats, Clare Island salmon, Iona Farm vegetables
Vegetarian options: Vegetarian tasting menu, also €82
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet