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Mint Restaurant, Ranelagh, Dublin


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Mint is a small restaurant in Ranelagh, a very accessible Dublin suburb close to town. It’s been open for the last two years, but I only managed to get there for the first time this weekend. It’s headed up by Oliver Dunne (no relation) and boy does he know how to cook! And, how to run a tight ship. The front of house staff were unbelievable. Really helpful and knowledgeable, knew everything about what they were serving down to the finest detail, talked through the (excellent) cheese plate fluently and had loads of advice on the wine. And they were really nice about it too. Very confident, and without a trace of the aloof or cocky attitudes you too often encounter.

The menu is fairly short, with about five starters and six main course options, three dessert options and a cheese plate. You can have either two courses for €39.99 or three for €49.99, without a supplement in sight. By Dublin standards, this is a very good deal.

And the food is really, really good. Not perfect, but brilliant at these prices. There were four of us. For starters we had sea bass on haricot beans and pancetta, the fish cooked perfectly with an incredibly crisp skin; ravioli of foie gras and mushrooms in a frothy, truffle cream sauce… truly wonderful ravioli but let down by the truffle oil in the sauce which I hadn’t noticed on the menu and could smell the minute the dish was placed in front of me (and could still taste the next day); and a pea risotto which I didn’t taste but apparently was quite good. And the bread, made by the pastry chef on the premises was exceptionally good (four or five types) with a wonderful crust.

We followed with breast of mallard duck and confit leg and seared foie gras, served on really good “green tasting” spinach with cream, with a less successful fondant potato which was roasted in a large round and a jus that wasn’t quite right. The duck breast was cooked beautifully, the foie gras with a lovely crust and melting inside, but the confit leg was too salty (even for me), a bit dry and I think from the tiny bit I stole, tasted a bit of bacon. But my veal dish was superb. Definitely, the best dish of the evening. The veal was seared to a wonderful crust on the outside, cooked medium rare, sliced thinly and served with a little seared foie gras over a mushroom risotto. Ok, the bite had gone out of the rice in the risotto, but it was still extremely good. I was so enthralled; I didn’t get to steal a bit of the roast ribeye of beef which got a thumbs up too. The only downside was the jus with the veal which tasted ever so slightly burnt or maybe it was over reduced.

Two of us had dessert and two shared the cheese plate. The lemon sponge was nothing special, the chocolate fondant (I know, ubiquitous, but they sell) was delicious and the cheese plate was outstanding. In my opinion, forget the desserts, and go for the cheese. Thoughtfully chosen and in wonderful condition, you get a selection of twelve for two people or three for a single serving. As I mentioned earlier, our waiter did a great job with the descriptions and even advised us which cheese to start with and work around the plate. All nice touches.

I didn’t look at the wine list for too long, but there appeared to be a well chosen and pretty broad selection, with Montrachets and the like for deeper pockets. We had a very good Pouilly Fume for €34 and a great Faugère (a Languedoc red) for €40. For dessert or cheese, there is Monbazillac, Beaumes de Venise, Maury and port by the glass. And there’s no pushy water awkwardness. At the start of our meal, our waiter had simply enquired if we would like water, leaving it up to us to go tap or bottled. A 10% service charge is automatically added on, and there’s no cheeky space left for further tips on the bill.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to this great little restaurant. It is textbook Gordon Ramsay (who the chef did a stint with as well as a few notable others), caters perfectly to the market, offers really good seasonal food at exceptional value, has excellent service and pulls no mean money stunts with supplements, water or sneaky tip expectations. You can feel the passion and energy of this food, and you just know that the chef squeezed every cent out of his budget to get the optimum return. How refreshing! I just hope that he is making enough money in such a small room. He’s certainly not making a Mint (sorry… couldn’t resist it!).

Mint Tel: (01) 497 8655 Mon – Thurs: 2 course Table d’Hote for €28 before 8pm

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Corinna - thanks for such a clear, comprehensive and enthusiastic review. It's a great pity that I didn't have this before going to Dublin last weekend and Mint is certainly marked down as a must next time.

As it was both Friday and Saturday night were disappointing and, in particular, bad value for money. I'm not sure what input Novelli has in reality at La Stampa but the combination of strange treatment of good materials and poor service did not impress.

6 small Carlingford oysters arrived dressed with a sweet balsamic vinegar and one or two unidentifiable ingredients – cost €16. Two other starters were scallops in what looked like a rather heavy pastry shell and a gateau of salted cod which was judged to be the best choice.

Wine service was erratic – the list itself is a bit limited for a place with such pretensions any they are not shy about mark-ups. Champagne was a Heidsieck non-vintage at an horrendous €95 per bottle. Half way through the oysters, we were asked if we were ready to taste the Amarone we had asked for with the main course – when we politely suggested waiting a bit, the bottle was just left on the table and the "sommelier" disappeared although in time we did manage to get a second bottle before finishing the main course. (The wine was very good by the way) Main courses – venison with a reduced wine sauce, black sole served meunière and magret of duck with a chutney sauce – were correct if not particularly inspiring. Average cost of main courses was around €35.

The room remains one of the loveliest in Dublin and always impresses visitors to the city. Pity the food does not deliver what the prices might suggest. Give it a miss.

Saturday night was in what used to be Ernie's in Donnybrook. It's changed hands and also name. Ernie's great art collection has been scattered to the four winds (i.e., was included in a recent fine art sale at Lisney's). Food, wine and service were below par and I feel no rush to go back there so don't worry too much if I can't remember the current name.

Ernie's was never at the cutting edge but had a lovely old-fashioned athmosphere and was a place where you could bring your mother for a treat.

I fear the next time I go to Dublin the Lord Edward will have been pulled out of its time warp - progress is great but some places remain unchanged over years because they have already found the right formula.

On some warm positive notes, the Guinness is as good as ever and the Merrion serves a great late breakfast at weekends. Their afternoon tea is not bad either but defeated my appetite – a lovely touch was to be asked if we wanted the leftovers wrapped up for us.

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Kerriar - thanks for the nice compliment, and yes, I am practically evangelical about Mint (I was the same way about La Dolce Vita in Wexford last year, the only proper Italian food in the country!).

And thanks for suffering at La Stampa and reporting back. Same too on Ernie's. The new restaurant is now called Poulot's after its chef Jean Michel Poulot, who was previously head chef at Halo in the Merrion Hotel. This month's Food & Wine gives it a pretty good review, but I can't comment personally as I haven't been and never went to Halo either (the word "fusion" scared me off). It sounds like its still attracting all the local old dears who were so fond of Ernie's, and the menu has been tempered for less adventurous tastes.

Shame about the collection of paintings going... but I much prefer the exquisite collection with Jack B Yeats in the Merrion Hotel. You travel in style!

Edited by Corinna Dunne (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

First of all, a correction to my first post. The pre-theatre, two course Table d’Hote menu is at 6pm and 6.30pm, and doesn’t run until 8pm; so you need to get there early to snag the bargain.

I was there last night with a few friends; the menu has changed, but the service and food are still great. The best starter was a bit of a surprise to me; a salmon lasagne in a pool of leek veloute. The salmon was a delicate, perfectly seasoned mousseline; the pasta was thin, silky and opaque; and the light and slightly frothy veloute had a sweet creaminess that was just right with it. The terrine of foie gras and confit which I had was OK. The terrine had been lined with Savoy cabbage leaves, which made for a nice presentation; some chunky vegetables were layered through; but somehow the meaty bits ended up a bit dry and I couldn't taste any foie gras. It was served with crisped, brown apricot bread which was very good. The John Dory starter was pretty straight forward; served with a nicely crisped skin, capers, and I think there were some cherry tomatoes there too.

Again, there was a good selection for the mains. The venison was cooked beautifully; crisp on the outside, medium rare inside. It was sliced on a bed of braised red cabbage; served with a perfect fondant potato, a puree of parsnip that was the consistency of a sauce (poured in a slender parabola across the plate), and a nice jus with blackberries tumbling through. There was quite a bit of juniper in there, but it pulled up just short of being too over powering. The pork dish was nearly great. A bit more rustic, with a chunky piece of fillet and confit of pork belly; it was served with a great mash which was ruined by the demon truffle oil and sauced with a truly delicious puree of roast shallots, and an excellent thyme jus. And the halibut dish - which got the thumbs up from across the table - tasted quite a bit of bacon in my little sampler, but apparently it didn't overwhelm the dish.

The cheese plate was the same as before; all French cheeses in excellent condition… really, really good. The mascarpone cheesecake had a confident loose crumb base; was tasty, but no showstopper. And our old pal, the chocolate fondant was good, but since trying out Heston Blumenthal’s recipe in Family Food last weekend, I am convinced that it is better made with egg whites only. Oh, and the chocolate lovelies had a dainty encore served as petit fours with the coffee. A nice touch.

So, in my book, Mint is still doing brilliantly on the price/quality ratio. My only gripe is the truffle oil.

Edited by Corinna Dunne (log)
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  • 4 months later...

I was surprised to hear that the dinner menu in Mint had gone up to €65, and even more surprised to learn that they now offer a tasting menu for €95. But more than that has changed. Oliver Dunne has left (now in Bon Appetit in Malahide), and Dylan McGrath (previously with Tom Aikens in London for 3 years) has taken over as Head Chef.

A three course lunch (including coffee) for €31.50 sounds like a good deal, but the “earlybird” menu has been dropped, and there will be just one sitting for dinner. The word is that El Bulli style cuisine will figure significantly, so it will be interesting to see if this agrees with the deep legal pockets of the locals, who will be decamping to Italy or France for the month of August.

The site is "under construction", so obviously being updated.

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  • 1 month later...

Hazel and I ate at the "new" Mint on Saturday night. Not having eaten there before, I can't compare and contrast, but I can certainly report that this is a restaurant to be taken seriously.

Before we were even handed the menus, a selection of amuses were placed in front of each of us. As usual, I wasn't taking any notes so my memory could very well be slightly off here, but the first was tomato with tomato foam, the second a carrot foam and jelly with marinated trout, and the third foie gras with potato and chanterelle mousse. All 3 were excellent, flavourful and (by Dublin standards at least) inventive, and I was already thinking that this was better than I'd eaten in Dublin for a long time. No mean feat considering I hadn't even seen a menu!

Bread selection was top, and I settled on bacon and onion, and red-pepper. Hazel went for the bacon also, and black olive bread. The red pepper was the least successful of the 3, the peppers imparting a slightly gooey texture. The bacon and onion and olive breads were lovely.

On finally perusing the menu, we decided that the tasting had all the courses from the dinner menu that we wanted the most, or at least it would if we could swap the advertised lamb for the interesting-sounding pigeon. We asked the maitre d' if this was possible, she checked with the chef who agreed, and we were all set.

The wine list is on the short and young side, which is maybe to be expected for a new restaurant, but the (French and young!) sommelier was very helpful and seemed to know his stuff. We chose a bottle of 2003 Meursault (En La Barre from Domaine Jobard) which opened up decently enough after decanting but would certainly have benefitted from a few more years, and a 2002 Volnay (the producer of which has slipped my mind -- apologies).

Before the tasting menu started properly, there was a further appetiser of pumpkin soup with parmesan and truffles, with a pumpkin foam. This served almost as a palate cleanser (preparer?) although I didn't get much truffley flavour. From there it was onto "Scallops" ( Roasted scallops with pork belly, onion puree and rosemary). This was one nicely caramelised scallop on a small piece of pork with lots of "other stuff" going on around the plate. This turned out to be a recurring theme...

Next up was Foie gras and pineapple terrine with celeriac foam and pineapple crisps. This was a cylindrical tower in the middle of a plate with various jellies and sauces and glazes surrounding it, and thinly sliced pineapple crisps leaning against it. Further investigation revealed the foie gras to be at the bottom of the tower. This was a really exciting dish, the pineapple jelly and crisps having tremendously intense flavour, and complementing the foie gras very well. Once again, the plating might not be to everyone's taste, and there was a *lot* going on, both to the eye and the palate

The next dish was John Dory with lemongrass avocado puree, cherry tomatoes and sour cream (can't remember the proper description) and this was the one dish that didn't *quite* work for us. The fish was beautifully cooked, but the flavour was a little swamped by the green, intensely lemony "soup" that surrounded it. This may sound really harsh, but all I could think of was lemon meringue pie with john dory in it. That's an unfair criticism of what was a very well-executed dish, but I just couldn't shake the association.

By now we were really starting to fill up, but we pressed gamely on and were presented with the pigeon. This was pigeon breast stuffed with pear, a pigeon leg, pear puree, a potato and foie gras "lollipop" and the by now expected plating with various miscellaneous stuff. There were truffles involved somewhere, but they didn't have a huge effect in my dish. Hazel spoke highly of the truffles, but only after she'd finished it so I couldn't sample! In any case, the pigeon was beatifully done, marrying well with the pear, and the lollipop was really excellent with a crunchy, deep-fried exterior giving way to a smooth and rich interior.

A small but well-chosen cheese trolley followed, and all the cheese seemed properly-aged and nicely presented. Mercifully, our waitress cut small amounts of each of our selections, because at this point we were really getting full. One of Hazel's selected cheeses was Comte, and when the sommelier spotted this he told her to be sure to save some and he would be back shortly with the remainder of our Meursault to accompany it. Sure enough, it worked very well and I was impressed with the attention of the sommelier on this one.

After a break we moved onto dessert number 1, apricot prepared various ways. This was good, but my memory of it is scant. Dessert number 2 was "Apple" -- Roasted apple with apple jelly and apple doughnut. This was a barnstorming finish with a mind-numbing array of incredible apple flavours. The apple doughnut was particularly good. Coffee followed, and I couldn't believe when I saw the plethora of petit fours presented. There were chocolates, sugar lollipops, doughnuts and various assorted others. Now by this stage we were fit to burst, but somehow managed to put them all away :biggrin:

The service throughout the night was very good, attentive without pestering, and with real attention to detail. However, the tables are just too damn close together, laid out bistro-style in the admittedly small room. I wouldn't mind if I was paying bistro money, but given the serious nature of the food on offer here, and the money being spent, I'd like to be able to whisper sweet nothings etc. without being overheard. Nonetheless, it meant I got a bird's-eye view of the other diners choices, which were in all cases extended versions of the dishes on the taster menu.

In conclusion then, this is as a really exciting addition to the Dublin scene, with creative, well-executed and flavoursome food on offer. My one criticism is that there are just too many ideas on each plate. You can't help feeling that the chef is just a notch exuberant at the mo, and maybe a little less would be more. Still, this has to be one of the top restaurants in Dublin now, and easily the most exciting. Next time, I'll bring my camera and my notebook!

Si

[edited to fix some mis-remembered dishes -- thanks Hazel!!]

Edited by Simon_S (log)
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Great post, thanks Simon. I plan to get there very soon, so I'm very interested in your views.

Did you notice if there was a wine pairing option or many wines by the glass? As you mention, it does seem like the chef is a bit exuberent with his profusion of ideas. And a lot of work for such a tiny kitchen. Apart from the foams and avant garde approach, would you compare it to elBulli, Alinea, The Fat Duck or even SnackMar?

Delighted to hear that you will be taking your camera next time. Cool!

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Hi Corinna, I thought you'd be along fairly quickly alright!

There were no wines by the glass on the wine list, and nobody mentioned a wine pairing. That's not to say they're not available, but they weren't advertised as such. The half bottle selection wasn't too inspiring either as we had intended to get a half of red to accompany our pigeon. We managed to finish the full bottle, though!!

I wouldn't compare it to elBulli, Alinea or Fat Duck. Sure there are foams here and there, and some slightly unusual combos, but ultimately these are fairly recognisable dishes with a bit extra. It's not really at the cutting edge level of the other three. Of course, that's not necessarily a criticism. I'm not even sure that such a restaurant could survive here at the moment.

It's funny you should mention SnackMar, because I actually thought of it during the meal. I suppose it's not dissimilar to SnackMar on some level, not in terms of menu or style, but more that some of the flavours and combinations were reminiscent for me. Now, I know what I mean when I say this, but I imagine such a comparison would be totally misleading for anyone else, so forget I said that!

I'll be really interested to see how Mint develops over the next year or so. Speaking to the maitre d' afterwards, she told us that they are booked out a few weeks in advance, and that they are extremely busy. She mentioned incredibly long hours for the chefs (I'm not awake for as many hours as they're working per day!) and on the whole everyone seems to be working hard to make it work.

I really hope Mint continues to be successful and that people keep going, as I'd love to see how the chef develops the menu over time. I couldn't help feeling that there are more ideas there that, for the moment at least, are being somewhat reigned in to fit the standard starter/main/dessert approach. In truth, I'd also like to see it in a bigger space, with a bigger kitchen. Preferably within walking distance of my house!

In any case, one to watch, and I'll be awaiting your review with baited breath.

Si

PS When I say I'll take my camera next time, I should stress that won't be for quite a while. Probably...

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  • 4 months later...

As Simon said in the post above… Mint in Ranelagh is a very different place under Dylan McGrath. Oliver Dunne revolutionised the neighbourhood restaurant concept in Dublin, doing very good food at a great price, turning the tables and keeping the place full, but Dylan McGrath is chasing the top-end spend, and this chef is looking for a star… which is not surprising since he was head chef at Michelin-starred Tom Aikens in London. (Ironically, this is what Oliver Dunne is attempting in the equally affluent neighbourhood of Malahide, but more of that later).

So the room is still small, but better laid out than it was before, with a particularly awkward table by the kitchen/bathroom disbanded, so just 40 covers, doing the best value lunch in town, and dinner with just one sitting. This guy needs bums on seats to make it work.

The whole foam thing which is mooted “passed its sell-by” in some gastro hot-spots, is relatively new on our shores, and the little introduction we’ve had of it to date has given it a seriously dubious name. Up to now it’s been… have siphon, will foam… and not surprisingly, it’s been panned by the critics and viewed suspiciously by the “ye wha?” public. At this point, it’s important to establish that I’m not a foam disciple; I don’t think it’s the new mother sauce and I don’t have any particular culinary allegiances. I enjoy good avant garde cooking along with just about every other type of cuisine done properly. If anything, I miss the hugely out of fashion heavy French food, the butter-mounted sauces, the cream and Michelin quality demi glace, and by the same measure I also adore really simple, pure food. Interestingly, all the critics, many of whom would normally put themselves on the conservative side of the avant garde fence, have rated Dylan McGrath’s cooking at Mint and are clear that it isn’t gimmicky.

I had only ever had dinner in Mint before, so when I had lunch a while back, I was surprised to see how nice the space is in the daytime. Light floods in and somehow the little square room works very nicely (ask for one of the round tables for two). Celine, the maitre d’ is absolutely lovely, the perfect combination of French and gentle touch Irish, and the young sommelier who Simon talked about seemed to be fine (I only had a glass of wine, well advised and very nice for €7, so minimum contact but all went well).

I absolutely loved the amuse bouche. It was in one of those trendy, tall, round white pots with the lip dipping down to meet you. But what was inside was not “made-y-uppy I can do a foam” stuff, it was so resolved and deliciously creamy that I was quite taken aback, and yes, seduced. I can’t describe it fully, but it was primarily sour cream with a fragile cauliflower foam, and creamy avocado with a touch of lime and quite a bit of sweetness on the bottom layer that worked surprisingly well.

The starter was large (but I had said I was hungry when I was asked!), and Dylan McGrath has gained quite a reputation for his generosity as a chef. Essentially, it was a grilled cod, softly poached egg and chicken wing dish, with leeks and roasted hazelnuts. The only foam on this plate was the cappuccino froth type which I prefer to have constrained to a shot glass as an amuse rather than wandering forth on my plate, but this is just a personal thing. In its defence, it was intense and flavourful, and it actually played the chicken role more comfortably and subtly than the wings, which I felt were unnecessary.

The John Dory main course redefined generosity, and again, I felt that it was a bit busy. But there were some unbelievable strong points to this dish. The fish was served with a sheath of carrot, cut meticulously into an opaque slice measuring about 4” x 5” (much like the Japanese cut daikon) and it was the most beautiful carrot I have tasted in a long time. But better still was the carrot sauce that was poured from a little jug onto the plate at the table. It was deliciously creamy and beautifully balanced, with a touch of star anise and tarragon. To me, this sauce sums up Dylan McGrath’s potential, his sense of texture and the way he can layer flavours. It’s way more than just technique. He’s got religion.

But… another sauce – coriander yoghurt – was poured into the transcendent carrot sauce, and for me it was one jug too many. I also didn’t quite see the role of the deep-fried battered prawn which was perfectly cooked but too sweet for my taste and a little dish of crème fraiche, which I presume was for the prawn (I don’t know), but I didn’t think went with it. There was some beautifully braised chicory, some orange segments and a very sticky demi glace artfully strewn on the outer rim of the plate. When I talked to him later, and mentioned “possibly a bit too much happening”, he flinched ever so slightly (yikes) and explained that his approach is intentional, that he views his dining experience as “eating across the plate” and didn’t think there was a need to make one ingredient the hero. It’s a valid point.

His desserts are very strong… something that is a bit of a weak spot around town. He wasn’t busy, so he treated me to a bit of a selection. One of them was a coconut foam with lime jelly… again top marks for the trendy stuff. I don’t really like coconut that much but it was beautifully delicate and the jelly was so cold that it was a stunning contrast, again, working wonderfully on the senses. A mille feuille idea using fine triangles of caramel and divine lime ice cream was another winner and the ginger pudding with saffron had a lovely grown-up quality.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I think Dylan McGrath is the most exciting chef in Ireland at the moment, and I am dying to see how he develops. He has something really different to offer, it’s not “foam” gimmicky (as some detractors would like to imply), and I think that people know it. He uses impeccable ingredients which aren’t over-manipulated, and even on his busy plates, they manage to make their provenance known (which is no small feat). Personally, I think he needs fewer components on his plate, and I find parts of his savoury dishes a little too sweet (the sweetness is intentional, it is one of his things). He could probably save himself a bit of money by reducing his portion size and he would still remain well ahead in the generosity stakes. His effusive approach is not a mistake, it’s a decision, and the efficacy of it remains to be seen.

I think he is missing a trick by not pinning his colours more firmly to the avant garde mast because he seems to be the only one on this side of the sea who understands the nuance of this different approach. He has a great sense of texture and tension, and I do think that people will “get it”. It would be his clear (and very delicious) point of difference in the battle for the top-end spend. But maybe… and I don’t know the answer to this… the people who can afford to eat top-end are too conservative for anything more adventurous, and the people who would love it would find it too steep for their pockets. Testing the waters on this may be just a bit too brave.

His location in Ranelagh is a bit of a disadvantage for lunch trade as the expense account money is typically spent in town; he is about a mile out of the zone. A “Kitchen Nightmares” marketing promotion targeting all the ad agencies, law firms and big wigs in the city should sort that. If he sent that amuse bouche or something similar into some of the gatekeepers, with info on his great €36.50 lunch (3 courses which includes coffee and great petits fours, or 2 courses for €29.50, but it would be a shame to miss the desserts), he would quickly change the established lunch pattern and get himself in the repertoire. There is no doubt that this is the best lunch value around. He’s an intense, dedicated guy and he is determined to succeed.

There’ll be more to report soon as we’ll be going to Mint this weekend for our first Irish dinner out with the country’s leading gastronomes… Simon_S and Hazel (hannabannana)!!! The tasting menu beckons. Should be fun!

But back to Oliver Dunne (former Mint chef) and his new endeavour at Bon Appetit in Malahide. I can’t start a new thread on this yet, as so far, the eating here has only been done by my twin palate Steve on 3 or 4 occasions, and it’s been downstairs in Café Bon, the more casual bistro part of the enterprise. Upstairs is what Oliver Dunne calls his “Michelin contender”, and Tom Doorley, food critic for the Irish Times (who I rate), was less than favourable in his review on Saturday. The perfectly seared scallop starter was presented on a roofing slate, he recounted unenthusiastically, a heavy hand with the salt was noted on two occasions, and the over-priced “weedy wine list” made him feel “tetchy”. He was disappointed that he was offered bread only once, but this I’d imagine is just a Michelin affectation where all bread is removed from sight after the starter (would sully the palate, I presume?), which is a shame because I remember his bread as being very good and would be surprised if it is stinginess.

And the main course he described as follows:

Roast suckling pig was deconstructed in the fiddly way that pretentious restaurants seem to champion: there was a square of belly, three tiny loin chops in a piece, a disc of white pudding with raisins, a disc of apple-flavoured black pudding, and something that may have been the fillet.

Oliver Dunne had his positioning spot on in Mint in Ranelagh. What he is offering in Malahide is a two-tier approach, with a lesser bistro version downstairs (which by all accounts is quite good: French onion soup, moules, steaks etc, wine starting at €26, and it’s a pity that this wasn’t included in the review), but perhaps the formal restaurant upstairs is a bit of a reach and is just not his thing. But this is just conjecture. I’m sure he’s feeling a bit deflated after the very positive reviews he got in Mint. It is just one review… but I can’t help thinking that what he was doing in Ranelagh would work perfectly in any affluent suburb, and maybe he should stick to the knitting, which he had off pat.

Edited by Corinna Dunne (log)
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Corinna, that was a really great post, and based on my one and only visit I agree with almost everything you said. I just have to pick you up on one thing:

There’ll be more to report soon as we’ll be going to Mint this weekend for our first Irish dinner out with the country’s leading gastronomes… Simon_S and Hazel (hannabannana)!!! 

:laugh::laugh::laugh: I'm not so sure about that one!!

In any case, I definitely think Mint is a restaurant to be taken seriously, and I just can't wait to get back there. It will also be interesting to see if the tasting menu has changed much since our last visit. At the very least, I'll know how to pace myself a little better this time...

Si

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We had a great dinner out with the Gastronomes on Friday. Did the tasting menu with wine pairings. Some very good dishes: scallops, lamb and a rhubarb pre-dessert with the gentlest hint of lavender oil (inspired). Unfortunately, a teensy bit of truffle oil made an appearance in two of the starter dishes. I told chef later about AA Gill's opinion on truffle oil - that a bicycle chain is about as high as it should ever aspire - and suggested he bin the offensive item. So glad to see that AA has taken up this worthy cause.

Will post in more detail when the fondue-filled Gastronomes return from yet another of their holidays!

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Hi Corinna,

Congratulations on receiving such rave reviews about your Eat Out guide and for creating such media interest with it - I saw you on Ireland AM and heard you were also on the radio a couple of times. Well done!

Edited to add this link for the benefit of the others.

Edited by rajsuman (log)
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Hi Suman - Thank you so much... you're making me go red... it's all very new to me :wub: (note, first use of a smiley, and probably the wrong one)... and to be honest, I think I was just lucky in terms of media timing; there really wasn't much going on so I filled a gap. Ian Dempsey is a total pet and could broadcast in his sleep, so the interview with him was really enjoyable. The producer for Ireland AM heard me on his show and talked me into doing TV, about which I was a bit apprehensive. I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go. I just made up my mind not to be nervous, and it paid off. Hey... my 15 seconds of fame!

To put others in the picture (and show that this is actually on topic!), Mint is one of the restaurants that was featured during the interview on Ireland AM (which a surprising amount of people watch, there's too much pandamonium in our house in the morning for TV!). They asked me to pick a few restaurants, and shot footage of each of them. Mint was an obvious one to choose, because it's new and quite different from anything else in town. I also chose Chapter One for its focus on Irish produce and incredible service, commented that I expected Michelin to totally ignore it once again, and then was so delighted to be wrong when they awarded it a star a few days later. I also chose a liitlle family-run Chinese restaurant in Parnell St that reflects changing Dublin, and La Cave, not for the food, but for the ambiance, and because it is heroically untouched by the Celtic Tiger and about the only Bohemian place left in Dublin. Initially Fayruz (my much loved shawarma place) was to be included, but the owner wasn't around so they coulldn't get in to film.

On the Eat Out guide, I was delighted to see that it actually sold out (the power of the media), and there's going to be a reprint for Easons and Newsprint (the distributors). Again, at €4.99 and in magazine format, the guide is targetting a different spend from the traditional guidebook market, so it has proved to be a nice little gap in the market.

BTW, re link, I didn't write the zebra etc intro on the Today FM website!

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Will post in more detail when the fondue-filled Gastronomes return from yet another of their holidays!

Well, we're back from our week of attempting to learn how to stay upright while hurtling down snow-covered mountains. I'm not so much fondue-filled as teeming-with-tartiflette -- you've gotta love Reblochon! One things for sure, I certainly didn't lose any weight while skiing.

Of course, the problem is that given the intervening week, I'm really not sure I can provide a detailed review of our night in Mint. While I'd love to give a course-by-course account of what we ate, I simply wouldn't be able to do it any justice. I can say that we had the taster menu, that it involved a selection 3 amuses, a pumpkin soup appetiser, scallops, foie gras, seabass, lamb, cheese, rhubarb pre-dessert, apple dessert, petit-fours, oh, and there was a sorbet in there also, but those are just words and in this case are bordering on the meaningless.

Specifics aside, I can say that I was really blown away by the entire experience. Having had such a good meal there before (reviewed above) I was somewhat concerned that it wouldn't live up to my memory. I needn't have worried. Indeed, it easily surpassed my last meal there, and virtually none of my criticisms above apply any longer. This time I found the cooking to be much more focused, the plating absolutely beautiful and the overall effect was of a confident chef working at the highest level. There were, of course, bits that were not quite as good as others -- Corinna has mentioned the truffle oil, and maybe the seabass had one ingredient too many on the plate, but there were too many good things to list and the standard of cooking was always top-drawer. I was left in no doubt that this is the most exciting restaurant in the country, and I hope to be a regular visitor.

A special mention must go to the wine pairings which were just spot-on. There were some very interesting selections, always served with words of explanation from the very knowledgeable sommelier, and in terms of breadth and depth it was ridiculously good value at €60.

A marvellous evening was topped-off by a long chat with the chef which stretched far into the early hours of Saturday morning. Dylan McGrath is as single-minded as you would expect, but he is extremely personable and friendly, and was happy to chat to us punters long after he should have been in bed. My respect for his cooking was only heightened by meeting him, and he is as generous with his time as he is with the food he serves. We got to see the kitchen after service and it was shocking to me that food of such calibre comes from such a small space. Unbelievable.

Right then, I wish I could say more about this, but I just can't. You can probably tell that I like this restaurant! Still, the combination of food, wine and company ensured that our meal on Friday will live in my memory for a LONG time.

Just go.

Si

PS Corinna, I think you want this smilie: :blush: That's the one I need to use when you refer to us as the "country's leading gastronomes"!!!

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  • 4 months later...

It seems that Dylan McGrath is coming in for a bit of stick these days. Lucinda O'Sullivan of the Sunday Independent complained that she got special treatment because she is a food critic, seemed to think this was a huge misjudgement on his part, although from what I remember, she quite liked the food and mentioned that it is reasonably priced top-end food, a point which got completely lost in her upset about him referring to her by her name!!! Am I missing something?

Troy Maguire also took a swipe at him in his interview with Trevor White in The Dubliner. He said that eating at Mint is like taking an exam. Unnecessarily disbaraging IMO, I would have thought that Troy would have more confidence in his own cooking and not feel the need to rubbish the competition. Dylan's the best chef in town, whether he likes it or not.

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I didn't see the review in the Sunday Indo (I wouldn't lower myself to such levels) but a friend called me to read out the article over the phone. From what I heard, Lucinda came across worse than the chef. It all sounded very petty to me.

To be honest, I'm a bit sad by all the negative press Dylan McGrath seems to be getting. Obviously given my previous experiences there I'm now somewhat biased, but I think it's a shame that when somebody comes along and tries to do something creative, everyone feels compelled to jump in with snide comments. The usual comment is the tired old "emperor's new clothes", which to me makes very little sense. The simple truth of the matter is that Mint has served me the best-tasting food I've ever eaten in Ireland. End of.

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Hi Corrina,

I don't normally read that rag of a Sunday paper but I happened to come in to posession of said article, and it was probably the poorest written review I have read in a long time. O'Sullivan had made her mind up long before she went to Mint that she doesn't like Mr McGrath, and let her predjudiced view of him influence her review of his cooking. My visit to Mint was definitely the best, and most exciting food I have eaten in this city, the service was outstanding throughout and Mr McGraths quick word with myself and my partner was greatly apprieciated. It really is a shame that some critics don't seem to "get" Mint, however I certainly wouldn't let O'Sullivans review influence me, and I for one can not wait for a return visit.

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I'm a fan of Dylan McGrath also. All cities need chefs like him. I have gotten the impression in the past that Lucinda likes to be think of herself as very important and relevent to her reviews (she sometimes tells us what she wore to the restaurant I seem to remember). very odd altogether. Dylan should have made a point of treating her exactly as a normal customer but there is no point getting cross about such things - she is there to review the food. Good restaurant criticism should be reportage not an op-ed article. Pity it wasnt tom doorley as he loves to be recognised and given extras.

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But back to Oliver Dunne (former Mint chef) and his new endeavour at Bon Appetit in Malahide.  I can’t start a new thread on this yet, as so far, the eating here has only been done by my twin palate Steve on 3 or 4 occasions, and it’s been downstairs in Café Bon, the more casual bistro part of the enterprise.  Upstairs is what Oliver Dunne calls his “Michelin contender”, and Tom Doorley, food critic for the Irish Times (who I rate), was less than favourable in his review on Saturday.  The perfectly seared scallop starter was presented on a roofing slate, he recounted unenthusiastically, a heavy hand with the salt was noted on two occasions, and the over-priced “weedy wine list” made him feel “tetchy”.  He was disappointed that he was offered bread only once, but this I’d imagine is just a Michelin affectation where all bread is removed from sight after the starter (would sully the palate, I presume?), which is a shame because I remember his bread as being very good and would be surprised if it is stinginess.

And the main course he described as follows:

Roast suckling pig was deconstructed in the fiddly way that pretentious restaurants seem to champion: there was a square of belly, three tiny loin chops in a piece, a disc of white pudding with raisins, a disc of apple-flavoured black pudding, and something that may have been the fillet.

Oliver Dunne had his positioning spot on in Mint in Ranelagh. What he is offering in Malahide is a two-tier approach, with a lesser bistro version downstairs (which by all accounts is quite good: French onion soup, moules, steaks etc, wine starting at €26, and it’s a pity that this wasn’t included in the review), but perhaps the formal restaurant upstairs is a bit of a reach and is just not his thing. But this is just conjecture. I’m sure he’s feeling a bit deflated after the very positive reviews he got in Mint. It is just one review… but I can’t help thinking that what he was doing in Ranelagh would work perfectly in any affluent suburb, and maybe he should stick to the knitting, which he had off pat.

Just to add to the praise of Cafe Bon which has fantastic food imo but is only a cafe in the same way that Daniel Boulot's cafe is - 37 euro for 2 courses back in March. Dunne is insisent that the 2 restaurants be treated separately as they have separate kitchens and separate chefs.

I loved the food and it is probably the only time I can remember ever been served a steak properly rare - the proteins coagulated but only just, leaving it still bright red inside (check the steak page in your Larousse for a definition and pics to see what I mean). Steak is served blue instead of rare almost everywhere (especially in France). Also they treated my 6 year old impeccably - always an interesting test of a restaurant.- cooking him fish and chips off the menu. we probably shouldnt have brought him but we misunderstood the cafe thing. Excellent mushroom pie and top notch chocolate and orange fondant. as tot he salt thing doorley is always complaining about salt so I wouldnt pay any attention to that.

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I agree completely ljr. Mint is our WD 50, our La Broche, our Greenhouse (without the great wine list). Lets hope Cafe bon can get as good as Cafe Boulud (When Carmellini was still there). Booked and looking forward to it.

I remember AA Gill's absolutely stirring review of Club Gascon when it first opened. I left that Thursday for the South West of France. I joined a Michelin brigade and spent the next six months celebrating the cruel compression of a reality bent on achieving a level of detail which is an abhorrence and waste to the lives of most everyone I'll ever meet.

In general critics are not related to a chef’s success but they can help at different periods of their life cycle. Mint doesn't need LOSullivan'. But Mint does looks after it regulars, the locals and anyone who shows an interest in food or wine. That was Mr McGrath's only mistake. He presumed LOSullivan was interested.

Mint is the best thing to celebrate about this year. But the message to anyone reading her review is that hospitality should be anodyne and impersonal. If I had read her review then rather than now I might have ended up working at a Quality Hotel.

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To be honest, I'm a bit sad by all the negative press Dylan McGrath seems to be getting. Obviously given my previous experiences there I'm now somewhat biased, but I think it's a shame that when somebody comes along and tries to do something creative, everyone feels compelled to jump in with snide comments.

Dylan McGrath is a highly-strung, totally focused chef. What he is doing now is his life and from what I can see, he doesn’t allow himself time to do much else. The kitchen is tiny and his output is unbelievable, I mean, he does about 7 types of bread not to mention the rest! Ten years ago, a chef of this calibre would never have considered returning to Ireland.

Simon, I think you’re absolutely right. There is quite a bit of underground and overt snide comment going around and I think some of it is because he has upped the culinary ante considerably and in Lucinda’s case, it strikes me as irresponsible. I sense that McGrath is a bit of an outsider on the Dublin chef scene, because he is mostly a Belfast boy and only really knows Troy Maguire from his days at The Commons. But you can bet that his restaurant has had more chefs dining than any other in the country.

I am all for fair comment in restaurant reviews and obviously a reviewer’s experience is going to be highly personal (ljr, I agree with you on Tom Doorley’s sensitivity to salt). But there has to be a sense of responsibility too. Dissing the lazy Italian excuses for food in just about every suburb is fine by me because these places should be trashed to the point that tired, stressed locals realise that it’s just not acceptable that they are treated so badly and that they’re entitled to a decent night out for their hard-earned. And established restaurants that are not really delivering the goods for the prices they charge are fine fodder too.

But going after the ‘tortured artist’ type chef who is working every hour of the day and focusing primarily on his obsession (no surprises that McGrath is worried about food critics) and not his food is simply bad culinary criticism. And for someone with this personality type (which everyone knows about), it is plain irresponsible. It worries me and it brings The Perfectionist to mind. When Thornton (another ‘tortured artist’ type, although not nearly as extreme) lost his second star, the media really rowed behind him and that was good to see. Dylan McGrath needs to be supported in the same way, otherwise, he’ll just pack up and we’ll lose that additional dimension to food. There should be enough room for everyone in the city.

Of course, my other worry is that Michelin's newly found 'fresh, local and seasonal' focus that reflects the indigenous culinary landscape (as opposed to the traditional French one) may work against his style of food. But hopefully they will not be that shortsighted and he will get his much deserved star next year.

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But there has to be a sense of responsibility too. Dissing the lazy Italian excuses for food in just about every suburb is fine by me because these places should be trashed to the point that tired, stressed locals realise that it’s just not acceptable that they are treated so badly and that they’re entitled to a decent night out for their hard-earned. And established restaurants that are not really delivering the goods for the prices they charge are fine fodder too.

Except for Paulo Tullio - always giving crappy Italians good reviews when maybe they have one good dish - this makes them think they dont need to change anything... My local -Lisas in Terenure - is a case in point and you would swear from Paulo's review on the window that it was a long lost gem - most people in the village go there when they are too tired to cook and want something comforting and also in the hope there will be a loud dramatic row (they are frequent) between the owner and his wife! To be fair they cook the spag meatballs very well but thats about it.

I agree with the outsider elements regarding McGrath. He is just working all his waking hours to create something different and this needs to be recognised. Critics can have an impact on the type of people that read them - especially those fashion concious with money types who might feel a place has "gone off" and restaurants like Mint sometimes need a lot of these (sadly). Hopefully the praise he gets will counter any of the criticism.

I looked up my notes on my first visit to Mint in early Sept. 06 and think they indicate why DM should be supported. I was reporting for a food guide and this below is an extract from the email I sent with the report so it was very much first impressions.... I had left my card so they could email me the wine list and I got a phone call an hour later from Dylan wanting to know who I was! Not in an agressive way but in order to defend his staff, in particular Pierre the sommellier who had been criticised by chris binchy in the trib and Paulo T. in the indo. I also think he felt the need to explain what he was trying to do and give me a statement of intent....

"My 20 min conversation with Dylan McGrath was interesting and showed much

more concern for his staff than for how I treated his food in my report. He

was keen to say that he was trying to do something different to anywhere

else in town, that he had been around the block a few times and knew what he

wanted and that he wanted to shake the city up. I did mention the pain

epices appearing a few times and he rightly corrected me (it was cinnamon

breadcrumbs on the figs) and told me that if he finds something he likes he

is happy to use it in lots of things if thats the way his creative juices

are flowing that day (or something like this). My other comment was that

there was a lot going on in some of the dishes like the turbot and he said

"I like wet sauces" and something along the lines of "I want you to get

buckets of flavour onto the plate and I wont apologise for that" - so fair

enough. One amusing element of the conversation was his breaking off after

less than sixty seconds to shout at a hapless commis on his seasoning

techniques - something along the lines of "What the fuck are you doing. Use

your hand - put the fucking salt in with your hand like I showed you. Yeah.

Like that. Just listen in future will you!"

He was quite defensive of his sommellier who he asked to come with him from

London (tom aikens) where his clientele was quite different and here also he

is having to deal with Mint's old clientele who are now coming to a very

different restaurant. His somellier was

criticised by Paulo for over charging on a glass of cote du rhone when in

fact it was from a bottle of 100 euro Cote Rotie and as such 11 euro is a v.

fair price for such a glass. Chris Binchy was fair to the food McGrath says but also criticised the wine, feeling the choice of his pre-dinner glass was inappropriate - I said that I found the sommellier

quite reserved and some of the wines unfamiliar but that this was not

necessarily a bad thing if their provenance was explained further. McGrath

countered by saying that "well if you had been burned twice in a couple of

weeks you would be reserved also".

Anyway just thought it was interesting to read that again. Pierre needs mention for a fantastic list also some of which he imports himself because he couldnt find a supplier in dublin. Many of the names are unfamiliar but anyone with a bit of knowledge and a hugh johnson pocket guide will know the list is superlative.

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ljr, this is a great report. I think Pierre is a very talented sommelier, and to be honest, I'd sooner have some more obscure (but well-chosen) wines than to see the standard-issue winelist (Lynch-Bages seems to be the fashionable high-end of choice all over the city...) In any case, when given free reign I find Pierre is very good at matching, and I've found the wine service to be very generous.

I love the shouting at the commis incident. Sounds like Dylan McGrath alright!!

Si

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  • 9 months later...

A bit late with this.

Here’s a review I did just before Mint was awarded a Michelin star (it’s shamelessly hammed up for a women’s magazine :biggrin: ):

It’s not what you’d expect in a restaurant. After a good 30 minute rendition of Hell’s Kitchen–style f’ing and blinding overheard through the walls that protect the diners from the chef, the noise level in the little dining room kicks up to an oh-my-God-he’s-really-killing-them notch, only to be interrupted by the strident holler of an ambulance. And it’s coming our way. The lights progress from Chelmsford Road, blaze through the two frosted windows of Mint, the whole room goes quiet, there’s not a peep from the kitchen and we watch as the lights come to a halt by the restaurant side door. Is it the chef or his sous? Is it a stretcher or a chair? Please tell us, is there any blood? But all is well in the kitchen of a thousand knives and it appears that we will not be enjoying our 15 minutes with Charlie Bird recounting the events of the evening. It’s probably just a neighbour who can’t take any more of the swearing.

But our meal is wonderful; we leave with yet more Dylan McGrath stories and a slight uneasiness about the sanity of this culinary magician. Me? I like my artists raw, just on the right side of tortured, preferably at the point before the ear becomes dispensable and plops into the court-bouillon. And Dylan McGrath, the head chef at Mint fits the part heroically. He openly admits to going through ten chefs a week in the early days at Mint. Having met the original Perfectionist, Bernard Loiseau, at his famous Côte d’Or restaurant in France many years ago, and found his questioning about how I enjoyed his food to be on the charming side of reasonable, and having subsequently read about how he killed himself, I tread carefully when writing about passionate chefs with insatiable ambition.

But six months later, things have changed. Dylan, with a face made for TV and soulful brown eyes, has thrown himself at the mercy of a TV documentary crew and they’re shadowing him, recording him, editing him. He is what they call ‘great television’. And by the time you read this, you will know the end of the story. You will know whether the inspectors at the Michelin Guide have deemed him worthy of a coveted star. The Oscars of the culinary world. You may have to wait months for a booking in his restaurant (even Sienna Miller had to wait a night for a table, yes, Dylan did get to kiss her, albeit in front of Rhys Ifans), and he might just be the hottest date in town (Trevor White, who knows a babe magnet when he sees one, is already doing a ‘dya wanna be in my gang’ dance at his restaurant door).

So enough about idyllic Dyl. What about his food? Well some would have you believe that it depends which side of the culinary fence you’re on: unfussed food versus molecular malarky. But this, as far as I’m concerned, is to totally miss the point. So I bring along a number of potentially dissenting female voices on my next visit to keep me on the culinary straight and narrow.

Dylan is looking relaxed as we walk through the door. ‘Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen screaming at people like a proper chef?’ I ask. ‘I’ve got a good team in place,’ he smiles, the Jimmy Nesbit accent sending excited Dyl chills up the spine of every female; he flashes the big browns around the room, strides into the kitchen and we sigh, now that’s what we call an appetiser. We settle into our table which is barely elbow space away from the table beside us. This is not the best room in town.

Our amuse-bouche arrives: three beautiful Japanese-style dishes with the most sensuous treats you could imagine. We work through the layers of perfectly pitched textures in each pot. A brandade foam hides an avocado purée which has an incredible sweet/sour balance and is followed by a layer of red pepper jelly. Another pot has a tomato gazpacho foam, fennel cream and a basil and fennel jelly and the last pot has a hot foie gras mousse, diced truffled potato and is topped with a foamed potato soup.

Our appetiser follows: a cassonade in a white asymmetrical bowl. It is a delicate, savoury custard which has its origins in Japan but the taste is solidly French. A celeriac foam yields to a custard made from langoustine stock which is lifted with chervil and the result is sublime. And then on to our starters. They range from €26 to €40 for the langoustines which I cannot resist. My outlay is repaid with two enormous, perfectly roasted langoustines served with a sharp kick of apple purée. On one side is a piece of Jubago ham, on the other, apple sheets cover two cubes of pork belly. Three perfect cubes of warm apple jelly punctuate the presentation and a warm apple juice is poured over at the table and finished off with Jubago oil. This is a perfectly resolved dish which manages to tie all of its elements together. There’s clarity and a great burst of flavour. The other starters are equally good. The roasted scallops (€30) are served with a warm skate terrine and confited duck, the dish pulled together by the unifying flavour of a balsamic shallot sauce in each component, and the beautifully plated, poached, wild salmon (€27) which is served with pickled golden beetroot and paper thin slices of marinated cucumber is a lesson in restraint; the raw, fresh flavours ringing through.

The côte de boeuf for two (€80) is one of the more expensive mains, but a finely constructed dish. On the plate is a deliciously, sticky piece of pressed slow-cooked flank, bone marrow with sea salt, a crispy beignet of escargots, and exquisite, bright green, parsley gnocchi; and the large rib of rare beef is carved and served table-side. A menagerie of pots includes a red wine sauce, parsnip purée, and mashed potato with a potato soup foam on top. The serving is unbelievably generous, nearly enough for four.

An apple themed pre-dessert with layers of jelly, purée and sorbet arrives in a kiln jar and is followed by a passion fruit dessert (€22) which is as witty as it is wonderful. A passion fruit shell is filled with delicate coconut cream and mango purée to resemble a boiled egg and coconut tuiles pose as toast. On a separate plate, two ravioli made from slices of mango are filled with passion fruit tapioca, a bright yellow passion fruit sauce is spiked with the cooked black seeds of the fruit and a coconut froth drifts ethereally across the top of the dish.

We finish our meal with lollipops made with popping candy, froths, sorbet and secret centres and we’re smiling with delight. The room is buzzing with laughter and happy diners. But there is one exception. The lady at the table beside us remains on the other side of the culinary fence. She has eaten in some of the top restaurants in the world, and run a leading restaurant in Dublin, but this food is just not her thing.

But my mind is not changed. In my book, Dylan McGrath is the best chef cooking in Ireland today. The food is way beyond one-star level, and although it may appear expensive, he’s working to some of the tightest margins in town. Go now; give your senses a treat because with this talent he may soon be in a room few of us will be able to afford.

*** *** ***

Some discussion on Mint after it was awarded a star on the Michelin topic here. I haven’t been since but have heard great reports from a number of people who have. The general consensus seems to be that his food is getting better and better. Slightly controversially, he has introduced a ‘no show’ charge. One diner had an interesting reaction to the policy. She said that if one of her friends was unable to come due to illness, she would be delighted to invite a homeless person into the restaurant to share their meal with them, rather than throw away a load of money on a no-show charge. :biggrin:

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