This night last week saw the final evening of service at Heron & Grey restaurant in Blackrock. A restaurant that while only open a few years has left a legacy of incredible meals, fun nights and memories for all who ate there. Here, Ed Jolliffe, former restaurant manager at Glovers Alley, diaries two nights he spent working there... an insightful look behind the scenes before the restaurant closed its doors.
When I got a call from head chef Damien Grey before Christmas – his business partner, restaurant manager Andrew Heron wasn’t well – to ask if I’d be able to step in for a couple of nights, I thought, how can I possibly say no?
In its first year, Heron & Grey, a 22-seater restaurant without even its own bathroom (last year, a four-top table was sacrificed to make space for a bathroom, although many potential customers still think that there isn’t one!), received the ultimate accolade – one star in the 2017 Michelin Guide. From then on it became nigh on impossible to get a reservation, I remember Damien chuckling when he told me about his (and my) former boss, Ross Lewis of Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant, not being able to get a table.
I arrive early on the first evening to meet the other team members, all of whom are handpicked to meet three criteria: they must be good at their job, hard-working and have a great sense of humour. I definitely got a sense of why the latter is important after spending two nights working here as while the crew are extremely hard-working and deeply passionate about their work, they like to keep the atmosphere light where possible and they just really enjoy what they do.
In the kitchen, there is sous chef Jojo, experienced in one and two Michelin starred restaurants and Roisin, junior sous chef, who came for work experience and fitted in so well that she became a permanent fixture, and Ailish has been working front of house for the last 18 months.
The term ‘front of house’ doesn’t seem appropriate in the context of Heron & Grey, as it is fully open-plan, not to mention the fact that Damien spends a lot of time on the customers’ side of the pass during service.
After going through the menu for the evening – ten courses, including a cheese course and two sweet courses (Grey always likes to finish the evening with chocolate) – I familiarise myself with the small, but eclectic wine list and the pairing wines that will match each of the night’s dishes.
With such a small restaurant, it is imperative that every seat is filled for every service. Half the guests arrive at 7.30pm, the rest at 8.30pm. On this particular evening, at 6.45pm, disaster strikes – the party of six booked on the chef’s table cancels. This will wipe out any potential profit for the evening. Thankfully, the automated reservation system kicks in, sending a message to everybody on that evening’s waiting list, within half an hour the table is resold – victory snatched from the jaws of defeat – and we all breathe a sigh of relief.
The first sitting arrives and all diners opt for pairing wines so I begin my job and serve and explain the first wine, followed by Damien talking through the opening dish, which we all serve in unison.
Empty plates from the first course of Celeriac, Apple and truffle are cleared with overwhelmingly positive feedback from the guests. I am already loving the buzz of this restaurant and the atmosphere of the evening; everyone is enjoying themselves – customers, chefs... and Ailish and I are getting into a natural rhythm of food and wine service. I can honestly say that it was the most fun I had at work in a very long time, perhaps ever! With a team this size, there is no room for ego, everyone jumps in to help each other, whether it be polishing glasses, clearing tables or washing cutlery.
A personal highlight for me on the menu had to be the mini pastry cone filled with aged Parmesan fondue, smoked eel pate and fennel pollen, paired with Philippe Milan’s Rully Blanc. Truly fantastic!
By the halfway point in the first sitting, the 8.30pm guests arrived, with most having matching wines and one couple having an alcohol-free pairing, involving homemade kombucha as well as fruit-seccos, all ably prepared and served by Ailish.
After the main course of Wicklow Sika Venison, we move onto my favourite pairing of the night – Shavings of Swiss L’Etivaz Cheese with a Smoked Beer Onion Purée, matched with Suertes del Marques, Trenzado, a smoky white wine from the Volcanic soils of Tenerife.
As the night drew to a close, with guests having filter coffees and herbal teas, it is clear that Heron & Grey hit on something unique – this is fine dining, but not as we know it. There is no pretence, there are none of the expected little extras that can sometimes make you feel special: no bread, no amuse bouches and no petit fours. These are not missed, because what makes Heron & Grey outstanding is the interaction between guests and staff, particularly Damien, whose cooking is some of the most self-assured I have had the pleasure to eat.
The atmosphere is fun, you can let your hair down! I’m not joking when I say that... on my second night there I got involved in an arm wrestle with a customer on the Chef’s Table, it’s just that kind of place.
Having said all that, the wind of change is blowing. Andrew Heron has left the business – he understandably wants to spend more time with his wife and young family, something I can completely relate to. And so the doors closed, so to speak, on the restaurant at the end of service at the end of last week, the last Friday in January.
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Hello Friends, @liathrestaurant has taken over what was formerly known as the Heron & Grey instagram account and is now the official account for Liath (Le-ah) Restaurant. We look forward to continuing on the path #heronandgrey created and bringing you new ideas and a unique dining experience. Our website: www.liathrestaurant.com will be live on the 1st of January 2019. Reservations: Our first release of bookings will be on the 1st of February 2019 at 10am for the month of March via the link on our website. The team are very excited and can’t wait to show you what we have planned. Merry Christmas and we hope the new year is a prosperous one for everyone. #liathrestaurant #newbeginings #2019
The restaurant will be closed for the next few weeks, with Damien reopening it in March under the new name Liath (pronounced Le-ah), which is the Irish word for Grey. Front of house will be run by Niall O’Connor, formerly of The Richmond and Etto. This is the next phase for Damien and he is already planning to raise the bar for what he is doing in Blackrock, as he says himself “to take it to the next level”.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next!
Author: Ed Jolliffe
As a music-loving teenager and aspiring musician, Ed learnt to wait tables and this, coupled with a love of wine inherited from his stepfather, set him on a path in hospitality that has brought him to the very top. For seven years, Ed was the head sommelier at award-winning Chapter One Restaurant, having previously worked as restaurant manager at Ely Winebar.
After managing the opening of Glovers Alley by Andy McFadden, Ed decided to hang up his corkscrew, concentrating on wine consultancy and writing. Still working with those who require the very best in wine and service, he is currently working with the team at The Greenhouse restaurant.