On Sunday, August 25th, The Greenhouse was awarded Best Restaurant in Dublin at the 2019 FOOD AND WINE Awards in association with Rémy Martin, and Mickael Viljanen also won Best Chef in Dublin and the overall accolade of Best Chef in Ireland. Ahead of another big ceremony in two weeks, Aoife Carrigy paid a visit.
On the first Monday in October, there’s gonna be a shindig in London. Some restaurants will win a Michelin star, some will lose one. The Greenhouse may or may not gain another. Many argue that Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen has been cooking at a two-star level for some time. But then proper recognition for Mickael’s accomplishments has been a long time coming, as was his first star. After an initial flurry of excitement when he left The Tannery a decade ago to become head chef at the wonderful Gregan’s Castle in the Burren – I still remember the excitement of reading Dianne Curtin’s 2009 review in FOOD&WINE Magazine – and a much-feted move to Dublin to head up restaurateur Eamonn O’Reilly's second restaurant, The Greenhouse, things seemed to move slower for Mickael.
Michelin may judge restaurants on the cooking alone and not the environment it’s served in, but for most diners, a dining experience is about more than what’s on the plate. Dawson Street was never going to offer the magic of those Burren views over the lunar landscape and Galway Bay beyond. And my personal experience of poor service for high prices at one long-ago Greenhouse lunch allowed the years pass by without a revisit – despite consistent reports that Mickael’s cooking was better than ever. The truth is that neither I nor the friends who I might dine with have the loose change to drop a ton or two per head on an experience that may or may not wow.
So far, however, 2019 is The Greenhouse’s year, with both restaurant and chef winning best in Dublin at the recent FOOD AND WINE Awards, and Mickael named overall Chef of the Year 2019 by both FOOD AND WINE and Georgina Campbell ar her recent awards.
Restaurant Manager Darren Campbell joined the team last year from a longtime Chapter One post and has been working to raise the front of house standards to those of the kitchen. So, ahead of October’s announcements – and after a recent press lunch with Krug, for which Mickael conceived an inspired scallop ceviche with ginger, mandarin and jalapeño jus – I figured it was time for a revisit with my restaurant critic’s cap on.
On one particular autumn evening...
The room is still tricky. Offered a choice of two tables, we choose intimacy with neighbours at a well-lit table over a gloomier corner option. The menu choice is simple: four or six courses of a tasting menu (€110/129), with or without wine pairings (€75/€100). There are also lots of interesting and lesser spotted wines by the glass, so my date choose to go by the glass and I opted for the four 100ml sommelier pairings.
Orders in, we were off with a series of snacks. The first – a jewel-like globe of crisp beetroot caramel filled with a creamy horseradish mousse – brought me right back to the first mouthful of Mickael’s food I ever ate in Gregan’s Castle, a playful sweet-savoury beetroot and horseradish macaron. Eaten a decade apart, both opening snacks announced that we were in talented hands.
A super-thin pastry tartlet followed, brimming with preserved lemon and Parmesan custard. The third snack was off the charts: a tangle of the delicate flesh of Irish brown shrimp with buttermilk, preserved wild garlic oil, tangy red currants and fresh wood sorrel, and on the side, tempura shrimp’s head fried to an umami crunch (think bisque crisp, perhaps) with aoili of pimento d’esplette. This is food to slow time down as you savour each flavour and sensation. This is food to wow.
That play between bright and umami notes was at the heart of our first course of four: under a thin layer of Granny Smith apple green gel was a delicate mousse of foie gras, atop were scattered cubes of intense Lincolnshire smoked eel and candied walnut. Several more preparations of both apple and walnut included a perfect sour apple sorbet. My tasting serve of an off-dry Max Richter Kabinett Riesling was a reminder of the thrilling acidity that Mosel can offer.
Our next course emphasised the spare beauty of Mickael’s signature style: a clean-lined tranche of sea bream pressed with langoustine meat, framed by an Earl Grey and Jerusalem artichoke purée that was punctuated with a fat, seared cep and a miraculously puffed pomme soufflé. The piece de resistance was a copper pot of chargrilled butter sabayon for spooning over. Its subtly smoky character was elevated by my pairing glass of Pernand Vergelesses Les Pins 2014, a creamy, complex chardonnay from Côtes de Beaune.
I’ve never seen grouse on a menu before, and our next course made me wonder why. Its surprisingly delicate meat was roast inside what seemed to be a layer of mushroom and served with flavours and textures of preserved blackberries, earthy beetroot, bursts of coffee and a sauce grand veneur (a rich game sauce). This elegantly poised dish was elevated by a pairing with a northern Rhone Syrah, Domaine Jolivet’s St Joseph 'L'Instinct' 2014.
Dessert raised the bar another level. This poetic ode to chocolate and Baileys included a delicate ‘delice liqueur’ chocolate sphere that imploded in the mouth, another sphere of supremely rich chocolate ganache seasoned with salt flakes, and a miniature accordion of ultra-thin pastry sandwiched with patisserie cream and garnished with gold leaf that managed not to look naff. A glass of 21-year barrel-aged Niepoort 'Colheita' 1997 port brought out the nutty, caramel flavours of the top quality chocolate.
When Mickael won Best Chef at the recent FOOD AND WINE Awards, he brought his whole team up on stage with him to collect the award. He knows that he is only as good as the team he can build, train and retain around him – no mean feat in a time of severe chef shortages. He is currently blessed (or rewarded, perhaps) with top talent who can execute his vision to this level of excellence. The culinary skills exhibited at The Greenhouse are something special: each dish comprises an extraordinary number of complex preparations, yet these are experienced as something elegantly simple, in dishes that never feel overworked or showy and where everything is there because it should be.
That food is now matched by a suitably skilful, understated service led by Darren and executed by each of his front-of-house team. Sommelier Paul Gartland, in particular, has that attractive combination of lightly worn knowledge paired with the confidence to listen to his diners – he responded well when my date felt that one glass of wine was not in peak condition, and brought him something else that suited his palate and the dish well.
The room itself needs more work than the food, and the diners who are here to spend serious money on it deserve a more comfortable luxurious setting, and so the promise of a planned January renovation is for fewer but roomier tables as well as a general spruce up (hopefully the pokey loos will get a bit of love too).
Does The Greenhouse deserve a second star? It’s certainly ‘worth a detour’ which is what that star decrees – a detour from everyday eating into the realm of food as art.
The Bottom Line: We spent €330 before service for a four-course tasting menu dinner for two people, with wine pairings for one and two glasses of wine for another.
The Greenhouse, Joshua House, 21 Dawson St, Dublin 2, D02 TK33.