Ireland seems to be rapidly developing its own unique culinary identity. Whilst recent years have been challenging for the Irish restaurant industry, there is now a feeling of optimism in the air with many talented chefs from around the country producing food that is no longer derivative but instead, confidently expresses who we are as a people.
A perfect example of this is to be found in Forest Avenue located on Sussex Terrace in Dublin where Chefs John and Sandy Wyer are offering up truly exciting food using Irish ingredients in innovative ways.
Forest Avenue is a self-styled ‘neighbourhood restaurant’ and is named after the street in New York where Sandy grew up. The dining room has a minimalist feel but cleverly avoids appearing sterile by the use of warm, inviting colours. Dark wooden floorboards and tables add to the Scandinavian-inspired look inside the restaurant.
The restaurant was very busy on the evening that I visited but I had booked in advance so getting a table was not a problem. Seated opposite the open kitchen where John Wyer and his brigade of chefs were working, we happily nibbled on some excellent breads – a superb Sourdough Focaccia and slices of a Caramelised Onion Loaf which came served with a very moreish Whipped Ricotta & Chive Spread – while we examined the menu in greater detail.
There were two menus available on the evening that I visited; a Residents’ Menu which offers two courses for €28 or three for €35 and a Tasting Menu at €49. Two choices were offered for each course on both menus each of which included some intriguing dishes. In the end we decided to go for the Residents’ Menu.
An amuse bouche of Pollock Tempura with Tartare Sauce was first up and set the tone for the rest of the meal. Pollock can be a strong-flavoured fish but the light and crispy tempura batter highlighted its underlying sweetness. The accompanying tartare sauce was full of gutsy, pungent flavours and was served as a smooth purée which was ideal as it didn’t distract from the soft and yielding texture of the daintily presented pollock.
My starter – Salad of Charred Bread, Celeriac, Broccoli, Egg, Black Garlic, Parmesan & Hazelnuts had been plated with finesse and looked beautiful. I loved the way the flawlessly cooked egg surrendered a perfectly runny yolk when it was pierced by a knife. This created a rich creamy ‘dressing’ that was wonderful with the crisp salad leaves, the thinly sliced broccoli stems and the nutty crunch of the toasted hazelnuts. The wispy tendrils of finely grated parmesan provided a gentle saltiness which completed the dish.
The Beetroot, Radishes, House Sour Cream, Lovage, Organic Lettuce, Seeds, Smoked Pastrami starter was another winner. I have always been a huge fan of pastrami, a cured and spiced meat product generally made using beef which is not unlike the spiced beef served in many an Irish household at Christmas, so I was delighted to see it on the menu. Here, its subtle smokiness was the perfect counterfoil to the earthy sweetness of the beetroot, the paper-thin slices of peppery radish and the toasted seeds. I loved the tang of the sour-cream dressing which was pleasingly refreshing and brought everything together in a cohesive way.
My main course of Cod, Whole Roasted Cauliflower, Mussel Butter & Baby Gem was a beguilingly simple looking dish that revealed sophisticated flavours when eaten. Cauliflower was presented as roasted florets, as a purée and as ‘couscous’. Each variation contributed something to the overall dish and complimented the impeccably cooked piece of meaty cod wonderfully! Everything was perfectly judged and left me sighing with pleasure. Even though it included ingredients that I have eaten many times before there were moments when I felt like I was discovering new and wondrous tastes.
The Suckling Pig, Pointed Cabbage, New Season Carrot, Dried Plums was also presented simply and was another outstanding dish. Here, the wonderfully crispy skin/crackling of the suckling pig gave way to meat that was tender and just melted in the mouth. The accompanying small but succulent pulled pork bonbon was delicious especially when eaten with the plums, the sweet whole roasted carrot and the ribbons of slightly crunchy cabbage. This was really clever cooking.
I love desserts and my Mille Feuille of Blood Peach, Pistachio & Vanilla Ice-Cream did not disappoint. I will admit that I have never tried blood peaches before but I was won over by their slight tartness which prevented this dessert from being overly sweet. The peaches were poached and served sandwiched with a lovely crème patissière between layers of crispy buttery puff pastry. The accompanying vanilla ice-cream was velvety smooth whilst a pistachio praline crumb provided textural contrast.
A cheese course of Whipped Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese, Prune & Rosemary Bread was my dining companion’s choice to finish off the meal. This was not a traditional cheese board but instead was presented almost like a dessert in a bowl with some poached pear and a pear purée. A drizzle of honey and a restrained swirl of a balsamic vinegar reduction completed the dish which was served with a mini loaf of bread. We both loved it.
John and Sandy Wyer bring a Nordic sensibility to the food that they serve in Forest Avenue but it remains food that is very much rooted in all that is Irish. Commonplace ingredients are treated with respect and with an inherent understanding of how they can be creatively used to thrill diners.
What I liked so much about Forest Avenue was its lack of pretension or self-consciousness. There is nothing smug or self-congratulatory about the food served. Under John the kitchen operates with a sense of focused calm and determination which is apparent on every plate of food served. Service is relaxed but attentive without being obtrusive and added to our enjoyment of the meal.
For me, dining in Forest Avenue was like falling in love. I was enthralled and won over from my very first mouthful. The food that I ate left me tingling with excitement. Everything tasted so intensely of itself and there were times during my meal where I felt like my palate was being awakened from a very long sleep. There was something almost magical about the whole experience which left me totally smitten and eager to return.
Our bill for the meal plus optional gratuity came to €95 which included two White Ports with Tonic and a bottle of sparkling water.
8 Sussex Terrace
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.