Being located on St. Stephen’s Green in the prestigious Fitzwilliam Hotel, you can imagine Citron restaurant has a lot of competition from the surrounding hotels and restaurants. To stand out from the crowd, their menus are innovative, exciting and ever changing. Much of this has come from Head Chef Philip Mahon who has been leading the team there for the last three years.
Philip came to Citron with a wealth of experience having worked in some of the best restaurants in the world under top chefs. He learned his craft from Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay and Dylan McGrath and has cooked in Per Se, Mint, Alinea and the Ritz Carlton in Wicklow.
This impressive resume is a great reflection of Philip’s passion and drive which is so apparent in the food he produces at Citron. He wants to recreate happier times by evoking a sense of nostalgia, “the happy feeling, the gathering, the sharing of food.” His kitchen sources the best ingredients and supports a lot of local suppliers and producers.
This humble approach to food is not to be considered boring or stale however, as Philip believes strongly in pushing the boundaries and creating individual and unique dining experiences. His team have created themed feasts, introduced goat to diners and have even considered a live menu of insects. He conceded that Ireland might not be ready for that quite yet.
This innovation is encouraged and driven by the hotel’s management and with this support Philip is free to get creative. “I’m consciously looking at new ways to evolve. It is a challenge, it’s just trying to come up with different things.” One of the areas the team focuses on is ingredients, what to do with them and how to treat them differently. Last month they created a range of homemade vinegars which should be ready in twelve weeks and will hopefully inspire a whole range of dishes, totally unique to the city.
The only constant in Citron’s menus seems to be quality and seasonality. Having moved to the countryside of Kildare two years ago, Philip has been inspired by the seasons changing around him. He says he has a ‘better perspective of things’ now and is using more and more from his surroundings through foraging, butchering and focusing on sustainability. “Living in the country there’s something new every week. If a leaf falls, if a berry grows, if a mushroom pops up, it changes all the time. It’s constant, it’s every single week.” This is displayed in Philip’s menus and it is here that he has put his stamp on the restaurant.
His emphasis on ingredients and his creativity is shared with the team in Citron but the most important thing Philip teaches his chefs is organisation. This is something he had ingrained in him very early on in his career.
You could be the best cook but if you don’t have the organisation then it’s not going to transpire. You shouldn’t be stressed when you’re cooking, it should be a happy experience. If you’re not ready for service for instance, it’s a very long tedious service which there’s no end to, it’s like being in a dark hole. But when you’re on top of your game and you can look around you and everything is ready and everything is at your fingertips you’ll enjoy it.
It is clearly important to Philip that he and the team enjoy their work and he wants to create an original and innovative atmosphere in Citron. “I like to be part of a creative process, something new, something that’s evolving that’s not stale, we change things constantly. Nobody wants to stand still.”
Some of the ideas Philip has for Citron going forward include some radical and imaginative ideas such as switching all the furniture around and hosting a safari through the hotel where guests have a course in all the different dining areas. He would also like to see the staff become interchangeable in their roles. “Get the chefs to serve the food, get a bit more theatrical at the table, even some carving. Bring that back, and explain in depth what we actually do.”
This is partly to create a unique dining experience for the customer but also to breed a united environment among the staff where they aren’t segregated. Philip says the industry needs this to survive. “It evokes a culture where everyone eats together. Head chefs need to respect absolutely everyone in the kitchen from the commis chef to the kitchen porter to the right hand man. You need that camaraderie. Without it you’d have nobody, you can’t do it all alone.”
With a united and enthusiastic team behind him and management who are encouraging and supportive it seems like there is no limit to what Philip can achieve with Citron. “There are no boundaries, if there’s something that we think of that might work or might really create a story that’s what we’re into. It’s definitely an exciting period, in January we can start delivering on stuff we’ve been planning this year, going all out for events. We might do something weird and wonderful.”
The mind boggles thinking of all the possibilities for Citron going forward. Not many people can say they work in such a positive environment and diners are clearly drawn to such an exciting restaurant. This fine dining brasserie is the best quality at exceptional prices and Philip is an incredible asset to the restaurant. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is a features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo