I don’t think Dylan McGrath has ever been accused of lacking in confidence. But, so far in his career the chef has earned the right to his signature swagger: be that through achieving a Michelin star status at Mint, opening Ireland’s first cooking on the stone restaurant, Rustic Stone, or playing the perfect villain in his role as a judge MasterChef Ireland.
So when Dylan says: “If there is better sushi in Dublin I haven’t tasted it,” about his Japanese restaurant Taste at Rustic, you can bet he has the goods to back that up too.
Since opening in June 2015, Taste at Rustic has earned praise for its considered design, from the kitchen to the menu, that serves far more than just sushi; its use of premier ingredients like wagyu beef and toro tuna belly; and cooking techniques from Japan, Spain and South America that enable an exploration of flavour.
But just five months after opening Dylan underwent critical back surgery; the agonising recovery that followed kept him from putting his full weight behind the venture, until now. Speaking to the chef last month, for his TheTaste interview, he made it very clear that there is a lot more to come from Taste at Rustic.
“I want to make Taste at Rustic accessible to more people, that was the original idea,” says Dylan, who has created a competitively priced ‘Early Taste Menu’ to do just that. The new menu comprises of 3 courses for €39.50 per person, available Tuesday to Saturday between 5pm and 6.30pm.
Witnessing Dylan’s passion for the project first hand my curiosity was piqued, and soon after, along with my colleague Darina, I climbed the stairs of the Victorian gothic redbrick building to find out if the menu delivers the same bang we have come to expect from Taste at Rustic, for considerably less buck.
As drinks are just as much a part of the Taste at Rustic experience, we couldn’t pass up a pair of Japanese inspired cocktails, and despite being ‘restricted’ from set menu, a fresh and floral Cucumber Lychee Martini (€9) and a frothy, palate cleansing Apricot Ginger Pisco Sour (€10), were shaken, stirred, and slurped by the time we had finalised our choices.
We decided to play ball with Dylan’s categorisation of dishes by taste sensation, and ordered a selection that covered all five bases; sweet, salt, sour, better, and umami.
True to the fresh and fast pace of service of a Japanese eatery, from the modern open kitchen, chefs sporting black headbands quickly invigorate our taste buds with two miniature crispy blue fin tuna and creamy avocado temaki cones that sing with fresh lime juice.
Pork Belly arrives skewered over a tabletop robata grill, which is not only for theatrics, with spurts plumes of white smoke from its smouldering coals, but allows the diner to engage with the cooking process – a theme Dylan is keen to carry up from downstairs at Rustic Stone.
Its playful sweetness, from the sweet soy sauce marinade, tare, is balanced by the rich pork that grows ever more crisp and smokey as it is left to infuse.
The Warm Sea Bream & Shiitake Mushroom Stew is far from the throw it all in a pot, anything goes, rustic stews you and I were reared on. The pale amber broth glistens with slices of barely cooked sea bream, and though delicate to the eye, is powerful with the promised ‘umami’ flavour. I lap it up until only the last of the minutely diced vegetables I can’t quite catch with chopsticks remain.
Sitting on a thick disk of Himalayan pink salt, subtle saline undertones seep into the 6oz Fermanagh Blackened Sirloin. A final seasoning of miso and sesame powder ensures it retains its sublime tenderness and flavour.
A sixth taste, ‘starchy’, may only have been discovered this month, but, unwittingly, Dylan already nails carb perfection with his crispy rice chips, tossed in a sticky Korean hot sauce and sesame seeds. Is it unpatriotic to suggest the best chips I’ve ever had are not made of potato?
No less care is taken with the side of smokey, blow torched shiitake mushrooms, and a drinkable burnt onion reduction. As Darina quips: “this is like steak and chips on crack.”
Roasted Salmon is served in traditional Japanese Nabemono style. Already cooked to borderline perfection, with a blackened skin and fleshy pink centre, it is finished off by a quick dip in a simmering broth with baby vegetables.
And, what a broth it is; once the reserve of the ill and feeble, here it is gasp-inducingly intense with the pure flavours of salty soy and spicy ginger. My only concern was whether to greedily slurp up this elixir by the spoonful, or to share it with the seasoned rice so that every last drop could be absorbed. Thankfully, dribbling is encouraged in Japan.
Stimulated by ‘salt’, satiated by ‘sweet’ and overcome by ‘umami’, three tastes into our palate training exercise we take time to regroup before taking on the ‘bitter’ course: Chocolate and Japanese Pepper Mousse – which after only after a few mouthfuls reactivates our taste buds via the sprinkle of green pepper innocently lining the three perfectly formed, shiny quenelles of mousse.
Matcha Green Tea Brulee is not what you expect a dessert to look like. In a vibrant sea of green, sits a mountain edged by a fresh fall of ice-cold yoghurt mousse snow, its peaks of white chocolate encasing a yuzu ice cream.
The taste should be just as unorthodox, but somehow, by scooping up each element onto a spoon, sweet and sour combine to create something that both decadently creamy and a refreshing end to a meal.
Every course at Taste at Rustic pushes you to the limits, hitting you over the head with a wave of pure flavour, be that sweet, umami, salt, bitter, or sour. Arriving separately, they combine to create a palate tingling, skin chilling, mind boggling taste sensation.
Even more astonishing is the price of this heady experience. The Early Taste menu is not a compromised version of Dylan’s vision, but a generous showcase of his dishes. We felt almost naughty leaving paying under €40 for what we had just experienced – an act of twilight robbery, surely.
A little dazzled and flustered, we made our way back down the stairs and out onto the street: what exactly had just happened up there? One thing is for sure, Taste at Rustic fed our senses, but has left us hungry for more.
Taste at Rustic,
17 South Great George’s,
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she completed a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.