There are certain meals that stay alive in the memory long after you have eaten the food. I have previously dined in the Greenhouse on Dublin’s Dawson Street and was very impressed with the food that I ate on that occasion. However, when food is that good, it places itself on a pedestal of its own making and consequently, as unfair as this may seem, it is judged at a higher standard. The sign of a truly great restaurant is the ability to sustain these levels of excellence irrespective of who is dining in the restaurant and when. It was with this in mind that I headed off to the Greenhouse again, hoping that this visit would be as note-worthy as my first and that my initial opinions would be confirmed.
In the accomplished and creative hands of Head Chef Mikael Viljanen, some seriously exciting food is being produced at the Greenhouse. Mikael is very much a chef’s chef and as such, it is unsurprising that he was judged Ireland’s top chef at the recently held Irish Restaurant Awards for 2015. Originally from Finland, Mikael worked with Paul Flynn at The Tannery in County Waterford before becoming Executive Chef at Gregan’s Castle in County Clare. With restaurateur Eamon O’Reilly as a business partner, he decided to make the move to the capital and together they set up the Greenhouse in 2012.
Other commentators have noted the ‘bijou’ quality of the dining room in the Greenhouse and whilst it is certainly compact, there was loads of space at our table and the size of the room did not, in any way, diminish our overall enjoyment of the meal that we ate. In fact, I found its understated décor appealing and a nice change from all the ‘busy’ almost brash restaurant dining rooms that seem to prevail these days.
After examining both the set dinner and the tasting menus on offer I decided to go for the 6 course tasting menu. A 5 course ‘surprise’ tasting menu (with vegetarian options) was also available and is the only menu served on Fridays and Saturdays.
Shortly after sitting down we were presented with two amuse bouches; firstly a little disc of Cheese Shortbread, topped with a cheese mousse and secondly a stunning Beetroot Meringue filled with a silky smooth fish pâté and some fish roe. I still don’t know how something so small could possess such a concentration of gloriously earthy beetroot flavours.
Breads then arrived along with a mouth-sized Gougère and a tiny Chicken Liver Pâté Tartlet for each of us. Both were delicious. Slices of sourdough were served in a little bread sack which appeared to have a warming element contained within it which kept the bread warm. A dark rye was served separately on a tiny wooden block with both a traditional-style and a whipped brown butter.
For the first of our 6 courses, we were served Foie Gras Royale, Rhubarb, Macadamia, Frozen Foie Gras. This arrived in a glass bowl containing a foie gras mousse topped with frozen foie gras ‘powder’, rhubarb jelly and chopped macadamia nuts. A tiny sliver of smoked eel and a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet added to the dish creating flavours and textures which danced in the mouth. Beautiful to look at, this was a wonderfully inventive dish, unlike anything I have tasted before! In many ways it has become the Chef’s signature dish, with different fruits being used to reflect seasonal produce.
Next up was Scallop, Broccoli, Smoked Yoghurt, Brown Butter. Here three enticingly plump scallops were served perfectly cooked with some blanched and charred broccoli, a crisp wafer, a sliver of lardo, a swirl of gently smoked yoghurt and a generous drizzle of buttery beurre noisette. This was a skilfully balanced dish full of taste combinations that worked so well together.
Moving on, the Red Mullet with Bouillebaisse Sauce really showcased this wonderful fish. With its fine and delicately flavoured white flesh and crispy skin, the red mullet was flawlessly cooked. The accompanying courgette flower had been stuffed with a light-as-air langoustine mousse which just dissolved in the mouth. Served with broad beans, a few leaves of wilted, wild garlic and a rather magnificent, if slightly phallic looking spear of asparagus, this was another wonderful dish that looked picture perfect on the plate. The sauce despite being served as a foam managed to retain a depth of flavour which was evocative of a traditional bouillabaisse from the south-west of France.
We first made the acquaintance of the pigeon by being presented to him as he nestled in a box of smoking hay. Soon after, he reappeared on the plate us as our next dish – Anjou Pigeon & Wild Garlic. Despite the fact that smoking meats to the right level is notoriously difficult to achieve, here it worked lending the pigeon just the right amount of smokiness without overwhelming the flavour of the bird. The slightly sweet sauce, which contained fruity raisins and pine nuts had the right amount or acidity which complemented the rich meat perfectly. The wild garlic, served as a vibrant green purée added further interest. A light and fluffy potato gnocchi finished off the dish perfectly.
The Cauliflower, White Chocolate & Coconut pre-dessert was a stunning dish and for me, the highlight in what was an excellent meal. Present here were flavour combinations that shouldn’t have worked, but they just did! The white chocolate and cauliflower were combined together in a sweet mousse with both ingredients retaining their own identities but they married so well together. The addition of a coconut sorbet (though it was so creamy it had a texture more like that of ice-cream) brought everything together to create a dish which presented as white-on-white looked so simple and elegant. I loved it.
Our final dessert was almost like a fine dining interpretation of a Snickers bar, but so much better. Chocolate & Peanut was presented as a rich chocolate mousse on a chocolate biscuit base, topped with peanut mousse, chocolate shards and gold leaf for an added touch of opulence. This dish was wickedly rich but the accompanying banana ice-cream created some relief on the palate.
Terrific petit fours including chocolate caramel truffles fashioned to look like actual truffles, fruit pastilles and a raspberry macaron arrived along with decent espressos to complete the meal.
There was a generosity and expansiveness about the meal we ate. The meal was so much more than the 6 courses we were initially led to believe we would receive. There was much to delight and enthral. Mikael Viljanen is producing food that is avant garde and exciting. He obviously draws on the influences of his childhood in Finland, yet uses these reference points to create food that celebrates seasonal Irish produce in an imaginative way.
Service was impeccable and seamlessly delivered by staff who were knowledgeable and eager to please. This was a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable dining experience.
Cost of 6 course tasting meal was €85 (matching wines +€48).
off St. Stephen’s Green
Tuesday – Saturday
Lunch: 12pm– 2.15pm
Dinner: 6pm – 9.30pm
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.