One crisp and cold Tuesday I dragged my poor mother into town to “pick up a few bits” before we sailed off on a Meditteranean cruise that weekend. We do sound terribly fancy, but a cheap as chips deal had come up and we couldn’t pass it up. Finishing up our shopping I exclaim I’m hungry and mam is all too willing to indulge in some pre-holiday grub. I tell her of a new restaurant just barely open, on Thomas Street no less, but I’m doubtful we’ll snag a booking so last minute. One hopefull phonecall later, I’m told we can sit at the bar (since visiting I can confirm that I would sit on the floor if it meant I got to eat that ravioli, but more on that later).
When we arrive we’re the first in the door, and I worry we’re too early and they aren’t open. But as four smiley faces turn to me and mam we’re welcomed in and given a choice of sitting at the bar, or a large communal table. We sit at the table and settle in, taking in the decor and atmosphere. The restaurant itself is smallish, long and narrow, but the space is designed well, the decor is minimal but with a homely feel.
The open kitchen allows us to peek in at the two chefs inside. One is chef Keelan Higgs, you’ll know him from Locks, Luna, and The Greenhouse. This guy has serious culinary stripes under his belt. The second is Kelan Heffron (of the same name with a slightly different spelling). Heffron made it to the semi-final of the prestigious Euro-toques Young Chef 2018
Higgs has described the food as “modern Irish” and the menu is full of dishes designed to be shared family style, allowing diners to mix and match whatever tickles their fancy. There’s no set “starter, mains or desserts”, you can order as many dishes as you please and sharing is encouraged.
We’re only at the beginning of 2019, so I haven’t racked up nearly enough notches on my culinary belt yet, but I can say with near certainty this evening I enjoyed two dishes that will definitely stay among my favourites of the year. A bold claim? Well, when you taste them you’ll understand. I adored the venison loin, a hearty dish that is reminiscent of Irish mothers family dinners but with far nicer ingredients and superior cooking (sorry mam).
I love the sharing style in which the dishes were served, which saw me lifting up perfectly pink venison and gracing my mother’s plate with it, slathering peppercorn gravy around the plate to scoop with the earthy celeriac. It makes the meal more interactive, and it almost feels like we’re sitting at our own kitchen table, swapping dishes back and forth and (almost) fighting over who wins the last piece of venison.
My favourite plate of the evening comes in the form of Comté Ravioli, Hearth Roasted Mushrooms, Mushroom Broth (€16.00). What’s not to like here? Pasta, cheese and mushroom, all winners in my book. The dish itself looks almost too pretty to eat. Hearth cooked and raw mushrooms are dotted around the comté filled ravioli, all sitting in that incredible broth (I won’t lie, if I had been in private I would have eagerly licked the bowl clean). Biting into the thin parcels of pasta, we’re met with an explosion of gooey cheese and I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Our dish of Foie Gras, Chicken Liver Parfait, Crispy and Sweet & Sour Onions served with Potato Bread (€14.00) was equally as impressive. Warm potato cakes, looking deceivingly like sweet waffles are generously slathered with silky smooth parfait. The richness of the parfait is well balanced with the zingy sweet and sour onions, and their crispy counterparts giving a divine crunch. We scooped up every morsel of this dish until the bowl was practically clean again.
When it comes to dinner I’m a creature of habit, and when my eyes see dishes laden with meaty elements, I can’t help but order them. Staying true to my habits we ordered the Venison Loin, Hearth Roasted Celeriac, Wild Mushrooms served alongside Peppercorn Gravy (€60.00). A large, exquisitely cooked venison loin ran the length of our sharing plate, a deep brown colour searing the edges and it’s red centre peaking through the slices.
I was like a kid at Christmas, and quickly served myself and mam two generous portions (and before you ask, I served my mother first, I am a lady of course!). Hispi cabbage came with charred and crispy edges, giving you another element of the hearth cooking. Umami-rich mushrooms of all shapes and sizes complementing the meat, and the earthy celeriac served in two chunky pieces completed the dish.
Red wine was the choice of the evening, and we allowed sommelier Vanda Ivančić to choose for us. A bottle of light Mas Candi Cabòries was the perfect choice with our venison, allowing the meat to shine while adding soft oak flavours. Vanda could be the nicest sommelier in Dublin, and quite possibly the coolest. She has created a list of interesting wines, featuring bottles that are mainly organic, unfiltered and have had little interference during the winemaking process.
There’s only one dessert on the menu, so there were no lingering decisions. We enjoyed Warm Jamacia Cake, Caramelised Pineapple, Vanilla & Coconut Cream (€8.00). There’s also cheese (€12.00) available so we ordered a plate of that too, to enjoy with our coffee. I’m a firm believer of “there’s always room for dessert”, and I’m so glad we stuck to that mantra tonight.
Dessert was the perfect combination of warm, sticky and sweet. The warm spiced cake was made to be served with that sticky caramelised pineapple, the cooling coconut cream (mam and I fought over this, and I’m not ashamed to say it) marrying all the elements for a completely delicious mouthful.
Another thing I love about Variety Jones, is they have their wine list on their website! Vanda tells me the wine list will change regularly, which is great news for wine lovers, meaning there will always be new surprises in store when you return. This place has already gained a winning reputation, with critics singing their praises and diners doing the same. Booking a table here should be on your to-do list ASAP, you won’t regret it.
In total, dinner for two with a bottle of wine and coffee came to €153.50.
78 Thomas Street
T: +353 01 454 4976
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH