On an evening when #HottestDayoftheYear was trending, the distinctively cool and collected veneer of Grand Canal Square in Dublin’s Docklands had melted. Ties discarded and heels swapped for sandals, people sprawled out on benches, mingled amongst the distinctive ‘light sticks’, and pooled outside the bars and eateries that flank the canal. There was a playful spirit in the air, but those whizzing by on skateboards, and even the guy on a unicycle, couldn’t compete with the banter being had by gangs of teens passing through, soaked to the skin after a day’s antics in the canal; embodying the spirit of summer.
Just as distracting was the chequerboard exterior of The Marker Hotel, where I was meeting a friend for dinner. At a right angle to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, the few tables outside the five star hotel were prized property but we slinked inside to the cool open plan lobby. As with the blue skies outside, coming inside your eyes are drawn up; a bold, angular ceiling tapers down at the edges enclosing The Marker Bar to the right, and The Brasserie restaurant on the left.
Both spaces are fitted with suitably modern and minimal furniture in shades of grey with punchy yellow, blue and purple bursts of colour, but while the main lobby is hive of activity The Brasserie is calm and intimate. Despite living a minute’s walk away, my friend admits he wouldn’t have considered dining here other than for a special occasion. Our fellow diners though are a mix of families, groups of friends, solo diners, and couples, both young and old, that chose to treat themselves to a mid-week meal somewhere that is neither ‘fast’ nor ‘casual’; characteristics our eating out choices adopt most often these days.
Though far from stuffy or intimidatingly exclusive The Brasserie is home to many of chef Gareth Mullins trailblazing and innovate food concepts. As part of ‘The Marker Equlibrium’, a dedicated initiative in the hotel to promote balance and well being, Gareth has designed delicious nutritionally balanced menus for both sides of the lobby.
In The Marker Bar the menu includes dishes with overtly healthy titles like ‘Nutri’ Burger, Refuel Salad and ‘Nutri’ Bite Box, and a range of ‘guilt free’ desserts. The Equilibrium dishes in The Brasserie are more subtle, with just a simple golden equals sign denoting their saintly virtues; so much so that it wasn’t until after we had ordered my friend realised that half of his choices were included in this bracket. All of Gareth’s dishes read innovation and indulgence, not rigor and restriction; we hope that they taste as good as they read.
An unannounced amuse bouche of Pickled Herring on a wafer thin crouton with a lick of golden rapeseed oil is turned up a notch with salty, fried capers and punchy savoury lemon curd; a kikuna leaf and baton of radish add a hint of spice. A sliver of chia seed flecked seaweed hiding beneath a morsel of herring hints to the chef’s agenda for the rest of the meal.
A trio of King Scallops (€14) on a thin slick of black ash timmed lardo is visually striking; their richness is cut by a salsa of asparagus and tart currants, its colour adding a dash of Christmas cheer. The horseradish gel brings a touch of heat, and is perhaps a nod to a signature dish of Nordic chef Ronny Emborg, dubbed by some “The Wizard”; Scallops in Horseradish Gel and Sea Crème.
Summer Salad (€10), although indifferently titled, is a curious combination of peach and salty diced cucumber in tangle of spicy wild rocket. Almonds and chocolate usually the hallmarks of a dessert here are cleverly worked into the dish as a creamy almond dressing and a cacao nib garnish that adds bite.
Kimchi is the reoccurring ingredient in other eye catching starters on the menu; Brandy Bay Oysters (€14), with a miso vinaigrette, and Master Stock Crispy Pork Cheek (€11), with sake emulsion, and fried cashew.
After a palate cleansing Elderflower and Champagne Sorbet, the Asian theme, perhaps inspired by Gareth’s three year stint in Australia, continues with the Grilled Salmon (€25). Flaky pink fish sits in a umami dashi broth, littered with shredded cabbage and ‘brown beech’ Japanese mushrooms; a smooth sweet potato puree gradually muddles the clarity of this pale amber liquid. Like the salmon skin, fried lotus root slices are crisp and moreishly salty. A smoked eel aioli asserts itself with a sharp tang.
Also marked with the Equilibrium symbol is the hunky ‘John Stone’ Ribeye (€32). Glistening in a treacle coloured jus, the dry aged, grass fed Irish beef is seared and succulent. To the side, a crescent of foamy nettle ‘mousseline’ is studded with wedges of tender golden and purple heritage beets and caramelised grelot onion.
Nettles spurt up on the menu in the side of Nettle Garlic Mash too, but we opt instead for the Summer Greens (€4); speckled with toasted chia seeds, angular and crisp white and green asparagus, mangetout, and broccoli, with added kale, are a welcome hit of freshness to our meaty mains.
Not meaty but equally tempting is the Confit Globe Artichoke (€18), served with smoked aubergine, fig caponata, fennel crisp. Like our chosen mains, this exemplifies how Gareth Mullins takes one great ingredient and builds a dish around it that is as unusual as it is uncluttered.
Immensely satisfied, spoons still battle over the folds of delicate Pineapple Carpaccio to unveil the kaffir lime panna cotta underneath. Tropical flavours are intensified by cubes of dried pineapple, citrusy coriander cress, and chilli and vanilla salsa; though as confessed chilli addicts we would have happily braved a more generous dose of the salsa.
Despite being set on a glass of Riesling Les Princes Abbés, our server Zoltan’s enthusiasm for the Château Sainte-Croix ‘Magnolia’ Rosé is not without good reason, and its lively fruity character, and refreshing long finish pairs well with my salmon. We assume that the Don David Malbec Reserve from Argentina, the land of steak, would be a fitting match for the beef, and its plum and oak flavours prove us right.
To soak up the last of the days heat and buzz of the area, post dinner drinks on the Rooftop Bar & Terrace would have been a natural choice, but a private event nipped our notions of prolonged mid-week indulgence in the bud – which probably was a good thing. Instead we checked-out early-ish, and went our separate ways, but not before agreeing that The Brasserie at The Marker is a destination for food lovers, be they sinners or saints.
The Marker Hotel,
Grand Canal Square,
T: (01) 687 5100