Opening the Book at Chapter One
There are those who will argue that Michelin has had its day as supreme judge of the good, the bad and the ugly of the restaurant world but the stark reality is that the award of a Michelin star attracts customers through the doors and for many it still serves a purpose in assessing the standard of a restaurant.
Gaining a Michelin star is not easy as it requires focused determination but holding on to one is just as challenging as the standards achieved must be maintained on a daily basis. However, this is precisely what Ross Lewis has managed to do since first gaining a star for Chapter One in 2007 in his role as head chef.
Housed in the basement of the Dublin Writer’s Museum on Parnell Square in the north inner city, Chapter One is co-owned by Lewis and Martin Corbett. This imposing Georgian building, at one time the home of whiskey distiller John Jameson, underwent renovation a number of years ago. Period features were retained and the property now exudes an air of genteel elegance which is in keeping with the style of food that is served. Here you will find dishes that seamlessly blend classic technique with modern innovations. Moreover, Lewis has adopted a partnership approach with Irish food producers and the menus offered reflect this at every turn.
From the moment you arrive at Chapter One, you realise that exemplary service is part of the whole experience; staff are friendly, attentive and above all, highly professional. They are well briefed on all aspects of the menu and able to answer any queries that you might have regarding the food and drink on offer.
As we sat in the comfortable bar area sipping our pre-dinner drinks – a Jimmy Hendrick’s (€14) made with Hendrick’s Gin & St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur for me and an Old School G&T (€12) made with Dingle Gin for my companion, we looked at the range of menu options and quickly decided to go for the 4 course Dinner Menu (€70 per person). The restaurant also has an impressive wine list but on this occasion we were content with our drinks from the House Speciality Cocktails listed.
We were then shown to our table in an intimate corner of the restaurant where we chatted together and happily nibbled on the breads, including an excellent brioche, which had been freshly sliced for us from the bread trolley by our waiter.
Our first courses were both beautiful to look at. A Salt Baked Beetroot with Smoked Almonds, Pine & Beetroot Curd was colourful and delicately presented in an almost playful fashion. This dish was a celebration of beetroot where everything on the plate worked to highlight its unique earthy sweetness. The rather sassy pink beetroot curd was made by whipping puréed beetroot with goat’s curd and was an innovative and delicious interpretation of that classic pairing. The unique qualities of this humble vegetable were revealed as the different flavours and textures came into play with each mouthful that we ate.
A Japanese Pearl Tapioca with St. Tola Goat’s Cheese, Organic Spinach, Mushroom Juice and Irish Shitake was an intensely flavoured yet surprisingly light dish to eat. Tapioca, a starch which is extracted from the cassava root, has the ability to make many people shudder as childhood memories of claggy ‘frog-spawn’ puddings come flooding back at the mere mention of its name. Here it was served in a small bowl of a deeply savoury and umami-rich mushroom broth along with spinach and the mildly flavoured St. Tola. This was such a clever dish where each element retained its own identity but worked in harmony with the others. I loved it.
Moving on, my Rabbit Terrine with Fermented Sweet & Sour Pear, Foie Gras Parfait & Pickled Mustard Seeds was another fantastic dish. Rabbit can be tricky to cook as it has a tendency to dry out and it turns grainy if even slightly overcooked. Presenting it as a terrine is always a sensible option as this is much less likely to happen. This terrine was excellent and packed full of the mild tasting succulent rabbit meat where both the dots of foie gras parfait and the pear accentuated its underlying sweetness. Highly addictive pickled mustard seeds added texture and lent the dish a subtle piquancy.
For me, the Cured Mackerel with Smoked Mackerel Rillette & Warm Potato Pancake, Buttermilk & Dill was one of the highlights of my meal in Chapter One. I was immediately drawn to its simple sophistication and its clean, coherent flavours. Mackerel is a fish that is abundant in the waters around Ireland, yet we often treat it with disdain. This dish would convert even the most hardened cynic as it showcased the mackerel’s versatility by presenting it lightly cured and also as a flavoursome smoked rillette. Mini potato blini, a buttermilk dressing and a few drops of dill oil completed the dish.
I am a huge fan of John Dory so there was an inevitability about my main course choice of John Dory with Fermented Horseradish and Cauliflower, Lindi Black Pepper, Pickled Red Dulse and Mussels. All the dishes in our meal up until that point had possessed an air of daintiness, so I was quite surprised by the sizeable piece of fish that I was served. Not that I am complaining, as the John Dory had been expertly cooked with an exquisitely mild flavour which worked well against the meaty texture of the cauliflower ‘steak’ and the assertive flavours of the fermented horseradish. Pillowy soft mussels and pickled red dulse tasted of the sea whilst the lindi pepper – a new one to me – added a spicy heat that reminded me of a hotter version of freshly ground black pepper.
My companion’s Rare Breed Pork Cuts with Crushed Swede and Pickled Walnut, Creamed Cabbage and Tea-Smoked Sausage was a joyous gathering of meaty delights where all attention was on the quality of the pork that had been used. Tender loin of pork appeared alongside melt-in-the-mouth pork belly and an excellent tea-smoked sausage. The dish also included wonderful creamed cabbage and broccoli and was finished off with a rich flavoured jus and a dark and brooding pickled walnut purée which was to die for.
My sweet tooth is legendary and I am well known for my love of desserts and all things pastry. If I’m honest I am probably in the latter stages of a severe sugar addiction so it is somewhat surprising that the thing that I loved most about both the desserts that we ate in Chapter One was their restrained sweetness. I was amazed how the flavours of individual ingredients shone through and how my mouth didn’t feel coated in sugar. The man responsible, Head Pastry Chef Darren Hogarty has a sensitive and thoughtful approach which comes across in the desserts that he creates.
With my recently discovered passion for gin, the Dingle Gin Soup with Flavours of Cucumber, Malted Milk Ice-Cream, Basil & Milk was always going to appeal and with its complex yet refreshing flavours, this proved to be the case. However, the “Hadji Bey’s” Rhubarb & Rose Homemade Turkish Delight and Citrus Shortbread, Vanilla Cream with Lemon & Thyme Ice-Cream with its crumbly shortbread, spectacular Turkish Delight and slightly sour but perfectly poached rhubarb was the one that I was still thinking about days later.
We decided to forego tea and coffee and after another G&T we wandered happily off into the night after our meal. The food in Chapter One is meticulous in every aspect and it is obvious that a great deal of thought and planning has gone into each dish. Ross Lewis invites you, through the food that he cooks, to view Irish ingredients in new ways. This he does calmly and without the culinary fireworks that so many chefs rely on these days. There is something fundamentally reassuring about the food that he calmly and confidently produces and yet it still manages to feel exciting. I found this hugely appealing and can understand why Chapter One is considered one of the country’s top restaurants.
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.