Monday, January 18, 2010

Five grumpy chefs hanging on the wall

Editor: "Can you review opening night at Conrad Gallagher's restaurant?"
Me: "Do I live and breathe?"

Conrad Gallagher, erstwhile enfant terrible of Irish haute cuisine, has been M.I.A. from this island for many a year since Peacock Alley collapsed. (Well, I say M.I.A. - I mean, off opening other restaurants abroad, none of which seem to have worked out for him).
His new place, Salon des Saveurs on Aungier Street, has an interesting concept behind it: read the following review I had in Saturday's Irish Independent to find out more. I had less than an hour between coffee and deadline to file, and only a few hundred words, so I'm sure others will add different angles to the experience over the coming weeks.
Two things that I wish I had had the time and room to add to the piece was the fact that 12.5% 'suggested' service charge is automatically added to the bill, even for a table of two. (How is it 'suggested' if it is mandatory?)
That's fine if it's a table of six or more, but I don't like that in smaller groups, especially since Gallagher appears to be aiming for affordability with the price rang of the menu. Coffee and chocolates are a e6.50 add-on too - I only had time for a quick espresso but was charged e6.50 regardless, and no-one offered me chocolate in any way, shape or form to take home. Hmmm....

Here is how the review appeared last Saturday:
REVIEW: SALON DES SAVEURS – Conrad Gallagher’s new restaurant at 16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2
MINIMALISM has never been Conrad Gallagher’s style. The man who was arguably this country’s first celebrity chef – and one of a holy trinity of Irish chefs to win two Michelin stars – has never known how to go quietly into the night.
The group of photographers waiting outside his new Dublin restaurant, Salon des Saveurs, last night were hoping nothing had changed since he left the city several years ago trailing controversy and creditors in his wake. They were rewarded with a snap of Gay Byrne and wife Kathleen wandering in amiably for opening night, and later, a sedate Gallagher coming out to shake hands.
He seems to have tried to keep his reappearance on the Irish dining scene a low-key affair. An advertisement for a head chef for his new venture, Salon des Saveurs, turned up in the inauspicious hiring pages of networking website, gumtree.ie.
This understatement - appropriate for staging a comeback in a recession – is reflected in the new dining room. It is situated in the small venue that once housed Darwin’s on shabby-but-not-quite-chic Aungier Street. Inside, the d├ęcor is a simple red and white affair, with unfussy tables slotted in around a bar of dark-wood panels and smoky glass.
There is only one painting on the wall – a giant oil of five of the chefs who have most inspired him. Between our table and the next, we identified three – Bocuse, Robuchon and Ducaisse – and the waiting staff, none at all. It makes you wonder why it’s not just hanging over Gallagher’s station in the kitchen if he’s the only one who can appreciate it.
The service is friendly without ever getting intrusive - there were some understandable opening-night jitters involving unruly water jugs and uneven timings between certain courses.
It is the food – as one would expect from the man who introduced Ireland to ‘tall’ food in the 1990s – that is the only immodest feature of the place. It is brazenly good – and excellent value.
Gallagher hasn’t lost his taste for a risk: his concept is to offer four tasting menus to his customers, five courses in each with coffee and chocolates an extra add-on. The menus cost e24, e34, e44, and e54 per person.
I and my guest went for the e34 menu and it didn’t put a foot wrong. Silky pumpkin soup, a perfect risotto with darling little chanterelle mushrooms, asparagus and shredded duck, a ravioli of spiced crab and the pinkest, softest lamb that must surely have died for a higher purpose. The lemon taster dessert plate was not perhaps tart enough in its entirety to be truly refreshing but it was never less than delicious.
Wine is an added extra but glasses and bottles, all reasonable, starting with e6.50 glasses and bottles for e24, are matched with the different courses and menus to cut out the guesswork for wine ignoramuses like myself.
A quibble would be the fact that only one type of menu can be ordered per table, so this is not a place to come if one member of your party has an aversion to seafood and another can’t stand the sight of duck. There will be fisticuffs.

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