Still the best lunch in Dublin

Af­ter six years The Green­house is still set­ting the stan­dard for great food

The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD -

It’s not that Mick­ael Vil­ja­nen doesn’t have any jokes but there’s a se­ri­ous­ness about him all the same. You won’t see him on day­time TV any­time soon. To­day he’s paler than a sub­mariner on shore leave. I’m guess­ing his only vi­ta­min D comes from snatches of sun on his break, me­tres away from his small in­tense kitchen in The Green­house on Dublin’s Daw­son Street.

It’s just over six years since Vil­ja­nen ar­rived in Dublin from Gre­gan’s Cas­tle in Co Clare to set the stan­dard for cook­ing in the city. A Miche­lin star duly fol­lowed. When The Green­house opened, the res­tau­rant world was in lust with Scandi hy­per- lo­ca­vorism. The French, who in­vented restau­rants and gilded them with fi­nesse and a sense of oc­ca­sion, looked like fusty old relics. Bistronomie was on the march and acres of ta­ble cloths were ware­housed. Posh­ness was re­born with a clutch of dan­de­lion leaves and a glass of nat­u­ral wine murky as cider.

Vil­ja­nen’s cook­ing was never lo­cal for lo­cal’s sake. His larder ex­tends from the At­lantic coast of Ire­land east to the next is­land and bits of France, with some added dates and spices. He’ll go to France to visit the small farmer rear­ing Li­mousin veal calves for the best sweet­breads. And while he’s there he’ll or­der some vi­o­lon courgette ( when you Google these, Vil­ja­nen seems to be the only non French- speak­ing chef talk­ing about them). They’re like pale green gourds stretched into apos­tro­phes. They have none of the wa­tery qual­ity of a courgette, just com­pressed south­ern sun­shine pho­to­syn­the­sised into flavour. Vil­ja­nen turns one into an as­ton­ish­ing dish.

It’s lunchtime and the busi­ness- like room has an un­busi­nessy feel and a dis­tinct ab­sence of dead- eyed men in suits. The grind and dust of the Luas build out­side has been re­placed with glid­ing trams and sun glis­ten­ing on hand­some shopfronts across the way. A young woman and ( I’m guess­ing) her mother are cel­e­brat­ing her grad­u­a­tion. It all lends an air of cel­e­bra­tion to the din­ing room. The ta­ble linens are snow white but soft as brushed cot­ton du­vet covers. An orchid in a glass takes the bare look off ev­ery­thing.

We’re go­ing for the tast­ing menu and, just to see how a fash­ion- for­ward chef such as Vil­ja­nen does things, we ask for one of them to be veg­e­tar­ian. Plant- based is still a dirty phrase in many kitchens. But one of my favourite dishes in the his­tory of this col­umn has been Vil­ja­nen’s take on cele­riac so we’ll see if he can take one star turn and turn it into five.

Snacky things set the tone. There’s a sea­weed cracker like sea foam turned to crunch with­out a trace of the oil that per­formed the magic. Dots of sor­rel greener than spring leaves lend it tang. There are thin strips of sar­dines turned into silken rib­bons ( cur­ing, con­jur­ing, who knows?) on an­other crisp. And there’s a minia­ture as­para­gus tart so light the bis­cuit crisp pas­try al­most evap­o­rates in the mouth.

Then there’s the only dish that’s here from six years ago. Like a favourite child it’s been tiger- par­ented into its best self, fois gras whipped into airy light­ness topped with Granny Smith ap­ple turned to gel, frozen foie, wal­nut and cubes of smoked eel. The veg­gie ying to this yang is a sum­mery bowl of pasta parcels, the dough chewier than I ex­pected but filled with salty sheepy pecorino, a smoked but­ter and fin­ished with mint, lime and tiny broad beans barely big­ger than peas peeled from their cas­ings by a dex­trous chef.

Then that courgette ar­rives, whole with its stalk still on. It’s been roasted in sea­weed and fin­ished with a maple sea­weed flecked sauce and slashes of berg­amot yo­ghurt. My mack­erel tartare is a round of the loveli­est fish topped with cu­cum­ber cut so tiny it’s al­most digi­tised and a smudge of caviar. It’s ex­cel­lent but the courgette is ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Tur­bot comes with a whipped roe, like fish but­ter with briny pops in it. The veg­gie plate has white as­para­gus spears chunky as a baby’s arms with a raw egg yolk topped with black gar­lic and sprin­kled with girolles, min­er­al­ity meets creamy food hug.

Those sweet­breads come with wild gar­lic flow­ers and a date and co­rian­der sauce with a top note of chili to tweak the sweet­ness of ev­ery­thing back from throat burn­ing ter­ri­tory. Tang is the note of the veg dish with ar­ti­choke hearts, morels ( the last of the sea­son) and a but­ter­milk and lemon fin­ish. Gnocchi roll- ups like spliffs of creamy potato tie it all down with a com­fort­ing earth­bound soft­ness.

A straw­berry and yel­low char­treuse cylin­der with 40- year- old bal­samic tastes ( de­li­ciously) like tinned straw­ber­ries and is topped with a square of meringue barely the thick­ness of a layer of gloss paint. There is a piped choco­late, hazel­nut and wafers plate with a shred of gold leaf just to keep the deca­dence brigade happy.

Out­side Ire­land, cook­ing at this level starts at three fig­ures a head. My din­ing com­pan­ion, the Pa­trick Moore of starred meals, thinks the dial wa­vers here be­tween two and three stars. Thanks to Vil­ja­nen’s rest­less en­ergy The Green­house has long been the city’s best lunch. The great news is that it keeps get­ting bet­ter.

Lunch for two with sparkling wa­ter, cof­fee and two glasses of fino came to ¤ 197.50

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