Restaurant FortyOne recently invited a group of food writers on a special tour of their uniquely-located kitchen garden in Killiney, followed by a special meal in the restaurant in Residence on St. Stephen’s Green. Joe McNamee recounts.
We traipse through the empty rooms of one of Ireland’s most salubrious Killiney mansion homes to access the terrace at the rear. Three sharply-liveried staff members are to hand, doling out gin and berry infusions; in the centre of the terrace is a long table bearing freshly-picked produce, laid out with an austere aestheticism on individual serving platters. Amongst the harvest are: crisp, piquant radishes; bolshie, verdant cavelo nero; spicy nasturtium flowers that bring a tear to the eye; punchy mizuma and rocket; celery heads on the cusp of flowering; graceful fronds of fennel; cooling mint; the only condiments, salt and pepper and some good extra virgin olive oil. All well and good, but on this impossibly glorious summer’s day, you’d struggle to reel in the wandering eye, drawn by sumptuous lawns sweeping down to a perfectly framed slice of Dublin Bay, the whole schemozzle all rather reeking of Gatsby—back when he was great, I hasten to add. We drag our attention toward Restaurant FortyOne’s Chef Graham Neville as he tells us the tale of this rather unique walled-in kitchen garden, sited in a south-facing terraced plot at the foot of the restaurant’s owner, Olivia Gaynor-Long’s stately home, a perfect sun-trap, fulsome with summer’s bounty, chlorophyll practically shimmering in the evening air.
Back at the restaurant, in an upstairs room overlooking St. Stephen’s Green, the setting sun streams in still with a vigour that demands blinds are drawn immediately. The first course is of such Spartan simplicity, Garden Herbs and Leaves, Pea Coulis, its ingredients seem barely altered from their natural state: a sheaf of peppery salad leaves and herbs encased in a salted shaving of cucumber. A single mint leaf amongst the pack is a cooling balm, a sweet pea coulis moistens the mouthful. Lest any dismiss this as mere leaves and whimsy, the very excellent sommelier Victor Nedelea needs to pair it with a substantial wine and does so immaculately with a fine and spicy Vacqueyras (Domaine De La Charbonnière, Rhone Valley, France 2011).
Next is Radish, Summer Truffle, Pickled Chive Bud. The perky onion nip from the little buds plays well off deeper truffle notes but it is the radish, cooked confit-style, that most impresses, the crisp, sharp piquancy of the raw root vegetable now surrendered for something sweeter and infinitely more complex. An ‘oily’ Pinot Gris, (“Les Princes Abbés”, Domaine Schlumberger, Alsace, France 2011) is another excellent accompaniment.
Courgette Flower Stuffed, Lovage, is more than a nod to classical French coarse-water fish quenelles. Here, prawn and scallop are pureed with cream and steamed in a courgette flower, served surrounded by a moat of lovage sauce. Neville doesn’t employ the traditional egg white, relying on the natural gelatine of the seafood to bind. Lovage, a first cousin of celery, is a chirpy counterpoint to this effortlessly elegant piscine perfection. On the night, there are eight courses, including petits fours, and not a bum note amongst them but by evening’s end few can see further than this superb dish.
Black Cabbage, Red Mullet is a meaty fillet of fine fresh fish, beautifully cooked, cavelo nero adding texture and a brassica oomph to a demure beurre blanc sauce while the silky, supple Pinot Noir (Ribbonwood, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2012) is one of the wines of the evening.
Wexford Lamb, Baby Onion, Marjoram is velvety pink meat, exquisitely tender, that finds a companionable sweetness in the pearly wee onions, a rich, dark jus in a marjoram infusion, plumbs sumptuous depths.
Cheese (Brewer’s Gold) arrives at the table in the best way possible: a single sliver, at room temperature, with none of the usual panoply of rarely-in-season, imported fruit and boisterously inappropriate chutneys and relishes. The chalky beer-washed rind, a salty, amber cream oozing from within, the sharp finish, all sit well with a syrupy Sauternes (Château Barbier, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 2005).
Beetroot, Rasberries, Woodruff is a serene and simple summer dessert of fruit and ice cream, running the sugar spectrum from earthy beetroot through citric raspberry to ethereal woodruff. Strawberries, Fennel is an intricate arrangement of strawberries, both natural and confected, and little dots of piped sweet fennel cream. A good dessert but perhaps excessive in the wake of the one previous—and having said that, we dived with abandon into platefuls of delectable little Mint Oreos and Rhubarb Macaroons, the Fabergé-fragile shells of the latter testament to a delicate hand in the pastry kitchen.
An exceedingly modest man in person, Neville is nonetheless one of the very best chefs in Ireland, operating at the peak of his abilities. He has the self confidence to embrace simplicity, eschewing cheffy tricks; his learning is lightly worn, but employed with unerring acuity. Restricting your palette to local, seasonal produce induces a pure rigour and discipline in creativity, hard to otherwise replicate and Neville admits working to the rhythm of the garden and its growing season has radically altered his culinary outlook. This is Michelin cooking, some of it worth easily more than a single star.
Menu & Wine List
Garden Herbs and Leaves, Pea Coulis / Vacqueyras, Domaine De La Charbonnière, Rhone Valley, France 2011
Radish, Summer Truffle, Pickeld Chive Bud / Pinot Gris, “Les Princes Abbés”, Domaine Schlumberger, Alsace, France 2011
Courgette Flower Stuffed, Lovage / Sancerre, Domaine de la Rossignole, Loire Valley, France 2012
Black Cabbage, Red Mullet / Ribbonwood, Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2012
Wexford Lamb, Baby Onion, Marjoram / Château Petit Faurie-Quet, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, France 2010
Brewers Gold Cheese / Château Barbier, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 2005
Beetroot, Rasberries, Woodruff / Moscato D’Asti, “La Caudrina, Romano Daugliotti, Piedmont, Italy, 2013
Strawberries, Fennel / Coteaux De L¹Aubance, Domaine De Montgilet, Loire Valley, France 2010
Mint Oreos, Rhubarb Macaroon