This week's review is a direct result of an auction. It happened like this: before Christmas Marian Gale celebrated twenty-five years of business with a gala dinner in the Four Seasons, with the purpose of raising money for Crumlin Children's Hospital. The night raised 87,000 for the hospital, and amongst the lots in the auction was dinner with me. It's a strange feeling being auctioned, but eventually I was knocked down to Caitriona O'Driscoll and Ray Murphy, who live in Cork.
It took a little organisation, but thanks to the logistical expertise of Marian Gale, dinner for seven was organised in Greene's restaurant, which is part of Isaac's Hotel. The assembled company was Caitriona and Ray, her brother P. J. O'Driscoll and his wife Judy, Marian Gale and her husband Laurie Tormey and me. A little over a year ago I'd visited Greene's for a Christmas set lunch, but this time I was looking forward to eating off the à la carte menu.
Greene's has one really impressive feature. You go through an archway in McCurtain Street down a small laneway to get to the restaurant, and right in front of you is a waterfall. Now if you're imagining a dainty little garden feature, cast this from your mind. A wall of rock, perhaps ten metres high, marks the end of the lane and cascading down this wall is the waterfall, which ends in a small pool. It's imposing and at the same time soothing the sound of falling water has a definitely calming effect. I was delighted to find that our table was at the end of the dining room where full-length windows allow a view of the cascade while you dine.
The menu in Greene's is one of those menu that causes me difficulties. The reason for this is that there were so many dishes I'd have been delighted to try, they read so well. That's one of the benefits of being in a large group though, you get a chance to spread your choices around the menu, which is what we did. All the starters are under 10, mostly around 9, and include dishes that you'd expect to pay more for, like a kebab of Tiger prawns. I found myself torn between the baked boneless quail, the Ballycotton mussels, the rabbit paté and the crab and coriander beignet which was served with a basket of sautéed asparagus and smoked salmon. A tough choice was made easier as the others picked different dishes, so when it came to me to order I went for the mussels.
Main courses run between 18 for the aubergine stack with ratatouille and 28.75 for the black sole, and they're mostly priced around 25. There are nine to choose from, including three different fish; sea bass, monkfish and hake. The menu descriptions are as interesting as the starters, each dish combining flavours in novel ways. Here's an example; Provençale tagine of monkfish, Ballycotton mussels, prawns cooked in fishy tomato broth, turned potatoes with rouille and garlic croutons. That's one dish and it's priced at 26.
With our dinner ordered we turned to the wine list, which lists about sixty wines spread around the wine-producing world. A few caught my eye, like the Los Llanos Gran Reserva 1998 at a very modest 24 and Bolla's excellent Pinot Grigio at 23.50. We pushed the boat out a bit and chose the Louis Jadot Macon Lugny at 29.50 for our white and the very lush, full and complex Amarone 2000 from Tommasi at 78.
The starters arrived and I rolled up my sleeves to tuck into a big bowl of mussels which came with a sauce of white wine, cream, onions and pancetta lardons. Trading a few of these delicious mussels let me taste the quail, which was superbly done, flavoured with Dijon mustard and maple syrup, the vegetable soup and crab and coriander beignet, all of which were perfectly executed and very nicely presented. It was becoming clear that this was cuisine well above the ordinary.
That impression was confirmed by the main courses. I'd picked the slow roasted rabbit leg, which was stuffed with pork, herbs and pistachios and wrapped in Parma ham. I'm rarely a fan of anything wrapped in Parma ham, but this dish worked well. The other dishes that I tasted around the table were equally good; I especially liked the aubergine stack with mozzarella and morel flavoured cream, the pan-roasted hake, which came with chorizo rosti potatoes and creamed spinach with smoked salmon, and a lamb shank braised with lemongrass and chili, which was as tender as any I've ever had.
The portions here are quite large, but as they were presented on large plates they never looked clumsy. As a result I was unable for a dessert, but the ones that arrived at the table looked tempting, even to an overfed reviewer.
All in all this was a very good meal, well-served and well-presented in a very pleasing setting. Coupled with good company at the table it all combined into a memorable evening. Chef Frederic Desormeaux and front of house manager Abdul Mounir make a formidable team. With two years under their belt, they've certainly hit their stride. Greene's is now firmly on my list of restaurants to recommend.