Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is Ireland’s only restaurant with two Michelin stars. For the food connoisseur a visit is a must, and our late friend and colleague Paolo Tullio called it a culinary pilgrimage.
When Patrick Guilbaud first opened his eponymous restaurant in 1981, it was in an Arthur Gibney designed building to the rear of the Bank of Ireland HQ on Baggot Street. It was in this idiosyncratic building that RPG got their two Michelin stars, and when they moved to their present location in the Merrion Hotel in 1997, it was Arthur Gibney who again was called upon to design the dining room.
A couple of years ago the restaurant underwent a re-design, and that ceiling is now finished in rolled gold, how’s that for opulence. Designer Laura Farrell has sympathetically re-imagined the space and the result is a very fine dining room indeed. The entrance lounge is finished in citrine walls with a carpet of sparkling grey, bespoke furniture and a centre piece bar add twenties twist, and the effect is perfect for this culinary landmark.
We arrived for dinner and were shown to our table at back of the room, with a perfect view. The other tables were made up of family groups, business dealers and couples out for a special night. A selection of breads was soon offered and we both had two; a little bacon baton and a sweeter olive roll. Both were delicious and the arrival of a pea mousse and ham amuse bouche set the standard for what was to follow.
We decided on the four course option, and started with croquettes of suckling pig with foie gras and quail egg. These perfect little ping pong balls we beautifully presented on the wafer thin lattice of pancetta and piquant sauce, with the egg and foie gras perched atop of each sphere. Beautifully flavoured and presented; they were a triumph.
Deirdre had the ravioli of lobster, with lobster coconut cream and a split curry dressing, a light and delicious assembly.
The fish course brought Dee the black sole, rolled vertically and served with prawn and saffron butter and tomato Viennoise. The fish was firm and perfectly cooked, and the other elements combined to create a dish more than the sum of its parts. I had the Annagassan lobster tail, delicately poached and with a thick lobster bisque. This uncomplicated dish relied on the natural flavours taking centre stage and was excellent.
Our meat courses comprised Wicklow hills lamb fillet with black olive oil, which was as perfect a piece of meat as you will find. Another classic dish of veal sweetbreads for me were divine with morels and a coffee jus that I want on everything from now on.
We finished with a white chocolate and mango sphere; a cocoon of loveliness with Pina Colada sorbet and coconut tapioca. I went away from my comfort zone with a pear inspired croquant - that’s a piece of confection that looks like a ravioli tube – sitting on top of chocolate and chestnut. It was piquant the beautiful petit fours that just proceeded it, especially the mango macaroon, finished off our meal delightfully.
Needless to say, service was excellent throughout, and although this is fine dining, there is a lightness of touch in the interaction that belies the formality, and it is all the better for it. I wasn’t drinking, but Deirdre had a glass of delicious Chardonnay with her fish and a rich Rioja to follow, each perfectly paired with the food.
There are some things on the menu here that don’t change. The last time our late colleague Paolo Tullio reviewed it, he had two of these classics; the starter of pork croquettes and the sweetbreads. He described them as tremendous and excellent. I found them the same seven years later. It is one thing to get Michelin stars; it’s another entirely to retain them year in, year out. It is this consistency and focus that sets RPG apart, and one of the reasons a meal here is a special pleasure.