It’s full summer outside but It’s a Wonderful Life is on a loop in my head as we sit at a large round table in the corner of Potager. Jimmy Stewart could come through the door in a flurry of snow any minute and dash into the bank vault in search of a lost deposit. He would find it filled with wine, bottles nestled where once there were bags of cash in this former bank building on Church Street in Skerries, Co Dublin.
Potager is the work of former Chapter One head chef Cathal Leonard and his partner Sarah Ryan. It has the thick carpet and linen-table-cloth feel of that Parnell Square basement where the world outside melts away, but here it’s blurred behind etched glass in the windows with the words The Munster and Leinster Bank Ltd. Much of the ground work on the building was done by the Red Bank Restaurant and now it’s Potager, which is the word for a kitchen garden.
As names go, this one is bang on for this part of north Co Dublin, the vegetable basket of Ireland. We pass some sadly empty-looking greenhouses on the way. (Another pane cracks each time we reach for the supermarket 39c Spanish-grown veg specials.)
I love Potager. It's the best chef's dream of his own place: all about the food rather than all about the chef
But despite the challenges of selling Irish-grown vegetables, this is still grower country. Potager has not one but eight different vegetable suppliers. Like the fussiest of French house husbands at a Saturday market, Leonard has cherry-picked his produce from the best farms. So we will eat Ger Harford’s cauliflower, Ballymakenny potatoes and Sean Hussey’s radishes and beets. My Armagh-born friend spots a typo in the supplier list – Ard Mhacha shiitake mushrooms are from Armagh, not Antrim, he suggests when Leonard comes to the table with the dish in which they star. Heads will roll, Leonard jokes. It may even have to be his own.
It’s the only tiny misstep of a delightful night that kicks off with a cakey potato bread and whipped smooth ricotta, with a puddle of dark green lovage and chive pesto, all mineral summery green against the creamy cheese.
There are snacky, gorgeous things then, like the crisp potato skins filled with pink smoked cod’s roe and fronds of chervil. It doesn’t taste smokey but it transports my friend Paul back to his childhood, when his mother would deglaze a pan with potato skins, letting them soak up all the meat juices and turn crisp.
There are salt cod fishcakes, two gobstopper-sized flavour bombs, and then a tall, thin, handle-less cup of Baby Gem lettuce soup. I love everything about this – aerated cream on top sprinkled with flakes of dehydrated bacon and hot green soup underneath, definitely deserving the posher French name velouté that lots of lesser soups wear so shamelessly.
Then there are bigger plates, a beautiful explosion of summer in the form of smoked haddock with delicate sherbet pink beets, barely thumbnail-sized leaves of sorrel, a whey and horseradish sauce that’s perfectly judged.
Those Armagh mushrooms are served three ways , with folded ribbons of celeriac and a smoked bacon cream that is precisely as delicious as that sounds. Meat and fish are the folderols here to the main event that is the vegetables. Similarly, sweet threads of Howth crab are teamed with Rush tomatoes, and a tomato jelly with powdered basil that is a love letter to the welcome warmth of Irish greenhouses and that earthy tomato smell the best ones are filled with at this time of year.
The family business that looks out for the little guy at this level of cooking can do great things for a small town and its surrounding farms
We get to the main courses at a perfect pace. The service here is excellent and you get to meet the small army of young chefs who have created these dishes. The large plates bring a dinner feel to a tasting menu. Thornhill duck breast is served juicier than a good piece of gossip, with braised leg meat thready and several notches meatier. There are baby turnips here and garlic scapes too.
My ray wing with mussels, gorgeous charred cauliflower and brown butter is pitch perfect, the fish folded over on itself so it separates into silken buttery fronds.
There is Velvet Cloud sheep’s milk pannacotta with a carrot sorbet to take us north to Scandinavian riffs of semi-savoury, so you can appreciate the sweetness. Apples poached in cider are as good as that sounds (think chicken poached in chicken stock) with a spongey buckwheat cake and vanilla ice-cream with hazelnuts to bed their juicy orchard feel with comfort notes.
I love Potager. It’s the best chef’s dream of his own place: all about the food rather than all about the chef.
Skerries has a real destination restaurant, folks. At €55, this evening tasting menu is the best money you’ll spend on food in Dublin. The family business that looks out for the little guy at this level of cooking can do great things for a small town and its surrounding farms. Potager has taken a handsome old building and given it an exciting future. It’s a wonderful life-affirming restaurant.
Dinner for two with a gin, two glasses of wine and sparkling water came to €142.50
- Verdict I see a star in the Skerries firmament
- Facilities Nice
- Provenance Extensive. Those vegetable growers get top billing
- Wheelchair access The room is accessible. There is no accessible toilet yet
- Vegetarian options On request, but vegetables are the stars here
- Music Nice