Forest Avenue is Dublin’s most exciting new restaurant in years
John and Sandy Wyer have created a damn fine dining experience in Donnybrook that raises the bar
- 8 Sussex St, Dublin 4
I’m nursing a serious dose of Nordic Envy Syndrome this weather brought on by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Scandimania series. Why can’t we have brilliant public services to go with our Nordic-level taxes? Where are our vibrant cities built around people? Our
TV dramas with rounded female characters?
Sitting in Copenhagen restaurant Manfreds and Vin last November eating small plates of beautiful food, I added another why-oh-why to the list. As people queued to buy takeaway portions of roasted Jerusalem artichokes with hollandaise we asked why we can’t have something like this in Dublin.
Well in your face Copenhagen. Now we do. The weather has rendered me bike-less, which is never a good mood enhancer. My car is being jostled outside by the last of the storms. But with each plate coming to the table I’m getting as giddy as a schoolgirl on her first night in Wes.
We’re in a cosy corner of Forest Avenue, the small restaurant of chefs John and Sandy Wyer. Next door to O’Brien’s pub on Leeson Street, it used to be a pizzeria, and is named after the street in Queens where Sandy grew up.
There are dark painted floors, plain wooden tables and simple wooden chairs. Minimalist white-on-white canvases hang around the walls and there’s an antlered head. We’re in a corner seat with lovely felt grey and teal velvet cusions. There’s a great view of the kitchen where John and his team are calmly working.
Creating a relaxed restaurant atmosphere sounds like a piece of cake, but it’s not. Too laid-back and you risk tipping towards indifference. Over-attentiveness exercises pelvic floor muscles. Diners don’t want to smile stiffly over an inventory of ingredients pointed out with a stiff pinkie finger.
Here they give you the food and let you ask. We fire some Honours Ingredients questions at the wait staff but mostly we’re happy to just roll it round out mouths and figure it out for ourselves.
And what mouthfuls they are. The “snacks” come on stones and little rounds of wood like offerings to the gods of flavour. You pick up these food wows and eat them before the €48 tasting menu (there are cheaper two- and three-course residents’ menus, €27 and €33, available on Wednesday and Thursday nights). This works. Because whether it’s a picnic on the beach or a bag of Doritos in front of a box set, eating with your hands sends your brain the cue to relax.
An oyster chantilly looks like a bit of cream cheese on thin toast but is a little culinary miracle, all the briny fleshy gritty flavour of an oyster only in a cream. Oyster without the gag factor.
There’s an aubergine paste that’s not smokey but has red wine vinegar and garam masala in it for a different take. There’s an onion bread and eggy brioche you could write a ballad about. A ham hock terrine the size of a liqourice allsort between two toasts with a bright green dot of parsley mayo. Snacks don’t get much snazzier.
Our cutlery arrives in a suede holder, like a builder’s tool belt; three sets each that we reach for each time, like pistols, for the three savoury courses.
The duck liver pate that appears on the first plate, sprinkled in toasted hazelnuts and leaves, isn’t the main act. It’s a tiny piece of pink buttery paste smeared on the plate with a knife and then topped with a tiny segment of blood orange. The main element is a pressed duck terrine, which is great. But that duck liver and orange mouthful is so heavenly I will be remembering it long after the plates are cleared.
“My favourite dish so far, not that I haven’t loved everything,” is Patsey’s verdict on the next dish, a luscious bowl of house-made cavatelli pasta mixed into a soup of smoked haddock in a horseradish cream. On top there’s a magically soft egg, ready to spill its yolk over the rest of the dish. It’s perfect; food that makes you happy.
Her lamb with squash and capers comes as small disks of the tenderest pink but full of flavour. There’s a wedge of belly that we pronounce the “lamb of oh-my-god”. The sweet, fat meat and crackling are wickedly tasty. My butter-fried plaice is a smidgeon too salty but there’s a cream of Jerusalem artichokes and lemony chanterelles to even it out.
Desserts are rhubarb and custard. A bowl of tart pink spears with cake and cream and ice cream sprinkled over it. There’s a Milleens cheese with a rind so ripe you feel like you’ve stepped into a farmyard and fennel-seeded bread and apple jelly to settle you back in D4.
Forest Avenue is the most exciting new restaurant in Dublin for a long time. It feels ground-breaking without being swaggering or smug. I’m not going to say the “M” word for fear of jinxing it. Anyway John Wyer already has a star – tatooed around one of his elbows.
I’m lucky enough to go back the next evening for a work gathering and eat everything I didn’t get the first night. Again the room is buzzing with happy people. Fine dining has its place. John and Sandy Wyer are giving us damn fine dining. It’s a whole new bloody brilliant ballgame. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine, tea and sparkling water came to €130dd.