Michelin’s real surprise is leaving the Greenhouse out in the cold

Chef Mickael Viljanen’s Dublin restaurant has been passed over for a second year

The Greenhouse: now the best un-starred restaurant in Ireland. Photograh: David Sleator

The Greenhouse: now the best un-starred restaurant in Ireland. Photograh: David Sleator

 

The Michelin Guide may have awarded 10 Irish stars for 2014 but it was the star they didn’t award that was the biggest head-scratcher of the list.

If this was a food fight we’d have Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen in one corner and a silent, inscrutable Michelin inspector in the other.

Viljanen is the chef behind Dublin’s Greenhouse Restaurant which failed for a second year to get into the red book. Last year we wondered if Michelin wanted to see it bed in and that was why they held off. Viljanen swallowed his disappointment and went on putting great food on plates. His restaurant was one of only two praised by former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni after his spud-
laden Irish road trip
last year. It looked like a safe bet for a star.

But Michelin said non once more. The omission has gone from odd to unfathomable, making The Greenhouse the best un-starred Michelin standard restaurant in
Ireland.

One of the many people mystified by not seeing Viljanen on the list was Kilkenny chef Garrett Byrne, who has brought the first Michelin star to his home city. Byrne was head chef in Ross Lewis’s Chapter One when they got their long-awaited star in 2007 and still remembers the madness on the day the news broke.

After leaving Chapter One, he opened his 70-seater Campagne restaurant in 2008. At the Waterford Food Festival earlier this year he talked about the dream chefs have of opening their own place meeting the reality of the first VAT bill landing on the mat. He never expected a Michelin star to land there.

Does he know what swung it for him? “I have absolutely no idea,” he said yesterday. The Michelin inspector announced himself to Byrne last October after dining quietly alone and asked “the usual questions: ‘How’s it going, are you busy, where are your chickens from’, that kind of thing.” Byrne quizzed him on how a restaurant could fail to impress. By serving food that was too salty, maybe? He got no information in response.

The fact that Ireland’s latest Michelin stars went to restaurants outside Dublin will be a boost. Although a star for Belfast’s new Ox Restaurant would also have been well deserved. The other Kilkenny star, the Lady Helen Restaurant at the Mount Juliet
Hotel, is the result of long investment in time, talent
and home-grown food.

Head chef is an Englishman from Sunderland, Ken Harker, with executive head chef Cormac Rowe from Wexford. They care about local and seasonal cooking. This year I ate a gorgeous plate of squab pigeon with almond milk, date puree, almond potato and York cabbage there. It was a masterclass in cooking.

Meanwhile, the two restaurants that were awarded their first stars in the 2013 guide – Galway’s Aniar and Dublin’s Locks – have both lost chefs. Aniar’s Enda McEvoy is setting up his own place and Locks’ Rory Carville went to Cleaver East. But Aniar managed to retain its star for 2014 while Locks did not.

It may be some consolation for Masi that Locks is not the briefest star to blaze and die. That dubious honour goes to the Dublin restaurant awarded the city’s first ever star in March 1974 when Michelin gave the country two: one to the Arbutus Lodge in Cork and the other to The Russell Hotel on Stephen’s Green in Dublin. Just over two months later, The Russell closed down to make way for what this paper called a “monster office development”.

One wonders how that went down with the Michelin men.