Review: The best pop-up restaurant in Ireland

‘It’s the food we want to eat ourselves and we want to share it with other people’

   

4Hands Food Studio Pop Up

Here’s the food year in a soup. It starts with pickled garlic scapes, slices of the pregnant flower stalks sent spiralling skyward last summer. Bobbing above them are summer-ripened pickled nasturtium seeds.

These sharpnesses slice through the full-throated turkey bone broth, an echo of midwinter feasting. In the middle floats a bright green leaf of this year’s new wild garlic, raw and hopeful like warm sunshine that catches you by surprise on a bitter day. 

The brilliant broth is the work of Rose Greene, an Irish chef you’ve probably never heard of because she’s spent most of her career outside Ireland. With her partner, Margaux Dejardin, Greene returned to live in Westmeath in 2018, renovated an old barn at her family home and set up the 4Hands Food Studio. They forage, cook, grow and ferment. Tonight they’re holding one of their monthly pop-up suppers in the Fumbally Stables in Dublin. 

“It’s the food we want to eat ourselves and we want to share it with other people,” the chef explains. As an old bird who’s been around the block with most restaurant concepts, this is the one that gets me, every time.  

We’ve started like all the best house parties where everyone slides onto the nearest chair and feels a bit self-conscious. Then a woman yelps: “No. Don’t eat that,” when my friend reaches for a pumpkin crisp on a plate and the ice is broken. It turns out the crisp has been on the floor. A 100-second rule should apply to these snacks. They’re light as air drenched with sweet nutty pumpkin flavour.

There’s a rectangle of lardo eaten by tearing soft strips and rolling them around camomile flowers in all their summery hay-sweet crunch. We share bowls of toasted split yellow peas coated in fermented honey and onion, a nutty sweet salty snack part cheese and onion crisp, part Bombay mix. 

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Bread course

There’s a move to the tables for the bread course – stellar sourdough and savoury waffles made from sprouted marrowfat peas with a variety of things to drape or spread on them. We’re lucky to be sharing the table with Frederique and Donal Keane and their grown-up children. The Keanes are an organic farming family from Meath who are embarking on an adventure with heritage grains, fermenting and a busy calving season.

Turnip hummus is a revelation. Henceforth, I want all my turnips hummused. There’s another spread made from sprouted peas and a plate of truly tasty pork rillettes made by Greene from “pigs I raise myself”. Fermented vegetables and kimchi provide clean, sharp slices of flavour and fizz to top them.

Courses are paired with a natural wine or non-alcoholic glasses. Dejardin is the sommelier and drinks fermenter. She makes kombuchas that are sparkling golden concoctions with all the mouth-filling flavours, neither too tart nor too sweet. There’s a small plate of mushrooms, sliced thin as rose petals and topped with their own miso, a soil-coloured crumb of deepest savoury deliciousness. 

Delicious pork

That memorable soup follows and then pork, in the form of belly and loin. The squares of belly meat have been brined and then served in a rowan and apple jelly. It’s the most delicious pork dish I’ve eaten in years. Sprouted rye grains, like nutty swollen brown rice and a bowl of salad without seasoning or dressing are the quiet partners to the meat. “I didn’t forget to put it in,” Greene explains.

Instead we’re asked to taste the many wild and cultivated flavours like young dandelion leaves, herbs and tangy leaves, so it’s not so much a salad as a spring nature walk. 

The sweet is a strained yoghurt cloaked in meringue with purees of rose hip and sorrel and slices of Westmeath-grown yakon. It’s as high end a dessert as any starred restaurant offering.

Pop-ups can be the trainer wheels of the chefing world, allowing newbies to navigate the wobbles. But 4Hands is more a reverse of that. You’re in generous experienced hands. Greene has a decade under her belt in farm-based kitchens: Australia’s Royal Mail, In De Wulf in Belgium and Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall. These are women who have found their food voices and are making them sing in truly delicious bursting-with-ideas cooking.

They have another one next weekend in the Fumbally and then Wilder and Gold in Ballymahon, Co Longford. Book your place. It’s hands down the best pop-up around. 

Dinner for two with snacks came to €150

Verdict: Make it your business to enjoy this pop-up at least once this year

  • Facilities: Fine
  • Food provenance: Extensive and impressive
  • Music: Nice
  • Vegetarian options: Excellent. Request in advance
  • Wheelchair access: ★☆☆☆☆  A chair could be lifted up two low steps but the only toilets are upstairs