The very first spoonful, a tiny tomato that ruptures into a stream of joy in my mouth is as playful as it is exquisite. It looks like a cherry tomato, but it yields with a bit of pressure, the membrane cracking to release a gazpacho broth so pure, that I am worried that this menu may have peaked too soon. It’s a bite that you could compare with El Bulli or El Celler de Can Roca, but it’s here in Dublin.
Next, a fragile pastry case of chopped bavette is dotted with a wisp of gold, horseradish cream, and caviar, bringing a salty top note to meaty intensity.
Much has been written about Mickael Viljanen partnering with Ross Lewis and taking over as chef patron at Chapter One. Apart from a few familiar faces, everything has changed. There is a light brightness to the rooms, and the generously sized round tables have white linen table cloths that reach right down to the floor. It is all about the detail. It is plush, but not a bit hushed.
We have started with a fino, €6.50, to go with those snacks, and rather than wade through the iPad wine list, we opt for the well-priced wine pairing, as Paul Gartland, who previously worked in the Greenhouse, is a sommelier I trust.
Mousseline, parfait and soufflé are the Escoffier loaded words of resplendent French technique that I delight in, and they are all here, on the €65 lunch menu, which offers two choices per course, topped and tailed with amuse bouche and petits fours.
Viljanen’s signature scallop dish features. The Donegal scallops are, of course, hand-dived, tiny beads of smoked pike roe sparkle on top, and the elderflower bouillon split with verdant jalapeno oil and a hint of cucumber brings a fresh wash to the seafood flavours.
A steamed mousseline, a cloud of aged Mossfield Gouda, topped with Tasmanian truffle and a Vin Jaune sauce is further proof of the major-league skill in this kitchen. Elegant and delicate, the earthy truffle chimes accordantly with the cheese, with a dressed green salad on the side leaving you in no doubt that this dish has its roots firmly in France.
The main course dishes look breathtakingly beautiful. A fine line of green tarragon sauce circles a white plate, dotted with minuscule flowers made from kohlrabi and brick pastry, framing a pale pink cylinder of Rex du Poitou rabbit. A tart of rabbit liver parfait is on the side. There is, it seems, no end to the loveliness of this dish.
Steamed cod holds its own against the earthy notes of hen of the woods mushrooms and a film of dashi gel, and the flavours are echoed with a perfectly judged sauce, rich with roasted yeast and pearls of tapioca.
A gossamer Chartreuse soufflé is as graceful as it sounds, a crème Anglaise flavoured with Chartreuse and vanilla is poured in, and a dish of violet ice cream is on the side. Our other dessert, a crémeux, is made with Amedei chocolate; soft and sultry, there’s a crunch of white miso and coffee on the bottom, and a restrained salted milk sorbet keeps it light. It’s another Viljanen classic.
We finish with petits fours, jewelled flavours from an enticing orange blossom to a Black Forest bon bon.
What we’re looking at here is the work of an extraordinary chef who appears to be right at his creative peak. This lunch is faultless and the level of precision is exceptional. There is no best dish, everything is equally spectacular, and it is remarkable value for money. Carefully sourced produce, mature and masterful cooking, assiduously chosen wine pairings, and polished service, all come together in a room that is unintimidatingly luxurious.
Without a doubt, Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen will be awarded two stars when the next Michelin guide comes out. But the big question is, will it be the first in Ireland to get three? Consider this, Noma in Copenhagen, one of my favourite restaurants, has two stars, so it's not as easy as you may think. I expect to see it on the World's 50 Best restaurant list, if any of the lauded jury get here to taste his food. And my bold prediction is: it won't be this year, nor probably next, but within the next three to four years Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen should land that elusive and highly coveted third star. I can't wait to get back.
Lunch for two with wine pairings was €229.05.
The Verdict: 10/10; this is perfection at its most exquisite.
Facilities: Top notch with Voya products and fluffy hand towels.
Music: None, just the chatter of happy diners.
Food provenance: Forensically sourced, the very best from Ireland and France.
Vegetarian options: Yes, but no non-dairy/vegan options.
Wheelchair access: There is a fully accessible toilet, wheelchair users require assistance to enter and exit the building.
This article was amended on August 27th