(one visit, October 2005)
Along a row of Georgian townhouses near Merrion Square and attached to the “up-markish” Merrion Hotel is Patrick Guilbaud. Eponymous of the restaurateur who runs this Michelin two-starred restaurant (the only other two-starred restaurant in the entire Emerald Isle, Thornton’s, also in Dublin, is located in the Fitzwilliam Hotel), the Executive Chef, Guillaume Lebrun, represents the pinnacle of the Irish haute cuisine .
Conveniently located across the street from government office buildings, it draws a power-lunch crowd. The interior is decidedly modern – bright colour-themed canvasses deck one wall while skylights and a nice view of the Merrion’s interior garden courtyard terrace through a wall of windows provided a light and airy atmosphere. Clean lines, not quite traditional, avoided the frumpy flourishes and heaviness often distracting at great establishments.
Never a dessert person, it wasn’t hard for me to save €12 by opting for the €33 two-course lunch, instead of the €45 three-course fare. Besides, none of the desserts sounded that appealing… the usual soufflés and assorted chocolate creations.
An assortment of fine breads, ranging from traditional Irish soda oat bread to sun-dried tomatoe and fennel baguettes were offered from a large basket. The amuse bouche was a salted duck terrine sided with a very fresh bundle of Mandarin orange and fresh herb salad. The terrine was very salty and and included large dices of salted pears. Thankfully, the orange and herbs salad added a welcomed tang and freshness.
Had I known that the amuse would be a game-meat terrine, I probably would not have chosen the Venison Terrine as my first course. While I can’t entirely fault the chef, I do think it was rather poor form for him to serve such a strong tasting amuse that overlapped with a number of terrine options on the menu – especially when the unknown amuse is served after the guest orders their meal.
Served cold, the slab of venison meat, studded with (a little too artificially) bright green pistachios and interlaced with black trumpets, came bordered by a generous wrapping of fat. Encircling the terrine was a pretty ring of stewed autumn berries garnished with micro herbs. These berries, while very pretty, were exceedingly sugary – way too sweet for my palate. Nearly candied in their own juices, I could not taste the berries themselves.The venison meat, however, was very good. It had a clear soft taste while retaining its “gamey-ness.” The nuts had softened in the terrine and didn’t quite provide the crack I was looking for (although I’m not sure nuts could be incorporated into a terrine without softening).
My main course was Dorade Royale accompanied by black trumpets, caramelized pearl onions and a curious vegetable which I had never encountered before – crosnes, a.k.a. Chinese artichokes (see the discussion on eGullet.com). The entrée also came with a side of lightly buttered green beans amandine and a curry-flavored boiled potato.
The fish was expertly done – with the skin so crisp and light, I found it a delight not to remove it. The vegetables and earthy mushrooms complimented the light buttery fish perfectly. While my amuse was perhaps a bit too salty and my first course a bit too sweet, this course was just right.Coffee or tea was included in the meal and came with a two-tiered petite fours candy-dish.
My two-course lunch, filling indeed, nevertheless rang in at €33 (sans beverage and service). Overall, I think I was more impressed by the service and the setting than the food. To be certain, the food was very good, but the service, which was professional and pleasant, was exceptional.
Patrick Guilbaud ***
21 Upper Merrion Street
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?
* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong…
****** Speechless: ‘nough said.