As you can see from our site, we love to eat out and do so whenever our finances allow. But we try to be discerning when selecting which restaurant to visit - reluctant to waste our hard earned cash on an average meal or the next trendy new restaurant that opens with fanfare, but all too often fails to deliver. We love to cook at home so we are only interested in eating out if the food is something we would not be capable of making ourselves. Of course, we pop in somewhere if hunger hits while shopping in town or we don't feel inclined to cook. But for our more costly and planned nights out we pick our next meal carefully from a list of establishments in Ireland and around the world we have earmarked to pay a visit to. But how does a restaurant make it on to our eating-out 'to do' list?
We try to ignore the critics in Ireland. Too many times in the past we went to a restaurant that had been been given a positive review only to be disappointed. For some reason these critics seem to be very lucky as the food they are served always seems to be better than what we get. Also, if we were to go to every restaurant which received a good review or displayed a critic's plaque outside the front door we could out every night for weeks with no guarantee of gastronomic pleasure. So we don't pay much attention to critics these days. Of course you cannot ignore critical acclaim completely. If a restaurant is getting celebrated in every paper and magazine, and even being touted as a certain Michelin star, then we will, one way or another, become aware of this and we may give in to our culinary curiosity and make a visit.
The reputation and pedigree of the chef can make us take notice. If a chef has come from another restaurant that we rate highly then it may be worth a visit. Although a chef coming from a top restaurant and going solo is no guarantee of success.
But mainly, we use the menu to choose our next feed. We look for dishes that would take skill and refinement to deliver. We like a menu that changes with the seasons; a menu that either stands out from the crowd and is a break from the ordinary or a classical menu that shows a true understanding of flavours and ingredients , but with no where to hide.
A couple of weeks ago we ticked a restaurant off our list and made a visit to Forest Avenue - a restaurant with a seasonal and intriguing menu from chef, John Wyer, formerly of L'Ecrivain and Mulberry Garden. We went with high hopes.
The meal started off very well and we were quickly happy with our choice. Before the first of the starters on the 4 (5 if you include the amuse bouches or the tea/coffee) course tasting menu, we were given home-made potato bread with home-made crème fraiche and 3 very nice treats. These comprised of an excellent bite of chicken liver parfait and apple, a clever nibble of ham and cheese sandwich with a warming, if not slightly boring, potato soup, and a tasty little dumpling.
Then our first 'proper' course was a salad with the main ingredients of beetroot and celeriac, with slivers of duck pastrami. Despite having a lot of ingredients on the plate, this dish was very well balanced and put together very skilfully. It was, in fact, an excellent dish.
Unfortunately the meal did not continue like this. The next dish of a soft egg served with fregola sarda pasta, sprouting broccoli and wild garlic was one dimensional and dull. It had no diversity of texture or flavour. The wild garlic did not come through and the texture of the whole dish was far too soft. It was the sort of dish you are glad to finish and only to do so to get to the next course quickly. Dishes with a soft egg, benefit from a contrasting texture - some bite or crunch, this dish did not have that. It reminded us of a duck egg and asparagus dish in Cleaver East which suffered from the same issue - although the dish in Cleaver East was worse. Only once have we had a soft egg dish done effectively without a contrasting texture, in Les Tablettes in Paris, which served us a wonderful dish of poached eggs.
The main courses continued to disappoint. A decent but easily forgettable lamb dish, with delicious belly and best-end cooked quite well, but slightly over if nitpicking, served with a sauce that was a bit watery. The other main was a scallop and carrot dish, whose main elements conflicted with each other and had one scallop that was severely under cooked.
The dessert was a very tasty dish of rhubarb, pistachio and yoghurt. But it was presented in a amateurish way, with the yoghurt covering every other ingredient so they weren't visible.
The service was mostly good, with friendly, attentive and knowledgeable front of house. But it was awkward at times and missed some small details that lie in the gap between good service and very good service.
Forest Avenue is an interesting restaurant with potential and there is a lot to like. The chef is clearly passionate about his food and this comes across with the number of home made offerings. The staff, including the chef - who served us some of courses - also seemed concerned that guests enjoyed the meal, which bodes well. But the food feels like a work in progress with too many dishes needing refinement. Maybe it is a work in progress. We will put it back on our list and return later in the year and see...