We usually don't go to a restaurant for at least several months after it first opens. It takes a new restaurant time to find it's feet and iron out the creases. There are few businesses in any other industry that would be expected to run a perfectly smooth operation when they first open, so reviews of a restaurant on opening night or even in the first couple of weeks are hard to take seriously and criticism of food or service may be unfair. Visiting a restaurant which has had time to develop, polish its operation and hone the dishes gives a clearer picture of what the restaurant can offer. Even elBulli, which was only open for six months a year, was described by Ferran Adria as being a lot more organised and rhythmic near the end of their open period.
Saying that though, we broke our rule slightly when we visited Amuse on Dawson Street in Dublin after being open for only two months. It wasn't planned, but in desperation of a feed and without a dinner reservation we found ourselves in Amuse, which thankfully had a few openings. Had it been a bad experience or we had many criticisms we may not be writing this review and, instead, we would be going back in a few months, but since the experience was positive we figure a review isn't out of order.
Amuse may be described as "fusion", one of those overused culinary terms, as it incorporates both Asian and European ingredients and techniques. This is nothing new and although the term 'fusion' originated and was popularized in California around the 1970s, cultures have been fusing cuisines long before that. This is especially true when countries were colonized and two cuisines and cultures were thrown together. Due to French colonization of countries in South East Asia the French influence is still very obvious there. Cambodia's national dish of Fish Amok is steamed with egg to soufflé it, Vietnam's national dish of Pho is thought to have origins as Pot Au Feu and a consommé and baguettes are still eaten in both countries, albeit a bit sweeter. Of course, the spread and availability of spices could also be seen as one of the earliest forms of simple fusion cooking.
A lot of restaurants opening in Dublin at the moment are looking for a trend or a niche. The dining room, the setting and the theme are paramount and the food, which often isn't bad and can even be good, comes second. Amuse isn't like that though and, after a meal there, it is obvious that the food comes first and serving this style isn't a gimmick or an attempt to find a hole in the market. This is evident in the simple dining room with influential cook books, such as Michel Bras and Mugaritz, displayed on the walls. It comes across as if the chef, Conor Dempsey, is cooking the food he wants to cook and there is excitement in his food as he starts out on his venture.
We had the 7 course tasting menu and, first and foremost, a quick read of the menu showed it was actually 7 courses, i.e. it was 7 courses, not including the amuse bouche, pre dessert or coffee as many restaurants are selling their tasting menus as these days. So off to good start, before any food was tasted.
There was a lot to like in the food with many dishes showing a lightness of touch and balance of interesting flavour combinations. In the wrong hands ingredients such as yuzo, daikon, chocolate, coconut, kohlrabi (all of which appeared on savoury dishes) combined with fish, shellfish and fowl could be calamitous and it takes skill and an accomplished palate to get this balance right. On the whole the food tasted clean and was refreshing, while at the same time being moreish. The first two courses, which were the best of the night, demonstrated this well. Mackerel ceviche followed by a serving blue-fin tuna with radish and samphire.
Other courses were also very good and highly enjoyable. An interesting serving of perfectly cooked squid served with coconut and cauliflower was interesting, but a bit overpowered by white chocolate and the dish may have worked better with scallops. A beautiful piece of hake served with a consommé that was slightly too salty. The dessert was a beautiful plate of summer fruit and shortbread that we would have gladly eaten a bucket-load of, but was served with a raspberry sorbet and chocolate pavé which were both a bit diluted and they turned the dessert into a sort of random assortment instead of dish. There was only one dish that we were not too keen on: egg yolk, mushrooms, fennel and hazelnut wasn't harmonious and a little bit cloying.
The amuses bouches, pre-dessert and petit fours were top quality and the service was professional, friendly and knowledgeable.
Overall it was a very good start and we are really looking forward to going back in the hope that, with a bit of polishing, this restaurant could be one of the best in the city. Currently there is a slight inexperienced feel that may be because the restaurant is still new. Despite being a 7 course tasting menu a couple of dishes were still a little bit small, and we left feeling something was missing. Some of the dishes are just a little bit short of perfect and need the odd tweak.
It is great to see a restaurant in Dublin that is trying something different that isn't for the sake of being trendy. Amuse is offering something different purely on the food and this should be applauded. We left the restaurant impressed.