Perhaps fearing the same and so he could commit more time to his other pursuits, Clarke brought in Tom Doyle as head chef near the start of the year and with him came a new energy throughout the restaurant. Doyle, who was getting some acclaim for his work as head chef of Mulberry Garden, quickly imparted his own style and modernised the menu.
Clarke and Doyle's food style is quite different and there may have been a concern that this may have led to an incoherent menu, with dishes from both chefs trying to sit side by side. There is still a bit of a crossover at times, but a dish of foie gras, which has been a regular on Clarke's tasting menu, has been changed slightly. Now served with pickled cherries and gingerbread, it has been lightened and enhanced to be one of the best dishes on the tasting menu and shows that the two styles can align. The same can be said for a serving of smoked salmon, served simply with dill and horseradish, lightly smoked under a cloche.
The food in L'Ecrivain is now lighter, not heavily relying on butters or creams, but instead using oils and foams, (flavoursome foams done properly, not those bland types that collapse as soon as they are looked at), to add the moisture to a dish and making great use of acidity. The food is natural and the dishes are uncluttered with the quality of produce allowed to shine through on the plate. A serving of beautiful cooked quail with green beans and kale oil epitomised this pure, almost vegetal, style of cookery.
Fermentation has started to appear on the menu giving an interesting depth to dishes. A serving of cucumber and fermented cabbage was delicious and it would be interesting to see fermentation explored further as, when done correctly, it has the potential to create a whole new flavour.
A dish of cod with smoked eel and beach herbs was dry, a bit dull and lacked cohesion; the one disappointment on an otherwise excellent tasting menu. Desserts are high quality too, the best being a beautifully light dessert of fromage blanc with apricot which imparted a subtle sweetness which worked well with the salty unami from the fromage.
The changes in the kitchen seems to have created energy and enthusiasm in the dining room too. The young service team are welcoming, knowledgeable and engaging with the right level of formality. L'Ecrivian's 6 course tasting menu for 75 euro represents excellent value for this quality of food.
L'Ecrivain is now a very interesting restaurant again, it has regained some of the relevance it has lost. When a restaurant has a Chef Patron like Derry Clarke, one of Ireland's greatest, and a head Chef like Tom Doyle, the next generation of top Irish chefs, then it already has a lot going for it and we will be watching to see if there is further progress to come.