Sadly, it isn't that unusual for good restaurants to drop the standard on their less expensive menus such as lunch or pre-theatre, but it can be frustrating. Sure they have to reduce the number of expensive ingredients they can use, but the care, the precision and quality should still be the same. A diner getting a lunch or pre-theatre menu should still get the same standards and still be able to see the merits of the restaurant and the talent of the chef.
So, we returned to Chapter One recently to try their tasting menu and see if it is superior than the pre-theatre. Well It was better, most certainly, but still far from perfect and suffered from some of the same problems.
There were some dishes that were of high quality and very accomplished. Scallops with unfermented chorizo and lemon emulsion worked very well, the strong flavours balanced with perfectly cooked scallops. Crab salad with cucumber and seaweed was fresh, light and very polished. Pig's tail stuffed with bacon and Dublin Bay prawns was powerful, a little over sweet, but still quite good and the prawns were not lost to other strong flavours. A beetroot and goats cheese dish was a bit boring, but preserved lemon (it may have benefited with more of this), and smoked almond just managed to elevate it to more than just a conventional beetroot and goats cheese salad. These three dishes were enjoyable and the marriage of flavours showed there is a good palate in the kitchen. However on a tasting menu each dish should leave you wanting more and only on the scallop and the crab dish did we finish it wishing it was larger.
It was the last savoury course in this dinner that really let it down though, it was terrible. Extremely overcooked loin of venison, so over cooked in fact that it was nearly grey all the way through with just a small amount of slight pink hue in the middle and it had that faint livery taste that venison gets when cooked to within an inch of it's life. The dish was served with terrible roasted parsnips that were inconsistently cooked and creamed potatoes served on a soggy potato crisp. The dish was massive, even for a la carte it would have been very large. A complete mess of a dish that brought back memories of last years pre theatre. What was most infuriating about this dish though was that we saw other people get this dish on the a la carte and the venison was cooked much better with the bright pink all the way through that it should have. It is shameful to see this level of inconsistency in a restaurant.
The dessert was nice, but again it was far too big and rich for a tasting menu. A rich chocolate soufflé served with an equally rich orange ice cream. Both parts were nice individually, but did not work together at all.
The service, whilst being friendly and hospitable, was still a bit poor at times. Waiting staff lacked knowledge of the menu and sometimes got things wrong describing the dishes - calling a pumpkin soup 'chestnut' for example. There is also a slight conceit throughout the service that starts to grate a bit. We don't mind being asked once if it is a special occasion, it is quite nice in fact, but after several times it gets a bit much, especially after answering 'no' to be told that it is 'just a treat then' - it wasn't! You get the impression that they think it is quite an occasion and a privilege to be dining in Chapter One. You are often told how good a dish is instead of being asked how good you thought it was. Seeing one waiter throw the foil off the top of a bottle of wine across the dining room to another waiter gives the sense of a lack of professionalism.
The tasting menu did not in any live up to the €85 price tag, there are far better meals to be had for less, and even though some dishes were very good we left frustrated again.