A similar approach has been done before in other cities and with great success. The brilliantly talented Jason Atherton employed it in Maze in London where he used to describe it as 'grazing'. This meant that a diner would order 6 or 7 (or more if hungry) small dishes from a selection of around 30. It may be the success of Maze, which earned and still holds a Michelin star, that has prompted other Chefs, like Dunne to follow suit. Interestingly, Cleaver East ambitiously describes itself as "a combination of Irish and International influences, innovatively presented in smaller dishes offering a unique tasting experience", whereas Maze is described on it's website as "A fusion of taste and style, the combination of French and Asian influences offers a unique tasting experience".
Being able to pick as many tasting plates as you wish can be great for a diner, giving the chance to, in essence construct a custom tasting menu and sample many dishes in one sitting. But there are pitfalls for a restaurant in choosing to use this sharing-plate style.
Bringing dishes out to the table as they are ready, sometimes many at a time and in no order, can be irritating for the diner. It can happen, on a table of two for example, that one diner can be served two or even three dishes before the other diner gets one. Now the idea is that you share, but not all dishes will be to every ones taste and what if one of the diners is a vegetarian on a table full of meat dishes? Do you wait until the other dishes arrive or start eating and leave your dining companion to go hungry? If diners are forced to share then dishes need to be designed for sharing. For example, a poached duck egg, like on the Cleaver East menu, is not easily shared.
We were in Copenhagen recently in a restaurant called Oliver & The Black Circus which had this 'grazing' approach, but they served the dishes in a conventional, logical order and one dish to a guest at a time. So it was really a way for the diner to construct a tasting menu. For us, this is a much better way of doing it.
Since there can be many dishes on the table at the same time, they can be left to go a bit cold while you eat others, or in the case of a scotch egg, the yolk inside can lose its 'runniness' - making it disappointing when you get around to it.
A gripe we have with this is that having many plates on the table at one time, which often happens as they come out when they are ready (not when the diner is ready), can be annoying as there is not always the table space. Three large plates, a bottle of wine, wine glasses, water glasses, cutlery do not always fit comfortably and a game of porcelain tetris is usually needed to get everything to arrange the table.
We think it would be a good idea for restaurants such as Cleaver East and Brioche to offer a set orthodox tasting menu along with the selection of tasting plates. So, if diners don't want dishes served 'tapas style' they can have them served more conventionally. Brioche advertise tasting menus on their website, but, to our disappointment, this is actually only offered to group bookings.
But this 'tapas style' approach is becoming popular, with many diners enjoying it, and so we may see more restaurants adopting it. Especially since it means that, because many dishes can be served simultaneously, restaurants can turn tables quicker.
If we had to chose between Brioche or Cleaver East to return to, it would certainly be Brioche. We visited Cleaver East twice in 2013. The first time was after it was only open a few days, so it wouldn't be fair to to make a judgement as the restaurant was finding it's feet. But we did see, despite a few annoyances with the "sharing--plate" serving, plenty of potential. But when we returned near the end of the year, this potential was not realised and the meal disappointing.
We visited Brioche a few weeks ago and, in general, enjoyed a very nice meal. The dining room and food is based on a French bistro style. The dishes are a modern interpretation of classic French dishes and many of them are done successfully. The worst dish was the foie gras, which was barely identifiable as foie gras. It lacked any depth of flavour and was lost with the pickle and extremely good duck fat brioche. The pan-roasted cod fillet was a pretty forgettable dish too. It was severed with almonds that overpowered the delicate cod.
There were a number of very good dishes though. The best dish was the chicken & black pudding boudin. Sometimes chefs label something as a boudin if it is just moulded into a sausage shape, but this boudin had a proper sausage texture. It was flavoursome, but still subtle, and very moreish. The smoked duck dish was also excellent, with the duck being perfectly cooked and well balanced with a chestnut purée. The special on the night of pigs head croquette showed skill and was seasoned perfectly.
The dessert of chocolate pave and salted caramel ice cream was delicious - the combination chocolate and salted caramel usually is. However, the ratio of ingredients on the plate were a bit wrong. The chocolate pave was very small and served with two excellent chocolate macaroons. But we would have preferred a larger pave and only one macaroon, so the pave was prominent.
The menus in both Brioche and Cleaver East are excellent value with dishes on both restaurants averaging around €10 and both restaurants have a reasonably priced wine menu. The service in Cleaver East is slightly better as it was a bit haphazard in Brioche. But we would like to return to Brioche and won't be rushing back to Cleaver East, which we think is slightly style over substance.