One Pico: A New Energy About An Old Classic
Lisa Cope - 9th November 2021
What’s the story?
You know One Pico. We know One Pico. Everyone knows One Pico. You were probably brought here for a graduation lunch, an anniversary dinner, or a private meal for your Granny's 80th in the Polo Room upstairs. It's been open since 1997 and has always been classic, consistent, dependable, but lacking somewhat in fireworks, and the culinary climbing of sister restaurant The Greenhouse (awarded two Michelin stars in the 2020 guide) meant it was over-shadowed by its younger sibling.
The Greenhouse remained shut for the duration of the pandemic (two star food doesn't really translate to prepare at home meal kits), and in May of this year Head Chef Mickael Viljanen announced he had quit and was taking over Chapter One (below) as chef-patron, with Ross Lewis still involved in the background. That's proved to be a very good decision, but The Greenhouse remains empty and doesn't appear to have a reopening plan. Those of you with vouchers were getting anxious about whether or not you'd be able to use them, so there was a bit of relief when One Pico said they could be used there instead.
Outside of this, we've noticed a slow but steady rumbling about what's coming out of the kitchen in recent months. There's always been a (generally older) cohort insisting One Pico should have a Michelin star, but it feels like something has shifted lately, with the lionizing getting louder and spanning more age groups, and it was enough to send us back for a midweek lunch to see what was happening.
Where should we sit?
The dining room is as classically formal as it gets, from the velvet seats to the white tablecloths, the lack of any background music to the staff crumbing your table after each course. In one way we've always felt this old-fashioned approach has held One Pico back, it's not generally what the youth are looking for in their food adventuring, but it does suit the older, monied crowd, of which One Pico's customer base is primarily made up of. On the other hand a bit of formality can be quite soothing and escapist at times, and we'd be lying if we said a midweek lunch on velvet seats with silver service wasn't very enjoyable.
Tables are well spaced with covid-friendly dividers against one wall, and there's a nice banquette running along the back of the room for extra cosiness. We get a lot of questions from you guys about where to book for groups and special occasions, so take note of The Polo Room upstairs where you can dine in private from a set menu - exactly how many can attend will depend on Covid restrictions at the time (or maybe one day we'll be living in a Covid free world again, imagine...)
What's the food like?
Lunch is a set menu of €45 for two courses or €55 for three, with bread, tea/coffee and a petit four included. For dinner it's a three course set for €85, which is quite the jump considering a lot of the dishes are the same, but the supplements on some dishes are lower. Either way lunch is where the value is at. You can see current menus on their website.
A beautiful bread basket of sourdough, brown and fruit breads set the tone for the meal, and the offer to replenish the pounced upon basket was a nice touch (just say no kids, we know it's hard). We'd seen the dramatic looking venison and beetroot tartare with blackberries and nasturtium on head chef Ciarn McGill's Instagram account and had to have it. It's a beautiful dish, with the mineral earthiness of the venison nicely balanced by tart beetroot and sweet blackberries. Our only complaint was that it was slightly over-seasoned with black pepper dominant, but as complaints go it's minor.
Our other starter was their homemade ravioli that seems to be a cornerstone of the menu. At the moment it's filled with an aged parmesan and truffle bechamel, in a crystal clear cep mushroom consommé that's been clarified three times, with more truffle shaved on top, and it's the most perfectly hedonistic bowl of Autumn flavours. Don't miss it.
When faced with a set menu there tends to be a tendency to "get your money's worth" with a meat or fish dish as opposed to the vegetarian option. We fought off those urges here because the Potimarron squash with Roscoff onion, gnocchi, chanterelles and pickled squash contained so many of our favourite things, and it's the best vegetarian dish we've had in months - and there wasn't even any cheese to be seen. There was more grated truffle on top though - tick.
Chunky, chewy, crispy gnocchi, sweet onions, fruity chanterelles, what tasted like a considerable amount of butter. The squash still had a bite in the middle, which at first we wondered was a mistake, and then realised how much that little bit of crunch added to the dish's textures. Little pickled slices of squash were the acidic icing on the cake, and we were so sad to eat the last forkful.
Our other main of Wicklow Sika deer was another powerful plate of food, thanks to perfect cooking and interesting accompaniments. A pear chutney for sweetness, last year's elderberries for tang, parsley root purée to soothe, a potato crisp in the shape of a leaf for crunch, and a few more chanterelles, because why not. Nothing out of place, nothing without a good reason for being there, and a beautifully cooked piece of meat.
What is going on with potatoes? Everywhere we go lately places are majorly upping their spud game. The once afterthought of the sides menu is becoming the must order, and that's the case here too. Their charlotte potatoes were served with parmesan, crispy onion and shaved Autumn truffles (no you cannot have too much truffle in one meal but thanks for asking), and were salty, umami packed little flavour bombs, with excellent added crunch from the onions and sea salt.
Something else we'd been giving the glad eye to since seeing it on social media was the dessert of "Poire Belle Hélène" - One Pico's riff on the original Escoffier dish of poached pears with chocolate sauce. If Michelin were giving out stars for desserts, this deserves one. The chocolate covered ring covered an almond sponge and a pear and vanilla mousse, chunks of pear so sweet and ripe they tasted almost fake (such is the general pear standards across the country), a Valhrona chocolate sauce, and a Poire Williams (pear liqueur) sorbet. This is in the top tier of desserts in the country right now, and we insist that you taste it.
The other dessert of baked Guinness custard with blackberries and blackberry ice-cream we picked mostly out of curiosity, and are relieved to say did not taste of Guinness. There was a savoury, grain-like flavour to the custard, which was on the denser side, and the various blackberry elements from sauce to sorbet gave it a nice balance, but the previous dessert was in another league.
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Good coffee and a rich chocolate truffle finished off a pretty absorbing lunch, before sadly stepping back out into reality.
What about the drinks?
Wine prices are eye-watering and you'll struggle to find much under €40. It's very clear who this list is aimed at, and it's not the same people who spent the weekend in Note wine bar. The old world, particularly Burgundy and Bordeaux, takes up most of the list, and there are a number of big brands on there - presumably to soothe the TDs or those dining out on company cards who want to look like they know what they're talking about. The cheapest sparklings, a Crémant de Bourgogne and a Prosecco, are €75 - ouch - but needless to say, if you or the person you're dining with has endless cash under the mattress you can drink very well in here.
Despite the classic lean, there are a few more organic/biodynamic/natural-ish wines hidden within, and their sommelier will happily give you recommendations - just make his life easier and tell him what you want to spend. We drank 'Le Mas' from Domaine Clavel, a grenache/syrah blend from the Languedoc at €52, and it was bright and juicy, pairing well with all of the dishes. The other thing you get for those prices is an elevated wine service - the cork left on the table, a side table for your wine. It's all very conducive to making you feel like a VIP for a few hours.
And the service?
Formal, smooth and very professional. You probably won't be cracking jokes with your waiter, but none of them will miss a beat, making for a very stress free experience. The only thing you'll have to think about is eeking out the food and wine for as long as possible.
And the damage?
Around €90 a head after tip with one lower priced bottle of wine between two. Not cheap by any means for lunch, but thoroughly recommended for a midweek skive every now and then.
It feels like there's a new energy about One Pico at the moment, like they're striving for something bigger, and of the multiple meals we've had here over the years, none impressed as much as this one.
The pandemic was harsher on some restaurants than others, and places like One Pico who were dependent on tourists and corporate business more than some of their contemporaries, had it harder than others. We wonder whether it's made them think more about targeting the local food obsessives who spend each month scrambling for reservations in Variety Jones, Chapter One and Uno Mas, ditching the velvet chairs and white tablecloths, and easing out the suited smart set bit by bit.
Maybe that's wishful thinking on our part, but the next time you're looking for somewhere for a special occasion meal, a food and wine splurge (we all need one now and then), or to taste the best pear and chocolate dessert of your life, head for Molesworth Place.