Chapter One By Mickael Viljanen - The Tasting Menu
Chapter One's Tasting Menu - Is It Worth €170?
Why are you reviewing Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen again?
Deftly spotted. We came here back in September shortly after they opened to try the €65 lunch menu (which we said you DESERVE to treat yourself to), but this time we went full steam ahead with the dinner tasting menu. This review wasn't planned, but as the plates started coming out, we realised you also deserved to hear about this one. We're not going to run through the background on everything again as you can read that here - this is purely about the tasting menu and whether it's worth the serious splurge.
€170 a head on food is mad money to most people, and there are probably members of your family who would think you'd lost the plot handing that over for dinner, but if you're reading this you're probably of a different disposition, and while it's still a considerable chunk of change, most of us would probably spend it if it was going to be worth it. So is it?
What's the story with the tasting menu?
You can do it at lunch or at dinner. Lunch is a "surprise" tasting menu for €135. At dinner you actually see what you're getting for €170, and we always like to know what's coming - half the fun is in the anticipation. There's a wine pairing for €105 a head, or a "sommelier's selection" for €280 a head. More on those later. We recommend a cocktail or a glass of Champagne in the lovely bar area while you pour over what's going to come over the next 3-4 hours.
Can we get down to the good stuff already?
Sure. You'll start with canapés, four or five depending on the day and what the chef has dreamt up the night before when he should have been sleeping. The iconic (zero exaggeration) first bite of borscht has morphed into a pea soup in that cocoa butter shell, with jamon iberico on top. You know that really annoying critic phrase when they say something tasted "intensely of itself"? That. These were peas on overload. Then a Flaggy Shore oyster tart, in the crispest shell, with all of the oyster flavour, none of the slime.
Next the chef brought out a bowl with a blow-torched piece of red mullet sitting in it, and a teapot of 'Aigo Sau', which is like a clarified bouillabaisse. In it went on top, with instructions to leave it for approximately eight seconds and it would be perfectly cooked - cue the longest eight seconds of your life, with an outrageously good payoff. There was also a crunchy, punchy celeriac and preserved lemon 'taco', a variation of which has been on from the start.
"Siri, show me hedonism in food form." "How about this fried brioche stuffed with crème fraîche and pike roe, with caviar and edible gold leaf on top?" You could get up and leave after this indecent doughnut and not regret a cent spent.
The first 'proper' course of six was a new spin on the chef's famous Foie Gras Royale. A base of custardy foie came with a fragrant, soft camomile jelly, a sharp verjus sorbet, cubes of eel, raisins, edible flowers and other lovely things with clearly alchemical properties. Spoons were dipped, and the conversation went something like: "Oh my God. OH my God. Oh my GOD." "I'm sorry, I can't even hear what you're saying." It's quite possible there was divine intervention on this one.
This came with the first bread course (of three) - laminated treacle and Guinness brioche, which is also on the lunch menu and which we've rhapsodized about before.
You think you've peaked with the foie, then the hand-dived scallop ceviche comes out, with crème fraîche, horseradish, elderflower vinegar and jalapeño. It's difficult to comprehend how someone can use so many assertive flavours so beautifully balanced, and keep the flavour of every element so vivid, so prepare to spend much of this dish just staring down at your plate and back at your dining partner, with your nose and mouth on sensory overload, and your head hurting from trying to take it all in.
Another bread course? If you insist. This time a Japanese milk bread so fluffy you can just pull it apart with your fingers. It doesn't need the perfect butter, but when on Parnell Square...
At this stage you'll probably be somewhere between total euphoria and adrenaline surging anticipation for what's to come next. For us it was BBQ Donegal lobster with kari gosse (a curry spice mix), carrot, finger lime, lobster rice and lobster sauce. There are more elements than even this, and when the chef brought the plates he muttered something about cocoa beans/shells, and the caviar and red currants weren't mentioned in the description either. We're guessing that if you put every single part of each dish on the menu it would run to several pages.
There's something so joyful about a locally caught lobster and chips, but this is the diametric - lobster the way Kings and Queens might eat it, if they had a mastermind like this in the kitchen (they don't). It's peak lobster, with flavours and textures coming at you from every angle, and you might never have better. And we haven't even mentioned the lobster rice - rich, creamy, fragrant with saffron, and stuffed full of lobster pieces, each dip of your spoon uncovering more treasure.
After that it was the other 'main', milk-fed Lozère lamb 'Provençal', with anchovy, ewe's milk and jus gras (like a light gravy). To 'whet your appetite' a tiny lamb-filled doughnut is brought over with a splodge of foie gras to scoop up onto it. After doing what you're told and feeling the flavour of lamb from your head right down to your toes, the main attraction arrives, all sitting under a sweet, dehydrated red pepper cape.
Under this lies the pale, milky lamb, asparagus and artichoke, and where previously we would have been up on rooftops shouting that Irish lamb is the best, now we're not so sure. The flavour is delicate and grassy, the meat butter-soft, and as ever in this kitchen, every element around it has a perfect part to play. Oh there's also another bread course here, the house sourdough. You won't need it, but you'll greedily eat it.
You'll likely be pretty full by now, so it's definitely time for a pre-dessert. Ours was a mousse laitière (dairy mousse), filled with kombu and citrus and made to look like a clementine or mandarin. The balance between sharpness and creaminess was just right, and it was as beautiful to look at as it was to eat, as well as being an excellent palate-reviver.
Then the dessert, 'Tiramisu, Cumin', but there are no trays of mascarpone topped lady fingers around here. It starts with another cocoa butter shell filled with unsweetened coffee, which bursts open in your mouth getting it ready for what's to come, then something resembling a mini-Saturn is put in front of you, and it's hard to ruin the effect, but you must or it will melt. Chocolate, coffee and cream abound, but we didn't get any cumin. It wasn't missed.
Lucky for us, we had a coffee hater in the ranks, so the lovely staff offered to substitute the dessert from the four-course menu instead - wild and cultivated strawberries, violet and chartreuse. A picture perfect, bright red ring cracked open to reveal a kind of vivid-tasting strawberry mousse on top of a biscuit base, with a side of violet ice-cream on top of chartreuse jelly. The strawberries don't stop there though.
Who doesn't love a dessert in two parts, and we may have gasped when a trolley holding strawberry croissant tarts with edible gold trundled towards us. Staff described it as "breakfast in bed", and it was such a fun (and utterly delicious) addition to the menu, the plump, ripe strawberries cutting through the vanilla crème fraîche and buttery pastry.
Shamefully we never took a picture of the petit fours but you'll get three little bites to finish, usually a fruit and two chocolate-based ones. They go perfect with an Irish coffee from another of their famous trolleys.
Should I do the wine pairing?
If €170 for dinner is a scrimp and save affair, the wine pairing at €105 might push Chapter One into "no can do" territory, so here's our advice. Look at what they're pairing, get one glass for each course and share them. Six - eight glasses of wine and most people would be on their ear anyway, and you need to keep units for an Irish coffee at the end.
That will half your wine spend (in or around) and make the bill marginally less painful. If you've got the dough to throw around by all means go for it, but the wine service will be just as attentive whether you're doing the pairing or going à la carte.
And the damage? *Deep breaths* - Just under €500 for two, for drinks on arrival, the tasting menu and à la carte wines pairings, and a tip is not included in that. If you do the full wine pairing each it'll be closer to €600. This is a mammoth spend for dinner for most people, and undoubtedly there will be members of your family you will never admit it to, but compared to the tasting menus at Ireland's other two-star restaurants (Aimsir - €210, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud - €225), dare we say it feels like decent value? *waits for rocks to be thrown*
The verdict? Is coming here for the two-starred tasting menu a lot of money? Yes. Is it more than most people would ever comprehend spending on a meal out? Also yes. Are we and the average ATF reader most people? No. This experience is not likely to be a regular one in your life (and if it is give us a call, we'd like to be friends). This is an anniversary indulgence, a birthday blowout, a yearly Odyssey through Mickael Viljanen's head, and while we've had many, many disappointing meals in Michelin-starred restaurants for way too much money, feeling sore and stung for weeks afterwards, this is not the story here. This is a tasting menu we want to throw all of our money at, that we feel hashtag blessed to have experienced, and getting a first row seat to the genius taking place within these basement walls might be the best dining experience in the country right now. Is it worth the money? Yes, a hundred times yes, and if you can't face spending it right now, try to get a table at some point this year for that €65 lunch - we guarantee you'll be back.
Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen 18-19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 chapteronerestaurant.com