What’s the story?
God loves a pivot (isn't that the saying?), and in the last two years a few people and places have done so many pivots they're practically spinning on the spot. Sandy and John Wyer started off 2020 with high end restaurant Forest Avenue (which people have been tipping for a Michelin star for years), and small plates and wine focused Forest & Marcy around the corner, which was initially supposed to be a wine bar but you couldn't just drop in for wine, so we never put it in that category. There was also the whisper of a third restaurant coming soon into the fold - an Italian in Blackrock, heavily delayed due to building issues.
Enter covid, and a total restaurant shutdown. It didn't take long (about two weeks) for Forest Avenue to reopen as the city's poshest new grocer, with everything from sourdough and juniper doughnuts to freshly rolled pappardelle, and a constant queue down the street. With wine upstairs and deli items to go, they made the very best out of a bad situation, and the punters lapped it up. In November of that year, Little Forestfinally burst open its doors for takeaway pizza only, with Reggie White (the former owner of Pi) making the pies, and the reaction was rapturous. Pizza hasn't gotten this many plaudits since, well, Reggie was making pizzas in Pi.
The deli and pizzas kept the team busy until things very slowly started to get back to normal, and in September 2021 they made the surprising announcement that Forest Avenue (tasting menu and all) was moving to the smaller Forest & Marcy site, and a few weeks ago news followed that the Forest Avenue grocer was turning into a wine bar at night. A city can never have too many (good) wine bars, so this was very good news, and we were in there like Flynn to check it out.
Where should we sit?
There's bar/high table seating and low tables like the old days, but in a wine bar we love a bar counter, so that's always our first choice. The views, the chat, the general elevation - it all adds to the European capital wine bar vibes. You might also want to be over near the kitchen if you like eyeballing the chefs, and if you have a preference be sure to mention it when you book. We also spotted a long table upstairs which looked ideal for a group.
What's the food like?
The menu is exactly what we want to see from a wine bar - those places calling themselves wine bars and serving a three course menu, we're looking at you with irritation. Oysters, meats, terrines, rillettes, bread based snacks - it's an A-Z of first rate wine bar fodder.
Depending on how many of you there are you might just want to start at the top and work down - which is what we did but got defeated half way through. Starting with John Wyer's immense sourdough and whipped salted butter is not optional, and a great sign of things to come.
Oysters (they didn't specify which and we forgot to ask) came beautifully presented topped with tarragon oil and pickled shallots, and were so deliciously vivid and palate awakening that we bet even your friend who says they hate oysters would be asking for another.
Is a wine bar without anchovies even a wine bar? In our book no, but Forest Avenue have taken it up a gear with two types of Cantabrian anchovies served together - some in vinegar (which you might know as boquerones) and some cured in salt, in a dressing of green olives, parsley and capers, with some pickled red onion on there too. It tastes exactly as good as it looks and sounds.
Terrines can be hit or miss - we've spent many a night choking down a slab as dry as cardboard with all the flavour of a day old sock - but their duck and foie gras terrine with black fig paste and a celeriac remoulade is one huge hit. Chunks of meat melt away as you slice your fork through it, and it would be hard to think of a better accompaniment than that sweet, punchy black fig paste. The celeriac brought a lovely lightness between mouthfuls, and you definitely should not miss this one.
The potato paillason are similar to hash brown fries or deep-fried confit potatoes, and they tick the chic chips box nicely, but we did find them a little oily so didn't want more than a couple, for fear of filling up too fast. The vadouvan mayonnaise (a spice blend that's been described as a French version of masala) was a very enjoyable alternative to the usual dipping suspects.
If you like a swanky toastie, you'll love the pastrami and pickles on toast with truffle and aged parmesan, the perfect combination of rich meat and cheese, fluffy bread and crunchy pickles. We would definitely want to share this or you won't have room for much else, unless you're just popping in for a sambo and a glass of wine.
Marinated shiitakes with radish and kelp was a pleasant bowl to pick at while snacking, but we wouldn't mark as a must-have. However the more delicate flavours may have gotten lost amongst everything else, so if you're ordering it see if you can get it at the top of the meal.
We were close to being carbed out by the time our comté, ham and truffle tart arrived, and wished we'd gone for the trout rillette or grape and blue cheese salad instead (we just get very excited around delicious sounding carbs). It was nice, but felt too similar to something we might make at home with a packet of pastry and the right ingredients to hand. The salad on the side tasted very strongly of parsley - our least favourite herb.
We were close to admitting defeat, but never before dessert (committed to the cause). A custard tart with rhubarb came on a dense pastry base with a crunchy brûléed top, and a side of tart rhubarb topped with the lightest, airiest ice-cream topping. The rhubarb itself was the standout.
We'd also ordered the beignet with blood orange curd, but the order hadn't gone into the kitchen, so the chefs had to be called back to make it. Unfortunately when they did arrive they weren't cooked through, so weren't as pleasant as they should have been, but when cooked properly who doesn't like a mini doughnut, and the curd was delightful (and delightfully seasonal).
What about the drinks?
Anywhere that has a dedicated grower Champagne by the glass list gets our vote. They're not cheap, but for €22 - €28 a glass around town all you're going to get is big brand, corporate tasting Grand Marques, and these are a world apart - it's like buying a steak in Tesco verses driving out to Higgins in Sutton.
We tried the Stephanie Regault Chromatique (light, fresh, elegant), and the Georges Remy Bouzy Rosé (weightier with more power and roundness), and they were both top tier fizz. If you've ever paid €25 for a glass of Moet et Chandon, treat yourself to this and consider it penance.
The rest of the wine list is just as lovingly put together, and there was a lot on it we wanted to drink. Prices start at €10 a glass and go up to €26 for a white Burgundy from Rully, so it's easy for the bill to ratchet up, but when we're in a wine bar we want to drink really nice wine - that's literally the reason they exist.
We really liked the Albert Mann Riesling (Alsace) and the Luis Seabra Xisto white field blend (Portugal), as well as their own Forest Avenue red Burgundy which was lush and soft with lovely red fruits. We also splurged on a €20 glass of Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir (California), because it's a winemaker we've never seen poured by the glass here and it's very special stuff. Sweet wines to match the desserts, a Hungarian Tokaji and an Austrian blend, were excellent too.
And the service?
The staff could not have been nicer, practically hugging us when we arrived, and the warmth kept going all night. Dishes came really nicely spread out, one or two at a time, never overwhelming proceedings, and the whole experience felt very relaxing.
And the damage? Around €125 a head with service, which was more than we were planning to spend, but take off two glasses of grower Champagne and the €20 glass of Pinot and you'd be down at a more respectable €90 a head.
The verdict? We think Forest Avenue's most recent pivot might be their most clever one yet. There were more similarities than differences between Forest Avenue and Forest & Marcy, and now there's a clear line differentiating them. We'd bet the newly situated Forest Avenue around the corner still has a star in its sights, while the laid back newbie in its place is the wine bar Dublin 4 needed. Go often, go early, go easy on the bread, and order the good champagne.
Forest Avenue Wine Bar 8 Sussex Terrace, Sussex Road, Dublin 4 forestavenuewinebar.ie