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Jean-Georges at The Leinster

The celebrity chef adds Dublin to his empire with big flavours, €48 snacks and spectacular rooftop views


2 Apr 2024


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Written by:

Lisa Cope

What do we need to know about Jean-Georges at The Leinster?

The globally renowned chef, and self-confessed rule breaker Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been lured to Dublin by Paddy McKillen Junior (Press Up Entertainment), whose family he's known through the biz for 15 years. The Leinster Hotel now falls under ownership of The Dean Group, which Press Up set up to separate their hotels from the rest of the business. They sold a majority stake to a London based investment group in 2023, so it's kinda Press Up, and kinda not.

JGV is one of the world's most successful chefs, with an empire stretching across 46 locations in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and The Middle East. His flagship New York restaurant Jean-Georges has two Michelin stars (downgraded from three in 2018), and the work involved in keeping this many restaurants operating at such a high level makes our heads hurt, but he and his team are amongst the world's best restaurant operators.

(Jean-Georges @ The Leinster)

As good as Press Up are at interiors and cocktails, they've yet to produce anything above mediocre when it comes to dining. Jean-Georges is a "partnership" with the main man, who is not going to put his name over the door lightly, so although he only visits his restaurants once a year, we expect other members of his team will be all over every detail.

Executive head chef Ross Bryans has worked for Press Up for a couple of years, but don't let that put you off - he was head chef at Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social for almost 10 years, and worked at restaurant Gordon Ramsay under Clare Smyth, as well as Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.

Is there somewhere for a pre-dinner drink?

There sure is. Slot in an appetite sharpener at The Collins Club, the hotel's ground floor cocktail bar, named after Irish designer David Collins who designed restaurants for Pierre Koffman and Marco-Pierre White. He passed away in 2013, with British Vogue called him "London's great interior designer", and the naming here is a lovely nod to one of Dublin's best design talents.

The menu is unique for the city, with Collins Club versions of drinks you may already know, and brand new ones you won't, like the 'Chocolate & Yuzu' with chocolate tequila, sake and yuzu marmalade. The Abv is handily noted for each drink, so you can decide between a 9% Bellini or a 22% Martini depending on your tolerance/mood/stomach contents.

The 'Kumquat' is their answer to the Martini, with gin, vodka, vermouth and pickled kumquat brine. What looks like two olives are actually brined grapes, plump and ready to pop - they make the drink. The first one that arrived wasn't cold enough, and when we asked for a couple of ice cubes to stir through and dump out they arrived back with a second one, freshly made and ice cold. We would have liked to see more appealing brands than Beefeater and Absolut, but others drinks feature more interesting spirits producers.

The 'Palo Santo Paloma' was a very good version of a paloma, with Tequila, grapefruit, lime and grapefruit soda.

Where should we sit?

Into the lift and up to the rooftop, and despite the slight movement away from the Press Up brand, the room is in the same style we've seen in their other restaurants. We were particularly offended by the trees, but probably because they brought back bad memories. It's a long room with booths on either side and round tables in the middle. We will always pick a booth over a table in the centre of the room, and try to get one at either end for the best views.

The most in-demand seats are going to be on the terrace at either end of the restaurant (not currently open), with views across the city as far as the Dublin mountains.

What's on the menu?

Dishes you could be eating anywhere in the world, with no obvious links to the city its found itself in. JG likes a raw bar/crudo/sushi, "light and bright" appetisers (think Beverly Hills Housewives when they're forced to eat something carb-free on camera), and he loves big flavours, so there's plenty of truffle, chipotle mayonnaise and Champagne sauces. Asian flavours like fermented black bean ginger and green curry are also a running theme.

Two of his signature dishes are caviar topped snacks, and both have landed on The Leinster's rooftop, but you'll have to empty your piggy bank to try them. The egg toast with herbs and caviar is on the menu at JG's flagship New York restaurant, two-Michelin-starred Jean Georges, among many others - see how its made here - while the crackling hash brown with caviar, smoked salmon and cucumber yoghurt can be eaten in his restaurants from Los Cabos, Mexico to São Paulo, Brazil to Nashville, Tennessee.

Egg toast

We tried the hash brown, and our thoughts went like this: "this hash brown could be a lot crispier; where is this salmon from?; mmmmm caviar; I wish there was more caviar; oh God, we've just eaten €42 in two bites..." Is this a must eat dish in Dublin? If you're earning anything close to the average salary, absolutely not. If you have money pouring out of your ears (or the person paying does) then kick back and enjoy this snack as status symbol.

Onto appetisers and a plate of baby artichokes with rose saffron aioli and lemon showed what this group does best - simple ingredients supercharged with big, bold, flavours.

The warm shrimp salad with avocado, tomato and Champagne vinegar dressing looked like something for diners on a diet, with a ratio of 9:1 leaves to everything else. The "shrimp" themselves came in a tangy sauce that was more beurre blanc than vinaigrette, and the whole thing was pleasant to eat, but once the shrimp are gone there's not a whole lot to keep you interested. The raw enoki mushrooms thrown on top were puzzling.

Mains range from €24 for whole roasted cauliflower to €48 for beef tenderloin, and you'll need sides on top for €6 a piece. Wild turbot (€38) with crushed nuts and seeds came in a sweet and sour jus with lightly poached baby onions and tomatoes floating in it, and we've re-eaten it in our heads more times than the hash brown. Perfect, pristine white fish, which flaked away beautifully when hit with a fork, and not a drop of the broth it was sitting in went back to the kitchen - this is a killer fish dish.

Charred, marinated duck breast (€40) comes with caraflex cabbage, herb salad and a coconut lime infusion (just like in Kyoto). Caraflex is related to hispi, and to the best of our knowledge isn't available here -either it's imported or they're using its more common cousin. The breast was substantial, but a bit tough in parts - full marks for the crispy skin though. Oh but that sauce... Like a red curry paste ground by hand on a Thai beach met a juicy lime and throupled it up with a dash of cream from a just-picked coconut. The cabbage had char and bite and swirled around in that sauce was just perfect.

An obligatory side of mash potato had a reassuring amount of butter, and easily slots into the "Michelin-level-mash" category.

Desserts (all €12) are designed to be familiar and comforting as opposed to dazzling and intricate. A rhubarb trifle with lychee gelée and lime meringue came with plenty of the tart pink stuff to offset the sweetness, and delving deep brought up something new each time.

A moussey butterscotch pudding comes with a layer of liquid salted caramel on top and a scoop of whipped crème fraîche floating in it. There's a couple of shortbread biscuits on the side for dipping and scooping onto, and while we thought we'd find this Angel Delight throwback too sweet, if you like salted caramel there's nothing not to like.

What about drinks?

The wine list is pricey, not overly interesting, and is laid out in an order that makes no sense - not by price, nor country, nor style, so it's not an easy read.

The by the glass list is their biggest downfall, with only three options each for white and red, and two whites and one red from Paddy McKillen's winery Château La Coste. Another red is almost €30 a glass, so for the average wine lover there's an embarrassingly bad selection. Plan on getting a bottle, which start at €45.

We drank the Heinz W grüner veltliner (€45) which was crisp, fruity and an easy drinker that worked with everything. If drinking red we would have gone for Holzer's juicy Zweigelt (€55), which will also work well with this kind of food.

How was the service?

Not overly welcome on arrival, but our server was overflowing with smiles. She did however sound like she was reading from a document she'd been forced to practice for hours before being allowed onto the floor. We got the feeling that any question there wasn't a pre-prepared answer for might send her into a spin, afraid of accidentally veering off script. We were told in overtly enunciated words that all of the produce on the menu was "LOCAL and SEASONAL", and that's where the sourcing story ends.

It's also worth pointing out that the dinky, dainty cutlery feels like it was made for diners with tiny hands. It takes a bit of getting used to.

What's the verdict on Jean-Georges at The Leinster?

Jean-Georges Vongerichten leads an impressive global empire, and it feels like we should be grateful he's added little ol' Dublin to his restaurant map, but despite some stellar flavours, we left feeling it's missing some magic right now - an Irish welcome, a wine experience worthy of the setting and the name over the door, and information about the ingredients on the plate. In a country where provenance is our biggest play, to completely ignore it feels like a huge oversight, especially at these prices.

We wonder who's going to fill this restaurant seven nights a week (we visited on a Monday and were one of only three tables the whole night, and saw later on Instagram that one was a hosted journalist). Maybe the same set that fills up The Ivy day after day, who want to feel less ick about themselves.

Dublin lacks great food in glam surroundings, it tends to be one or the other, with a lot of the city's best chefs and operators unable to conceive of spending this much money on upholstery and Costa Nova cutlery. It would be nice for someone to finally get it right, but celebrity chef led restaurants have notoriously bombed here - talk to the teams behind Gary Rhodes, Gordon Ramsay and even our own Richard Corrigan. We'd love to see Jean-Georges break the curse, because we'd very much like to sip another kumquat Martini on the terrace, while they pick a coconut for that duck sauce.

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