Damien Grey raises the game to a different level
What’s the story?
Heron & Grey opened in Blackrock Market in 2016, and after winning a Michelin star within their first 10 months, the 22-seater restaurant, only open three nights a week (with one sitting per night, so 66 people per week), was soon the most sought after reservation in the city. It only became more difficult as time went on and word got out, and each month when the seats for the following month were released they sold out in minutes, leaving tranches of disappointed Dubliners virtually sobbing on social media.
When owners Andrew Heron and Damien Grey announced in December that they were going their separate ways, it came as a shock - why would anyone give up on such a good thing? - but Andrew wanted a more balanced family lifestyle, and Damien wanted to change the feel of the restaurant, so they decided the time was right for them to part, and Damien to morph Heron & Grey into Liath (meaning grey in Irish - a name his daughters came up with), alongside kitchen team Róisín Gillen and Josef Radacovsky.
They closed at the end of January for a two month refurb, and rumours of white tablecloths and an ambition for a second Michelin star started to abound (Grey has technically lost his star with the change, so needs to win it back with the new format). When the first block of tables for the March reopening were released on the 1st of February, 3,500 people tried to book a table simultaneously at 10am, leading the website to crash, and once again leaving lots of disappointed wannabe diners in their wake, but we were lucky enough to bag a table for night two, purely so we can tell you all about it.
Where should we go for a drink first?
We'd be tempted to say just don't, as why muddy your palate with anything else before sitting down in here, but if you insist, the best boozer on the main street in Blackrock is probably old-man style Jack O'Rourke's, there since 1897.
Where should we sit?
The new restaurant configuration has one table for six, three tables for four, and two tables for two, and lets face it, you'll be doing well to nab any of them, but we always like being closer to where the action (i.e. the kitchen) is, so you could request it when you book. Otherwise the two-seater at the far end looks very cosy and as private as you'll get in such a small space.
What's good to eat?
The menu consists of a ten-course tasting menu for €78 (they will cater for allergies but not dietary choices), and despite the fact you will leave with a hefty bill when drinks are included, it really does feel like excellent value - there are non-Michelin starred restaurants in the city with more expensive tasting menus whose food isn't at this level. This is boundary-pushing, sometimes head-exploding stuff, and often while eating here we've found ourselves shaking our heads in amazement at how someone's brain even begins coming up with ideas like these.
Our 10 courses were a rollercoaster of tastes, textures and striking visual compositions, and there wasn't so much of an instant of boredom or a dish that didn't work, just a succession of wows from beginning to end. If absolutely forced to pick favourites, we'd single out the celeriac, the smoked eel cone, the pork and pineapple and the kaffir lime meringue, but you can see everything we had below in all its glory.
Chicken broth with wild peas, cabbage and mushrooms
Celeriac cooked on the yakatori grill with sheep's yoghurt, pesto and rosemary powder
Pigeon with fermented beetroot and liver
Textures of lemon with rapeseed oil
Mackerel, sprouting broccoli, kimchi, lardo
Feuille de brick with smoked eel, shallot, aged parmesan and fennel pollen
Pork, allium, pennywort, pineapple - a riff on Grey's favourite dish from his Chinese take away, pork yuk sung
An idea of a mango
Rhubarb, kaffir lime, meringue
Dark chocolate, preserves, raspberries
What about the drinks?
Most people at Heron & Grey used to go for the wine pairing, of either six or nine courses, with Andrew Heron showing up at the table throughout the meal with another white or red option once your glass had run dry. Liath is starting off with a six wine pairing for the time being, and there's been no major changes as of yet to the killer wine list, featuring tonnes of interesting wines (lots of them from the minimal intervention canon).
We went for the pairing on this occasion and unfortunately a few of them didn't work (despite them all being very good wines in their own right), but we're putting it down to the fact that they'd only gotten into the space 24 hours earlier and didn't have the usual amount of time to painstakingly try each dish with a variety of wines. We're confident that this will sort itself out over the next few weeks once they have time to bed in and get back into their regular routine, but the á la carte list is full of great bottles at non-gouging prices if you want to fly solo.
And the service?
As poised and professional as always, without the formality that can often hang around Michelin-starred restaurants making everyone a bit uptight. Long-standing floor team member Ailish had slotted into Andrew's old place on the floor when we were there and was typically warm, welcoming and generous of time. The chefs also delivered a couple of plates to the tables, which we love because we get to quiz them on exactly how some of these mind-boggling dishes were born.
When we heard Grey wanted to make changes to his restaurant, like adding tablecloths, we didn't really get it. We thought it was pretty perfect as it was. But on walking in we realised that by doing what he's done, he's raised the game to a whole new level. This doesn't feel like a sparsely decorated corridor in Blackrock market any more. With the etched glass on the windows, the wooden slats, the black banquettes and the wall of wine, it feels more like Copenhagen or Stockholm than SoCoDub, the type of place that culinary tourists get on a plane for. The food scene in Dublin has never been as vibrant and fast-moving as it is right now, from street food trucks to fine dining, but we've never really had a restaurant to put us on the global culinary map. We only have one two-starred Michelin (Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud), haven't had a contender in the World's 50 Best Restaurants since Thornton's was included in 2003, and the main Michelin Instagram account doesn't follow any Irish restaurants and just one Irish chef (Martijn Kajuiter at Michelin-starred House at The Cliff House Hotel), but things are moving fast, and we can't shake the feeling that Liath could be the one to change the game. We have no doubt that Grey's going to reclaim his star when the 2020 Michelin guide is released in October this year, but it's the very real prospect of a second that's just made things a whole lot more interesting.