Gillian Nelis: Fun flavours make for plates of pure joy at Liath in Blackrock
If you’re after a solemn, hushed experience, Ireland’s newest two Michelin-starred restaurant isn’t the place for you – but if you’re after fun and excitement, you’ll love it
Liath, Blackrock Market,
19a Main Street,
Blackrock, Co Dublin
Chef: Damien Grey
“Far too much fun.” The message from a friend, on hearing I’d been to Liath, summed up the experience way better than I suspect I’ll manage here. But since you’re reading this anyway, why not stick around to see how I do?
You’ll probably know by now that this tiny place in Blackrock in south Co Dublin became Ireland’s newest two Michelin-starred restaurant in February, joining Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin city centre, and Aimsir in Kildare.
The video of chef Damien Grey and his team getting the award would gladden the heart of an ogre, but it’s nothing compared to the joy triggered by actually eating there.
If Grey ever decides to get out of the cooking game, I suspect he’d walk into some kind of corporate consultancy job that involved teaching people how to do boundary-pushing work without losing their sense of humour or turning into a raging egomaniac.
His kitchen is a tiny, meticulously organised space where he and his small team produce little plates of joy accompanied by plenty of craic: if you’re expecting a hushed, solemn experience this isn’t the place for you, though the food will challenge, excite and intrigue you in equal measure.
There is richness, in the form of an utterly gorgeous piece of herring wrapped in pork fat, charred on the hibachi grill, then served with slivers of pickled onion, an onion purée and burnt onion powder. A single carrot becomes a thing of beauty – I could imagine an Alice in Wonderland-esque bride carrying it down the aisle – thanks to a chicken liver crumble, dots of ginger vinegar gel and wild pea tips.
Freshness abounds too, in a palette cleanser of Gariguette strawberries with a strawberry and black pepper jelly on a bed of glorious mint ice, and a cheese course of frozen Young Buck blue with poached apples, a brioche crumb and burnt butter ice cream. The latter helped Jack Lenards, one of Grey’s team, to win the Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition in 2018, and it is sensational.
So too is the suckling pig: the saddle, cooked to perfection and featuring the crackling of your dreams; the stuffed morel garnish; the accompanying spinach and three-corner leek purée; and the tiny ribs, glazed and served on a separate plate for your gnawing pleasure.
There was more – much more – but before I run out of space, we need to talk about Mothú, the tribute to the five tastes that rounds things off. There’s a bitter espresso brûlée, a sour lime meringue, a salted caramel with pine, an umami chocolate tart and a sweet pâte de fruits.
The stand out? Undoubtedly that little chocolate tart, for the brain-twisting experience of biting into what looks like a dessert, then tasting fresh truffle.
Our bill, including two full tasting menus at €160 per head, came to €430. That menu is served Wednesday to Saturday at 8.30pm, with a ‘preview menu experience’ on offer at 5.30pm for €65 a head. Saturday lunch is €100 a head, and there’s a range of wine pairing options, as well as a quirky and innovative non-alcoholic drinks pairing devised by sommelier Niall O’Connor.
We went home giddy, and not from the wine – it was a school night – but at the thought of what Grey and his crew might do next. “We’ve got the rest of this year’s menus nailed down,” he tells us as we leave. “And next year we’ll go gangbusters.”
You wouldn’t bet against him.
BREAKING THE BANK
Tasting menu: €160 per person
Wine pairing: €110 per person
Dinner for two: €540
WATCHING THE PENNIES
Preview menu: €65 per person
Wine pairing: €54 per person
Dinner for two: €238
Cathal McBride reviews the wine list
In a symbiosis with the seasonally focused food menu at Liath, the wine list is an ever evolving joy, showcasing both heavy hitters and some less familiar treasures.
With an emphasis on terroir and individual winemaking style, Niall O’Connor, the restaurant’s general manager and wine list custodian, has a clear preference for textured white wines and lighter styles of reds.
The only slight criticism I would have is that the cheapest bottles of red and white are €64 and €66 respectively, but given the nature of the food offering, I suspect the vast majority of diners will opt for a wine pairing option.
If I had to pick two bottles, the Bret Brothers ‘Le Crays’ Macon Chardonnay 2019 from Burgundy (€74) has a full-bodied, mineral rich and ripe fruit complexity that would be a compelling pairing with many of the dishes. For red, the German Andreas Bender Pinot Noir 2019 (€64) is an elegantly fresh and refined pinot with undercurrents of spice that would be very drinkable, and an ideal companion with meat courses.