THE tree is up, Santa letters are in the post and the kinder-spawn fret endlessly as to whether the man himself will pony up on their extensive list of demands, but it is only on hitting Dublin that I begin to feel the first stirrings of Christmas spirit. The town is delightfully en fete: enough lights to humble the milky way, pine forests in every window and streets packed with grimly determined shoppers.
I am here for a Yuletide gathering of professional peers, extended lunch in Chapter One; by the time I arrive, Christmas and I are linking arms, both calling for a glass. Though not the subject of today’s review, as always, dining here is a splendid treat: superb, uniquely Irish hospitality allied to great cooking and I get my first taste of Christmas with a course of Goose Sausage, Smoked Bacon and Red Cabbage. When we leave, dusk is falling and I’m ready to sing carols for Ireland.
Later that evening, we arrive at Green Man Wines, a wine merchants/wine bar in Terenure. It is a straightforward retail space but the trove of bottles lining the walls is décor enough for me in this oenophile’s Aladdin’s Cave where I previously enjoyed a lovely evening of random nibbling while proprietor David Gallagher furnished us with excellent choices by the glass.
I’m unsure if it’s a temporary arrangement to clear space at the front of the shop, at what is any wine merchant’s busiest time of the year, but all tables are now to the rear and we four, my erstwhile wine guru, Il Professore, his Champion Moll and the Fair Lady of the Tuber, plonk down.
When the natural (organic, low intervention) wine phenomenon first hit these shores a few years ago, Il Professore, something of a traditionalist, was a confirmed naysayer but he has commendably mellowed and before I know it has ordered straight from the hipster’s playbook, a ‘Pét Nat’ (Pétillant Naturel — mild effervescent wines), the current range, this one, Col Tamaríe, an organic Italian white from Veneto, of the Prosecco DOC. Cloudy and crammed with those unfiltered funky, yeast flavours that would have appalled IP just a few years ago, it is dry, crisp, citric and a whole lot of sparkling floral fun. We nibble Valencia almonds, deep fried corn kernels, and lupins (a legume), typical Mediterranean snacks, the merit of the latter two, a radically divisive issue at our table.
Our first dish proper is a bowl of Kelly’s small yet very flavoursome, sweet, nutty Wild Mussels, though it misses a trick to not also furnish bread for mopping up a fine broth of parsley, garlic and butter.
We seem to have accidentally stumbled on a theme, Italian, natural; our next bottle, Vermentino di Sardegna Tino (Mora & Memo 2015), selected by waiter Lorenzo is a fine choice, deeply floral, herbaceous and fresh, it is beautifully balanced, lingers long on the palate and pairs well with the bolshie little bivalves.
Next up, Flat Iron Steak, tender, pink within, carmelised on the outside, served with Parsnip Fries, Watercress, and a terrific Bearnaise, flush with tarragon and dill, so good, I order more along with a second portion of the criminally addictive, sweet and crispy parsnip fries. Presa Iberico, shoulder of Spanish Iberico pork, is equally flavoursome, a good ‘chaw’ and served with a sweet red pepper Mojo sauce.
One great joy of GMW is the sense of dining ‘within’ the actual wine list that comes from being able to stand up, walk over to a wall of wine and spend a few minutes mulling over your next choice. I’m determined to do so for at least one of tonight’s bottles but somewhere between the ‘A’ of Austrian blaufrankisch and ‘B’, most especially, a too bountiful range of Burgundies, I surrender to Lorenzo, reasoning Christmas will be over by the time I choose. His selection is gorgeous: an organic Italian Syrah (Julie & Giulia Cortona 2015); bright, juicy, crunchy, great structure and acidity and loads of spicy fruit — immensely drinkable.
The food offering in GMW is designed to serve the wine, not the other way around, but it is still extremely decent, well-cooked and tasty grub, a fine servant to some splendid wines. It may not be Chapter One but there is a special place in my world for both. Happy Christmas.
€128 (excluding tip)
Wednesday to Saturday, 5pm to 10pm
Green Man Wines, 3, Terenure Road North, Dublin 6