I CAN THINK of any number of ways to write-off work for the afternoon.
But none has quite the badness, the frippery or the devilish potential of a Bellini at 1.45pm.
That’s what I’ve just ordered at Restaurant Forty One, the opulent, come-hither dining room in Residence, an €850-a-year members’ club on Stephen’s Green. L and I are not members, I hasten to add (the Bellini alone costs more than my average lunch). But we don’t have to be. The public are welcome for lunch and dinner (members get a 10% discount). The occasion? A reunion, of sorts. L and I are meeting two Californian friends — their cruise ship has docked for a day in Dublin Port. It’s a couple of years since I’ve last seen them, we’ve plotted the catch-up for months, and they’re already sipping Martinis when we arrive.
They’ve nabbed a table by a sash window overlooking the Green too, with autumnal air breathing in over the flower boxes. Around us, the rooms are adorned with gilded frames and large canvases, but feel elegantly on-trend.
Everything about it feels slick and self-assured. Stepping past the creeper-clad facade, a hostess greets us at her desk. I’m glad I wore a jacket.
Despite the clubby setting, however, there’s a surprising craft and lightness of touch to the food on our plates. Head Chef Graham Neville worked for years at Thornton’s, and Restaurant Forty One is Georgina Campbell’s Restaurant of the Year 2012.
I start with Annagassan smoked salmon with ‘Granny Smith Apple’. The salmon arrives as the centrepiece of an arty arrangement, topped with a lattice of pencil-thin apple slices, orbited by dots of caviar, powdery egg yolk, red onion and capers. It’s deliciously fresh.
L orders the seared scallops, unusually served with cucumber and strawberry gazpacho. Other choices on the current lunch menu include warm buffalo mozzarella with rocket puree and Saveol tomato jelly, and salt-cured foie gras with poached cherries.
To my palate, the best main course is the braised lamb, served with broad beans, cherry tomato and an infusion of marjoram. It’s a slow-cooked treasure, you can positively taste the calories on the fork, but it’s absolutely gorgeous.
Two of us order the seared fillet of tuna served with stuffed courgette flowers (mine was requested medium-rare, but arrived without much pink at all), and L was happy with a beautifully-cooked duck, served with coca bean stew and ‘heritage’ carrots.
Lunch is the new dinner. I’ve said it before, but if you want to experience Ireland’s top restaurants right now — with the extravagant service and sexy interiors, but without paying the equivalent of a bimonthly electricity bill — lunch is the time to do it.
A single main course on Restaurant Forty One’s dinner menu costs €35. A three-course lunch menu, with tea, coffee and petit fours, costs exactly the same: €35pp.
If you fancy a broader sampling of Graham Neville’s skills, a six-course lunch tasting menu is priced at €38.50pp. After that, of course, the extras are up to you — and we also enjoyed a dry and delicate Domaine Thibert Pouilly-Fuissé, another afternoon splurge at €59.
Desserts included a Valhrona chocolate delice with iced yoghurt, artisan cheeses, and a white chocolate parfait with thyme-poached peach and raspberry sorbet.
It’s almost 4pm by the time we’re done, and we’re not the only ones lingering. Of the handful of tables in our room, one is occupied by a foursome on business, another by several older ladies dolled up in sculpted suits and architectural bouffants.
Restaurant Forty One’s trick, I think, is to feel simultaneously hip and classical. The staff are poised, professional. The rooms feel like a secret you’re dying to share. It’s a sweet spot for a celebration, a surreptitious treat or a catch-up with friends. The whole private members thing, I can take or leave. But that’s where lunch comes in. Just make sure your diary is blank for the afternoon.
And order the Bellini.