Let me begin this review with an apology.
This will be very frustrating. I’m going to praise this restaurant (a lot), but you won’t get to go here for months — their website reads “we are fully booked until August 2017”.
So why has this happened?
Well in October Heron and Grey was awarded a one-star rating by the Michelin Guide and these things still matter, but I also think that anyone that heard either of the co-owners’ radio interviews just got charmed and immediately took to their phone and computer.
Now I’m sure there will be some cancellations so you should try, really try – offer bribes or whatever you think will work, but remember this is a tiny restaurant with room for just 24 diners and only opens from Thursday to Saturday.
Personally I’m not a fan of the Michelin Guide as I think they get it wrong far too often and not just in Ireland, but they got it right this time and I suppose I’ll admit it is more reliable than TripAdvisor (but then asking any old bloke in the pub (sober or not) is better than TripAdvisor).
Both front of house Andrew Heron and Australian born chef Damian Grey have worked in various top end restaurants in Ireland and Australia over many years and I get the impression they believe they have found their perfect set-up.
They are working short enough hours to allow time for family (a supremely rare thing in this business), and the menu changes completely every two weeks so there is huge room for creativity and development - for both Damian’s cooking and Andrew’s intuitive wine matching.
So to the food. The first thing to mention is that rather than taking notes I sometimes record my conversation and the dominant sound from Heron and Grey was the scraping of cutlery on plates, we would have licked them clean if nobody was looking.
We began with artichoke soup with an orange gastrique (sweet-sour) sauce topped with some dehydrated leek - gossamer light, creamy sweet and earthy but tinged with hints of citrus from the gastric to keep the palate alive, a dish so simple but with so many hidden layers as the sauce and the soup bounced off each other that it was almost a religious experience.
Next came a kind of snail salad with chervil root, spinach sauce and trompette de mort mushrooms plus leaves and herbs. The sweet earthy tones from the snails and mushrooms were enlivened with savoury, sour, citrus and sweet flashes and given richness and extra liquorice and aniseed lifts with chervil root, tarragon and a Muscat vinegar.
Oyster with bonito flakes, fermented rice and a buttermilk cream was served with a well chosen half-glass of Eric Texier ‘adele’, a ‘natural’ organic Cotes du Rhone that would be challenging to some palates but its limpid, textured, pear-apple fruits matched the dish perfectly.
The wine list is supremely well chosen with lots of on-trend styles as well as some classics and I’m not sure there are any wines on the list I wouldn’t recommend although be warned, some are on the ‘natural’ spectrum.
We moved to red wine next - Mas Coutelou 7 Rue de la Pompe – a perfumed young Langurdoc Syrah to act as a foil for the earthy sweet boudin made with pigeon, duck and foie gras. The sausage was balanced and given a complex fruity lift with the addition of apple and fig – game can be heavy but this had a lovely lightness of touch – the simple made complex or was it the other way around?
Some other flavours – a sherbety light palate cleanser of lemon ice stirred with plum jam and orange bitters foam, Fivemiletown goats cheese with golden and red beets – a classic combination given a completely new twist with citrus, nut and herbal touches, a milky passionfruit lime and ginger combination, some Manchego cheese with honey and finally five flavours of chocolate.
So yes, this is an outstandingly good restaurant.
There is an intuitive emotional understanding of ingredients and how they should commune together, the food, the welcome and the wine list are in harmony – in Heron and Grey all is right with the world.
Two nine-course set menus at €48 each, plus two full glasses of white wine, two half glasses, and one bottle of red wine, total €168 (excluding tip).
Some of the most exciting food in the country is being served in this unfussy setting. I promise you will leave with a smile on your face.