Few restaurants can stand the test of time, but Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin is certainly one of them. And despite its 32-year history, it has always been at the forefront of Ireland's food scene, producing classic French cuisine with a very modern flavour. Kerstin Kühn went to visit. Photography by Barry McCall.
Patrick Guilbaud is about as smooth as they come. Impeccably dressed, he personifies French charm and works the dining room of his eponymous restaurant like a true professional. It's Friday lunchtime and the restaurant at the Merrion hotel in Upper Merrion Street in central Dublin is packed.
When Guilbaud came to Dublin in 1981, his ambition of introducing top-class French cuisine to the Irish public proved more than a little â¨challenging. French fine dining was a concept so foreign to Irish diners back then, that nobody knew what to make of it.
"We served very classic, high-end French food, but nobody understood what we were trying to do," Guilbaud recalls. "Back then it was all about quantity and big portions, so our cuisine confused people. We had to explain it to everyone."
Not only was there a lack of knowledge among diners, there also wasn't much of a food scene in general in Ireland. "There were very few other restaurants in Dublin at that time," Guilbaud says. "And at the beginning, we couldn't get what we needed and had to import all our ingredients from France. There was nothing at the markets: no shallots, garlic, herbs or anything other than potatoes."
Today, Ireland is home not just to a host â¨of fantastic restaurants, it is also the land of amazing produce. From first-class fish and seafood to high-quality meat and vegetables, the country's larder has developed into one of the finest in Europe. Irish beef was chosen as the main meat at the world final of the prestigious Bocuse d'Or cookery contest in Lyon last January, while Michelin this year awarded a record nine restaurants with stars, as well as 11 with Bib Gourmands (see panel), showing just how far the Irish food and restaurant community has come. "The food in Ireland has improved drastically," Guilbaud enthuses. "As Dublin has grown as a city, the restaurant market has grown with it, and today the food produced here in Ireland is fantastic."
Destined for stardom
Since the 1980s, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud has been there to witness and influence this change, having earned its first star in 1988 and its second in 1996. Of course, running a high-end restaurant for more than three decades is an enormous achievement in itself, but even more so when one considers the difficult financial climate that has crippled Ireland's economy in recent years.
Guilbaud admits the recession has left its mark on the Irish restaurant landscape. "In Dublin, restaurants that opened during the boom years of 2006 and 2007 suddenly found themselves with huge overheads they couldn't sustain, so there were a lot of closures," he says. He adds that he has not been immune either: "We opened a second restaurant in 2002 called Venue. We kept it for five years, but had to close it due to the recession as our base was too high. Sometimes you have to make a decision to close."
At his flagship restaurant, however, Guilbaud continues to set the standard for fine dining in Ireland. And while he admits that things have been tough, he is adamant that the key to success is sticking to his guns. "The secret is hard work," he insists. "You have to keep things fresh. We didn't change our business model - our philosophy has always been to move forward and never look back. We saw a big drop in 2009, but since then business has slowly started to grow again."
These days, Guilbaud no longer dons the whites, having retired from the kitchen some 20 years ago. He now manages the business side of things with manager Stephane Robin and executive chef Guillaume Lebrun (right above), who are in charge of the day-to-day running of the front of house and the kitchen, respectively. The latter shares his responsibility with Irish-born head chef Kieran Glennon (right below), and between them they manage a brigade of 12 chefs and catering for the 80-cover main restaurant, plus the 20-seat private dining room.
The main menu (priced at â¬90 for four courses and â¬165 for eight) changes seasonally, while the lunch menu (priced at â¬40 for two courses and â¬50 for three) changes weekly. Typical dishes include red king crab and pineapple cannelloni, pickled ginger, yuzu and wasabi crème fraiche; poached and lightly grilled Dover sole, golden chanterelles, young spinach and shellfish nage; pan-roast native red deer, okitsu clementine, creamed celeriac, horseradish and cardamom; and pear and walnut soufflé and poire William sorbet.
What is clear is that the food at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is no longer as classically French as it once was. Certain signature dishes like lobster ravioli have stood the test of time, but today the menu is more French contemporary, with international influences from Japan, China and North Africa.
"Times have changed," says Glennon. "Our food is still rooted in classic French cuisine, but it's very light, refined, precise and clean on the plate. It's product-led - we don't do any foams, jellies or mousses; we celebrate the amazing produce we have in Ireland." He points to the seafood from the Atlantic and Irish Sea: Carlingford oysters, Annagassan blue lobster, North Atlantic wild halibut and Castletownbere scallops the "size of fillet steaks". There's also vegetables from a local farmer and Wicklow lamb, Irish beef and venison from Dublin butcher McLoughlin's, which the restaurant has used for 25 years. "The most important thing is the produce," insists Guilbaud. "We keep the main ingredient and add to it, but never lose it. We are the middle man between the producer and the customer."
After more than three decades at the top of its game and 18 years of holding two stars, the question is: how much of an ambition is that third star? "It's a huge ambition," he admits. "We really want to be a three-star restaurant. It would be a great reward for our customers and their support, for our suppliers and their fantastic produce, and for our staff, who work so hard every day. Even if we don't get it, it's something we'll always work towards."
IRELAND'S MICHELIN STARS AND BIB GOURMANDS
Two Michelin stars
•Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
One Michelin star
•bon appétit, Dublin
•Campagne, Kilkenny (new in 2014)
•Chapter One, Dublin
•Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Waterford
•Lady Helen, Thomastown, Kilkenny (new in 2014)
•Aldridge Lodge, Duncannon, Wexford
•Brasserie at bon appétit, Malahide, Fingal (new in 2014)
•Chart House, Dingle, Kerry
•Courthouse, Carrickmacross, Monaghan
•Deasy's, Clonakilty, Cork
•Fishy Fishy Café, Kinsale, Cork
•Pig's Ear, Dublin
•Sha Roe Bistro, Clonegall Carlow
â¢Wild Honey Inn, Lisdoonvarna, Clare
CARPACCIO OF CRUBEEN, CRISP PIG'S EARS, POTATO SALAD, MEAUX MUSTARD, POACHED QUAIL EGG
4 pig's ears
2 litres white chicken stock
2 litres water
Bouquet garni: the white of
one leek and one onion and
one carrot, both peeled
60g per portion of diced,
cooked potato - 1.5cm cubes
100g crème fraÁ®che
1tsp Meaux mustard
Splash of cider vinegar to taste
Quail egg (per portion)
8 pig's trotters
3 litres of brown chicken stock
3tsp Dijon mustard
100g carrot, shallot and celeriac, brunoise
100g fresh coriander
Splash of white wine
Salt & white pepper
Pea shoots, parsley, nasturtium leaves and chive flowers
Raw shallot rings
To prepare the pig's ears, singe, scrape and wash the ears and soak overnight in salted water. Rinse thoroughly.
Place in a pan with the white chicken stock, water and bouquet garni. Simmer gently for 6 hours until the cartilage is tender.
Remove and press between two metal trays, placing a weight on top. When cool, cut into 4cm x 0.5cm batons, pané, refrigerate and reserve.
For the crubeen, singe, scrape and soak the pig's trotters in brine overnight. Rinse and place in cold water and soak for a further 8 hours.
Place the trotters in a braising dish and cover with the stock. Cook for 6 hours at 120Â°C. At this stage, the stock will have almost completely reduced and the trotter will be nicely glazed.
Carefully and thoroughly remove all the bones, remembering that some are very small, then roughly chop the trotter meat. Add the mirepoix , mustard, white wine, coriander, salt and pepper and combine.
Roll in cling film to form cylinders approximately 1.5 inches thick. Chill rapidly and refrigerate, leaving to set overnight. The natural gelatine in the trotters will cause the meat to be firm when cold.
Before serving, dress the potato with the crème fraÁ®che and mustard and season with the cider vinegar.
For the quail egg, cut out a 10cm square of cling film, brush with olive oil and season. Crack the egg into the centre of the cling film and bring the four corners together to form a small pouch. Tie with butcher string. Before serving, cook in boiling water for 1Â½ minutes.
To assemble, place a 15cm ring at the centre of each plate. Cut the trotter cylinder into slices 3mm thick and place in the ring in overlapping pieces.
Meanwhile, deep-fry the pig's ears until crisp and cook the quail egg. Spoon over some potato salad, add the pig's ears and finish with the quail egg. Garnish with the fresh herbs and shallot rings.
ROAST VEAL SWEETBREAD, TRUFFLE, WHITE ONION PUREE, ARANCINI
140g sweetbread per portion
1 bay leaf per portion
White onion purée
Olive oil for sweating
4 cevennes onions, peeled,
sliced and lightly salted
Knob of cold butter
2 shallots, brunoise
1 clove garlic, peeled
Bouquet garni: sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
200g riso pasta
500ml white chicken stock
2tbs 3-year-old Parmigiano Reggiano
Knob of cold butter
30g grated Perigord truffle
Salt and pepper
Knob of butter
7 slices Perigord truffle per portion
Fleur de sel
To prepare the sweetbreads, place them in a pan of cold, salted water, bring to a simmer and blanch for 2-3 minutes.
Refresh in cold running water. Remove any fat or sinew and portion into 140g pieces. Make an incision in each and insert the bay leaf. Place on a tray lined with a tea towel and lightly press.
For the white onion purée, heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat down the onion until soft. Add the cream and cook for 2-3 minutes, drying out as much of the moisture as possible. Process in a Thermomix until smooth and add the cold butter. Pass through a chinois, correct the seasoning, refrigerate and reserve.
To make the arancini, heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat down the shallot, garlic and bouquet garni. Add the pasta then the chicken stock little by little until absorbed and
the pasta is cooked al dente.
Finish off by stirring in the mascarpone, Parmesan, butter and grated black truffle. Check the seasoning and set aside to cool. Once cool, roll into 10g balls, pané, efrigerate and reserve.
When ready for service, heat the butter in a pan until foaming and sauté the sweetbread, gently basting for 5-7 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, deep-fry the arancini.
Take a tablespoon of the onion purée, make a drag across the centre of the plate and place the sweetbread on top. Add another smaller drag of purée and place the arancini on either side of the sweetbread. Spoon over a little jus and finish by garnishing the sweetbread with the truffle slices. Season with fleur de sel.