Forest and Marcy, Dublin

Archive - all the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

A single dish can sometimes define a cook, and where that cook is at. But it can also define a nation, and where that nation is at, in terms of its culinary traditions.
Ciaran Sweeney’s fermented potato bread, with bacon and cabbage, a €8 starter dish on the menu at Forest & Marcy, on Dublin’s Leeson Street, does just that, both for Mr Sweeney himself, and for Eating in Ireland, 2016.
The bread does it this way: it melds the styles of Donegal fadge – also known as potato bread – Norn Iron Soda bread, and County Leitrim boxty into one incredible metamorphosis that is like no other Irish bread you have tasted before. Mr Sweeney ferments the spuds in a 5 per cent salt solution to precipitate fermentation, then takes it from there. The result is a bread with a clean acidity and a soft, leatherish texture, and he serves it with a bacon cream and a mash-up of bacon and cabbage.
It’s Irish spuds, bacon and cabbage, for 2016. Spuds and bacon and cabbage, turned upside down, and inside out. It’s a blast of a dish.
And Mr Sweeney does this sort of thing right throughout his menu, from the sexy crispyness of cod skin with whipped brandade to the delicacy of gnocchi served with suckling pig. We tried six of the dozen dishes on offer on the menu, along with a great pudding of white chocolate with yogurt, almond and dill, and the focus of the food was unrelenting: Mr Sweeney is trying to get to the essence of every dish he concocts, shaping flavours to both counterpoint and to collaborate on the plate. He will crisp up some mussels to serve with potato, sea lettuce and perfect pickled sea spaghetti, and use coconut to frame a piece of cod with peas and asparagus. He pairs goat’s curd with guanciale, and lettuce with pistachio, and dill with white chocolate, and he makes it all work and makes it all seem logical.
We met a couple of wine merchants and restaurateurs on our way to F&M who had just left and who were raving about the cooking, and a Northern restaurateur we chatted to at the end of the meal described Mr Sweeney’s cooking as “the best meal” he had eaten all year. As a sister destination to its near neighbour, Forest Avenue, it’s not a surprise that F&M should already feel so fully-formed as a space to eat: with Sandy Dyer of Forest Avenue manning the counter on the Sunday evening, everything ran like clockwork. But what is surprising is the maturity of the cooking, its sense of daring and its hungry vitality. It’s a brave chef who reinvents potato bread in Ireland. Ciaran Sweeney just did it.
126 Upper Leeson Street, @forestandmarcy