Karl Breen is in charge. Just look at the plates he sends out from the kitchen in Locks Brasserie and you get the sense of someone who has been studying the arts of the kitchen for a very long time. A typical Breen plate exudes confidence, colour and, of course, that control, the sense that he knows what he’s got and knows what to do with it.
The control shows in the maturity of the food, its rigour and thought-throughness. He plates his ingredients like a culinary horlogier – every bit counts, every bit must interact, every bit must make the entire thing succeed, every bit must be exquisite.
Even when he is doing the fancy modern bits – the ash; the burnt powders; the roasted cucumber – he still clings to a classical orthodoxy, so the food looks beautiful – take a picture of those boulangere potatoes, because you won’t see a prettier plate of spuds – and it eats beautifully. He bends the ingredients to his will, but that urge to orthodoxy is always there, and a Brillat-Savarin mousse which comes with crushed beetroot, apple and watercress just underlines his devotion to the history of the culinary arts: Mr Breen is in love with his muse, so say hello to Brillat-Savarin, and all the great cooks in the canon of Western cooking.
Mr Breen’s fidelity to his craft doesn’t stop him from moonlighting with his ingredients, however. He will throw a beetroot sorbet in beside a dulisk panacotta, and there will be smoked onions on the cheeseboard, or tamarind with pressed octopus. But mostly his pairings have the logic that you associate particularly with a classical cook such as his fellow countryman, Michael Deane: rhubarb with foie gras; venison saddle with artichokes; cauliflower with cod; apple sorbet with treacle tart.
The result of his hard work is food that is a thrill to eat. But there is a sense, too, that here is a chef who is beginning his journey, and whose fame is going to spread quickly when people pick up on the singularity of his work.
1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8, Tel: 01 420 0555 www.locksbrasserie.com/restaurant