Copiously billed “ex-Noma” chefs Yannick Van Aeken (Belgian) and Louise Bannon (Irish) have arrived, after great anticipation, in the kitchens of what was, until recently, Dublin’s Eden (NEDE is Eden backwards, geddit?) restaurant on Meeting House Square.
Designed by Tom de Paor before the roar of the Celtic Tiger, the space still feels contemporary enough. But it is a little echoey and, that night anyway, so draughty our warm dishes were instantly chilled. One of several huge high-hanging plants dripped water down on us; thankfully, these remnants of the defunct Eden are soon for the chop. A low slit in the kitchen wall, presumably designed to allow admiring views of the kitchen action, creates an odd (by today’s standards) sightline which cuts the chefs off above the neck and below the knees, leaving us to contemplate, well, the middle bits, mostly as they bent over our future tea. “Best craic in Dublin,” quipped my dining companion, but without the Irish spelling.
But for the moment, it doesn’t really matter what the place is named, or renamed, or even, really, what it looks like. It’s one of Dublin’s coolest (re)openings. A glittering ripple of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants tsunami has hit town in the form of some minimalist and very competently cooked plates of food.
You cut NEDE some slack. It’s early days; the team is still getting used to each other (and to a brand new kitchen). In time, I hope, they’ll become bolder with their flavours and seasonings, and not leave all the work to the impeccable pedigree of their raw ingredients, which, as we’ve come to expect at top-end restaurants, are meticulously listed on the menu.
Sometimes the plainness was downright bland, especially in a dish of pulses, verbena and cod cheek salad
In the starters and mains, a little kick of acidity was often sorely lacking. Sometimes the plainness was downright bland, especially in a dish of pulses, verbena and cod cheek salad. The various smoked ingredients scattered throughout the menu – including potatoes, asparagus, and goat’s cheese – could be more strongly infused. And the beef, which Yannick serves “Belgian blue”, might be an issue; staff will need to learn how to deal better with customers who might send their ultra-rare steak back for another blast of fire.
Mostly, though, the simplicity held our attention, and there are many flashes of brilliance in Yannick and Louise’s work. The broccoli and toasted hazelnut, with a hazelnut “cream” was softly earthy, a dish of raw razor clams with horseradish snow was vibrantly silky-sweet, and I had to restrain myself from crunching on the sucked-out shells of the plancha-cooked little Dublin bay prawns with fried sourdough because they were so stuffed with the flavour of… themselves. Chewy (they are supposed to be, okay?) grains with baby gem, roasted garlic jus and parmesan was a perfect dance of umami and textures, and Louise’s desserts of poached rhubarb, buttermilk sorbet and pine granita, coffee ice cream and chocolate toasted barley had us making very loud scraping noises with our cutlery to catch the last scrap.
“Hey, the leeks are from this farm and the oysters from that patch of coast. They taste really good, here they are! Oh, and did you hear I cooked in Noma?”
Nordic cuisine’s principles of purity and provenance suit Irish produce perfectly, and it is wonderful, and important, that Yannick and Louise are showing such care and respect for wild, fine Irish ingredients and safeguarding their pure taste. But the Nordic chefs have also made it about creating edible poetry from the most simple ingredients. And I don’t know if it is enough to simply say, “Hey, the leeks are from this farm and the oysters from that patch of coast. They taste really good, here they are! Oh, and did you hear I cooked in Noma?” I think NEDE could go a step further and inject some Irish playfulness and escapism into their dishes. God knows the country is not exactly short of either.
René Redzepi’s plates, after all, are full of what he calls “deliciousness”: they always manage to flip the pleasure switch (hell, it’s why we go to restaurants!). With Redzepi’s cooking, it’s a mystery uncovered from an ingredient, an unexpected surprise for your palate as you taste, a story told in the abstract by the dish’s elements – like a walk on the beach or fishing in the sea – or something so ravishing in the plate you have to stare at it like a loon for ten seconds before even picking up your fork.
NEDE’s plates are exciting, and 100% “now”, but if – once the coolhunters, foragers and locavore evangelists have made their pilgrimage and gone home – they stay as pared back as they currently are, I wonder how they’ll go down with Dubliners who couldn’t give a radish leaf about Noma. Such simple, plain cooking, no matter how beautifully executed, how fashionably healthy and mindful it may be, might serve more as a reminder of austerity than an escape from it. C
NEDE, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar, Dublin D2
+353 01 6705372; nede.ie