I expected Forest & Marcy to be good, but I didn’t realise I would leave this slender gastronomic wine bar feeling elated. Surely I should know by now the exacting standards of Sandy and John Wyer, the husband and wife team behind Forest Avenue. How could I have expected anything less than truly inspiring creativity?
When they opened Forest & Marcy just around the corner from Forest Avenue, they wanted it to be a more flexible sister restaurant, and to plug a gap in the city’s food and wine offering. “We felt there was a niche in the market for a wine bar that served gastronomic food,” Sandy tells me. “Ciaran was the only chef we ever had in mind for Forest & Marcy.”
Sandy and John came across Ciaran Sweeney’s cooking at Canteen, previously at Blackrock Market. “It’s rare to find someone special, so we were very keen to get him on board,” explains Sandy. Sweeney came to work at Forest Avenue as a development chef for a spell before Forest & March opened its doors in May of this year. “It worked well,” says Ciaran of the timing. “I was ready to do my own thing.” Sweeney brings an impeccable level of skill, care, time and depth to Forest & Marcy, which is perfectly aligned with the Wyers’ approach.
There’s a house-cured charcuterie board (€16) that Sweeney works on about two months in advance of service. “We didn’t want to buy in charcuterie, even if it was the best quality,” explains Ciaran. “So we decided to make our own.” There’s smoked ox tongue, a bresaola cured with juniper, a rabbit rillettes, a duck ham cured in citrus and anise, and an outstanding little bowl of pickled mustard fruits. Charred bread on the side is a way of putting yesterday’s bread to good use.
The menu offers 12 savoury plates, divided into snacks, small plates, and a heftier supper sized plate. My favourite snack is a plate of quinoa crackers, slices of pickled carrot, runny goats cheese and shaved slivers of summer truffle (€4). The quinoa is cooked in stock, and then some of it is puréed to bind it together, making it malleable. It’s then rolled out and dried in a low oven overnight. Then the quinoa sheets are fried at a high temperature, and the quinoa soaks up all that moisture and puffs up like a grain of corn, resulting in an airy, crunchy cracker. The goat’s cheese is made at Forest & Marcy from Galway Goat Farm yoghurt, lightly thickened and piped onto the quinoa crisp. That’s just for a snack, guys. Mind-blowing.
During our small plates course, Ciaran’s right hand man in the kitchen, Paddy Arnold, comes to our table to open up a wooden box, filled with smoking hay doing its magic on a slice of salmon. The salmon is smoked to order, but before that Ciaran cures the organic whole salmon for at least 12 hours with citrus and anise herbs before cooking it at a very low temperature in a water bath, to obtain that melt-in-the-mouth texture. Among radishes, salmon tartare and a horseradish snow, it’s served with a lovage Vichyssoise, a cold, thick soup.
I don’t have space to tell you about the lime leaf custard tart with strawberry and hibiscus (€8), or the matured butter and onion bread, or the suckling pig with gnocchi and pistachio (€18), or the whipped brandade with cod skin and lemon (€6).
There were four in our party, and though we didn’t quite set out to do so, we sampled every single aspect of the menu. With a bottle of Tempranillo (€10 a glass, €38 a bottle), the bill came to €237, but we could have easily shared a couple of glasses of wine and a few sharing plates to keep the bill under €50. You can perch up at the marble bar or grab a table, whether you’re nipping in for a bite or sticking around for the long haul.
The same attention to detail has clearly been put into the wine list, where Sandy sourced extraordinary wines that can be enjoyed by the bottle or the glass. “I wanted it to be freeing for the customer, to give them an opportunity to try a wine by the glass that might be cost prohibitive for a bottle,” she explains.
There are no reservations at Forest & Marcy, and we waited for an hour and fifteen minutes for a table. Luckily, the beautiful old boozer that is O’Brien’s pub is right around the corner to keep you amused until your table is ready. I would expect a wait but I would absolutely not let it put you off. This is special food that is superbly world class. A wine bar we can be really proud of.
Forest & Marcy
126 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Meg Killeen