It’s while being absorbed by a palate cleanser, a small portion of basil granita served with a zingy lemon foam and modestly sweetened rhubarb, that I realise I’m in the middle of a special meal, and the restaurant I’m in is one I’m going to want to tell everyone about.
I’m at Heron & Grey, the restaurant that lives in the tiny space at the back of Blackrock Market. I’ve eaten in this space before, when it was known as Canteen and under the command of chefs Soizic Humbert and James Sheridan. Andrew Heron and Damien Grey took it last December, when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself. They hit the ground running, taking over some of Canteen’s Christmas bookings. “We were ready,” says Heron. “We knew exactly what we wanted to do. The main thing was winning over their locals.”
It’s no surprise to hear that the changeover was smooth. Heron & Grey also offer a set price tasting menu, of five courses (plus a few surprise courses) for €48, served over a two and a half hour sitting. When they had started talking about opening somewhere together, they’d had this type of spot in mind. “We had been preparing a set menu because less wastage suits a small kitchen,” explains Heron. “We wanted a suburban space, mainly because of overheads. This is our first experience in charge of a place. We’ve run plenty of floors and kitchens, but it’s good for us to be able to make mistakes on a small-scale.” It’s a tiny team, with just Heron, Grey and their commis chef Róisín, and their menu changes every fortnight, following the seasons and what it inspires in Grey.
Grey is from Australia, and worked in the acclaimed Sage Dining Rooms in Canberra before moving to Ireland and working at Chapter One under Ross Lewis, and Brioche under Gavin McDonagh. Heron spent time in Melbourne, managing Asian fusion restaurant Seamstress, and also managed Coppa in Dublin for Federico Riezzo.
At Heron & Grey, the art of antipodean fusion is present towards the end of our meal, in an astoundingly comforting broth that gently tingles our umami sensors. The delicate broth is home to slivers of shiitake mushrooms and a langoustine ceviche. The star ingredient is the langoustine flesh, cooked in soya and butter. It’s dazzlingly soft and its flavour is exquisitely presented. A startlingly awesome plate of pork belly teriyaki, cooked in mirin and porter, is complete with seaweed, pork scratchings, sesame oil snow (yes, snow) and tangy lemongrass jelly.
Our meal had begun with shavings of asparagus, blanched and then burnt, served with a sherry vinaigrette and a foam of duck egg hollandaise and dehydrated trompette mushrooms. Next up is a clever plate of liver pâté served with toasted bread and fermented walnuts. It was after the liver course that I met the palate cleanser that woke me up to what I was experiencing. There was something about the intensity and inventiveness of this cleanser, usually so incidental, that made it clear in my mind that what Heron & Grey are doing is rather extraordinary.
Heron recommends we have coffee with a second dessert, a final surprise unlisted on the menu. The coffee beans are supplied by the excellent local roasters, Imbibe Coffee. Heron expertly draws out the fruity flavours of the bean in our macchiatos (€2.80 each). The coffee works as well as Heron promised it would with the five types of chocolate and freeze-dried raspberries present on the dessert plate. Before the chocolate came the first dessert of strawberry, roses and mint, a refined plate celebrating the simple beauty of gariguette strawberries by elevating them with crystallised rose petals and rose water jelly.
At Heron & Grey, the food is challenging, in the best possible way, but the atmosphere is nonchalant and carefree. Grey is head chef while Heron is front-of-house, but their roles aren’t strictly separate. Heron helps with the prep and Grey brings out some of the courses. Thanks to their enthusiasm and easy manner, it’s a really fun place to eat. I’ll sum it up this way: the food is so mind-boggingly good that you will want to lick the plate, and Heron & Grey would definitely applaud you if you did so.
Our bill, which included a glass of Proyecto, a Spanish red (€8.50), and two bottles of sparkling water (€4 each), came to a total of €118.10. Sort yourself out with a seat at this brilliant and fun restaurant. It’ll be one of the best meals you’ll have all year.
Heron & Grey
Blackrock Market, 19a Main Street, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Killian Broderick