Gastro: Sweet Little F.A.


Posted 2 weeks ago in Restaurant Reviews

John and Sandy Wyer opened Forest Avenue over a decade ago to unanimous acclaim. My predecessor in this magazine Aoife McElwain used the words ‘new favourite restaurant’ back in December 2013. It remains a much-loved destination restaurant albeit one that keeps a lower profile than many shoutier newcomers.

I was reminded of the place as a result of the very not low-key palaver that has surrounded the opening of a bakery called Una in Ranelagh, a partnership between the Wyers and the Bunsen people. The digital froth has resembled the heady spume that issues in plurts and burbles from a heritage sourdough starter. I’m reliably informed that it’s the best bread since sliced anything and that the laminations almost transcend our ability to appreciate them. It was though inexplicably closed today. No matter. I’ll try again.

All of the chatter got me thinking about Little Forest, John and Sandy’s diligent yet modest middle child, quietly overachieving away from the downtown fuss out in a village known only as Blackrock. Many of you will know that I rarely venture too far beyond the canals to review, and not just because I can’t guarantee my taxi expenses being honoured. Nevertheless I decided to venture beyond my comfort zone to bring you a dispatch from the very edge of the island.

As you would imagine there are places to eat real fancy in this historically prosperous ‘burb. It’s not called the service industry for nothing. Liath has two Michelin stars but even the most committed epicureans of the coastal enclave would quail at the prospect of tackling those tweezed tastings more than once a week. Get real. Volpe Nera has some of the most sophisticated and alluring cooking in Dublin but when you go there it seems to be in Kildare or Wicklow. Only those directly involved know how to find it regularly. What every neighbourhood (especially the hoity-toity ones) needs is a weekday place where you can just let your collars down, sip a well-made negroni and let people feed you well. That’s very much what they’ve got here.

A local Italian in all but name, Little Forest opened late in 2020 at a point where many of us wondered if we’d ever experience restaurants in person again. Their click and collect pizzas were by Reggie White (the original Pi-Guy currently slice-whispering at Bambino) and seem to have done almost as much as Pfizer in mitigating the worst effects of the pandemic. That’s all behind us now (don’t read anything about bird-flu) and the menu has expanded to include the kind of things you’d expect from a well-heeled trattoria.

On a recent Tuesday the place was three-quarters full of folks chatting and working out the kinks of their middle class days. It’s a low-key lovely room, there’s cornicing, old exposed brick, a little bar down the back. It would sit very nicely on the ground floor of a Brooklyn brownstone. I feel like I’ve been in this very room in Cobble Hill or Prospect Heights. We’re here with some old friends and their grown-up son who is something of a pizza enthusiast. It all feels very grown-up actually in a school-nightish kind of way. Tuesdays nowadays don’t seem to call for the whooping and hollering that often accompanied them in the mid-aughts. Funny how you get older as time passes.

You’ll want to start with some snacks. Potato skins (remember those!) are crisp, deeply burnished and loamy. They arrive with a little bowl of boisterous wild garlic pesto for dredging. You always want to toe the line between boisterous and aggressive with ramsons. I now associate the end of their season with the end of any hope for spells of sustained sunshine in this country. We’ve got a couple of weeks folks.

Savoury donuts with caramelised onion don’t last kissing time. Order more if you want to get to second base. The Pesce Fritto manifests as two planks of good cod in an even better batter. There’s a punchy aioli to help them on their way.

I had been drawn here by the siren-song of suckling pig – wood-fired suckling pig – the ne-plus ultra, only to find that the sharing dish of tender young swine-flesh had been replaced with a duck preparation for two instead. Never has a bird had to work so hard to avert a tantrum. Sensing my distress our server pointed out that the suckling pig was still present in a gnocchi dish. The richest of ragus, profoundly porcine, played off against dumplings so light that they seemed to defy the process of making them.

There’s a very free hand with the grano, you’ll experience flurries, squalls and blizzards of micro-planed cheese at almost every turn. So much so that it’s application obscured the layers in a slice of superb Duck Lasagne. My wife pointed that out. She even eats like an art-director. Which brings me to the duck proper and the transformative power of a well-tended wood-fired oven – what is not improved by the hellish heat and seasoning smoke?

Two fat legs were rendered beautifully and sat in a pool of deeply savoury jus with a tangle of sweet onions. There’s flatbread for sopping that sauce and a briskly-dressed salad of bitter leaves and charred asparagus to punctuate the richness. Oh – and a side of impeccable parmesan and rosemary chips too. Mr White may have long since slung his dough hook but he clearly left his mark. The Fior di Latte (a margherita with an expense account) that hits our table is as good an example as you’ll find in (or out of) the city. Just as I typed this word has come down the chute that Little Pyg has been anointed as best pizzeria in Ireland (and 15th best in Europe) at the Pizza Europa Awards. You can do with that what you will. My previous take stays in.  

Finish with a generous bowl of textbook Tiramisu and you should be set up for whatever a Wednesday can throw at you. This is the kind of simple and deeply satisfying cooking that only the very best home cooks can pull off and that many others flatter themselves that they do. Your guests were being polite. There’s a ‘Chef’s Choice’ menu that looks like great value for 42 bucks and a well-priced wine list with glasses and bottles that work with the food. Service is affable, attentive and luxuriously hirsute.

I described Etto recently as a neighbourhood place in the centre of the city, Little Forest is a neighbourhood restaurant that’s worth leaving yours for.

Words: Conor Stevens

Images: Killian Broderick

Little Forest

57 Main St

Blackrock

Co Dublin

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