There appears to be a wealth of serious hard-science work out there about how sound and more specifically, music affects our perception of taste. By our I mean humans, not highly trained critics. By taste I mean the experiencing of flavour, and not the choice deficiencies in music or clothes that differentiates some of us from others. I’m sure we all remember Heston’s (do we need the surname at this point?) signature wheeze at The Fat Duck – ‘The Sound of the Sea’ – where a dish (glass box) of crypto-sashimi was served with a shell containing an i-pod (that’s how long ago it was). No? Well the idea was that the literal (littoral?) sound of the seashore would profoundly enhance the experience of consumption.
I never had the pleasure so I can’t comment on its transcendence. Somewhere in my house a voucher for that restaurant has been mouldering for a decade. I bring it up because I’m forming a theory that perhaps my experience of the food at this restaurant was adversely affected by a manner of sound pollution masquerading as background music. Can it be possible that exposure to the endlessly saccharine Wooden Heart could denude two different preparations of lamb of all flavour? It’s a working theory – stay with me.
Our table of six convenes downstairs at the bar before dinner and the place is dead as disco (it lives on in the dining room) and smaller than I remember. Maybe I’ve just grown out of it. We have some well made gins and tonics, as is increasingly the case and move upstairs. The room is grand in the actual sense of the word and what you would expect on the first floor of an eighteenth century townhouse that was lavishly restored some years ago. Dinner begins brightly with an amuse of chilled almond soup with marinated scallops, a soupçon of gazpacho blanco. It’s a cooling and civilised thing, perhaps aided by the fact that I can’t remember the particular tune playing as I ate it.
Our starters are laid out to the strains of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday and it appears to have a deleterious effect on my wild Irish Rabbit Tortellini with poached loin. The notorious leanness of this meat was all too evident in the mealiness of the filling while the tiny fillet tasted only of the smoked bacon in the sauce. My tasting of the Yellowfin with Lambay crab must have occurred during a gap between songs – it is outstanding. A beautifully plated slice of perfectly seared tuna modishly accompanied by some yuzu jelly. It should be good at €24. At this point we can’t stop ignoring the horror of the music selection. Sarah, seated to my right wears a pained expression. She is a composer.
Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (no, really) is playing as the mains come out and I’m now concerned that the music is also being piped into the kitchen. Itsy Bitsy doesn’t even cover it when we see the amount of protein that makes up a dish of Lobster with Stuffed Courgette Flower in a brown butter emulsion. Now one doesn’t expect hulking helpings at a fine dining restaurant but the portion control in this instance can only be described as ungenerous. It costs €40. There is nothing wrong with a dish of Kerry Hill Lamb Loin with wet Garlic Purée and Breaded Shoulder, it just doesn’t speak very loudly of lamb. Blame Cliff Richard. The same is true of Fillet of O’Coileain’s Beef with Braised Short Rib, it’s as if the volume had been turned down. Would that I could say the same of the music.
It is commented that the longer one spends in the room the less attractive it gets. I’ll throw in with that. When we arrive the sun is beginning to settle over the western corner of The Green and the room is suffused with lovely light. By the time we order dessert it’s as if we are sitting under fluorescent strips. The service is very haut hotel, slick without being oily. A request for ‘colder butter’ was made to seem perfectly normal, which is as it should be. A sweet amuse is served at this point but I can remember nothing of it, just the idiotic plinkity plonk of In the Summertime. I order some cheese from the trolley and it’s simply not good enough at €17. For this money I want to see 18 month old Comté, not this underpowered stuff. I don’t want to see Gubbeen at all.
To be clear – it’s very unlikely that you will be served a bad meal here, or even a bum dish. The technical ability in the kitchen is apparent but when the playlist adheres more forcibly in the memory than the food (I needed to check component elements of certain dishes less than a week after my visit), then the price point begins to sting. Before we leave I ask my wife how she would describe the food and she responds with the word “sexless” although I’m not entirely sure she heard the question. Please do something about the music.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick
Restaurant Forty One @ Residence
41 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
(01) 662 0000