Restaurant menu prices like € 35 and € 38 for a main course triggered a little insignificant doubt in the back of my mind – will it be worth it? If you add an extra € 30 for starter and dessert, you hit the € 65 level, which is a price that seems to be doing the rounds on fixed price menus these days.
The menu at Woodruff – a chic restaurant on a busy street in Stepaside, south Dublin, which won an Irish Architecture Award in 2020 for its elegant layout and design – is divided into snacks and cold cuts, entrees, main courses and desserts. The smoked almonds and the nocellara olives are of course nice to nibble over a drink before dinner, but I want to taste the homemade charcuterie (20 €) and careful not to order too much. So we have him as one of our starters which turns out to be a very good decision indeed.
A discussion about wine ensues. The list, drawn up by Colm Maguire, the co-owner, focuses on low intervention wines and benchmark producers. Although I would like to see more by the glass, there are quite a few good bottles for less than 40 €.
After discussing our food choices, Maguire offers Domaine de Montcy Cheverny rouge, a blend of gamay, pinot noir and cote (malbec) from Loire (€ 44), and checks that the price suits us. It’s the kind of wine service you don’t get often: knowledgeable, low-key, and free from intimidation. And the wine is light enough to accompany our meal. In fact, it’s quite spectacular with the charcuterie arriving on a round log, reflecting a sense of place, with Stepaside en route to the mountains of Dublin.
The deli, which is made from excess trim or unsold – by checking the durability box – is aged with blocks of Himalayan salt in a dry aging refrigerator. There is enough beef salami, lomo, coppa and air-dried rump of lamb on this log for four people to have one; and a second log is loaded with leaven, butter, and bowls of pickled cucumber and red cabbage; all homemade and all extremely good.
There is a distinct difference between each of the four types of cold cuts, not only in the meats and cuts used, but also in the subtle use of herbs and spices. Rather than being completely dried out, there’s just the tiniest bit of moisture and chewing in this deli, which sort of makes the meat stand out more strongly. It is a must-have dish.
Our other starter, a pithivier (€ 12), is gloriously autumnal. This golden dome is filled with wild chanterelles, Young Buck cheese and pickled celery. All the elements are in balance so that the flavors of the mushrooms are not overwhelmed. And a three-horned leek velouté is poured over it, adding a fresh note of garlic.
The same level of skill continues in the main course. A large piece of cauliflower, nearly a quarter of a head, is drizzled with ras el hanout spices, with spinach, chickpeas and feta scattered over the dish (€ 20). Rather than a full shot of cumin and coriander, there is a lightness in the spices, lifted by a good backbone of acidity, with pomegranate seeds and mint oil.
Our second main course, the wild halibut with chard and blue annelise potatoes (35 €) is a piece of fish so pure, cooked so perfectly and accompanied by a creamy bisque sauce, that I wonder why the fish can’t always taste it good.
The dessert is a crème brûlée (€ 7.50) flavored with woodruff of the same name, a wild flower found in the neighboring hills. Dried, it was traditionally made into tea to treat all kinds of ailments, now it is more commonly used in desserts, adding a fragrant note of almonds and sweet hay. Cracking the brittle shield of the caramel brings a slightly bitter note to this dessert, which goes so well with the richness of the pastry cream infused with woodruff and the butter shortbread on the side.
Dining at Woodruff is absolute pleasure and sums up all the qualities we seek to highlight in the Irish Times Food Month, which runs throughout November. Together, chef Simon Williams and Maguire in front of the house, effortlessly combine everything that makes for a great dining experience – premium products, cooked with a light and skillful hand; exemplary service; and a room that buzzes with lively chatter.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was € 138.50
- Verdict An exemplary culinary experience
- Facilities Minimalist but smart
- Music Background, barely audible
- Food source Vegetables from Castleruddery, Beechlawn and McNally’s, Gannet, Kish, SSI and Glenmar fish, meat from Andarl Farm
- Vegetarian options Yes, and vegan options by prior arrangement
- Wheelchair access Fully accessible room, with accessible toilets