Capping it all off

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First and foremost, this was the greatest meal that I have ever eaten, surpassing all expectations with ease. Thornton’s restaurant on Stephens green is at the forefront of cooking in this country, and has been for some time.

We opted for the 8 course “Surprise” taster menu which gave you a real sense of the skills at work in the kitchen and kept you guessing throughout the meal. A nice touch that only added to the occassion. It also took the guts of four hours to complete so you know your getting your money’s worth. 

However, as you may have gathered this isn’t a food blog, and if I’m honest, I’m not in a position to rate or slate the work of Mr. Thornton. Suffice it to say that if I were to come into a little bit of cash, not enough for a bespoke suit, but too much for a night on the town, I would spend the money in Thorntons. It was that good.

There was one small fault however, one teeny,tiny fault that you have probably guessed at this stage. The coffee.

I’ve eaten in many restaurants in Dubin and have never had a decent coffee.  The meal was so wonderful at Thornton’s that I was tempted not to ask, but it was an itch I just had to scratch.

The espresso when it arrived was served in a cup that was more suited to a double, and the shot itself seemed to be around 70-80ml. There was a thin and patchy crema on the top that dispersed completely once I had stroked my spoon through it. The consistency was thin and watery and was more like a really small americano than it was an espresso. If you’ve ever asked for a coffee in Paris you were probably served one of these.

I don’t review cafes so I feel somewhat torn in reviewing the coffee at Thornton’s. Some might argue that they don’t profess to be great “about” coffee but I think at that end of the market they should be the best at everything. That’s why they employ sommeliers, use the most dedicated suppliers and serve four (yes four) types of salt. If they can go to such extraordinary lengths in these areas, why not go the extra mile for the coffee?

It didn’t taste good, it was over extracted, bitter, astringent and lacked flavour although it was better than what I’ve come to expect from the average cafe in this city. Overall I think I was just disappointed to see that they had put unimaginable effort into all aspects of the experience, but not in the one area that I would have appreciated most.

The incident brought to mind a story told by the British chef Marco Pierre White who in the latter months of 1989 was desperately trying to attain a second Michelin Star, to improve on the single star he had earned the previous year at his London restaurant “Harvey’s”. He recalled the following story of a conversation he had with Derek Brown of the Michelin Guide in his 2006 book “The Devil in the Kitchen”.

“One day I saw Derek Brown in the restaurant and asked him what he thought I could do to win two stars. “Its not for me to tell you how to run your restaurant” replied the man I called Mr. Brown. “But if you start serving amuse bouches and improve your coffee you wont be a million miles away”. That day I started serving amuse bouches or amuse-gueules – little tasters to entertain the mouth. The following week I bought the best coffee machine and ordered in a brand of delicious coffee. Harvey’s started serving the finest coffee in London. I could see where Mr. Brown was coming from. Amuse-gueules provide the first impressions of the meal while coffee provides the the final mouthful.”

In January 1990 Marco Pierre White, at the age of 28,  became the youngest chef ever to win 2 Michelin stars.

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4 thoughts on “Capping it all off

  1. Dave says:

    That urchin looks amazing, I’m very envious. Never been to Thorntons, but have tried several of the other Michelin places around Dublin. Needless to say, I wouldn’t write home about the coffee. I suggest a nice glass of port instead.

  2. Joe says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The number of fantastic meals that I’ve polished off with a poor coffee is astonishing.

    I ate in restaurnat patrick guilbaud last year and the coffee there was very good. It was filter coffee though, the espresso machine was out of order 😦

    Generally I just go for a good Cognac, Armagnac or any other good Brandy, it’s hard to get that wrong.

  3. colinharmon says:

    Never made it to Guilbaud but its definately on my list. I think one of the main problems in a restaurant setting, especially one that has high turnover with a relatively low footfall, is that they wont really be making many coffees. Therefore the person manning the machine isn’t going to be getting much practice, and thats the best way to improve in my opinion. It makes financial sense to employ a dedicated sommelier, but a dedicated Barista with the appropriate skill level would be hard to justify based purely on coffee sales. A good Cafetiere set-up though takes less skill, and is equally rewarding. A harder sell thoigh to the average punter, most consumers think its quite low-end stuff and would probably scoff at it in a Michelin restaurant.

  4. colinharmon says:

    It was. It really was. It was served on a bed of sand sitting on an ice bucket. Liquid nitrogen was then poured into the bucket, which contained seaweed, and the dry ice effect was reminiscent of the foam on a freezing Irish beach. The seaweed smell came up with the dry ice and it was making a wonderful gurgling noise. Oysters are just like a mouthful of the sea and all its bounty but urchins are another step up in pungency. In effect the whole display looked, smelled, sounded and tasted of the sea, an amazing stimulus on all the senses.
    Perhaps we should do the rounds of all the M*’s in Dublin and just order coffee and see how they rate?

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