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Who Needs A Michelin Star Anyway? Certainly Not Bon Appetit In Malahide

By niallharbison

December 20, 2016 at 12:10am


I started my career in the pressurised world of trying to win and maintain a Michelin star way back at the turn of the century in a place called Restaurant Peacock Alley. 

As a young green-eyed kid it was a baptism of fire entering a kitchen with 20 screaming chefs with sharp knives and even sharper tempers. Perfection was the name of the game and that demanded 16 hour days, 6 days a week, standing all day under serious stress. 

Unless you've worked under that sort of pressure, you simply can't understand who tough it is. Winning Michelin stars is a young person's game because the pressure and physical demands coupled with the pay are about as attractive as the smell from your socks after one of those long shifts. 

One Dublin chef living that story is Oliver Dunne. He actually wrote a piece about losing (or giving up) his star here last year and explains the challenges winning and keeping one entails. Quite simply, he'd had enough. 

I remember being full of admiration when I read it at the time and I've been lucky enough to eat at his restaurant Bon Appetit twice in the last couple of months. Once in the Tapas bar and once downstairs in the brasserie. I hadn't eaten there before this and by the time I arrived, there wasn't a Michelin star in sight. 

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The tapas offering is superb and really good value. High stools and a buzzing atmosphere fuelled by plenty of young punters lashing back the wine give it an electric feel helped by the dark moody lighting. 

Meatballs stuffed with fois gras were a highlight and the only complaint we had was only having the table for two hours on a Saturday night, as the wine was flowing and nobody wanted to leave. It's the sort of place where the atmosphere is contagious, so when we reluctantly left we went around to Gibney's for a few more scoops. 

Things are way more formal (and pricey) in the brasserie downstairs. Glancing through the menu, I noticed health-related notes on all dishes, done in a tasteful way. I'm not a fan of that normally, because I think eating out should be a treat, but you can easily ignore it here if you're so inclined.

The cooking is precise, inventive and pulls in influences as varied as Irish, Asian and French. I'd wager that the menu has changed dramatically since the Michelin blinkers have been taken off and you can tell the chefs are trying to express themselves. 

A goat's cheese starter was as light as a cloud and my tuna was zingy, well-cooked and just as light as a starter should be, wetting the appetite for the main and longing for more. 

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For main I choose barramundi, which is a fish that's common in the Pacific.

I remember when working on my first day as a chef in Australia, I was asked to fetch some from the fridge, with all my Michelin star training and bravado I went into the fridge not having a clue what they were talking about. I recognised every ingredient bar some fish and galangal (a type of ginger) and took a punt and brought the galangal back to bemused faces, muttering "stupid Irish fuck" under their breath. 

I've not seen barramundi over here before so I was excited by it, remembering how amazing it tasted. While the dish was perfect, the fish itself was a let down. A bit thin and tasteless. Perhaps I'd built it up in my head, not having eaten it in a decade, or maybe even the talented chefs here couldn't disguise the air miles it had travelled.

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The desserts were top notch as well, and I'll be back here many times in the future. The Michelin star is gone and I think that's a good thing, because it allows chefs to relax and cook their food rather than trying to win an award. 

I'd say Bon Appetit will go on to even bigger and better things now, just like Dylan McGrath did when he had his Michelin shackles removed. 

You couldn't cook food this good without the mad Michelin training and long hours to hone the requisite skills, but we now live in a world where social media has become far more important than a snooty guide book printed on paper. 

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