Irish Times: Exemplary dining at the foot of the Dublin mountains

Corinna Hardgrave – Irish Times
“Dining in Woodruff is an absolute pleasure and it encapsulates all of the qualities that we are looking to highlight in Food Month at The Irish Times, which runs throughout November. Together, the chef Simon Williams and Maguire in front of house, effortlessly combine everything that makes for a great dining experience – top quality produce, cooked with a light, skilled hand; exemplary service; and a room that is humming with lively chatter.”

Restaurant menu prices like €35 and €38 for a main course set off a small niggling doubt in the back of my mind – is it going to be worth it? If you add another €30 for starter and dessert, you’re hovering at the €65 level, which is a price point that seems to be doing the rounds for fixed-price menus these days.

The menu at Woodruff – a smart restaurant on a busy street in Stepaside, south Dublin, which picked up an Irish architecture award in 2020 for its sleek fit-out and design – is divided into snacks and charcuterie, starters, mains and desserts. Smoked almonds and nocellara olives are of course beautiful to snack on with a drink before dinner, but I’m keen to try the house-cured charcuterie (€20) and conscious of not ordering too much. So, we have it as one of our starters, which turns out to be a very good decision indeed.

A discussion on wine ensues. The list, compiled 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 below €40.

After chatting through our food choices, Maguire suggests Domaine de Montcy Cheverny rouge, a blend of gamay, pinot noir and côt (malbec) from the Loire (€44), and checks that the price is okay with us. It is the sort of wine service you don’t often get: informed, low key and unintimidating. And the wine is light enough to work through our meal. In fact, it is quite spectacular with the charcuterie which arrives on a round log, reflecting a sense of place, with Stepaside being on the way up to the Dublin mountains.

The charcuterie, which is made from trimmings or excess unsold stock – ticking the sustainability box – is aged with Himalayan salt blocks in a dry ageing fridge. There is enough beef salami, lomo, coppa, and air-dried lamb rump on this log for four people to have as snacks; and a second log is loaded with sourdough, butter and bowls of pickled cucumber and red cabbage; all made in-house and all extremely good.

There’s a distinct difference between each of the four types of charcuterie, not just from the meats and cuts used, but also from the subtle use of herbs and spices. Rather than being completely dried out, there is just the smallest bit of moisture and chew to this charcuterie, which somehow makes the meatiness come through more strongly. This is a must-order dish.

Our other starter, a pithivier (€12), is gloriously autumnal. This dome of golden pastry is filled with wild chanterelles, Young Buck cheese and pickled celeriac. All of the elements are in balance so the flavours of the mushrooms are not overwhelmed. And a velouté of three-cornered leek is poured over, adding a fresh note of garlic.

The same level of skill continues into the main course. A sizable chunk of cauliflower, nearly a quarter of a head, is doused in ras el hanout spices, with spinach, chickpeas and feta cheese scattered over the dish (€20). Rather than a full-on cumin and coriander hit, there is a lightness to the spicing, lifted with a good backbone of acidity, with pomegranate seeds and mint oil.

Our second main course, wild halibut with Swiss chard and Blue Annelise potatoes (€35) is such a pristine piece of fish, cooked so perfectly and accompanied by a creamy bisque sauce, that I find myself wondering why fish can’t always taste this good.

Dessert is a crème brûlée (€7.50) flavoured with the namesake woodruff, a wild flower that can be found in the nearby hills. Dried, it was traditionally made into a tea to treat all manner of ailments, now it is more commonly used in desserts, adding a scented note of almonds and sweet hay. Cracking the brittle shield of caramel brings a slightly bitter note to this dessert, which works so well with the richness of the woodruff-infused custard and the buttery shortbread biscuit on the side.