The hardest working man in Ireland is Zsolt Lukács.
Just look at the guy, haring around table after table at Aniar restaurant, in Galway’s West End, as he tends to everyone’s wine selection.
It would seem that everyone this evening has opted to have the tasting menu with the wine pairing. This is a smart move but, with seven courses on each of the menus – and a quartet of little dishes to start – it means Mr Lukács is changing every table’s wine and wine glasses after every course.
He is doing this in addition to describing the wines and explaining just why, for instance, he reckons that the Paul Ginglinger Pinot Blanc will be just delightful with the oyster, cucumber and arrow grass.
Do the math: every table in Aniar, multiplied by 8 or 9 different wines, and fresh glasses each time. As he moves around the room, Mr Lukács appears frictionless. He needs to be.
Wine pairings have become the new thing in Ireland, and for a simple reason: we now have sommeliers in several restaurants who know their wines backwards. More importantly, the wines in these leading restaurants are chosen with an eye to the food, and the food is chosen with an eye to the wines. If the food has the fleetness of Fred Astaire, then the wines have to have the fleetness of Cyd Charisse. Put that equation together, and you get culinary heaven.
Take Heron and Grey, for example, the little restaurant in the Blackrock Market, in south County Dublin, where, famously, it is virtually impossible to get a seat. H&G is a Fred & Cyd operation: Damien cooks the food, Andrew does the wines. This means that when you get your halibut with gorse foam and garden top greens, you also get a glass of Max Ferd Richter “Zeppelin” Riesling, from the Mosel. The fish is perfect, but the wine with the fish is a revelation. And that is precisely what Damien and Andrew want: food + wine = revelation. 1 + 1 = 3.
In Ox, in Belfast, Steve Toman and Alain Kerloc’h aim to do exactly the same thing. But what is interesting about the wine choices to go with the tasting menus in Ox – and in Aniar and Heron & Grey – is that the wines are so surprising. An Austrian red wine with asparagus? A malvazija from Istria with john dory? A greco-fiano from Pipoli in Italy with lobster?
How long did it take Andrew Heron to work out that the I Mandorli red wine, from Tuscany, would be just the job with a complex dish of butternut squash with vanilla and vinegar? A lifetime, I would reckon.
In the old days, wine pairing meant wheeling out the big guns with each course: white Burgundies with fish; Rhone rangers with meat courses; Sauternes with pudding. But the new generation of sommeliers aren’t interested in that. They are looking for something else, something more. They are hoping to achieve a synthesis of food and wine that is sublime, and revelatory. In Aniar, Heron & Grey, and Ox, they achieve this.
They have to work hard to achieve it, of course, so let’s not single out Zsolt. Alain and Andrew work just as hard as he does. The three hardest working guys in Ireland, then.
Pictures show pairings from Heron & Grey, Ox and Aniar.