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John McKenna is wowed by Conor Dempsey's umami mastery in Amuse

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There is a brilliance in Conor Dempsey's cooking, a luminosity that shines a light not only the ingredients he has deftly chosen and cooked in each dish, but which especially marks out the flavours with which he has dressed the ingredients that comprise each plate in Amuse, his Dawson Street restaurant.
Just look, for example, at the luminance of a piece of cod, dusted with mugi miso, sprinkled with popped buckwheat. The fish itself shines so crazily with brilliant, pearly whiteness that you almost need to slip on your shades before you take a knife to it. And when you do take a knife to it, the folds of fish disassemble perfectly, the sign of careful cooking at the relatively low temperature of 120 centigrade.
Most people who have commented on Mr Dempsey's work since he opened Amuse almost a year ago have noted his fondness for Asian ingredients, and suggested that his work is almost a fusion style of cooking.
This is dead wrong. Yes, there are dashi stocks and mugi misos and kelp from Hokkaido in Japan, but this cooking is a million miles from fusion. Instead, what marks Mr Dempsey as a very singular talent is his ability to sublimate his Asian influences, to wrap them tightly in the embrace of flavours in a dish so that they are concordant, and never discordant.
In this sense, he shows that he truly understands, and knows how to use, umami flavours. There is a little shiro dashi stock in his beef tartare, but what it does is amplify the sweet, generous flavour of the beef. His salmon is marinated on sake and soy for three days before being sent out with a hijab of lardo on its head but, once again, the umami is simply highlighting the saline flavours, not dominating them.
There is so much control in this cooking that you almost want to applaud as you finish each dish, whether it is his chicken with ceps and mushroom curd, or the thrilling deserts with their chair-o-plane array of tastes and textures. Each mouthful is a revelation, as the kitchen shows its precision, using diverse elements for acidity, others for freshness, some for heat, some for floral notes, some for texture.
There are complicated techniques used to create the Amuse food but, as with the Asian underpinnings, technique is all at the service of flavour, and the flavours are clean, bright, and bold. And the food is superbly light: at the end of three courses for lunch, you feel you could simply start the meal all over again.
Amuse offers great, 21st century Irish cooking, fluent and luminous, confident and charming. Go for lunch, and you will want to go back for dinner the very same day with some friends. Mr Dempsey has an enviable talent, and Amuse is simply a great city restaurant.

Amuse, 22 Dawson Street, Dublin 2 01 639 4889

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