Leslie Williams wants Kevin Thornton to cook his last ever meal.
Pictures right from Kevin's Instagram feed: @KevinThornton5
There’s been a lot of talk these past days about the best places to eat in Ireland, all thanks to some guide or other that came out recently.
What’s your favourite restaurant? Who’s your favourite chef? Favourite wine? Favourite Food? I dodge such questions - there are no definitives, and there shouldn’t be; my answer would change with my mood.
But I believe I’ve decided that I want Kevin Thornton to cook my last meal.
I ate in Thornton’s recently with three good friends. Two I hardly knew before the evening began, the other I’ve only known a few months, but I think the meal changed us. We became a unit that evening, particularly as we ordered the tasting menu together. It is a cliché to say a meal was a spiritual experience but, days later, I am still on a high. I woke up this morning with songs from Astral Weeks in my head, for heaven's sake…
(venturing in the slipstream between the viaducts of your dream… in silence easy, to be born again…!)
I’m not going to catalogue all we ate and the complexities, fripperies, theatre and beauty of our meal – that would devalue the experience. Thornton’s cooking is not something to parse and pick at, you need to allow it to wash over you – you need to venture into Kevin’s slipstream.
Let us consider the Atlantic Turbot with Lemon Grass Broth however, the most dramatic (and tastiest) dish of the evening. Obviously the fish was immaculately cooked – the flesh sweet and tense but yielding. On the side there was crisp salty dried seaweed Kevin had dived for the previous weekend off Letterfrack, and there was a pastry stick made from seaweed and fish eggs to add some contrast to the broth. The broth was in two parts – the fish carcass broth formed the base enriched by barley and enlivened by a little ginger and lemon grass; but a separate head broth had been frozen, powdered and re-frozen and added to the carcass broth at the last moment to create a dry ice effect.
Yes it was spectacular and visually tremendously satisfying, but crucially every element of the dish worked in harmony, each part enhancing and changing the other - there was a beginning, middle and end. The epilogue by the way was a piece of fried turbot skin spiked with popping candy that exploded in the mouth with sweet, sour, fat, salt and umami flavours.
Speaking of elements… Irish caught blue-fin tuna was served as sashimi, tartare and grilled. The grilled part of the trilogy was my second favourite course of the evening – crisply grilled on the outside, uncooked in the centre. Kevin took this king of the water, fire-grilled it and placed it on some earthy spinach purée with flamed scallion. But the key to the dish for me was the air – some cultured sheep’s milk whipped to four times its normal size which seemed to me to harmonise all the other elements with its tangy, fragrant, creamy flavour and limpid texture.
Other seasonal elements included black face Achill mountain lamb; grouse; girolles; truffled eggs; blackberries; broad beans - I think you get the idea.
Now to the front of house – relaxed, warm and confident with no hovering and no pretentions and no faux “professional” aloofness. They met our smart remarks with witty ripostes, they made us feel comfortable and welcome. Sommelier Tobias Hess improved my white wine pick by suggesting the wonderfully taut and complex skin-contact Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho (you will find it in the Celtic Whiskey Shop) over my more pedestrian Albariño suggestion. The Domaine François Gerbet Vosne Romanée (from Burgundy Direct) was decanted and fussed over for an hour to ensure it was served at precisely the correct temperature – a very rare occurrence in my experience.
So go visit Thorntons, now more than ever, as Kevin Thornton is still the most dedicated, passionate, creative and inspiring man in Irish food.
The Tasting Menu at Thorntons costs €95 per person and is served to the full table. The Table d’Hote costs €75.
Thorntons Restaurant, 1st Floor, The Fitzwilliam Hotel, 128 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2