The number of restaurants in Dublin is at an all time high, with new openings weekly, adding to the plethora of dining spots now available. For many diners this means only visiting a restaurant once, maybe twice, in an attempt to try them all or to keep things new and fresh. Favourites therefore emerging are something special, a restaurant that is so good you just have to keep returning and even the lure of somewhere new will be tossed aside for the thought of trying a new dish in your usual haunt. Forest & Marcy, on Leeson Street Upper, is definitely one of these spots.
Owned by John and Sandy Wyer and a sister of Forest Avenue, which is a stone’s throw away, Forest & Marcy is very much it’s own individual sibling. Head Chef Ciaran Sweeney has worked tirelessly to give F&M its own style, while maintaining the same core food ethos as Forest Avenue.
Ciaran has worked in Michelin restaurants for most of his career, starting out in two-Michelin starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, before moving home to work in Thornton’s with Kevin Thornton and The Greenhouse with Mickael Viljanen. After this, while waiting for an opportunity for his own place, he ran some pop-ups with friend and chef Mark Moriarty.
“We had done a pop-up in Forest Avenue as we knew John and Sandy, they were our mutual friends,” Ciaran recalled. “They wanted to get involved, we wanted to do something together and once we started planning and chatting it all kind of came together. We knew that it [Forest & Marcy] was never going to be another Forest Avenue, as such, it was going to be my own style. They weren’t going to open up the exact same restaurant around the corner! That was the unique point, it was going to be my food, with their guidance of course, but is has been me from day one.”
Part of the beauty of Forest & Marcy is it really embodies what a local neighbourhood restaurant is while also serving Michelin-star quality food. Not surprisingly they were awarded a Bib Gourmand in 2017. The restaurant style is casual dining, mostly counter seating, and their concise tasting menu changes frequently, seasonality steering its ethos.
“We didn’t really decide to have a tasting menu when we first opened,” explained Ciaran. “We had a à la carte menu, but then we decided to move towards a shorter menu and just one, but change it regularly. The space really dictated what we could and couldn’t do on a consistent level.”
“The space was challenging at the start, but now, we have systemised the whole place in terms of how it runs, what we do, when we do it and the menu obviously dictates the space so we can only do so much. Also it’s good that I don’t have a freezer, as such, just a small one for ice creams and sorbets, or a walk-in fridge either. Everything comes in fresh and everything is sold that night and we go again the next day. From that aspect it is quite reassuring to know that we can stand over everything.”
“The food itself is about modernising a few different Irish dishes, techniques or ingredients. Of course not just Ireland, per say, because we use some other ingredients and herbs and spices from around the world too. I did want to highlight a few different things that are Irish that people can relate to, for example I do a lot of dishes with potatoes and my own smoked salmon. I wanted it to be very much an Irish ethos behind the food, but I wanted to add in, bit by bit, my own philosophy of what Irish food is nowadays and not what it was.”
“I want people to understand the dish and relate to it. For it to maybe trigger a memory from years ago of when they ate something similar, or a familiar ingredient. It is something a bit nostalgic as well as being a super modern, detailed food. That they actually have an attachment to it and want to go back and eat it again.”
“The bacon and cabbage dish on the menu was inspired by my childhood. It’s something I grew up with, with my grandparents, I always had a love for it. I think everyone who comes in here has the same sort of reaction. My grandparents didn’t make the bread exactly like that, but the idea, the concept of using the old potatoes rather than throwing them out is definitely a traditional one where I’m from in Donegal. It’s a different way of living. Some people weren’t as well off as others and they would use up the ingredients to make another dinner the next day. That’s how it came about. I looked into it and they were using the potatoes in that way and I thought we should do something like that. They are fermented in 7% salt, which means for every 100 grams you add 7g of salt, and then you leave them in a warm place in a vessel that they can ferment in. It usually takes 10 days to ferment the potatoes and then overnight to make the bread from them.”
“Vegetables are my favourite ingredients. I love testing myself with vegetables. It takes a lot of skill, love and passion to do something with a vegetable and make it different and memorable. Or herbs or spices, I would rather challenge myself that way. Meat and fish is stunning and there is so much technique involved in that, but you can buy a good piece of meat or fish.”
“A nostalgic food for me is crab. My grandfather was a crab fisherman and I would have been given crab claws a lot off the boat. I don’t think I’ve had a taste of crab that good ever, since. They are coming off the boat and when you eat them, the meat is still so very sweet. That is stuck into my mind and hopefully I’ll have it again some day!”
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