Irish Examiner Review

loam-5

The first time I interviewed Loam’s chef/proprietor, Enda McEvoy, four years ago, he mentioned we had both once worked for the same chef — in my case, 20-odd years ago — and suggested I might enjoy doing a stage (an unpaid stint in the kitchen to gain experience and knowledge).

Loam had yet to open and I wasn’t sure if he was serious, but during subsequent conversations, he always repeated the offer.

This March, reasoning I needed a ‘holiday’, I finally accepted.

At the end of my shift on day two, I leave the kitchen to return to the restaurant hours later as a customer.

Sited below street level in what was intended to be a modern purpose-built retail unit before the crash hit, it is a vast and challenging space, though the impact is softened by sectioning with mobile planters/light boxes.

I am both weary and wary of tasting menus for any initial exhilaration inevitably founders, overworked taste buds no longer able to decipher the finer nuances of flavour, yet so many dishes have piqued my curiosity in the kitchen and with last lingering doubts banished by my Olympian levels of gluttony, we take the plunge.

Amuse bouches are delivered by sous chef Conor Cockram. This isn’t special treatment. It keeps the chefs involved, ensuring attention to detail carries right through to the table and allows a small staff to ensure the entire operation meets Michelin-required standards.

Either way, these fleeting edible ecstasies set taste buds a-tingling, especially an ale and squid ink cracker, black, slender, blistered air bubbles like bladder wrack, served with aerated Hollandaise sauce.

Space prohibits a blow-by-blow account but the meal is studded with highlights.

Best of all, Squid, Seaweed & Shiitake, ‘noodles’ of squid meat and Hen of the Woods mushroom in a shiitake broth, a perfectly realised dish of silky textures and a wonderful salty-sweet umami combination of woodland and sea.

Sirloin, Coolea & Onion is assembled thus: a puree of Coolea cheese, crisped onions, toasted seeds, pickled pine shoots, a translucent scarlet disk of sirloin, dabs of mushroom gel, finally, peppery watercress leaves. It is an intricate yet masterfully assured arrangement .

Even dishes not quite hitting the pinnacle of perfection never once falter in terms of taste and, while it’s a rare bird these days who complains of a surfeit at a Michelin-starred table, a single ‘cutlet’ of lamb tongue, served with celeriac and ransom, would have been sufficient yet both were too damn tasty to leave behind, tipping me into that space where eyes glaze over and critical faculties begin to blur.

This is why desserts on a tasting menu invariably draw the short straw but Cockram’s concentrate the mind, particularly, Honey, Pollen, Caramel, a meditation on all things honey, bar the larvae, and an unlisted extra, a ‘canoli’ of crisped celeriac with toasted haycream, is a delightful, bolshie little closer.

McEvoy freely admits to a culinary epiphany that saw him, eight years ago, embrace completely Danish chef Rene Redzepi’s Noma philosophy: Cooking only the produce of one’s hinterland and ranking vegetables over meat, the latter to be treated almost as a luxury condiment.

But you’ll travel only so far in another man’s shoes before they begin to pinch and McEvoy appears to be distilling Noma essence into his own distinctly Irish elixir.

Though his cuisine still strives for a crystalline Nordic-style clarity, it is his ability to concoct astounding flavours unique to, and distinctly of, his locality and his use of the sumptuous saturated fats of our native produce as grace notes on a more ascetic canvas that mark him out as one of the very best chefs in Ireland.

All in all, it is an excellent meal, a splendid occasion and even the room, when dining, makes a sublimely serene sense.

And if all above reads like the overly partial ramblings of a victim of ‘Stock-Loam’ Syndrome, critical integrity fatally compromised by embedded status, then so be it, eat there and decide for yourself.

The Tab:

€225 for two seven-course tasting menus with wines, excl’ tip.

How To:

Open Tuesday to Saturday,

Wine Bar 4pm – 12am

Restaurant 6pm – 11pm

The Verdict:

Food: 9/10

Service: 9/10

Value: 9/10

Atmosphere: 8/10 on arrival

In a Sentence:

“All in all, it is an excellent meal, a splendid occasion and even the room finally makes a sublimely serene sense.”