Mexico and tequila. Japan and sake. Scotland and whisky. England and warm beer. Certain parts of the world are instantly associated with certain drinks, to the extent that some of them – Scotch, Bordeaux, Cognac – cover both region and drink. But there’s no drink as singularly identifiable with a country as Guinness and no better place in Ireland to drink it than in Dublin on match day when England are in town.
I was born in Belfast (Northern Ireland, not Mpumalanga), and although I left when I was four, my family are now back there, enjoying a country that offsets an annual hour of sunshine with a warm, friendly, engaging welcome that belies a most troubled past (and to no small degree, its present).
Across a famously fractured island, rugby is a rare force of unity, the north and the republic joining forces for a combined Irish sporting team – and with no victory sweeter than one over England, a home game in Dublin is one of the defining days of the Irish sporting year.
And so a couple of weeks ago I flew into Dublin for the opening of the Six Nations, and the start of a journey Irish fans had hoped would end with Rory Best lifting the World Cup in Japan. That might still be the fairytale finish, but the start didn’t follow the expected script: after a Guinness-filled build-up around the Aviva Stadium, and the goosebumps of the crowd in full cry at kick-off, England won the game and turned the Irish capital into a rugby wake.
It could have made for a maudlin evening, particularly given the weather (it was almost as cold as walking through Woolworths), but fortunately, I’d booked dinner for after the game, admittedly with a view to celebrating a great Irish victory. As it turned out, the restaurant provided a welcome anesthetic to the pain of the rugby and introduced me to The Greenhouse, my new favourite place to eat in Dublin – and to have several glasses of wine.
The Greenhouse is a small, intimate, cosy refuge from a bitterly cold Irish night. It’s also a Michelin-star restaurant, and one that initially appears to be a vegetarian affair, to the dismay of my brother-in-law Fergal, whose forays into a world beyond meat stray only as far as chicken. But the four-course vegetarian tasting option is just one of several, and eventually, we settle on a meandering journey through beef tartar cigars sublime), moreish cushions of Parmesan ravioli and a confit leg of pigeon to dispel any prejudice you might have had about the bird.
As good as the food was, though, the wine plays every bit as much a starring role, as you’d expect in a place with Michelin’s acclaim. Not as much South African as I’d like (Topiary Chardonnay from Franschhoek, Eben Sadie’s Treinspoor, the brilliant Luddite Shiraz, and South African sweet standard bearer Vin de Constance), but a cosmopolitan selection that eventually offered up a Gérard Boulay Sancerre and a bottle of Barton from St. Julien – offering the burgeoning wine nation of France a little encouragement…
It wasn’t quite enough to make up for the disappointment of the loss of England, but it went a fair way of covering it. Brilliant food from chef Mickael Viljanen, outstanding service, and a small, welcoming space, The Greenhouse fully deserves its growing reputation. Ireland’s national drink still holds sway, certainly, and Dublin’s a cracking place for a pint of Guinness – but it’s not bad for a glass of wine either.
This week I’m drinking: It’s early in the year, so the accolade is qualified, but here’s the early runner for best red I’ll have in 2019: a perfectly balanced 2013 Director’s Reserve from Tokara. It’s probably got a little more time in it, but is already drinking obscenely well: rich, smooth, bold red perfection. There’s been plenty of change at Tokara in the last year or two – this 2013 blend is a delightful reminder of what the new team at the estate have to live up to.