Mint didn't leave me feeling refreshed

An unsatisfying mix of excellent food and wine with haphazard service and crazy pricing. The most expensive meal we’re ever had but sadly not the best.

Regular readers of the blog know that I was blown away by the documentary on Dylan McGrath getting his Michelin star for Mint. When my parents gave me a 40th birthday present of a meal for two there, I was gobsmacked and couldn’t wait to go. We finally got there last weekend and left a few hours later confused and unsatisfied.

Mint is based in what I think used to be a fish shop/deli in Ranelagh in Dublin. Whilst Ranelagh has moved on from it’s Chew n Chat and Pat Grace’s Famous Fried Chicken roots, it still feels like student-land to me. First impressions on arriving at the restaurant were poor since they have kept the old crappy shop-door that you’d expect to see in a Qik-E-Mart.

The rest of this review will mention Petrus here and there. Why? Because it is also a Michelin starred restaurant, the bill was lower and it was the best dining experience of our lives.

We were greeted and seated at a table that was precisely 6 inches from the one next to it. We may as well have sat in the laps of the people next to us since we could hear every word, and vice versa. Of all the problems with the meal, the room is one of the worst. It’s simply unacceptable for a restaurant that charges these prices. The stupid mirror trick fools no-one. At one point I got elbowed by the bread guy as he tried to serve the adjoining table. Losing a table or two would be a major revenue blow for them so they just have to move - immediately.

After a bit of discussion we decided to try the Tasting Menu with wines. The sommelier asked if we had any preferences on the wine but we just put ourselves entirely in his hands. I have to say that all his selections were fantastic. Every wine felt perfect for the dish that it accompanied. Even the dessert wine, which I hate, worked well. A big thank you to him for giving us a menu to take home with all the wines written down beside the  courses.

After a beautiful mouth-explosion taster trio involving foams, jellies and mini-soups we moved to the tasting menu. It was as follows (with apologies for the spellings on the wines):

  • Roasted Scallops with caramelised chicoree, blood orange and black grapes - This was stunning. I loved every part of the dish. One of the highlights of the night. Wine was Motto Piane Sauvignon Blanc 2007 from Italy. I didn’t even know they did Sauvignon in Italy. I’ll be looking out for some from now on.

  • Fois Gras and prune terrine with pear puree, air dried duck and pickled pear slices - Another fabulous dish. Catherine’s favourite. Wine was Cuvee Marie from Charles Hours 2003 from South West France. Another seriously great wine. At this point I thought we were looking at the second best meal we’ve ever had.

  • Sea Bass with hot fennel mayo, chilled fennel soup, black olive, and sardines on sour dough - This was good but not at the mouth-explosion level of everything that preceded it. Just a decent fish dish. It was then that we realised that too many of the dishes were aniseedy via fennel or celeriac. You’d be in serious trouble with the menu if you weren’t a fan. Wine was Arneis from Seghesio, 2004 from the Russian River Valley in the US. This was one of our favourites of the night. A real winner.

  • Loin of Lamb with chickpeas, aubergine puree, tomato petals and buckler sorrel - This was a completely bizarre dish which didn’t work for either of us. A plate was placed in front of us covered in dabs of various purees and chickpeas. In a side-dish (!) was the lamb and jus. The purees really were not very nice at all and the lamb was overwhelmed by rosemary which was a terrible pity since it was succulent. However my first taste of sweetbreads was a real revelation and they were gorgeous. Wine was a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau Sansonnet 2001 which was sadly badly masked by the food.

  • Selection of cheese and crackers - All of them good and I liked the fact that we both got a different selection with a different jam/chutney in the middle. Wine was Madiran Chateau Montus 2003 from South West France. Another perfect matching with the food.

  • Raspberries with almond milk, raspberry jelly and almond biscuit - Nice dessert but pretty forgettable and the block of frozen parfait(?) was just icy . Wine was Montbazillac Chateau Tireuil la Graviere 2001 from South West France. As I said earlier, I hate sweet wine but this really did suit the dessert well.

  • Passion fruit with coconut cream, mango puree, marmalade with warm caramel and passion fruit jelly - Another very tasty but not memorable or special dessert. The wine was Riesling Vom Bunten Shiefer from Hans Lang in Germany, 2003. I loved this one too and will be seeking out some good Riesling from now on. As I said, overall the food was to a very high standard and the wines were excellent. But both was diminished badly by the completely cack-handed front of house. There were multiple problems:

  • I have no idea who the Maitre d’ was. Was it the small blonde wine guy who disappeared once we got our order in? Or the tall woman who came over to our table towards the end when Catherine was in the loo, folded her napkin and walked away without a word? Or some invisible third party?

  • In Petrus we knew exactly who was in charge and he came over several times, not to ask some bland “did you enjoy your meal?” but to engage and converse. Thinking about Mint after the meal, the strong sense I got was a lack of confidence from everyone front-of-house and so a complete lack of proper engagement with their customers.

  • Our wine glasses spent a lot of time empty. I’ve listed a large number of wines above but at one point the only thing left on the table was two napkins and two glasses of water. Again at this price level, I expect to be permanently topped up, not penny pinched.

  • When I say I don’t want bread twice in a row, stop bloody coming back! What was it, 5 times? 6 times?

  • Don’t tell me we have to be out by 9pm when you know you don’t have a full set of bookings for 9pm, when you don’t serve our last course until 9.15 and when you leave us 10-15 minutes between a few of the courses without even wine in our glasses. And all of this in a non-full restaurant.

  • Absolutely no acknowledgment was made of the fact that it was my 40th birthday despite them being told so. In Jacob’s on the Mall last year, I got a special dessert and the Maitre d’ had a wee chat. In Petrus for our anniversary, we got a tour of the kitchen and met the amazing Marcus Wearing. On other occasions I’ve got a complementary cocktail. Here? Nothing! Not even Happy Bloody Birthday.

  • When we left, there was no-one racing to open the door, ask us how the meal was or wish us on our way. We just snuck away in the night.

  • They couldn’t even handle the fact that the meal was supposed to be paid-for as a gift. We were getting into the cab when one of the waiters (or maybe the Maitre d’, who knows?) ran out and grabbed us, apologised profusely since they had just realised who we were and said that they’d cancel our credit card charge. We told him not to bother as we’d sort it out ourselves. He was insistent but we were doubly so. There was clearly no-one running the booking system all night; no-one in proper charge; no-one who had scanned everything before service to see if there was anything unusual to warn the staff about. Amateur hour to be honest. I’m not going to say the price of the meal, you can work it out yourself. But when you are paying that kind of money, having coffee and petit fours as an extra at over €6 is just plain scabby. The big shock on the bill was a mandatory 12.5% service charge. Let’s be blunt here, the service didn’t warrant it. 6% max, maybe. And if it’s mandatory then just put it in the price of the meal. Otherwise, why not separately call out the pastry charge, the loo roll charge and the dishwashing charge?

My gut tells me that, sadly, Mint will not survive. Dylan is clearly a talented chef but he’s not a restaurateur based on the front of house shambles we encountered. In a restaurant with a mix of two-tops and four-tops, none of the four-tops seemed to be occupied on a Saturday night. The prices are frankly ridiculous for a pokey little place with inexperienced staff. The blatant gouging via extras and service charges tells me they are in trouble.

We realised we could have flown to London, eaten in one of 200 better restaurants there, stayed the night and flown home the following day for less than Mint cost with its dazzling views of Spar. In a weakening economy, places like this which don’t deliver value (at whatever the price level) are the first to go to the wall. In a strange twist of timing and history, could we be seeing a re-run of Peacock Alley?

Having said alllllll of the above, we are so glad we gave it a go, so grateful to my parents for arranging and paying for it and so glad to have had a great meal.

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland http://conoroneill.com