It seems entirely appropriate that I’m writing about a pie during British Pie Week. And what a pie — or pithivier, to give it its fancy name. Pieces of tender game — that week it was snipe and woodcock, although it changes with the seasons — mixed with a chestnut and lardo di Colonnata-enriched stuffing, in an intense black truffle sauce, under a crisp cap of butter-rich puff pastry.
It’s the creation of chef Ross Lewis at Chapter One, located on the north side of Dublin in Parnell Square, in the basement of the Writers Museum. The restaurant is the very essence of Irish hospitality. Run with affable precision by Lewis in conjunction with his business partner and front man Martin Corbett, it’s a celebration of the country’s best artisan produce and a beacon of modern Irish food.
“Good cooking begins with good produce and when you have the richness of the Irish larder to choose from, there is an opportunity to soar,” says Lewis. And soar he does, championing producers at every turn — on the menu, on the walls, on his website and in his book, Chapter One: An Irish Food Story (Gill & Macmillan, €39.99), published in 2013 to celebrate 21 years in the business.
Lewis and Corbett opened here in 1992, in the days when a journey across the River Liffey to eat posh tucker was something of an adventure. But, as the weeks and years went on, Lewis refined his dishes — so much so that the Michelin Guide awarded him a star in 2007.
Not that Lewis is fussy in his presentation. “I can’t bear food that is played around with too much. My food is about two things: harmony —when I put things on the plate, I always ask myself do they work together? And if I put it in my mouth, do I really enjoy it? I try to move forward all the time. I don’t just want to be known as a really good restaurant in Ireland, but one that is known as a really good restaurant internationally,” he declares. Well, he can tick that box — the night I visited, there were guests all the way from Barcelona to Connecticut.
But back to that pie, which is only available from October to January. The tradition of pie-eating in Ireland descends from the great houses that were once owned by the British, their kitchens in turn influenced by French classical cuisine. These days, though, the pie filling you are most likely to find is beef braised in Guinness.
“Sometimes I use mallard or teal in the pithivier — whatever is good and available,” says Lewis. He’s certainly got access to the best produce — Lewis was pushing the artisan producer angle way before it became trendy. Among the many there is Manus McGonagle in County Donegal, who sources seaweed for Lewis, who uses it in dishes such as turbot, cauliflower, fermented horseradish, cockles, mussels and pickled red dulse (a seaweed). “Manus has a diet largely based on seaweed and looks 20 years younger than he actually is,” he laughs.
And there is David Burns, located 15 miles north of Dublin, who grows sweetcorn for Lewis for just six weeks a year, which he uses in dishes such as sweetcorn royale with guinea fowl.
Plus, there’s Veronica Steele, who was the first person to make farmhouse cheese in Ireland, back in 1976. Her cheese, Milleens, a soft, washed-rind cheese made from cows’ milk on the rugged Beara peninsula in southwest Ireland, is a permanent fixture on the cheeseboard at Chapter One.
To drink with the game pie? “Something from the Southern Rhône,” recommends Lewis, highlighting a 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe. We couldn’t resist also trying a wine from an Irish producer, a Cabernet/Merlot blend from cider-maker David Llewellyn.