A standard fine dining setting with high calibre cooking, and conventions that a recent film justifiably satirised

This review is the second among a set of two and a part of the Turned Tables series. You may find the first review in this set on Instagram

Despite its one Michelin star status over four years ago, snagging a table at Chapter One wasn’t any easier than it is now that it has attained two. Not only has the place been on every “Dublin’s Best Restaurants” list I’ve read over the past five years, but also features on the must-do lists of tourists frequently. The fact that reservations need to be made two months in advance didn’t deter Ross Lewis loyalists back then, and doesn’t deter Mickael Viljanen devotees today. Add to that all of Dublin’s trendspotters tweeting about the set lunch being great value, and you might see why I was hypnotised into following suit.

I remembered the dining room vaguely from my last meal there in March 2019, when the pre-theatre sitting was still running. An outsider might expect the city’s most prized restaurant to be more high-spirited, given the global perception that the Irish are always up for a bit of banter. There’s none of that here, though, most likely because it isn’t the established hallmark of a restaurant with a couple of stars that the industry tends to overvalue. 

A thoughtful combination of Irish produce, traditional French techniques and molecular gastronomy is the focus. Few chefs are able to pull off a combination this tricky without compromising flavour, and Viljanen meets the mark. I would’ve called his approach creative, but molecular gastronomy seems to have become a prerequisite for success within the fine dining sphere and the kitchen here is as strategic about that as any other establishment listed under the same category.

The beetroot gazpacho in an edible shell, Viljanen’s signature canapé, sets a positive tone for the rest of the meal. A steamed mouselline of Mossfield gouda served with a macadamia and truffle topping brings the graph down ever so slightly — not in terms of taste, but imagination, as combining foamy cheese and truffle is so commonplace that it almost feels forgettable. 

I adored my expertly cooked Castletownbere cod “carrot and citrus” main and thought that the accompanying lobster cappelletti with pleasantly briny green olive juice and creamy aigo-sau was outstanding. However, it remains uncertain whether having expected a more substantial portion was the sign of a larger-than-average appetite or pure greed.

My indecision extended to the dessert and I found myself unable to pick between sweet and sinister for an adjective that might be accurate for the rhubarb sablé’s appearance. While the human brain often becomes incapacitated by cognitive dissonance, taste buds fortunately don’t. The intermingling of subtly tart rhubarb, crumbly sablé, the muted savouriness of the fromage blanc and hint of ginger ensured I took my time to luxuriate in every bite.

A canapé or starter is the only course that should leave a diner wanting more, but I was still peckish after dessert. The set dinner looks more filling from details I’ve read and photos I’ve seen, but I’d really have to convince myself to return — not because it’s not good food, but because a meal here feels more like work than leisure. I’d attribute that to a combination of a stressful booking experience, austere servers, and a menu that seems like it’s afraid to let its hair down despite the expertise behind it being perfectly capable of managing a deviation in otherwise rigid fine dining trends. A menu that’s as exalted as this one ought to ideally blow your mind, but I made my peace with being able to go as far as feeling satisfyingly impressed.

*The price for the set lunch (sans the wine pairing) was €75 when I visited in 2023; it's currently €85.

Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen
Bill for two 
Three course lunch menu€75
Three course lunch menu€75
18-19 Parnell Square
D01 T3V8
Dublin 1