Sunday, March 25, 2018

Restaurant review: The Greenhouse

"There is no such thing as a neutral context" Professor Charles Spence on eating

The lighting focuses on the tables, creating a sense of the table as a stage. The waitress lays out the napkins with a white glove. A song from "Moon Safari" quietly playing in the background gives a nostalgic retro-futurist Gallic soundtrack. 

Greenhouse, Dawson Street. Daniela has the four-course dinner menu; I go for the vegetarian equivalent. Being a veggie I am unqualified to comment on Daniela's menu; suffice to say she enjoyed it. Since the Greenhouse are known for working with a pretty serious sommelier, we go with the discovery wine selection. The amuse boches (pictured) include crispy seaweed and a pleasantly warm blue cheese.

First course: ravioli of comté, onion buillon. It's served in one of those huge bowls where the rim takes up most space, with the content in a central indent. The ravioli is pleasantly creamy, and a gang of tangy little mushrooms are swimming in the onion buillon. Wine: Riesling with a citrus acidity. Daniela's has a different Riesling that is bigger on acidity but also on sweetness.

Second course: roast cauliflower, hazelnut, truffle, sheep's curd. Having one medium sized piece of cauliflower as the centre of attention in a dish is ballsy. But it's great; caramelised dark brown on top with a milky, creamy stalk. Wine; Chardonnay; a hint of Belgian beer.

Third course: hand-rolled gnocchi, hen of the woods, parmesan, vin jaune. Form is important here-I always think of gnocchi as imperfect spheres, but here they are handrolled into fat snakes, and the hen of the woods cuts a different dash than the average mushroom. This dish follows the culinary adage that you should use as much salt as is just short of too salty.  Wine: pinot noir - a very subtle red that pulls things back compared to the Chardonnay.

Dessert: chocolate soufflé, vanilla ice cream. The late Paolo Tullio, who previously wrote a rave review of this place, had a memorable moment when he dipped his cutlery into a chocolate pudding on RTÉ's "The Restaurant" and exclaimed "gooey choccie!" while bouncing in his seat. The chocolate soufflé here too had a liquid centre (although the exterior was more crispy than a pudding). There was a saltiness to the dessert as well that was complemented by the ice cream. Wine: a lovely Madeira.

Espresso with petit fours-choux pastry with hazelnut cream and a chocolate passion fruit. I made the mistake of knocking the latter back in one go, giving a slightly overwhelming hit of the passion fruit.

The Greenhouse is definitely a treat for the senses. The dishes are all well presented, although none showboat excessively with the sauces etc. Daniela mentions a feeling of fullness that has as much to do with richness of the dishes as fullness of the stomach. The staff are attentive and friendly. It is quite expensive but worth it for a special occasion; regardless of why you go, once you're inside you definitely won't feel that you're approaching the food in a neutral context. 

Related posts:
TV review: Chef's Table

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Conference review: "Research and Healthcare Responses to the Challenge of Brain Conditions in Ireland"

With Brain Awareness Week underway, the timing was ripe for this week’s joint conference of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland and the Irish Brain Council: Research and Healthcare Responses to the Challenge of Brain Conditions in Ireland. It was a half-day event, packing a lot of interesting talks into a slim timeline.

Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) opened the day with a discussion of SFI’s past and future, underlining SFI’s extensive collaboration with industry. He also highlighted plans to create a more targeted funding mechanism for PhD students; previously, although a lot of PhD students have been hired via SFI funding, this has been a lot more “top-down”, i.e. coming from Professors with the more major research grants SFI is known for.

Speaking of which, David Henshall’s talk on FutureNeuro struck me as a real template on how to get a large tranch of funding from SFI, but more importantly it represents an ambitious research program targeting motor neuron disease and epilepsy. The project aims to further knowledge in both diagnosis and treatment for these disorders; for example, how molecular therapies (which tend to be relatively bulky) can cross the blood-brain-barrier. The work of FutureNeuro also covers the increasing electronic storage of health records, with a view to creating greater use of genetic information as this becomes recorded in a greater number of patients.

The Promethean ambition of Henshall’s work was matched that of Ian Robertson, who discussed the work of the Global Brain Health Institute in training research fellows, identifying risk factors for the development of dementia and initiatives to prevent/offset the development of dementia. He spoke about cognitive reserve (a favourite topic of Robertson’s), as well as how dopaminergic function in striatal regions may underlie what is ostensibly more cortically-based decline in cognitive performance in older adults. In closing, Robertson paid emotional tribute to Chuck Feeney, highlighting how Atlantic Philanthropies (which recently came to a close) is to thank for the Global Brain Health Institute.

Cora O’Neill highlighted her work at the Cork Neuroscience Centre at University College Cork, linking the brain-gut-microbiome axis to a molecule associated with Parkinson’s disease (alpha synuclein). She highlighted the broader area of changes in the microbiome with age, and particularly between residential, nursing home care and older adults living in the community. O’Neill also gave generous coverage to work by John Cryan and Ted Dinan at UCC, including a mention of the dementia caregiver study I have worked on with Gerard Clarke.

At coffee/tea it was great to see a couple of posters looking at caregivers for people with other serious neurological problems, including one on carers for people in a persistent vegetative state as well as a poster on acquired brain injury in general.

The second session of opened with a more frontline clinical perspective from Timothy Lynch, who spoke about neurology services in Ireland. Although things are improving in terms of waiting lists, there is a need for greater multidisciplinary teamwork in Ireland; there is a serious lack of clinical neuropsychologists, and even if all the necessary funding to hire them were there, there still wouldn’t be enough suitably qualified people to fill the posts.  

The meeting closed with by a representative of Fred Destrebecq, Executive Director of the European Brain Council, highlighting the health economics of brain diseases and mental disorder, which is somewhere in the order of €800 billion for Europe. He also drew attention to the Value of Treatment white paper, which outlines unmet need in early diagnosis and treatment of mental/neurological disorder in Europe.

The meeting as a whole indicated the scale of health challenges facing our society. It demonstrated the ambition of those researching this most complex area, and the determination of those treating the people these issues affect.

Related posts

Why not check out the "Psychology in Mind" podcast with Gareth Stack: