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I've found the king of clubs

If I were to devise my own one-word epitaph it would probably be 'unclubbable' (okay, any pedants out there don't write in, I know 'unclubbable' is not a real word). In my lifetime I have joined many clubs, always with the purpose of taking part in the activity in which they specialise. Rugby clubs, football clubs, cricket clubs, tennis clubs, golf clubs, croquet clubs, yacht clubs and more feature in my sporting CV.

Yet in none of them have I ever been tempted to socialise. Game/shower/pint/home has always been the routine. When 'exclusive club' (as it was then styled) The Residence opened its doors on to Stephen's Green, I received a request from the management to compile a suitable wine list.

In return, they offered me a free membership. This seemed very fair until the thought occurred: "What the hell would I be doing with a membership of somewhere I'd never be likely to set foot in?"

I only recently realised that the dining room at The Residence (now styled Restaurant 41) was actually open to members of the public, that's how club-clued up I am, although I did hear that Graham Neville was cheffing there.

I'd first met Graham (at the time Kevin Thornton's acolyte) back in 2005 when he was competing in the Irish heat of the Bocuse D'Or, best regarded as the unofficial culinary Olympics for young chefs. I was a member of the judging panel and it seemed to us that Graham's take on (from memory) Poulet de Bresse was light years more sophisticated than any of his competitors.

We were ushered into one of the dining rooms, the one overlooking The Green, the room I'd recommend you dine in if you can get a table. Sibs was quick off the mark, beating me to my first choice starter and dessert. No matter, there were plenty of tempting options.

The pleasant, efficient waiter brought an amuse gueule, a tortellino of chicken bathed in a truffle crème. She pronounced it delicious. Her prawns with black sole, smoked peas and aged parmesan was a triumph, every last nuance of flavour shone through, exquisite ingredients simply and sympathetically treated, probably one of the best dishes I have tasted this year. Not that I was in any way dismayed by my own warm foie gras, poached quince and walnut crumble.







Intrigue

Sibs claimed another winner with the roast breast of honey-glazed duck with figs, celeriac and an Armagnac sauce. While anyone can fan a breast of duck, pan sear it and surround it with pretty things it takes talent and a regard for righteous ingredients to do it this well. Likewise, my loin of Wicklow venison, which came pink and very tender, the 'smoked heather sauce' making an intriguing counterpoint to the richness of the meat.

The Residence's sommelier, Jean-Baptiste's wine list showed evidence of care and attention, with a dozen wines and not the usual suspects, available by the glass. Deferring to Sibella's request for white I picked an Albarinho from Rias Baixas which had enough silky fullness to cope with the foie gras and just about enough balls to stand up to the venison. I augmented this with a single glass of a respectable Cote du Rhone.

A substantial pre-dessert arrived, making us glad we'd done the 'one pud, two spoons' routine when it came to the real thing, a poached poire Williams with an almond sponge, Valrhona chocolate and a delicate almond-milk ice-cream, a confection that had us disputing the last mouthful.

The Residence does seem to be rather a jolly place, free from that archaic stuffiness that blights most of those other private clubs around the Green. I might not be 'clubbable' but I'd go back there again like a shot. We spent €159 ex-service, which many may deem expensive. But the sense of style, the ambience, the civility and courtesy of the staff and, above all, Graham Neville's sensational cooking, made it worth every cent and more.