“I like to have fun,” said 34-year-old Matt Fuller. “You come in and are served a little washer line.” Matt is the head chef at Citron Restaurant in the five-star Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin. It is a city of many fine chefs, a competitive place where it is hard to find bad food.
“When I started the washer line they said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ Everybody takes a picture of it. Whatever mood they are in, whatever happens next, they have fun,” he added.
The little washing line is given to everyone compliments of the house. Potato slices made into chips are cut into clothes, pegged onto a line, accompanied with a dip in a tiny basket. The line is set on a small artificial turf green. Asked where he got the idea, Chef Fuller said he didn’t know. “It kind of evolved. I just don’t stop thinking about food. When I go on vacation and taste something in Madras, India, for example… cooking evolves.”
Born in Kerry, chef Fuller’s mother had a restaurant. “When I was 9 years old, she had trouble getting me out of the kitchen. I loved the relationship with hands and food.” He lived in Valencia, Spain for eight years where he says he fell in love with eating. “Friends were so hospitable. We’re in the hospitality industry but too often hospitality is forgotten.”
He is original, ready to crack a smile, yet intensely focused on his work. It was a weekday night and Citron was slated to serve 30 diners. Chef Fuller, one sous-chef, and a prep man were working in the small, well-laid-out modern kitchen.
“I don’t sell food. I sell a night out. Many cannot afford a night out in this economy,” he said and smiled. This was followed quickly with, “I’m not used to smiling. It always works better for me when I’m grumpy.” He isn’t grumpy; he works hard and interacts with staff.
“I came back to Dublin. The economy in Spain was disastrous. No new restaurants were opening. You can’t work just anywhere because not everywhere can provide the facilities to realize your potential.”
An Intimate Setting
Citron Restaurant is located on the mezzanine level of one of Dublin’s best hotels. The Fitzwilliam is just across the street from St. Stephen’s Green, at the heart of the city. The restaurant overlooks the hotel lobby and entrance beyond.
The place is intimate with seating for 42 people. Most tables are set along a balustrade yielding to the open space above the entrance. Tables are set with an individual candle, linen cloths and napkins, large glass goblets, and modern silverware. A large open oval window for servers gives ample view of the kitchen.
Chef Fuller prepares a unique menu. Starters are from $13 to $15 (depending on the exchange rate). Starters include the pan-seared mackerel, hand-caught diver scallops, and lobster tortellini. Everything comes out of the kitchen with chef Fuller’s special signature. Hand-caught diver scallops are served with vanilla potatoes, passion fruit, and carrot saffron puree.
Main courses on the menu include the Study of Beef: oxtail croquet, sweetbread, osso buco, and dry aged fillet ($36), and Pigeon and Fois Gras served with creamy cep rice, apple, blackberry puree, and artichoke ($30). There are also the halibut, leg of lamb, and roast suckling pig.
Soon enough another creation appears on the table. It is a tiny flowerpot filled with Parmesan, topped with chopped olives and a fresh pea shoot sticking out of the center. Another pause to smile and discuss food.
“I worked for Conrad Gallagher. He was one of the first rebel chefs; a very high-profile mad guy to work for, complete opposite of me. Maybe that’s why I loved working for him. He was huge, 6-foot 4-inches—had these mad ideas. I was left scratching my head. I was in everyone’s nose at that time asking them, ‘how do you do that?’ They loved me for whatever reason.
“A huge amount of work goes into every dish. It’s not easy cooking.” Then chef Matt had to get back into the kitchen to whip up dessert. It turned out to be Basil and Strawberry Soup. The glace was green and astoundingly delicious. It cleared the palate immediately and left a lingering taste of basil that was refreshing, not harsh or overpowering.
Chef Fuller has a 10-year-old daughter. “When she was 2 years old, she sat up on the counter when I rolled sushi. She loves it. I never stop caring for patrons, waiters, and staff.” It was a thought that combined his family at home with his family at work. He is one of the world’s great chefs, diligent and thoughtful in his art.
To find out more about chef Matt Fuller and Citron Restaurant, go to fitzwilliamhoteldublin.com. One of Dublin’s finest.
John Christopher Fine is the author of 24 books. His articles appear in magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.
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