Looks like loads of the critics were on their holidays this week. Catherine Cleary was double-brunching in Galway, Katy McGuinness was freezing in Cork, and Lucinda O'Sullivan was living it up in Mayo.
Staying in Dublin, Gillian Nelis was uber impressed with the new chef at Locks in Portobello, Chris Maguire. She had the chef's tasting menu, where dishes included crispy oxtail croquettes with horseradish, poached trout with radish and crème fraîche, garganelli pasta with confit pheasant, turnip and walnut, in a buttery pheasant sauce, and poached forced rhubarb with crème fraîche ice cream, honeycomb and a rhubarb espuma. The whole meal sounded idyllic, and it's further cemented Locks' position on our growing 'must eat in immediately' list. You can read her review here (subscription only).
Someone who wishes he'd gone to Locks is Tom Doorley, who had a solo stomach-churning experience at Salamanca, after being ditched by his dining companion. Bad day all round. After a fruitless search for his favourite jamón croquetas, he settled on a black pudding and ham version, which were so dry and flavourless that he couldn't eat them. He questioned whether the meatballs (in a suspiciously shiny sauce) had been reheated, and thought the churros were under cooked (but at least they weren't chilled, as threatened on the menu). The red wine was good, although he expected a Spanish restaurant to have more sherry options. To be fair, it doesn't sound like authenticity is the name of the game. (Review not online yet)
Back on the up, Leslie Williams had a chance to reminisce about 1980's Temple Bar when he went for dinner at Gallagher's Boxty House, which has been going for almost 30 years. Apart from one overcooked fish dish, he and his food writer companion enjoyed it all, including a Boxty Sharing plate with gnocchi-like dumplings, boxty bread and 'supremely moreish' boxty fries. They also had a 'well-executed seafood chowder', a free range bacon chop, 'meaty and sweet and served with positively silky Colcannon, nutty roasted carrots and parsnips', and a 'glorious sticky toffee pudding served with cashew praline, wonderful Boxty ice-cream and salted caramel'. Lovely staff took the fish dish, desserts and brandies off the bill by way of apology, and by the end of dinner Leslie is proclaiming that he loves it, saying 'these are familiar comforting dishes but there is flair and real accomplishment here.' Looks like the tourists are onto something. Read his review here.
In Cork, poor Katy McGuinness in The Irish Independent was left waiting out in the cold during Snowmageddon by the Elbow Lane's sous chef due to 'health and safety'. Morto for said chef, but hopefully lesson learned. Luckily for them, Katy didn't let frostbite affect her review, and loved the roast Wicklow blue with lambic-soaked pomegranate and crusty bread, and the 'superb' T-bone steak with all the flavour you could ask for. They were disappointed with the lemon sole and the chips, but the 'huge' desserts of lapsang souchong and honey parfait, and milk chocolate mousse got things back on track. Hopefully they weren't kicked back outside too promptly. Read her review here.
Over in Galway, Catherine Cleary for The Irish Times did a half review of Kai, and a half-review of Tartare. We would have preferred a full review of either, but we did appreciate the appearance of 'brunch baby' in both. In Kai, her and her friends enjoyed west-coast crab on toast with avocado and poached eggs, the Kai fry, and a massive pumpkin, pecorino and chilli croquette (sounds better than Tom Doorley's). A peanut butter and cream cheese cake was 'eye-closingly good', and the almond, pear and chocolate tart was 'a great piece of baking'.
On to Tartare, and all they could manage was a plate of beef tartare, some oysters and a cheese scone. Not even a single glass of wine was drunk, despite this probably (definitely?) being Galway's best wine bar. Not sure we have the emojis to accurately express our disappointment. The tartare was 'luciously good', the oysters 'white as wave tips and dressed with a sweetly pickled sea lettuce and trout roe', and the cheese scone was a 'cakey-like brioche with a nutty cheese warmth instead of a sweet edge'. It all sounds nice but we would have preferred they waited a few hours and went for dinner to give us the full lowdown. Note for the rest of you: when in JP McMahon's wine bar, drink wine.
Finally in Mayo, Lucinda O'Sullivan was treating herself to a stay in Ashford Castle, and dining in their George V dining room - nice work if you can get it. She went all out with the 8 course tasting menu, which featured dishes like 'stunning squid-ink Connemara brown-crab ravioli in a shellfish sauce', Skeaghanore cured duck with rose 'crackers' and marinated fig, and Achill Island lamb with sage gnocchi, butternut squash, sprout leaves and black trumpet mushrooms. Although the bill came to €224.82 for two, she says it was 'worth every penny given the setting, service and exquisite food'. Add in the price of a night's stay and you're looking at the equivalent for a week in Spain. Better get saving.
More next week.