This Week's Critic Reviews
There’s a general feeling of dissatisfaction amongst the reviews this week, with even the mainly positive ones having plenty to nit-pick about. From “ill-conceived” dishes to servers “stressed to the point of exhaustion”, there appears to be room for improvement across the board. Maybe the unusually good weather has been throwing a few kitchens off focus, or maybe it's a result of the city's chronic chef shortage.
The most disappointed of the lot was Tom Doorley, who was at newly revamped gastropub Doyle's Corner in Phibsborough for the Irish Daily Mail. From the slates, wooden boards and "awful little saucepans" in place of plates and bowls, to the lamb dish that made him repeatedly ask "why?", it's clear why he calls the experience "a gastro pain".
Ham hock and Gubbeen croquettes didn't taste of Gubbeen, the lamb breast in question was cooked poorly and served with the inexplicable accompaniments of prune and orange, and pork belly was "tough" with an over-reduced jus and "toffee apple" that could have been a dessert. Thankfully the mash was "good gastropub stuff".
Oxtail lasagne "wasn't bad" (high praise) but he felt the tomato sauce had been rushed. Pannacotta came in a jar (why?) and was "passable", and while he was relieved that a passion fruit cheesecake came in an actual bowl instead of on a wooden board, it was too sweet.
A final cheeseboard was in good condition and the best part of the meal, and he calls the service "utterly charming". Can't see him racing back. (Review not currently online)
Things were going better for Katy McGuinness who's been biding her time before paying Glovers Alley a visit for the Irish Independent. After a recap of the “clumsy” launch and “Irish begrudgery” that followed, she details the seven-course tasting menu.
Snacks were “gorgeous”, particularly the crisp chicken skin topped with taramasalata, “a brilliant explosion of texture and flavour”, a Parmesan and black olive bread roll was “deeply savoury and quite excellent”, and the smoked cheddar dumplings were “punchy and original”.
Less impressive was the beef tartare which was “curiously lacking in flavour”, and a dish of scallop, pig’s head, onion bhaji, curry and coriander which was “ill-conceived”. A pre-dessert of grapefruit granita with sheep’s yoghurt was delicate and restrained, and they finished with “the prettiest tart” of strawberries, lime leaf, olive oil, Thai basil and meringue, followed by “delightful” petit fours.
She calls the experience “good in parts”, and ponders whether the problem is in the attempts to be international when Irish food is finally discovering a sense of pride in place, but she does think that Andy McFadden is adding something different to the city’s restaurant scene. Read her review here. Read our take on Glovers Alley here.
To take a slight break from the room-to-improve brigade, Leslie Williams didn't have much to criticise after visiting Sandymount burger destination BuJo. He calls the standard, chargrilled burger a "rather joyously simple affair", with the meat "beefy and juicy with just enough texture" and balanced, well-judged fillings.
A summer special with Tipperary Brie, charred baby gem lettuce, beechwood smoked rare breed bacon, Sriracha Mayonnaise, and Piquanté cherry peppers was "arguably even better", and chips were "decently crispy", if not outstandingly so. He also enjoyed the panko pickles but thought they could use a lighter crumb.
He praises the "grown-up drinks list", featuring a beer pairing for the burger special with a "smoky bacon flavour", and their "quality wine on tap". He calls the staff cheery, the atmosphere enjoyable and the burgers excellent, and says every suburb should have a BuJo. Read his review here.
unexciting, remarking that sardines didn't come with samphire or sourdough (more first world problems), and instead simply with lemon and salt. Smoked salmon is "soft and sweet rather than the oily shoe leather this once-rare treat has become in the hands of the supermarkets and sandwich bars", and pea shoots "taste properly of peas".
Seared scallops didn't live up the the caramelised edges she was expecting, and came in a white wine and cream sauce topped with an edible flower (which tasted like a flower). Tuna however was "luscious", marinated and seared so "its centre is still vivid, retaining the soft texture and flavour that makes cooking tuna till it turns putty brown all the way through such a food crime."
Overall she enjoys visiting somewhere with a long history of getting fish right, but thinks "a younger shoal of chefs is nibbling at Cavistons unique selling point" (presumably she's thinking about Niall Sabongi's Klaw restaurants and Gaz Smith's Michael's in that mix) and suggests that they could do with a shake up - not that the locals will probably thank her for that sentiment. Read her review here.
In the Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis is impressed at the lighter options at Saba Clarendon Street for those looking for balance in their diet. A starter of smoked trout mieng kam is "a gorgeous mix of Goatsbridge smoked trout from Kilkenny chopped up very finely, then served with shredded roasted coconut, peanuts, ginger, shallots, lime and chilli", bound with tamarind paste, palm sugar sauce and served on betel leaves. She calls it a "perfect summer starter", and it's gone onto our "must-eat" list.
The balance came with Vietnamese spring rolls which she found too heavy but her guest loved, and beef phad prik sod was "a generous portion of tender meat and nicely crunchy vegetables." A green curry with monkfish was another bum note, with a sauce that was "bang-on" but fish that was "rubbery and unpleasant".
A dessert of strawberry and rhubarb cheesecake was "summery and delicious", with excellent lemon sorbet, but caramelised pineapple with cinnamon and star anise was let down by the "over-sweet" syrup it was served in. Service was "fantastic" and she praises Saba's ability to adapt over time, even if it sounds like it was 50/50 on the food. Read her review here (subscription only).
Finally, in the Sunday Independent, it's another of Lucinda's lists, this time 20 great places to eat seafood, four of which are in Dublin.
Unsurprisingly she mentions everyone's favourite two places for seafood in the city right now, Klaw Seafood Café and Michael's. Cavistons noticeably doesn't get a mention - maybe CC is right about that shoal of younger chefs.
She calls Michael's "a mecca for foodies, who clamour for tables to devour great big plates of crustaceans including giant lobster claws, prawns and lobster, which come directly from small independent fishermen in Howth."
She also praises the Klaw group of restaurants, particularly the Seafood Café whose owner Niall Sabongi, "has taken centre stage in the Dublin seafood scene with his cool, casual, fish-shack-style restaurants."
Sole on South William Street also gets a mention for their "great seafood, service and style", and Aqua in Howth for their award-winning seafood and "spectacular views". That should be enough to satisfy your seafood cravings throughout the summer.
More next week.
* 1st August 2018 - A previous version of this article featured Ernie Whalley's review for the Sunday Times. This has been removed at the newspaper's request