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This Week's Critic Reviews


Just when you thought you'd seen the last of them, they're back. Catherine Cleary is critic six of the featured seven to visit the scary Norwegian crabs at Sole. After four other reviews ranging from lukewarm to complete annihilation (and a single gushing endorsement from Lucinda O'Sullivan), we can only imagine their faces when the ice queen herself walked in - batten down the hatches and say your prayers territory - but she was surprisingly nice about the expensive, imported seafood.

She describes the menu's opening essay about Ireland having some of the best seafood in the world as "all that fish-frottaging stuff that small places like the Fish Shops on Queen St and Benburb St and the Klaw mini empire have been doing for a while now but dressed up in a posh room", before turning the page to see Mediterranean-farmed sea bass as one of the menu's main dishes. Strike one. She calls their self-titled inclusion of “unique flavours from global waters” a "having-your-cake-and-eating-it approach to food from the sea."

Despite this she enjoyed two "terrific dishes", even if the standard did go through "more dips than a night ferry in a storm." Fat, juicy, tiger prawns had been expertly charred and tasted like they'd come off a beach barbecue, and a whole brill roasted in butter was the star of the night, its flesh "virtually confited, pulling away from its spiney web of bone sweet and juicy as good chicken." Lobster cakes (below) had nice lobster meat but too much dill, and a half lobster was one of the smallest she'd ever seen in a restaurant.

Seabass was "expertly fried" with crisp skin and came with tempura oysters ("the nicest mouthfuls on the plate") and blue potatoes ("which look good but taste about as special as supermarket roosters"). A side of broccoli and black garlic was bitter, with a "mushroomy honk that someone at the table likens to licking a mouldy shower wall." Yum. She ends by saying that "Sole is an encouraging sign that one of our best raw ingredients is finally being given pride of place", and that she hopes they'll get into the swing of things. Can't help thinking it could have been a lot worse. Read her review here.

In the Irish Independent Katy McGuinness was at Fowl Play, the open-fire barbecue joint at the back of The Square Ball pub on Hogan Street which always seems to be filled with rugby players. Run by Trev O'Shea and Andy Noonan, the guys behind the Big Grill Festival, and billed as Dublin's "only dedicated live fire chicken joint", we feel like this one's been creeping up lately, with more and more people talking about it.

Katy describes how the kitchen cooks over natural charcoal and Irish oak using a wood-fired rotisserie and a smoker brought from Houston, Texas, with no gas or electricity - we're already interested. Bar snacks are "fun", with padron peppers grilled over charcoal and flavoured with preserved lemon and sea salt - "I could eat them all night". Croquetas wth smoked chicken and chorizo are "tasty" and they loved the fried pickles (frickles). Filipino-style pork belly is "sweet, sticky and delicious".

After being dissuaded from ordering "way too much" by the server - know the feeling - they went for the chicken burger and the pitmaster's platter. The burger made with boneless, free-range thighs, tomato, lettuce and Alabama white BBQ sauce on a toasted brioche bun is "fantastic, confirming that the humble thigh is really the best, most flavoursome bit of the bird".

Two flavours of chicken wings on the platter tasted great but they'd have liked crispier skin, and rotisserie chicken had good flavour but was dry. A smoked turkey dog "doesn't have a whole lot to say for itself". Sides of tenderstem broccoli with sesame seeds and slaw with crushed peanuts and a lemon yoghurt dressing are "fresh and vibrant", but fries in a house rub are "flaccid" and didn't need the "over-powering" seasoning. She calls it "a fun, unpretentious venue with food to match", and gives the food, ambience and value 8/10. Read her review here.

In the Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley had the only occupied table at newly opened Everett's in Waterford one Saturday afternoon, which he found "shocking when you consider what type of food is being served here." He describes the calibre of people that chef Peter Everett has worked for (Ross Lewis, Graham Neville, Michael Quinn), saying that pedigrees don't come much better.

The still warm bread made it clear that "this is what you might call a destination restaurant", with an "ethereal baguette" and a dark, treacly, nutty soda bread that "you could live on". A starter of rillettes were "silkily smooth" and "gloriously concentrated", enhanced by the earthiness of baby beetroot and the sharpness of cherries.

A dish of cod with a prawn and brandy bisque was "beyond my ken in terms of how perfect it was", fish "cooked to the nanosecond of just-doneness" sitting in "the most concentrated, rich bisque imaginable". Slow cooked lamb neck with a mint and mustard crumb, "impeccable" boulangère potatoes, garlic, broad beans and wilted lettuce was "pure Gallic indulgence".

An Irish cheeseboard was in "excellent condition" and included the Wexford take on Époisses, Humming Bark, and a "blissfully beautiful and simple dessert" with a purée of fresh peach, burnt butter sponge and a "hauntingly exotic" elderflower sorbet was "the best pudding I've had this year". He calls Everett's "a gem", and advises beating a path to its door, echoing Lucinda O'Sullivan's review a few week's ago. (Review not currently online)

In The Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis was praising the "cool classics" at Michelin-starred The Lady Helen in Mount Juliet Hotel, Kilkenny. They delved into the nine-course surprise tasting menu, which she thought had the balance "just right" between light and rich dishes.

King crab and mussels in a rockfish sauce had "pleasingly garlicky dots of rouille", and foie gras had been liquidised and served in gel spheres for a "contemporary take on a classically flavoured dish". The dishes of the night were turbot with baby gem, peas and Alsace bacon, and a "gorgeous" plate of Anjou squab pigeon with almonds, a "deeply-flavoured" jus, hen of the woods and York cabbage, which was "full of flavour".

Desserts of banana, tonka bean and calamansi (is it just us or is calamansi the ingredient of the moment - third time seeing it this week), and a richer tiramisu-style affair with a "fantastic" coffee ice cream rounded off the meal. She calls it a tribute to chef John Kelly's dish selection that they managed to finish it all, and that while they were full they weren't uncomfortably so.

It certainly sounds like she enjoyed it, but there's a fair amount of qualifying that restaurants must be cognisant of its customer base, and that The Lady Helen will always have a more classical offering than somewhere like The Greenhouse (just in case you were getting too excited), but she does say that the kitchen is doing "some interesting things here that are adding a more contemporary note". Read her review here (subscription only).

In The Irish Examiner, Joe McNamee (who moonlights as a soccer mom/bottle washer) was glad to escape his household duties with a trip to The Square Table in Blarney, Cork, which he says tends to surprise first time diners. He calls it “elemental in its low-budget decorative simplicity” and “a sweet if unremarkable little space”, but with “deeply flavoursome dishes, that make for very pleasurable eating”.

Crispy egg with hollandaise and Ballyhoura mushrooms was “an old school comforter of the first order”, and roast monkfish with crab tortellini, coconut milk, chilli and pak choi was “light and bright” with “al dente parcels of sweet, fresh crabmeat”. An Angus aged Rib Eye was a “gorgeous slab of charred beef, rare pink in the middle”, with chips that were more like girders, too big to deliver “crispy chip-ness” but delicious dipped in Béarnaise sauce - to be fair, is anything not delicious dipped in Béarnaise sauce?

Potato gnocchi with ‘metallic’ local spinach (not sure how appealing that sounds) and a fudge-y Coolea cheese sauce (better) was wonderfully satisfying, and desserts of chocolate brownies (excellent), salted caramel ice-cream (good) and rhubarb with buttermilk foam and crunchy speculoos (sound - a spiced dutch biscuit) all went down well.

He ends with a bit about the twins Martina (chef) and Patricia (front of house) who own and run The Square Table, talking about Martina's "stellar" CV, and the fact that ex-bosses Ross Lewis (Chapter One) and Graham Neville (Dax, Restaurant Forty-One) travelled down for the opening night several years ago, such is the esteem they hold her in (interesting that both Martina and Peter Everett are of the same progeny). He calls the food "simple, unpretentious", with "superbly-sourced produce, cannily rendered with sound technique", and debates legging it after some tourists who looked at the menu and walked on to tell them what a mistake they're making. Read his review here.

In The Sunday Independent, Lucinda's summer of lists just keeps on giving, this time with the country's top 20 gastropubs. We were a bit surprised to see neither RAI winner of best gastro pub in Dublin and Ireland, The Legal Eagle, or Michelin-recommended The Old Spot on there. Instead she names The Bull & Castle, Davy Byrnes and the Queen's Bar and Steak Room as the best spots in the capital for pub grub.

The Bull & Castle is a "retro-hip" (answers on a postcard) gastro pub, with "great beef cooked to perfection" and a "fabulous wine list", while the Queen's Bar and Steak Room is "a great spot for al fresco eats" in Dalkey, where she advises people to "sit back and watch the comings and goings of the rock stars and arty types who inhabit the village". Not sure Bono spends his days walking up and down Castle Street but you never know.

She calls Davy Byrne's a "legendary literary pub" with a "touch of class", which serves pheasant in season and is a "must-visit for tourists following the path of Joyce's Ulysses". She also praises its "gorgeous art-deco-style", "great food" and "tonnes of character."

For our money, as well as the ones mentioned earlier, we'd have added L. Mulligan Grocer, The Exchequer and The Chophouse to that list. Let us know where else we've missed. 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


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