This Week's Critic Reviews
There were a record two declarations of where to find the best pizza in Ireland this week. One from us for the brilliant Pi which recently opened on George's Street, and the other from Katy McGuinness in the Irish Independent, for Sano Pizza in Temple Bar, which seems to be climbing the cool charts at the moment.
She thought the pizzas were "quite simply the best I have eaten in Ireland: chewy, generous, blistered, full of flavour, gorgeous," particularly the 'Sapori del Sud' with fennel sausage, nduja and friarielli (Italian broccoli). Starters of antipasto, artichokes and sunblushed tomatoes were good, but cherry tomatoes with basil and EVOO lacked flavour, and dessert of berry tart and ice cream was barely passable.
A carafe of merlot was "more than pleasant" and she calls Sano "really, really cheap", with pizza ranging from €6-9, and "really, really good". She find the smiley staff "a delight", and ends by saying, "I don't know how they make food this good for these prices but I am delighted that they do." She gives it 9/10 for food and 10/10 for value. The battle of the pizza places continues. (Review not currently online)
In the Irish Times, Catherine Cleary was revisiting an old classic at Pearl Brasserie, which she calls "a gem". She describes how she came upon a recommendation for it via human conversation, as opposed to social media trawling (doesn't that sound lovely), and says the basement restaurant is "full of nooks and crannies", with several tables "set into upholstered vaults not much bigger than MRI machines, padding on their curved ceilings to prevent post-dessert concussion".
The menu is a mix of the expected and the not so expected. Lamb shoulder with couscous, spring onions, yellow raisins and a spicy jus is luscious and a mix of "lightness and heft", and a crab meat tian with cucumber and gazpacho is "pure Mediterranean holiday in food form". Salmon is "light and deftly done", with crisp skin, dashi, spinach, cucumber and clumps of spicy tofu that look and taste like tempura oysters. More fish, this time sea bream, was "expertly cooked" and served with a subtle cardamom puree and yellow "heritage” carrots "that look great but aren’t particularly carroty".
A chocolate and hazelnut tartlet is one of her favourite things; enough "to satisfy a sweet tooth craving without sending you slumped into the territory of too much". They finished with a "perfect espresso" and petit fours which included a pistachio financier the size of a swollen button - "another sign of a talented pastry section." She says that Pearl Brasserie is "well worth a revisit", and is "heart warming without the coronary when the bill arrives". The bill for two with one glass of wine came to €76.50, but we can't help thinking this could easily have gone up to coronary status if there was more alcohol consumed.
In the Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis was craving steak, and after a twitter request for recommendations (none of those old-fashioned human conversations over here thanks very much) she ended up at The Chophouse. They were eyeing up the côte de bœuf so went light on starters with Carlingford oysters in a "very-good" Thai style sauce, and salmon cured in Hendricks gin and grapefruit, with fennel and grapefruit salad, pickled cucumber and a "punchy" wasabi aioli. She praises the "top-notch" seedy brown bread, which she recommends ordering a day in advance to take home.
The côte de bœuf, (a kilo of it for €70), came with garlicky green beans (which had a "pleasing crunch"), chips (crispy), onion marmalade and pots of béarnaise, pepper sauce and garlic butter (all "perfectly made"). The meat itself, which had been dry-aged for at least 35 days, was "more than a generous portion" and there was "no doubting the quality", but she thought it should have been let rest for longer before leaving the kitchen. Regardless, it was "truly delicious".
Despite being stuffed with half a kilo of meat each, they tried one dessert (reviewer's duty), and the chocolate and praline tart with coffee ice cream was "so light and tasty" that they left nothing behind. She thought the bill of €160.50 was "more than fair" considering "that really wonderful beef, the top-drawer dessert and the excellent service". Read her review here (subscription only).
In the Sunday Independent, it's another list from Lucinda - this time Ireland's best dining destinations. There's loads of fodder for a foodie weekend away, including Cork's Ichigo Ichie, Mews and the newly opened Restaurant Chestnut, Nevin Maguire's MacNean House in Cavan, and the Michelin-starred Wild Honey Inn in Clare, but seven of the twenty are in Dublin, so loads if you're staying put too.
In Dublin she recommends Chapter One, where Ross Lewis showcases the "very finest of what Ireland has to offer", Etto which "impresses even top chefs who can't get enough of its casual Italian grub", and Glovers Alley, whose "French-style food deserves Michelin recognition".
Also included on the list are Heron & Grey, the "tiny oasis in Blackrock market" which is "almost as famous for the difficulty in getting a table as it is for the Michelin star which launched them into an exclusive stratosphere", Pickle for its "great North Indian food that you won't find elsewhere", and Ireland's only two-star Michelin Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, which she says should be on any foodie's checklist. The "little city jewel" that is The Greenhouse also gets a nod, with LOS saying the one Michelin-star restaurant should have two. (Article not currently online.)
In the Irish Examiner, Leslie Williams was in Dingle, one of his "favourite places to eat fish". He recommends the Reel takeaway for proper chips and crispy batter, or Out of the Blue if you're feeling posh, like he was. He praises the restaurant's opening gambit of "No Chips, Nothing Frozen, Always Fresh or Alive… if there is no fish available we don’t open!", and describes it as "filled with happy diners (as always)".
Fried plaice with tomato and anchovy salsa was "perfectly cooked with the bright fresh flavours from the salsa", steamed mussels in a tomato compote had "ripe sweet tomatoes" and a "good use of herbs", and flash fried squid with chilli, ginger and coriander was a "virtually perfect starter fish course".
The only snag came when his wild salmon was delivered cooked through rather than flash fried as requested, but it was whipped away and replaced with a perfectly rendered version "that allowed this most glorious of fish to properly show off its oily-sweet deliciousness - backed up nicely by sweetly caramelised onions, herbed new potatoes and a light buttery-citrus hollandaise." They finished with a "good" Baileys chocolate mousse and a "textbook Île Flottante", and he advises getting down to Kerry before the weather breaks (might have missed the boat on that one). Read his review here.
Finally in the Irish Daily Mail, Tom Doorley managed to bag a table at the aforementioned Ichigo Ichie, the Japanese fine-dining restaurant from Takashi Miyasaki and Cork's dining destination of the moment. It's had nothing but praise from the critics who've visited so far, and nothing changes with Tom's visit. He says that the problem with reviewing Ichigo Ichie is 1) he's no expert on Japanese food, and 2) he can't do justice to the meal within the allotted space, but he gives it a go anyway.
Highlights of the extensive tasting menu included some meaty slices of Faroe Island prawn with yam, cucumber, and a "profoundly savoury but faintly sweet barley ko-ji miso". Plum tomato, sun-dried tomato and porcini mushrooms in a clear bonito (tuna) broth with Japanese parsley was a "rather fabulous exercise" in umami, and a dashi egg custard with "meltingly tender" chicken thigh was "a deeply comforting, slippery, very savoury experience".
The only dish that didn't work for him was the "rice, corn, eel, sansho pepper", which he calls "good" and "beautifully presented", but he wasn't a fan of sweetness meeting fishiness. A pre-dessert of watermelon mousse was "brilliantly flavoured", "creamy, light, intruiging", and he says the bill of €225 for two was "worth every cent". Get booking your train tickets. (Review not currently online)
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