This Week's Critic Reviews
What a week for the Sunday Independent to publish an article on where to find the best pizza in the country (presumably written weeks earlier) and not mention the place that's completely dominated
social media for the past 10 days - Pi. If ever there was an argument for holding something back until said newbie could be sampled, doing a swift rewrite, or the relevance of a piece that appears dated even before it's been published, this is it.
No mention of Katy McGuinness' fav Sano either, which she last week declared the best pizza in Ireland (and that wasn't the first time we heard it spoken about in those terms), or another constantly talked about contender for best in the city, Dublin Pizza Company. Some solid recommendations on Lucinda's list nonetheless, with Osteria Lucio, Gaillot et Gray, Forno 500 and Cirillo's all getting a place in the top 20. The other Dublin spots which made it are Fellini's in Deansgrange, Shovelhead in Monkstown and Pizza Yard in Ranelagh. Better luck next year Pi.
After Katy McGuinness' winning meal at Sano last week she was probably due some bad luck, and she got it with the coddle pizza at The Baths at Clontarf. She calls it "a truly terrible idea" and "an awful pizza. Don't whatever you do, order this dish, not even for fun."
The whole experience got off to a bad start with a request for an outside table denied (only drinks served on the terrace bizarrely), before being were shown to a table "from which every possible view of the pool or the sea is obliterated - by walls, by masonry, by a tea station, and by a huge banquette in the middle of the adjacent conservatory-type structure." Sure why would you need to see the actual sea when you have a beach hut, nautical lighting and a seaside mural in the dining room. Sure you could be on a boat.
The other brunch dishes they tried fared slightly better. Eggs Benedict on a soda farl with bacon and spinach had good hollandaise but too much bacon. A lobster roll was a "serviceable iteration" but the amount of lobster felt stingy and the accompanying chips weren't crisp enough. It was the coddle pizza however that was the stomach churner: "It looks terrible - pale, the cheese barely melted, the pieces of organic bacon limp and flaccid. It looks as if it hasn't yet been in the oven. But it has." Mmmm...
Desserts of an "uninspiring" knickerbocker glory and a "bland" affogato were "sweet, creamy, forgettable", and she says that "in such a magnificent location, both the décor and the food at The Baths are a disappointment." The Baths have been swimming (sorry) in controversy since they opened a few months ago over their failure to open the public swimming baths (the whole point of the project and why they were allowed to proceed in the first place) and are currently being investigated by Dublin City Council investigation for breaches to their planning permission. They've been given until September to make changes - maybe removing the coddle pizza is one of them. Read her review here.
In the Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis had a much more successful trip to The Cliff Townhouse on Stephen's Green, which she calls "good for the soul and good for the stomach". She describes head chef Sean Smith as "one of the best fish and seafood chefs in the country", and the dining room as "one of the nicest places to eat in the city".
West coast scallop ceviche with lime, chilli and orange was "a well-balanced, delicate starter", while cured mackerel with rhubarb, beetroot and blue cheese was "a much more robust affair", which she loved, but would have liked a bit more blue cheese. Her main of brill was gorgeous to look at and gorgeous to eat, and came with girolles, pea purée, fresh peas and a "divine" clam and mussel sauce. Her other half's main of halibut with asapargus and hollandaise wasn't going to win any awards for creativity but was "well-cooked nonetheless".
Full from the "lovely" treacle bread they'd filled on up earlier, they shared a dessert of crème caramel with "just the right amount of vanilla", rum-soaked raisins and sugared puff pastry, and she says that the pricing at The Cliff Townhouse is one of the things she likes most about it. While you can go all out with champagne, lobster and caviar, you can also eat relatively inexpensively with a fish pie for €18 or a pot of mussels for €13.90, and "given where you’ll be eating – in the centre of a city that, let’s face it, is getting jaw-droppingly expensive – that’s more than fair." Read her review here (subscription only).
From the good back to the ugly, it was another shocker of a meal for Joe McNamee in The Irish Examiner, who was at Bobo Café in Cork, on the grounds of UCC. He describes the pedigree of the owners (one management, one chef) who are "seasoned operators", with the chef's food in other premises having "never been less than very good", so the consistently unseasoned, flavour-lacking food came as a surprise.
Good black pudding comes with chard, poached eggs and and cherry tomatoes but is "overcooked and dry, almost a crumbling biscuit". Other components on the plate are fine but the fresh chard is "entirely unseasoned". Poached eggs on sourdough come with a "pleasing guacamole", but once again the black pudding is overcooked. Another plate of potato cakes "again lack any semblance of seasoning", and the salsa it comes with is "anaemic, devoid of depth or punch."
Joe opted for Chilli Tempeh, Beans, Patatas Bravas & Beets. The tempeh and beans were well cooked with perfect texture, "but again seasoning and flavour are mysteriously absent." He could taste no chilli whatsoever, and the patatas bravas needed serious seasoning. He also thought that service needed to be addresses, "urgently", with staff not even acknowledging their arrival, offering to seat them or asking why three quarters of his meal remained uneaten.
It's a pretty damning review for Bobo, but even still we were surprised to see this post within hours of it being published yesterday, saying that due to circumstance beyond their control the restaurant would be closed for the weekend but would be back with a new menu on Tuesday. It could be a coincidence, but perhaps more likely that the people in charge took their eye off the ball and this swift kick up the backside has catapulted them into fire-fighting mode. Anyone who cares enough to close a restaurant is likely to come back with something bigger and better, so we look forward to getting the verdict on the new menu (if Joe can be convinced to go back). Read his review here.
In the Irish Times, Catherine Cleary's clean-eating lifestyle continues with a trip to Grow HQ in Waterford, which she describes as sounding like "a militia encampment for barrow pushers and gnarly-knuckled folk who know how to pinch out the side shoots on a tomato plant." She doesn't review a lot of the food as she went with her two children, so the menu consists of a cheese toastie, artisan sausages on a blaa and her beet platter, which was that week's "veg hero" prepared five ways.
She liked four out of the five, but suggests they "scale back the hashtag gimmick of one veg five ways and just do one luscious thing with it every day." Her favourite was the sausage-shaped fritter with spiced yoghurt, followed by a beet gazpacho that "tastes great" with the sourdough crusts she foraged from her son's plate. The offending item was a risotto "more watery than a risotto ever should be", and tasting neither of the fennel or Knockanore cheddar that it was supposed to.
Desserts of gingery nutty carrot cake and a chocolate chip cookie came with "gorgeous" and "terrific" ice creams, and a beet and chocolate brownie made up for its health components with "lashings of sugar and dark, dark chocolate". She calls it "a great pitstop", but advises that "with an idea this beautiful, less is more." Read her review here.
Finally, in The Irish Daily Mail, Tom Doorley went in search of seafood in Schull, West Cork, and ended up at L'Escale fish and chips, which he says aims to be all things to all people, but is "a big, happy place" with food that "isn't bad".
A seafood platter had oysters with good flavour but which could have been juicier, Dublin Bay prawns which were overchilled, causing them to lose a lot of their sweet flavour, and crab meat which was good, "if lacking a wow factor". A whole lobster was "exceptionally good", the only downside being the commerical-grade mayonnaise and "ordinary" baguette it was served with, and monkfish served in a crisp batter was so fresh it "almost mimicked the best kind of prawn".
Chips were nicely crisp and wines "remarkably cheap", and he says that while parts were excellent, "with a bit more attention to detail it could have been the stuff of dreams." (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