This Week's Critic Reviews
We've been #blessed this week with not one but two reviews of newly opened The Ivy on Dawson Street, and they're more different than an exclusive celebrity haunt and a rapidly expanding restaurant chain.
The precursor to today's reviews was a tweet from Tom Doorley on Friday telling all and sundry that The Ivy had blocked The Daily Mail's photographer from taking the customary "waitress holds plates and smiles at camera" shot, or even a shot of the sign outside. Precious much? Lucky for them Tom had already filed his copy, although he did later admit he might have been too kind...
He loved the theatre of The Ivy, with its "riot of botanical design" and elaborate rituals of setting fire to desserts, and overall seemed impressed with the food. His daughter loved her crispy duck salad, his tuna carpaccio was faultless, and a roast salmon fillet was cooked perfectly - "a revival of how things used to be done" - despite the accompaniment of unseasonal asparagus.
The one item on the menu that's had us scratching our heads since The Ivy opened is the Flatiron chicken, which sounds like a dried up leathery definition of "wrong", but Tom's was moist and came with an "intense lemony jus", and "good very buttery mashed potato" (evidently a different chef cooked Leslie's). A chocolate bombe for dessert melted when hot salted caramel was poured over it (more of that theatre we always look for when dining out), and was "no hardship to eat", and he says the service was good but slower than is acceptable in a place like this.
To the other side of the coin, in a review which couldn't be more different to Tom's, Leslie Williams in the Irish Examiner describes a "seriously underperforming kitchen", with "overcooked" scallops and slow-cooked lamb shoulder "devoid of moisture". The same flatiron chicken "had crispy skin but utterly dried out flesh", and he gave up chewing halfway through.
A steak tartare with Dubliner whiskey and tabasco seemed to taste purely of English mustard, some of the meat had become "cooked" from the citrus, and there was no discernible taste of whiskey or tabasco. Chips were among the worst he'd tasted in years - "flaccid, soggy, inedible, and suspiciously evenly cut" - and while things picked up with his dessert of Apple Tarte Fine, they soared downwards again with a Strawberry Ice Cream Sundae - "under-ripe strawberries, dull vanilla ice cream, meringue so dense you could break your teeth and hard-tack shortbread without a hint of butter". Yum.
A couple of things to consider here. 1) Tom Doorley was recognised, as was Gillian Nelis a few weeks previously, who also had a thoroughly delightful experience. Presumably Leslie William's wasn't, which brings back memories of Ruth Reichl's infamous double review of Le Cirque in The New York Times. 2) The menu is so extensive (almost 50 items on the all day dining menu alone) that there must be hits and misses, so to review it based on just one visit and two people dining leaves room for wild swings in experience. We imagine this is not the last we'll see of the The Ivy in the critic's reviews, so we'll wait to see who's team Tom and who's team Leslie. Read the latter's review here.
Pizza was the other big topic of conversation this week. Ernie Whalley in The Sunday Times self-sacrificingly went to five pizza restaurants to find the best margherita in Dublin. We couldn't possibly tell you the outcome (for reasons explained here) but if you want to find out you can do so here (or just hover over the link). Lucinda O'Sullivan in The Sunday Independent was also in the mood for pizza, and tried a lot of the menu (but not actually much pizza) at Pizza Yard in Ranelagh.
She calls it a "hot and hip" place in the equally "hot and hip Ranelagh", and things got off to a great start when the "pro" in charge seated them away from all those pesky families with children at a "great window table". The Wild Atlantic pizza with lobster sauce, mozzarella, smoked salmon, avocado, sweet red onion, chives, capers, and toasted sesame seed and honey mustard sauce sounds like a complete mess, but she assures us it's "a winner".
For mains, pan-fried rose veal with proscuitto, sage and garlic was also "a winner", and a seafood linguine with prawns, calamari and parmesan (giving the middle finger to the no cheese with fish rule) was perfectly al dente with a good tomato sauce. Desserts were deep-fried pizza fingers with honey, chocolate and fruit, and chocolate mousse, but she leaves us in suspense as to how they tasted, with the exception of the "lovely strawberries" on the mousse. She says service was "excellent and friendly", and seems totally delighted with the trip. (Review not currently online).
In the Irish Independent, Katy McGuinness was trying out dinner in The Fumbally, more known for its fresh, seasonal breakfasts and lunches. One of our all time favourite things to read in a review is "we ordered everything on the menu" (how else can you do it justice?), and Katy came through. Despite practically everything arriving at the same time and the fact that the table wasn't big enough to hold it all, she thought it was "a beautifully balanced meal that I'd defy anyone not to enjoy".
High points included "heroin bread" (otherwise known as Le Levain) with fennel butter, a smoked Gubbeen melt - "a cheesy potato-y version of arancini" - and Porco Tonnato, a version of vitello tonnato with shaved porchetta instead of veal, topped with tuna sauce and capers. Green beans came with labneh and a Lebanese chilli oil, and McNally Farm roast potaoes came with lovage aioli - "a fine accompaniment for the organic spuds". Dessert was "the pavlova of your dreams" - "chewy, with a hint of burnt sugar, strawberries and toasted hazelnuts".
She describes the dishes as "healthy-tasting without being in any way punitive", and "exactly how we all want to eat at the moment, making the best of local and seasonal ingredients but not being so hamstrung by locavorism that the kitchen can't use lemons and olive oil and pomegranate when they bring something to the flavour party". Read her review here.
Finally for the reviews we can pass comment on, Catherine Cleary in The Irish Times went by train, bus, boat and taxi to Inis Meáin off the coast of Galway to find "exquisitely-sourced food thoughtfully and calmly cooked" at the Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites. She gives it a hard to beat 9.5/10 and says the restaurant has the "world's best view". Sold.
She describes her first bite of raw Inis Meáin scallop with toasted hazelnuts, finely diced chives and pansies as "a statement of intent: you will be tethered to this land and seascape in the simplest and most delicious way possible." A "perfect" lobster tail followed, then beetroot carpaccio with a "ballad-worthy" crème fraîche, then crispy turbot with "flesh white as seafoam". A finale of stewed apricots came with "extraordinary ice cream" made from their lemon verbena patch.
She ends by saying that "at the risk of gushing like a blow hole I love every moment of our meal in the Inis Meáin Restaurant. Elements of earth and ocean sounds like a marketing cliche but that’s what’s here." She calls it "a memorably beautiful meal", and we're probably not the only ones thinking about a road trip right now. Read her review here.
In case you're interested, Gillian Nelis in the Sunday Business Post reviews Harte's of Kildare and finds it a "gastropub less ordinary with a genuine grá for local produce". You can get the full uncensored content here (subscription only).
More next week.