This Week's Critic Reviews
It's a seafood fest this weekend - looks like the last days of summer had everyone craving shellfish platters and dressed crab (which should contain brown and white meat by the way - more of that later).
The winner of this week's reviews is undoubtedly Michael's in Mount Merrion, where Catherine Cleary in The Irish Times finds "sublime seafood worth shelling out for", and gives it a rare 9/10. Michael's has been riding a wave of raves for the past year, and if you've eaten there you'll understand why. Truth be told we're a bit miffed she's told the whole country how good it is. Good luck getting a table there any time soon.
Cleary is on fine form as ever, calling chef Gaz Smith "a noisy hugger", who gives out "mafia don clinches" and poses for photographs with happy guests. She sums up Michael's by saying, "behind all this friendly gee-whizzery is a real connection to something just glimpsed twinkling on the horizon down the hill." She describes how Smith has built up a relationship with two fisherman who sell directly to him; how he knows exactly where his crab has been caught by how it tastes - she sounds slightly swoony. Portmarnock razor clams "knock the socks off any razor clams I've had in Ireland", and the Irish seafood sharing platter is "unmissable".
John Dory is "superb", crab claws are "so fresh that the crab meat comes away in sweet threads rather than one generic wodge", and the "luscious feathery innards" of the Clogherhead prawns "take some winkling out of their shells because they haven’t cooked into a lump". She describes the joy of it as not just the freshness, but the cooking with minimal fuss.
She wasn't keen on a "cheffery" amuse bouche or a sorbet, but she describes the service as "great", and ends by saying that Michael's is all about the food - "excellence hiding in plain sight in the south-city suburbs up the hill from the bay." Safe to say Chef/Owner Gaz Smith is happy with this one. Read her review here.
Somewhere that might be calling Michael's for a few tips is Fallon & Byrne in The People's Park, where Katy McGuinness in the Irish Independent settled for a seafood platter that was "woefully shot on provenance". The dressed crab had only white meat and was "fine" but lacked the flavour of the Lambay crab at Michael's, which she calls her "benchmark". Thankfully mackerel paté was "a thing of beauty ... creamy, lemony, rich, delicious". Smoked salmon and "tiny" prawns were "grand".
She calls the menu "a dull read" with "little to excite", and a "yawn-worthy" dish of hake with a cassoulet of beans, chorizo and sprouting broccoli had some advertising errors - beans but no cassoulet, regular broccoli, not sprouting. A dish of braised Comeragh mountain lamb was "too-wintry", with artichokes that tasted like they came from a jar. She calls it "dull-fare", and not wanting to waste any more stomach space they skipped dessert in favour of dessert cocktails, two of which were "indistinguishable".
She says she finds it odd that they set the bar so high for their food halls but are satisfied with such an "unprepossessing" offer in one of its restaurants. On the plus side service was good and they got to eat outside, but she gives it 6/10 for food. (Review not currently online but when it is you can find it here)
More seafood dramas for Lucinda O'Sullivan who graced the threshold of The Ivy to bring us review number four, and they wouldn't even crack her lobster claws for her, something she says should be reserved for doing shoreside in jeans, not on a small table "in a restaurant that considers itself smart!" After some kerfuffle they relented, but the whole thing sounds bizarre. Did they not have anything to crack them with? Do they think if you work for your dinner you'll enjoy it more? We may never know.
Despite a few digs about whether it was "all fur coat and no knickers", the "PR overkill" and how the lush, jungle decor is more Carmen Miranda than classical Parisian dining room, she quite enjoyed the food. An Asian-style duck salad was nice but could have done with more spice, and a watermelon and crab salad was "lovely". The famous Shepherd's Pie was "delicious" if "delicately-sized", and despite "lobster-gate" the dish itself was "pleasant enough".
Rum Baba for dessert was lovely, their waiter "a delight", and the "glam brigade" were out in full force. When she left the music was thumping and "a saxophonist was cruising the aisles", which is our second favourite thing about this week's reviews (favourite below). Review not currently online.
Even MORE seafood disappointment for Tom Doorley in the Irish Daily Mail who was trying out the newly opened Botanic House in Glasnevin, owned by the same people behind Aqua in Howth, and once again finding a "dressed crab" that wasn't. Maybe the RAI should arrange a mandatory dressed crab tutorial for the city's chefs. Perhaps then we could save other innocent diners suffering this same unnecessary fate.
The starter in question - "dressed crab and local smoked salmon" was "very pleasant", but the crab came in a lemon and caper vinaigrette, when dressed crab should be a dressing-free affair - ironic. The salmon was "decent enough". He enjoyed squid rings, even if they weren't as tender as they should have been, and ironically for a seafood restaurant, the star dish was a fillet steak, which was cooked "spot on" and came with "very decent" Béarnaise and a "quite delicious" cube of confit potato chips.
The clanger was the "hot shellfish native catch with bouillabaisse sauce" - no idea either - which came with overcooked seafood including a tiny lobster tail that "looked like a prawn on growth hormones", two King prawns and 22 mussels - someone in the kitchen needs a lesson on ratios. The bouillabaisse was just "an aggressively tomatoey sauce", and came with the kind of seafood tools you need to get a whole lobster out of its shell, which is our personal highlight of this week's reviews. No one knew what the cheeses on the "local, artisan, hand-crafted cheeseboard were" (SRSLY), but a crème brûlée was perfect. Not a great first outing for The Botanic House. Will be interested to see if anyone else gives it a go. (Review not currently online)
In The Irish Examiner Joe McNamee was seeing what all this veganism fuss is about at 143 V in Cork, where the first impression is "wonderful" - "It is tiny, quirky, awkward ... light, bright and very welcoming". Cold-pressed juices to start were "delicious", the winner a mix of apple, ginger, lime, orange & strawberries called "Lime Yours" - but does anyone know how to make a blue juice? Just curious.
Starters of hummus and guacamole with corn chips, carmelised cubes of tofu, and ‘meaty’ garlic mushrooms all impressed, as did a 'Rainbow Bowl' with more tofu, sweet potato chunks, crunchy raw peppers, red cabbage, sweetcorn, avocado, pomegranate, mixed leaves, a tahini dressing, toasted sesame seeds and chilli flakes, which did not leave it lacking flavour.
The falafel in the 'Sweet Falafel Sandwich' were more "fudge-like" than the lighter, crunchier ones they prefer, but flavours were sound, although the vegan cheese got a unanimous thumbs down from everyone. A seitan Southern burger served fried chicken style worked well, and they finished with pancakes and chocolate brownies, amazed at how unlethargic they felt after so much food. Maybe there's something in this veganism. Read his review here.
In The Sunday Business Post Gillian Nelis finds great food at Ananda - read that here - and in the Sunday Times Ernie Whalley goes to the home of Bertha's Revenge gin, Ballyvolane House for a "chill-worthy" experience. Read that here.
More next week.