This Week's Critic Reviews
A chef recently said to us, "you can't get a bad review in Dublin, it's too small", and it's something we've thought about a lot since. True the industry here is tiny and people always end up at the same events, but isn't the critic's responsibility to the diner and not the restaurant? Or is it to their editor to sell papers? Ernie Whalley references this in his review this week, saying that these "pitbulls", encouraged by their editors to inflict GBH are "a declining breed thank goodness", but the alternative scenario where mediocrity is allowed to go unchallenged isn't great either. There are probably hours of debate in this, but if you have any strong feelings on this (from any side) we'd love to hear them.
In this week's Irish Daily Mail, Tom Doorley was very impressed with the new Asian menu at Zozimus (all the umbrellas) from chef Jules Mak, calling it "a mix of the best in food and drink". He calls the salt and chilli calamari "possibly the best I've ever had", dumplings were "excellent" with good texture and assertive flavours, and Asian beef served in a rice noodle basket was "kitsch but fun".
Peking duck had skin so crisp it was brittle and the flesh was "pleasantly moist". He also liked that it was served on pineapple with soya sauce - "slightly sweet and very salty, very savoury". A zombie cocktail with pineapple and rum was "rather lovely" and he said they had plenty of fun. He sends a mild note of warning about the wine prices though. (Review not currently online)
In Cork, Katy McGuinness' search for the best provenance in all the land led her to House Café in the Cork Opera House. After a scary intro featuring an investigation into some "Made in Co. Wicklow" chicken slices, which after some digging turned out to be made from Brazilian chickens (major yuck), she was in need of swift relief, and found it at House with their "host of local ingredients".
A celeriac and apple soup was bland, but hake tacos came with "fine spiced and breaded" fish and tacos that tasted of corn, and hot, crunchy, skin-on fries were "the business". Ballyhoura Mushrooms in a herby, buttery sauce on sourdough toast was "a thing of beauty", and they finished with a "good" lemon tart, a "lucious" salted caramel truffle and "excellent coffees". And all was right with the world again. Read her review here.
discovered what sounds like the world's best chipper the night before, so a successful trip by all accounts. He calls it a family favourite, with "superb yet utterly relaxed hospitality", and nothing they ate disappointed, including a "beautiful hunk" of pan-seared tuna, a "divinely balanced" parsnip soup and slow braised Kerry lamb shank - "an elemental hunk of braised meat barely clinging to the bone".
Oven-baked fillet of monkfish with butternut squash purée, caper & almond butter and rocket provided "deep, deep comfort", and he admits to swooning. A passion fruit tart was accomplished, and a brownie with malt ice-cream and Dingle whiskey sauce "smashes it out of the park". He says The Chart House isn't reinventing the wheel, but it remains "one of the finest examples around of what might best be termed, ‘Irish Bistro'." Read his review here.
In The Sunday Independent, Lucinda O'Sullivan was carb avoiding (her words) at The River Lee Hotel in Cork, who've recently given their 'River Club Bar & Grill Room' a 'neo-Georgian' makeover. While her side of cauliflower fulfilled requirements, someone should probably tell her that the 'lovely dips and bread' to start with definitely didn't. She describes The Grill Room as "smart, classy and clubby", and she loved her grilled gamabs with harissa and samphire to start, and tuna with ginger seaweed and miso which was "perfectly seared".
She calls a whole Dover Sole with lemon and caper butter "a real treat" and "a steal" at €30, and the carb-light cauliflower and pomegranate side was "a good bowl of crunchy cauliflower florets". Lemon tart with citrus crème fraîche was "lovely" (who wants to tell her?) and she left thoroughly impressed with the revamp. (Review not currently online)
In The Irish Times Catherine Cleary's lost the run of herself altogether by jetting off to Paris for lunch in Michelin-starred La Dame de Pic. The jury's out on this one. Every time a critic reviews a restaurant in another country we get annoyed messages about it, but how many of the restaurants reviewed each week do most people visit anyway? We're undecided. She's not, and gives it 9/10, calling it "a delightful way to see how the food culture that invented restaurants is doing things these days."
Her Tarbouriech oyster (had to look that one up) was the best she's ever tasted, black ravioli with brie and potato had "layers of comforting", and octopus came with arms glazed like roast meat and tiny cubes of pork which were "mouth explosions of flavour". Dessert of apple tart tatin with Japanese whisky and barley ice cream is "gorgeous", but a fig cheese cake with lemon thyme is memorable pastry cheffing". Let the complaints commence... Read her review here.
In The Sunday Times, Ernie Whalley visits Donnybrook's Avalon, calling it an "under-the-radar gem" and pleading with Southside Dubliners to look at what's on their doorstep, rather than always trotting into town to try the latest "over-hyped" opening (wonder where that's a dig at...). Read that here. And in The Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis recommends eating, drinking and staying at The Bullitt Hotel in Belfast for the "gorgeous" food and "superb" service. Read that here.
More next week.