It's an affirmative start to the New Year, with opinions out in full force this weekend - no one's even so much as perching on the fence. Isabelle's gets raked over the coals by Catherine Cleary, and Gillian Nelis does a total takedown of Shelbourne Social, but Grano, Loretta's and Lucky Tortoise are winning.
We were starting to wonder if Catherine Cleary would ever have a cross word to say again after the somewhat controversial Five Guys incident last June (and to be fair, that veggie sandwich looked and sounded like one of the worst things imaginable), but she's starting 2019 by letting it all out in the Irish Times, although she sounds more dejected than outraged at Press Up's latest opening Isabelle's. She visited twice, as the first one was so bad, with two out of three plates going back to the kitchen half-eaten, and it all sounds a bit grim. Pumpkin linguine was "blander than watered-down baby food", and she describes the food as "there for the look rather than the eating".
Visit two was better, but "dry" falafel worked out at €5 a piece, and her pasta was better but the pumpkin was "as watery as a slippery sponge", and by the end had cooled to a "glutenous mass" - she reckoned she could do it better herself (maybe they should make her an offer). Desserts were the highlight, with a "tasty" banana and peanut parfait, and a "good" fudge cake, and she ends with a depressed summing up: "Theirs is the model that is both cause and effect of a market with fickle crowds, sky-high rents and rock-bottom talent pool. There is nothing new here. It’s an idea that’s beginning to taste depressingly old." She gives it 5/10. Read her review here.
If it was pasta CC wanted she probably should have gone to new Italian spot Grano in Stoneybatter, like Tom Doorley did for this week's Irish Daily Mail review. He says "Dublin 7 has won again", and calls the pasta "outstanding", with "glorious Italian hospitality and lovely wines". 'Zuppa di orza perlata' with pearl barley and al dente vegetables was "so simple, so good", and 'orecchiette grano arso' (unfortunate name for the Irish market) were ears of handmade pasta in a tomato and burrata sauce which "combined to create something greater than the sum of its parts".
He hands down the compliment of compliments by saying that Grano's bolognese sauce is better than his (which he's been perfecting since his student days), and says it has "depth that can only come from long cooking". He finished with some sharp Italian cheese and a dessert wine, and calls the whole experience "simply heavenly". Noted. Read his review here.
Another happy customer in the form of Lucinda O'Sullivan who was at Loretta's in Phibsborough. We have it on authority that she was the first critic through the door back in November, so we're wondering what the hold up was in getting this one to print. She gives some interesting background on Phibsborough's connection to cattle markets and dealers, before some background on chef Jimmy Wiley, who she says "knows his onions".
They liked their starters of oyster mushrooms with parmesan fondue and Skeaghnore duck salad so much that they ordered a third, the Nashville hot oysters, which she says was a "knockout taste combination". Her mate enjoyed the wood-grilled yellowfin tuna, and despite the "unwritten rule that a critic shouldn't order steak or chicken" - hadn't heard of that one - Lucinda rebelled and went for the fried chicken with buttermilk biscuit and a corn salad, which was so good she thinks he should patent it. They didn't have dessert, but she describes the food as "beautifully presented contemporary plates". (Review not currently online)
In The Irish Examiner Joe McNamee reckons he's found Cork's oldest restaurant, Jacques, which he describes as "a genuinely treasured institution", serving "well-sourced local, seasonal produce treated with integrity and respect." Blue corn tostadas (which seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment) had "smashing and generous fillings" including West Cork crab with chipotle mayo and Mexican slaw, and a vegetarian tasting board with granola stuffed mushrooms, romesco and stuffed red peppers was "excellent value" at €12.
Empanadas came with less than traditional pastry but were "a real Winter comforter", a chocolate and salted caramel tart "lovely", and the Burgundy they drank "cracking". He calls it "a sublimely delivered hospitality experience", and says that Jacques' aim of serving "simple fresh Cork food, bursting with flavour, in a friendly relaxed atmosphere", is accomplished and then some. Read his review here.
In the Irish Independent, Katy McGuinness lists her restaurants to try in 2019, and there's loads of great new openings in Dublin to add to your restaurant bucket list, including Bowls by Kwanghi Chan, Variety Jones, Grano, One Society and Liath, formerly Heron & Grey, as well as some new openings to come. Read the full list here.
In the Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis obliterates Dylan McGrath's new Ballsbridge opening Shelbourne Social, comparing the €45 wagyu beef to a placenta, describing the chicken wings as so tasteless that if she was blindfolded she wouldn't have known they were chicken, and the pork belly with bao buns as "anaemic", "stodgy" and "a disaster". Totes awks.
And in the Sunday Times Ernie Whalley describes Lucky Tortoise as one of Dublin's all-time bargains, with scintillating miso soup, exemplary dumplings and superb fried rice. Read that here.
More next week.