This Week's Critic Reviews
This week's winners are undoubtedly Variety Jones and Bowls by Kwanghi Chan, who not only got stonking write ups this weekend in the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner, but also made it onto the McKenna's "Best Restaurants in Ireland 2019" list - no small feat after only opening last month. However, it hasn't been such a good week for others.
In the Irish Independent, Katy McGuinness gives the food at Variety Jones 9/10, calling it "nigh on perfect". That's four achingly positive reviews so far for Keelan Higgs and team, and we have it on authority that the other three critics featured here have also been in, so there's more to come. Despite arriving in a grump as they had no record of her reservation (major oopsy), the situation was quickly rescued by charming staff and "impeccable" food.
Grilled cauliflower with burnt yeast, trout, brown butter and fish roe was "so full of flavour that we plead for spoons for the sauce" (been there, done that), and comté ravioli with hearth roasted and pickled mushrooms was "exquisite". They loved the whole sole grilled on the hearth, and the warm potato and eel salad - "beyond in terms of flavour". She calls cavolo nero grilled over ashes "a revelation" and "utterly delicious", and a cheese plate and dessert of Jamaica cake were "excellent" and "just right". They thought the wine list was cleverly curated, and her only gripe was the sparse room with nowhere to hang her coat, but she calls the food "outstanding". (Review not currently online but should be soon here).
In the Sunday Independent, Lucinda O'Sullivan goes no holds barred, declaring Dylan McGrath's Shelbourne Social "fur coat and no knickers". It's not quite as bad as Gillian Nelis' one a few week's ago, but they certainly won't be celebrating it with a bottle of champagne. She says that due to her slating of Fade Street Social in November, she wasn't expecting the red carpet to be rolled out when she rocked up on their first night open, but McGrath is a professional and gave her a warm welcome - not sure that will be the case next time.
She sounds unimpressed that the foie gras with the hot curd bread was just a grating over the top, and her friend's crab dish had too much rice mixed in which she says felt like padding. She was irritated at how many mains were for two or four people, but settled on a crispy rice pot with prawns, soft-shell crab, corn and mole which was "tasty enough", while her friend enjoyed her wild forest mushrooms with madeira, pickled pistachios and Tete de Moine cheese. The service was excellent but they found the menu too complicated and the food over-priced - special mention for the €160 shortrib. (Review not currently online)
In the Irish Examiner, Leslie Williams visited newly opened Bowls by Kwanghi Chan just off Parnell Street in Dublin's China town, and says if he had a spare million he'd set up a chain of them. They loved the dim sum, which included "excellent" chicken and scallion pot stickers, and "lovely" shrimp dumplings, while crispy prawns with XO sauce and Chinese sherry (eh, yum) had "excellent contrasting flavours and textures". They found the baked char siu buns the least interesting, with a "rather light" filling of pork.
They were big fans of both the rice and noodle bowls, with the 5 spice pulled brisket "rich and satisfying", and the BBQ rubbed pork and aubergine having a "gorgeous smoky character". The best had soy and rice wine chicken thighs with kimchi, pickled enoki mushrooms, chilli sauce and mixed seeds with wheat noodles and chicken broth, and he says it's this he'll be going back for. They finished with custard tarts, "enough of a reason to visit on their own", and he says Bowls is "warmly recommended". Read his review here.
In the Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley gives the restaurant in the newly reopened Cafe en Seine a big thumbs up. It's had a mixed response, with Lucinda O'Sullivan calling the food "insanely good" and Leslie Williams finding it all a bit underwhelming, but Tom's with Lucinda. He calls the menu "delightful" with "first rate execution" in an environment that feels decadent. For someone with a "notoriously small appetite" they got through a hella lot of food, including "gloriously savoury duck wings", scallops with merguez sausage - "explosions of layered flavour" - and a "deeply comforting" Jerusalem artichoke, spinach, cream and cheese dip with housemade tortilla chips.
Tuna sashimi with watermelon and ponzu was melt in the mouth, but he didn't appreciate the dark dish it came served on, which made it "unattractive to look at". And after all that they stormed into a côte de bœuf, which was immaculately cooked, "bloody and minerally inside" - not sure how appetising a description that is - and worth the €70 price tag apparently, even if the chips it came with were "undistinguished". €4 million well spent it seems. (Review not currently online)
In the Irish Times, Catherine Cleary must have needed an antidote to all the "new" of late, as she kicks it right back with a visit to The Cedar Tree on St. Andrew's Street. She starts with a really lovely story about a friend of a friend who was also at dinner, who's living in direct provision and making the best of a less than ideal situation, and it's worth a read. Generally she liked the food, but nothing seemed to wow, and she gives it 7/10.
Hummus was creamy and tabbouleh the real deal ("almost entirely green"), and a chicken kafta sausage with spiced potato cubes was "the best kind of chicken and chips". A chicken shawarma was "generously portioned", and falafel were "nutty and tasty", with the only let down being a tomato salad where the tomatoes tasted old. Assorted baklava to finish were more nutty than sweet, and she says The Cedar Tree feels as old as the hills in the mosaics on the walls, "where little has changed over the years. And these days that feels like no bad thing." Read her review here.
In the Sunday Business Post, Gillian Nelis marvels at the value to be found in the €20 dim sum menu at Lucky Tortoise. High points included "delicious" Okonomiyaki, char siu buns and kimchi and peanut slaw. She says that LT's Thom Lawson joins a group of independent operators going their own way and providing, good, fairly priced food in chandelier-free premises. Amen to that. Read her review here.
No review in the Sunday Times today as it's the annual McKenna's "100 Best Restaurants in Ireland 2019". There are 32 restaurants in Dublin and you can see the full list here, but new additions include Variety Jones (just one month after opening), Overends Kitchen at Airfield, Bowls by Kwanghi Chan, Fowl Play, Host, Locks, One Pico, The Seafood Café, Shouk, Two Boys Brew and Uno Mas.
Dropped from last year's list to make room for the newbies are Amuse, Brother Hubbard, Ely Wine Bar, Fish Shop, Heron & Grey (closed and reopening as Liath in March), Hey Donna (closed), Hugo's, Klaw, L. Mulligan Grocer, O'Connell's, Osteria Lucio, Storyboard and The Winding Stair. Get all the details here.
More next week.