This Week's Critic Reviews
The poor Shelbourne Social heads aren't having the best weekend. They've already had two ropey reviews from Lucinda and Gillian, and this weekend they've had another two, from Catherine and Katy. After an estimated €2 million investment, this isn't really what you were hoping for.
In the Irish Times, Catherine Cleary calls it a "deep dive into Tiger 2.0" and compares it to a Mercedes showroom. Like the other reviewers she thought the lengthy menu needed a sat nav, and seems a bit put out by the all-male staff, who pronounced each dish brought to the table as "brilliant" or "amazing" - sounds a bit carry-on-esque - but it wasn't all bad. The hot curd bread we've been lusting after was "fiendishly delicious", but a bowl of egg, artichoke crisps and trout roe that the chef sent out with it would have been nice were it warm, but it was cold, and presumably meant to be that way - no one sends mistakenly cold food out to Catherine Cleary.
She liked a plate of wild forest mushrooms with Tete de Moine cheese, and pork belly with baby squid and blackened Jerusalem artichoke was the dish of the night, but scallops in a gluey almond cream were "a curious mess", and a crispy rice hot pot came with "wonderful" prawns, and "good" softshell crab, but after a corn mole was poured over it by McGrath himself, ended as "a hot mess ... a tepid soup" - nightmare. She describes her dessert of soft serve, smoked banana ice-cream with miso caramel as "a car crash" and "nobody's idea of a good time", and says that while there are "true flashes of brilliant cooking ... the swerves from delicious to disaster feel dizzying." This all added up to a score of 6.5/10, and you can read the full autopsy here.
More bad news in the Irish Independent, with Katy McGuinness calling the Ballsbridge boyo's club over-wrought, over-chummy and over-lit. Even before getting there she found the restaurant's website "migraine-inducing", singling out the random, pulsating graphics in the auto-play video - how had we not noticed this?? Join the Tupac party here. She felt they were pushed upstairs for a cocktail (gotta love the up-sell), before coming down to attempt to make sense of a menu "desperate to be different". Major cringe when reading that the waiter attempted to memorise their order rather than partaking in the inconvenience of writing it down, which ended up in one dish not arriving, and two interruptions to double check the order. Pre-school stuff people.
She also thought the hot curd bread was "delicious", but Dexter beef tartare had too much going on, and burrata with truffle sauce was "woefully over-chilled". Sirloin on the bone lacked flavour, and she felt that the food was becoming indistinguishable, with eating starting to feel like a chore. Ouch. Wild forest mushrooms with Madeira and pickled pistachio was "bland", potato purée with gribiche-dressed beans and egg yolk "weird", and hazelnut chocolate meringue "dull", but the chef sent out a complimentary bowl of that car crash smoked banana ice-cream, which they actually found "delightful", calling it the high point of the meal. Different chef? Different tastes? She gives the food, ambience and value 5/10, and makes it four disappointing reviews out of four for McGrath. Read it here.
It's a much better weekend for Variety Jones, who can now add Lucinda O'Sullivan to their growing number of super fans, which appears to include 99% of the people who have eaten there. There are not one but two digs at Press Up this week (more on that later), with Lucinda declaring herself sick of "the faceless, formulaic format of Instagram-perfect spectacular decor matched with food that is 'middling'" - aren't we all Lucinda - and calls Variety Jones, with its "edgy up-and-coming location" a joy to visit.
She calls everything "classically cool and delicious", including "sublime" foie gras and chicken liver paté, and everyone's favourite blackened cauliflower which was "gloriously enhanced" with burnt yeast, sea trout, brown butter and salmon roe (above). A sharing main of sole was again "sublime", and despite the €50 price tag she calls it "the bargain of the year". Treacly Jamaica cake for dessert was "indulgent" and the wine "delicious", and she ends by saying: "Go now. Soon you won't be able to bag a table here for love nor money." With talk of them currently being booked out weeks in advance we'd say she's probably right on that one. (Review not currently online)
In the Irish Daily Mail, Tom Doorley reviews Bowls, Kwanghi Chan's new Asian rice and noodle bowl joint just off Parnell Street. The headline of "Lick your bowl clean" sounds like it's going to be a home run, but he's actually pretty critical, calling the dumplings "too doughy to write home about", but Asian chicken broth was "very good", and the wok-fried prawns with XO sauce and real depth of flavour the best thing they ate.
A char siu pork rice bowl was "pretty good" and "remarkable value" at €9.95 for the amount of food, but a BBQ pork bowl was "dry, tame and timid", with the highlight being the miso roasted aubergine. A Portugese-style custard tart for €2.80 was good (although he does compare it to Lidl's which are 3 for €2 - bit unfair?), and he says it feels like a chain but without the wow-factor needed to make it work. (Review not currently online)
In the Sunday Business Post Gillian Nelis gives another thumbs up to the food at the newly reopened Café en Seine. Despite some slightly lacking service and cramped tables the food impressed across the board, with highlights including warm crab rolls, pappardelle with walnut, chestnut mushrooms and an egg cooked in brown butter, and black pudding sausage rolls. The only disappointment was a chocolate and raspberry ice cream sandwich for dessert which was "unmemorable", and she ends by saying: "It goes to show that it’s far from impossible to marry good food with swanky decor, a task that seems to be beyond many others in the capital at the minute." Meow (and also, well said). Read her review here.
In the Irish Examiner, Joe McNamee was dragging out the festive season at Blackrock Castle Café, who still had their lights up and brussel sprouts on the menu in late January. Respect. Overall it sounds liked a solid B - very good, but could do better. A pork wellington with mushroom duxelle was tender and well-cooked, but came with weary potatoes - "top drawer" sautéed sprouts went some way to make up for it. Marinated chicken with stuffing was "very decent", but came with under roasted veg and disappointing red cabbage.
A gamekeeper’s pie with venison, pheasant and wild boar had "thumping unami notes" but overwhelmed the non-wintry sounding ‘winter greens’ of sprouting broccoli and mangetout, and the dish of the night was a seafood pie, "a savoury-sweet prawn bisque with a lid of potato and kale galette". Service was very good and the venue "a delight", and he gives it 7.5/10. Read his review here.
Finally in the Sunday Times, Ernie Whalley visits Green Man Wines in Terenure, which reminds him of those wine bars in rural France with simple, well-cooked food and good wine. If only every neighbourhood had one. Read that here.
More next week.