This Week's Critic Reviews
It's a full run of new openings this week, with mostly wins, a couple of misses, and a major difference of opinion on one of Dublin's most talked about new restaurants.
In the Irish Times, Catherine Cleary boldly declares that newly opened Italian Grano in Stoneybatter does the best early bird in Dublin and gives it 9/10 (no arguments from us - read our review here). She brought a "self-respecting Italian" along for verification purposes, and it all got the authenticity thumbs up. Cured meat from Puglia, Capocollo, was "utterly gorgeous", burrata was "a blister of deliciousness", and so was the frisella di farro - "you taste it and happiness happens".
Pasta for mains was "comfort cooking". Scialatelli with anchovies, capers, pine nuts and breadcrumbs was "hearty", and pumpkin gnocchi with cream and fresh black truffle was "satisfyingly dense". Desserts of tiramisu, panna cotta and chocolate salami (much better than it sounds) all pleased the table too and she calls it "Terrific hand-made, home-cooked Italian food without shortcuts". We were actually in Grano the same night as CC and she and her buddies seemed to be having a roaring time. Just a shame that once again they didn't partake in Roberto's very special, and very well-priced wine list. More fool you guys. Read her review here.
In the Irish Examiner, Leslie Williams reviews Variety Jones, comparing 'experience' restaurants "with posh toilets, multimillion-euro budgets and boring or terrible food" (he names The Ivy and Café en Seine in case you're scratching your head) with "funky chef-run spaces where the food is the star — places like Variety Jones." No surprises, he loved it, but does issue a word of warning that you'll need a "very open mind" to partake in the 'natural' wine list - the rule of thumb with natural wines is, the younger you are, the less this will be a issue. A Flaggy Shore oyster with Vietnamese dressing and rye bread topped with goat cheese curds and trout caviar both "popped", and the chicken liver parfait had a "lovely lightness of touch" with contrasts from fried and pickled onions.
The comté ravioli with mushrooms "raised the meal to another level", and a shared main of hearth-roasted brill kept it there. The only mild complaint was with a wine pairing for the pasta which it doesn't sound like they loved. An apple sponge cake came with a "star element" of brown butter custard, and he calls it "outstanding cooking", saying "do please visit as this is the kind of restaurant that deserves to thrive." Read his review here.
In the Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley reviews Gertrude, which opened just before Christmas on Pearse Street. He left very impressed, but we have to take issue with reviewing somewhere on the basis of two courses (three if you count nicking some of a neighbouring diner's dessert). Isn't the non-binding rule two people, three courses? Luckily for Gertrude the two dishes in question were A-rated, as was the manzanilla by the glass, which he calls "an indication that you are in a place that cares about wine and food" - agreed.
Bacon and cabbage dumplings were "first rate", with the riff on a traditional Irish dish "inspired", a Tonkatsu pork sandwich was "rather lovely", and his neighbour's apple fritters were more like doughnuts and therefore "misleadingly flagged" but "fine", and that's all you're getting in terms of opinions on the food. He does say he wants to go back, so maybe we'll get the other half at a later stage, but in the meantime we did a lengthier dive into the menu at Gertrude which you can read here. (Review not currently online).
In the Irish Independent, it's another disappointing review for Bowls from Katy McGuinness, albeit with the benefit of the doubt that things can get better. She blames owner Kwanghi Chan's absence for the underwhelming food that included an aubergine noodles bowl whose main vegetable was "a sludgy, watery mess", and came in broth which lacked flavour and with "fridge-cold broccoli". A beef brisket rice bowl was similarly bland and disappointing, and chicken and chive potstickers were "heavy, solid and lacking in flavour".
The macau-style custard tarts were "pleasant" and she says that bearing in mind other reports (presumably including but not limited to being listed in this year's McKenna's Top 100 Restaurants in Ireland), what's missing in Bowls is rigour, and that Kwanghi himself should be there day in day out making sure that execution is up to scratch. She generously says that she has no doubt it can be consistently excellent if this happens, but for now gives the food 6/10. Read her review here.
In the Sunday Independent Lucinda O'Sullivan was visiting recently opened Gigi in Ranelagh. We've heard little or nothing about it, which is surprising considering owner Giorgio Casari used to own The Unicorn, host to many visiting celebs and "legendary" long lunches during the Celtic Tiger era. They ordered pâté and an antipasti selection to start, but the latter was so huge and "splendiferous" that they cancelled the pâté. There's also an insinuation that he might have give them more than what's usually included, which makes no sense to us, as the critic ends up reviewing something the diner won't get.
They liked their pasta with mussels and sliced, rare, picanha steak for mains, as well as the vibe and the Vermentino, and finished with a "luscious" tiramisu. She advises taking "your love" there for Valentine's Day to soak up the Italian charm, and if that too obvious and cringe for you we've put together an alternative list of choices here. (Review not currently online)
In the Sunday Business Post Gillian Nelis went to newly opened Lily's in Wicklow for Sunday lunch, and calls it the type of place she'd love to have at the bottom of her street - "Friendly, unpretentious and welcoming, but offering some really great food". Special mention for the homemade Guinness and olive breads, and the smoked salmon tartare with cucumber, avocado and dill. Read her review here.
And in the Sunday Times Ernie Whalley's sounding particularly curmudgeonly in his review of Variety Jones - the first negative one they'd had. All seven national critics have now been in, the first six slinging praise all over the shop, so we're not sure what happened, but we're guessing it started with the natural wine list (see earlier comment) and went downhill from there. Read that here.
More next week.