The general rule when opening a new restaurant is that the less you tell everyone how brilliant it's going to be before it opens, the easier the ride you'll get. Shout from the rooftops about how you're bringing something completely new to the scene, and how incredibly authentic your food is, and you'd better be right because you've just stuck a bullseye on your head. On the other hand, open quietly, work hard and deliver something that people connect with and you're likely to have them queuing up to tell you how great you are. A bit of both this weekend...
In the Sunday Independent, Lucinda O'Sullivan thinks the new, much-hyped "authentic Sichuan" restaurant The OId Post Office in Blackrock needs to take "a long, hard look at itself", after eating their "mundane" food, with "commercial" sauces, and dried-up duck that tasted like string. She says the tasting menus, priced from €70 to €120, "did little to excite", with the most luxury ingredients consisting of monkfish and Manor Farm chicken, and that the fine dining etiquette you expect at these prices (like only bringing the food when everyone is seated at the table) had gone out the door.
For €32 her main course consisted of a whole two (yes, two) panko-crumbed butterflied prawns, accompanied by those "commercial tasting sauces". They passed on rice at €5 extra, and we're wondering if whoever put this menu together was suffering from a loss of brain function at the time (and has yet to recover). She had to stand up to take her own black sole off the bone (imagine the scenes), and thought a five-year old could have done a better job of dessert, which were "cardboard-like commercial tartlet bases" with soft fillings. Disasterville. (Review not currently online)
Better weekend for Circa who've made the comeback of the year after Catherine Cleary knocked their "underflavoured food" two weeks ago. It seemed like a lot of people disagreed with her at the time, and we can now add Katy McGuinness and Gillian Nelis to the list. Katy, in the Irish Independent, calls it "the neighbourhood restaurant that everyone would like to have just around the corner," singling out the buttermilk fried rabbit with pea and bacon lettuce fricassee and tarragon mayo, the white asparagus with lardo butter, aged Parmesan and hazelnut, and the rump of Curragh lamb with smoked aubergine, croquettes of lamb breast, marinated chickpeas and Velvet Cloud sheep's milk yogurt.
Like CC she also wasn't a fan of the ray wing with its "over-salted" sauce, but desserts of angostura-scented rhubarb with strawberries, sweet cultured cream and meringue, and chocolate crémeux with peanut praline and salted banana ice cream (above) were "joyous". She highlights the importance of supporting independent, Irish restaurants if you want them to survive over chains or UK imports, and gives the four friends behind Circa 8/10 for food and value. Read her review here.
In the Sunday Business Post Gillian Nelis says that Circa's Irish produce focused menu would make a patriot out of Arlene Foster. She loved the same buttermilk rabbit and white asparagus, as well as a potentially gout-inflicting dish of duck leg and foie gras pithivier with creamed cabbage and carrot. The lamb rump was "incredible", as was gnocchi with nettle pesto, homemade ricotta, courgettes and brown butter, and the only thing they didn't like was the rhubarb meringue, which had "way too much going on". She says the owners are "working their socks off", and despite a few kinks it won't be long before "this lovely neighbourhood spot establishes itself as part of its community". Read her review here.
In The Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley advises beating a path to Potager in Skerries, the new restaurant from ex-Chapter One head chef Cathal Leonard and partner Sarah Ryan. He calls Leonard's cooking "meticulous, infinitely detailed, disciplined, thoughtful, mildly playful, carefully creative", with a confidence that comes with years of experience. He calls the €55 tasting menu "such good value", and "quite simply, brilliant", with highlights including an "intensely savoury limb of octopus" with garlic, cauliflower and seeds (below), cured organic trout with a whey dressing and sorrel, and hake with lardo, courgette and courgette flower.
Set sheep's yoghurt for dessert came with a "thrillingly strawberryish" sorbet, white chocolate and mint, and another of beetroot and cherries was "very pleasing", and he says Potager is "no neighbourhood restaurant. It's a destination." (Review not currently online, but look out for our own Potager once over in Tuesday's mail out - sign up here).
In the Irish Times it sounds like Catherine Cleary had one of those perfect summer days in Kilkenny, starting with a swim in the Barrow and ending with lunch at Barrow's Keep. She describes house-cured salmon with pickled cucumber and dill as "everything I could want", black sole was "a beautifully cooked specimen", and roast striploin of beef was "luciously juicy" with the "loveliest" horseradish sauce. Meringue made with local eggs, Irish strawberries and lemon cream was "the perfect summer dessert", and she calls it "a beautiful restaurant in a beautiful place", giving it 9/10. Read her review here.
In the Irish Examiner Joe McNamee thinks that Cobh in Cork finally has a "good, innovative restaurant" to be proud of, after a visit to newly opened café Seasalt. Fish tacos came with crisp hake, Mexican slaw, avocado cream and chipotle mayo on "flavoursome" corn tortillas, a roast tomato & Macroom mozzarella tart was "very tasty", and a local smoked fish platter was "a cracking ensemble". Desserts, including raspberry-vanilla cheesecake were "truly excellent", and he thinks that Seasalt’s success "could trigger a groundswell of local culinary change". He gives the food 8/10, and the value 9/10, and you can read his review here.
Finally in the Sunday Times Ernie Whalley was at Ristorante Rinuccini in Kilkenny, having duck that was everything he had dreamed of, and calling them heroes for managing to stay relevant and excellent over decades. Read that here.
More next week.