This Week's Critic Reviews
A good marker of summer is the increase in reviews from around the country as the critics head off on their holidays. While usually there's a mass of moans about the majority of reviews coming out of the capital (which makes sense as we have the most restaurants), summer tends to be the opposite, and this week there's slim pickings for Dublin diners. There is however lots of staycation inspo.
In the Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley's gone French for the second week in a row. Last week it was Nick Munier's new opening Le Perroquet, this week it's old school, under the radar bistro (at least for non-locals) Le Pastis in Blackrock. Despite the "1980's feel" and "distinctly French menu", he says there's something "refreshingly of the new Ireland" about Le Pastis, and both oysters with lemon and a seaweed salad, and a gallantine of chicken with asparagus were "good" - he's also surprisingly forgiving at the appearance of sesame-honey noodles on the side of that gallantine, saying that Paris is bursting at the seams with noodle bars.
A boeuf bourgignon was "exactly as it should be", despite the "confused" selection of roasted veg on the side, and lemon sole was perfectly cooked, save for an unnecessary smear of green purée underneath. A fresh raspberry mouse with raspberry ice-cream for dessert was "very lovely", and he says he understands why Le Pastis always seems to be busy, but thinks the kitchen could strip things back a bit, and resist the urge to add a "culinary go-faster stripe" to the plate. (Review not currently online)
The only other review in Dublin this week comes from Niall Toner in the Sunday Times, who saved up all the fish-related puns for the last paragraph of his review of East Café in Howth. The upshot is that the food was pretty good, the service could have been better. You can read the full thing here but proceed with caution if bad puns induce deep cringe.
In the Irish Times Catherine Cleary is the latest person on the island to fall in love with Little Fox in Ennistymon, saying that great food in small towns makes her "giddily optimistic about the world". She says it's the type of place "where menu descriptions deliver flavours in the way Instagram filters boost colour and contrast", singling out slow-cooked lamb with lemony hummus, haddock ceviche with the "freshness and zing of fresh coriander and lime", and "world-class" Clarinbridge clams and mussels in a fennel and tomato liquor.
She says this is "quiet work done by people who believe it's worth doing things well" and describes Little Fox as "a beautiful idea which puts Ennistymon on the food map" - which we can attest to as we took a trip to Clare last month purely for the purposes of eating there after a summer of being taunted by other people's Instagram feeds. She gives it 9/10 and you can read her review here.
In the Irish Examiner Joe McNamee is wondering if The Fish Basket in Long Strand is West Cork's best kept secret. After an entertaining opening about the restaurant's previous incumbent, and how it all went very badly wrong, he describes new owner Peter Shanahan's tray of whole Irish prawns and crab claws in garlic and herb butter with handcut chips and local leaves as "the quintessential seaside dining experience", while a sharing tray of battered hake and lemon sole, proper scampi and tender calamari with mushy peas, tartare sauce and chips was a "breathtakingly and sublimely rendered bounty".
Fish tacos were the only weak link due to a "pappy wheat tortilla" and a tomato salsa "lacking chilli punch", but homemade treats from the chef/owner's wife were "a revelation", and he singles out the exceptional service. He gives the food 8/10, and the atmosphere 11/10 if it's a sunny day, and you can read the full review here.
In the Sunday Business Post Gillian Nelis says that West restaurant at The Twelve Hotel in Galway are delivering "one of the best all-round hospitality experiences in the country". She praises dishes like barbecued Connemara langoustines with the "inspired addition" of salt and vinegar tempura nori, simple but beautiful organic mountain lamb featuring the loin, sweetbreads, braised belly and ‘lambcetta’ with peas and an onion soubise, and Connemara scallops with leeks, smoked black pudding, potato and dried seaweed terrine, and scallop roe cream - "one of the best dishes I’ve eaten so far this year." The service was just as good as the food, and she says it's an ideal place to Taste The Island this Autumn. Read her review here.
In the Sunday Independent Lucinda O'Sullivan gives Michelin a bit of a roasting, saying they've always been "mean" with Ireland, before recounting two lunches in Kilkenny - one in Michelin-starred Campagne, the other in Lils at Avalon House. She calls the latter a "hip country-house hotel with stunning decor and an emphasis on food", and a "sassy" lunch menu. A salad of St Tola goat's cheese with figs, baby leaves, quinoa and beetroot dressing was "sublime", while fish pie with salmon, trout, hake and cod was "delicious", with its "fluffy charred potato topping".
Michelin-starred Campagne is described as "cool and sophisticated, but delightfully unpretentious", with a "terrific" lunch menu. A lobster vol-au-vont was "fantastic", roast hake with confit fennel, aubergine and red pepper relish "superb", and a ravioli of mozarella and ricotta overflowing with smoked aubergine and pesto was so good she had to invent a word to describe it - "plumptious". An "insta-perfect" dessert of elderflower jelly, passion fruit ice-cream and a brown sugar tuille finished them off, and she calls Campagne "a gem". (Reviews not currently online)
Finally in the Irish Independent Katy McGuinness is making us want to book another flight to London with her review of Irish export Robin Gill's new opening Darby's, named after his late father. Leaving aside one surly server, it sounds like perfection from start to finish, with gildas featuring smoked eel instead of anchovies, brown butter waffles with smoked salmon and caviar, and an impeccably cooked whole turbot to share, with "flawless" sides of borlotti beans with herbs and greens, Cuore del Vesuvio tomatoes with Capezzana olive oil, and a "simple and perfect" green salad.
The Truffled Baron Bigod - "essentially very posh cheese on toast" - is what we'll be thinking about for a good portion of the next week, and a passing waiter received serious bonus points by bringing them extra saying that their portion looked "a bit stingy". If only every restaurant had one. She describes it as "flavour, flavour, flavour in a room coming down with old-school glamour", and gives both food and value 9/10. Read her review here.
More next week.