The first restaurant reviews of 2020 and it's all kicked off over barbecued meat and a stark difference of opinions. In the Irish Times it's been a very disappointing weekend for Mister S as Catherine Cleary pummels them, saying "the menu reads well but eats blandly to badly". She says the beef rendang spring roll was the best dish (but that the beef would have been better by itself), describes the smoked organic chicken thighs with romesco (below) as "flaccid", saying they "taste okay but not smokey in the least", and says that as the marinated pork tomahawk cooled it was like "gnawing on hipster satchel leather". She didn't even particularly like the brown butter and miso roast potatoes - frequently thrown around as one of the best potato dishes in the city - and there's barely a mention of their impeccable food sourcing, which is usually music to her ears.
For a restaurant that's had much of the city in raptures since opening, and managed four knockout reviews so far in the Business Post, Irish Examiner, Sunday Times and Food and Wine, this has caused a lot of confusion and even anger, with Mister S fans out in force on Twitter and Instagram yesterday, determined to put the world to rights. It has echoes of the Circa review last summer, which also seemed out of step with public opinion at the time and had customers and critics jumping to their defence - they went on to be awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand a few months later so presumably hold no grudges. It does beg the question of whether one visit is enough to base a national review on. Unfortunately we can't see any Irish restaurant critic being given unlimited expenses and the opportunity to visit a restaurant multiple times to ensure that what they're writing is a fair appraisal and it wasn't just "a bad night", but others would argue (and have) that she just recounted her experience, and that's what she's there to do. To be continued...
A better weekend for Blackrock-based Volpe Nera, with Gillian Nelis in the Business Post saying ex-Etto head chef Barry Sun's food is "as delicious as ever". Salt-baked celeriac with truffled stracciatella cheese and hazelnuts, as well as cep dumplings in a "deeply flavoured soy broth" were perfect, and her roast pheasant with polenta, braised endive and pickled quince was "the main course of dreams". A malt panna cotta for dessert came with a "gloriously sharp clementine syrup and candied pistachios", and she calls Volpe Nera "the happy new home of one of the country’s finest chefs". Read her review here.
In the Irish Daily Mail Tom Doorley made a Dublin 8 discovery in the form of Middle Eastern Fayrouz - a new one on us and another addition to the "where to BYOB" list. The baba ghanoush, olives and tabbouleh all get the seal of approval, with the skewered tower lamb shawarma "a splendid affair ... perfectly cooked and impeccably seasoned". Lamb koftas were "ace", falafel "very pleasant", and he says "there is a generosity at Fayrouz that we greatly enjoyed and would cheerfully return to." (Review not currently online)
In the Sunday Times Niall Toner was first through the door of new Baggot Street wine bar Bobby's, with Holly Dalton doing the food. He really, really liked her pickled mussels, and the rest, and says they've hit the ground running. He gives them four out of five and you can read his review here.
In the Irish Examiner Joe McNamee was at The Bookshelf at The Elysian in Cork, attempting a health kick with smoothie bowls, overnight oats and chia pudding - mostly pleasurable with the exception of the "seasonal fruit" consisting of banana, kiwi and strawberries. Someone needs an Irish growing guide. Once the healthy stuff was out of the way they moved onto a floury bacon bap with Lisduff black pudding, a fried egg, melted cheese, homemade relish, and "smashing" leek and potato rostis; a "very tasty" breaded chipotle chicken breast in brioche with coleslaw, pickles and "fine" chunky chips, and an open brioche with poached egg, crab meat and "lovely" seaweed hollandaise, but mashed avocado just short of freezing. He calls it "a delightful addition to the local dining scene", giving them 7.5/10 for food and 9/10 for value. Read his review here.
Finally in the Sunday Independent Lucinda O'Sullivan barely let the new chef at the Lake Room in Aghadoe Heights unpack his bags before booking in for dinner. She was dying to see what ex-Gordon Ramsay's head chef Jacob Jurusik was going to bring to Killarney, and the answer is truffle eclairs ("gorgeous pop-in-the-mouth, cream-filled balls of choux pastry delight"), game pithivier with venison and duck ("excellent"), and scallops with cauliflower and chicken nuggets ("the crispy little chicken bites added texture and contrasting taste to the silkiness of the molluscs"). Pistachio semifreddo for dessert was "lovely", and she says considering the five-star surrounds, service and food it was "jolly good value". (Review not currently online)
More next week.