Today’s Chip Paper #27 – 3 December 2018

No fewer than THREE reviews for the same place in the same week. *IMAGINE* the would-be Whatsapp group all the Dublin-based critics could be part of…. “At long last crossing back over the Liffey, are we?” one teases. Another sends: “👀 👀 👀” A third chimes in: “Surprised not to read: ‘Phibsborough’s the new Shoreditch’ in one of your pieces!”

Yes, December begins and Catherine Cleary, Leslie Williams AND Tom Doorley all review the same place (Loretta’s, which is really good by all accounts) in the same week in the Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Daily Mail respectively. With the omni-present criticism of Dublin-centricity, that cry echoes even louder this past weekend. Whether coincidence or not, the more times this happens (and there’s been a number of double-ups this year) and the more times the same place gets featured week-on-week (Ivy, Del-Fino) the more it kind of suggests there’s nowhere else worth writing about, no? In a roundabout way, it does. So instead of comparing three sets of similar reviews this week, we’re not going feature any of them. The critics can use their platforms, and we’re going to use ours. So here’s a look at the other interesting reviews and features which caught our eyes this past week.

Del-Fino, Camden Street Lower, Dublin 8

Another week, ANOTHER Del-Fino review. What *is* it about this place? We’ve scarcely come across this since The Ivy, which was a far more high profile opening, and possibly hints of this when Masa and Pi opened, but almost every single critic has darkened the door of Del-Fino and surmised their experience at this stage. We wonder why – aside from having a notable chef? Did someone tip them all off? Anyway, this week, it was the turn of Katy McGuinness in the Irish Independent.

Image (c) Del-Fino

McGuinness found “a venture barely holding it together in terms of food and service” when she visited a month after opening, and wrote her review with “a heavy heart”. After initial seating issues resolved (kind of), the service is non-existent (“for what seems like the longest time, no one comes near us”) which began the experience with a sour taste; the reviewer writing that dining with family, she doesn’t make a fuss, but “had I been on my own or with a friend I would have hightailed it a few doors along the road to Pickle, Delahunt, or next door to Hang Dai, in the hope of salvation”.

Image (c) Del-Fino

“The menu is a strange mix of dishes that doesn’t read with cohesion,” McGuinness explains, before declaring Dublin has reached “Peak Croquette”. Those fermented potato beignets arrived tardy, alongside the main instead of as a snacking starter and weren’t “half as interesting as they sound”. Baby squid is “fine”, the pasta dishes have good pasta but the sauces “lack depth” and the pork cheek starter is the best of them all. Mains are disappointing – “the côte de boeuf is overcooked (we should have sent it back but everything has taken so long to reach us already, that we can’t bear to”), short rib has been “hanging around so lung under the lights that it’s dried out”. Gnocchi is monotone, and the two desserts – yes, including the ‘Twix’ one all the critics have test-driven – are “pedestrian”.

16/30, half marks all round and almost €300 the lighter. Eeek.

Groundstate, James’ Street, Dublin 8; and Various, Dublin

“In our experience the worst of the bleak midwinter is best ameliorated by marching into town at least once during the Season for a restorative beverage with some old pals, ” in the recent issue of Totally Dublin, the editorial team pinpoint 12 perfect pubs for pre-Christmas meet-ups.

A handful of the best, busiest and most iconic central Dublin pubs feature – like Grogans on Castle Market, The Long Hall on Georges Streeet and Dame Lane’s The Stags Head. Some unusual, lesser-spotted picks include Xavier’s on Pembroke Street and The Central Hotel’s bar on Exchequer Street, as well as fairly-new-kid-on-the-block The Legal Eagle. Well worth clicking through and checking out the three places they suggest for a Christmas eve drink.

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Closing time at Groundstate

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Meanwhile, Aoife McElwain recently reviewed Groundstate Coffee, a recent addition to James’ Street in Dublin 8 for the magazine. Giving background to the new yoga + coffee + food cafe, McElwain writes that a pair of friends from Tramore who found their grá for speciality coffee and yoga respectively in London [haven’t we all…] are the pair behind the cafe. Having returned to Dublin, they pooled their finances and skills and set about founding – and personally fitting-out! – a cafe together. Open since September ’18, the writer reports that the Groundstate team seems to have “hit their stride” in the menu.

“A number of local food stars shine brightly on the menu. There’s sourdough from the exemplary Bread Nation, an independent bakery on Pearse Street. Bacon in the BKT (€7.50) is Higgins smoked bacon from the family butchers in Sutton. Eggs are free-range and from Wicklow, and the Mushy Toastie (€7) features Wicklow Ban soft cheese, which melts superbly.” Head Chef Don Surace (formerly of Smithfield’s Token) is remarked for his homemade kimchi, which “fizzes with fermentation when it meets the tongue. The coffee [Italian in origin] is “a good temperature, it’s full-bodied and packs a punch. It’s a good all rounder”.

If the idea of The Happy Pear cavorting in handstands and all manner of ‘poses’ in nothing but their smalls on their Greystones cafe floor sits well with you, you might find favour with this similar set-up closer to town – McElwain explains: “the space is designed to be multi-purpose; it’s a café by day and a yoga studio by night. From Monday to Friday, the café tables are cleared from the floor to create an intimate evening-time yoga space”. Ventilation must be great, we wonder to ourselves. Look, the hospitality industry is a mile-a-minute and we’re all for making a space work for you to squeeze as much as possible out of it, but to us the idea of cafe-cum-yoga studio is just not enticing to us personally, do one or the other. We’re not yoga practicers ourselves, but we just don’t see where the two meet…

Primrose Restaurant, Strand Road, Derry

“Derry is grabbing the horns of the bull firmly and embarking on a plan to sweep aside all previous misconceptions and to convince you, food writers and anyone willing to listen that the centre of gravity of Northern Ireland’s artisanal food industry and restaurant sector has shifted away from Belfast, Down and Antrim and is now in the north west.” This made us smile – words from Joris Minne in this weekend’s Belfast Telegraph – because we think Derry and the North coast of the island is incredibly special and a becoming a real destination for food and drink. Writing about Belfast’s natural prominent position being the capital, and thus healthy competition spurring on quality, the critic adds: “if the culinary centre of gravity is in the east, what chance does Derry and the north west have of claiming its place as a foodie destination?”

“World-class standard food and cooking,” Minne writes, at the “pop-up food festival last week in the Primrose restaurant at the city centre end of the Strand Road [which] revealed just how good and varied the north west food and drink offer is”. The writer adds: “Primrose restaurant owners, Ciaran and Melanie Breslin, he a butcher and she a baker, enlisted the collaboration of chefs from the classy Bishopsgate Hotel (soon to join Ireland’s best in the famous Blue Book) and a clatter of producers from sectors including brewing and fishing, meat and dairy to join head chef Bryn Evans to create a complex and sophisticated dinner made entirely of locally sourced ingredients.”

Minne pinpoints the starry line-up of producers on the menu at the event – “Lough Foyle flat oysters from Foylemore; Tirkeeran black pudding made by Ciaran Breslin; the halibut from Donegal Prime Fish; pork from Grants of Culmore and Corndale Farm; and excellent blue and hard cheeses from Dart Mountain” before adding: “I calculated that everything that went into the entire seven course menu accompanied by food pairings from Walled City Brewery and Northbound and Chambers’ Redgate cider must have come from within a 25-mile radius of Derry city. Extraordinary. Not just because of the variety of stuff available in November but because the quality was of a level which would pass muster in London and Dublin, easily.”

Quinlan’s, Princes Street, Cork City

It was about 14 months ago we found ourselves on a bit of a jaunt around Kerry. Besotted by Blás na hEireann and very much loved-up with Dingle in particular, we didn’t fancy leaving The Kingdom and, being freelance and somewhat nomadic (for want of a less wanky, Millennial term) we threw caution to the wind, filled the car’s tank and extended our stay in Kerry, making our way to both Tralee and Killarney – the latter where we tried Quinlans fish shop, which we had known the name and pedigree of for years.

Cork-based blogger Cork Billy recently found himself in the Cork city branch (the only one outside Kerry) and wrote about the “sizzling deep-water Atlantic prawns, in olive oil, chilli and garlic served with a mixed leaf salad and sourdough bread,” which were “the star of the show”. Billy Lyons reports that – for a Monday night – the place was packed, “it was abuzz, people were being turned away. Just as well we had booked a table”. Taking on the aforementioned prawns as both a starter and main [clever], they were “sweet and delicate… the “soup” of oil, chilli and garlic was nicely judged so that the texture and flavour of the fish came through. The well dressed salad was excellent while the average sourdough was put to good use in mopping up! No Picpoul de Pinet or Muscadet on the white wine list but the listed Albarino would be a good match.” Another prawn dish for starter, Prawn and Smoked Salmon croquettes, also found favour – though €12.95 seems a little steep to us, however depending on the quality and amount of fish within, we might eat our words.

Image (c) CorkBilly

It wouldn’t be a fish bar if you couldn’t get Fish and Chips. And here you have a choice of fish: whiting, plaice, haddock, cod, hake or fish goujons. And those fish and chips are served with a batter they “have developed to complement our super fresh fish”. For a healthier option you can have the fresh fish pan-fried in olive oil. And you can also choose salad instead of chips. In any event, those Fish and Chips seemed to be flying on the night as were those sizzling prawns.

The Kerry family are well known too for their award winning smoked salmon and we had that as a lunch dish in their Killarney restaurant earlier in the year

The amount of “smoking” was nicely judged and the flavour of the salmon itself is not diminished but rather enhanced by its engagement with Irish oak. So watch out for that too.

Levan, Peckham SE15, London

Across the Irish Sea, being a former pair of adoptive Peckhamites we were intrigued to read Jimi Famurewa’s review of Levan in Peckham in this week’s Evening Standard ES Magazine. From the opening paragraph – which details the must-do “things everyone does” when they come to Peckham – we found ourselves ticking off each and every one in our heads, though we still never ventured beyond the door of Canavan’s pool hall, even though we lived within spitting distance.

Image (c) Levan London

Famurewa begins, “Levan, a new all-day bistro from the team behind Brixton’s justly adored Salon, has just slotted seamlessly into the neighbourhood… [it] feels like a significant arrival. It’s a gently grown-up operation where the prices are reasonable, the Francophile food balances ambition and comfort, and the loos aren’t the kind likely to give a visiting older relative PTSD.”

Okay, second paragraph in and merely just mentioning the food offering, we’re already sold: “while snacking on warm hunks of sourdough baguette and drinking glasses of a crisp, lingering Vinho Verde from the bumper list, we took in walls painted a deep, sexy blue, an open kitchen and a counter bearing flaky takeaway pastries.” It’s like this place was *made* for us.

Image (c) Levan London

“This is one of those tight, dud-free sharing menus where each omitted dish feels a little painful,” the writer continues, “slivers of house-pickled sardine, artfully arranged on gorgeous, golden aromatic olive oil, were as punchy as they were pretty. Comté fries (which are possibly already rivalling that pink stairwell for Insta fame) arrived as sunshine-yellow, finely crisped bricks made of chickpea flour with soothingly cheesy middles and a hefty dusting of more cheese on top”. The menu’s Croque Monsieur “clattered by pepper and boosted by rich béchamel, did its gooey, dirty thing,” he adds.

Image (c) Levan London

Famurewa concludes, with the MOST Peckham of sentences: “We jointly demolished a terrifically sticky tarte Tatin and walked out into the sun, stepping over stray hair extensions and feeling that, though Peckham has long been on every Londoner’s cultural radar, it has just been given another hell of a boost.”

 

No review in the Sunday Business Post this weekend, by the way, Gillian Nelis’ column made way for Christmas gift guides.

Today’s Chip Paper returns next week.

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