Today’s Chip Paper #9 – 18 June 2018

Just Irish reviews this week in our rounding-up and surmising of the restaurant critics’ reviews. We usually include a mix of UK, NI and ROI write-ups, mostly national print publications with a scant peppering of bloggers’ write-ups too. In the week that no fewer than four of the critics who regularly feature in this weekly feature made it known to us that they read it (and notice when they’re not included), we’ve decided to keep it local this week and what a week it’s been for reviews – each one profiled something different, interesting, new, exciting or ghastly on the Irish dining scene.

Five Guys, South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2

Everyone is talking about Catherine Cleary this week, who delivered a humdinger of a review chastising the recent arrival on Dublin’s South Great George’s Street – Five Guys is the subject of the Irish Times Weekend Magazine restaurant review this week.

Not only does the title bear the words “gives the gag reflex a workout”, it even makes the front page of the entire weekend edition of the paper, with Cleary declaring it “my worst meal as a restaurant reviewer”. The Virginia-born US burger joint import already has a daily-thronged Dundrum outlet and there’s plans for a third outpost in Swords Pavilion before the year’s out, but judging by this review they may want to curtail Irish expansion and get the ship from listing before it entirely topples over. There was no mistaking this was a car crash culinary experience and a no-holds-barred, execution-style review followed. As we read, the voice in our heads shrieked louder with each paragraph “FINISH HIM!” – Mortal Kombat-style – as it got worse and worse and farther from recovery with each line. It is truly one of the most entertaining restaurant reviews we’ve ever read because it’s such a disaster.

When we lived in London, Five Guys was the trendy fast food import du jour and we endured the wrap-around queues at the Covent Garden branch once or twice, before declaring in note-perfect harmony “this is a bit shit”, entirely puzzled by the hype. Hype is something we bore on about because it’s what the entire London restaurant scene is built upon, so forgive us. The best thing about FG was the free peanuts in our experience, so that’s telling enough. For the record, we’ve yet to try the Dublin branches. 

We can barely even pinpoint a line in the review which isn’t a standalone, deadpan-delivered sucker punch. Here’s an overview of some select zingers:

“rock music is set to Guantanamo-torture level”

“The chips are crisp, but so over-salted you wonder if the crunch comes from the cooking or the salting.”

“This is neither cheap nor cheerful and feels weirdly like a throwback to the bad old days when iceberg lettuce was posh and sesame seeds seemed exotic.”

“The only free [table] is covered in debris like a flock of gulls has just departed in a clatter of wings… There’s a film of grease on the table. Along with the remnants of someone else’s lunch, they make for what is probably the most dismal dining table in the history of this column.”

“The actual burger is fine, in an “it’s not rocket science” beefy, meaty kind of way,” Cleary writes of the burger, “but the bap disintegrates in a slick of ketchup and the Day-Glo orange cheese has the consistency and flavour of molten Barbie doll”. We were baffled to read that Cleary chooses the veggie option (but the Irish Times reviews of the last few months have been heavily weighted towards the plant-anchored) of which Cleary writes “I manage two bites… before losing both the will to go on and the ability to suppress my gag reflex”. Unworthy of even eating beyond two bites might be a new record on the abysmal scale. In the summary of the review, under vegetarian options, it’s written: “verging on food crime”. If the food’s inedible, what of the drinks, you might wonder? Well. “The milkshake tastes like someone’s soft scoop ice cream left in the sun to melt.” Quite.

Cleary muses “we get the burger joints we deserve. Dublin’s doing something very wrong if we get this one”. K.O. 2/10, only for the fact the chips were edible – failing that it would have been a zero. Total wipeout.

Glover’s Alley, Dublin 2

“My brilliant lunch at Glover’s Alley should have been a disappointment, but it wasn’t.” Ah, Glover’s Alley yet again. The high-profile Dublin-by-way-of-London new opening (the arrival of The Ivy before the summer’s out will be the next one) is the subject of Tom Doorley’s review in the Irish Daily Mail.

“I was rather hoping to hate Glover’s Alley”, Doorley begins, though insisting that had nothing to do with Chef Andy McFadden (a “good bloke” in this critic’s view) but more to the point that the culture and cluster of critics the world over tend to want to go against the grain. “We restaurant critics, if we’re being really honest,” Doorley divulges, “love to shoot down something that has been flying high in pre-launch mode.” I think he’s hinting that they live for drama and quite delight in causing a bit of a stir. Just look at anything Giles Coren has had published – he takes that as his raison d’etre.

As, one-by-one, each and every Irish restaurant critic commented on GA’s sky-high prices in their respective reviews – though by the end almost all justified them – so did Doorley, saying it’s “quite dear but not outlandishly so”. Doorley delves further, saying in a matter-of-fact way pretty much that ‘you don’t actually know what you’re talking about’ – which is spot on. “I’m always amused at how many people who know nothing about the sharp end of restaurants think you can put on a performance like this at a budget price.” Too right – you try running a restaurant gunning for a Star, in the hiked rent ’n’ rates Dublin of today whilst trying to sweeten suppliers for the best stuff, keep costs on the floor, drive a significant profit and maintain a sustainable model. Not easy.

As it happens, one side of GastroParents actually went to Glover’s Alley this week too, celebrating a wedding anniversary, and reported that it was “incredible” food, littering the family Whatsapp with gorgeous pictures of delicately plated dishes whilst we had quesadillas of leftover something-or-other rescued from the bleary depths of the fridge.

Back to the Daily Mail review and Doorley wonders what story McFadden is trying to tell with his dishes. “A key characteristic of [McFadden’s cookery] seems to be having small explosions of startlingly pure and assertive flavours forming a kind of minefield of delight with all the other elements on the plate”. Doorley later writes that the dishes are all formed of “disparate elements [which become] something much more of the sum of its elements”.

Image (c) Aoife Noonan

“A jewel-like vegetable tartlet… sang in vegetable harmony” began a slew of dish deconstruction where every element drew praise and almost nothing was faulted. Doorley called the pre-dessert granita “a celestial ice pop that has been blitzed to tiny shreds of pure taste”. Of the actual dessert, the much talked-about citrus and yuzu soufflé, he remarked on its “ethereal lightness” and “geometric perfection”. The parents agreed – it seemed to be a stand-out of the menu and once again Aoife Noonan’s pastry mastery twinkles in the light as bright as Italian meringue.

What seems to be the last of the major publications to visit. Andy, Aoife and the Glover’s Alley team can breathe a huge sigh of relief – they’ve lasted the new opening, critics’ critique season and come out the other side with only a few scuffs. Though now thoughts turn to whether the Michelin man will agree on the seemingly faultless fine dining experience overlooking Stephen’s Green and pop a star above its door.

Mikey Ryan’s, Cashel, Co. Tipperary

Continuing our spotlighting of digital writers, bloggers and online restaurant reviewers, Billy Lyons of CorkBilly wrote up about Mikey Ryan’s, a new high end gastropub in the heart of the historic Tipperary town of Cashel which opened less than a year ago by chef Liam Kirwan.

Image (c) Mikey Ryan’s

“Inside is where the magic happens and you’ll see it at work as you pass the kitchen area on the way to your table,” Billy remarks on how light-filled the dining room is (we too were impressed by the skylights when we dined recently) and how plush the interior feels and how expansive and tempting the garden area is.

Image (c) Mikey Ryan’s

The smoked chilli-salted sweet potato chips and olives were a “very enjoyable start” and Billy remarked on the value for the portion size of the appetiser-snacks. The Nourish Bowl, a vegan main full of “colour, flavour and crunch” sounds blissful and Billy’s Castletownbere crab cakes were enjoyed for the “textures and the flavours” along with the welcome “no shortage of crab meat” which is so often a complaint with restaurant fish cakes.

Image (c) Mikey Ryan’s

Two further shout-outs delivered include the drinks list – Organic and biodynamic wine heavy, local spirits (Bertha’s Revenge gin, Kalak vodka) and a spot-on mix of nationally-known and local, small-scale craft brews – and the toilets. They truly are spectacular and a must-visit to powder your nose, trust us. 

He concludes: “My kind of restaurant and very highly recommended”. Have to agree wholeheartedly, though we only ate in here once a couple of weeks ago we’ve had Liam’s cooking a couple of times now in different guises and Mikey Ryan’s is a real triumph. Slickly-created with lots of substance underneath. It’s already made it into the Irish Times’ annual 100 Best Places to Eat list by way of writer Aoife McElwain. A must-stop if you’re passing through Cashel.

Locks Restaurant, Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8

“I think we attained a kind of Nirvana that warm Friday evening,” Leslie Williams writes of Locks Restaurant on Windsor Terrace by the canal in his Irish Examiner restaurant review. Williams is bowled over, two years on from last reviewing this spot, bestowing praise on a restaurant “at the top of its game beside that still water serving beautifully cooked food”.

Image (c) Locks

Within the first 100 words Williams calls it a “very heaven”, and this is from a place that’s been very many successful incarnations over the years. What once was “originally known for it long, boozy lunches” in the 90’s, then transformed to Michelin-starred fine dining, before losing said star, reimagining itself as a Brasserie, closing, re-opening, switching chefs and now comfortably delivering as a “fine chef-led neighbourhood restaurant”. All in all Williams awards an 8.5/10 to Locks and Head Chef Chris Maguire’s – formerly of The Ledbury in London – cooking. In fact, the one and only time we’ve personally dined there was about 8 years ago for Patrick’s graduation, so it’s always been a place for special, exceptional, occasion dining, in our eyes.

Image (c) Locks

We were intrigued by Williams’ choice of main – “I opted for the veggie… grilled potato served with soft eggs, beech mushrooms and gorgonzola”, which sounds to us more like a brunch dish and has us perplexed and our interest piqued in equal measure. Williams also enjoys the “appetite enhancer” of a starter in the smoked trout and dulse butter served with “warm, doughy crusted bread”. Both he and his guest found it quite intense “almost crude in flavour, but given its main function [as an appetite enhancer] at the start of the meal – I think it worked”.

Image (c) Locks

All in all, a resplendent experience it seems and Williams finishes with: “We rather floated out after our meal, high on the pleasure of fine food and wine consumed in a place in harmony with itself and its surroundings.”

Mews, Baltimore, Co. Cork

Mews in the seaside town of Baltimore offers the immaculate cod-ception in Katy McGuinness’ Irish Independent restaurant review this week. If we look back over the last three months of Today’s Chip Paper, we think there’s been a Cork restaurant reviewed every single edition, which again hits home how incredible the Cork culinary scene is right now. 

McGuinness says of her time at Mews, “I ate the best fish dish of my life in Mews in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago… It’s revelatory, almost a religious experience.” The dish in question is the ‘Cod, Shoregreens, Seaweeds, Mussel Sauce’ – “a description disarming in its simplicity”. McGuinness continues, “a piece of just-cooked fish defines the word ‘translucent’, eight different types of seaweed and a pil pil mayonnaise made from the cod’s head produce flavours of subtle complexity.” It does indeed sound heavenly.

“The dish is sublime, the standout of my year so far, and God damn me but didn’t I forget to take a photo of it.” Ha! Leave it to the bloggers Katy. Not singling Katy out whatsoever, but it often tickles us how quick some critics are to quip in condescension about bloggers and remark disdainfully at their demeanour online or in restaurants. Yet almost every critic and food writer we’ve dined with or been around has been lightning quick in whipping out their phones, setting up a mini photoshoot for each dish and often asking after Instagram tips. We’re not so far removed, all us food writers whatever our means or media – we’re at pains to stress to whoever listens. We all adore food and we all document and share it in our own ways.

Back to the alter of heavenly Mews. We nodded along to “Mews in Baltimore has been on my list for a while, but this is my first visit” before the review launched into what can only be said to be the description of one of our ideal restaurant situations: “The room is unexpectedly sophisticated, with exposed stone wall, wishbone chairs, white tablecloths, good art and beautiful light flooding in through a glazed room to the front… The shtick at Mews is that all the ingredients used in the kitchen come from West Cork. Sometimes a hyper-local sourcing policy feels painful, a bit try-hard. Sometimes it feels as it’s forcing the chef to cut off his or her nose in terms of flavour to stick to it. But at Mews it just feels right.”

Giving some much-welcome backstory, McGuinness explains: “The original chef, Luke Matthews, has moved on to Overends at Airfield in Dublin (of which Catherine Cleary reviewed recently in the Irish Times); his replacement in Baltimore is Ahmet Dede, whose CV includes stints at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and Chapter One and with Mickael Viljanen at The GreenHouse. It’s an appointment that smacks of intent. The owners are Robert Collender and James Ellis; they work front of house.”

The entire review drifts on a dreamy cloud of nice things and there’s no low points to report. Stable 9/10s all ‘round, West Cork is really where the culinary expression of modern Ireland is happening right now.

 

Today’s Chip Paper returns next Monday.

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