Just a quick overview of a couple of critics this week, as we missed some of the reviews owing to being in Malmö for the weekend. In this week’s edition of Today’s Chip Paper – the weekend food critics’ reviews summed up and surmised – we have yet another go at Del-Fino, Dublin’s new destination wine bar above a burger joint, a so-so Temple Bar spot and somewhere worth the 4 hour drive from the capital in Kenmare.
Bar Giuseppe, Castle Market, Dublin 2
“Like me, I suspect you haven’t seen or heard of a fondue set since the last time you watched The Generation Game,” Gillian Nelis of the Sunday Business Post reviews Joe Macken’s newest opening, Bar Giuseppe, on Castle Market in Dublin.
“When I heard that [Bar Giuseppe] is serving it on Monday and Tuesday nights… I reckoned this was the place for me.”
Nelis gives a little background on the new wine bar which has only opened in the past month or so from the empire of Joe Macken – in fact it’s the spot that you heard us interview him in in a recent episode of Chew The Fat – which encompasses the fast casuals of Jo’Burger, Crackbird and Hey Donna. The critic calls this spot “a far simpler affair, with the small high-ceilinged room [above Jo’Burger] given over to wine, nibbles and the aforementioned melted cheese”.
Of the bubbling pot of melted cheese mentioned (it’s Coolea, on the night), Nelis remarks “it costs €32 per portion and comes with all manner of tasting things to dip into it: loads of bread, more olives, little cubes of ham, baby boiled potatoes, mini gherkins, cauliflower florets and cubes of cheese”. The writer and pals enjoyed it – “probably as much for the “gathering around” element as the taste”.
“That gathering around element does, of course, lead to the ordering of more wine,” Nelis advises, adding “there is a lot of very food and intereting wine to explore here, with bottles starting at €31 for a Rioja and ranging up to €69 for a Loire red”. Nelis’ column neighbour, wine writer Tomás Clancy goes even beyond that, writing: “the wine list here exudes adventure and wit… it is easily one of the most ambitious and ingenious wine lists in the country”. His pick is the rosé-like Orange wine (Georgia’s Pheasant Tears’ Kakheti Rkatsiteli – which we can attest to, too) and a luscious Fedellos de Couto red from Spain’s Ribera Sacra region. Nelis points out that “there’s also a cabinet of bottles that aren’t on the list” – which is interesting and intriguing, especially if you’re looking for an extra special sipper.
Of the other food: “as the food menu is small – we ordered one of everything, even the Cheese Puffs (€1), which are, well, cheese puffs… [I] will be lobbying Macken to add Jonnie Onion Rings and original flavour Hula Hoops; We nibbled on very good nicolella olives (€4), and some really delicious aged beef served rare with a good dollop of mustard (€10 – side note: we LOVED this dish too, so simple but brilliant); A toastie made with Inch House black pudding from Co Tipperary was heaven, but a little on the small side for €9, while a slab of Young Buck (€10) was as good as it always is; a Hey Donna-style plate of chargrilled celeriac with goat’s yoghurt, a spicy peanut relish and toast (€7) was very nice indeed, paired with a glass of Cuvée Vom Berg, a blaufranksich and syrah blend from Austria (€13)”
The surmising goes like this: “Both the food and drinks menu will change regularly; I went back with a friend for a drink a few nights later, and there’d been a good bit of turnover already. This should keep Bar Giuseppe’s customers sufficiently interested and motivated to provide MAcken with a decent bit of repeat business… If Macken can put on a dessert wine or two, and perhaps a couple of small, sweet treats, so much the better.”
Del-Fino, Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2
In the Sunday Times (Ireland), Ernie Whalley test drives Del-Fino, which has been the one place that has racked up much of the critic column inches over the last two months, but this critic calls out the inclusion of inauthentic osso buco on the menu and overall says there’s a “crying need for focus” here.
The Camden Street spot has divided the critics, with most falling on the more critical than not side. Ernie begins, writing that “one glance at Del-Fino’s menu revealed a veritable atlas of culinary idioms: French, Italian, Nordic, Japanese, Middle Eastern; all were there… was it a hark back to the days of “fusion confusion”, or a fledgling restaurant seeking direction by flying kites to see which one soars the highest?”
The interior is called out for having “inadequate lighting and monotonic decor” which lend a “drab vibe” to this new opening. Of the dishes, the braised rabbit pappardelle is “very good indeed”, as is the pork cheek except that the “bra-shaped mound looked somehow stark and forlorn un-festooned by garnish of any sort”. All the critics have tried, and written about, the ‘wafu’ beef dish. Served “thicker than carpaccio” came with “in effect a [Japanese] vinaigrette” and the “fermented pimento and pine nuts helped mask the beef’s blandness”.
Then, osso buco-gate. Ernie takes umbridge with even calling the dish osso bucco, as quite rightly there are basic elements of the classic Italian dish that are clearly missing or amended in the Del-Fino version – and it doesn’t recover from a scrutinous scepticism once tasted: “Osso buco, or a makey-uppy version thereof, with pork shank supplementing veal… [doesn’t] even look authentic. Osso buco means “bone with a hole”, an unstated promise of marrow to lend flavour and complexity. Here, no hole, no joy. The pork was sparingly sauced and the meat spectacularly tasteless… a remarkably poor stab at an Italian classics.”
Of the desserts, the millionaire Twix “raises eyebrows” being “king-sized and with ice-cream in the middle” which “lacked sophistication and could have done with a little more caramel” – something the other critics have echoed on different occasions. Likewise with the wafu beef and ditto for the osso buco. Wine wise – “we took two glasses of competent but unexciting pecorino and a bottle of supple primitivo di manduria, at €36, about as much as one could decently charge for a wine of such slight pedigree. The list, hopefully, is a work-in-progress.” Service is also so-so – “staff, while demonstrating a lack of background knowledge, were eager to please”.
Final words? “When push comes to shove, the abiding feeling was one of disappointment.” 3/5 stars, pretty much all round.
Crow Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
“Smokies are back on the menu of Crow Street, a restaurant named after its street. It’s the former Avenue restaurant run by restaurateur Nick Munier, now taken over by the people behind The Sussex on Upper Leeson Street and The 105 Cafe Bistro in Clonskeagh,” Cleary advises, adding: “putting smokies back on a Temple Bar menu is a statement of intent. Nothing new will happen here folks. The question is whether the nostalgia will taste any good?”
Of the interior, it’s described as “nice in a sepia-lit biscuity brown brick and timber look. The lighting is set to paleo cave with guttering fire level. Maybe this is a byproduct of the mobile phone revolution. Lights get dimmer because we all carry a pocket torch like good digital boy scouts these days”.
The aforementioned smokies are small and served in a cast-iron skillet, featuring “delicious chunks of tasty fish. The cherry tomatoes I remember as flavour blisters baked into the original dish are on the side here, cooked as all tomatoes at this time of the year should be to have any flavour and tossed on fresh rocket. It’s a simple but very satisfying version of a Dublin dish”.
Of the other dishes tried – “Five Miletown goats’ cheese has been fried in fluffy gobstopper-sized balls and teamed with thinly-sliced petals of pale pink pickled beets, looking like teddy bear luncheon meat (without the gag factor); There are candied walnuts, a kitchen trick so satisfying it seems odd they don’t feature more prominently on other menus; There is pickled pear and a portion size that’s more generous than most to be found at mid-price range between the canals. Light on innovation, it’s heavy on flavour and texture and a great version of this Dean Martin song in food form; Crispy lamb shoulder is a deftly cooked rolled-piece of meat, muttony and soft inside and crisp with a hint of spice on the outside. It comes with a square of gratin that manages to be dense and comforting but with a tang of what I think is crème fraîche to prevent it sinking under its own heft; There’s a thready meat-only croquette, which I love.”
A duck special is “a small mountain of rare, juicy slices served with a ‘duck cigar’ of rolled meat with a panko crumb flavoured with orange. It’s all deft and delicious” whilst dessert disappoints – “we finish with a selection, which, if the Restaurants Association of Ireland wants to award a “least innovative dessert list in Leinster” gong at its ceremony next year, I’m nominating this one. Rhubarb and apple crumble, and a portion of ice cream and sorbet with berries do precisely what they say on the tin.” Meee-ow.
“There’s nothing controversial happening inside the walls of Crow Street,” Cleary surmises, “Instead, it’s large plates of comforting food, cooked really well. And in these days of chef shortages, shiny concept restaurants and flown-in food service reheats, that’s something to crow about.”
No. 35, Main Street, Kenmare, Co. Kerry
Our friend and fellow blogger Karen Coakley AKA Kenmare Foodie must have been delighted to see Katy McGuinness’ overview of pretty much most of Kenmare’s best options, from Maison Gourmet to the subject of her review 35 Main Street, in this weekend’s Irish Independent. Side note: Karen runs Kenmare Foodie Tours visiting some of these spots and more.
“We intend to review Mulcahy’s, one of the town’s two best-known restaurants, the other being Packie’s, but nobody bothers to return the message that we leave on the answering machine looking for a table.” Ouch – not a great review for Kenmare already, but thankfully the critic finds refuge a few doors down in No. 35.
Of the restaurant McGuinness does end up reviewing, the writer pens: “I know about the restaurant from a press release sent to me a couple of years ago when the proprietor, Dermot Brennan, was named Champion of Ireland 2016 for Best Pork Sausage at the prestigious Fins Goustiers European Championships… A mile or so outside town, Dermot keeps a free-range herd of rare breed, pedigree saddleback pigs, and he says that the location, a short distance from the Atlantic, gives the meat a distinctive flavour… given the provenance story at No. 35, how can we order anything else?”
To the food and there’s a revelation – “A dish of sausage, champ mash and onion jus is, says my husband, his death row meal. With two spirals of meaty, tasty sausage and buttery, scallion-riddled mash it’s simplicity incarnate, and yet the Marmite-like stickiness left on the plate at the end is so damn good that we end up running our fingers across it to make sure that we don’t miss even a smidgeon.”
Elsewhere, pulled pork in brioche is “equally good, the meat soft and tender, the smoky barbecue sauce on the side with enough of a tang to cut through the richness of the meat” whilst the fries that accompany “are great – hot, crisp, just right. They look hand-cut” [Tom Doorley will be impressed – we jest!] An octopus dish is is “starter-sized, tender thanks to being frozen overnight and then marinated in milk or yoghurt [and] flavoured with smoked paprika, accompanied by ‘textures of heritage carrot’ and cubes of house-made chorizo that also comes from the saddlebacks”. Decadent chocolate torte for dessert is “a bit much at lunchtime but good nonetheless”.
“The chef, Tony Schwarz,” McGuinness explains, “who was formerly at Sheen Falls, has taken up pickling with a vengeance and pickled vegetables pop up everywhere, some are more successful than others”. The critic concludes: “At lunchtime, No. 35 is quiet, but friendly and chatty service makes up for the lack of other customers” alongside a 23/30 score. We imagine it will be a busier affair at lunchtime for the next while…
Today’s Chip Paper returns next week.