Restaurants

Five New Michelin Stars for Ireland

Altogether a good night for Irish gastronomy. Earlier in the week I was speculating, with a guy I'd regard as a dedicated diner-out, on the possible gains (and losses). The outcome more-or-less realised our every expectation - and I wish I'd had a bet on Aimsir going straight to two stars, might have got good odds. The task now is to link the restaurants and the producers and devise a coherent strategy to turn Ireland into a great food nation in the eyes of the world. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

FIVE IRISH RESTAURANTS ARE NEW MICHELIN STAR RECIPIENTS

– Two new Two Michelin Stars

– Three new One Michelin Stars 

– Northern Ireland has one new One Michelin Star

– Galway restaurant Loam wins Michelin Sustainability Award 2020

– County Limerick establishment Adare Manor wins Michelin Sommelier Award 2020

Two new Two Michelin Star and three new One Michelin Star restaurants are amongst 18 Irish establishments to have been awarded coveted Michelin Stars in the 2020 Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland just published.

The two new Two Michelin Star recipients are Aimsir in Celbridge and The Greenhouse in Dublin City.

The three new One Michelin Star restaurants are The Oak Room at Adare Manor in County Limerick; Bastion in Kinsale and Variety Jones in Dublin City.

Other restaurants that hold their Michelin Star from previous years are the Two-Star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and the One-Star Chapter One and L’Ecrivain in Dublin City and Liath in Blackrock village. Elsewhere, other one-star restaurants are Aniar and Loam (Galway City); Campagne and Lady Helen at Mount Juliet Hotel (Kilkenny); Wild Honey Inn, Lisdoonvarna (Clare); House Restaurant at Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore (Waterford); Ichigo Ichie (Cork City Centre) and two West Cork restaurants – Mews in Baltimore and Chestnut in nearby Ballydehob.

In addition, Loam in Galway was honoured with the Michelin Sustainability Award 2020, whilst Juri Goecevic sommelier at Adare Manor in County Limerick won the Michelin Sommelier Award 2020.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast restaurant The Muddlers Club (Cathedral Quarter) has been awarded a new one Michelin Star while two other Belfast restaurants – Eipic (Howard Street) and Ox (Oxford Street) – have also retained their Michelin Star status.

Speaking at its launch, Rebecca Burr, Director of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland, said: “This is an amazing year for the Republic of Ireland, with five new Michelin Stars being awarded – two of them at Two Star level. This brings the total number of Starred restaurants in Ireland up to 18 and is just reward for the determination of young chefs who are keen to make their mark on the Irish dining scene.”

Published today by tyre manufacturer Michelin, the Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2020 is available at http://travel.michelin.co.uk and in bookshops.

Restaurant Review: Aimsir

Today, Monday 7th October, social media is positively awash with speculation and anticipation concerning which (if any) restaurants in Ireland might be graced with the award of a new Michelin star. Several Dublin restaurateurs seem to  have gone missing from their posts; perhaps, having received invitations to the awards dinner, they are already on their way to London to clasp their newly won accolade to their bosom. Tomorrow, I'd imagine, they'll be back ‘at the piano’ grafting away, albeit with a severe hangover.

Aimsir, located at The Cliff at Lyons in Kildare, would seem to be a prime candidate for a star. Many gourmets (and a few critics) think it may get two. The restaurant, which opened only this May after a series of teething troubles is the brainchild of the young husband-and-wife team of Cornwall-born chef Jordan Bailey and Danish front of house manager Majken Bech Christensen. Jordan was previously head chef at Norwegian 3 star Michelin Maaemo where the two met; also a key member of Sat Bains’ eponymous “working class 2 star” in Nottingham. Majken honed her skills at 2 star Henne Kirkeby Kro in Denmark.  The ethos of Aimsir is deeply rooted in Scandinavia, a major culinary innovative force in recent years. A overview of Aimsir on The Cliff at Lyons website sets out the restaurant’s mission statement. “Celebrating what can be sown and harvested, fished and foraged on the island of Ireland, Aimsir is a passionate advocate for an authentic range of ingredients used in a sophisticated and inventive way.” And so ’twas.

Last week I paid what was my third visit.  The Michelin  organisation has defined a major  difference between a two and a three star restaurant by stating that the former is a restaurant “worth a detour” whereas the latter is essentially “a destination”. Contemplating Aimsir’s environment, albeit in twilight, it seems clear that the restaurant could easily be replaced in the three star category. This, however, is unlikely at present. I think, in the history Michelin there has only ever been one restaurant this has gone from no star to three in a single jump.

En route to the dining room we pass glass-fronted cabinets with joints of meat dry-ageing; another with wood-pigeons hanging. Rank-upon-rank of jars standing on shelves – all manner of pickled and preserved items, some of them that more conservative diners would classify as “weird”. To us, a medley of food writers, they heightened the anticipation. The dining room itself is about as un-country house as can be imagined. Seats for around 24, at widely-spaced tables; low-key décor, giving a clue, if one was needed, to Aimsir’s Scandinavian antecedents. At the far side, abutting the working kitchen, the scene was forensic, with silent chefs, tweezers-poised over an array of tiny intricate morsels.

From the off, I ought to stress that choice, when it comes to food at Aimsir, is not an option. The sole offering is the chef’s tasting menu, 18 courses of it on the night we visited. It would be an extreme omnivore (or maybe a liar) who will claim to adore every mouthful. The first course did nothing for me and, More than likely because the violetta potato trails far in the wake of the Golden Wonder, the Jersey Royal and the Maris Piper when it comes to my spud hierarchy. The next eleven courses, though, had me spellbound. As ever with tasting menus there are spots where I want to call a halt and spend the night gourmandising on the last morsel I’d eaten. Here it happened a number of times, notably with the Flaggy Shore oyster, minimally poached in roasted koji butter and the versatile Highbank Orchard apple balsamic, a condiment I use a good deal at home; the 81 day-aged Killenure Castle Dexter beef, encased in a lattice of its own tripe and enhanced with smoked Loch Neagh eel, mustard seeds and lemon thyme; the chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms from Ballyhoura mountain formed into an aromatic and palate-pleasing cigar; the wild wood pigeon cooked on the bone with lavender and aromatic herbs. One of the deserts offered “a taste of the landscape” and was clearly created to show us that the promise of foraged fare was for real, to whit, “split sugar-coated pineapple weed buds, sweet woodruff ice, blackcurrant leaf oil, wild thyme blossom meringue and foraged berries”.

With each dish, one of the battery of young chefs came to table to explain the philosophy, creation and workings. This and the perfect pacing of the meal were major factors in the enjoyment. Another huge plus point was the presence of Cathryn Steunenberg, recently voted Sommelier of the Year at the Food & Wine Magazine Awards. Formerly at Chapter One, Cathryn is the consummate professional. When it comes to wine, though I try always to keep an open mind, my tastes lean towards old-school and I am a determined opponent of those who deify non- intervention. Cathryn and I approach wine from opposite ends of the spectrum and both, I think, try and meet in the middle. I enjoy my jousts with her. On the night her wine pairings were laudably sound and that of the “Dannato” Teroldego Rotaliano with the two courses of wood pigeon was nothing less than inspired. There is an intriguing non-alcoholic option, too. In the shape of a Maijken inspired set of juice pairings, all of them showing identical thought-provoking character to match that of the food.

Overall, it seems pointless to put every single course under the microscope. Suffice it to say that in Aimsir, and like envelope pushers (I’d instance particularly Liath and The Greenhouse) we have restaurants fully capable off showcasing the wonderful raw materials farmed, fished or fashioned by Irish producers to the extent where they will force the culinary milieu worldwide to sit up and take notice of what is going on in this island. Some may cavil at the price – a couple, eating and dinking, are going to end up well the poorer by more than €300. But richer in experience of course. Anyone able to stump up the readies without feeling the pain should make a point of dining there. Others should contemplate selling the second car or taking the kids out of private education. Ha! You think I’m kidding…

Aimsir, Cliff at Lyons, Celbridge, Co Kildare Tel: 01-6303500

Chameleon closes

Saddest news I’ve heard in ages is that Chameleon in Temple Bar, Dublin, is closing at the end of this week.

Carol Walsh and Kevin O’Toole have, over the past 25 years, built up a little gem of a restaurant. But now, it seems, the herculean task of maintaining a viable city centre restaurant in the current economic climate has defeated them and, after exploring every possible avenue, Carol and Kevin have decided to call ‘time’.
In case you did not manage to get there, here are a few snippets from my earlier reviews of Chameleon, published here as a tribute to two wonderful, warm and companionable people whom I am privileged to regard as friends. Though neither has said so, I am privately sure they will be back ‘at the coalface’ anytime soon. Meanwhile, thanks Carol and Kev and good luck for the future.

“..long before Temple Bar became the hurdy-gurdy tourist trap it is now, Carol signed a lease on a tall narrow building in Fownes’ Street, kitting out the first floor with mirrored walls as a dance and aerobics studio and the ground floor as a vegetarian café to feed the neighbours, a motley amalgam of young fashion designers, artists, proprietors of vinyl record shops and comic book vendors. At some point, major restoration work on an adjacent building suggested travelling might be a good idea. In Indonesia, she fell in love with the heady aromas and perky flavours of the local cuisine. Back in Ireland, she opened Chameleon in 1994. The reason for the name isn’t hard to discern.”

“Commendably, there’s a good deal said about provenance on the menu – the pork, in particular, comes from rare breed Fermanagh black pigs. It also tells you that thigh meat is used for the chicken satay, sensible as it does cook better than breast for this purpose. “

“It is good value. We got by on €100 and could have knocked a tenner off by choosing a cheaper wine. The food is honest and tasty and nicely presented. Service was prompt and attentive all evening, without being in your face. Those with a grá for ambience will not come away disappointed. The night we dined there was the Thursday before the bank holiday when the capital, traditionally, empties. Chameleon was heaving, upstairs and down, and the atmosphere, electric. Dining there gives you the smug feeling that you’ve made the perfect choice for a night spent in Temple Bar. Walking back home it was hard to suppress a sneer at the heaving masses queuing for the dubious privilege of jostling for a rip-off pint and an earful of plastic diddly-eye.”

Restaurant Review: Ichigo Ichie

Takashi Miyazaki’s restaurant in Cork City, recipient of a Michelin star in the last roundup is called Ichigo Ichie. The words translate as “a once in a lifetime encounter” and having heard friends tell of the ordeal involved in trying to gain a table, plus the fact that the only item on the carte is a 12-course tasting menu at €120 I believe the name to be reasonably apposite. At this juncture I should say I bypassed the system, breaking the habit of a lifetime and ringing the proprietor direct, reasoning that in a 24-seater restaurant, with a chef, known to me, strutting his stuff at a counter out front, there would be as much likelihood of my dining incognito as of Jeremy Corbin doing Jager bombs with Donald Trump.

Those who like to linger over dinner will be disappointed to learn that Ichigo Ichie has two sittings, at 6 and 9pm. On foot of booking, an e-mail is sent to warn you that should guests turn up late, their courses scheduled prior to their arrival time will be forfeited. No ‘catch-up’ permitted.

The low-key frontage had Sibella and myself unprepared for the exterior which is, at one and the same time, ultra stylish yet neutrally non-distracting, perfect for plate-focussed folk like yours truly. There are three distinct dining areas: Zen, the Japanese garden-style area at the pebble and slate front of the restaurant; Nagomi, a space for 12 diners adjacent to the impressive sycamore Kappou counter, the place to be if you fancy watching the maestro at work. 

We ordered a bottle of the house white, Cantine Rallo Ciello Bianco Cataratto from Sicily, at €30, cheapest on the list. Early on, I was struggling with what I perceived as a whiffy bouquet and cidery overtones and soon gave up on this ungracious ‘natural’ wine. The  bottle, commendably, was changed without the merest quibble and we found a deal of delight in ‘La Dilettante’ (at €44 next cheapest on the stylish carte), a biodynamic Vouvray from Catherine and Pierre Breton, a wine I know and rate highly.

It’s maybe worth stating that II’s food, brilliant as it is, might not suit everyone. My dining companion struggles with sushi and sashimi and thin, delicate broths aren’t really her bag, either. Her eyes lit up when the duck and rice appeared, round about item ten in the decalogue. Until then the most positive comment I got was “interesting”. For omnivore me, however, it was fascination all the way. Food of this nature lives or dies by the quality of the ingredients and everything, from the skeins of ginger to the last slice of scallop was fresh, fresh, fresh. 

Dinner took the form of an exploration of all sensory perceptions. Our table was just about close enough to witness Miya wielding his instruments with surgical precision. The presentation revealed elements of what I’d call ‘Bauhaus food’ – after the movement, not the celebrated Vancouver restaurant – as certain dishes impressed with their precise spacial organisation. Others came to table awash with jewel-like sparkle, like you were in Tiffany’s or Cartier and someone had emptied a bagful of baubles onto the countertop.

Courses followed hot-foot on one another, brought to table by staff filled with an enthusiasm for their roles and product knowledge way beyond the norm. Two amuse bouches appeared, almost simultaneously. A morsel of monkfish liver, marine foie gras and two immaculate pieces of sushi, a singed scallop and a slice of blue fin tuna got the progression off to a good start. We both liked the distinctly peanut flavoured jimani tofu, a square of it anointed with gold leaf, enhanced by the contrasting flavours of mirin tare and hot, sharp wasabi. 

Next up, a shiitake mushroom cuddling a Dublin bay prawn; set-off by sakura (edible cherry leaf), shiso, a mint variant, and  Achill Island sea salt. The following plate, incorporating an array of gems comprising razor clam, whelk, whiting, smoked herring roe, apple blosson, wild garlic and a trompe l’oeil miso ‘yolk’ was probably my favourite of the night, a short-head winner over the selection of pristine sashimi that included, amazingly, lobster. Our first and only acquaintance with a meat dish was the sliver of pork ‘secreto’  the incredibly tender, highly prized and intensely marbled cut from the shoulder of   a  Pata Negra pig. This melt-in-the-mouth wonder came piqued up with yuzu and accompanied by strands of itadori (whisper, whisper, Japanese knotweed to you), grown under controlled conditions in West Cork. After this, a palate cleanser, a dashi broth featuring a Connemara clam, eringii mushroom, gingko nut and fragrant mitsuba (Japanese parsley). Nimono, a  soi-disant ‘stew’ involving spring cabbage, Manor farm chicken, organic carrot, and Ballymakenny farm purple potato didn’t charm, partially a textural thing but also because of the uniform blandness. 

After the The Thornhill duck with Jerusalem artichoke, red Russian kale, yuzu and kampot pepper I could have ended the review, simply saying “Look, Ichiego Ichie is bloody brilliant. If you are interested in food, as either connoisseur or adventurer, you owe it to yourself to get there. Save up, flog the second car, empty the kids’ piggy bank, whatever it takes.”  

Another broth, an egg dashi pot, came with a welcome morsel of foie gras, sakura and sugar snap foam. A king crab claw, perfectly cooked, put the sea shore back into the mix and its supporting cast included kohl rabi, aways a favourite of mine. Thence to Sibella’s favourite, the intensely flavoured, cooked-in-a broth rice spiked with ginger and tender nuggets of duck. On to akadashi, a broth, this time of red miso, tofu, chive and dashi that cleared the path for an extraordinary dessert that, on a soft pancake, showcased clearly delineated flavours of cherry, white chocolate, cocoa and tangerine with a spear of sugar-frosted asparagus as, literally, the icing on the cake.

The bill, with bottled waters and the bottle of Vouvray came to €304 ex- service. We finished at 8.40pm. Most of the second sitting had already assembled outside the door. Palpable anticipation perfumed the Cork night air as we pushed past them.

Ichigo Ichie, 5 Fenns Quay, Sheares Street, Cork City. Tel: (021) 427 9997

Food ****1/2

Wine****

Service ****1/2

Ambience ****1/2

Value ****

Overall ****1/2

Restaurant Review: Damascus Gate

The recent closure of American-Italian restaurant Luna, only a few night previous the recipient of an award for ‘Best Dublin Service’, sent shockwaves though the hospitality industry as such things are wont to do. Coupled with the demise of Super Miss Sue a year earlier, it caused critics to wonder whether multi-restaurateur John Farrell has finally lost what seemed to be an iron grip on the zeitgeist of Dublin dining. Reactions from other restaurateurs opined that Dublin had too many dining establishments, main cause Luna’s demise. This was echoed by Restaurants Association of Ireland CEO Adrian Cummins (whose organisation had bestowed on Luna the aforesaid award) to criticise the city’s planning officials, saying  “Many of them are architects or engineers. They don’t understand retail and they don’t understand the hospitality business.”

This is undeniably true. However, doesn’t  giving the council an overriding veto on who, how and when someone opens a restaurant and restricting the number of licenses issued open up a can of worms? Such conduct is surely counter to the spirit of free enterprise and entrepreneurship that is such an essential part of hospitality? Adopting this approach could produce a bleak, monochrome, 1984 type scenario where restaurateurs surrender control to”Big Brother” corpo. What follows? Some jobsworth from the council coming along and saying “You can’t put (say) oxtail on the menu, it won’t sell”, maybe.  Furthermore money talks. In my opinion, the wannabe entrepreneur with a few bob put by to help realise a dream is likely to fare less well under this system than the chains and the big brands. That’s life.
To my mind, two things can be fingered for the demise of a restaurant in the capital. One is the ineptitude of many restaurateurs in installing and operating a viable business model , a point supported on my Facebook page by successful Dublin publican Alex Cordero. The other is the fickle nature of Dublin diners, always looking for the new sensation, then quickly tiring of it and moving on. As always, it’s the survival of the fittest and though we may weep for colleagues and friends and mourn the demise of a favourite dining establishment, we have to accept that as the case.

Anyhow, enough doom’n’gloom. This week saw me back in Terenure following a lead a foodie friend had given me concerning a small place called Q’s that served up, in modest surroundings, pan-Asian food that was a cut above the norm. Shame that, when I got there, a notice on the front door advised that as from June 18th the upstairs dining room would close “to assist us to concentrate on our take away operation.” Ah well, I mused and trudged back to the car. En route I saw a frontage I’d not noticed earlier, bearing the sign “Damascus Gate”. I peered through the window and the interior seemed squeaky new. Indeed it was, for the restaurant, a sister ship to Damascus Gate in Camden Street, which I’d reviewed a good few years ago, had only been open three weeks. 

The premises used formerly to house a modest, family-run Italian called, if I recall right, Lisa’s Trattoria. Now it is Syrian-Lebanese, the cuisine nodding to the nuances of both countries  and the premises has been given a makeover of some magnitude to reflect  the culinary schtick, including a smoking area courtyard, with shisa pipes available. The dining room is bright and engaging, the staff, young and charming. It was early doors so there was a choice of tables (it had filled u by the time I left). I picked one where the evening sun flooded in and sat down to study the menu. While I was doing this a complementary dish of olives and crisp bread was brought to table.

On my own, I ordered, in order to get a good spectrum of the available fare, a selection of starters, portions of which proved to be on the generous side. The baba ghanoush, smoke-perfumed as it should be, erased the memory of the substandard equivalent I’d had a couple of weeks earlier. The kibbeh, deep-fried lamb meatballs, crisp and tasty, contrasted beautifully with the fresh yogurt and cucumber salad. Quality of the condiments involved in the make up of the dishes, notably the olive oil, were of excellent quality.Favourite starter for me, though, was the twice-cooked spatchcocked quail, a slapping big bouncer of a bird, almost the size of a small poussin, that came served with an appropriately tart pomegranate and lemon juice sauce.

My decision not to imbibe alcohol, entirely sensible, was taken with some regret because the short but carefully constructed wine list contained some good Lebanese wines, including Ch.Kefraya, not easy to find in Ireland. I enquired about non-alcoholic beer. The waitress brought a can of some soft drink of which the flavours vaguely hinted at pineapple. Starting over, I’d choose mint tea.  

Taking my cue from the waitress, I ordered a dish called kabseh, in which lamb, slow-cooked to ‘pulling’ consistency wa laid on a bed of rice and furthered cooked with spices, including cloves, black cardamom and the give-away astringency of  dried lime, over a bed of rice and, before being brought to table, sprinkled with toasted nuts. The opulently rich lamb stock, containing all the ‘goodness’ from the meat, with which the dish was served lent extra charm. Almost every cuisine of note has a slow-cooked lamb dish in its repertoire and this was a very good one indeed.

I topped off the repast with baklava, made on the premises. Sticky, substantial, wholly endearing, with the sent of rose water soaring above the rich syrup, it was  the perfect foil for a cup of terrific Syrian (I presume) coffee. By this time, I had figured out that the solitary diner at the kitchen end of the room must be the proprietor. Ghandi Mallak, whom I had not previously met, proved an affable character. I partook of a gratis pot of black tea, brewed with fresh mint leaves as well as some discourse on herbs and spices and the convoluted politics of the region. The €53 I spent I considered good value, the more so as there was enough food for two.

Damascus Gate, 81 Terenure Road north, Dublin 6W Tel:01 499 1000

Food ****

Wine ***

Service ***1/2

Ambience ***

Value ****

Overall ***1/2

i

Dining out alone

I got interviewed by a local radio station on this very topic about six months ago. Here are their questions/my answers.

Do you dine alone much? 

A fair bit at lunchtime. Generally simple, low cost places like Duck, Fish Shop, Gruel (sadly missed), Bowls, Ka Shing for the dim sum and anywhere I can get a proper salt beef sandwich. I like the counter seats at Little Mike’s in Mount Merrion, where the staff are so friendly it doesn’t feel like dining on one’s tod.
I don’t do burgers much. I like Bunsen in Wexford Street a good deal but they seem over-stretched in the kitchen and there’s often a wait at lunchtime that takes the ‘fast’ out of fast food. I use Bujo in Sandymount Green occasionally. It’s local and their burgers are honest. Usually, though,I make my own, buying steak and mincing it at home and adding herbs from the garden. I usually have a small production line going to keep the freezer stocks for occasions like when friends or rellies come round for a barbecue.
Eating out in the evening, for pleasure or for the purpose of a review I prefer to have a companion. In the latter case you get a broader view of the restaurant’s capabilities.

Do you like it? 

In the evenings, no. Dining alone always reminds me of a time after a long term relationship broke up. I used to squirrel out obscure restaurants in down-market suburbs of Manchester  to save myself the embarrassment of bumping into friends.   Louden Wainwright III wrote a great song about his own, similar, situation, called “I Eat Out”.      

How often do you eat out alone? 

As little as possible. Probably not more than five or six  times a year. Unless I am travelling, in which case I’d eat solo a fair bit. For example, attending a food festival in Galway two years ago I ate out on my own three nights on the run.

Where do you go?

Either simple ‘grab a bite’ places, down-home traditional Chinese; Indian restaurants ( I have a few favourites) or maybe just somewhere I can get a good steak when the lust for meat takes over

What do you not like about the way you are treated when you are dining alone? 

The weird looks you sometimes attract from waiters and other diners. A melange of pity and contempt.

Have you ever been refused a  table for one?  

Never actually refused. But I’ve often encountered eye rolling, overt begrudgery and sometimes tantrums and hissy fits, as if entering a restaurant alone is a gross breach of the code of manners.

Scroll to top