SOME OF MY HIGHLIGHTS OF 2015
Irish Daily Mail
26 December 2015
I’m finding it hard to credit that this is the end of my twenty-first year as a restaurant critic, something that makes me – I think – the longest serving one in the country.
When I took over the reins from the famous (or infamous, depending on your view) Helen Lucy Burke all those years ago, she warned me that an occupational hazard would be frequent tummy upsets. And so it proved for a while, but either kitchen hygiene has vastly improved (which I’m inclined to believe) or my immune system has been toughened by exposure to bugs (and there may be something in this too).
These days standards are higher than ever and a new restaurant seems to open in Dublin every week. So, how was 2015? Probably the best year of my reviewing career, to be honest.
Two highlights were, essentially, Japanese: the brilliant Taste at Rustic by Dylan McGrath, an immensely sophisticated restaurant in the heart of Dublin 2, and Miyazaki, a takeaway with a few stools and a counter in a rather drab street in Cork but where the food sang with flavour.
By definition, this isn’t the kind of cooking that most of us attempt at home (Dylan insists that the sushi rice is at the same temperature as your lip when it reaches your mouth, for example) and there’s another sort, too: the kind of cooking that is based in classical tradition, requiring lots of skill and experience.
I had a memorable such meal at Canteen in Blackrock Market where James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert and team have been doing wonderful things until very recently; they are now enjoying parenthood and looking to do something closer to their home in Co Kildare. (Canteen, meanwhile, has become Heron & Grey which sounds very promising indeed).
It was good to welcome back Locks, with its delightful canalside dining room, and the fact that the new owners, unlike the previous one, let me in. The current incarnation is all about doing things simply but brilliantly, a kind of cooking and presentation that requires real confidence on the part of the kitchen and a degree of understanding and experience on the part of the customer that used not to be very thick on the ground in Dublin.
Much the same can be said of Forest Avenue, which I revisited very recently in these pages, but the cuisine is much more complex, maybe even a bit more cerebral. Dinner there reaffirmed for me that John Wyer’s cooking is amongst the best in the country, and very distinctive in its style that combines rusticity and sensitivity.
In Midleton, Kevin Aherne’s 12 mile at Sage menu does something similar although the rusticity is more to the fore, as befits a restaurant that represents its hinterland so engagingly. This is confident cooking that delivers on sheer flavour and a rare sense of place.
John Farrell brought us Luna, louche and lovely, with a glorious cocktail bar that is all Mad Men, and a decadent dish of truffled spaghetti that I can still taste. And it now has Declan Maxwell, late of Chapter One, as front of house.
There were some very pleasant surprises. Suesey Street turned out to be producing food of remarkable quality, very Michelin end and carefully judged. Recently appointed, Graeme Dodrill, a chef with great perdigree, is set to take this Leeson Street establishment to an even higher level in the New Year.
In another basement not far away, Dax turned out to be better than ever. Olivier Meissonave has a remarkable consistency to his operation and the slick but essentially homely French cuisine is comforting in a way that makes you want to return, again and again.
The Washerwoman in Glasnevin, from the people behind The Woolen Mills and The Winding Stair proved to be much more than a “neighbourhood” restaurant: a lovely, bright room in which is served robust food, carefully sourced, and without any fuss or pretension. We need more such places.
Pretension is conspicuously absent from The Fish Shop (which started in a shed in Blackrock Market but is now a tiny restaurant on Queen Street). Tiny menu, tiny wine list but brilliant fresh seafood, friendly service and sense that you are being cared for.
For years Cork was without anywhere that did a convincing job at “fine dining” (horrible phrase, but we all know what it means). That has changed with the considered and classically inspired cooking of Bryan McCarthy at Greenes on MacCurtain Street.
Outside of Dublin and Cork, I had memorable meals at Zuni in Kilkenny (with its newly enlarged dining room) and at Burzza in Waterford with its fine pizzas and superb burgers (to say nothing of the highly restorative Aperol Spritz).
And, finally, for once it has been a tough job to cull my highlights of the year to fit the space available. Long may that continue…