I remember the first time I went to Taste of Dublin. I was with my sister. At the time she was working in the restaurant industry and was far more knowledgeable about Dublin’s culinary scene than I was. I got such a kick out of having the opportunity to sample the creations from restaurants that I otherwise could never have afforded to go to. It was truly a gastronomic adventure, and I loved every minute of it. Almost ten years after my first Taste experience, last Friday evening, I again made my annual pilgrimage to Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens.
I would love to say that the experience has remained unchanged, but sadly this is not the case. Over the years Taste has become less about the food, and more about Dublin’s glitterati having a place to “be seen!” In the past, Taste was a platform for Dublin’s top restaurants to showcase themselves, and they all seemed to take pride in doing exactly that. Unfortunately, some seem now to have reduced themselves to serving up slop to the patrons, some of which have admittedly imbibed too much Taittinger to know any different!
At this year’s event, there were five in our party. As always, we were quite strategic in our approach. We sat and decided which of the restaurants we wanted to visit. We then set about working our way through them. Making sure to share the dishes, so that we could sample as much as possible without stretching our wallets and stomachs to breaking point.
The first spot on our hit list was Klaw and I have to say, we couldn’t have picked a more perfect starting point. Klaw offered up a Trio of Achill Island Oysters, naked, dressed and blow torched. They were truly amazing, like little bites of heaven. I have always loved oysters, and had high expectations. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. My two aunts had never tried oysters before. They sampled them with gusto and were delighted. Klaw also offered us a Fish and Chips dish, which although well executed, was never going to offer the wow factor of the shellfish!
The next to be sampled was Farrier and Draper. A restaurant none of us have tried before, so we had no expectations. From here we again sampled two dishes. We had Cannelloni, which we weren’t terribly impressed with. The dish’s flavour was completely overpowered by the burnt butter. The texture of the cannelloni also felt very soft. We had bought two portions of this dish and one made its way into the bin uneaten. When it came to Farrier and Drapers second offering, the result could not have been more different. It was a Slow Brasied Lamb Neck. This dish was an absolute triumph. The lamb was extremely tasty and tender, cooked to perfect and overall one of the highlights of the day.
Up next was Pichet. Three of our party have dined here before and were expecting good things. None of us were disappointed, and over all, I think Pichet offered the best food I sampled all day. We tried each of Pichet’s three dishes and each was equally outstanding. The Crispy Hen Egg, Black pudding, Pea Dressing and Tartare sauce was visually stunning. It was very well executed, and I couldn’t help being impressed to discover the egg was still soft inside. Their main course of Braised Shortrib, was an utter delight. The meat was succulent and tasted amazing and the risotto was one of the nicest I have ever had. Pichet’s Dessert offering was Peanut Butter Parfait, Chocolate Mousse, Honeycomb and it definitely did not dissappoint. Even the non-dessert lovers had to admit it was sensational. Overall, if I had been served these dishes in Pichet’s restaurant, I would have been delighted and happily paid full price. Well done!
We sampled all three offerings from The Green Hen, and overall we found all three to be uninspiring. The Surf and Turf consisted of an overdone scallop and a rather tasteless piece of pork belly. Their Lamb Lollipop was deep fried and disappointing. On paper the Duck Sausage Roll sounded extremely promising, but sadly failed to deliver. The pastry was soggy and the meat itself was indistinguishable. Overall, I felt it was a poor effort and would not entice me to make a booking.
Matt The Thresher was next on the agenda. From here we tried the Dublin Bay Prawns and the Plaice Goujons. The prawns were delectable, the meat so sweet it could have been mistaken for crab. They were dressed to perfection in garlic butter and really were a treat. The plaice goujons were equally impressive and I felt it was brave to showcase a perhaps unfashionable fish. Seafood has always been a particular favourite of mine and I would have high standards, but I could not fault either dish.
Indian cuisine was next on the menu as we headed to Jaipur. We sampled their Prawn Curry and their Tandoori Chicken Kebab. Bother dishes were delicious. I will admit, I was not expecting great things from the curry, but I was blown away. The rice was light and fluffy and the curry was wonderfully spicy, yet allowed the delicate flavour of the prawns to come through. The chicken was also very good, a lovely dose of heat and it definitely left an impression. Even my mother, who by her own admission wouldn’t be a fan of Indian food, couldn’t fault Jaipur’s offerings, and it was their curry we all found ourselves craving on Saturday night!
After a brief respite, we sampled the offerings of The Port House. We tried the Chicken Paella and the Croquettas. I normally adore both of these items and was excited to sample them. Unfortunately neither dish lived up to my expectations. The paella was cold and gluppy. The croquttas were just okay. Neither dish was finished.
Chop House served us Steak and Chips and Lemon Curd Pavlova. The steak was cooked beautifully and extremely tender, no easy feat to achieve under the conditions. The pavlova was quite nice, but slightly overpowered by the lemon curd I felt.
Lastly we sampled the Calamari from Unicorn. I could tell that the squid was very fresh and good quality, however, I think the oil needed to be changed. The greasy taste which came through rather spoiled the dish, which was a shame.
Between the five of us, our culinary expedition cost about €350, not including the price of the tickets. I think that over the years the experience has become less value for money. Perhaps this could be due to the law of diminishing returns. When I have had a great time somewhere, I always want to try to recreate it, but sadly it usually doesn’t live up to expectations the second time around. The sun failed to shine on Taste this year, so perhaps that also took some of the gloss off the event.
All in all, we had a nice time, but I would be hesitant about booking my tickets in 2017. Some of Dublin’s “best restaurants” definitely need to up their game. I want see Chaper One back serving their signature dishes and not trying to placate us with insipid desserts. Some others seem to need to be reminded that Taste is an opportunity for them to wow potential diners. Have they forgotten that they need us more than we need them?