Okay, let’s get down to one of the core travel experiences: the eats.
When my friend was Skyping me his pitchfork to goad me into taking a trip to Ireland, one of the last things he said was, “Do something spendy and nice for yourself.”
Well, this is something I have difficulty doing because reasons, but when I got to Dublin, I thought I might like to treat myself to a nice meal or two, as I did in Paris and Prague last year. My first foray, on the recommendation of Radislaw, the concierge, was not a success. Pro tip: if a pub is named the Hairy Lemon, it’s going to be chockablock with loud, drunk American tourists. And the food will be mediocre. Although Smithwick’s is Smithwick’s.
So I made sure to avoid Radislaw from that point onward, and Martin came through for me. On fairly short notice, he got me bookings at three “fine dining” establishments (= French, pretty much), and on my last night he confirmed the pub recommendation from my Irish friend.
Okay, for some reason I didn’t pull out my camera at Pearl Brasserie between shooting the initial table setting and then the dessert.
But my starter (after an amuse bouche) was crispy Dublin Bay prawns wrapped in spring roll pastry, marinated bean sprout salad, mango and black pepper dressing. Amazing. As was the pan-fried hake with roasted fennel, crispy sweetcorn (think hush puppy) and chicken jus. I was sorely tempted by the honey, thyme, lemon cream tartelette for dessert, but in the end was swayed toward the yuzu tartlette with white and dark chocolate.
Before the place started hopping, I had several chats with the fellow I took to be the maître d’ (French). I did not start with an apéritif because that was the day I’d spent my lunch hour tasting whiskey at Pearse Lyons Distillery. (I made do with sparkling water and a glass of Chablis.) This guy hadn’t heard of it, and in between chats he looked it up and pronounced it very interesting. So there may be some business in it for PLD.
Sadly a Loud American Couple was seated next to me about halfway into my meal—they were certainly good for Pearl Brasserie’s business: ordering top-shelf vodka cocktails, high-end wine, oysters, steak tartare, the €19 lobster starter, lamb and I can’t recall whatever else. They were in town for someone’s birthday party and they were dodging their fellow celebrants for the evening.
The next night I dined at Peploe’s, whose owner/manager was Irish, but whose servers mostly were French. My starter, Lambay Island white crabmeat, pickled cucumber, avocado and dill yoghurt:
It was lovely, if somewhat…small. I was reminded of a comment by a colleague of mine back in the 80s on nouvelle cuisine: it’s the appearance of food, not the substance.
Well, the pan-roasted monkfish with Dublin Bay prawns and teeny-tiny baby mussels and about 12 peas in curried coconut velouté was delightful, and my glass of Sancerre was exactly right.
And the passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit cream and vanilla ice cream was—as I informed the manager/owner on my way out—a little bit of heaven on earth.
They seated a not-Loud American Couple next to me. He ordered a Maker’s Mark, which somehow didn’t fully translate. It came along with a tall orangeish drink, which he looked at somewhat stupefied. He sipped it and said, “I have no idea what that is,” but he didn’t send it back. That will have been at least €10 added to their bill.
On the Saturday night, Martin booked me into Glovers Alley, the restaurant associated with the hotel. (They offer a discounted menu for hotel guests, or I’d never have done it.) This was not my favorite—it was perfectly fine, and I certainly had a lot of attention, but after the other two experiences it was just adequate. With a couple of interesting points.
The woman at the table next to me when I sat down was wearing very glitzy shoes:
When at one point her companion left the table, I leaned over and said, “I purely admire those shoes. They remind me of The Wizard of Oz.” Turns out that she did know that the shoes Dorothy inherits from the Wicked Witch of the East were diamond in the book; MGM thought they didn’t translate well to a color production, so they made them ruby slippers.
(These are Jimmy Choos, by the way, and she bought another pair, flats.)
The sommelier was kept quite busy. Interestingly, he did not open bottles of wine at guests’ tables; he opened them at a table and took a taste before taking the opened bottle to table. And the older couple who sat at the other table next to me ordered something that was good enough to be decanted. I don’t think I’ve seen that on the hoof before.
Well, okay, my meal.
The second and third amuses bouches (I ate the first one before I thought about shooting it).
Poor under-waiter who was using two forks to serve the rolls had a hard time with my French roll, which slipped away and skimmed the butter. Which he took away and replaced.
My starter, scallop ceviche with tomato seeds, radish and dill:
Which is listed on the menu as Piglet Belly, turnip, walnut, Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar. I heard a waiter telling another guest that it’s suckling pig, which I personally think would be a better thing to put on the menu, so you don’t think you’re eating Pooh’s friend.
And my dessert was described as “Rhubarb, Strawberry, Lemon Verbena, Mint”, which doesn’t convey a lot to me. According to the server, it’s a parfait. But when it arrived, here’s what it looked like:
The waiter told me the best way to address it is to whack it with the back of a spoon and break the shell, which turned out to be white chocolate.
Voyage of discovery, eh?
All three restaurants served little petits fours after the dessert. I only shot the ones at Glovers Alley.
For my last night, I went to Doheny & Nesbitt, a straightforward pub. I had a grand fish & chips and a pint of Smithwick’s, an excellent way to say goodbye to Dublin.
So on this Gratitude Monday, I’m looking back at some stellar dining experiences, and only one dud.