Ireland

The Greenhouse, Dublin

To say I was impressed by the food scene in Dublin is an understatement of epic proportions. In four days we had really good burritos, a lovely bistro meal, proper beef burgers, and two excellent breakfasts (no, not the White Moose café). There is a thriving independent scene of people passionate about feeding customers well. I loved it a lot more than the beer prices, which for a country with an alleged drink problem are bordering on scandalous. Still Dublin has a lot more going for it than three whisky museums and a street filled with stag parties. I loved it, and when I’ve saved for another twenty years to afford it, I’ll be back.

One of the reasons I loved it was The Greenhouse, a smart restaurant on the corner of St Stephens Green. It comes with a big reputation, with many in the know describing it as Ireland’s best kitchen. The interior is smart and compact, with tables a little closer than ideal. It allows us to get acquainted with the couple either side of us; both convivial and possessive of that Irish charm; both celebrating a special occasion. We order a bottle of txakoli from a list that offers little value and take to the nibble that is placed before us. The ball of deep fried pigs head has dense meat lifted by a little apple. Nice enough, though hardly setting the world alight. The sourdough bread that follows is pretty much perfect, with a crumb that snaps and a light texture onto which we smear butter an inch thick. It is a bread we would request more of as the meal progressed to ensure every trace leaves the plate.

The first course is a dish of exceptional balance. On the base of a bowl is a foie gras royale, silky and rich, covered in a green apple jelly. Layered on to the jelly are dots of apple puree, walnut, smoked eel, a powdered foie, and finally a green apple sorbet. There is a lot going on, though everything is complementary to the foie gras that remains the star throughout. For main we both take the suckling pig, loin served sideways with glass-like skin to one edge. The accompaniments are pure Spring; fresh peas, asparagus as spears and a puree, morels, and discs of crisp potato. An aerated vin juane provides the necessary acidity, whilst a glossy reduction of the pig’s meat juices is classic at its finest. This is stellar work, reminiscent of Phil Howard when he cooked at The Square. My kind of cooking.

Dessert is a passion fruit soufflé standing proudly from the ramekin, where we carve a little hole out and pour in a ginger and white chocolate sauce, before crowing it with a passion fruit ice cream. It is dreamy, the prominent flavour of the fruit livened by the slightly spicy sauce, the difference in heat a lovely contrast. Petit fours consist of a citrus and jasmine tea tart topped with finger lime, and a choux bun filled with chocolate cream. Both are excellent.

The above is from a set lunch, which is excellent value at 42 Euros for three courses, to which we add a good amount on top with drinks. To me this is excellent value for a meal that quickly hit top gear and stayed there. I enjoyed the style of cooking here; the strong technique, the restraint, and the occasional modern flourish. It’s a restaurant that very much puts flavour first. Michelin presently bestows The Greenhouse with one star, it seems only a matter of time before a second follows.

9/10

White Moose Cafe, Dublin

The White Moose Cafe don’t like food bloggers, or least they pretend not to like food bloggers. I don’t blame them; I don’t like a lot of them either, yet the fact remains that they have made their feelings known very publicly and barred us troublesome freeloaders from their modest and shy little cafe under the hotel they also own. But I wanted to go and see what the fuss is about, so I dropped them a polite little tweet;

They never responded. How rude.

Undeterred, I decide that I can’t be in Dublin and not go. We’d already booked the best restaurant in town, and the place voted as Ireland’s best breakfast. We’ve targeted the highly rated bistro and drinks at the place they say is the city’s best cocktail bar. How can we not go to the world famous White Moose Cafe? If I’m not allowed to be there I’ll have to go in disguise. Here is me inside the cafe wearing an eye patch and fake moustache;

They never suspected a thing. The Fools.

We order at the bar; two drinks, a full American (a full Irish with pancakes), and something called a breakfast burrito. I ask if the eggs are free range: they don’t know (my guess is not judging from the pale yellow yolk). The table we sit at is filthy, cleaned some ten minutes after, mere seconds before the food arrives and some five minutes before the drinks do. It’s not a great start. Maybe they should spend more time looking at the detail in their cafe than plotting the next social media publicity attack.

What follows is a breakfast that the ever polite Claire describes as ‘inexcusably bad’ but I will say is a fucking shambles. I was expecting mediocre; some kind of very average food made popular by very clever marketing. The reality is far worse than that. The Full Irish is a disaster; cheap sausages that taste of very little, the tell-tale sign of cheap bacon injected with too much water as an unappealing white residue. Chunks of black and white pudding have been overcooked so much they crumble to sawdust under the pressure of a fork, whilst cheap horrid beans have been warmed up in a microwave. The poached eggs are pale but at least competent, the same with the hash brown. A spoonful of mushrooms that have the texture of slugs; half of a tomato. We have toast but no butter and still no butter when we ask. Pancakes on the side are stodgy and bring on a diabetic coma. The burrito is just some of the same shit rolled up in a tortilla with the addition of jarred salsa and a snotty ‘avo cream’ – a turn of phrase that can fuck itself almost as hard as the notion of ever coming back here.

We pay, thus distinguishing ourselves far apart from the bloggers, and allowing a full opinion to be broadcast. I never really took their latest attack personally; it wasn’t aimed at blogs like mine, and I could see it for the cheap marketing trick it was. But it does open them up to criticism against their own business. Had we had this experience at a nondescript cafe I would have wrote it off and paid for another elsewhere. But The White Moose? They attract business via a clever marketing campaign and should have been able to back it up. The food is, for a lovely Irish term I heard repeatedly, shite. The service not much better. And when those breakfasts come in at a touch over 25 euros for two it’s pretty unacceptable. Do they care? I doubt it. The idiots paying for breakfasts and brunch here are nothing more than a byproduct for the t-shirt sales, marketing tours and Snapchat income. My guess is that this is real reason bloggers have been barred. They don’t want the world to see just how bad it is.

2/10