Tag Archives: Restaurant review

Let’s Do Blunch

What does one do on those slow weekend mornings when one wakes up too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, but is famished? A conundrum which has troubled me for years, it often leaves me lying in bed, pretending to be asleep, until a food appropriate hour. This, however, leads to the inevitable growling stomach and aching head.

Well, I have come up with a solution – a meal larger than breakfast, not as savoury as lunch, that sates until dinner. I call it… Blunch!

Ok, I’m working on the name, but the principle still stands.

But where to eat this newly identified repast? There was only one thing for it – an investigative report by a crack team of eaters, led by yours truly. I grabbed my phone, swiped to my trusted companion, and sent the fateful message – “Let’s. Do. Blunch.”

Off we toddled to the appealing suburb of Portobello, and the much recommended Lennox Café. Kitsch, cheery and so jam packed, I practically spent my meal on the lap of the lady behind me. It was busy, constant streams of patrons hauling in bursts of cold air, and there was a pleasant, homely community feel to the place.

Despite the ravenous, cawing crowds, we were served in a timely manner. The first coffee was bitter, acrid burnt, but much improved by the next cup; I’m a kind, gentle soul who gives second chances.

The food took reassuringly long to arrive, allowing us to sip and chat. I was instantly raptured, ascending directly to heaven, with one bite of French toast – substantial, brick-sized slabs of bread, flaky crisp on the outside, eggy and cloudy soft in the centre, sheer perfection on a plate. The maple syrup and proper, quality rashers taking second place, despite being utterly divine in and of themselves.

Eggs benedict, piled high on the same toasty bread – such delightful, remarkably light bread – would not be my usual choice. This is why I bring my dependable confidant, apart from the witty repartee. Fresh, soft-poached eggs, smothered in a contentious, homemade hollandaise sauce; unusually, it contained mint, which I believe took away from the delicate, buttery sauce, and he felt lifted and brightened it. Arguing over deck chair positions on the Titanic, to be honest, the food was universally incredible; the same quality bacon with slightly blackened edges adorned his dish, and each mouthful had a melting richness that filled the senses.

Buoyed by success, and despite my impending sugar overload, we split a slice of maple pecan pie; good, but perhaps a step too far for blunch. My eyes tend to make promises my stomach can’t keep.

Trundling back out, we declared a full and total victory for… Oh, I’ve got it! By Jove, I think I’ve got it!

I’ll call it… Lunast!

2 mains, 4 coffees, 1 pie €34
Lennox Café, 31 Lennox Street, Portobello, D8

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Nigella, Dorian and Me

Today I am recovering from meeting one of my idols, the eternally youthful and tremendously talented Nigella Lawson. Despite my rehearsed plans to inform her what an inspiration she is and how much I adore her passion for food, I ended up babbling, calling her ‘amazing’ six times and asking her how her breakfast was – shame on me. Thankfully, she took pity and signed my book anyway, despite my social ineptitude.

Yes, she looks that enviously good in real life.

As much as I would like to continue my enthused ramblings, I must move onto the crux of this post.

Honestly, I feel at some point in the near past, they changed what “it” is, and now I don’t get “it”, and what’s “it” is disappointing and confusing. This is applicable to many areas of my life; music, movies, clothes. Sometimes it affects food, and this is a source of much worry and consternation.

My utterly charming dinner companions and I had vastly differing opinions on 101 Talbot, they both on the “This is it” side, and I firmly opposing. However, what if this was just another indication of the changing goalposts of “it”, and my inability to keep up?

This is the kind of thought that keeps me awake at night.

En route to The Picture of Dorian Gray, a powerful, claustrophobic, spine-chilling production, we three stopped into 101 Talbot. Having left ourselves a little short for time, the raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake went sadly untasted, but we managed a starter, main and half a coffee each. Also, on top of this, thick hunks of proper batch bread, chewy and tender, slathered in butter – I requested more for the table; It was addictive.

I hoped that my wild game terrine would be served with this bread toasted. Irritatingly, the brioche which instead accompanied disintegrated in my hand as I tried to pile on the meat; Hearty, heavy, rich with a metallic iron tang, moderated by diced sweet apricot. I would’ve paid handsomely to eat the entire terrine loaf, as long as the over-oiled, tasteless side salad and frail bread were replaced. The chilli and coriander hummus was nice, but nothing memorable.

Next up, the main courses, and our opinions deeply divided. The boys raved, both agreeing that the food was exceptional, and warning me against the mediocre review I was going to write. In good conscience, I cannot lie, but I will merely present the honest facts for your perusal.

My linguine was well cooked, with a slight bite, the crisp, streaky bacon pieces were an absolute joy and the halves of cherry tomatoes burst with sweet juice that cut through the bland sauce. I had to take it on faith that it was a white wine sauce, however, as the overpowering taste was cream. Oddly, the thin shards of parmesan were as non-descript as the sauce.

Next, unusually dry rabbit meat sucked every drop of saliva from my mouth, requiring a large gulp of water to fully swallow. It was plonked on top of a mussel and chorizo paella – an interesting choice – that was packed full of flavour, bright, fresh vegetables, and enough mussels to make it a struggle to finish.

Finally, perfectly cooked chicken with a wonderful scorched crunch, almost ruined by vastly over-salted skin, and an armagnac gravy so good, it almost brought me to tears – simple, but packing a full bodied, opulent punch. Slightly chewy potatoes, perhaps sitting in the oven a touch too long, with crisp goose fat edges, and piles of al-dente vegetables finished off the dish.

Take from this what you will – I won’t return, but my associates may have found their new favourite restaurant.

I’ve decided – Perhaps I’m not with “it”… I’m just way ahead of the curve.

3 starters, 3 mains, 2 wines, 1 beer, 3 coffee €82
101 Talbot, 100-102 Talbot Street, Dublin 1

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Consumation does Paris

If there ever was a city designed to best capture my heart, it would have to be Paris – food aromas filtering up from twisted, secretive streets, the river reflecting the setting sun to neon-orange highlight the pompous architecture, the resplendent beauty of Notre-Dame and the parks, verdant pockets of calm amidst the bustle. At night, lit up electric white, it buzzes with people – the city of romance but, much more importantly, a city with over 8,500 restaurants and only one weekend to try them all.

I, my rumbling stomach, and my Parisian companion set out on a restaurant hunt. I brought the weather with me from Ireland and we were soaked through in minutes, the umbrella helpless against horizontal rain. A beacon of light, Les Philosophes, had a queue out the door. We decided to wait it out – somewhere this packed with natives had to be good, right? – and were seated under a blazing heater within twenty minutes, peering out at the poor, damp souls making their way up the cobbled road.

Surprisingly, for the centre of Paris, the prices were reasonable and we both went for the two course meal at €25 a head. I tried to appear as French as possible and chose gratin onion soup with boeuf bourguignon, despite my complete inability to pronounce either, and my friend opted for tomato mozzarella salad followed by rump steak.

Sipping on sharp-sweet caprioska, slowly regaining sensation in my sodden skin and people watching from a cosy bubble of warmth, I would’ve been content to continue in that vein all night, all thoughts of food aside – an extremely unusual occurrence. However, when the steaming hot bowl of soup arrived, I realised my folly. Satin soft onions steeping in beefy broth, with three chunks of bread smothered in melted, stringy cheese. Filling, full of flavour and fabulously warming, my chilled insides thanking me with every bite. The unending supply of fresh bread allowed me to soak up every last drop. To be fair, I could’ve cleared a basket of the bread by itself, had I not controlled myself in anticipation for the second course. My partner eagerly cleared her plate; the salad was farm fresh, and the more-ish, nutty pesto was clearly homemade.

Speaking of farms; the supplier of each ingredient is listed on the menu. I assume this is so you can contact them to thank them for dedicating their lives to supplying such fantastic food – a reasonable response, considering what happened next.

My main, the boeuf smileandpoint was.. I think, for once in my life, I’ve lost words. The beef dissolved into fibres as I touched it with my fork, into its rich, satisfying sauce flavoured with lardons, red wine and garlic. The carrots were crisp, the peas, sweet and uneven in size, as if I had picked them myself in my Dad’s greenhouse. The whole plate was a shining example of hearty, well made, quality food, impeccably seasoned and sauced, the vegetables with a vital crunch.

Heated to all my extremities, pleasantly full, and more people watching to complete, we ordered another drink. All in all, we must have sat for three hours; never once were we hurried or rushed by the attentive staff, despite the crowds.

The next day, in a desperate attempt to eat all the food in Paris, we headed on the Flavours of Paris food tour. Despite my best attempts – pulling off handfuls of crusty, chewy, slightly sour baguette, running my finger around the cup to catch the last drop of thick, luxurious hot chocolate (with imperceptible spices that raised it from great to heavenly), inhaling spoons of homemade tapenade on delightful salty pastry bites and letting gooey sweet macaroons disintegrate on my tongue – I did not manage to eat Paris out of house and home. Even eating the entire round of the creamy, crumbling goat cheese from our tasting platter – I highly recommend you eat all the mimolette you can find and avoid livarot, unless you enjoy licking barn floors – didn’t help.

This only means one thing – The Consumation will have to return to Paris for a second attempt – the training has already begun.

2 starters, 2 mains, 4 drinks, 1 espresso €90
Les Philosophes

Maison Kayser – Great breads, with seasonal variations
Un Dimanche à Paris – The best hot chocolate I have ever tasted
Première Pression Provence – Olive oils sourced in Provence, with homemade tapenades that will make you look like an incredible chef
Gerard Mulot – Macaroons the way they’re supposed to be
Flavours of Paris tour

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A Tale Of Two Burgers

A good burger is something beautiful to behold. A symphony of texture and flavour, a million combinations of buns, meats and toppings to choose from.

My favourite places allow me to pick and mix these to suit my moods. The Counter is particularly good at this – I love the ticky-box ordering system – It satisfies some primal accounting need. The fact that it’s allergen and vegan friendly is an added bonus – Their website has a complete breakdown of everything on the menu.

On this occasion, I selected burger in a bowl – It comes with a huge serving of lettuce instead of a bun, and I always feel much better about myself. Chicken, pickle, corn salsa, grilled onions, grilled peppers, aged cheddar, and bacon – a carefully chosen composite of some of the best parts of the Counter. This is one of the only places I will trust for chicken, so in fear I am of receiving that grey, chewy sponge some restaurants try and pass off as poultry. My accomplice opted for beef, red cheddar and onion strings. The handful of chips that come in a single serving is depressing, so always go for the large version between two.

As is typical when you’re ravenous, our burgers took an an awfully long time, with everyone around us getting their food before our plates arrived. Eager, mild starvation setting in, I dug into my bowl as soon as it was placed in front of me. As per usual, the grilled chicken was beautifully cooked, succulent and packed full of flavour, all the vegetables vividly fresh, the onions and peppers melt in the mouth good and the crispy bacon just to die for. Just looking at the picture below makes my mouth water. And, oh, the cheese… The cheese was… absent.

I looked up, dismayed, and met the shocked face of my companion; her beef burger was made of chicken. This was disastrous.

Though, not really, as we had new, correct dishes in front of us in minutes, and an upfront offer of a discount – Achievement unlocked, impress the food blogger.

Wanting to extend the evening and the amusing banter, I suggested dessert and ordered an adult smoothie – less ‘xxx’ and more ‘mmm’ – strawberry and banana spiked with alcohol, topped with that hideous can cream. Nice, but not worth the €8 price tag. Twisting her rubber arm, she ordered the oversized chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. The cookie was huge, gooey, sweet and sticky, rich vanilla ice cream melting into the warm dough. Decadent, delicious, and a dessert big enough for two.

Not that she had much of a choice in that matter.

2 burgers, 1 fries, 1 coke, 1 adult smoothie €37 (cookie unknown, as taken off the bill)
The Counter, Suffolk St, D2

This brings me on to the next burger bar in the ongoing battle for my affections. Bobo’s, another joint priding itself on locally sourced ingredients, has always caught my eye. A young gentleman, soon flying to far lands, offered to take me and I jumped at the chance. The first thing I noticed were the creepy, realistic cows painted on the wall. I sat directly underneath one, so its big soft eyes couldn’t watch as I devoured its friend.

The place had a canteen feel, not helped by the white tin plates I could see being dropped to other tables, but the menu was intriguing. Lamb, beef, chicken, fish, pork and two different kinds of vegetarian burgers – I almost chose beef until..

I couldn’t – I went for the Miss Piggy instead; pork and chorizo with goat cheese, rocket and garlic mayonnaise, accompanied by a half and half of onion rings and chips. My travelling friend chose The Grafton, minus the cheese and bun, with a side salad.

Quickly, our food arrived. My burger towered in front of me, menacing but inviting. I glanced over. The bun had been replaced by two lettuce leaves holding the burger, giving an oddly sad look to the plate – Worst presentation of a dinner, ever.

I was more interested in the imposing structure in front of me, and tentatively begin to devour.

The food was, in many parts, excellent. Pork mince has a tendency to dry out, but I didn’t find this at all with my burger, juicy with chunks of quality goat cheese disintegrating in the heat, their flavour being brought out by the contrast of peppery rocket – a classic combination for a reason. The chorizo was bland, a rather pointless addition as it faded into the background – a spicier version should be used. Home made onion rings always tempt me, and I need to stop giving into it – I am always let down by how greasy and tasteless they are, and Bobo’s were no exception. The chips, however, were crunchy and good, and my counterpart’s salad was great, with a lip smacking vinegar kick.

2 burgers, 2 sides, 1 coke €33
Bobo’s, Dame St, D2

In this round, yet again, The Counter has come out on top – will there ever be a true contender?

Well, I don’t know – it was a hypothetical question.

As I write this, I am procrastinating from packing for another trip – this time to London and Paris. I leave in 12 hours, and my suitcase is miserably agape on my bed. As I shall be marching up the Eiffel Tower, drinking coffee and eating cheese all weekend, there will be no post.
Again, fear not, for a Consumation does Paris will follow!

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Consumation Does Chicago (Part 2)

Welcome to the second part of the Consumation does Chicago.

Where we left off, I was relaxing in the comfortable Caribou Coffee and planning my next move. We’ll gloss quickly over that evening’s meal, as stuffing a bagel into my mouth while drying my hair and hopping one legged around my room in an attempt to get my pants on quickly cannot be considered dinner, in any real sense.

A bright, warm morning followed and I stumbled, bleary eyed and brained, into Intelligentsia. Yet another place entirely too cool for me but with happy staff that wanted to chat. The filter coffee menu was incomprehensible compared to the simple espresso options, but buoyed by the friendly interest and banter with the barista, I choose a Debello, served as chemex; only now have I discovered what this means. It’s a particular set up for filtering which, by experience, takes 10 long minutes, but the extraction is delightfully smooth and creamy. This is the first filter coffee I’ve ever consumed black. Unfortunately, the unsatisfying “artisan” sandwich of turkey, lemon, artichoke and onion tasted solely of pesto and paste.

If Intelligentsia ever set up a branch in Dublin, I’m fairly sure my coffee addiction will reach the level of sell-all-my-belongings.

1 coffee, 1 sandwich $11

The Blue Man Group being dishearteningly substandard pushed me into treating myself to a swanky dinner, and Custom House Tavern was only a short walk from my hotel. The dim lighting made it appear rather opulent as I peered through the window, and I was rewarded on entry with a quiet, dark room, Norah Jones tinkling away in the background. For a slow Sunday night it was overstaffed, so I was waited on hand and foot, my water glass never getting more than half empty.

I ordered the chicken liver pâté and steak, then sank back into my puffy seat and watched muted American football – Honestly, I still don’t get it.

There was no salt or pepper on the table and I discovered why when the pâté arrived – it was seasoned to perfection; Warm, crisp sourdough, heavy pâté melting into it with chunks of salt that merged and competed with the sweet of the picked peach and the sour of the vinegar rocket dressing – The battle of flavours in each mouthful left me yearning for more.

I should’ve gotten two as the steak was disappointingly over salted, but well cooked, and the chip oil badly needed changing. However, the blue cheese butter was a surprising success – the smallest amount adding a much needed lift to the steak, the musty, deep cheese flavour lingering on the tongue.

To finish, a Roman Holiday cocktail; gin, limonchello and soda. This should have come in a martini glass, but as it was served long, all I got was a boring, mild lemon soda.

1 starter, 1 main, 1 cocktail $55

In a hurry to get to the Museum of Science and Industry – well worth a visit, by the way – I dropped into Argo Tea for an espresso and pastry. My haste was my downfall; the coffee was scalding hot, burnt and bitter, accompanied by a raspberry and almond roulade that consisted of undercooked, sugary paste. I cannot comment on the tea, and perhaps it is life-affirmingly good, but the coffee should be avoided by anyone with standards.

1 coffee, 1 pastry $ Honestly, they should’ve paid me

That evening, I had big plans. I was going to a real American diner and I was going to eat real macaroni cheese, and have a real malt and an awesome time.

This dream was dashed when I walked out into rain bouncing off the path. Resigned and hungry, I turned into my hotel restaurant – Ironically, an English bar. It’s called Elephant and Castle and populated almost solely by blowhards in rolled up shirt sleeves, guffawing at their own jokes.

I ordered the ‘Loaded Beef Dip’; thinly sliced beef with onions, cheese, au jus for dipping, and a side of caesar salad. The dip was lovely and beefy, but apart from this, the sandwich was pure stodge, with far too much meat – more is not always better – and too few onions and cheese. The wilted, soggy lettuce in the caesar salad was the icing on the bad dinner cake that pushed me into ordering the Big Ben Brownie – apparently their signature dessert.

I shouldn’t have bothered. Two slabs of stale, disgusting, packet brownie, vanilla ice cream with the flavour of “cold”, and a chemical squirt cream from a can. Below is what I sent back, as it was absolutely inedible.

When I left, the rain had just about finished, and I was utterly devastated I hadn’t waited.

1 main, 1 dessert, 1 beer $36

This was the last night before I dove, feet first, into the work portion of my visit, where I was plied with all sorts of nice foods, including steak for both lunch and dinner. I do not recommend this, and suggest throwing a salad in at some point; by the Friday afternoon, as the meetings were finishing up, I could feel the arteries tighten in my chest, overloaded with days of red meat, and only red meat – the hotel didn’t have toast or rolls for breakfast, my morning refection therefore being bacon.

Piles and piles of sizzling, crispy bacon.

I walked this feeling off on the Chicago Gold Coast/Old Town food tour; the absolute highlight of my trip and a tour I wish existed in every city.

With that, let’s leave Chicago alone – I’ve ranted and raved enough, and Dublin’s fine restaurants are calling to me again. Join me next weekend for another installment of The Consumation.

Intelligentsia, 53 East Randolph St, 60601
Custom House Tavern, 500 South Dearborn Street, 60605
Argo Tea, 1 N Dearborn St, 60602
Elephant and Castle, W. Adams St, 60603
Chicago Walking Food Tour

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Consumation Does Chicago (Part 1)

I have returned safely and as I write this, I am trying to shake off the last prickly tendrils of jet lag. This is being ably assisted by coffee, Kraft mac and cheese, goldfish crackers and Reese’s pieces. All of which is also helping me ignore the room high pile of laundry to do because, oh my GOD you guys, I have to tell you – Chicago is AH-MAYYYY-ZING.

The city itself is so interesting to look at – I just left my hotel each morning and walked in a random direction, always finding myself fascinated by the buildings, the stunning parks, the glimmer of Lake Michigan calling to me from the end of the street. The atmosphere of it is so friendly and open, with a pleasant undercurrent of power and business, completely different to the frenetic speed and stress I sense in gaudy New York. I felt settled, safe and, with the amount of food I ate, extremely full.

With that, let me start from the beginning, as it’s a very good place to start.

Hackney’s, my plan for the night I arrived, was out the door with people – exhausted and faint with the hunger, I wandered back up the street and chose the first place that had customers – always a good indication. Amarit, a Thai restaurant, looked busy so I headed on in and ordered tofu cashew nut; plain, simple and fresh. Within minutes, it was on the table in front of me – the vegetables crunchy and bright and the tofu with a delicious crisp edge. I dug in, delighted, until I got a mouthful of pineapple – I will never understand pineapple in savoury dishes. I could eat an entire one by myself in one sitting (and often have), but it is just too sweet and strong in a main meal. Apart from this, the dinner was exactly what I needed, light and vitamin filled, marred only slightly by the guys having a discussion about all out nuclear war with China at the next table; They were prepared for this eventuallity to a rather worrying level.

1 main $9.41

My body, thinking it was 1pm despite the very little sleep, decided to wake me at 6am. What better way to prepare for the day than a filling pancake breakfast, I reasoned, so I set about googling – I decided on Lou Mitchell’s, only a mile west.

No one tells you that Chicago smells like chocolate – chocolate so deep and rich you can almost taste it, wafting through the air from Blommer’s Chocolate Company on W Kinzie St. My mouth was watering and my stomach rumbling by the time I reached my breakfast destination – only to see yet another line out the door. At 7am – An extremely popular spot then!

Thankfully, as I was by myself, I didn’t have to wait and could sit at the counter. I was provided with coffee and a menu at the same time – a fantastic idea. In pure American movie style, I never saw the bottom of the cup, and cream was the only option on the table – Heaven. I was raised up a couple more divine levels by the light and fluffy pecan pancakes with a side of crispy bacon, and oodles of maple syrup. Despite the shocking price of bacon – $4.25 for 3 slices – the queue only got longer the hour I was there, and I can see why. I practically had to roll myself out the door, but if I genuinely needed to, I’m sure the overly friendly staff would’ve been more than happy to oblige.

1 main, 1 side, coffee $16.28

Needless to say after such a large breakfast, a long walk was required, so I meandered east towards Millennium Park. Hours of strolling around, admiring the sculptures and landscapes, getting sprayed by the Crown Fountain and poking the Cloud Gate (Jean IN the bean!), and I was ready for lunch.

Cafecito, the Chicagoland home of the Cuban pressed sandwich, was the next port of call – bright, airy and just beside a hostel, it was packed with young people, all much cooler than me. This included the tattooed, pierced girl behind the till who had obviously spent hours perfecting her blank stare at the area just north of your eyebrows. I ordered a jerk, but as she snapped “Here or to go?”, I had to resist the urge to turn and walk out. There is never any reason to be rude, ever.

However, I am glad I didn’t – the blackened breast of chicken, which had been marinated in jerk spices, was juicy, spicy and succulent, the rest of the sandwich packed out with tomato, onion, lettuce and – honestly, inspired – lime mayonnaise. The Cuban bread was fabulous, crunchy and flaky – I am now a convert. But perhaps I’ll find another place to indulge – one where I do not feel like an inconvenience to the staff.

1 sandwich, 1 water $7.90

I had planned on having a Cuban coffee in Cafecito but felt too uncomfortable, so I went seeking caffeine, and found it in the shape of Caribou Coffee. I ordered an americano, and got distracted by the pastries – Specifically by the interesting looking “Monkey Bread.” Without even inquiring as to what it contained, I asked for one, and headed to a comfortable looking armchair by the window. Surrounded by MacBooks, and I with my Paperbook, I tucked into the buttery soft, cinnamon-chocolate piece of heavenly fluff, warm and sticky with a sugar glaze and sipped on the more than adequate coffee.

Watching the world go by, with a good book, I began to plan where I was going to eat next.

1 coffee, 1 pastry $4.75

Come back next week for Part 2, including what happens when you get coffee in a tea shop, go to an English bar in Chicago, and eat steak for four days in a row.

Amarit Thai & Pan Asian Cuisine, 500 S. Dearborn, 60605
Lou Mitchell’s, 565 W Jackson Blvd, 60661
Cafecito, 26 E Congress Parkway, 60605
Caribou Coffee, 41 East 8th Street, 60605

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Disappointment in Clodagh’s Kitchen

I am not an avid clothes shopper; I avoid it as much as I can, buying online or bulk buying in one or two expensive trips a year. However, recently, necessity called; An important, week-long meeting in Chicago and I with not a stitch to wear.

This meeting is the reason there will be no blog post next week; but despair not, for the weekend after, there will be a special Consumation does Chicago post. I’ve spent longer planning the food hotspots I’ll hit than I have preparing for the meeting, I’m very excited about the pounds I am going to put on, and I look forward to walking you through every delicious morsel.

I digress from the point of this blog post; Clodagh’s Kitchen, the oasis of calm that called to us after four long hours of Saturday morning shopping in Dublin city centre, the day of the Notre Dame/Navy American football game. In retrospect, with the usual 20/20 vision, not the most sensible of ideas.

Laden like pack mules, the last quotient of energy sapped, we arrived at Arnotts to Clodagh McKenna’s venture, a café focused on homemade, locally produced food. More than a little excited to be off the packed streets, I selected the Italian summer salad, with the pate to accompany, as my brother opted for pesto, chicken and sun-blush tomato tagliatelle, and my mother the lamb kofta. Many dishes are marked as gluten free on the menu, but approach with care, as the size of the open kitchen didn’t inspire me with confidence that ingredients could be kept completely segregated.

The place had an odd look to it, as if we were sitting in someone’s front room, but I’m presuming that’s the point. Unfortunately, this homeliness did not extend to the bathrooms – these, a trek downstairs and back through the shop, were dank, dirty and dark, an underground train station feel to them. Arnotts really need to put some effort into renovating these; literally any effort at all would be appreciated.

When I returned, lunch had arrived. The advertised “goat’s cheese toasts” on my salad were two tiny pieces of bread, with a measly scrape of cheese – absolutely pointless – but the rest of the salad was relatively nice; fresh, crisp rocket with a generous serving of parmesan, prosciutto, and pine nuts, with a bright citrus dressing.

The pate, topped with peppercorns, was fantastic – velvet smooth and rich, the sharp apple chutney a delight by itself. Par for course, the amount of bread served was inadequate for the slab of pate, but this was resolved when I asked for more, and was absolutely overwhelmed with the three additional pieces I received. The lamb koftas, although nice, looked like a starter – only five mini meatballs, the bulk of the meal being made up by soggy cumin roast potatoes, and a watery, flavourless tzatziki. A complete disappointment.

Thankfully, the brother fared better, in my opinion. Generally, I avoid pesto, having had too many experiences with the half rancid muck that is sometimes passed off in restaurants, but I couldn’t stop myself stealing strand after strand of the perfectly al dente tagliatelle, smothered in creamy sauce. I was extremely grateful for his dislike of sun blush tomatoes, and hoovered them up, but unfortunately wasn’t able to find a piece of the chicken to try, as so few had been supplied.

Tea for two, served in what appeared to be my grandmother’s best china, and a strong coffee to finish, with a fluffy lemon drizzle cake shared between three; nice, and most definitely lemony being the only words I can think to describe it.

Too long, didn’t read?

Expensive and trying too hard, the meal was unsatisfying, and left a painfully large hole in my (read: my mother’s) purse. The pate was almost, but not quite, justified in costing €7.50, and at the other end of the scale, €6 for the cake was in all respects, risible.

The only acceptable explanation would be that she’s raising money for a new toilet but, unfortunately, I’ve a feeling it’s being pumped back into vintage bone china.

1 starter, 3 mains, 1 dessert, 2 teas, 1 coffee €59
Clodagh’s Kitchen, Floor 2, Arnotts, 12 Henry Street, Dublin 1

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Luigi Malones, a recipe for mediocrity

The littlest of brothers arrived back from his French travels this week. I, wanting to hear all about life on the continent, insisted on dinner and, being the budget conscious individual that I am, decided to use some vouchers I had picked up for Luigi Malones.

Temple Bar central, it’s a popular tourist spot, and the menu seems to have a dish to suit almost everyone, ranging from pizza to jambalaya to fajitas and peri peri chicken – a head spinning trip around the world in a few short pages.

We plonked ourselves down, the seat next to the door, and chose chicken caesar salad with a pint of Fischer’s each. Currently one of my favourite beers, Luigi Malones is one of the only places in Dublin where it’s on tap, and to top it all off, it’s on the Happy “Hour” menu (applicable between 5 and 7) for only €3.90. This happy coincidence, unfortunately, is one of only two highlights of the meal.

The salads arrived, and I tucked in with ravenous glee; this joy quickly stymied by the realisation the lettuce was at best, two days old, and wilted. The chicken was unusual – I pondered the similarities as I chewed, and discussed these with my sibling – we settled on packing foam. It was an insipid white, with a rubbery, boiled-sponge texture. The salad was almost saved by the generous amounts of parmesan, the crunchy garlic croutons and the, very few, crispy bacon bits scattered throughout, but all in all, it was a failure.

To be fair, my last outing to Luigi Malones was quite pleasant, the “Awesome Hamburger” not quite living up to its name but a solid, extremely tasty and enjoyable effort nonetheless, let down by the accompaniment of a bland, soggy attempt at chips.

After such a disappointing main, we had to treat ourselves to the “Famous Toblerone Cheesecake,” a particular favourite of mine. We were first introduced about eight years ago; a friend informed me I was to arrange a day trip to Dublin immediately when she heard I’d never tried it.

Fresh faced, dressed in my Sunday best, I set off for the big city.

It was love at first taste, and has endured through the years. Despite the overly sweet, fake cream squirted onto the side of the plate, this cheesecake is delicious – creamy, chocolatey with a hint of butterscotch. Over the years, it has changed shape but not flavour, and for this I am grateful – A beacon of light on the otherwise grey, uninspired landscape of the Luigi’s menu.

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Overpriced, barely average food, served with a smile, I was left with the usual underwhelmed, unsatisfied feeling I associate with Luigi Malones. Certain parts of some dishes are great, but let down utterly by the other components. The quality is sometimes there, but menu and food just scream “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Welcome home little brother.

2 mains, 1 dessert, 2 beers €40

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Nando’s Unpretentious Chicken

As someone who abhors puns but has a grudging respect for good ones, the “Man Eating Chicken” sign outside Nando’s left me torn. The fact I was frustrated, out of breath and sweaty due to a simple misunderstanding that anyone could have made – there are two Nando’s in the city centre: The one I was actually eating in, and the one I arrived at – did not help. Groan and roll my eyes, or giggle? I gave up.

A friendly, “Hi there, welcome to Nando’s! How can I help you today?” greeted me as I entered which swept away the annoyance, but not the sticky, sweaty feeling. I was ready for a beer.

Thankfully, because of my utterly blamelesss lateness, my tablemates had already selected dinner from the simple, clear menu, with no spritz in sight. With three of us dining, the full platter seemed to suit best; a full chicken, with 2 large sides.

Next came the spice discussion – go with highest spice level that suits everyone. If one person doesn’t like spice at all, then choose something along the lines of mango and lime. With the full range of peri-peri sauces available for dipping – my favourite being garlic – each person can spice their meal up to the correct level.

(Attributed to Verndogs)

I went up to the till, Nando’s being an odd mix of both self service and table service, and ordered the platter, a Portuguese bread roll, a slice of cheese and two beers.

I warned the waitress about keeping the bread roll separate to everything else, as one of my companions was coeliac, and she scurried downstairs to warn the kitchen staff. Nando’s is particularly good for food intolerances, with an allergen book in each branch covering every dish and who it’s acceptable for. Also, according to my friends who are that way inclined, the veggie burgers are fantastic and, surprisingly, vegan.

As everything is cooked when ordered, it was about twenty (heart breaking, stomach rumbling) minutes before our food arrived. The Superbock was sating my thirst, a light and refreshing lager, but doing nothing for the gaping, bottomless pit in my stomach,

It’s this hunger that accounts for the lack of food pictures in this post, as I fell upon the BBQed corn, sweet and crunchy, smothered in butter, as soon as it arrived, following it quickly with most of a leg of chicken stuffed into the bread roll with cheese, ketchup and garlic peri-peri sauce. By the time I remembered my camera, I was already wiping the smears of sauce from my face and hands.

Nando’s serves the chicken skin on, and the tart lime mellowed with mango marinade permeated right through the meat. It was perfectly cooked and juicy, and I was a little sad when I finished picking the bones and there were no more delicious morsels left.

The chips are nothing special at all, disappointingly, as the quality of the other dishes raised my expectations – I would opt for garlic bread side next time.

Unfortunately, we had to rush off, but from previous experience, the white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake is worth a trip to Nando’s by itself. Like none other I’ve ever tasted, it is extremely firm, as if the cake has been compressed, increasing the flavour intensity. Sweet and cheesy and sharp and decadently heavy, you’ll think the thin slice you’ve been served is too little, but it is the perfect amount.

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Good quality, healthy food at relatively good prices, with no ridiculously pretentious bells and whistles, fantastic at catering to food allergies and very family friendly – there’s something for almost everyone in your group.

If you manage to go to the right branch, of course.

Platter (Whole chicken, 2 large sides), bread roll, cheese, 2 beers €37
Nando’s, St. Andrews Street, Dublin 2

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This lunch was brought to you by the letter (Cafébar) H

En route, with my mother, to the utterly fantastic and perfect production of Phantom of the Opera in the Grand Canal Theatre, it was CaféBar H that caught our eye for a quick pre-theatre lunch.

Previously I had dropped in for coffee and had been intrigued by the hanging hams and dried chillies, and many words on the menu I couldn’t understand; at a two minute walk from the theatre, in yet more lashing rain, the decision was quickly made.

Unfortunately, the first thing I noticed as we were seated was Adele being blasted from the speakers. This in itself is not a crime.. but it was followed by more Adele and then, yet more.

Dear reader, do not get me wrong – I love Adele. Just not the entire tormented, melancholy album – twice – whilst trying to have a nice light lunch.

Thankfully this was replaced by Debbie Harry during dessert but my advice to the staff member who brought the Adele CD in – take it one day at a time, you WILL get through it and cut out the monumentally depressing music – It’s only making things worse

I ordered the bikini sandwich with a side of rocket and parmesan salad and my mother decided on the soup and sandwich of the day – butternut squash soup and an open face smoked chicken sandwich.

25 minutes passed and my lunch arrived, with no sign of my mother’s. Confusion abounded until it turned out it had not yet been ordered.

With less than ten people in the restaurant at this point, I was irritated. Annoyed, even, with some very choice words running through my mind. However, her soup and sandwich landed on the table within five minutes, with some effusive apologies, and all thoughts of revenge were forgotten as I turned and realised half my sandwich had disappeared.

The guilt ridden face on the opposite side of the table told the whole story.

One bite and I realised why it was irresistible – flaky, light bread, the manchego cheese softened but not melted giving a smooth, creamy, slightly crumbly texture to contrast with the peppery kick from the romesco sauce and, oh, the crispy toasted edges of serrano ham – it was just divine. Not in any way heavy or dense, simple, full of flavour and definitely my main reason to return again. I think it was complimented very well with the rocket and parmesan salad – fresh, with a drizzle of balsamic dressing, served with a chunk of fluffy white bread.

Perhaps how good my dish was negatively impacted our opinion of the soup and sandwich, but it was bland; The butternut squash soup had no flavour and the fact it had a nice texture was just about the only compliment one could give it. The open faced sandwich was completely lacking in… anything. Smoked chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion and an inadequate scrape of some sort of chilli or sundried tomato pesto. It needed an additional flair, perhaps caramelising the onions or bumping up the pesto would’ve brought this dish up in our estimation, as the ingredients themselves were perfectly adequate.

Thankfully, as Phantom is two and a half hours long, the coffee was good and strong, and the dense almond based Tarta de Santiago absolutely dissolved on the tongue with a nice hint of sherry.

Some of sweetest words a daughter can hear, “Oh, this is my treat,” came after the opportunity passed to order expensive champagne and every dessert on the menu, but a lovely lunch was had nonetheless.

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A few gems, with the bikini sandwich being one of the nicest lunches I have had in a long time. Perhaps avoid the soup/sandwich of the day, as there is plenty of variety on the menu, and this will suit most tastes.

Also avoid if you’ve had a bad break up recently, for obvious reasons.

2 mains, 1 side, 1 dessert, tea and coffee €35
Cafébar H, Grand Canal Plaza, Dublin 2

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