Friday, 22 February 2013

Review - Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud

It wasn't meant to be like this. As I handed over my credit card in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud last week, it was with a heavy heart. I hadn't expected it to be cheap. That would have been foolish.  I had been prepared to pay and pay well to experience Ireland's only 2 star Michelin Restaurant, but had, in turn, expected it to be an exceptional experience. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

Early indications had been great. Arriving 20 minutes ahead of our 2pm booking we were greeted warmly by Mr Gilbaud himself and, as the waiting area was full, shown to the outdoor terrace. Guilbaud's has not been off the Michelin List since 1990 and has been awarded two stars every single year since 2001. To put that in context further, only eight Irish restaurants were recognised by Michelin at all for 2012-2013. How could our expectations be anything but high?

No cocktail list was offered when I enquired about pre-lunch drinks with the waiter instead listing a few different options. This being a special birthday celebration, I went for a bellini whilst my other half had a beer. We then tried to get to make some sense of the (truly massive) wine list.

We had decided, this being our first visit, to test the waters with the special menu of three courses, coffee and petit fours for €50 which we thought would be a very fair price at which to experience 2 Michelin food. Our orders taken outside, we were shown to our table at two on the button. Guilbaud's interior is modern and bright with floor to ceiling windows letting in an abundance of light, a really lovely environment in which to spend an afternoon. The restaurant is housed in the Merrion Hotel, though I overheard a waitress say they are entirely independent operations (I would later learn that they do, however, share the Merrion's basement toilet facilities which involves quite a substantial and unexpected trek.)

Breads were standard (white, multigrain, walnut and raisin) but pleasant, hot, and,served, thankfully, with lovely soft butter. (I can never work out why so many places insist on serving it fridge-cold and unspreadable.) However, one disc proved to be lean pickings for two (admittedly small) bread rolls each.

A little Amuse Bouche of pomme puree with vanilla was welcome and tasty.

Our starters - my Confit Chicken and Foie Gras Terrine, Piquillos Pepper, Iberian Ham, Fennel Salad(above) and his Celeriac and Fennel Soup with Tortellini - were both excellent and, we agreed, the easy highlight of the meal . The terrine was was tiny but gorgeous, fatty and salty with the red pepper topping and fennel breaking up the richness. I enjoyed every mouthful and hoped the standard had been set.

My Grilled Slip Sole, Macaroni 'Thermidor' Hazelnut and Monk's Beard, on the other hand, was just ok - inoffensive but pretty bland. The fish itself was perfectly cooked but the Macaroni 'Thermidor' tasted of absolutely nothing. Those are morels on top.

Dessert was, for me, where Guilbaud's really disappointed. This Rhubarb and Citrus Panna Cotta looked pretty but consisted mainly of a super-acrid citrus foam. I am a total dessert junkie but left most of this while himself had a slightly better stab at it. To be fair, that didn't go unnoticed by the eagle eyed and super charming MaĆ®tre D who insisted on bringing us both something else.

That something was Rum Baba Exotic Pineapple which, though rum would not be a favourite flavour of mine, was a well balanced dessert. Keith, however, did enjoy this strong alcohol- soaked cake, with pineapple, mango puree and sorbets and the gesture and attentiveness here was much appreciated. I ate it too, though mainly because I was hungry.

However, the mini fiasco with the dessert seemed to throw the service out of sync and, whilst these lovely petit fours arrived swiftly, we had to try to get a waiter's attention for an uncomfortable few minutes to ask him to bring the coffees we had ordered. This was just not something I expected to have to do here, having eaten in some of Dublin's 1 star establishments and received absolutely flawless service. When we did manage to flag down a waiter he did bring two fairly decent coffees.

The Petit Fours were plentiful, fun and varied and we enjoyed most of them. They consisted of, clockwise from top left, a turkish delight-esque jelly square, strawberry and cream filled lolly, pistachio cake, chewy vanilla cake, orange and what I think was chilli macaroon and a little chocolate ganache tart.

The bill, including a €45 bottle of wine, 2 large bottles of still water and what I learned had been a €22 bellini came to €185 before service. And this was the budget lunch option. The a la carte menu was priced  €85 for 2 courses, €105 for 3 and €130 for 4. Other options on the day were the four-course tasting menu at €90 a head and the eight-course at €165.

I enjoyed some elements of the meal but genuinely fail to see where Guilbaud's surpasses (or in some areas matches), some of its 1 starred Dublin contemporaries. A decent meal just isn't good enough when you are paying for greatness.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Curry Chronicles (Part 1) Lamb Saag

Well, not strictly Part I. My quest to cook curries at home has been going on for some time now and I have tried many different recipes (more recently several of Madhur Jaffrey's). Whilst they have, on the whole, been tasty enough, I couldn't justify the time and effort involved and, tellingly, didn't cook any of them twice.

                                         Spinach, coriander, chilli and lime juice

Because cooking curry from scratch does take effort - roasting and grinding,browning and waiting for it all to come together. Of course, cooking can be great fun and really relaxing but it is nothing if not rewarding. I think something great is well deserved after hours of effort in the kitchen and, up to now, I just wasn't getting that from my curries.

Perhaps I am being unfair to Madhur in particular. She is, after all, known as the Godmother of Indian Cooking for a reason. But, as my other half reminded me, hers are more authentic old-school Indian recipes which, of course,doesn't make them bad. We are just more familiar with the more westernised Indian curries. And they are what we like to eat. A lot.

                                    Ghee and turmeric browning (one of many stages)

When I joined Twitter very recently, one of the first profiles that caught my eye was that of  The Curry Guy aka Dan Toombs, an American now living in Yorkshire, England, who claimed to have mastered a huge range of restaurant-style curries. With over 41,000 followers, I thought he must be doing something right.

It was when I saw him tweet a recipe for Lamb Saag on my second day in Twitter-Land that sold me. For me, Lamb Saag is the King of Curries and I eat it far too often in my local Indian in Ranelagh, the unrivalled Punjab Balti. But his version could never be that good. Could it?

                                                     Dan's basic curry sauce

Many of Dan's curries start with this this basic curry sauce which can be made in bulk and frozen (indeed he encourages this as the common sense thing to do). However, and there are no two ways about it, making this dish requires a lot of ingredients, is a long process and does mean you will have to wash up half the contents your kitchen afterwards. But when the results are this good, it really is worth it and more. This dish was rich, spicy and fresh. If I were to make one change it would be to increase the quantity of spinach (I'd definitely double it or maybe even a bit more ) but that's only because I happen to like a more spinach heavy sauce.

                                                         The finished product

The curry was looking and tasting so good, I was encouraged to try his naan recipe which was super simple and bubbled up brilliantly giving that authentic blistered look. Brushed with ghee, it tasted great too.

Dan has obviously researched his recipes meticulously and I am really looking forward to trying out some others. I would have been more than happy with today's dinner if I had eaten it in a restaurant. And you can't say better than that. Thanks to him for what was a really rewarding day in the kitchen!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Dark Damp Ginger Cake

This has been on my mind all week.

Not this exact cake but the sticky spicy Jamaica Ginger cake of my childhood. Sunday night after Sunday night my mam would wheel slices of it in on our rickety little tea trolley (always in between Where in the World and Glenroe) and we would eat it in front of the roasting fire with our mugs of hot orange tea. It must have been something to do with the miserable weather we have been having and me craving it's comfort factor but I have been wanting ginger cake big time.

This BBC Good Food recipe  seemed a good place to start, promising moistness and stickiness. I halved the recipe again and ended up with the perfect amount of batter for this 8 inch round as well as two small loaf cakes. However, I found that when I had brushed the hot cakes with the syrup, I had none left for the glaze in the recipe and so instead made up a simple orange icing for the large cake with icing sugar and orange juice.

I wanted a total ginger hit so replaced the All-Spice with more powdered ginger. A full jar of stem ginger including the syrup also went into the cakes.

The result is a super moist and soft cake with an intense ginger hit. This is a much more grown up flavour than I remember Jamaica Ginger to have, probably due to the Muscavado sugar and treacle but it was just as comforting for me tonight.  It's damp and gingery and gorgeous. A keeper.