From the tasty to the tough on a critic's plate
Lucinda O'Sullivan presents her annual awards for the best and worst on the menu in 2010
lIFE on the restaurant scene is never dull as chefs and restaurateurs vie for business and last year was no exception. My Awards 2010 reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly, of a Restaurant Critic's year.
FICTION WRITER OF THE YEAR
Restaurateur Nick Munier, who describes me in his book Boiling Point not only as being "hugely influential and a tough cookie" but apparently I also like to be "recognised, hugged and looked after". I've only encountered him twice -- and it is hard to fend off the pushy, pesky Mr Munier without being rude -- but now he seems to think he knows me! He should ask my better half about the hugging -- he says even he doesn't get that!
FRANCIS ALBERT AWARD
Conrad Gallagher, who has had more comebacks than Mr F A Sinatra -- almost as many venues too . . . (Conrad Gallagher interviewed Living, Page 1 )
BORED FAILTE AWARD
Gotham South in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, where we were greeted with bored condescension, as though we were being admitted to the hottest ticket in town, and where most of the staff had forgotten how to smile -- but I'm not surprised if they'd been eating their own fries! Maybe Batman has gone west.
TREAT WITHOUT MEAT AWARD
Govinda's, now feeding the vegetarians of Dublin with imaginative and delicious food from the Heavenly Banquet. The menu varies daily from Subji -- vegetables prepared in every way imaginable -- to Indian spiced dishes including Govinda's specialty of Panir, homemade cheese curd chunks, combined with spinach or a tomato sauce. Try chef Shamananda's vegetarian shepherd's pie in the Abbey Street branch -- yum.
JACK AND THE BEANS TALK AWARD
Augustine's at The Clarion Hotel, Cork. Having checked by phone before we booked as to the vegetarian needs of our guest, and having checked again in the restaurant, the chef came forth from the kitchen and told us "he would blow her mind away". He blew us all away all right with disappointing food and service. It was like a pantomime. Scene 1 was fine, Scene 11 was dreadful, and Scene 111 descended into a farce.
DOG IN THE MANGER AWARD
Oliver Dunne of Bon Appetit Restaurant Malahide, Co Dublin, who, on the morning of the RAI Restaurant Awards in the Burlington Hotel, issued a press release saying he was boycotting the event. Funny, none of the 700 present that night seemed to miss him.
MONA LISA AWARD
Il Divo in Rathgar where the value of their dinner for two at €49.90 with a carafe of wine would make even the enigmatic one's smile broader.
COMEBACK KID AWARD
Dylan McGrath proved his many detractors wrong and has the punters flocking to Rustic Stone on Dublin's South Great George's Street for what turned out to be a lot more than stoned steaks! This Rustic Stone is rocking.
THE CILLIT AWARDS
Goes to the Stokes Twins, Christian and Simon, who went spectacularly BANG at the Clarendon Inn, BANG at Residence and BANG BANG at Bang. Maybe they should take to the stage like Jedward -- what about CriSom . . .
GOOD TASTE AWARD
Sebastien Masi and Kirsten Batt of the superb Pearl Brasserie on Dublin's Merrion Street who relaunched Lock's Brasserie in Portobello with considerable style, an affordable menu, excellent grub, and lovely staff.
THE JAMES GATED AWARD
L Mulligan Grocer Gastropub in Dublin's Stoneybatter where the barman looked at us in horror when we had the temerity to ask by name for the most popular cider in the country. "We don't stock commercial products." Don't expect Guinness either . . . but the food's not bad.
REAR OF THE YEAR
Tucked away in The Courtyard behind Midleton Main Street is Kevin Aherne's Sage Restaurant doing delicious well-priced food for lunch, brunch and dinner.
FLASH IN THE PAN AWARD
Pinot's Restaurant in the Sandyford Industrial Estate, for if you blinked you could have missed this liaison between Tom Williams and Thomas Haughton in the former South Bar & Grill, which opened and closed before you could say Jack Rabbit.
THE GET UP AND GO AWARD
Ciaran Fitzgerald of the Blue Haven Collection in Kinsale who, along with his Blue Haven Hotel, Old Bank House, Hamlet's Bar and Aperitif Tapas restaurant, won the AIB Business Diversification Award -- not to mention his Christmas with Amanda Brunker cookery book . Watch out, Rachel, here comes the Brunker!
HIGH FLYER AWARD
Neil Prendeville, who said on the radio that if I visited his restaurant, the Boardwalk Bar & Grill in Cork, I would like it if they had waiting staff with good backsides on the floor as I was into arses . . . Funny how things come back to bite you. Actually, the Boardwalk Bar & Grill is very good.
For the almost comical Fawlty Towers-type service we got from our Albanian waiter who said, in response to my asking where he had worked before this new restaurant, replied: "F*** it, nowhere -- I'm a builder, dry linings," as he laughingly pointed to the ceiling, "there's no work in building anymore".
Eileen Dunne and Stefano Crescenzi, who with their great Dunne & Crescenzi food operation introduced Dubliners to the true meaning of eating well casually with style.
STAR OF INDIA
Ananda Restaurant in Dundrum Town Centre where chef Sunil Ghai never fails to dazzle.
Mauzac Tapas Bar in Greystones, Co Wicklow, which on our visit had "this, that and the other off" and what was on was lacklustre. Mauzac had all the joy and colour of a badminton night at the church hall. Nama-- Not A Major Addition to the village.
MR POSITIVE AWARD
When times get tough, the tough get going. Chef patron Eamonn O'Reilly of One Pico Restaurant and Bleu Bistro wasted no time when recession hit in introducing value lunches and early bird menus to Dubliners, thus getting the ball rolling. He has now opened a third venue -- the Box Tree Restaurant and Wild Boar Gastropub in Stepaside. Well done. O'Reilly's brief is belief.
THE FELIX AWARD
Juniors on Bath Avenue in Sandymount in Dublin where the Kool Kats go to brunch, lunch and dine with equally Kool Kats.
CATCH OF THE YEAR AWARD
Mike Crowley's Crazy Crab at Kilmore Quay, which dishes up shellfish and seafood that you have only dreamed of in recent years, at unbelievably reasonable prices.
AWAY FROM IT ALL
Teresa Russell's Bansha Castle in Co Tipperary, which makes, as our American cousins say, the perfect castle rental for that special family occasion.
WALTER RALEIGH AWARD
Castlemartyr Resort, former residence of Walter Raleigh, who brought the first spuds to Ireland. Watch out for Gerald Kean throwing down his cape for the dainty Lisa Murphy as she alights from his Bentley. It is a truly beautiful place for those who want service, comfort, and splendid surroundings.
SISTERS IN FARMS
Kay Harte and Marog O'Brien with their Farmgate Cafe Restaurants in Cork's English Market and in Midleton define what good, honest, fresh food well cooked in chic Irish surroundings is all about.
One could be mistaken for thinking Nisheeth Tak's Rasam Indian Restaurant was an outpost of RTE for its very regular diners include Miriam O'Callaghan, Pat Kenny, John Murray, Mark Little, and TV3's David McRedmond, all avid fans of chef Sanjay Vishwakarma's delicious food.
HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST
Kathleen O'Sullivan of Seaview House Hotel at Ballylicky, Co Cork, who runs her superb emporium with friendly elegance and style and whose unerring eye never misses the smallest detail in making your stay special.
FATHER MATTHEW AWARD
Sheridan's on the Docks bar and restaurant, Galway, who did a rather good job foodwise but whose lease was repossessed on the grounds of their disinclination to open the bar as an early house. One occasion where virtue went unrewarded.
THE JIMINY CRICKET AWARD
Olivier Quenet, who last year got my 'Scarlet Pimpernel, they seek him here, they seek him there, the diners seek him everywhere award'. Oliver's Eatery and Oliver's at O'Brien's are no more and the lively monsieur has hopped off now to The Schoolhouse on Northumberland Road in D4, as well as his flagship La Maison.
NOT GUILTY AWARD
Which goes to myself. Having had a long letter from a disgruntled Blackrock reader who complained bitterly of her experience at Oliver's at O'Brien's, where she had gone on the strength of "my review", there was not a word of apology since I wrote advising her that I had not, in fact, reviewed the restaurant in question at all. Hope she wrote equally to Mr Doorley!!
Happy New Year.