Restaurant review: Lucinda O'Sullivan at The Box Tree, Dublin 18
Some of our restaurants lost out on the awards front recently, while others go from strength to strength, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, who revisits two worthy winners and remains well pleased
There are restaurants you go to for the artwork on the plate, restaurants you visit once a year for the experience, and restaurants you pop into for a quick bite and glass of wine, but I find the restaurants I return to time and time again are those doing really good comfort food that has not been mucked about too much, and where there is a buzzy atmosphere.
Who doesn't salivate over gratin potatoes oozing cream and garlic; a superb sole on the bone with caper butter sauce or duck with a crispy skin and succulent, melting breast? This type of cooking has been recognised recently, by Michelin with their Michelin Bib category, and always by me.
We didn't do too well with Michelin 2012, with the only newcomer in the Republic being a well-deserved Bib for Eamonn O'Reilly's Box Tree restaurant in Stepaside, Co Dublin, and Fontana, Co Down, while La Maison in Dublin and Cafe Hans in Tipperary lost theirs. Indeed, there was dismay in some quarters when the expected award did not arrive, as people had begun to believe their own publicity.
However, as I keep saying, an exceptional dining experience is not just about the food on the plate, it can be let down by the service and surroundings. I reckon a couple of Michelin star holders are lucky to be still hanging on to their stars, too.
However, I can also think of a dozen places around the country serving excellent food with pride and precision which are deserving of Bibs.
Following The Box Tree's new Bib, we had a great value lunch there which offered two courses at €16.95, plus desserts at €5.95. I kicked off with a superb Castletownbere Crab Salad, which three years ago might have cost €16.95 in itself in some posh city spots. A sleek vibrant presentation saw the crab in a chunky tian on a slate, topped with a layer of creme fraiche and a slice of lime, with three piped rosettes of avocado puree, a smear of vibrant red pepper, and Guinness bread.
Brendan had a perfectly anointed salad of buffalo mozzarella, vine cherry tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and toasted croutons, with a delicious, slightly sweet dressing.
I followed up with a darne of seared salmon topped with a scallop, set beside a poached egg Hollandaise on spinach, while Brendan had butter-roasted Fermanagh chicken sitting on a potato mousseline with a bourguignon garnish. Creme brulee with a shortbread biscuit (€5.95) was perfection in its flat, French-style gratin dish, as was my Wicklow Blue Brie with home-made chutney and crackers (€5.95). With this we had a 500ml carafe of Pinot Grigio San Simone 2009 (€17.50). Our bill with optional service was €70.30.
Farmgate in Midleton won Food & Wine's Good Cooking Award, and is always abuzz. On our recent visit, Brendan kicked off with huge, plump scallops and crispy bacon tossed with salad (€14), while I had tempura of prawns (€13), enveloped in a light batter, which put a smile on my face as I crunched through, having dunked them first in a sweet chilli sauce. Duck (€27) was perfection on a plate, with home-style stuffing sandwiched between breast and leg, and apple sauce cocked up beside it. Grilled turbot (€28), too, was plump and perfectly cooked and sprinkled with caper-butter sauce. Big, floury potatoes with roast parsnips and carrots with broccoli completed the picture. We finished with polenta, pear and maple syrup cake, and salted caramel chocolate tart (€6.95 each). With an excellent bottle of Petalos Bierzo 2008 (€27) and coffees (€2.50 each) and optional service, our bill was €140. We may be cinching our belts these days, but there's nothing mean or miserable at Farmgate or The Box Tree.
The Box Tree,
Tel: (01) 205-2025
Farmgate Restaurant & Country Store,
Tel: (021) 463-2771
Sunday Indo Life Magazine