Tuesday 23 January 2018

A rare burger encounter

Paolo Tullio

Paolo Tullio

Not everyone is delighted with the spell of brilliant weather we've been having. I've seen small groups of fishermen standing forlornly by a glassy lake muttering darkly about the ghastly weather, and city-centre restaurateurs are none too happy with it either.

Fishermen catch no fish in blazing sunlight and restaurateurs get no customers, as everyone either goes to the beach or lights a barbecue.

On the other hand, those restaurants that tried to make a living by the sea have had a really hard few years as summer persistently failed to arrive. So this year they've finally caught a break. The stretch of coast from Brittas Bay down to Courtown has rarely been so crowded, proving the old adage that it's an ill wind that blows no one any good.

Gorey is one of those towns that I used to stop in when travelling south. There were shops there that my children loved, which sold toys, beach stuff and games. Back then, as I remember, there were no restaurants.

That's changed. You can find plenty of restaurants in the town these days, but now you have to come off the motorway as Gorey, one of the great bottlenecks of the old N11, has now been bypassed by the M11.

I'd heard about a newly opened restaurant there called The Kitchen, whose mission statement is 'Simple, rustic, seasonal'. Those are words that ring well to my ears, so I arranged a visit with my friends and neighbours Conor and Nora Swords. Conor offered to do the driving and, because he has a big, comfortable car, I just had to let him. On the way, we picked up a friend of theirs, Dr Darren Roddy, so we were four.

If you're coming from the Dublin direction, turn right at the lights at the top of the main street and The Kitchen is on your right after a couple of hundred yards. I was surprised at its size – it's a big premises. Inside the door there's effectively two dining rooms, both seating around 50. We took a table on the left that had a comfy banquette running around two sides of it and read the menus.

I was delighted to see that they have a wood-fired oven here and also have the excellent Toonsbridge mozzarella. That's a perfect combination for a pizza, but none of us ordered one. We decided that's for the next visit.

We ordered duck liver paté, citrus-cured salmon, chargrilled asparagus with Serrano ham, and a fresh garden salad for our starters. Then for main courses we ordered Kilmore Quay cod and chips, the pie of the day and two Angus beef burgers.

I've got used to being told I have to have my burger cremated, even though I hate it cooked like that. So I couldn't quite believe my ears when our waitress asked: "How would you like your burgers cooked?" Both Conor and I (the burger eaters) answered at once "rare". Apparently it's okay to have it rare if you mince the beef yourself, which is what they do here.

There was a limited wine list but a good listing of craft beers, so the boys all went for beer and Nora had a glass of wine.

The starters arrived looking good, the salad and the asparagus served on large white plates, the paté and the cured salmon on large wooden boards. The paté was a very generous slice of duck liver, served with a variety of fresh breads and poached figs, and it tasted very good.

Nora enjoyed her simple garden salad, which had very fresh peas to give it both a crunch and a bright colour. The asparagus was a simple dish but well done. The spears were wrapped in the Serrano ham and served with croutons and a lemon dressing.

I may have got the best of the starters with the citrus-cured salmon. The principle is that citrus will effectively cook the fish. It's the same idea that gives us gravadlax in Scandinavia and ceviche in South America. You get a different consistency than you do when you cook it with heat, and I prefer the cured fish to the cooked variety – especially salmon. I also had good brown bread and a mixed leaf salad.

The mains were as well presented as the starters. Nora's cod and chips came with crushed peas, chips in one of those little baskets that look like a deep-fryer insert, and a really good tartare sauce.

Conor and I were delighted to have burgers cooked exactly as we like them – rare and juicy – but the star dish without a doubt was the pie that Darren had ordered. It was big, and served in an enamelled dish with a really well-made short-pastry crust. Inside it was beef, with a mix of flavours and textures that put this pie in a league of its own. We all dipped into it and we all loved it.

There was a whinge, though, and we all had it. White, soft, soggy chips may well appeal to someone, but not to any of us. All the chips that we were served were of the white and soggy variety, something that could easily have been avoided had someone been paying attention in the kitchen. Surely they weren't meant to be served like that?

My three companions went for desserts – a cheesecake, a panna cotta and a carrot, walnut and ginger cake. The cheesecake was served in a teacup, hence its name on the menu, 'Storm in a teacup', and the panna cotta came in a glass. Nora passed it to me for a taste, and once again I found myself with a dessert straight from the fridge. That's no way to serve anything other than Vichyssoise or gazpacho, but it seems to be happening more frequently.

The meal ended with three average espressos served with sugar lumps, bringing our bill to €135.30 – very good value for four.

Irish Independent

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