A work of art
Celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher has opened a sister restaurant to his Salon des Saveurs in a Sligo arts centre and, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, he's showing his creative flair while still offering fantastic value
Visiting the restaurant of a so-called celebrity chef is what I term destination dining. They are not usually the sort of places that one goes to for a casual night out, or for that bite to eat on the way home, unless you are in Nama.
This, in latter times, has proved a double-edged sword for these guys, as many of their regular clients have had to be seen to be keeping their heads down -- in Ireland, at least. The diner who goes annually for his or her celebrity-restaurant experience is also gone. Neither, too, should people fall for the guff of restaurants who pretend they are booked out for months in advance on Fridays and Saturdays, yet, when you ring on the day, they have availability both nights, and empty tables -- as happened to me recently, outside Dublin. I will never again be told by a restaurant to come at 6pm or 9.30pm as these are the only sittings they do, only to see people wafting in at 7.30 and 8pm. No more bull, folks: remember, the customer is king.
Anyway, to another celebrity chef, Conrad Gallagher, who has often been at the forefront of controversy. I'm not going to go through the well-documented highs and lows of his career to date. Suffice to say that the prodigal son returned home to open Salon des Saveurs in Aungier Street just under a year ago. That restaurant started out with just four tasting menus, ranging in price from €24 to €54 which, although good, I described then as "convoluted and inflexible". Not that Mr Gallagher would pay one iota of attention to yours truly, but he has now added an a la carte menu, which adds variety and the desired flexibility. The economy must be improving too, because he has also added a fiver to each of his tasting menus, which are now priced from €29 to €59. You've got to hand it to the guy. God loves a tryer, and Gallagher sure tries.
His latest venture is Conrad's Kitchen in Sligo at The Model, a contemporary-arts centre, and why not, as Conrad is really an artist at heart. Conrad's Kitchen is a bit of a misnomer in such a grand setting, accessed up a flight of stone steps and through the main door of the old Victorian building.
Inside it is modern and cool, furnished with black, free-standing, block seating -- which, I hesitate to say, could be moved in and out easily. And, just as we were looking at the bare walls, the waiter said there would be pictures going up over the mantelpieces -- I hesitate to go there, too.
In Sligo, Gallagher has just brought the top-of-the-range tasting menu at €59, plus his a la carte menu, with mains well priced from €17.95 to €24.95. What we thoroughly enjoyed was his lunch/pre-theatre menu, which is great value at €18.95/€23.95 for two or three courses, and which includes his signature dishes.
Crab cake was wrapped in crispy, 'hairy' kataifi pastry, and it sat on a colourful Basque-style pepper stew, with arugula and saffron aioli; while rondelle of shank and foie gras terrine (€5 supplement) was standing proud beside baby spinach leaves, ground hazelnut, diced grape and apricot, and hazelnut aioli. Superb organic quail followed on duxelles-flavoured orzo pasta with morels, wilted spinach, asparagus and a tarragon cream.
Brendan had a tasty twist on shepherd's pie, with shards of lamb shank, topped by a duvet of piped green basil mash, out of which peeked, Bugs Bunny-style, untrimmed mini carrots and asparagus tips.
To finish, I had a gratin of raspberry: a sable biscuit base topped with fresh raspberries and flash-flamed Champagne sabayon. Disarmingly simple.
With two glasses of Piemont Castelvero Cortese at €6.50 each, a glass of Stonefish Shiraz, also €6.50, coffee (€2.70) and water (€4), our bill with optional service came to €76.10.
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