The best of the Irish.
We did have some very good meals in Ireland. Ballyfin was a nice surprise - we were there for a birthday and were not expecting the food to be of such good quality. L'Ecrivain was as reliably good as usual. Restaurant 41 is still on the rise and producing some great food. Nede, which unfortunately was only open for a few months, would have been up for consideration for our favourite of the year. It demonstrated great skill with deceptively simple regional and seasonal dishes, and their chocolate and barley dessert may have been the best we had in Ireland last year.
But our favourite restaurant of 2013 is Mulberry Garden. With a seasonal market menu that changes each week it still manages to provide very consistent cooking using locally sourced produce. We visited several times in 2013 and you could see the food evolving and getting a little bit more adventurous as the chef Tom Doyle's confidence grew. Add to that great value and friendly service and you have our winner. Their venison dish, served right at the beginning of game season in August, was one of the best of the year.
The worst of the Irish.
There are two restaurants that come to mind. We had a very bizarre meal in Chapter One. We were an early sitting and they offered us the pre-theatre menu. After chewing on some plastic from a piping bag in an otherwise decent starter we each had a 'carvery' style main course. What we mean by that is a plate full - brimming in fact - of badly cooking nondescript ingredients. This was followed up with two seasonal but average deserts. Add to that the strange service - we had to point out in the wine menu what a Sauternes was and near the end of our meal they started to vacuum around us. We left in a state of bemusement. But despite that, the most disappointing had to be Aniar. We love the 'terroir' idea of serving food - were you can taste the landscape of the area on the plate. There are some restaurants that do it well - Mulberry Garden and Nede for the short time it was open. Aniar did not deliver this. The dishes lacked any seasoning and were nearly all bland. One dish had bullet hard peas that were barely edible. Despite going for a tasting menu the dishes were so dull they were difficult to finish.
The best and worst of our travels
We were lucky enough to eat in some great restaurants in London and New York in 2013. Eleven Madison Park in New York was a great experience. Around 20 courses of New York inspired food from Chef Daniel Humm. The highlights were carrot tartar (which is minced at the table); Duck and Lavender and clam chowder. The only bad dish was the oyster, which tasted like an ice cube. But the best on our travels had to be The Fat Duck, which had no bad dishes and you would have to nitpick to find faults in any of them. We both agreed that Botrytis Cinerea was the best desert we ever had and the subtlety and skill of the famous Sound of the Sea dish was amazing.
The most disappointing meal, although not a bad meal, may have been lunch in The Square in London. We had high hopes for this 2 star restaurant, but it was ended up being pretty mediocre with cold service.