We started the year wondering when we would get to eat in a restaurant again, when we would get a holiday abroad and, maybe most importantly, when would we get vaccinated. It turns out that Michelle only had to wait until the end of January for her vaccine and me until July. Now Michelle has had her booster and we are getting nearer to little Emma getting her vaccine, which will be a great relief.
At the end of August, we finally got back on a plane for a holiday in San Sebastian, our happy place. We were worried about the effect the pandemic measures would have on San Sebastian, but with a bit of common sense, it turned out to be an amazing ten days for all four of us. Because of covid, and the kids being unvaccinated, we avoided the pinxho bars and instead opted for eating outdoors in restaurants. We had so many amazing meals. If we lived in San Sebastian, Gerald's Bar is somewhere we would go a lot…….and I mean a lot. Its three courses of great produce quick simply with delicious effect and its such great value. They were welcoming of our girls in each restaurant and, in turn, our little trouble-makers gobbled up fish and prawns like famished maniacs. It was great to get out of the house and away from work for ten days and just relax, eat great food and drink fantastic wine. We even got a meal with just the two of us in Arzak. We have been there many times, it is as good as ever and it was great to see Juan-Mari and Elena back in the dining room.
We always try to eat one special meal without the kids on each holiday and we did that again in Disfrutar on our October visit to Barcelona. This was our second time eating in this critically acclaimed restaurant, from three elBulli alumni, and both were spectacular. The food is tremendous, the service is polished and hospitable, but most of all the experience is brilliant fun. The other memorable meal of Barcelona was Dos Pebrots – the food here, based on modernized old European recipes, is extremely clever and thrillingly delicious. We shall be back in Dos Pebrots on our next stay in Barcelona.
But, what about at home….
So, as a result of the covid surge after the Christmas and New Year celebrations, we found ourselves starting 2021 back in lockdown and relying on restaurant boxes for our gastronomic fix. So, let's give a shout out to the restaurants that got us through these six months of gastronomic isolation. Allta continued their excellent and great value weekly Allta Box until they opened in their summer house. Uno Mas delivered us an occasional cure to our longing to eat there. Sunil Ghai's new restaurant Street in Windy Arbor hit our need for quality Indian food. Back To Dine was a delicious treat, especially paired with wines selected by oenophile Cathryn Bell from WineRover.ie. The Liath To-Go boxes continued to delight with chef Damien Grey trying to get as close as possible to the restaurant quality and experience in peoples' homes.
So, let's talk about Liath.
We went back to eat in Liath at the end of August, our first time to eat there since March 2020 when we dined there the night before lockdown. Was it as good as 2020? Well no it wasn’t, it was better. Grey, who seems to have the common infliction among many of the top chefs of being restlessly dissatisfied and always looking to push things to another level, has indeed brought the food in to that next level. Even long-standing dishes have improved: his, now famous, cone is even more delicious, and the chocolate dessert has been lightened, without compromising flavour.
Grey has his own style, and his food is not derivative. He isn't following the New Nordic strict adherence to local, but the food is still rooted in the season, serving the best seasonal Irish produce combined with the best seasonal ingredients from around the world. It is evident that Grey has a superb palate, as Grey's dishes manage to harmonise many big flavours, but still maintain the individual taste of each ingredient.
The cookery in Liath is skilled and always on-point. A duck and lavender dish we had In August was a good duck as we have had anywhere. And a pigeon dish we had there in November was equally as brilliant, served with a sauce I would gladly drink out of a pint glass. But, perhaps the best dish we had in Liath this year was the salsify, liver and raspberry serving we had in our most recent visit. It was complex, clever and just, well, feckin’ divine – a real showstopper. While Liath pushes the food onwards, it is still managing to keep its jovial, convivial and neighbourhood feel in the cosy, but elegant dining room. The noise and atmosphere remind me of meals in Le Chateaubriand in Paris or Relae in Copenhagen.
Our first indoor meal of the year was in Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons, another fantastic restaurant that is pushing on to bigger and better things. Aimsir, since it opened, has been a world-class restaurant where everything from the food, to the wine, to the cadence of service is carefully considered, but it is mainly the food that has us going back again and again. Chef Jordon Bailey sources some of the best of the produce that Ireland has to offer to deliver a highly skilled 18-course menu of technical, polished deliciousness. The team are expanding their farm and even have their own pigs now, so we are excited to return.
Over recent years there has been a lot of talk about how the Irish restaurant scene has developed into one that can stand up to the best on the world’s stage. Much of this was parochial, premature back-slapping, but restaurants such as Liath and Aimsir are truly exciting and will do a lot to push food in Ireland forward.
The big news in the Irish restaurant industry in 2020, was chef Mickael Viljanen leaving The Greenhouse and taking over as a chef-patron in Chapter One, with an abundance of media fanfare. We went in September for the lunch tasting menu and can confirm that Valjanen has hit the ground running, delivering the same high standards that he built up over years in The Greenhouse. It was an excellent and enjoyable lunch, let down only slightly by a below-par venison dish and service that was a tad on the clumsy side. The dessert of chocolate, miso and coffee with a milk sorbet was a particular highlight – a stunning way to finish a meal.
I'd like to give a shout to our local restaurant, Woodruff, which might just be the most improved restaurant of 2021. The food has been refined and dishes are now more succinct, meaning the components are given more care. We love going up there for lunch as a family, and it doesn't hurt that it has a brilliant wine list.
So, what about 2022.
Well, we have a trip to Copenhagen in February to look forward to and a much-anticipated return to Noma, our first since they moved home. In April we are spending a week in Alba to gorge on truffles and slurp on Barolo. At home, we want to get back to Liath and Aimsir, along with many meals in Woodruff. We hope to eat out more in 2022, than we did in 2021. We will go back to Etto, Uno Mas, Locks and 3 Leaves, to name but a few. We need to make a trip out to Howth to try Mamo and I think a nice family lunch in Volpe Nero and Bresson is certainly on the cards. Of course, these gastronomic fuelled jaunts, both home and abroad, are dependent on the pandemic variants not setting us back, but with promising data showing the positive effect of boosters and pharmaceutical companies being able to quickly adapt their vaccines to any variant, we are hopeful that 2022 can be even better than 2021.
So, stay safe, get vaccinated, get boosted and have a delicious Christmas and 2022.