Anyway, too little too late, here is a round-up of our favourite meals, home and abroad, over the last twelve or thirteen months.
Last year, at the end of a cold and wet February, we travelled to Copenhagen. The trip was built around a meal in Noma, which was fantastic. Again. Noma 2.0 had evolved significantly since our previous visits, which were to Noma 1.0, but the food is just as awe-inspiring. Anyway, I wrote about that Noma visit here, so I won't bore you with it again. There were other culinary highlights on this Nordic trip. The one that is still vivid in my memory is Selma. Selma does smørrebrød and that is pretty much it, but they are the best smørrebrød. Oh God, they are good. So good. A lovely little restaurant with a small, but well-curated wine list to go with a selection of amazing smørrebrød. If you are in Copenhagen, you must go. We will every single time we visit this beautiful city.
It was a week in Alba next. Our splash-out meal here was in the much-lauded Piazza Duomo. This meal started brilliantly and ended splendidly, but much of the middle of our tasting menu was a damp squib. Or a pungent sea urchin in this case. The dishes were a little bit samey-samey texturally with a token cracker repeatedly appearing on a side plate to add some crunch. A cracker which looks at you as if saying “nope, I don’t know what I am doing here either”.
The food in the Piedmont region of Italy is of a crazy high standard though, with no one restaurant standing out, but a host of amazing meals in family-run trattorias. Sitting in the centre of the beautiful village of Barolo, drinking Barolo, with a plate of sausage ragu and tajarin pasta - pure bliss.
Our mid-summer jaunt last year was two weeks in Alsace and Burgundy. A lot of tosh has been spoken about a decline of dining standards in France to the extent that other countries, like Ireland, are surpassing it. Such nonsense. The average restaurant in France, the one you didn’t find in a guide, the one that isn’t on trend, will usually still deliver a fine meal, like the one we had in Le Cellier Volnaysien in the village of Volnay. Anyway, I digress.
If I had to pick one meal out as our favourite in Alsace it would probably be Bord'eau on the river in the centre of Colmar. A truly lovely and picturesque meal. In Burgundy, it might have been La Cabotte in the village of Nuit-Saint-George, where we enjoyed a meal outside in the square in the centre of this old town.
Our last holiday of the year was our first trip to Lisbon. What a beautiful city. We loved it. The four of us were having a terrific time until we all got terrible flu and spent the last four days in our apartment ordering food on our phones. We did manage to get 4 great meals before we were struck down. Gorging on all types of shellfish in Cervejaria Ramiro, was a great value treat, that all four of us really enjoyed. Cervejaria Ramiro is a sort of right-of-passage when visiting Lisbon. SÁLA de João Sá delivered a higher standard than we were expecting with some stunning dishes. But the highlight was without a doubt Jose Avillez’s flagship restaurant Belcanto. We had heard mixed things about Belcanto, but the food was clever, whimsical, perfectly executed and a great representation of the local cuisine. Fantastic service. Great wine pairings. A true world-class experience.
What about at home? Well, we didn’t eat out as much as we would have liked, but still managed a few brilliant meals. In the last twelve months, we have been fortunate enough to dine in Liath four times. Our barometer for eating out in the evenings is: “Is this restaurant worth a babysitter and all the hassle that goes with it?” Liath definitely satisfies that condition and then some. Chef Damien Grey’s food is unique, frequently balancing big, complex flavours with a fantastic use of acidity that amplifies the main ingredient on the dish. This was typified in what is one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. Anywhere! Ever! When the venison loin, a truffled bordelaise sauce with a side of venison tartar and foie gras was put in front of me alarm bells rang. It just seemed too much. Rich on rich with a side of rich, with not a vegetable in sight. I was wrong. Very wrong. It was heavenly perfection. Why? Because the bordelaise sauce wasn’t really a bordelaise sauce at all. It was much lighter with a terrific acidity; with the truffles somehow muted to just give a subtle earthiness. It was a sauce for the Gods and it tied all those other big flavours together. The food is Liath is creative and exciting - if we could only dine in one restaurant in Ireland at the moment, it would be Liath.
In December, we bagged ourselves a lunch reservation in Aimsir, a restaurant that has been delivering at a world-class level since opening in 2019. Our lunch, although not hitting the same dizzy heights as previous meals, was another lovely experience. It will be interesting to see what happens next with Aimsir, with chef-patron Jordan Bailey and wife Majken Bech-Bailey, the husband and wife team who made this restaurant so successful, moving on to a new challenge. The biggest challenge will be for the owners of Aimsir trying to replace such a talented duo.
A restaurant that is aiming to be judged at the same level as Liath and Aimsir, is Terre, which opened in 2022 in the Castlemartyr Resort in Cork. We visited whilst on a two-day stay in the hotel in February. It would be hard to find any fault in the dining or service, both of which were exemplary. The food slightly under delivered in comparison. The tasting menu offered up a few great dishes, the pineapple sundae dessert possibly being the best of the lot. Other servings, however, lacked balance with some components, which should have shone as the star of the dish, being lost.
A highlight of last summer was a family lunch at Locks Restaurant in portobello. The food in Locks has gone up a couple of levels since Chef Andy Roche took over. A sharing main course of guinea fowl was just superb and the whole menu managed to be both homely and modern. A really great spot for any occasion.
Possibly the most improved restaurant we visited recently was Volpe Nera in Blackrock. I say improved, but it was already a very good restaurant, but judging by a meal we had there recently, chef Barry Sun has moved his cooking up a notch since our visit last year. This was exemplified in a perfectly executed pigeon course. Add this food to a well-curated wine list and warm service and you are on to a winner with a meal in Volpe Nera.
Before I sign off, I must mention are local restaurant Woodruff. Our family loves Woodruff. Some of Ireland's best produce, cooked with skill and love with a fantastic wine list.