Friday, 23 May 2014

I'll have the heart & soul please...

As I mentioned in my opening post, I love eating out. I don't do it as much these days as I used to ( nothing like becoming a parent to put a halt to your gallop!) but I still follow restaurants and trends closely. I've found that the less I dine out, the more selective I've become. With opportunities more limited, I'm less inclined to take a gamble on a potential hit or miss experience.

This got me thinking about why I gravitate towards certain places. They may be a completely diverse cross section of restaurants but a common thread links them all together. The best way I can think of to describe this common denominator is that they put their heart and soul into what they do. Whether it's a coffee, a sandwich or a high end dinner, if it's done with care, attention and love it stands out.

I follow a lot of chefs on Instagram and Twitter and can usually tell in one image if someone is cooking from the heart or plating food that they think is on trend. The increase in Nordic style linear presentation on gun metal coloured plates & bowls is noticeable. So too is the use of foraged ingredients. Also, the majority of dishes seem to involve a water bath, a Thermomix, and lots of chemical compounds. Done properly all of these elements can make for a wonderful dining experience. The problem is that very few people can do it properly and majority are doing it because they see so much of it on television and in books. Most of the amateur cooks on Masterchef now even seem to bring a water bath, Thermomix, and Ultra-Tex as standard.

I'd eaten this style of food done well in other countries but the first time I experienced it in Ireland was a few years ago in Gregan's Castle Hotel when Mickael Viljanen was cooking. Mickael has since moved to The Green House in Dublin and is the only chef that I've seen in Ireland perfect this style of cooking. The reason for this is that he cooks from the heart and in every dish you can see his personality on the plate. This is never true of chefs who try to imitate.

Brill, sprouts, cockles, truffle, gewurtztraminer, sheep's sorrel. Source: Mickael Viljanen

If you look at the food of any great chefs, you can see their personality coming through. In a lot of cases this is because they are cooking food they love to eat. If I see a dish cooked by Garrett Byrne for example, I could probably identify it as one of his without knowing who cooked it. Another good example is Graham Neville . They both have an individual style because they are cooking the food they want to cook and not imitating what they think is the latest fashionable trend.

A Garrett Byrne original. Source: Campagne website

Although I hate the term, I love the concept of the Gastropub. It's a model that is done extremely well in the UK and one of the finest meals I've ever eaten was in The Sportsman in Kent. The food is all about great produce and is simple, honest and cooked from the heart. Our produce here is every bit as good and I often wonder why we don't have more pubs in Ireland serving quality Irish produce, cooked with a bit of love and care. Time and again I see chefs in pubs either making no effort or else trying too hard to recreate what they think is Gastropub fare instead of cooking from the heart. I went into a pub in the West of Ireland for chowder and a pint of Guinness a couple of years ago and was served an "amuse bouche" of "venison lollipops". There are a few notable exceptions of course. The food at Mulligan's in Stoneybatter never disappoints and The Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna is excellent and the food is certainly cooked with passion.

Smoked eel, beetroot & horseradish at Wild Honey Inn

Venison with trompette mushroons, kale & pumpkin at Wild Honey Inn

There is a real buzz about the restaurant scene in Dublin City Centre right now with lots of new openings over the last few months. There is a definite movement and from what I've seen and heard and I will start to try some of the newer places with some confidence that there is real substance behind them. I recently had lunch in Etto Merrion Row and it summarised much of what I've been trying to get across in this post. On the face of it the food is simple but it is clearly cooked by someone who loves to eat. Every dish was made with the pleasure of the diner in mind and every morsel brought a smile to my face.

Pic doesn't do justice but this dish was stunning. Underblade of beef with cabbage & mushroom duxelle at Etto.

Cod with clams, saffron potatoes & chorizo at Etto. 

So the moral of the story is this folks...if you're getting into a food business, put everything you have into the food you produce. No half measures. Check out places at the top of their game and get inspired. Get a sandwich in Juniors , a coffee at 3FE or both in Brother Hubbard. Enjoy an awesome pizza at La Cucina or the fish striaght from dayboats in Harry's. Thankfully there are lots more places all over Ireland now who put their heart and soul into what they do day in day out. Seek them out...we should cherish and support them.


  1. Your blog is great Patrick, very interesting! Look forward to your next post already! :)

  2. Tell J I like her top! Hoping to get to Campagne in a few weeks at last...

  3. Thanks Ketty, delighted you're enjoying it :)

  4. I will pass on the comment Aoife :) Enjoy Campagne, you're in for a real treat.

  5. bugger, read that batting off only a bowl of rice crispies. (with hot milk!! )
    frigging starving now. Could suck a lamb shank through a straw.