Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Taste of Dublin

The recession is biting hard at the moment for a lot of this country, but you wouldn't think so judging by the expensive and eye-gouging prices being charged at this year's Taste of Dublin festival, held last weekend in the beautiful Iveagh Gardens.

I don't really know why I gave in and bought 2 tickets to this year's event. I did buy them on a 2 for 1 basis, but even so, €28 to gain admittance for two people to what was essentially a shop is a little excessive. Standing at the gate, while waiting for himself to arrive was eye opening in its own right. You'd nearly swear you were at Ladies' Day at the races, given the amount of fake tan and blonde highlights that was on display. And that was just the gents! Every hooray-henry left with a few bob to rub together was here.

I had hopes that stories from previous years of expensive food and drink would be mellowed this year. But alas, that was not the case. First of all, if your ticket does not include any 'florins', you needed to purchase these at a very favourable exhange rate of €1: 1 florin. The bad news is that they don't change florins back to euros if you happen to have some left at the end of the event.

We armed ourselves initially with 20 florins and headed into the park to look around. Our first purchase were two small cups of organic cider from (3 florins each). A good start, as the sun was shining and cider always goes well with cider. We wandered around though with a growing sense of disbelief as we examined prices and menus. 10 florins for a small flute of champagne! 8 florins for a cocktail. Where was the concession to the fact that people had already paid a significant amount of money to enter the festival in the first place?

Many Dublin restaurants were present offering small versions of some of their signature dishes, as listed here. We first chose a steak frites from the Saddle Room at the Shelbourne. Beautifully presented in a paper cone were proper Belgian style frites with a lovely dollop of Bearnaise sauce along with a piece on steak on a skewer. The sauce and frites were just delicious, but at 6 florins for what was essentially a few chips, I have to question the merit.

Now, it's unfair to point fingers at one restaurant in particular, as they were all in on the game. If they do have to charge for food (as they probably must in order to recoup their costs) then a limit of €5 should apply. Nice and simple and round. But we just can't do that in Ireland, can we? If we can charge a fiver, then we have to charge 6. It's how we got into this whole stupid mess in the first place, and it appears that the founding ethos is still alive and well in the Taste of Dublin festival.

As we looked around, it became clear that the only places offering free samples were those suppliers that give free samples in supermarkets on a Thursday night. Pink Elephant wines, Shaw's ham, Lyon's Tea and Bulmer's, just to name a few. Jacob's creek weren't offering bad value with a small flute of sparkling rose available cheaply enough. The best value to be had in the place was from Bulmer's, where a pint cost 4 florins or a half-pint was 2 florins. There were plenty of free chocolate sample chunks to be had from Green & Black and Lindt.

Our second, and last, dish was from Ananda Indian restaurant in Dundrum. I've eaten at Ananda several times, and loved it. But if I was a newbie, what I ate on Friday would not encourage me to visit in the slightest. We ordered the Bombay fried fish with minty mushy peas for 6 florins. What we got were 3 small pieces of what we referred to as 'boardfish', so rigid and dry were the chunks. The minted peas were nice, but nothing more than you could do yourself with a bag of petit pois and a jar of mint sauce.

One amusing highlight of the day was the Sacla pesto dispenser.

Overall, the idea of the Taste of Dublin is good. The Iveagh Gardens are a beautiful setting especially on a sunny summer evening. But until this event stops being a back-slapping affair for the country's elite, it won't represent a true Taste of Dublin.

Edit: Nice to see that I'm not the only person left with this impression of the Taste of Dublin.

1 comment

Anonymous said...

I attended the taste of Dublin for the third time this year, the first year it was excellent, last year was pretty good, this year it was very disappointing. It was certainly more expensive than previous years at €90 for two (incl 20 euro food vouchers each). Hard times have certainly hit the vendors with little or no free tasters (except sausages and chocolate) and the cuisine on offer to buy was very disappointing, in previous years restaurants made a conscious effort to showcase what the dining experience in their establishments was like to encourage punters to try the real deal with quality mini versions of what you would expect in their restaurants.

This year I felt that most of the restaurants were solely in it to make a quick buck, with cheap finger food such as fish or steak and chips and burgers on most stalls – where has all the haute cuisine disappeared to? I felt it was a poor advertisement for Dublin’s so called fine dining restaurants.

Finally, having went in at 2pm on Sunday and then to be herded out like sheep at 4pm was the icing on the cake for what has clearly become a money grabbing venture as opposed to a celebration of food on this Island. As you might expect I will not be attending next year.

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