The recent visit of Michelle Obama and her two young daughters to Dublin put me into a somewhat reflective mode on the topic of Irish cuisine. Dubliners will know that their city has a vibrant and innovative restaurant scene, which makes it all the more bizarre that the First Lady and her children dined at two "traditional" restaurants (Matt the Thresher on Pembroke Street and Finnegan's pub in Dalkey). Apparently the first family enjoyed options such as fish and chips, oysters, lamb, corned beef and of course, the obligatory Guinness.
Why is it that when the Yanks come to town, we are quick to forget our modern cuisine and instead revert back to the traditional stereotypes? As a teenager, I worked in a local bar & restaurant which catered to busloads of American and other tourists. We spent ages slicing brown bread and smoked salmon, prepping and grilling garlic mussels and pouring Irish coffees and glasses of Guinness. To be honest, all of it was good quality and tasty food, but it's now 20 years later and we're still projecting the same image.
So what exactly makes a restaurant Irish? It's a question that came to mind when we dined at Warren Gillen's Cistín Eile restaurant in Wexford. It's a venue where the old Irish adage "Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras" or "Hunger is the best sauce" is painted on the wall and the tables are dressed with homely linoleum complete with grandmother-style placemats. The scene was further set with a delivery of dark, treacly homemade brown bread complete with thick sugary crust.
|Homemade brown breads|
The summer evening menu offers three courses for €27 with a real focus on produce from both Irish and local Wexford producers. My choice of creamy and fresh fried Bluebell goat's cheese (from Clare) sat atop a stack of beetroot slaw accompanied by pear chutney and hazelnuts. His salad of Tony Butler's (Wexford) black and white pudding with cabbage, apple and mustard was a wonderful mix of flavours, all highlighting the excellent quality of the puddings.
|Fried Bluebell goat's cheese|
A main of 10 hour Doyle's beef topside, onion fondue, champ, navet and peppered cream was piled high on the plate. The mountainous theme continued with my choice of Wexford lamb cutlets, chard, Doyle's smoked ham, relish, champ and mustard sauce (€3 supplement). The lengthy list of components was reflected in the busy appearance of each plate. However, this apparent cacophony translated into smooth music when it came to taste.
|10 hour Doyle's beef topside|
|Wexford lamb cutlets with Doyle's smoked ham|
When it came to desserts, the consensus from both us was that they weren't quite of the same standard as the rest of the meal. To be honest though, our opinions on the desserts were probably influenced by the extremely generous plates of food we had just cleared. Pannacotta with rosehip & hibiscus was served with mini meringues and a popping candy oat mix. Popping candy produces a sensation of my teeth collapsing and I ended up scraping the mixture to the side of the plate. His verdict on the organic rhubarb and raspberry sundae was that the Featherbed Farm (Wexford) mango sorbet was the best thing on the plate.
|Panna cotta with rosehip and hibiscus|
|Organic rhubarb and raspberry sundae|
We had drank a bottle of well-priced crisp Verdejo (€26) which meant that our final handwritten bill totalled €86. Everything about Cistín Eile had made us happy, particularly the use of a wide range of Irish ingredients to produce dishes that felt uniquely Irish. You really couldn't imagine getting this food in any other country. Cistín Eile, Cistín Éireannach.
Tel: +353 (0)53 912 1616