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!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[Events] Taste of Dublin 2014

Taste of Dublin is over for another year, and it continues to polarise opinions. To some people, it seems to represent an excessive Celtic Tiger legacy and to others, it's a lovely day out with plenty of food and drink to choose from. I tend oscillate between these two extremes but come June, I always end up in the Iveagh Gardens with a sheaf of florins (the Taste currency). 

I used to avail of a good corporate deal on tickets via work, but that hasn't been available for the last few years. Since then, I've actually refused to buy a ticket but instead, I enter all the competitions I can find. So far my luck has held good. The event organisers put on a magnificent show every year, but I do feel galled by a steep entrance fee (plus booking fee per ticket!), with nothing included bar entry. (To be honest, this year I received complementary tickets as part of my invitation to the Aldi 28 Steak promotion).

The first thing I noticed as our taxi pulled up on Harcourt Street outside the entrance was the sheer volume of the queue. We had deliberately planned to be an hour late to avoid the worst of the entrance queues, but it was as if the gates had just opened. Thankfully, we were able to bypass the queue (a rare perk that I was extremely grateful for), but I felt terrible for the people queuing. One quarter of the allocated time was already up and God knows how long more they queued for.
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - The Aldi cabin
The Aldi cabin at Taste of Dublin (see Louis in the window!)
As mentioned, we were guests of Aldi who had invited us to sample their 28 day dry aged Irish Angus steaks in a purpose built cabin and outdoor terrace. The superstar factor was bought by Cormac Rowe, executive chef at Michelin-starred Mount Juliet who, along with his team, expertly cooked the steaks to perfection in front of us. A small starter of cod brandade and a very delicious strawberry and basil panna cottta were served as part of a three course meal, with wines from the excellent value Aldi Exquisite range (my favourite? The AlbariƱo).

I also got a real kick from having Louis Walsh present at our sitting. It was amazing to watch him make time for any fan who requested a photo or hug. If you had the balls to approach him, he made sure that you got some time. Major respect Louis.
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - #28byAldi
Place setting at #28byAldi
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Aldi ribeye
Magnificent ribeye with salad from Aldi and Cormac Rowe 
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Side of beef
An Aldi side of beef
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Strawberry and basil dessert
Delicious strawberry and basil dessert
Now that I've gotten over my love fest with Aldi's steaks, it's back to the rest of Taste of Dublin. This year, I felt that there had been a real change. As I wandered around, up and down the steps, in and out of the trees, it felt less like a string of stalls and more like a grouping of experiences. Kentucky Ales were promoting their beers and whiskies in a section with a live band and grill, O'Briens wines was jumping, Glenisk had mounted smoothie blenders on bicycles and the open demonstrations had been spread throughout the area.
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Aye mami
Samba time - someone is enjoying the Brazilian dancing
Thanks to Aldi's generous feast, we weren't very hungry, but we did sample some pea panna cotta from Hot Stove Restaurant along with dumplings and wasabi prawns from China Sichuan. Rock Lobster was the crowd favourite with long lines waiting for their signature lobster rolls, while Anita Thoma's (Il Primo) eye-catching method for finishing risotto on a wheel of parmesan was also drawing a crowd.
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - China Sichuan prawns
Wasabi prawns with mango from China Sichuan
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - China Sichuan spicy dumplings
Spicy poached chicken wonton dumplings from China Sichuan
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Hot Stove pea panna cotta
Garden pea panna cotta from Hot Stove Restaurant
And it wasn't just the food that got us interested. Prosecco was the clear choice of the well-heeled, albeit tipsy, ladies who were wandering around clutching bottles and plastic flutes. Down in the VIP area, the (overpriced, in my opinion) tickets got you a glass of Champagne and a pre-mixed cocktail. Me, I was personally more interested in visiting some of the cocktail stands for a freshly made drink. We tried the Beefeater Gin bar from the Mint Bar as well as a truly excellent raspberry bourbon sour from Kentucky Ales.
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Mint Bar cocktails
Tom from the Mint Bar creating my cocktail
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Kentucky Ales cocktails
Raspberry bourbon sour from Kentucky Ales
Stitch & Bear - Taste of Dublin 2014 - Teelings whiskey
The excellent Teeling Whiskey company
The real star of the Taste of Dublin however, is the actual venue itself. The Iveagh Gardens are just stunning and Taste of Dublin makes creative use of the area. It was such a shame to see attendees littering the grounds with cigarette butts and other debris. Way to stay classy. As the evening bled into night, the Gardens become romantic and it's very easy to sit down and let the world pass you by. Before too long, it was 21.30 and the security team were starting to shut down the bars and stands. Time to depart and probably not too soon for the prosecco-sodden lady I saw fall head first into the barriers.

Final thoughts on Taste? I still think it can be expensive. I still think it's a love-in for D4-ites and socialites. I still think anyone who wanders around with the VIP lanyard is a borderline tit. But there were some signs this year that the festival is changing, moving towards a more personalised experience. Restaurants who make an effort with a signature dish will reap the benefits and with the right weather, it's a magnificent day out.

UPDATE: I just realised that I never mentioned the toilets. Probably because I had scrubbed that horrible experience from my memory. Before we had even left home, I had rolled up some toilet paper into my bag as previous years had taught me not to spin the toilet paper roulette wheel. This year though, the issue was smell and maintenance. I was left wondering what women were doing in the toilets to create such a smell and such a mess.

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