TOM DOORLEY Eats and drinks
Irish Daily Mail, Saturday, January 15, 2011
Sage is the chef who really understands our palates T ÷ SAGE RESTAURANT 8 The Courtyard, Main Street, Midleton, Co. Cork Tel: 021 463 9682
HE three most common questions that I get asked are: 1. What is your favourite wine? 2. What is your favourite restaurant? and, 3. What do you look for in a restaurant?
THIS week I will be eating... marmalade made from the sour and bitter Seville oranges that are available for just a couple of weeks in January. And the house is going to smell strongly of citrus! If I have a spare orange I might use it instead of lemon with some panfried fish – just a squeeze and a little of the zest, maybe with some chorizo too.
Well, the answers to the first two are as easy as falling off a log. I don’t have a favourite wine (although I would stock up on both red and white Burgundy if I were being exiled to a desert island with a decent budget). And I don’t have a favourite restaurant, at least not here in Ireland. I can think of few more pleasant places to be than eating at the bar in Bentleys of Swallow Street in London’s West End. But that’s beside the point. What makes a good restaurant? Well, heaven knows it’s not one of the great mysteries of the universe. You need a good chef and kitchen team (more common than you might imagine in Ireland), good front of house staff under a tough but charming manager (like hen’s teeth in Ireland), reasonably comfortable tables and chairs, and a menu which, ideally, has you going, ‘this is going to be difficult’. There are certain danger signs to watch out for. Sweet chilli sauce very rarely goes with good cooking. ‘Exotic’ meats like kangaroo and crocodile indicate that the chef wouldn’t know good food if it, rather than the crocodile, bit him in the bum. The smell of overworked cooking a wasabi mayonnaise (this is the oil is the kitchen equivalent of Japanese form of horseradish) fortiletting your car go 20,000 miles over fied with a little chilli and sprinkled its service interval. And the list with crisp little cubes of pancetta goes on... and fluffy Parmesan. Sage is quite clearly a good resIt sounds like a nightmare of ‘futaurant. It has a young chef who is inventive without being silly and one who really likes to use good produce from named, usually local, suppliers. Where most restaurants buy as much stuff as possible pre-prepared, I get the feeling that most of the work here is done from A SMALL list, much of it scratch. locally sourced from Spanish
Succulent: Crab cakes that retain the potency of the crab itself sion’ but, if a little salty for some, it worked impeccably. Then there were pork sausages made in-house, great chunky ones, seasoned very generously with fresh sage, and underlining the glorious synergy you can get between this meat and this herb. Unusually, they were served with a creamy sauce flavoured with very strong, sharp cheddar and, even more unusually, this unlikely com-
E STARTED off with crab cakes which were generous and succulent and which had depended on just enough potato to make them cohere without losing the potency of the crab itself. And a Caesar salad, dressed with
specialists Smith & Whelan and all keenly priced. Our pungent Glazebrook Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, with its passion fruit character, was a sound buy at €28.
THERE’S an early bird dinner menu at €20 for two courses, €25 for three.
bination worked. My only complaint about the haddock was that I would have liked more of the very punchy and tart mustard sauce; otherwise, it was perfectly and simply cooked – which, alas, is not something that can often be claimed. On the basis that it’s usually a bad idea to mess with the classics, we deliberately and somewhat wickedly ordered an ‘orange and chocolate tiramisu’. I ask you! Well, we ate our words as well as the tiramisu. It may not have been tiramisu as we know it, but it was a lovely dessert. The chef here, Kevin Aherne, is doing something significant. He’s using the right raw materials for a start and he’s doing curious, inventive things with them. But he’s doing that with real understanding and sensitivity. Too many chefs believe that weird pairings always turn out to be wonderful. This guy has real talent and discipline. With mineral water, a bottle of white wine and an acceptable single and double espresso, the bill for this very generous lunch (far too much for us, really) came to €81.30.
AS IF to underline the fact that Dublin, among the European capitals, is offering the best value in food, La Mère Zou has announced it’s opening on Saturdays for lunch with some great deals. You can get two courses for €18 or three courses for €22. Or you can have an ‘express’ for €18 which includes one course, a drink and a coffee. www.lamerezou.ie.
IF you want to learn more about your cup of coffee, put yourself in the hands of barista champion Colin of Third Floor Espresso (or 3FE). He will be leading an espresso appreciation class on Sundays in Middle Abbey Street, Dublin – he really knows his stuff. www. thirdfloorespresso.com. I’M NOT a vodka fan, but I was struck by the news that Lidl’s own brand, triple-distilled Putinoff, beat its equivalents from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Aldi. In a blind tasting carried out by supermarketownbrandguide.com it scored ten out of ten. It also beat premium brand Grey Goose which retails at almost four times Lidl’s €11.99 for 500ml.
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