Friday, April 30, 2010

Taste of Ranelagh Festival

It may have taken a bus journey from Ashbourne, a brand new coat for Rebecca and a borrowed umbrella to combat the wettest day in several weeks, but the destination made our travels on Sunday more than worthwhile. That’s right, it was time for the very first ever Taste of Ranelagh Festival! And, in fact, my first visit to a food festival in Dublin outright. Bearing this in mind, writing about one is something I’ve never done before, so I apologise in advance if I’m a little shaky on the details or mechanical in describing it all (and for the delay, my laptop died a death during the week and I amn’t typing this out on my phone). Of course, another way of looking at it is as a practice run for the Taste of Dublin Festival in June! Regardless, it was an excellent start to what looks sure to become another great addition to Dublin’s growing food scene.

Of course – as any of you have no doubt heard me say a few times before – Ranelagh is already something of a foodie’s dream on the best of weekends. Restaurants, delicatessens, the Ranelagh Village market; all of these things make it worth visiting day and night, nearly 24/7. To cope with the extra volume on Sunday, a marquee was drafted in and set up next to the village market itself. Hand in glove almost, as the crowd spilling out would immediately be greeted by stalls of fresh fruit, vegetables and a range of cakes still warm from the oven. That's only to name a select few as well.

Speaking of the crowd, it completely exceeded my and everyone else’s expectations. Vastly so! The festival began at twelve, an within an hour the line to get into the marquee for just a handful of bite-size tasters from each restaurant involved was already stretching out onto the street. Roll on another two hours (not to mention handful of showers that drove off quite a few of the colder foodies!) and it was still a battle to get inside, never mind jostling for the food itself.

On offer were several bite size dishes from some of Ranelagh’s more popular restaurants, and one or two of the lesser known ones. The biggest name in the marquee was Tribeca, who served up a rather wholesome West African chicken curry. Immediately afterwards you were hit with a one-two of chicken biryani from Punjab Balti, and a refreshing bar larb gai salad by Diep Noodle Bar’s chef.

The larb gai in particular stood out; minced chicken with lemongrass, select spices, scallion and rice, each portion served in a leaf of iceberg lettuce. The chicken biryani, meanwhile, came accompanied by a delightful raita that turned a dish I’d normally avoid into a fantastic and creamy affair.

Also on offer was pizza from Antica Veniza, Paula Coyne’s sumptuous cupcakes and fresh smoked salmon with miniature blinis provided by the village market’s seafood stall. Cocktails were also provided by a handful of nearby pubs, and even the local Spar chipped in with their own stand, serving wine and various nibbles. Despite the wait involved, it was an all round entertaining as everybody involved was keen to show off exactly what they could do, and how the visitors themselves could do it as well!

In addition to the food on demand, those who survived the line to get any were – if also lucky enough to retain a seat at the marquee’s end – treated to several cooking demonstrations that included home-made ravioli by the fantastically named Marco and Paulo of Pinocchio restaurant, and Indian cooking at the hands of Punjab Balti. Because of the crowd build-up we decided only to stay for only the first. This, however, may or may not be an excuse to cover up the fact that we left the tent without realising that skipping the queue to get back in wouldn’t exactly have looked very good, but I stand by it. Regardless, we did get to vote in a competition to decide on Ranelagh’s best restaurant, chef and individual dish presented at the festival. The latter two awards went to Diep Noodle Bar, while the former is still a mystery to me. Put that down to bad food journalism on my part, but like I said this is my first time at writing about a food festival.

At the end of the day, my only disappointment was that the Gourmet Burger Company – who were billed on the event’s website – were a mysterious no-show. Either that or the marquee proved too small to accommodate everybody at the same time and we just weren’t around for long enough to see them! But given how much of a draw the event turned out to be, I’ve no doubt that the scale of it can be expanded upon next year. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have a little more experience at writing about festivals too. For now though, that's one down and any number to go; the summer is still young and there's plenty of eating left to do folks!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Taste of Ranelagh Festival Preview

I said it at the beginning, in that little 'about me' paragraph to the right and I will say it again: this blog is as much about my own foodie learning experience as it is yours, if indeed those of you who read it have any learning left to do! I make no pretences to being able to cook effortlessly, and I have a long way to go in terms of exploring the rich tapestry of Dublin's epicurean scene. Food festivals, and my lack of attendance therein, fall firmly into the latter shortcoming. With embarrassment, I'll admit I've never actually been to one in Ireland yet! Markets; yes. Events in other countries; a few times. But never one of Dublin's numerous foodie festivals. Why, you ask? Because I never actually took the time to check and see if I could find out when and where they took place.

Fortunately, a lot has changed. Lazy Rob has jumped out of a skyscraper window and what's left is an excited young man, a little bit more up to speed with what's in the pipeline and eagerly awaiting his first food festival experience. Which, coincidentally, is coming up tomorrow.

Yes, it's back to the proverbial restaurant Mecca that is Ranelagh once again! Only on this occasion, they're all coming together for the Taste of Ranelagh Festival. For the first time ever, the combined forces of over fifteen local restaurants, shops and the Ranelagh village market throw what's described as a 'complimentary taste experience', designed to showcase what each of them can do and draw in prospective eaters. There'll be food, drink, cooking demonstrations and a voting competition to select the outright restaurant, dish and cocktail of the year. It's a wonderful collaboration, the best part of which is that it's entirely free!

Considering that Ranelagh village is, on the nicest of weekends, a must visit for any Dublin foodie, the Taste of Ranelagh Festival is an absolute no-brainer. It's also an ideal starter to the eventual main that is the Taste of Dublin Festival. So, if you have the Sunday off and fancy a culinary experience to knock you off your feet then swing by; it's only a Luas journey away.

Taste of Ranelagh Festival
Ranelagh Village Market Marquee,
Ranelagh Village,
Dublin 6

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tesco Finest Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice Ice Lollies

I have a confession to make: I'm a slave to Tesco. Yup, it's where the majority of my had earned money that isn't being spent in restaurants goes, on an almost nightly basis at this stage! Whilst other Dublin foodies are off buying fresh ingredients from the various markets and high quality food halls dotted around the city in their ample spare time, I walk the aisles at midnight looking for somebody, anybody to tell me where I might find stem ginger. Instead of haggling for a discount at the weekends, I tear my hair out as I once again am told that an unexpected item is in the bagging area. It's the predicament you find yourself in when you live bang in the middle of the lamentably market-shy North Side and work until between seven to ten on most nights.

Thankfully, I'm not alone; most of you will find yourself in a similar situation. Even better is that it isn't really a bad one at all; Tesco, in general, offer a suitable range of ingredients with special emphasis on the exotic in some of their larger stores. You aren't going to find them selling a wheel of Bluebell Falls cheese or jamon Iberico freshly cut from the leg, but everything you need to make a varied sushi platter is ready and waiting. There are also any number of gems you can discover in the 'Finest' range, a line of food products that are touted as being just a slight cut above the rest. In many cases this is true, some not so much. The gems I speak of are those that exceed any and all expectations; some making you question why they aren't being served in your standard restaurant for treble the price!

One such gem is the Finest freshly squeezed orange juice ice lollies. Yes, the name is a mouthful and looks to be sexed up M&S style to deceive, but there actually is a surprising amount of orange juice in there. 83% to be exact! You can deduce as much from the first taste; the flavour is remarkably close to that of a real, tangy orange. This sensation is enhanced by the amount of pulp in each lolly, a lot of which you'll find accumulated at the bottom (top?) of the stick as you get further down. The ice itself is extremely delicate once slightly thawed, and crumbles delightfully where other ice lollies tend to flake and fracture.

Personally, I've found these little frozen delights to be a fantastic way to deal with a hangover; they're light, cold and refreshing, without offending your stomach too much. Also noteworthy is the fact that, for a treat, they're rather healthy! All of that orange juice is your standard source of vitamin C, and each lolly contains just ninety calories.

With summer having already shown its head peeking around the corner and it looking to be very much a good one, we're going to need ice lollies. Lots of them. The Finest orange ice lollies will never quite catch on in the same way that a Tangle Twister has, but they will cost you less in the long run at only €2.45 for a box of four. That works out at sixty cent per lolly; effective time travel back to the early nineties. You'll get a much better and more refreshing taste experience for your buck as well, so what are you waiting for? Head on down and stock up for the summer!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taste of Dublin Festival Preview

It's the one event of the year that every Dublin foodie should have penned in on their calendar: the Taste of Dublin Festival. Now in its fifth year, you'll find it held annually for several days in June at one of the city's most picturesque locations, the Iveagh Gardens. What normally is one of Dublin's more quiet and secluded parks will, for four days, play host to a collection of the most exciting chefs in Ireland, over fifteen restaurant teams, inumerable Irish food exhibitions and up to thirty-thousand hungry Dubliners. This year's festival will in particular will be my first ever (assuming I get the time off work, that is) and also something of a mini school reunion since an old classmate of mine, Donal Skehan of the Good Mood Food Blog, will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dorina Allen and Neven Maguire in the chef demonstration pot! To say that I'm excited is an understatement, and with a good summer predicted it's bound to be a blowout.

The festival runs from the 10th through 13th of June and tickets are now availalable, handily coming in three categories to suit your wallet; standard, premium or VIP. Purchasing premium upward will also grant you twenty florins, a Taste Festival currency which can be used to buy the various dishes on offer, the average price of which is six florins or thereabouts. Come with money to spare, bring your cookbooks for autographs and most importantly, don't spoil your appetite!

Taste of Dublin Festival
June 10th - 13th,
Iveagh Gardens,
Clonmel Street,
Dublin 2

Tph hotline for ticket bookings: 0818-30-00-30

Extreme Pizza (closed)

Over the past week, there’s been something of a pizza binge going down in the Jones household. It kicked off on a lazy Sunday evening that involved one of Tesco’s finest pizzas (with the addition of some much-needed feta cheese!), quickly followed a trip to a Pizza Hut takeaway on Stephanie’s request the following night. Strike three came after Áine had invited us out to eat on Tuesday, whereupon it soon became apparent that it was gourmet pizza she was after. We went straight to Hell and found everything we needed. Hell on Aungier street that is; a gourmet pizza bar that – up until checking out the menu that very night – I had always thought to be just a takeaway with a catchy name! I’ll be revisiting that particular eatery in the not-too-distant future, but for now this review is concerned with how we ended the pizza binge: at Extreme Pizza in Rathmines.

For those of you who don’t know, Extreme Pizza is a relatively small American franchise that originated from California. No prizes for guessing what they deal in, if you’re looking for a burger or bucket of chicken then look elsewhere my friend! Stateside, you’d call the kind of pizza they serve ‘Californian style’; here, we simply refer to it as ‘gourmet pizza’. You know, the kind that makes you think ‘now that surely wouldn’t work as a topping?’ That kind. It followed closely on the coat tails of smoothie and bagel bars in the mid naughties, with Millstone on Dame Street amongst the pioneers.

Extreme Pizza eventually caught wind of our nation’s recent embracing of all foods chic, and in December of last year they chose to open their very first international branch on the emerald isle. Slow as ever, I only learned of this development just a few days ago courtesy of a friend joining their fan page, and in keeping with the week’s running pizza theme it had to be visited, never mind the fact that I’d oogled over their menu some months beforehand!

Roll on a sunny Saturday, some truly incredible bruschetta and lemonade in Ranelagh (I didn’t get Rathmines and Ranelagh confused again, don’t believe anything you hear!) market and we eventually made it to Extreme Pizza’s rather busy corner location.

Surprisingly, the ‘busy’ seemed to have stopped at the corner and outside of Extreme Pizza’s door. To sum it up, we entered an empty restaurant and left an empty restaurant. At lunchtime, mid-weekend. Yes, it was a gorgeous and sunny day outside, but there are still, nay, always people who are looking to be fed, regardless of the weather. For all intents and purposes, it appeared we might have been the first diners there that very day! I hear you arguing that hot weather = a light lunch, and to be fair you’d have a point. The killer blow is that we passed Jo’Burger – a gourmet burger restaurant that serves up obscenely large beefy sandwiches – twice in going up and down the Lower Rathmines Road, and both times it was teeming with at least nine or ten diners. Given their location, newcomer status and the style of food they serve, I imagined that Extreme Pizza would be a serious point of interest for epicurean Dubliners and casual foodies alike. Their Facebook fan page would suggest so, what with over seven hundred fans (nearly twice as many as Yamamori!). Zero activity in and around a Saturday lunchtime is, in reality, something any restaurant of their kind should be concerned about. Rebecca and myself, on the other hand, were only concerned about having some good pizza.

The walls of Extreme Pizza do their best to live up to the name; action shots of mid-air snowboarders and stunt bikes on the walls are punctuated by the odd surfboard or skateboard with American flag decals. Think a toned down yet sportier version of TGI Friday’s. Quiet as it was, and with songs like Brown Eyed Girl piping in overhead, the only extreme I felt was a mildly relaxing one. Then again, it makes me wonder how they could fit a genuine ‘extreme’ into the meals they dish out. Throw the pizza like a frisbee at your table maybe? Or they could have you kill the cows and chickens that eventually supplement the meat. I know! Just serve the food on fire and make you hunt for an extinguisher, that’s definitely extreme. And, if I’m going to be honest, it might even end up tasting a little better.

Which brings us onto the pizza itself. Extreme Pizza is advertised as a gourmet pizza restaurant and the menu certainly looks to deliver with exotic toppings that include marinated artichoke hearts, new potatoes, gorgonzola, shredded pork and even mandarins! You can create your own, and a choice of calzones are also on offer. Sides include the usual suspects of chicken wings and salads, with the addition of the interestingly named ‘extremely twisted sticks’. I opted for the eight-inch ‘kickin’ chicken’ which included scallions, fontina, mozzarella, coriander and chicken marinated in a spicy ginger peanut sauce. Rebecca chose a ‘yard sale’, topped with sausage, pepperoni, salami, mushrooms, black olives, green pepper and onions, tomatoes, mozzarella and a kitchen sink. Phew! We shared two of the extremely twisted sticks and dips to match: blue cheese and garlic.

Everything looked the part as it arrived, and we both had high hopes after the past week’s pizza shenanigans. By the time we’d each finished a slice, it was difficult to go any further. The problem was a simple matter of taste, or lack thereof in this case. You’d bite into the pizza, chew for about three, maybe four seconds and suddenly, all you taste is bread. For me, bread and spice. With all of the ingredients listed above, you’d expect either pizza to be a symphony of flavours, even if a bit scattergun. In either event, there was literally nothing, which only served to make the entire thing a chore to get through for both of us. I disassembled a slice of Rebecca’s ‘yard sale’ to see exactly how much of each topping there was and this is the amount I gathered:

That should collectively taste of at least something, right? Eating the ingredients separately revealed three things: 1) each component was flavourless; these were simply just bad ingredients, 2) said ingredients can be found in many of the set pizzas, so it can’t just have been a bad pick on our part, 3) the tomato sauce underneath was virtually nonexistent, and the base itself stodgy. The extremely twisted sticks meanwhile turned out to be cheesy garlic bread twisted into a roll, though we ended up barely touching them just to avoid going into a bread induced coma.

In total we paid only twenty-two euro (which also covered two cokes), so at least one positive to take was that it really didn’t end up costing us an arm and a leg. Such pricing did, however, raise more serious questions about whether or not it would have been worth our while to simply walk down the road and get ourselves a meal deal in Dominos instead. An extra fifteen minutes added onto that would then have led us straight back into Hell, which offers gourmet pizza cooked with a lot more care and flavours that don’t go MIA. More importantly, Hell is no pricier than Extreme Pizza, making it a no-brainer of a choice at the end of the day. This, topped off with an absolutely nonexistent Saturday lunch service, spells out potentially bad news for Dublin’s latest pizza franchise. The extreme food may just be a gimmick, but there’s nothing catchy about extreme disappointment.

Extreme Pizza
1, Upper Rathmines Road,
Dublin 6

Tph: 01-4062626

Sunday, April 11, 2010


It might as well be said now rather than later: the meal I had at Darwin’s on Tuesday night was one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had. Yes, you read correctly, it was indeed up there. Actually – all things relative considered – I’d go so far as to say that it may very well have been the best thus far. Strong words, right? Especially when coming from a pedantic, biased-toward-katsu curry/Yamamori perfectionist, who secretly dies a little inside every time somebody describes anything as being amazing, genius or a similarly out of context adjective!

See, I have a terrible habit of considering almost everything in relative terms and I shy away from laddering things, food especially. You normally won’t hear me say that one restaurant is particularly better than another, just a ‘different’ place that one person may like or be able to afford more than somebody else would. For example: a very nice takeaway might be, to me, as much a great meal as what you’d expect to be served in Fallon and Byrne. The food itself is fundamentally incomparable, but the enjoyment you get from either can vary to one end of the scale depending on any number of factors. The same can be said of X, Y or Z recipe. It all depends on the person, their individual tastes and the situation they happen to be in. This defines the overall experience when it comes to a meal in a restaurant, of which the food is only one part. So, to hear me say that Darwin’s in particular was the ‘best’ is a completely blue moon affair that you should all take a snapshot of!

Forget my own thought process for the time being though, you’re here to read about why it was that good, and conversely why you should ever visit yourself. In a nutshell, all of the elements that make a meal experience enjoyable – food, service, company, atmosphere and cost – came together flawlessly. Combine that with high expectations on my and Rebecca’s part and it made for a great feeling of satisfaction all ‘round. Not that I’m trying to stir up similar expectations in you, but I am. Unashamedly.

This actually wasn’t my first visit to Darwin’s; I’d previously been to their old location on the same street a few months ago. Back then I’d been surprised at how small a restaurant it was for one with such a good reputation, so the move to a bigger venue (twenty-five seats bigger to be exact) was quite simply a case of ‘if you cook it, they will come’.

The new building used to be an antiques dealership, from which the two iconic statue lamps you can see in the background were originally bought. Funnily enough, there had only been space in the old restaurant for one beforehand, the other staying in the dealer’s itself until they finally moved over instead! Of course, these two lamps are one of many things you notice about Darwin’s when you first walk through the door. The food may have little to do with evolution (don’t go in expecting Galapagos giant turtle steak or braised iguana), but the walls are adorned with large drawings of the man himself, humanity’s ancestors and even a large tribal bow! Very little has changed in the move-over, the only thing you’ll notice is that it feels much roomier.

Greeting us as we arrived was Dolores, who spent the whole evening thereafter taking care of us, filling us in with stories about Darwin’s and generally being the friendliest hostess I’ve ever met. The funny thing is that it took zero effort to actually get conversation flowing to begin with, just the simple question of ‘is this your first time with us?’ Yes, some people prefer to have a meal in peace but personally, I feel that the more welcome you’re made feel the smoother any dinner will be. All of the staff had such a relaxed and casual demeanour, with cups of tea changing hands between attending the other diners. Given, it was a Tuesday night after a bank holiday, but it just felt comforting; everybody knew exactly what they were doing, which has a lot to do with the same people being carried over from the old restaurant I’d imagine – a factor that they advertise proudly.

Before the meal I’d been talking up Darwin’s desserts something incredible, so everything that was going to be served otherwise had become, as far as both of us were concerned, just the build-up. This was entirely the wrong way to go about it, but thankfully (or rather, inevitably) the starters, mains and even the bread dips completely stole the limelight. I can’t remember if I had the plate of bread and dips the last time I visited, but if I did then it surely knocked me out beyond memory.

What you get is a few slices of mixed bread accompanied by three dips: spicy hummus, basil pesto and sun dried tomato paste. If the entire meal had been three courses of this we’d have left happy! Even better is that it was given to us as an amuse, although at three euro, we ought to have bought another. Maybe three.

The starters on offer are plentiful and diverse, covering antipasto, pate and the usual favourites including fried calamari, spring rolls and tempura prawns. Rebecca skipped hers, but stole plenty of my wild mushroom and black pudding risotto. I don’t blame her; it was beyond delicious and featured plenty of nice, chunky mushrooms. This is a definite bonus, as I’ve known a lot of other restaurants to serve similarly mushroom-orientated dishes without any actual mushrooms noticeable. The black pudding was a perfect accompaniment, almost as supple as the risotto itself. In the end, the empty plate left over says more than I ever could.

In the way of mains, Darwin’s reputation is firmly founded on serving up a great steak. I’d personally stop short of calling them a steakhouse outright, but they are definitely central to the menu. Complimenting the cuts is a vegetarian page (for those with enough strength to turn it), one or two intriguing fish dishes and several side orders, all reasonably priced at three euro. The mains themselves do all land between the twenty to thirty mark but in gauging quality and portion size, I guarantee you that this price is well warranted.

In the end I opted for a juicy rib-eye, Rebecca the lamb plate. Both were perfectly cooked, both had us scraping the bones for whatever little bits of meat we could salvage as it all slowly disappeared. The lamb in particular was frighteningly good, largely thanks to some delightful parsnip chips and a mint jus that seemed impossibly subtle. If I could have stolen one recipe from Ciprian Isbanda all night, it would have been for that jus. All the more reason to return sooner! Either dish came with a choice of salad or vegetables, either being a nicely portioned addition.

Finally, it was time for the dessert I’d been harping on about all night. The choice had already been made: Darwin’s dessert platter for two. If could only order one item off the menu at Darwin's, this would have to be it, no question about it.

As I’ve said many a time before, what often separates a good restaurant from an okay one is how they handle dessert. When love and effort, or at least a bit of inventiveness is put into the final course, it sends the diner away impressed and satisfied. Darwin’s takes pride in this department, and the result is a raft of sweet delectables that include an Eton mess, rhubarb fool and their signature bread and butter pudding. All of these, with added slices of chocolate brownie and mango something (tardy note taking, sorry!) cheesecake, made an appearance on the platter and ended the meal with a sumptuous flourish that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. A Baileys each was also kindly gifted on the house, topping off what had turned into an excellent dining experience. The total cost? Seventy six euro; an absolute bargain, all things considered.

We spent the final twenty minutes before leaving locked in conversation with Dolores, who reaffirmed that despite the current economic climate – in which restaurants are certainly a high risk business – Darwin’s is most certainly not in a position to be worried about. Phew! She did however suggest one or two household names may not be as secure, which only means that we all have to speed things up if we don’t want to miss out on some dining opportunities! Then again, when things go this well in any given restaurant, it makes you wonder what need there is to try anywhere else. The reason is a simple one: there will always be a better food experience to be had, one way or another. For now though, Darwin’s is the record holder in my books.

80, Aungier Street,
Dublin 2

Tph: 01-4757511

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Gourmet Burger Company (closed)

The Gourmet Burger Company has always been on my list of priority restaurants to visit. I discovered it roughly two years ago when investigating whether or not Ireland was home to any branches of the similarly named (and easily confused) Gourmet Burger Kitchen, after having seen one or two during a trip to Manchester. Since then, said Kitchen has completed overnight invasions with over six restaurants opening throughout Dublin City! This turned my head briefly enough to try what they had on offer, but the Gourmet Burger Company was still the place I wanted to be. There were several reasons for this:

1) they’re Irish, and an individual restaurant operating on their own as opposed to one of many in a soulless franchise,

2) unlike the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, they offer a special burger ground from Kobe or ‘Wagyu’ beef (I’ll explain this shortly), which is an ingredient that only the finest Gourmet Burger restaurants deal in and something I wanted to try in burger form no matter how expensive,

3) burgers are, in a nutshell, one of my absolute favourite foods, IE no respectable burger joint should be escaping my attention.

Reason number three is by far the most important, as you can probably tell. I make no excuses, I just flat out love burgers with a passion. They’re one of the most basic and easily prepared meals, yet infinitely versatile and, when executed correctly, always satisfying. Cheese, bacon, Portobello mushrooms, chorizo, chipotle, mango chutney and apples; all of these delectable hussies have gotten into a burger’s buns (hah!) at one point or another, as have a thousand other ingredients in a million homes throughout the world. Nearly everybody has their own version and fillings of choice, so it was only a matter of time before the trend of cooking experimental burgers developed into something marketable. During the second half of the naughties, it hit Britain and Ireland thanks largely to a pair of Kiwis who simply wanted nothing more than a burger served with beetroot, pineapple and a fried egg. Thus, the Gourmet Burger Kitchen was formed. The Gourmet Burger Company filled the vaccum in Ireland until recently, and after a few botched attempts to get there, it was finally about to fill my stomach too.

Located in Ranelagh, the Gourmet Burger Company is right in the thick of what you’d probably call Dublin’s Mecca for diners. To get to it from where I was walking you’d pass by Tribeca, a Café Bar Deli, Two branches of Diep Noodles, the (sadly) old location of Mint restaurant and many, many more. The Ranelagh village market is also open at the weekends, which is an added bonus. This was, shock horror, my first exhibition into this part of the South side wilderness. With a role call like that, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be returning ASAP! Avoiding the temptation of this culinary gauntlet, I finally made it through the Gourmet Burger Company’s door.

Inside, the restaurant takes the minimal approach to decor, hitting the middle ground between an all out evening high brow venue and casual diner with brown panels, mirrors on the wall and condiments waiting at the table for you. Equally straightforward and simply presented is the one page menu, featuring salads and side orders toward the top, the meaty bits in the middle and vegetarian options at the bottom. It’s when you inspect each item that it starts to get interesting. All of the traditional burgers are touched upon with cheese, barbeque and bacon topped, but if you happen to be feeling more adventurous then you can always opt for guacamole, Toulouse sausage, Parma ham, or even an entire Caesar salad slapped on top of a patty. Fancy a bit of wild boar? The Gourmet Burger Company has you covered! And if you’re feeling thrifty, forty euro will get you the proudly advertised Kobe beef burger I mentioned a couple of paragraphs up.

For those of you who don’t yet know, Kobe beef is an extremely well marbled and pricey meat that hails from Japan. To properly prepare it, you need to massage your cow with sake and rear it on a strict diet. That’s specifically a ‘Wagyū’ cow, so don’t start rubbing old Bessie with vodka ‘cause it doesn’t work that way! The resulting meat is absolutely gorgeous, and purportedly the best quality steak in all the land. To have it minced for a burger is an added luxury.

If you intend to go after the Gourmet Burger Company’s Kobe beef burger yourself, then be sure to call them two days in advance so that it can be properly arranged. Unfortunatelyn it wasn’t available the day I visited which, to be fair, is understandable given it’s a commodity you’d expect to be mentioned in the same breath as truffles, so I opted to with something more traditional instead. Often I find that the measure of a good gourmet burger restaurant can be gained not by trying their most flamboyant recipe, but rather by seeing how they cook a simple and straightforward classic; in this case, their version of bacon and cheese. No bells, no whistles, just a simple medium cooked burger with normal toppings.

Now I will confess that in trying to find the Gourmet Burger Company, I once happened upon Jo’Burger in Rathmines. Y’know, Ranelagh and Rathmines sounding very alike, right? Right. Jo’Burger is another Irish gourmet burger eatery with a slightly more casual approach. They do interesting recipes at reasonable prices, and I’ll probably return very soon as part of a big Dublin burger-off but for the meantime, they make for a great comparison to show off the little things that the Gourmet Burger Company get so right.

For a start, burgers cooked gourmet style are large. Very large. With toppings in excess. Often you aren’t even supposed to eat them with your hands! The pictures do enough to illustrate this. In Jo’Burger, it’s literally impossible to even consider eating one normally; the experimental fillings are piled obscenely high and eating the burger can only be achieved through careful disassembly, calculus, reassembly on a fork, vectoring toward your mouth... In the Gourmet Burger Company, the burgers are indeed large, but not so large that the collective parts become a counter-productive problem. They’re easily re-adjusted, and I even managed a bite or two using my hands! At the end of the day, meals like this are, however, better suited to knives and forks. Unless of course you just plain like getting down and dirty with it. The amount of fillings used by the Company is also sensible, reasonably portioned when compared to Jo’Burger’s overkill approach. Less is indeed often more, and my bacon and cheese burger had just the correct amount of toppings and relish to remain filling, but not overly filling; flavoursome, but the taste of the meat itself was never dominated. This was a well executed burger, and cooked exactly to the juicy medium I ordered too!

A side of hand-cut fries was also fantastic, and notably finishable given that the burger left me with enough room. All too often I’ve been left unable to manage a generous helping of fries or (specifically)sweet potato chips when a burger has done all of the work for me. I was worried this might be a problem once again, but as it turned out the portions were handled excellently and it never was.

To finish I had a lemon sorbet that seemed a bit less than lemony, but at the end of the day it wasn’t the dessert I’d come for.

Great service on top of everything else made it an entirely worthwhile trip, even if it did pour down on me walking back into the city centre. My only regret is that I didn’t get to try the elusive Kobe beef burger, but there’s plenty of time and burger fanaticism left in me for that. If there’s any of the latter in you and you haven’t yet been to the Gourmet Burger Company, then I suggest you get yourself down to Ranelagh and enjoy what you’ve been missing. No buns about it, just go!

The Gourmet Burger Company
97 Ranelagh Road,
Ranelagh Village,
Dublin 6

Tph: 01-4977821