A word of warning. This is not a restaurant review. It’s just a reflection of what it’s like to visit Irish restaurants where you are made feel at home and embraced and welcomed like old friends of the family.
It’s been a quare few weeks. My Mum ended up in hospital for a week or two but has made an excellent recovery, my daughter Claire experienced various traumas at the hands of the normally excellent Australian health services but is also on the mend, I got stricken down by a bug that has had me flattened and fairly uncommunicative for over two weeks.
But this week we were reunited in Ireland, a rare coming together of three generations of the women in our family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and mine which she and I share on 18th July and to catch up with Claire’s friend Diane who is dealing, with spirit, with her own health challenges at the moment.
Normally on these occasions I do most of the cooking at home but this time it made more sense to have our special meals out. As a result we’ve eaten in three different restaurants in the past week, all a powerful reminder that the so-called “Irish welcome” is not a myth, it’s a very special experience of being treated like guests and not just as customers.
Restaurant 1 – China Sichuan, Sandyford, Dublin
First up was China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin. Kevin Hui the owner has become a friend since he welcomed me inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan nearly a year ago when this blog was barely new born. It has become our “go to” place for family reunions and departures. It’s where we had our farewell dinner for Shane and his Chinese wife Shan when they were home a few months back and Shan declared it more authentically Chinese than she had ever experienced outside China.
Kevin has acquired a new chef recently, Andy Foo who has worked in Yauatcha in Soho, London which is my favourite Chinese restaurant on the planet. Andy is doing fabulous things to the menu at China Sichuan. He is refreshing old favourites like Luo Bo Gao (Chinese turnip cake) and gradually introducing new dishes including soft shell crab with roasted almonds which is sublime.
Last Tuesday night we went there with Claire and Mike and her friend Diane and simply put ourselves in the hands of Kevin to organise an impromptu tasting menu which would play to our taste for Sichuan food and our flagging appetites. Dish after dish appeared at our table, some hearty meat dishes zinging with spice, some light, steamed fish releasing the fresh flavours of the sea, vegetable and noodle dishes in heart-catching sauces, none gloopy or clawing, all bursting with flavour. All five of us were blown away by the experience. Taste buds tickled for the first time in many weeks, we left sated and oozing contentment and collapsed at home to watch Enchanted together because who doesn’t like a happy ending.
For once, living in the moment, I didn’t take many photos of the food but on 31st July you can have the chance to experience this quality of food for yourself. Chef Andy Foo has arranged a special tasting menu of 7 dishes, each paired with wines for €75 and all proceeds go direct to Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice. You can read about it on China Sichuan’s Facebook Page here. Kevin didn’t ask me to mention this but I’m doing so because it is a very special cause. Kevin is cycling Paris to Nice for the cause later this year with a group of his friends and customers.
Restaurant 2 – Samphire at the Waterside
Next up was Thursday’s visit to Samphire at the Waterside in Donobate where we were joined from Wexford by my Mum to celebrate our birthdays. So there were now six of us including Diane who we decided (not for the first time) to adopt as our second daughter for the week. Chef Tom Walsh at Samphire is another of the friends I made through the blog and Twitter as he got involved unsolicited in giving me ideas for recipes such as Braised Pork Cheeks and of course his chilli jam is now legendary. He is an emerging talent to watch.
We dined on delicious food of local provenance from the set menu and the optional extra dishes. We had the best of fresh, local seafood, vegetables and lamb beautifully presented in a glorious location as the sun set over the Irish sea after another peachy day.
Consider a trip out by train some summer evening or arrange to stay over night over the autumn or winter. The nice folks at the Waterside will collect your from Donobate Station and return you there. Be warned Tom, I intend paying a visit to your kitchen some day soon.
Claire and Mike returned to the UK yesterday for a week so I decided to spend some quality time with my Mum and we had an evening of great entertainment at Michael Bublé at the O2 last night courtesy of tickets I won from the nice people at Rewarding Times.
Today Mum and I made a cross-country trek via Kildare Village to the lovely folks at A Room Outside, Caroline and Liam so that I could investigate a Big Green Egg barbecue and onwards to Duncannon. (Watch this space dear readers, the Big Green Egg is a very sophisticated version of the traditional Chinese ceramic clay pot and I’m smitten. Now I just have to convince my Mum that it’s not called a “Big Green Chicken”.)
Restaurant 3 – Sqigl, Duncannon
I tweeted ahead yesterday as I often do to see if Sqigl could fit us in for a quick early-bird in this friendly neighbourhood restaurant above Roches Bar. Bur shock, horror, the restaurant was block-booked for the night by a local group. Not to worry, a quick consultation with the chef and Cindy came back by Twitter to say the chef would open early at 6.30 to feed me and my Mum before the group arrived.
There’s something about coming into Wexford via the Passage East – Ballyhack ferry which, at any time, catches the back of my throat but today, with my Mum at my side, after travelling the glorious green and verdant Irish countryside not yet parched yellow by the heat of the last few weeks, it was very special. It was that sweep down into Duncannon, past Star of the Sea church with the view over the harbour and the sea more blue and the tide fuller than I’ve ever seen it.
We made it to Sqigl on the dot of 6.30 as they unlocked the door specially for us. The lovely local staff served us simple, delicious prawns and scallops, followed by locally caught hake and fresh fruit pavlova. Squigl is a quality local restaurant serving fresh, flavoursome, locally sourced food. It never disappoints.
My Mum and I walked back up the hill to our little summer house linking arms as the sun set.
Three very different restaurants. Three friends made as a direct result of this blog and Twitter. Three places that restore my faith in Ireland, our people, our innate kindness, our hospitality and our food. And in all three places the value for money and service was excellent.
PS: The only ones missing form these few days of celebrations were Shane, Shan and Dermot. But they did send me this birthday photo greeting from Dermot, my first ever “happy birthday Nai Nai”. Say a collective “aw” people….