There is no greater joy than the thrill of discovery, a new spice, a new herb, a new combination, the bliss when you experience an unexpected combination of ingredients that exposes you to a never before encountered taste. The surprise when something that you wouldn’t expect to work, makes your palate sing. That new combination of textures that leaves you with a big smile, a feeling of awe at the new experience and a joyful heart. Restaurants are risky places, all too often the item you are served bears no resemblance to that perfect dish you concocted in your mind based on the listed ingredients. Few things spoil a meal more than when you can tell during eating that the chef was bored while cooking, or when creativity in combining ingredients was untempered by common sense and you experience an oral Francis Bacon moment memorable certainly, disturbing probably, a total pleasure? – Likely not. There are good restaurants, there are great restaurants, there are exceptional meals that can never be repeated. Restaurants that consistently deliver exceptionally well made food are rare, here are some of my favourites. In no particular order:
SAN FRANCISCO: YOSHI’S – japanese go for the sushi and the jazz – sushi so fresh and creatively presented, its hard to eat it anywhere else http://www.yoshis.com/sanfrancisco/restaurant
SAN FRANCISCO: TROPISUENO – mexican creative hibiscus margheritas, small menu, great atmosphere and good location if you are staying in a business hotel in the financial district in San Francisco http://www.tropisueno.com/directions.html
SAN FRANCISCO: SLANTED DOOR: vietnamese home cooking love the food, the atmosphere, the location in the ferry building and the cocktails are divine, and very strong so be warned. Great dishes to share.
SAN FRANCISCO: TONGA ROOM AND HURRICANE BAR: asian fusion – love this for the atmosphere, the island feel, the hollowed out pineapples and coconuts in which your drinks are served, the food is good, and I am not sure you can really beat a restaurant where you are having dinner in the basement of a hotel and you feel like you are outdoors in an island setting. The pool has a boat that comes out on it with a band, and while you are dancing on the deck you can enjoy the tropical thunderstorm complete with heavy rain. Worth if for the fun factor alone http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/dining/tonga-party-planning/ Photo from Fairmont website
SAN FRANCISCO: FAIRMONT HOTEL: LAUREL COURT RESTAURANT AND BAR
Great after a day of sightseeing, or for an afternoon break, for an early evening cocktail or dinner. Lovely setting very elegant but at the same time informal. You can sit here happily alone with a book, or your laptop and a drink, or in company. Good wine list, attentive service as one might expect, and if you are there ask them if they are serving the shoestring fries with truffle oil on them. Sounds strange but actually absolutely amazing and can easily be recreated at home using oven fries. Bake oven fries, spray with truffle oil (real truffle oil not synthetically flavoured) or sprinkle with oil and salt and shake to cover well, amazing trust me.
Photo from Fairmont website http://www.fairmont.com/san-francisco/dining/laurel-court-restaurant-and-bar/
THE TEMPLE BAR PUB, DUBLIN
Sunday afternoon in Dublin, temple bar. After sitting outside a pub for 15 minutes next to 3 ladies advanced in years on an afternoon trip away from it all. After 15 minutes of basking in cigarette smoke and laughter, but not in the warm attention of a waiter, I wandered off to try my luck elsewhere. I ended up in the Temple Bar. Low lighting, loads of couples and groups of tourist, drinking men on the one hand, a large group of young group of women on the other, dancing and singing and generally having a great time in the way people do when they are having it more on the behalf of the impartial observer, than for themselves. It was early afternoon when I went in, but bars are like casinos dark places, once you are in them, the hours of the day lose all importance.
Initially it was a bit weird sitting all alone in a pub in the midst of revellers and couples. But the barman looked after me so well that I ended up sitting there all afternoon reading 2 newspapers feeling not a bit out of place. I also ate the world’s most expensive sandwich, a deconstructed ploughman’s lunch, which to be fair was enormous and arrived with 2 sets of cutlery….. and which I subsequently ate all by myself without feeling a guilty. I asked the barman which beer he would recommend to go with my sandwich…..this was met with a puzzled expression, and the comment, hm, that’s actually a good question (but I got the impression that it’s not a frequent one) and so I settled on a Galway hooker – an Irish pale ale – purely because of the name – I enjoyed ordering in bars up and down Dublin, mainly for the pleasure of seeing the barmen blush and say ” Hm, I’ve never heard of that before”… a week later it turns out that a Galway hooker is a type of boat………………
WHY GO: the inside of the pub is great, quiet, dark, and good for a pint. Wouldn’t go for the food, mainly sandwiches with large price tag. That said if you have a beer and share the nibbles you’d be fine.
The first brew and the first bar: GALWAY HOOKER – The Temple Bar, Temple Bar, Dublin Galway hooker is an Irish Pale Ale – dances across your palate, light but full flavoured, floral notes, which are what got me hookered . Same floral note you have when you eat a habanero chili but without the heat obviously. I liked this beer so much I sought it out across Ireland and tried to find a source in Switzerland, but no hope sadly. If you come across it, give it a try, lovely with a meal, great with fish and chips, fish in general, maybe chicken and I would imagine also could go quite well with Thai food. http://www.galwayhooker.ie/locations
This place is a must go to, If you are ever in Dublin and want perfect fish and chips and jazz (live some nights, canned on others) a quiet place to chat, and great service. If you need convincing check out the menu (http://leboncrubeen.ie/menus/set-dinner-menu/) – 3 courses for 25 Euros, which was nice after the worlds most expensive sandwich in the Temple Bar. Fish and chips – a perfect rendition, moist on the inside, crispy on the outside, lovely chips and tartare sauce – who said food cannot be art? I had a chicken Caesar as a starter – yes I know weird combination, ah well, but the salad was brilliant too. Cannot recommend this enough for a nice dinner. Not fancy but the food is worth it.
WHY GO: should be obvious from the above
The beer: O’haras pale ale (http://www.carlowbrewing.com/our-beers/oharas-irish-pale-ale/?ao_confirm) – fruity, floral, not as uppity as the Galway Hooker, more rounded, but a lovely brew nonetheless and went well with the fish!
ELY GASTROBAR, DUBLIN
Went here for a work do – group of 35, no problems fitting us in,small menu, great prices, very nice presentation, you can watch the chefs in the kitchen, creative foods, although not sure that panna cotta with coconut ice-cream on top really hits my sweet spot, but you have to love them for coming up with new stuff, and being heavily Italian influenced I suppose I am biased.
Specially like the plates – heavy pottery, each plate individual colour, didn’t seem practical for a gastropub, but satisfying for the senses. I was more focused on the company than on the food though to be honest, so all I can say was it’s a nice location, not too cosy, good for groups, food good, price good. And I cannot even remember the brew, or if indeed I drank anything other than water. Hm…..and they say they have a great beer list.
Anyway worth going to if you are in Dublin.
WHY GO: groups for good dinner, good for work do’s. If they have cozy tables, might be nice for a couple, but overall does feel like a well-oiled machine in an uncozy way.
Working girls night out – our local guide Sharon led us to the Rustic Stone – one of Ireland’s top chef’s restaurants. Interesting offerings, hamburger on left with polenta fries. Polenta fries very salty. Hamburger good but on a brioche-type sweetish bun, of all the places I ate in Dublin though this one was the least convincing and I wouldn’t fight to go back. Good mind you, but not spectacular and quite pricey, as you would expect in a restaurant run by a celebrity chef. It’s a hip place in Dublin right now. the house specialty is meat served on a hot stone, which is quite common in Switzerland and therefore nothing I was excited about. On an olfactory note – the hot stone experience unfortunately extends to salmon, and having dinner while the neighbouring table is cooking salmon on a hot stone and enveloping you in the salmon fumes, is just not my idea of a pleasant night out. If you go, you’d need to plan to have your clothes laundered after the experience…
As the night wore on it transpired that not only is the owner a great chef, he is also quite the looker in a brooding intense kind of way. Our Irish friend showed photographs…. So at the end of the evening when asked if we have any final requests, we asked to see the chef. We were told by a flustered waiter that the chef was in his other restaurant that night. This likely explains why the food wasn’t stellar….Maybe go back after all?
Beer O’Hara’s pale ale again, my Irish friend had never had it before, she was an instant convert.
WHY GO: well it’s loud and trendy, hip and happening and full of the locals, you might see the chef, which for some would be a reason all in itself, and the food might be great if the chef is in.