While I was still in Ireland when The Restaurant programme started, the lack of a television set precluded me from actually seeing the stars in action but the recently published book of the series gives a good picture of how it worked. Each week The Restaurant played host to a celebrity chef who planned the menu, chose the wine and, together with what must have been the long-suffering kitchen staff, cooked the meal. The diners – including a selection of critics – are not told who the chef is until they have given their verdict on the meal and, from some of the comments in The Restaurant book, did not mince their words.
The book seems to be structured along the lines of the programme. Each chapter comprises of the celebrity chef talking about the pros and cons of their Restaurant experience, an introduction to the guest critic, the menu and what the critics had to say about it, some notes about the wine chosen and recipes for three dishes.
As a picture of a time and a place in Irish public life it is a fascinating document. The brave participants ranged from RTÉ news reporter Charlie Bird to writer and comedian Brendan O’Carroll, horse trainer Ted Walsh, Senator Mary O’Rourke and chick fic author Cathy Kelly. Their assessment of the day is interesting and it was surprising how many of the guest chefs would re-visit the experience.
As a recipe book it works surprisingly well. While there are definitely things that I can’t seen myself ever trying out – Brendan O’Carroll’s Sole aux Bananes, for instance – there are plenty of recipes that I will definitely use. O’Carroll’s Swiss Apple Pie looked like a winner, Charlie Bird’s Slow-Boiled Ham in Spiced Cider is a must-try, Joe Duffy‘s Cardamon Cream sounds like a great combination and I loved Paul Costello‘s grouping of Black Pudding and Red Onion Marmalade. Being a confirmed non-potato eater, I was unimpressed with their reliance on spuds, but I suppose it was to be expected in a country like Ireland! The regular occurrence of rhubarb on the menu was a welcome surprise as was George Hook‘s inclusion of those great Cork offal dishes, tripe and drisheen. On the minus side, it seems that Tracy Piggott was the only presenter to realise the importance of ingredients, placing a lot of emphasis on the quality of the raw produce she used.
Although it is a bit of a mixed bag, The Restaurant: Food and Wine from the TV Series is an entertaining read – and you just might walk away from the experience with a new favourite recipe.
The Restaurant: Food and Wine from the TV Series is published by Poolbeg.