Friday afternoon was a good time to be at the inaugural Taste of Dublin event as blazing sunshine encouraged a cheerful and good humoured crowd to linger, sample and wander around a Dublin Castle courtyard crowded with stands and stalls. My €35 ticket (I managed to keep the dreaded Ticketmaster booking fees to €2 by buying from the Ticketmaster outlet in Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre) entitled me to €20-worth of florins, the festival currency, but the sky was the limit as soon as you set foot inside the event areas. With sample signature dishes priced from €5 to €8, that €20 didn’t last long and I’ve even read of people spending another €70 on top of that. I was well behaved though – after spending my first €20-worth, I just bought €5 extra – and, although portions were less than generous, I would have been hard pressed to find something I really wanted to spend more on. It doesn’t have to be a taste of Dublin to be good.
As I had decided to avoid all restaurants that I had previously eaten in, the first of the stands to catch my eye was Gary Rhodes‘ much hyped (and not yet open) Dublin venture, Rhodes D7. For my first €5 I got a shot glass of tangy White Roasted Cherry Tomato Soup with a salty stick of Olive Bread. Good – but much too tiny. L’Ecrivan‘s contribution to my afternoon was Natural Smoked Haddock Linguini with Asparagus and Peas, Light Curry Froth (€5). Spaghetti had been substituted for the linguine and the thinner strands of pasta weren’t as good at holding the intensely flavoured cream sauce which remained, in lonely puddles, at the bottom of my bowl.
After a few more circuits of the food stalls, I chose La Stampa‘s Braised Quail with Savoy Cabbage (€6). This was by far the largest portion I got so I took one of the few seats available to give it my fullest concentration. No matter how nice, food always suffers from being eaten while you stand, constantly juggling plates and bags. Although the wooden knife I was given was no match for the meaty portion of quail, there weren’t many scraps left by the time I finished. The Town Bar and Grill‘s Strawberry and Cassis Pavlova with Mascarpone Cream was my summer-appropriate but not-so-grand finale. Although perfectly pleasant, there was little flavour from the promised cassis.
On the wine side of things, there were small samples aplenty with glasses of wine available from €4. The most interesting part of the day for me was meeting the passionate wine importers behind www.spanishwines.ie. Already selling to off-licenses and restaurants in Ireland, they’ve just launched a website selling these under-represented wines and a glass of their fragrant Guitian Godello (easily recognisable from its smart, art deco-style label) was a perfect drink on such a warm day and, I can only surmise, a great accompaniment to some tapas for a Spanish-style summer’s evening with friends.
As a taster of Dublin restaurants, this event was exactly what it said on the tin although I don’t know if I would be hurrying off to visit any of the restaurants that I sampled on the day. The Cellar Restaurant‘s fantastic looking Fish and Chips, served in a cone of paper with a dollop of mushy peas, nearly had me breaking my resolve to avoid familiar restaurants and I had to turn my back to avoid looking at the dishes produced by the much-loved Silk Road Café. Reports from my cousin, the Environmental Scientist, gave top marks to the White Truffle Risotto (also from the Cellar Restaurant) and Roly’s Hot Chocolate Pudding. Although she got rained on during the Saturday afternoon session, she wasn’t undaunted and already has a plan for 2007: “We’ll have to go back next year (with rain gear, regardless of the forecast!) in a group of at least four, get there early, bag a table, stay at it and then get as much as possible from each place and bring it back for everyone to share!”
Although I did enjoy the afternoon’s tasting, the most exciting thing was the sheer number – and variety – of people there, swapping tips on the best dishes, stealing forkfuls from each other’s plates, sharing tables with strangers, enjoying the sunshine together. If you didn’t manage to make it to Taste of Dublin, take Maman Poulet‘s advice and take the price of the ticket to your local farmers’ market for good food and tasting aplenty.