On Friday evening last, Elly and myself hopped on a bus and headed into Dublin city centre to catch the Taste of Dublin Festival in the Iveagh Gardens. I have to say it was a gorgeous venue which added to the tasting experience no end.
It was our first visit to Taste and we were both pretty excited, which of course meant that we were early and ended up standing around with a lot of other people queueing to enter and trying to spot any celebs passing down the VIP lane, there were none (at least that we recognised).
Bang on time the gates opened and people started to flood in past the jazz band inside the entrance and on to see what the first stand had on offer. No freebies that we saw but a couple of glasses of prosecco with added strawberry were purchased to help get us in the mood. I was a little disappointed at being asked for more cash so soon after entering the festival (hey, I’m a tight fisted Irishman after all;)) but I needn’t have worried because for the next 20 minutes we were plied with more free samples than it was possible to consume even at the slow pace we were able to move past each of the stands.
Both Elly and myself had done a bit of forward planning with a list of “must sees” some that we both wanted to see/try and some “solo” events. First on both our lists was Gino D’Acampo‘s Cookery demonstration, albeit for different reasons
I have to hand it to Gino, his showmanship and stage craft were second only to his cooking and he’s obviously done a few of these demonstration things before. With the assistance of some audience members he started into preparing a courgette pasta dish, which looked and smelled fantastic. I was a little surprised to see him using dried pasta, however the rest of the dish was prepared entirely while the spaghetti was cooking so this firmly falls into the realm of a “quick and easy” dinner.
Gino (again with audience participation) also prepared a tiramisu, but more on that tomorrow 😉
At this point Elly and I began operation “divide and conquer”. To be fair Elly wanted to do a wine tasting demonstration that I was less than enthusiastic about, so I left her to sample the wines and I toddled off for a look around some of the other stalls to pass the time until the Ballymaloe Cookery School “class” that we had booked into was due to kick off.
Elly’s wine tasting Session:
The Edward Dillon Wine Experience was one of my must-sees at the festival and I was lucky enough to roll up just as a class started. They had different sessions on throughout the weekend, and on Friday evening it was “The Modern White Wine Styles of Rosemount“. A fast talking Australian shipped over specially from the vineyard was our host for the session and he rapidly walked us through 4 wines from their diamond label, starting with a peppery little pinot grigio. This was definitely an easy-drinking summer wine and he went on to explain that they had designed the wine to be so easy and light that you’d finish a bottle in one session!
Moving on through the wines we then tasted a Semillion Sauvignon, which was not to my liking as it was just too acidic for my palate. I started sipping ahead at this point and correctly guessed that the next two on offer were Chardonnays, easy to tell from their buttery texture. Wine 4 seemed to be a lot richer and more complex when wine 3, and this was confirmed when we were told that wine 4 was their Show Reserve Hunter Valley Chardonnay, which is oak-aged. Overall it was a fun little tasting session and really showed off the different characteristics of their white wines.
The Ballymaloe cookery class was an excellent introductory lesson in food preparation, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It began with a full demonstration of how to prepare “Portabella Mushrooms with Basil Pesto and Balsamic Vinegar” and we were then divided into groups, each group member was given their own task to perform and then all were brought together to “plate up”. All good fun and great to get another perspective on pesto, which seems to be very “of the moment” considering every food event I’ve been to this year has had at least one demo of someone making pesto or a pesto variation.
Once the meals were plated, we were directed to nearby tables and chairs to eat. I have to admit I had “sampled” most of the ingredients while in the class and was a little dubious as to how it was all going to come together, but it did and was absolutely delicious. I now have a first hand understanding of why Ballymaloe has the reputation it has.
After this we wandered through the various stalls tasting the samples and purchased a number of the sample signature dishes. The stand outs for me were the “Panang Gai” from Diep le Shaker, ely‘s “Organic Burren Beef Burger” and Eatery 120‘s “Chocolate Soup with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream”
The last of these three stood out for all the wrong reasons. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this dish but the positively ordinary tasting chocolate sauce with a melon ball sized scoop of bland vanilla ice cream left me regretting the purchase and with a very much less than favourable impression of Eatery 120. Maybe I just picked the wrong dish but if you’re going to pitch yourself as a fine dining experience then you should make sure that all your dishes are spectacular in each of their areas and this simply was not.
Now that said, both Diep le Shaker and ely are on my list of must visits for exactly the opposite reason. Stunning Taste sensations both of them.
I was lucky with my restaurant taster picks at the festival, as none of them let me down, except on pricing! After paying €20 in, if you taste 4 tapas-sized portions and drink 2 glasses of wine you’re lucky to get away for an additional €35. Leaving that aside, my first taste was the delicious Steak Frite with Bearnaise Sauce from The Saddle Room. I’d seen a review earlier in the day which had whetted my appetite for this, and it was yummy.
Balzac were up next, serving a tasty Foie Gras & Chicken Liver Caramel with Raisins & Pedro Ximenez. This was served with little bread toasts to spread the dish on. I quickly ran out of bread toasts, but the restaurant won me over when they happily provided me with some more for no extra charge. My final taste of the day was the one I had really been waiting for; Roasted Scallop, Confit Duck, Summer Squash Puree & Foie Gras Lollipops from Salon des Saveurs. From the first bite I was hooked, the scallop was cooked to perfection, the duck confit was pure melt-in-your-mouth goodness and foie gras lollipop studded with crushed nuts added a wonderful creamy note. You won’t believe it though, but the simple summer squash puree served with this dish was the real scene-stealer! Overall, Salon des Saveurs was the winner for me, and hopefully I’ll get a full dinner there before long!
I’d like to be able to sum up my experience at Taste in an overwhelmingly positive way, but there are two things that really impacted negatively on the experience for me. The crowd and the cost.
To explain, the crowd was ridiculous. In places you couldn’t move without bumping into people. No big deal at a trade fair but at a food fair where people had plates of food in their hands – not so good! It seemed to be partly down to the layout, a lot of the vendor stalls were crammed into one small area while larger open spaces went un-utilised. Either that or the tickets had simply been over sold. Whatever the reason I’m not sure how you can be expected to enjoy food while you’re being jostled about, even a plastic fork hurts when it gets rammed into the roof of your mouth by accident.
As for the cost I’m inclined to agree with Consumed Foodie because apart from the cost of the ticket Elly and myself spent about €100 between us on food and wine. Now, if we went out for a meal and spent that much, I’d be confident that I wouldn’t be thinking of eating again as I left the premises.
Then of course the festival is about more than the eating and considering the price of admission, there was plenty available by way of demonstrations and information to make it worthwhile, just not as a substitute for an evening meal. Will I be going again?
Well, of course, except next time I’ll plan to have a meal either before or after the event 😉