Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lots of Chanel bags, not enough value for money.

Taste of Dublin yesterday enjoyed sunny weather and there’s no doubt that the event is in a lovely setting, yet the whole thing still manages to score on the low side. While it’s always an enjoyable outing for socialising, I ask myself every year if it really works as a food event. Because of its nature as a standy-up, browse around with a paper plate in one hand affair, it’s limitations lie in precisely that – it has a hurried feel and the best of Dublin’s restaurants simply can’t be serving the dishes they do well at those kind of volumes from tiny kitchens at the rear of trade stands.

The Friday lunchtime session was predictably enough, very busy with lots of carefully styled outfits and ladies in towering stilettos sinking into the grass. After a wander around, Francesca and I headed to Town Bar and Grill where I had their beef cannelloni with beef, sun dried tomatoes, pesto and rocket. I’m very fond of Town Bar and Grill but I found this dish a little on the plain side and the pasta slightly toughened. Francesca’s king prawn with saffron orzo pasta was a little more successful but at 8 florins (the currency used at the event which is basically 8 euros) this is fairly expensive for a tiny plate of food.
From the Dylan hotel we had three oysters for 7 florins, or 7 euro, which is also quite steep. They were neither plump or flavoursome but served with a little shot of bloody mary which was really nicely mixed. We watched Gino d'Acampo do his thing in the demonstration tent for a bit – lots of slick patter about Italian men and Irish ladies and there’s no doubt he’s a good showman, and kind of cute in a bizarre way. It must have been the bloody mary.

If you’re very interested in new food producers and artisan products, this is not the place to be. What producers are there do a good job, but there is very little of that produce available to buy. We came away with some cheese, beautiful chocolate from the girls at Pandora Bell and pudding from Kelly’s in Cork. I would love to see more artisan food on sale and more of a focus on small producers - many of the larger display tents are taken by big brands such as Knorr, Tropicana and Dubliner cheese. If I really fancied a free shot of Tropicana I could go to my nearest Tesco and talk to the nice lady with the promotions stall at the end of aisle 21.

Iveagh gardens is a lovely park and I think the setting is the strongest thing about the event. By all accounts “Taste of Dublin” must be working for many people as it continues to thrive here (there are “Taste of ...” festivals now in 13 countries all over the world) but for me it always leaves me thinking they could do so much more with it. Entrance tickets are €25 and you have to ask yourself what real value for money is there when the restaurants are selling fairly average dishes at far from average prices. The fact that you have to spend florins hides the fact that some of the dishes are really overpriced because you're not handing over euro. Without the florin tokens, perhaps people would be reluctant to spend so much at the event. It'll continue to be a social occasion and people will probably continue to go, just remember to leave your ambitions for good food or value for money to one side.

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