Friday, November 5, 2010

Cookbook Club Review

Aah," squealed Sharon, as she whacked her forehead and made the lady sitting next to her jump in surprise. "What's the matter," asked the kind lady. "I'm so stupid," mumbled Sharon. "I've brought my camera but somehow I've left my memory card at home so I can't take any pictures of the food".

"But who takes pictures of their food," asked the confused lady. "Don't most people just eat it?"

That was the moment a very confused lady was introduced to the world of food blogging and it was also the moment I realised I wouldn't have any pictures to share with you from Monday night's Cookbook Club in Dublin. Thankfully, the lovely organiser Elaine came to the rescue with some pictures taken by a photographer on the night. There aren't many of the food but you will get an idea of the atmosphere of the evening.

I went with two Polish friends, Beata and Filipe. We had decided that, seeing as there were three starters, main courses and desserts to choose from, we would order one of each and share.

My first impressions were good. Ely is in a fabulous old building. Its architecture highlights its heritage and you can't help but wonder what stories these walls could tell. Later on in the evening, the owner of the restaurant would tell us some of these stories. Did you know that the 4,000 Irish soldiers who fought in the Crimean War had a banquet here before they left? Fascinating.

The atmosphere at Ely's was animated from the moment we arrived. The layout of the room and of the tables was arranged in such a way that it encouraged interaction with others at the table. So, not only did I speak to Beata and Filipe (and to the startled lady next to me) but we also had interesting chats with two other women.

These two women, to be precise:

They were interested in farmers' markets, the upcoming Taste of Christmas and Dáithí Ó Sé's chocolate biscuit cake, as seen on RTE's The Restaurant. (They almost hyperventilated when I told them that because I used to be good friends with his sister, I had tasted this cake on many an occasion!)

While conversation was definitely on the menu at Ely's, it wasn't necessarily always easy to hear what others were saying, especially if they were sitting across from you. It may be because of the low vaulted ceilings but the acoustics of the room amplified the sounds and you had to shout in order to be heard. My ears were ringing when I left and Beata said she felt as though she had been in a nightclub. This was a pity but nevertheless, it didn't stop us talking.

The lovely Elaine was the host for the evening. She greeted everyone when they arrived and gave a welcoming speech before the meal was served. She also introduced that night's chef, Clodagh McKenna, whose food was being cooked by the kitchen. Clodagh was extremely warm and friendly and during the evening, she went from table to table, chatting with the diners.

So, what about the food?

Here's what we ate:


Chicken Liver Parfait with Carmelised Onion and Mustart Seeds served with a Spicy Apple Chutney
A Pesto Ricotta Tart
French Onion Soup with Gruyere Toasts


Italian Beef Stew
Baked Whole Sole with Salsa Verde (this was replaced with swordfish when the sole ran out)
Homemade Gnocchi with a creamy Bellingham Blue Cheese Sauce


Cardamon-infused chocolate mousse pots
Rosewater jellies
Orange-scented rice pudding

Because Ely's prides itself on its extensive wine list, they had recommended wines to match the food and we followed their advice.

So, what did I think? Unfortunately, I thought the food was slightly disappointing. The chicken liver parfait was perfectly smooth but it needed something to contrast with its creamy mildness and the onions and chutney just didn't do it. I thought the French onion soup was wonderfully sweet and was well complemented by the cheesy toasties. (However, Beata - an onion fanatic - thought there were too many onions and not enough liquid). The pesto ricotta tart was delicious. Light, creamy, herby; perfect.

The Italian beef stew had an unexpected touch of sweetness and lots of chunky pieces of meat. By the time we ordered our fish, the sole had been replaced by swordfish (which I must confess is not one of my favourite fish) and I thought the resulting dish was a little dry and slightly boring. But the gnocchi was a revelation. This was the dish we had expected least from but it was stunning. The gnocchi themselves were perfectly cooked and the blue cheese sauce was so creamy and had such depth of flavour. It was one of those dishes you could easily eat again and again and again.

So far, the dinner was going quite well but when the desserts arrived, it nosedived. The rosewater jelly was perfectly pleasant but not memorable. The rice pudding was completely underflavoured. And the chocolate mousse pots didn't really taste of chocolate. They also had a funny grainy texture - maybe from the cardamon?

This was such a pity as it ended what had been a good evening on a low note. (When I'm cooking at home, I almost always plan my dessert first as I find that even the biggest culinary disasters are instantly forgotten the moment guests taste something decadently sweet and here, I think the opposite applied.)

My overall verdict? The evening was very convivial and I had lots of interesting conversations. Ely's wine list is phenomenal. The food could have been better. But I would definitely go again.

One funny thing though: there were hardly any men there. Women seemed to outnumber men by at least ten to one. Weird, eh?


  1. Sharon, I have just discovered your blog - it looks wonderful. LOVE those cupcakes.

    I'm delighted to follow you :-}

  2. I did have a great evening, Caroline. You should check it out if you're in Dublin some time. Elaine is lovely!