The phenomenon of pop up restaurants is not a new one but it has taken hold of the Irish public’s imagination in recent years. It’s not unusual to see pop up restaurants, markets and even entire shopping centres take up residence in unused buildings. Personally I think it is a wonderful use of space that would otherwise remain vacant and gives retailers, chefs and other creative types out there an opportunity to showcase their talents without breaking the bank. It allows the Irish public to experience food, crafts, arts and even shopping in a different environment which lends itself to helping people feel like they are part of something special and unique. This is exactly how I felt recently when I attended an underground dining experience organised by Gary Bell and his team.
The venue was an old warehouse on Barrow Street which we weren’t sure was the right place until we saw a group of people carrying quite a lot of beer in with them! The event was BYOB so we were either in the right place or heading into somewhere that looked like it was going to be a good party anyway so we gave it a shot. Turns out it was the right place and once inside the interior took on a magical quality. Filled with candles, music and chat the atmosphere was relaxed, fun and overwhelmingly friendly.
Sitting down at our table we were introduced to a lovely bunch of people who all worked in very different walks of life but who had one thing in common – a love of good quality, creative food. We were about to have that in abundance. Our meal started off with Salt 'n' Vinegar Fish-Skin Poppadoms with Baby Chips. These were highly unique, being a mixture of fish skin and poppadoms. They came out on a communal platter which was handed around the table even though I would have happily hogged it for myself!
Then it was on to the Pan Fried King Scallop with Spring Pea Puree, Pea Shoots, Lemon and Dill butter. I am a big fan of scallops and this was perfectly cooked. The pea puree complimented it very well and added a sweetness to the dish.
The experience was enhanced by the ‘Seaweed Air’. Wine coolers were brought to the table which our waiter poured water into. The ensuing effect was this:
The dry ice was activated by the addition of water and seaweed scented air flowed over and around the table.
Then it was on to the Risotto of Wild Rabbit, with Parma Ham & Chives and Parmesan Cheese. This was creamy and rich with a good helping of rabbit spread throughout it. Thankfully there wasn’t too much of it on the plates as we still had another three courses to go! To cleanse our palates we were given Lemon Sorbet drowned in Absolut Vodka. I have had this before on holidays in Greece and it’s a lovely dessert. At this stage of the meal though I found it a bit strong. Turns out though that I think there was just more alcohol in mine as I did a taste comparison with my friend’s who was scoffing though hers. The Lemon Sorbet was accompanied by “Lemon Scent” which was along the same lines as the Seaweed air.
Following hot on the heels of that was the main course: Roast Shoulder of Wicklow lamb, Baby Spinach and Dauphinoise potatoes. Lamb is one of my favourite dishes and this was grand. It was not overly done and tasted wonderful but you can’t go too wrong with lamb and potatoes as a main so I did think it wasn't as creative as the other dishes.
For dessert there was Strawberry and Champagne Torte. The torte was sponge based which made it extremely light and decidedly moreish, that’s if I could have fit anymore in!! By this stage I was well and truly full. The event cost us €45 to attend which is great value for the experience that we had. It was unique, the food was excellent with some really quirky experiences and the whole thing was enhanced by the socialable nature of the event. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay as I had to get back to Meath but I was ensured that dancing would follow!
Faoi Thalamh pops up around the county, as Gary has a day job as head chef at Portaferry Hotel, so the best way to find out what’s happening is to follow them on Facebook and on Twitter. This weekend they will be at Body and Soul with sittings available throughout the weekend. That event costs €50 and I am assuming you also need a Body and Soul ticket which are still available for both the weekend and for day tickets on Sunday. For more information click here. If you love the idea of underground dining these events are not to be missed.