Reviews

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McKennas Bridgestone Guide, 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland 2014

 


 


Emma Bowe of Seven Social is one of the most radical cooks in the city, and Seven Social is one of the hottest destinations in town, an avant-garde roller-coaster.


 


Emma of Seven Social has never taken an easy path.  The premises was opened in a former hairdressers on a street with one of the worst reputations in the city with little passing trade, a major risk for a cook with no formal culinary education, just lots of enthusiasm. And it’s worked, simply because Emma has a wild imagination, and simply because she is such a fine cook. She will serve a pumpkin soup, and throw in some smoked octopus. She will make a grey squirrel tartlet that was so good Leslie Williams planned on getting out his old air rifle & heading to bushy park pronto. But the real key to the squirrel tartlet is actually a pastry made with knotweed flour & Abernethy butter, and it is in these funky improvisations that the chefs brilliance is best seen: polenta barm brack, an intense ice cream made with blood orange, cinnamon, poitin, rum & red wine. Her dish of razor clams with saffron, sorrel, chilli & breadcrumbs is a modern day classic, but most of what is coming out of this wild & vivacious kitchen is deserving of classic status. Seven Social has gone from promising to vital in no time, so don’t miss it.


Seven Social is one of the McKenna Bridgestone Guide 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland 2014.

Sunday Independent - January 2014

Food critic Lucinda OSullivan reviews Seven Social


Sunday Independent, 19th Jan, 2014


You really do have to admire the get up and go of some people. Seven Social is a 30-seater restaurant on Benburb Street, which has never let its diminutive size or location curtail its ambitions.


 



 


Chef Emma set up shop a few years ago, and soon had the nearby legal fraternity, among others, queuing for her lunches.


 


Twice a year, Seven Social hosts an Ancient Irish Feast, serving 10 courses, along with complementary drinks. It focuses on genuine Irish cuisine, food history and traditions, both current and ancient. This ambitious menu includes dishes such as pumpkin soup; smoked eel; rolled pig's head; organic Carrickmacross grey squirrel soup with wild mushrooms; and 17th-Century plum duff balls.


 


The pair have attracted international attention, with their little eatery being noted in the Huffington Post, among others.


 


Emma was raised in her family's restaurant, which goes back five generations, where natural food was the norm.


 


I hadn't been to Seven Social since it first opened for lunch, and wanted to revisit it in its normal course of running, rather than for a special event.


 


Starters were €6-€9. The aforementioned grey squirrel soup was a special of the evening, while Wexford strawberry salad had Fivemiletown goat's cheese with soy and hazelnut dressing. Baked globe artichoke was served with capers, Coolea cheese and carrageen moss seaweed crumb. I also fancied the Balbriggan razor clams (€9), which had two dramatic, long, black mollusc shells lined up side by side.


 


The clams themselves were cut into pieces and mixed lavishly with garlic, parsley, saffron aioli and gremolata, which covered the plate like a romantic camomile lawn. I was only short of licking the plate in a way that might have made Emily's great-grandmother proud.


 


Shavings of pink organic onglet of beef (€9) were fashionably scattered in a similar way -- this time mixed with mature Coolea, and topped with organic seaweed crumbs and lemon.


 


Moving on, a selection of antipasti plates -- cured meats and seafood, or meats and cheeses, to share -- were €16, while four inventive mains included Kilmore Quay scallops with shredded organic Tamsworth pork belly, wilted Lusk village scallions, purple potatoes, hazelnut hash and peach salsa (€22). Vegetarian millet and barley cake had baked Toonsbridge buffalo ricotta, king trumpet and horn of plenty mushroom steak, and roast tomato, caper and garlic dressing (€18). Sweet organic pheasant (€22) had the breast meat pulled and served on creamed corn, shallot mash, De Roiste handmade white pudding, black chanterelles and pickled cherries.


 


The fish of the day (€20) was sauteed mackerel and home-smoked squid, served on a delicious crab-and-dill mash with braised chard, brown butter and mint radishes, with piquillo pepper salsa.


 


It's all about colour, freshness and flavour combinations -- just as you have absorbed one, you are assailed by yet another burst of something unexpected.


 


We followed up by sharing a peanut butter sundae (€7) and a wonderful selection of Irish cheeses (€12), complete with honey, nuts and oat biscuits.


 


Wines are available by the half or full litre, from €15 and €22 respectively, plus an extensive, interesting wine list. We had a delicious bottle of Austrian Zantho sauvignon blanc 2011 -- normally €26, but we were charged €22, as our first choice was out of stock.


 


Our bill, with optional service, was €111.


 


From its Left-Bank feel to its Picasso-style cushions, this is a precious little place. French chanteuse Juliette Greco would have loved it in her beatnik heyday.


 


 


 


Seven Social,
76 Benburb Street,
Dublin 7.
Tel: (01) 672-9080
www.sevensocial.ie


 


 FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

Toro Travel Magazine, Canada - November 2013

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL MAGAZINE REVIEW'S BEST PLACES FOR FOOD IN IRELAND


Toro Magazine, Canada


November 1st, 2013


 


Maybe you won’t spot a leprechaun, but there are a good handful of other clichés you absolutely expect your first visit to Ireland to have on the ready: redheads, getting into traffic jams with roaming livestock on impossibly narrow country roads, and meeting a guy named Paddy at every pub.


 

And then there's that age-old joke about an Irish seven-course dinner. What’s that consist of? A potato and a six pack of Guinness. Potatoes, cabbage, corned beef and stew, some more potatoes, and offal – these are the peasant dishes that first come to mind when you consider Irish cuisine. Hearty, yes, great for soaking up all that whisky and Guinness, for certain, but nothing to write home about.


But a week exploring Dublin, County Clare and Cork turns out to be much like that old game three truths and a lie. Ireland delivers on the first three at every opportunity. The fourth, however, might be a total sham.


 


In Dublin, where touristy pubs dish out Guinness stew and black pudding by the bowlful alongside beautiful traditional French cooking based on local ingredients for a relative steal (the chef at Pearl Brasserie was born in France and trained in Michelin-starred kitchens in Paris, so using the chef and ingredients formula to qualify Irish cuisine, it half-counts), the most innovative food is also the oldest. At the Winding Stair, an iconic café-bookstore overlooking Ha’penny Bridge and named after a Yeats poem, the food is billed simply as “good old-fashioned home cooking.” But it’s bright and inventive – crab claws from Wicklow come on a thick slice of toast with avocado and juicy chunks of pink grapefruit, and the black pudding is served with mozzarella from Toons Bridge dairy, the first cheese farm in Ireland to import Italian water buffalos for making their cheeses.


 


At Seven Social, a 28-seat spot in the former Red Light District that Chef Emma did up on a $10,000 budget, razor clams from Balbriggan, prepared in saffron aioli with garlic, parsley and a swift harissa kick will erase the last vestiges of whatever it was you thought Irish cooking would be. They also might be the best thing you’ll taste all year.


Emma came from a restaurant background on the rural Irish coast, but worked in marketing before turning a geeky love of Irish food history into her livelihood. She actively tries to challenge people’s perception of Irish food, noting that “although we like bacon, cabbage and our friend the potato, we feel there is far more to Irish cuisine than three or four ingredients.” Twice a year she gets extra geeky, creating 10-course “ancient feasts” based on extensive research of what people in Ireland ate going back a thousand years or so. Like ports and sherries, which the Vikings used to import to drink, and squirrel, which Emma was waiting to land in the traps before announcing the date for her fall ancient dinner. (“Did she just say squirrels?” my dining companion whispered to me as the chef described how she cooks them; Emma says they handle like pork chop.)


Before we head out, she wraps up a piece of Fivemiletown goat cheese, an ideal breakfast before we head off to the country in pursuit of more Irish food the next morning. It’s a glorious foodie road trip: more seafood, more goat cheese and more of our expectations turned upside down – even at a vegetarian restaurant (recommended by Bowe) that’s racked up numerous culinary awards since it opened 20 years ago, without a speck of bacon in sight.


 


The closest we come to traditional is Sunday lunch at Ballymaloe, a manor house in the countryside near Cork. It’s intentionally fussy and timeless with servers in maids’ uniforms (ours tells us she’s worked at the manor for 42 years), proper silverwear and old school desserts served on a trolley. But those roasted carrots and beets all come from the manor grounds and Ballymaloe’s sister cookery school, just down the road, has quite literally put Irish farmhouse cooking on the map.


But it all comes together at the Roadside Tavern, a 100-year-old pub not far from the Cliffs of Moher. There, the menu reads just like you were expecting – beef stew, fish and chips, and yes, bacon and cabbage. But once again, the ingredients are all local, produced with impressive care and attention by people who think of food as more than something to offset booze. Three of the beers are brewed upstairs and the salmon is smoked next store (it’s so good you’ll find it in the gourmet shop at Harrods). Even the soda bread is made by a pastry chef who used to work in a Michelin-starred kitchen in Burgundy, using stout brewed just upstairs.


A taste and you won’t be surprised to learn the Roadhouse won best gastropub in the region last year at the Irish restaurant awards. They even play live traditional music every Sunday. In other words, it’s just the spot to prove Ireland is everything you expected – and nothing you thought it would be.


Alyssa Schwartz is a Toronto-based travel and lifestyle writer. Find her on Twitter @alyssaschwartz.





Huffington Post USA - October 2013

WHAT TO DO, SEE & EAT IN DUBLIN


Huffington Post, America


October 28th, 2013


 


James Joyce, Trinity College, Temple Bar, Grafton Street shops and cobbled streets with history everywhere you look are often what comes to mind when you think of Dublin. The city of Dublin has come long way from its origins as a Viking Trading Post, now the modern city is a choice destination for many North American travellers.


The "Gathering" an ingenious idea from Failte Ireland to heed all Irish to come home and discover their ancestral roots. According to Jayne Shackleford, Manager of Tourism Ireland in Canada ''Canadians have participated in many of the 4,000 events and festivals throughout the year -- including clan Gatherings, sporting events, arts and cultural events and food festivals such as the recent Galway Oyster Festival. A Canadian Jason Gould was even crowned 'Best International Beard' at one of The Gathering's great quirky events 'The Town of a 1,000 Beards!''


My visit to Dublin was rather short but I had the opportunity to explore some of the culinary scene and see a few things in this intriguing city. When Irish food comes to mind it's quite amazing the first thing that people say is ''cuisine? What cuisine? Do you mean Irish stew, potatoes and Guinness beer?" Well, you couldn't be more wrong. In today's Ireland young chefs like their counterparts Europe have embraced their heritage and are taking Irish cuisine to new heights.


 


Afternoon Tea with an Artistic Flair


If you're in the mood for a lavish tea affair The Merrion Hotel is the place to go in Dublin. Located in the heart of Georgian Dublin the hotel is made up of four remodelled 18th-century townhouses. Across the street are the Government Buildings where the Irish President and government offices are located.



James Joyce sculpture in Merrion gardens


The "Art Tea" is inspired by the hotel's impressive Irish private art collections featuring the likes of Martin Mooney, Jack B. Yeats, William Leech and more. After a late arrival to Dublin I was running very late for afternoon tea. The concierge, who was aware of my visit immediately alerted assistant hotel manager Garrett Power who graciously proceeded to give a walking tour of the property and explained the art adorning the walls.


The "Art Tea" is served course by course with a wonderful collection of savoury tea sandwiches, scones, and Battenberg cakes. The piece de resistance is the "Art Tea Pastries, each one based on a different work of art. Executive pastry chef Paul Kelly and his team choose three selections from the in-house art collection and rotate serving these each day. Everything I tasted is delicious. Each guest is given a keepsake copy of the hotel's "Art Tea" catalogue, which explains all the artists featured in the hotel along with beautiful photographs.


 


Dylan McGrath's Fade Street Social


Dylan McGrath is an award winning celebrity chef and television judge on Masterchef Ireland. Fade Street Social is Mcgrath's latest venture on the Dublin culinary scene doors opened in late fall giving an ode to Irish cuisine with a modern flair.


His farm-to-fork approach has been taken to new heights with a menu stating its desire to support homegrown produce. The restaurant is divided into a formal dining downstairs and a Gastropub -- tapas menu upstairs. The food looked so enticing I had to stop myself from photographing other patron's plates. The friendly server gave advice on what to order on my first jetlagged night in Dublin.


 


One of the challenges of dining solo is portion size because I really hate wasting food. Much of the menu is geared towards sharing plates especially the pizza styled flatbreads and seafood appetizers. Luckily for me you can order small plates. I chose smoked salmon layered on filo, baked with seaweed, crème fresh and trout caviar as the starter. The blend of flavours was delectable on my palate. For my second course I choose the Rump of Wicklow lamb basted in thyme and barley along with seasonal micro vegetables pulled from the ground bound in butter, chervil, mint. One of the most popular dishes is the blackened cauliflower & hazelnut with pea purée, a creatively delicious way of serving a bland vegetable.


 


Tables were turning over every couple of hours and as the evening progressed it got even busier. The only disappointing part of my dining experience was no one came back to take coffee order or show desert menu, that was my cue to leave.


 


Ancient Feasts at Seven Social


"Everything featured on the menu, made its way there because at some point in our history, it played a role in our food heritage & culture. This is explained to you as each dish is being served" - Chef Emma




One of the highlights of my culinary experience in Dublin was Seven Social. Twice a year Seven Social hosts an Ancient Feast with a focus on traditional Irish cuisine from circa 1400-1900 AD. For four hours a 10 course meal is served with items like Organic Carrickmacross grey squirrel soup, wild mushrooms to Clove spiced ham hock, marsh samphire, carlingford crab devilled eggs. Each course is paired with a suitable wine, cider or port.


 


First of all as soon as you use the word "ancient" in the menu you have my attention. Food ingredients steeped in history and tradition are like a mystery waiting to be discovered. I arrived at the restaurant located at Benburb street north of river Liffey, formerly a red light district that's going through a transformation, on my last night in Dublin.


 


Chef Emma opened Seven Social three years ago. They had a cash budget of $10,000 to refurbish and furnish the establishment that had been formerly been a butcher shop. The quaint Seven Social only seats 28 diners at a time with food prepared in a small back kitchen. The main part of the restaurant divides up into a open bar/ food prep area plus seating for guests. The chef hails from the rural Irish coast and is no stranger to the food scene, her family has owned an award winning restaurant going back five generations. Seven Social rears their own certified organic pigs on a farm in Enniscorthy and 80 per cent of the produce used is organic, the remaining 20 per cent is pesticide free.


 


My dining experience consisted of an excellent Spanish Lacuesta, Tempranillo, Rioja wine (biodynamic) with an appetizer of Pink Organic Onglet (beef flank) shavings, mature coolea, organic Irish seaweed crumbs and lemon. The main consisted of Kilmore Quay Scallops, shredded orgnic tamworth (rare breed) pork belly, wilted lusk village scallions, native purple potatoes and peach salsa. Just tasting all these magnificent ingredients I felt as if I was having my own ancient feast. Already completely full I ordered the desert of oat and apple crumble because they used Glendalough Poitin in the flavouring. Pointin is a spirit made by early monastic settlements using malted barley, sugar beet and potatoes circa 580 ad.


 


My trip to Ireland was assisted by Tourism Ireland. For more information about visiting Ireland check http://www.ireland.com/


 

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McKenna's Bridgestone Guide Megabites - November 2013

SEVEN SOCIAL SQUIRRELS - LESLIE WILLIAMS EATS WITH THE ANCIENTS


 


McKenna's Bridgestone Guide Editor - Evening Herald food critic


November 19th, 2013


 


Emma of Seven Social has never taken an easy path. She opened her tiny restaurant in a former hairdressers on a street with one of the worst reputations in the city with little passing trade (unless you count the Luas trams that whizz by within a few feet of the restaurant). Admittedly the Dice Bar was already established just down the street and the arrival of the trams had given an air of optimism to the area but even still this was a major risk for a cook with no formal culinary education, just lots of enthusiasm.


Well, over 18 months later, Seven Social is planning a move to larger premises and on Sunday last they held their second annual Ancient Irish Feast featuring everything from Squirrel Pie to Smoked Octopus to Polenta Barm Brack.


 


Emma takes care in sourcing the finest ingredients including sublime Abernethy butter from County Down along with foraged leaves and game (the squirrels are shot by a friend) plus forgotten ingredients such as knotweed flour and flax seed.


There are a few more recent ingredients thrown in (e.g. polenta) so the “ancient” aspect is more an attitude than an imperative.


 


The best dish in this year's ancient feast was called “Hidden Clams” which involved razor clams, large quantities of saffron, sorrel leaves for bite, chilli for heat (various obscure ancient peppers not having arrived by mail order in time) and garlic breadcrumbs for oomph and extra flavour served with a mineral and aromatic Verdejo-Muscatel blend from Valencia.


Pumpkin soup with smoked octopus melded well and the grey squirrel tartlet (or “chewette” as Emily called it) with figs turned out to be delicious. Emily had told me squirrel was like duck but I found it more like pheasant but much moister and more succulent. I shall be bringing my air rifle to Bushy Park later this week (only half joking). The crumbly tartlet made from knotweed flour and Abernathy butter was another highlight along with the fine Chateau du Cedre Cahors served alongside.


 


Given that this was an ancient feast some of the more porridge like textures favoured by our ancestors were less exciting for me, but this is a minor quibble given how much I did enjoy in the ten courses (for just €70).


We finished with some fine cheeses with honey comb followed by two desserts – mini plum puddings and a brack made from polenta served with an intense ice cream made from blood orange juice, cinnamon, poitín, rum and red wine.


 


Emma will be serving these dishes on her à la carte over the Christmas period from December 27th to 31st. I can think of no better alternative to spending more money on stuff you don't need in the sales.


 


Seven Social, 76 Benburb Street, Dublin 7. Tel: 01-6729080.http://www.sevensocial.ie/


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