Thursday, September 27, 2012

In Dublin

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I was heading up to Dublin for Hotel And Catering Review Gold Medal awards. The awards were on Tuesday night, so we headed up bright and early at 6am(!!) to catch the early train from Westport to Heuston. The time it takes to drive to Dublin from out here in the schticks, you're better off catching the train and sitting back and relaxing for three and something hours rather than booting it down the motorway.

We were staying in the Hilton, which is a short walk from Heuston. We only fired our bags into the rooms and headed out again to lunch at the Avoca in Monkstown. The food was beautiful and they have their interior design and product displays thought out down to a T. The very friendly maître d' showing us to our seats had an outrageously fantastic, twirly, Poirot-like moustache. We had between us crab meat salad, caesar salad with a half a rotisserie chicken and Spanish meatballs with couscous and pita bread. The food was bloody gorgeous. We had a quick snoop around the food market, as we do a lot of same kind of things for takeaway as they do, and came back home with plenty of ideas.

After a few more stops in foodie places, we headed back to the hotel to get ready. Our timing was perfect to allow a nice bath and time to put our faces on. It was a black tie event, so we did have to look the part. Moving from one four star location to another, the awards night was at the Burlington Hotel. Pulling up in the taxi, all you could see were people dressed to impress, huddled under the awning for a quick smoke.

We were ushered into the function room, which was set up to accommodate all 360 of us there for the awards. A few familiar faces in the crowd, quick hellos this way and that and then seated for dinner. I was positively surprised by the fact that there weren't a stream of speeches before dinner, or indeed, after it. The menu was as follows:

Cornets of Smoked Salmon with Red Onion Cream Cheese, Mini Blinis, drizzled with a Lemon Oil

Fillet of Beef, Dauphinoise Potatoes with Green Beans, Sauteéd Wild Mushrooms & Pearl Onions, Brandy Peppercorn Sauce

Strawberry Sorbet, Passion Fruit Bavarois, Strawberry Tart

I loved the smoked salmon, but the blinis were very bland. I wonder whether they had bought them in ready made or maybe used the wrong kind of flour to make them. I understand I am biased as my father makes amazing blinis, so maybe my expectations were too high. But then again, it was a Hotel and Catering event. My beef fillet was beautifully pink in the middle, and the wild mushrooms were presented in a filo pastry cup, but my colleague sitting beside me got her beef completely overcooked. 

The desserts were a platter of minis of all three listed above, and while they were perfectly tasty, they weren't anything out of the ordinary. Our pastry chef who was there with us, dissected each bite and came to the conclusion that the tart base and pastry case for the sorbet weren't proper pastry, rather than a ready mix you pour into pastry moulds and bake. 

The service ran like clockwork, I do find myself often paying attention to things like that, and I must say that for all of us to get our food more or less at the same time was down to great organisation. We were told at the start that they had fed hundreds of people on the Sunday before the awards after the Mayo-Donegal match. 

The wine, however was beautiful and it was the prefect lubricant to get the proceedings started. There were in total 17 categories and between three and nine finalists in each category. Each of the tables had a plaque for each of the finalists to take home, it was a honour to even be nominated, according to someone's maths we were in the top 3% in our field by just being up for an award. Not too shabby for a first time entry, I thought. 

Sadly, we didn't win out category, which was won by last year's winner in Co. Clare. I smell a road trip south in the horizon sometime soon, I want to know what they're doing to scoop up the award two years running. We'll try again next year, for sure. 

After a long day I was delighted to engage in my best impersonation of a starfish in the middle of my massive hotel bed. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow. 

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