To mark yet another wedding anniversary we decided to push the boat out and dine at Thornton’s Restaurant. We have eaten in this Michelin starred restaurant a few times and have always loved it. I reviewed it a couple of years ago on ‘Rate My Area’ (My Previous Review) and was running out of superlatives by the time I was finished my report. This time we decided to go for the ‘surprise’ tasting menu. The waiter explained that we could list things to which we were allergic or that we didn’t like and the dishes would be prepared accordingly. So we asked for nothing with chocolate – which caused eyebrows to be raised! Honestly we like chocolate – in bars and sweets – but not in sauces or desserts.
The wine waiter came to discuss our wine choices with us and we settled on a Pouilly Fumé to start and agreed that he would return to us regarding a red wine for the main course. We were offered bread from a vast selection of flavours – ranging from plain white or brown to onion and chive, pistachio, walnut and raisin and lots more. We also ordered a bottle of sparkling Tipperary water. And then we waited and waited and waited some more. In fact we waited a good twenty five minutes during which time our wine and water was frequently topped up although we were hardly drinking as were saving it for the meal.
The show eventually started with a complimentary starter of smoked mackerel and caviar (and a sauce), with clear, chilled tomato soup which had a poitín (is this legal?) ice cube in it. I hate mackerel and I hate smoked food but I have to make an exception in this case because it was truly delicious. But there was a down side because the portion of fish was badly sized for eating with the small spoon and fork with which it was served. I had to use my butter knife to cut it into a manageable piece and this wasn’t easily accomplished in a miniature goldfish bowl.
Next up was a carpaccio of beef with horseradish cream, Parmesan tuille and winter leaves. Unfortunately the lighting was so dim that I couldn’t take a decent photo with my phone. It was a such a work of art. An oblong plate with minuscule dots of horseradish cream along the outside and a little upright stalk of chive ( I think) coming out of each blob. Wafer thin beef, sauce, semi dry cherry tomatoes, quail eggs and leaves completed the dish which was at times hot and spicy and yet cooling and refreshing. I loved it.
This was followed by ‘Char-grilled John Dory, beetroot and goats cheese’. In this case the small piece of John Dory (my favourite fish) was the most beautiful morsel of fish I’ve ever had. The beetroot accompaniments were delightful and a side dish of beetroot in a shot glass with goat’s cheese foam and a droplet of beetroot juice in a ‘bubble’. Delightful!
Our third course was Fois Gras rolled in truffle and served with brioche. It came with a tiny spoon of grated truffle. We were advised to taste the powdered truffle first. And what an explosion of taste it was! An absolute pleasure which words cannot describe. I am only a recent convert to foie gras so I’m not well placed to pass judgement on whether or not it was excellent. Hubby thought it was good but not exceptional.
The waiting staff poured more water and when the bottle was finished we were offered more. We ordered a second bottle of mineral water and it didn’t arrive until another two courses had been served and only because we requested it.
Now we were served a West Cork lobster dish. The server faced my husband while explaining the dish and I didn’t manage to hear the full description. There was a portion of lobster and ratatouille in a bowl and lobster bisque was then poured in. The ratatoille was fabulous. The vegetables were all cut in thin and uniform disc shapes and stacked atop each other. It was a shame to deconstruct the tower but the taste was amazing. And the bisque…I could have licked the bowl. And the lobster! Need I say anything? Superlatives galore.
The plates were cleared away and one of the waitresses came over to offer us teas or coffee. I must say I have to wonder what was going on? We hadn’t even had the sorbet. Also none of the tables for two adjacent to us were near the point of ordering coffees. This is not what you expect in a restaurant of this calibre.
To cleanse the palate we were served a grape and lime sorbet with a splash of Absolut Citron. This certainly blasted our palates clean! Our wine bottle was now empty and the waitress asked if we wanted more. We said we were going to order red wine from the wine waiter. I would have thought that, at this point, she would have informed him that we wanted to order wine. Whatever happened we had no wine when our main course of venison, or sikka deer as the menu described it, arrived.
So we sat staring at our beautiful main course served with tarragon sauce (not chocolate) and we were frantically trying to get a member of staff to get the wine waiter. It was a bit of a debacle really. We never expected that the main course would be served to us before we’d chosen our wine particularly when two members of staff were aware that we intended to have more wine. The wine list was brought and a hasty decision was made to order a half bottle of Chianti. Our main dishes were sitting before us for at least five minutes before we sampled anything. Fortunately the flavours were still excellent and the sauce was superb.
A cheese-board with the best Cashel Blue cheese I’ve tasted, some gorgeous muscat grapes and a shot of grape juice was our next sampler. The waiter was at pains to explain that Kevin was from Cashel and that his father used to supply milk to makers of this cheese. This probably goes down well with the (rare) American tourist. But we are both only a generation away from the land so we’re not so easily impressed. But the cheese made a great impression on himself and he is now converted to blue cheese as a result – something I never managed to do!
At this point Kevin himself had started to do his rounds of the tables. He arrived at ours just before dessert of lemon tart and cassis sorbet. We chatted to him for a good ten to fifteen minutes about beef and business, boom times and bust times. This personal touch is a very good idea and I expect that, at times, it could take him an hour to do the rounds.
We finished with coffee and petit fours (which we asked them to box up for us to take away). We went to settle our account and discovered we were charged for three bottles of wine…a bit annoying at the best of times but extremely annoying given our experiences with the lack of wine. Hubby was more than generous with the tip – all things considered.
In summary the food was absolutely wonderful but the service left an awful lot to be desired. Looking back over my review from 2009 I see that I rated the service very highly. Not anymore. The staff are not nearly as high quality as before. These are the front of house people, the face of the restaurant and if they are not doing the job properly they are doing a disservice to their employer.
Thornton’s Restaurant features in The Dubliner – 100 Best Restaurants.