It’s always great to see a new idea catching on and Gary Bell’s underground restaurant is a unique dining experience that I had the pleasure of enjoying recently. Faoi Thalamh is a pop up restaurant which can appear in Dublin or Belfast or anywhere. It only happens occasionally as Gary has a day job at the Portaferry Hotel and Faoi Thalamh is only a sideline. Gary worked for some time as head chef at Thornton’s so I knew we would be dining well. I wasn’t disappointed and we enjoyed magnificent food complete with Hollywood special effects, live music and a diversity of dining companions.
Our meal commenced with poppadom nibbles. These were no ordinary poppadoms. They were ‘Fish Skin Poppadoms’ which were exactly as described on the tin. They were a combination of deep fried fish skin and poppadom served communally on a timber platter and sprinkled with, what can only be described as, flaked salt. I take very limited salt but this flaked salt was exceptionally tasty and I had to stop myself from taking pinchfuls to eat!
The next course was a pan fried king scallop served with a smoked Alsace bacon mousse and baby spinach. But first we had the theatrical experience. Wine coolers were brought to the table and inside these was a mixture of dry ice and seaweed. The dry ice was activated by the addition of water and the resulting cauldron spewed out seaweed scented *air*. It worked well as an assault on the senses. We enjoyed a smell of the sea while we ate the delectable scallop which was served in a scallop shell, perfectly cooked and accompanied by a divine mousse. My mouth is watering with the recollection of it.
What followed was a salmon “four ways” experience. We were served with a platter which had pan-fried salmon, salmon ballotine and salmon roe. There was a little cream on the plate and we wondered if this might be some kind of salmon mousse to make up the fourth dimension. It wasn’t. The fourth way was salmon smoked live at the table (note the order of the words – it wasn’t live salmon smoked at the table!). The smoke box was brought to the table and we were all served a portion of the smoked salmon from a wooden spoon or fork. It was a novel idea and the smoked salmon was beautiful. Apart from the fish eggs it was difficult to decide which of the salmon morsels was the best.
Our next dish was beef carpaccio with horseradish cream, quails eggs with parmesan and herring roe. It was served on a bed of baby gem leaves, which in turn were set in a blanched half marrow bone, set on a bed of wood shavings! The wood shavings transported us to the farmyard! The bone marrow serving dish reminded us of that we were eating beef. Yet again our senses had been appropriately primed for the culinary experience. The carpaccio was sublime. The tastes and textures were perfect. A perfect balance with the horseradish was achieved resulting in the optimum experience. The little quail eggs and roe looked and taste delightful too. My photo, unfortunately, isn’t great but you get the idea.
The entree was to be crisp pork belly, dauphinoise potatoes, honey glazed carrot and thyme jus. However the carrots never materialised. It didn’t matter because I didn’t check the menu until I got home but I thought it was odd not to have a vegetable dish with the main course. But then again the whole evening was a new and different venture and I didn’t know what kind of limited space was available for cooking. Once again, Gary set out to activate our senses. Prior to serving the main course he burnt bunches of thyme to infuse the air with a wonderful herbal aroma. The scent complemented the thyme jus that came with the pork. The dish was fabulous. The dauphinoise potatoes were orgasmic according to one of the other dinner guests. I wouldn’t have gone that far myself…. The pork belly was beautifully crisp and the jus, of which there was plenty, had a fantastic flavour and consistency.
The final course was described as “rich chocolate cake, fresh raspberries, walnut praline”. Not being a chocolate fan I was a bit worried about – especially if I didn’t like it. It turned out to be more mousse and less cake – which was good. I ate it and I enjoyed it. It had a little chocolate ball on top which was beautiful – filled with something very tasty. The dish was good. (I’m sure a real chocaholic might go overboard on the superlatives.)
I really enjoyed the music which was performed by these lads –
Finally, the suggested donation for the whole evening was €45.00. This was incredibly good value for an amazing culinary and sensory experience. I haven’t been wowed by food for a while but this was a great meal.
A few notes –
I used a number of photos from their facebook page.
It’s a bring your own wine occasion.
The dining room is pretty basic.