Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Review: #AAFoodies Event at the Chef's Table in Sika Restaurant, Powerscourt Hotel, County Wicklow

In addition to the motoring and insurance services it provides, the AA is known for its annual Hospitality Awards which celebrate excellence in the food and hospitality industry in Ireland.

Chef's Table
The AA through its team of secret inspectors also assesses and awards those hotels judged to be providing the finest food in Ireland with Rosettes, on a scale of 1-5 Rosettes. Hotels who wish to take part can renew/sign up to the scheme and, when they do, they are automatically assessed. The AA Rosette scheme is an award, not a classification, recognising exceptionally high standards of culinary excellence in AA accredited properties across Ireland and the UK. Accreditation does not mean that Rosettes naturally follow and in fact, they are only awarded to those establishments that reach the required standards.

The scheme is a well-respected and popular way for the public, AA members and guidebook readers to get information on the best places to eat in Ireland and the UK. Unlike other assessment systems, the AA focuses solely on the quality and the excellence of the food served and not on the overall dining experience. Inspections happen throughout the year with any Rosettes that are bestowed being awarded soon after the actual assessments have taken place.

Always keen to embrace new ways of promoting the Irish food and hospitality sector, the AA set up the AA Foodies in recognition of the important role food/lifestyle bloggers, writers, social media and food enthusiasts play in highlighting Ireland’s vibrant food and restaurant culture.

Launched in September 2015 AA Foodies events take place regularly and have included functions in The Saddle Room Restaurant in the Shelbourne Hotel, Bellini’s Bar and Restaurant in the Maryborough Hotel and most recently at the Chef’s Table in Sika Restaurant in Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa which I attended. These events are a wonderful opportunity to get together with other food lovers to experience and pick up tricks-of-the-trade from some of Ireland’s top chefs.

Powerscourt was awarded Hotel of the Year at the 2015 AA Hospitality Awards last October and is considered one of Ireland’s premier five-star hotels. Housed in a stunning Palladian-style building in the grounds of the Powerscourt Estate, the hotel is renowned for its luxurious surroundings and exemplary service. The hotel’s  Sika Restaurant currently holds two AA Rosettes which reflects its excellent, precise cooking and use of quality ingredients.

Goat's Cheese Salad
As you approach Powerscourt Hotel, you know that you are going somewhere special and I was really looking forward to meeting the other invited guests and to our meal at the Chef’s Table. On the night we visited, we were treated to an outstanding six-course truffle-themed tasting menu devised by Head Chef Peter Byrne with accompanying wines selected by George, the hotel’s resident sommelier.

The Chef’s Table is located in the restaurant’s kitchen facing the pass so we had an unfettered view of Peter Byrne and his brigade of chefs at work preparing our meal. The most astonishing thing was that despite the common portrayal of restaurant kitchens as places where tempers are short and voices are raised, the atmosphere in Sika was noticeably calm albeit everyone was working away with a sense of focused purpose.

Before proceedings kicked off, Peter Byrne passed around a black wooden box containing a number of truffles. With a heady aroma that was irresistible, I still found it hard to believe that these dozen or so squash-ball sized delights were valued at over €900. Some of these truffles were to find their way on to our plates of food as the night progressed.

Foie Gras
In addition to the truffles, most of the ingredients used during our meal were sourced locally with an emphasis on their seasonality. As each course was served AA Inspector Declan Connors highlighted aspects of the food that would be assessed if an inspection was taking place. This was hugely interesting and extremely informative and made each of us really think about and consider the food that we were eating rather than just wolfing it down.

The meal was truly wonderful with each dish managing to showcase the many ways in which truffles could be used.

After nibbling on some delicious breads and Gruyère and Truffle Gougères we were presented with a Truffled Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Toasted Hazelnuts which arrived piping hot in a small but beautiful glass bowl. This was easily one of the best soups that I have ever eaten as it managed to taste rich and indulgent but was also silky and light on the palate at the same time. The flavour of the truffles came through wonderfully but didn't overpower the artichokes with their underlying earthy-sweetness. Toasted hazelnuts and an artichoke crisp completed the dish.

The accompanying wine a Crios de Susana Baldo Torrontes from Argentina was fresh and aromatic with a smooth texture in the mouth which made it an ideal pairing for the soup.

The next two courses were also excellent and were both beautifully presented. The  Knockdrinna Goat’s Cheese, Blood Orange Jelly, Beetroot & Charred Cucumber was delicate to look at and packed full of interesting ingredient combinations whilst the Terrine of Foie Gras, Radish, Herb Salad with Toasted Brioche was rich and indulgent and included an excellent slice of brioche. It may sound strange to specifically highlight the toast but it was exceptional.

My Wild Halibut, Savoy Cabbage, Stuffed Chicken Wing & Truffled Cream was perfectly cooked with clean distinct flavours. I particularly liked the restrained treatment of the cabbage which had been finely shredded and cooked with just a hint of butter. I thought the Endrizzi Masetto Bianco from Italy with its complex bouquet and aromas of exotic fruits was an interesting wine pairing which ultimately worked well.

Wild Halibut
Our final savoury course - the Sirloin of Irish Rose Veal, Buttered Leek, Chanterelle Mushroom, Artichoke & Truffled Potato Purée was delightful and included the most decadent potato purée ever to pass my lips. If I ever win the lottery that mash is the type of food that I will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It was superb.

The meal finished on a high with a dessert of White Chocolate Mousse, Orange & Truffle Ice-Cream. In many respects this was the most controversial dish of the night and we all spent ages debating whether truffles worked in a dessert or not. I loved the truffle ice-cream and thought that it was lovely against the sweetness of the white chocolate mousse and the slight acidity of the orange. Others weren't as convinced but we all agreed that it was an interesting use of the truffles.

Rose Veal
This was one of the most thought- provoking meals that I ever eaten and a dining experience that I don't think I will ever forget. I feel truly privileged to have been invited along by the AA and I enjoyed every single moment. I understand that there are some great events in the pipeline and as new AA Foodies are always welcomed I would recommend signing up soon.

Further information on the AA Foodies is available from http://www.theaa.ie/foodies/aa-foodies-sign-up/

Sika Restaurant
Powerscourt Hotel Resort & Spa
Powerscourt Estate
County Wicklow
Telephone: 012748888

Petits Fours