Daily Archives: August 26, 2012

The Ireland Chronicles: Entry 1 – Mummified Cat & Rat, Giant Sand Sculptures, Followed by Lunch at Wagamama’s in Dublin!

When I returned from Ireland, where I spent my entire Summer, my friend Tom posed a very serious question: “Have you stopped writing your blog?”  “Of course not” I snapped defensively, “just couldn’t do all that fun stuff and have time to write about it!’ Now that I am back, it is time to chronicle my adventures. He may be sorry he asked, as seething with envy might be the result of his reading each and every delicious post!

Ha’penny Bridge over the river Liffey in Dublin

And what better place to start than with my trip to Dublin, always an adventure. This city hovers around the top of my list of favorites, and a few of the things I did on this particular day did nothing to change its status, or my opinion on the matter.

Approaching Christ’s Church Cathedral

Myself and the two kids took the 9am train to Dublin and were standing on the quay near the famous St. James’ Gate at the Guinness factory a little over an hour later. We walked up the quay by the river Liffey heading towards our first stop, Christ’s Church Cathedral. I was excited to show them this beautiful 11th century Norman masterpiece.

Christ’s Church Cathedral

As well as marvelling at the various architectural points of interest, such as the Romanesque arch, the medieval stone carvings and the baptistery, we were most excited about seeing something a little less intellectual on one hand, and sensational on the other. One was the tomb of the infamous Cambro-Norman leader, Strongbow (the sensational bit!), and the other was the mummified cat and rat who met their demise (presumably during a terrific chase) in one of the organ pipes in the 1860’s, and now on view in the enormous 12th century medieval crypt.

Unfortunate cat and rat

After a most wonderful visit in the cathedral, I decided to take a walk to St. Stephan’s Green, Dublin’s beautiful city park via Dublin Castle. When we got to the big courtyard we were treated to another feast for the eyes. The whole courtyard was filled with three sand sculptors in process. They were giant and spectacular. I found out that the three men working away with their shovels, chisels, and water were a group of artists called Duthain Dealbh, which means ‘Fleeting Sculpture’ in irish.

Duthain Dealbh at work on ‘Bright Sparks’

The guys  building these sculptures for the past ten years are a trio of artists who have been creating giant free-standing sculptures on location every year for the past ten years.  This year’s theme was ‘Bright Sparks’, inspired by the work of Irish scientists. We were so transfixed that we decided watching these clever manipulators of sand at work would be a better use of our time than taking a tour of the castle, (on this particular day anyway). The castle would always be there, but these “fleeting” sculptures would not.

leaving St. Stephan’s Green through the fusiliers arch at the top of Grafton Street

After a brisk walk through Stephan’s we headed over to the restaurant I was excited to write about: Wagamama’s!

Duncan; one of the managers at Wagamama’s

As I was trying to think of exactly the perfect explanation of why Wagamama’s stood out to me, after all it is one of a chain of restaurants all over the world, so how could it be singular and unique? I was reminded of the fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and of the golden-haired girl’s famous remark after tasting the Baby Bear’s porridge, and I loosely quote, “that porridge was too cold, and that porridge too hot, but this porridge is, just right”, and, as far as my memory serves me, she ate it all up!

Yes Chef!

Well, that’s how I feel about this restaurant – it is just right.

I was in Ireland for seven weeks, visited Dublin four times, and choose to eat at Wagamama’s three of those times. Something must have made an impression on me?

Slurping brothy Ramen

The easiest way to describe my feelings is by analyzing their motto since the first restaurant opened in London 20 years ago: “to combine great, fresh and nutritious food in a sleek yet simple setting with helpful, friendly service and value for money”

Sleek kitchen

The first thing that was obvious to me was the reference to sleek and simple. The initial thing one notices upon entered a restaurant is the “vibe”. It can make or break your mood, and in this case, as I descended the long stairs to the restaurant floor I felt like I needed to saunter and slowly catwalk to my table. You were on display, in a good way, and if you felt like it, you could strut your stuff.

my son’s favorite dish of Yaki Udon (he ordered this every time!)

The kitchen flanked one side of the restaurant with the patrons and help being separated by a high stainless steel counter, where food was dished out with cafeteria-style efficiency. The dining tables were long simple wooden boards with a mod feel, where you could find yourself sitting next to complete strangers (another cafeteria similarity come to think of it?). It didn’t feel awkward as the whole room was filled with a pleasant din and general bustle, like being on the subway or underground with lots of people in close proximity, but still comfortable about ignoring each other.

Duck dumplings

On to “helpful friendly service”: yes indeed. The staff was all that and more, and eating there 3 times gives me the confidence to say that this is normal at Wagamama’s, not just a one time lucky thing. I am invariably more annoyed by rude staff than I am about mediocre food. There is nothing worse than being treated badly by wait staff when you have treated yourself to dinner out.

Chirpy one and two

From the charming manager Duncan, who was accommodating at every turn, to the chirpy floor staff, I felt well taken care of, and catered to. I could analyse and say that this is their job, and my happiness is just part of their job description, but I don’t think that is important. I don’t care if I am someone they have to be nice to, I appreciate the gesture, plain and simple. I don’t need anything else, and am not bothered that when I leave, the memory of my being there merges with the images of every other customer they happen to serve that evening or lunch time.

The kitchen’s creation just for me

It’s time for the “fresh and nutritious” food bit, that is also “value for money: I can’t argue on both points. The food has an Asian feel with lots of quick cooked vegetables, meat or fish, served with rice or noodles. I watched them cook orders as they came in with my own eyes; the smoke spewing from the woks and the sizzle of the chicken or beef on the hot plates. There was nothing extraordinary about the dishes. They were typically seasoned with soy, chili and peppers, but the combination of the atmosphere, the friendly open kitchen and zing of fresh food made for complete satisfaction.

Chicken Ramen

I will say that I was one of those picky diners when I placed my order. I wanted greens and tofu, but none of the dishes totally pleased me. I asked if they would pair the appetizer simmered greens with some fried tofu as a main course, and they made it for me without a modicum of complaint or polite rolling of the eyes. After I had finished my very satisfying meal, the manager specifically asked if I was happy with their impromptu creation, and made mention that they might now put it on the menu, (totally cool with me, and many other tofu lovers!)

Green tea and Mango ice-cream

This review of Wagamama’s is bordering on sycophantic, I know, but they happen to be the restaurant in Dublin located in the right place at the right time for my visits. The right place meaning that they were right off St Stephan’s Green after my afternoon walk with my children, and right across the street before I went to the performance of Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre. I think these things deserve some kind of merit, and being that I am rarely content when leaving a restaurant, I feel like tooting Wagamama’s horn; why not.

Our table at Wagamama’s (remembering Fiesole)

We left Dublin in what had begun to be a pattern; running hot-footed for the train!