Food can be a great comfort at the less than joyous moments of  life – painful break-ups, embarrassing job interviews, economic meltdowns, etc.  I’ve always been amazed at food’s ability to make the bad things all just… go away.  Even if it is just temporarily.

So what better week to have been invited, along with 8 other food bloggers, to enjoy a tasting menu at Conrad Gallagher’s Salon des Saveurs at 16 Aungier Street last Thursday evening.

Upon arrival at the restaurant, which is in the space Darwin’s used to occupy, my anxiety levels were pretty high.  The country is falling to pieces all around us, there’s talk of mass emigration amongst a lot of my friends, most of us have lost faith in politicians from all parties, and to top it all off we’re going to be earning less while getting taxed more and paying higher prices for the stuff that makes us happy.

And yet, there I was, heading out to be treated to a five course meal with matching wines for each course.  I felt like a traitor myself.  Brian Lenihan’s mantra “We All Partied” circled around  my head while I was led to our bloggers’ table which was dressed in white linen – and more cutlery than I knew what to do with – our group enveloped in the plush, red hue of the restaurant’s decor as we settled in to be pampered by Gallagher’s knowledgeable and attentive staff.

As I said.  Food has the power to solve everything.  As the night went on and we were spoiled to five courses of incredible food matched with the most delicious of wines, the stress that I’d been carrying around for the whole week melted away.

Two things I must mention: when you go to Salon des Saveurs, whether it’s with a group of two or ten, everyone at your table must choose the same menu.  Some people might find this limiting, but I feel it works in this case because, for most people, a tasting menu is a new experience.  And so, it’s nice to do this as a team and have everyone at your table discovering new tastes together and discussing each course.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of chatter at our bloggers’ table as we soldiered through the evening’s grub.  There’s also the option of choosing from the A la Carte menu, which I’m sure is absolutely delicious, but it sort of misses the point of coming to eat at The Tasting Room.

The second thing is the staff were wonderfully unfazed when told about a vegetarian diner at the very last minute.  I had brought a guest with me to enjoy the dinner and had forgotten about her being a vegetarian.  We informed the kitchen, who went on to provide her with the best vegetarian meal she’s ever had.  That’s a direct quote.

So.. The Food.  Unfortunately, the dark restaurant led to less than flattering pictures of the beautiful food.  I’ll post these here so you can get the idea of the portion sizes and the types of flavour combinations going on.

First Course: Parsnip and Vanilla Soup with Langoustine

This was beautiful.  The egg cup sized soup portion was exactly the right amount due to the sweetness of the soup.  The marinated langoustine with some truffle-infused cream was totally amazeballs.

The vegetarian option was almost identical, but in the place of the langoustine were some beautiful Fava beans smothered in finely grated Parmesan.  Which, of course, is not actually vegetarian, as Parmesan is made using rennet.  The staff had been so accommodating, our vegetarian didn’t want to make a fuss, and besides, she really enjoyed the beans.

Second Course: Oxtail & Foie Gras with Apricot, Grape, Fried Baby Spinach and Hazelnut Aioli

Phew.  Look at the flippin’ size of that portion of Oxtail and Foie Gras.  It was delicious, with all of the beautiful fruit-based accompaniments bringing a lightness to the dish.  For me, personally, Foie Gras is too rich to gobble as much as I would like without feeling over-whelmed.  However, the matching wine went some way to counteract that, as its super sweetness brought an unexpected balance.

Meanwhile, the Vegetarian Second Course was Goat’s Cheese beautifully packaged in the most delicious fine pastry strands.  Sitting on nice surprise of finely sliced beetroot, this went down extremely well with our vegetarian, who isn’t even a great fan of goat’s cheese.

Third Course: Risotto of Asparagus with Confit of Duck and Arbafura Broth

The risotto of asparagus was truly stunning.  Although the confit of duck tasted fabulous on its own, it was actually too over-powering for the risotto, perhaps because it was super salty.  In this course, it was the Vegetarian option that won out, as instead of the Duck confit, there was the most soft and subtle mushroom puree/pate sitting atop the risotto, like a welcoming friend for your taste buds.  As a whole, the vegetarian option worked much better than our meaty version.

Fourth Course: Daube of Beef with Celeriac Mousseline, Salsfy Chips, Pearl Onions, Butternut and Parsley Hollandaise

Bloody hell.  People sometimes sniff at the small portions served as part of tasting menus.  There was no sniffing at our table whatsoever and in fact at this stage of the meal, there was a good deal of puffing and rubbing of bellies going on.

The Daube of Beef was incredibly tender and rich, with an almost caramelised sauce hugging onto the meat which literally collapsed at the sight of a fork.  Perhaps it was the Foie Gras that did me in earlier in the meal, but as beautiful as this piece of meat was, I struggled to finish it.  But, wow, it was super.

The Vegetarian Fourth Course was just as delicious but a lot easier to manage.  There was a bed of cous cous for a fabulous ratatouille and asparagus, surrounded by the lightest most amazing sweet potato gnocchi.  It was gorgeous.

Heyyyyy.  Maybe I was so full because I kept tasting the vegetarian’s dinner…  Well, it was all in the name of blogging.

Fifth Course: Tasting of Desserts: Chocolate Brulee, Lemon Ice-Cream, Strawberry and Rhubard Crumble, Ice Lemon Soufflé, and Spiced Lemon Cake

The tasting of desserts was wonderful, with special mention to the Spiced Lemon Cake a.ka. The Little Cube of Joy.  The Chocolate Brulee on its own was too rich, while the Lemon Ice-Cream tasted of a mouth-pursingly sour bon bon, but combined the two produced a harmoniously sweet party for the palate.  What a win.

Best of all, Salon des Saveurs, if you do it right, is actually pretty amazing value for money.  How it works is that there are four main Tasting Menus each with five courses, ranging in prices from €29 to €59 not including wine.  There is also an eight  course Tasting Menu for €79 or €158 including wine.

Ok.  Let’s be realistic.  Most of us will be looking at the €29 five course Tasting Menu One.  You can either choose to order a  bottle of wine to go along with your five courses, or you could get a matching glass of wine for each course, bringing the price to €58.00 per person.  I think this is the better deal, and not just because I’m a lush.  We were in the restaurant for a good three hours, maybe more.  You’re going to get thirsty.  Believe me.

So, let’s say you’re bringing your partner/best friend/sibling/parent for a special meal at Salon des Saveurs and you go for Tasting Menu One with matching wine. For €116 for two people (plus a 12.5% service charge) you will enjoy five incredible courses of food matched with a generous glass of specially selected wine.  Otherwise, go for Tasting Menu One or Two and choose your own bottles of wine to keep the price under €100 for two.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not on the same level of out-of-touch delusion as some members of our government.  I’m very aware that going out for a plush dinner is not within most people’s budgets.  I know it’s not.  However, if you’re in the position to treat someone to a wonderful meal this Christmas, I’d suggest Salon des Saveurs, purely because the food that you’ll enjoy here is different from anything else available at the same price in this city.

Big shout out to my dining companions: Smorgasblog, Cake In The Country, 9 Bean Row, Cheap Eats, Lola-Lu’s Kitchen, and Not Junk Food. Follow the links to check out all their lovely food blogs.

Have a look at the website for all further details on the different menus available and how to book a table.  If you do check it out, come back and tell me what you thought!

Salon des Saveurs

16 Aungier Street

Dublin 2

01-475-8840