Television: ‘The Restaurant’ reopens, but the menu’s not what it used to be

Review: The product placement would put you off eating at TV3’s new place, where Jackie Lavin is this week’s celeb cook. On RTÉ, Norah Casey has a lot more luck

Hot in the kitchen: Jackie Lavin with her chefs on The Restaurant

Hot in the kitchen: Jackie Lavin with her chefs on The Restaurant

 

All The Restaurant (TV3, Wednesday) is short of is that nice maitre d’ offering diners a 32-bit drill set and a good-value ski jacket to complete the Aldification of the celebrity cookery show. The series, which ran for seven years on RTÉ, has moved pretty much intact – same judges, voiceover, location – to TV3. Now, much as with the Lidl sponsorship of RTÉ’s recent food outing The Taste of Success, there’s no escaping the show’s sponsoring brand.

In the kitchen the shelf behind the prep table looks like a randomly stocked supermarket shelf: a packet of biscuits, jars of jam, bags of flour and . . . what’s that you say, celebrity cook? You’re using pork in your dish? Then it’s time for a short film showing Aldi’s pork supplier – plus a shot of the never-photogenic rasher-packing machine. The waiter taking the order says danke schön. The wine and the ingredients come from the German supermarket.

And instead of the brisk 30 minutes it was on RTÉ, The Restaurant now stretches to an hour, using that catering trick of cheap fillings. In the main these are interviews with exhausted-looking diners about their meal against a branded backdrop. Sometimes eaten bread is not just best forgotten but best not described in detail.

Maybe it’s the unimpressive production values and the dreadful, unflattering lighting, but the resident judges, Tom Doorley and Paolo Tullio, look tired. Tullio, ebullient and fun in previous series, is subdued. Doorley is injured, unfortunately, with his arm in a sling. The first guest judge, Rachel Allen, even offered to cut up his food for him. There really is no end to the unintentional weirdness of The Restaurant.

Last week, the first in the series, the celebrity cook was Alan Shatter. There’s something surreal about seeing a former minister for justice, once the holder of one of the most important offices in the land, talking about wanting to stick his head in a bowl of trifle or joking about “circumcising” a croquette.

This week the celebrity cook is the businesswoman Jackie Lavin. The diners mostly think her theatrical, meat-heavy “Celtic warrior feast” is like a Sunday dinner. One of the judges uses the word “carvery”, which in food-critic language is probably only a couple of steps up from “dog food”. Lavin gets just two stars out of five. She looks raging.

Things are much calmer on Norah’s Traveller Academy (RTE2, Thursday), a four-part documentary in which the businesswoman and publisher Norah Casey helps set four Traveller women on their way to achieving their professional goals.

First up is Tracie Joyce, who, according to Casey, “has broken three Traveller taboos: she’s a single mother who works and lives alone.” Joyce is a reporter on Voice of the Traveller magazine. She loves it, but it’s a community-employment scheme, and she wants to get off social welfare entirely and become a freelance journalist.

As a mentor Casey is kind and firm, encouraging and promoting Joyce’s strengths – notably her steely determination and strong interviewing skills – while pinpointing her need to improve her writing and editing skills.

Reasoning that an improved magazine would help Joyce in the long run, Casey’s team redesign and relaunch it; watching the process is a good primer for any journalism student.

But towards the middle of the hour-long programme I wonder if Joyce’s ambition (and the point of the programme) is getting sidetracked, as the emphasis turns towards broader Traveller issues and the demands of television production.

The filming of the Traveller Pride Awards provides glamorous TV-friendly opportunities, such as the 1980s pop star David Essex, who presents an award and talks about his Gypsy background.

For the relaunch of the magazine Joyce is sent for public-speaking training. Cue a lingering shot of the nameplate of the training company; this product placement on TV is really getting too much.

The more boring but more useful scene in terms of her career might have involved Joyce – who talks about how she got her Leaving Cert against considerable odds – being directed towards further-education opportunities.

Transparent picked up two Golden Globes last Sunday, but, frustratingly, there’s no sign of the Amazon-produced series making it to Irish screens. Until it does, HBO’s Togetherness (Sky Atlantic, Monday) fills the gap brilliantly.

This is also a comedy-drama (more bitter-sweet smiles of recognition than raucous laughter), where it’s all in the storytelling, the characters and their relationships. It has a clever, low-key indie-film vibe and, like Transparent, stars Jay Duplass.

Set in suburban LA, Togetherness is about four middle-class fortysomethings in varying stages of crises who end up living together. Married Everyman Brett (Mark Duplass) and Everymom Michelle (Melanie Lynsky), parents of two small children, have arrived at the “is this all there is?” phase.

Dramas with all that talking and self-obsession can be maddeningly tedious – in the way that Girls (SkyAtlantic, Monday) never fails to be – but Togetherness balances an undercurrent of sadness with smart, thoughtful humour.

Ones to Watch The price of sidling up to power
Martin Freeman and Anthony LaPaglia star in The Eichmann Show (BBC Two, Tuesday), a film about the the world’s first global TV event: the televising of the four-month trial, in 1961, of Adolf Eichmann, one of the key architects of the Holocaust.

Period drama heads to the doublet-and-hose Tudor era in Wolf Hall (BBC Two, Wednesday), a lush six- part adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning novel, with Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Mark Rylance as his brilliant scheming consigliere, Thomas Cromwell.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

 

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