Meet the new Irish Times restaurant critic

Food and wine writer Corinna Hardgrave to review restaurants for The Irish Times

 Corinna Hardgrave is the new Irish Times restaurant critic. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Corinna Hardgrave is the new Irish Times restaurant critic. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

What can we expect?
I’ll definitely be looking for the good places, not necessarily the top-end restaurants, but good and honest within their own categories and in the context of these difficult times. I love eating out, and I hope I can convey some of that joy. I have a background in wine as well as food, so I will be looking at the whole experience. I’m always watching out for what is new, and for young chefs returning and bringing back their experience.

What do you look for in a restaurant?
I really am all about the food. I would happily eat in a dive if the food was great, but this is not going to be my only focus. I like to see a bit of thought going into things. Really good quality produce, and skilled, confident cooking that isn’t overwrought. I love when a chef has the confidence to be restrained.

What do you like to see in a wine list?
The list doesn’t need to be long, but it’s always wonderful to see a few more idiosyncratic bottles rather than just the usual suspects. Having good drinks service is important too. I like waiters or sommeliers who understand what a diner is looking for and who guide them towards something that suits them, without trying to upsell them to a more expensive option. I think everyone wants to feel like they’re getting good value.

Where did you go to for your first Irish Times magazine review, and did you enjoy it?
I went to a newly opened restaurant. It’s important to reward the brave, don’t you think? I’ve had this chef’s food before, so was really looking forward to it. And yes, it’s very good.

Who was your dining companion?
I dined with my husband Steve. He’s very into food and is a great cook, so we always have a great chat about what we’re eating.

Is dining out in the Covid era a very different experience, or not?
Yes, it’s a bit different, but not dramatically so. Some places have decided to use masks, others have not. It is amazing how incredibly normal it can feel. It is just so great to be out, and so lovely to be supporting this important part of our economy and our society.

What has been your most memorable meal?
Eating at a lobster wharf in Maine. Everything is cooked to order - local corn on the cob, steamed clams and a soft shell lobster, all served on a cardboard tray which you bring to an outside bench and tuck into with a nice BYOB of chilled white wine. It costs about $25 these days. I’ve been back many times. At the other end of the scale, a visit to elBulli in 2006 was pretty spectacular.

Is there anything you absolutely won’t eat?
I’ve travelled a lot, so I will eat almost everything. It’s more down to what I don’t like. I hate truffle oil, because it has nothing to do with truffles, it’s a synthetic, chemical imitation. And I find it difficult to eat meat that hasn’t been raised ethically.

Corinna Hardgrave’s first restaurant review appears in the Irish Times Magazine and online at irishtimes.com/food on Saturday, July 11th

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