The Irish Lion is an iconic pub in the Bloomington area. I used to frequent this pub in my college days, back during the '80's, and it's a great place to meet friends and have some pints, yards, or other drinks. For that kind of fun it's still a great place to be and experience.
However, the food. I just went there with colleagues for dinner and it was less than satisfactory.
It wasn't just the food that I had ordered. All 6 of us were not so pleased with the food, and there was a variety to sample from.
When we arrived I asked the hostess if we could be seated on the patio area right in front of the pub's entrance. She was very nice and accommodating. Luckily a table of 4 was just leaving, and a part of 2 was about to depart as well. The hostess said it would take just a few minutes to set up the tables for our party of 6. It was a great early summer evening, not hot at all and fairly cool but very comfortable. For me, eating al fresco always increases the flavor of food and enhances the meal. Unfortunately, even the simple pleasures of mother nature couldn't help the cuisine at the Irish Lion.
The waiter was prompt and quickly took our drink order, and we proceeded to order some simple decidedly non-Irish appetizers. We just wanted something to munch on while waiting for our entree's.
For appetizers we had the "Blarney Puffballs", which are a mixture of mashed potato, cheese and garlic coated in a batter and deep fried. They are served with a couple of small plastic cups full of thick sour cream topped with some chives. We also had the "mixed deep fried vegetable platter", which is also served with the same thick sour cream topped with chives. Not much imagination there. Granted, this is an "Irish" pub and traditional Irish food is bland, even the Irish will tell you that. However, judging from their menu, the offerings pay homage to Irish food yet offer a modern take on flavor. There are some traditional Irish offerings, but most of the menu simply uses cute Irish words to name modern American cuisine.
"Blarney Puffballs" are not traditional Irish, nor is Marsala Chicken or Chicken Kiev and they are on the menu.
With that, on to the food I had at the Irish Lion.
"Blarney Puffballs". This items name attempts to invoke some connection to Irish tradition, perhaps it's due to the use of it's major ingredient being potato.
Unfortunately, the actual flavor is that of simply boiled potato with very little cheese flavor and nonexistent garlic flavor, even though the menu's description states that there is garlic in there.
The mashed potato, cheese, and garlic mixture is coated in a nicely crunchy batter, but the batter is nearly flavorless other than a bit too much salt.
The balls are accompanied by a couple of plastic cups full of thick sour cream topped with chives. Now, as most Americans know, sour cream adds a nice creaminess to a baked potato that is also richened with a good slather of butter. Yet, in the case of the Blarney Puffballs the sour cream adds nothing except some richness. It adds no flavor.
If you're going to say the potato mixture includes cheese and garlic, then by all means the flavor profile should include cheese and garlic. The balls served to us tasted entirely of only potato. It's a good idea that needs better execution, and inclusion of more cheese and garlic.
When flavored and seasoned properly the balls would not need sour cream, and the sour cream would then actually just add a bit of richness as it does to a baked potato.
This appetizer is not so appetizing as it's nearly flavorless.
The fried mixed veggie "platter" described having mixed vegetables consisting of zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and pickles. There were good very large sized onion rings, a good number of pickles, very few mushrooms, and NO zucchini, and I happen to LOVE fried zucchini. So, I was disappointed. The veggies were fresh and hot and not greasy at all.
Kudo's to the kitchen for keeping the fry oil fresh and clean.
However, the flavor of the veggies was very bland, and with the corn meal based batter adding no flavor. The biggest flavor component was salt, which was used way too much, likely in place of anything else that could have helped.
The offering to compliment the veggies was simple and basic thick sour cream that had nothing added to it and thus added nearly nothing to help the veggies.
The chef would do well to create some type of sour cream based sauce with strong flavor so that it would actually help the veggies salty and bland flavor profile.
Granted this is not traditional Irish food nor did we expect it to be. It's simply something that is offered at most pubs as something to snack on and increase thirst so that customers drink some more. :) That shouldn't then mean that the food should simply be salty and nothing else, otherwise just offer free extra salty pretzels and don't waste customers time and money.
It does not take a lot of effort to make fried mixed veggies taste really good. I've had much better tasting versions of this simple bar/pub food.
On to the entree's and other items. I had the grilled halibut served with rice.
This is how it's named and described:
Ballydebob Halibut - Broiled. Prepared with herbs, lemon-butter wine sauce and served with Dunmurry rice.
Ballydehob is a coastal village in Ireland. So one can see why a fish dish would use this name, it's "Irishy". :) Oddly, on the Irish Lions website it's written as "BallydeBob" with a B instead of the H. It's probably just an editing mistake on the website.
"Dunmurry rice" is an actual Irish recipe. However, nearly all Dunmurry rice recipes call for the rice to be topped with a mixture made of tomatoes, butter, and bread crumbs. And some include grated cheese in the mixture.
Irish Lions Dunmurry rice does not have a topping of any kind. It's simply rice that has mushrooms, onions, and parsley. It's not bad, but it's not great either. You taste no passion for the tradition of the recipe, and it doesn't even have the tomato based topping, which would add flavor and texture. The pubs chef could make this rice so much better by making it more traditional.
The halibut was VERY good. It was nicely, perfectly grilled with a wonderful light smoke grill flavor. The fish was topped with a very small amount of a delicious lemon-butter wine sauce.
The sauce was pretty good, but there was very little of it. I can appreciate that the fish was not slathered with the sauce as most don't want the fishes flavor covered up by a sauce.
Yet in this case the sauce enhanced the halibuts fine flavor. Adding some extra sauce on the plate or in a small/little cup would allow the diner to add more if wanted.
The sauce also greatly helped the rice's flavor.
One more thing about the halibut and rice plate, the presentation. As we all know by now, most of us eat with our eyes first, meaning, we get a sense of how good the food will be by first seeing it. Visual presentation does matter.
The problem here is that the whitish halibut is covered in an even more white colored sauce and it's placed on a white plate next to a serving of rice that is also whitish with little specs of green from the chopped parsley in the rice. It's a visually BLAH looking plate. When the waiter first laid the plate in front of me I smirked simply by how poor it looked. There was no attempt at all by the chef and/or kitchen staff to make the plate presentation visually appealing.
This dish also needs a vegetable component. That would help add much needed color, as well as add much needed vitamins, minerals, and fiber from a good assortment of sauteed vegetables. Some sauteed red, yellow, and/or green peppers along with thin sticks, some zucchini slices, broccoli, anything. Serving just a piece of fish with a pile of rice all in the same color note as the plate doesn't give the dining customer any positive vibe.
Luckily the grilled fish and sauce were pretty good, but the whole plate could have and should have given more food, more visual appeal, and a more positive experience.
I was offered soup or a small salad with my entree. I choose the salad. My favorite dressing is RED French dressing, not that insipid orange colored "French" dressing cheap restaurants serve. The Irish Lion didn't have either, so I choose what was described as a raspberry vinaigrette cream dressing. That 'sounded' very good.
The salad greens were nice, fresh, and a pleasing combination of greens, grape tomatoes, and cucumber slices. The dressing came in a small plastic cup and had a creamy appearance.
I was looking forward to a lightly sweet and tart raspberry combined with vinegar and oil with some added cream, or so the name would suggest. AWFUL. This dressing is insipid, other than a single note of vinegar and that's all. NO fruit essence, no sweetness, no richness of any kind, and yet the word "cream" is in the description. It's as if the chef, cook, or assistant forgot to add the oil to a vinaigrette. It made my salad awful and simply sour as it tasted like nothing more than vinegar, pathetic.
I was also given a couple of slice of Irish Soda Bread, a traditional Irish item.
Sitting on top of the bread was a domino shaped, gold foil wrapped, large pat of butter.
I was looking forward to trying the bread with some butter hoping to tame the pure vinegar sourness in my mouth from the insipid salad dressing. No good. The butter was as cold as butter can be when you pull it out of the fridge. I was served cold butter to spread on the bread. Too many mistakes at this place.
It gets worse. After letting the butter soften a few minutes I spread it on the bread and go for a big bite of Irish bread tradition. Uhhh.....mmmmm.....this bread sucks, and it did.
I don't know how someone could mess up the 4 simple ingredients that go into a traditional Irish soda bread, but they did. The bread was lifeless with no freshness what so ever and a texture to match.
Another colleague had the same entree a me, the halibut, and she too enjoyed it, saying the same about the rice as I did.
She had gazpacho soup and stated that it was not bad. She said that she liked it, but stopped eating it after about 2-3 spoonfuls. Maybe she didn't want anymore.
Another fellow diner ordered Coddle. Coddle is a traditional and hearty stew that is very popular in the pubs of Dublin, Ireland.
The Irish Lion says their version is a
"House stew made with potatoes, sausage, bacon, and onion. Typical Dublin pub food supposed to prevent a hangover. Served with soda bread & butter".
The ingredients sound just fine. But, our fellow diner did NOT like this Coddle at all. She took two bites, one to try it and another to confirm that she didn't like it.
I'm not sure what the problem was exactly, but when I saw what it looked like sitting in the bowl, I wondered how anyone could actually serve something that looked like that.
It literally looked like something from a can of food for a non human. It was very thick, almost like a paste, and I could see some orange colored bits, likely carrot, and some whitish pieces that I'll claim were onions. :) It looked very bad.
Maybe it's popular at the Irish Lion, but if so I wonder if those who like it can actually see straight after numerous drinks have been imbibed.
Sláinte (slahn-chə)! :)
Even though the halibut was quite good and grilled perfectly, it was the only item that was actually good. I was going to give 3 of 5 rating, but I can't.
The simpler things were done quite poorly. Salad, the dressing, and bread & butter needs to work in the least. Serving food that looks like it's not for human consumption is not acceptable.
2 of 5 is the best I can give.