Saturday, April 18, 2015

[Listing] Dublin Wine Fest 2015

On Wednesday night, I attended the launch of the Dublin Wine Fest in Ely IFSC. Organisers Oisín Davis and Aoife Carrigy both spoke passionately about their vision for this week long festival of wine and food, and left me feeling quite excited about the events and deals on offer. 

The concept is pretty simple. Dublin Wine Fest have teamed up with over 30 Dublin venues far and wide, to create special offers for attendees, running from April 20th to 25th. In addition to some great wine deals, each venue is also offering a "Dublin Wine Experience" to complement the wines on offer. It's different in each event location, but you can expect tapas, cheese, wine-based cocktails and many many more creative options. This addition of food and extra experiences really elevates this festival with good value and enticing offers. 
Stanley's of Andrew Street
In a clever move, which I'm sure will lead to several wine-crawls, the venues have been grouped into 4 neighbourhood hubs allowing attendees to easily move from one venue to another. 

To take part in the Dublin Wine Fest you will need to buy a €5 wristband, available from participating venues or entertainment.ie, which is valid for the entire week. You then simply visit your chosen venue(s) and avail of the special offers. As an added incentive, if you vote online for the Best Dublin Wine Experience, there is a cash prize for the winning venue and a range of lovely prizers for the voters. So make sure to show your appreciation for your favourite venues. 

I've been looking through the list of offers available, and I must admit that I'm pretty impressed by the selection available. Ely Wine Bars will be using their new Coravin system to offer wines by the glass from some pretty expensive bottles. I've got my eye on a 2007 Chablis Grand Cru (€13.25/glass) along with some others.  There's a tasting flight of three wine-based cocktails at Candlelight Cocktail bar in Dublin for €10 or a glass of Godello with salmon tartare tapas for just €4(!!) at Eastside Tavern. And that's just the tip of the  iceberg.

Further details are available at www.greatirishbeverages.com or Facebook.com/GreatIrishBeverages. Alternatively follow @IrishBeverages on Twitter and use hashtag #DublinWineFest to stay in touch with festival news and updates. 

Who knows, perhaps I might bump into some of you on the Wine Fest Trail!


[Deal] Côte du bœuf with wine at Marcel's

I recently came across a special offer from Marcel's of Ballsbridge that I just have to share. Marcel's is a much-liked restaurant for me, and thankfully, it's not appeared on too many of the "Hot places you have to eat in before you're 50 and die in a bungee jumping while eating a Cornetto accident" type lists that seem to be the standard these days. 

So what's the deal? For the month of April, Marcel's are offering a côte du bœuf for two people with sides, sauces and a bottle of Masi Malbec for an astounding €50. When you consider that many restaurants charge in excess of €50 for a côte du bœuf on its own, the addition of a bottle of red wine makes this truly great value. 

We visited recently to try this for ourselves as (a) we love a good deal and (b) we like steak. Honestly, it was a no-brainer. We ordered two starters while waiting for our beef; a pressed pork belly and grilled mackerel with egg yolk. Both were light, delicate and beautifully presented. But then the beef arrived… perfectly medium rare as requested and served sliced along with the bone.
The côte du bœuf
This was accompanied by a selection of little pots with sauces (a truffled béarnaise and an exception red wine jus) and sides (super crispy chunky chips, kale and creamy mashed potatoes).
And the sides
The wine, a Masi Malbec Paso Doble, which normally retails around the €15 mark in shops, was a nice pairing to the beef, with dark cherries, good tannins and nice spice present. This deal isn't listed on the menus or website, but check with the server or host.

So, if you haven't made plans for the weekend, why not think of Marcel's? It's a thoroughly classy joint and in addition to this great deal, they also have excellent value Early Bird and Sunday lunch dinners, as well a private dining room upstairs. 

Marcel's, Mary's Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 678 9529
Twitter: @MarcelsDublin

Saturday, April 11, 2015

[Review] Huguenot, Carey's Lane, Cork

Family. Where would you be without them? Love them, hate them, or merely be indifferent to them, you're stuck with them. I recently returned home to Cork for the wedding of my first cousin and his beautiful new bride. It was a small but close affair, attended by family and friends. The younger adults at the wedding continued the celebrations into the small hours, and I found myself heavily paying the price on the following day. I might still be young in spirit, but the body is definitely beginning to creak a little. Irrespective, I want to wish Richard and Majo every happiness as they embark on their journey together. 

The next night, my siblings and I headed to a new(ish) French restaurant which I had been eager to visit. Huguenot's is all about French cuisine and is aptly located on Carey's Lane, in the middle of Cork's historic Huguenot quarter, just a few short steps off St Patrick's Street. I don't remember what business occupied the premise immediately prior to Huguenot, but I do remember that this lovely multi-storey space was home to Esau's many years ago. Now the ground floor is a cosy wine bar with a French tapas menu while the first floor and above host the bistro restaurant. Huguenot is the second venture from the partnership of chef Brendan Cashman and entrepreneur Richard O'Brien. (Their first venture is the lovely Italian restaurant Gallo & Galletti in Wilton). 

Our table split equally in half when selecting starters. I chose the classic dish of moules mariniere, or mussels cooked in a white wine sauce with shallots and herbs. Irish mussels are a superior specimen (especially when compared to the North Sea version) and these beauties were plump and meaty, nestled in their strong, dark shells (€10.95). The white wine sauce was intensely flavoured and every last drop was spooned from the bowl. A carapaccio of spiced beef from the legendary English Market butcher Tom Durcan, was topped with salad, cranberries and deliciously crispy pieces of sautéed potato. The spiced beef and potatoes were delicious, but the entire affair was just a bit too busy.
Carpaccio of Tom Durcan spiced beef with potato
Moules mariniere
My sisters' main courses of slow-cooked beef cheeks in a rich jus and beautiful pan-fried hake in a light cream sauce with peas and lardons were extremely well-received (both €18.95). My rib-eye steak come more medium to well done, rather than my requested medium rare, but it was a good piece of meat, well-seasoned and topped with a generous piece of intense garlic butter (€24.50). I was disappointed with the thick, chunky chips, much preferring instead to have skinny fries, in the vein of the classic "steak frites". I must admit that thick or chunky chips are a personal dislike of mine. Skinnier chips deliver a much satiating experience. Even though the portions were more than generous, we had ordered a side portion of puree potato deliciously flavoured with roast garlic and Compté cheese (€4.50). 

An easy-drinking bottle of Des Chezelles Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine (€29.00) and a 500ml carafe of pinot noir (€20.00) accompanied our meal. 
Slow cooked beef cheeks
Pan-fried hake with peas and lardons
Ribeye with garlic butter and chips

Family nights out always mean going the full hog, so we ordered two desserts to share. Both were French classics, a perfect creme brûlée, bizarrely served on top of a piece of wood for no discernible reason, and a richly sweet tarte tatin (both €7.00). We had considered ordering some glasses of sweet wine, but a full half-bottle of Sauternes (€39.50) proved to be better value.
Creme brûlée
Tarte tatin with ice-cream
Overall, Huguenot's a real addition to the Cork restaurant scene, which I feel is coming back to life.  Despite a few off notes, we overall thoroughly enjoyed our meal. The menu is packed full of French classics and French-inspired dishes, which make great use of local Irish ingredients (easy when you're located on the doorstep of the English Market). The atmosphere is casual, the menu is accessible and the prices are quite reasonable. Even better, there's a three course Early Bird menu available for the great price of €25. 

Merci beaucoup Huguenot.

Huguenot, 8 Carey's Lane, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 239 3505
URL: huguenotbistro.ie
Twitter: @HuguenotCork

Sunday, April 5, 2015

[Review] Restaurant Geist, Copenhagen

A few weeks ago, we boarded a Ryanair flight and headed to Copenhagen for the weekend. Last year was exceptionally gruelling from a work perspective and part of my tactics for improved mental health this year involve having lots of planned activities. Therefore, when Ryanair announced their new route from Dublin to Copenhagen, I booked a weekend lickety split. We first visited Copenhagen over 8 years ago as relatively poor people. This time around, we were bringing fatter wallets and bigger appetites.

Now, when food lovers think of Copenhagen, they immediately think Noma. But one of the benefits of having the World's No 1 restaurant in town is that it has nurtured an ecosystem of high-quality restaurants, all working together for the gastronomic benefit of Copenhagen and Nordic cuisine. We booked two meals, Friday night at Restaurant Geist and Saturday lunch at Relae. Everything else, we would take as it comes.

Restaurant Geist comes from chef Bo Bech and is a fun, sleek venue with a large open kitchen and bar-stool seating along the kitchen and windows. We took a seat facing onto the Kongens Nytorv square and ordered cocktails to get started. At 100 DKK per cocktail, or just over €13, they were somewhat expensive (like everything else in Copenhagen) but I really enjoyed my mezcal orange martini with its petrol-like sheen while his Danish sour (nay rum, lime and cherry) was equally well constructed.

Tartare of Norway lobster with yuzu and hibiscus
The menu at Geist comes printed on a small folded card. There is no traditional menu layout but the dishes get progressively meatier and richer as you read down. Our server told us that the portions likewise get larger, while prices ranged from 65 DKK to 195 DKK, or approximately €9 to €26. We started with a tartare of Norway lobster with yuzu and hibiscus (130DKK) and a dish of raw beef and lumpfish roe with piment d'espelette (135 DKK). In a bizarre presentation, the lobster flesh had been flattened out and spread across the plate, served with a blob of the sharp yet sweet sauce. My raw beef was likewise spread out on a plate, with slight saltiness coming from the lumpfish roe and heat from the Basque chili. While everything was incredibly fresh and sweet, I found myself longing for the silky binding of a raw egg to pull it all together.
Raw beef and lumpfish roe with piment d'espelette
Our "main" courses followed from the kitchen, in the order we had requested. Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere featured a magnificent two pieces of this royal fish with spectacular and richly intense ravioli fanned on top (195 DKK). This stunning dish was served along with a plate of black kale and wild garlic arranged around a fried egg (85 DKK). Kale may be having a hipster fashion moment right now, but there's no doubt that it's an exceptional vegetable when cooked with care. In my opinion it's a meaty vegetable, and worked well as a contrast to the light turbot. Finally, a bowl of crispy artichokes flakes concealed soft chunks of suckling pig, flavoured with black truffle (185 DKK). Artichokes are amongst my favourite vegetables and I loved the contrast of the crunchy flakes against the juicy, fatty pork.
Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere
Black kale with fried egg and wild garlic
Crispy artichokes with suckling pig and black truffle
The dessert section of the Geist menu proved a challenge when selecting our final plates. Their "Air in Air in Air Tiramisu" is mentioned time and time again on blogs and reviews. However, we went with our hearts. For himself, a plate of blue Stilton and carmelised chocolate (95 DKK) came as a pile of textures with an incredible blend of salt and sweet. I simply wouldn't know how to start recreating this one at home, but I really do want to try. My dessert of salted wasabi toffee cream was another favourite with Geist diners (85 DKK). It took the form of a wasabi-flavoured meringue piece atop a swirl of delicious toffee sauce. Sorry for the lack of a picture, it just didn't come out well due to the low-lighting of the restaurant.
Blue Stilton and carmelised chocolate
Dinner was accompanied by a stunning Gruner Veltliner Strassertal from Martin & Anna Arndorfer (440 DKK).

Ultimately, I had fun at Geist even though I did find it somewhat inconsistent. Despite the high quality of the ingredients in our first two dishes, they didn't really shine. But the main courses and desserts were of a very different standard, with bold flavours and eccentric presentations. The restaurant was buzzing on the Friday night we visited, with queues of people waiting to get in as we left. If this is what modern, fun Nordic cuisine looks and tastes like, then sign me up for more.

Restaurant Geist, Kongens Nytorv 8, DK-1050 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel: +45 3313 3713
URL: restaurantgeist.dk

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

[Review] Söder + Ko, South Great George's Street, Dublin 2

Did you ever notice how things clump together? It's similar to the old story about waiting ages for a bus, and then three come along at once. Or that bad things happen in threes. In my case, we had a weekend away booked in Copenhagen (thanks to Ryanair's newly launched route), so of course we ended up in a Scandinavian influenced restaurant the night before. 

Newly opened Söder + Ko is literally the hottest restaurant ticket in an already over-heated town. Chef Kwanghi Chan has left the famous Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore and moved to Dublin to take over  this Scandinavian and Asian influenced kitchen. The interior of the former Dragon bar has been renovated into an open dining area with a stunning long bar. 

The menu is split into 5 main sections: raw, dim sum, hot, sides and steamed buns. At dinnertime, €25 will get you a choice of 3 courses from the RAW, DIM SUM or HOT sections, along with a side of your choice. In my opinion, this was the perfect way for us sample as much of the menu as possible. Once ordered, the dishes arrived in a steady stream, coming out from the kitchen in the order of preparation.

Our RAW dishes kicked off the meal magnificently. My scallop ceviche was beautifully sweet balanced with soft coconut flavours and a gentle touch of coriander and chili. Tuna sashimi was dark red in colour with a seaweed salad and wasabi mayo. DIM SUM dishes of pork and shrimp dumplings were juicy and flavoursome, while squid tempura arrived in a joyful riot of battered fronds and a lemongrass dipping sauce.
Scallop ceviche
Tuna sashimi
Pork and shrimp dim sum
Squid tempura
At this stage, we were convinced that the €25 three course menu was definitely the right option. And then the main courses arrived.  Chargrilled peppered beef was interspersed with glutinous mounds of sticky rice topped with tiny exquisite quails egg yolks. This dish was presented with the precision of Kwanghi's Michelin heritage, but the chopsticks provided were inadequate for the size of the beef pieces. A piece of steamed cod was topped with gently waving bonito flakes, adding a sensation of motion to this classically delicate Asian dish.

Our main three courses had all been excellent, but we disappointed with our choice of roasted aubergine with garlic and chili, and fried sweet potato with parmesan. Looking back at the menu, I think we should have chosen more green vegetables to better suit the dishes ordered. 
Charred peppered beef fillet with sticky rice
Steamed cod with Shitake mushrooms and bonito flakes
Even though we had eaten 6 dishes (and 2 side dishes) at this stage, the steamed bun section of the menu was still looking very attractive. A spicy kimchi bun with bean sprouts, red onion and coriander  in a light fluffy pun was packed full of flavour and got the seal of approval (€4).

Söder + Ko will have a full cocktail menu (and a beautiful bar to match) but on the night we visited, only a few cocktails were available. I tried the Söder Sura (Zapaca rum and grapefruit), as well as a Stockholm 866 (a Negroni variation) with fresh herbs and a rock salt rim. The Scandinavian herbal bittersweet influences came through on both drinks making me look forward to the rest of the menu.
Kimchi steamed bun
Stockholm 866 (or a Scandinavian Negroni)
I have to admit that service was extremely shaky on the night we visited, although the restaurant manager did a great job of keeping things moving. There were several small errors on the final bill, but I do need to point out that it's early days for Söder + Ko and I'm optimistic that these issues will shake themselves out in time. Therefore, it's not fair to consider this a proper review, but rather an early dispatch.

In short, Söder + Ko is beautiful and delicious food, with a healthy vibe, served in a modern relaxed bar. I can't see how it will be anything other than a high success.

Söder + Ko, 64 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 478 1590
URL: www.soderandko.ie
Twitter: @SoderandKo

Sunday, March 15, 2015

[Review] Tankardstown House and Brabazon Restaurant, Slane, Co Meath

Ever since I first visited Tankardstown House back in 2011, I have been waiting to return. I had fallen in love with the 18th century manor house and the old stables which had been converted into self-catering cottages. On our first visit, we really enjoyed our dinner in Brabazon restaurant, but since then Chef Rob Krawczyk has reputedly turned up the heat in the Brabazon kitchen and I was keen to investigate. 

We arrived on a bright Sunday afternoon and following check-in, we immediately headed to the honour bar to watch the Irish Six Nations match. We weren't alone in this idea as several other couples were also in the bar, pouring their own drinks and cheering on the men in green. Following the match, we walked outside to our stableyard cottage to relax before dinner. The cottages are really finished to the highest standards with lovely sofas and chairs, fitted kitchens with Belfast sinks, a Nespresso machine and the loveliest bedrooms tucked in under the eaves. For a few extra Euro, we could have upgraded to a room in the main house, which I'm sure would have been just beautiful, but I was delighted with our cosy cottage.
Interior of our cottage at Tankardstown 
Kitchen area in our Tankardstown cottage
Having a pre-dinner drink
Drawing room at Tankardstown House
Our stay at Tankardstown was courtesy of a Pigsback.com voucher which included a 5 course dinner at Brabazon. This turned out to be based on the 7 course Tasting Menu from Land & Sea, so we definitely got to experience a wide range of the cooking on offer. We started with an amuse bouche of light-as-air pork crackling, followed by crusty mini-loaves of home-made bread with smoked butter. 
Amuse of crackling at Brabazon
Selection of breads
A starter of scallops, sand, seaweed and gold oxtail vinaigrette was beautiful to behold and exquisite to eat. The scallops were cooked to absolute perfection and were the star of the show, supported by the delicate flavour of the oxtail. Beef tartar was innovatively flavoured with smoky, mineral charcoal and served with pickled shallots, hen's egg and watercress. 
Scallops, sand, seaweed and gold oxtail vinaigrette
Beef tartar with pickled shallots, hens egg, charcoal and watercress
Both our main courses featured pastry in one form or another and both were perfectly suited to a menu that was waving goodbye to the end of winter. A perfectly pink piece of trimmed hay-smoked duck breast came with a Wellington, charred leeks, parsnip and a plentiful drift of artistic snow. My only complaint was that I would have liked the duck fat to have been slightly more rendered.  His pork loin was gently spiced and served with a little pithivier, burnt apple and sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem artichoke) and some fermented cabbage. 
Hay smoked duck breast with Wellington, parsnip, leeks and duck jus
Spiced pork loin, pork pie, burnt apple and sunchoke, fermented cabbage and granola
A chocolate parfait and crispy chocolate lattice was restrained from too much sweetness by the use of 70% chocolate, olive oil and yogurt. If you haven't already tried it, the pairing of dark chocolate, salt and olive oil is one of life's treasures. I really enjoyed the use of textures in this dessert, making it about more than sweetness and taste. A 20 minute wait was required for the creme fraiche soufflé which came served in the now-mandatory tea-cup. It was a perfectly made soufflé, with the typical buttery sugar crust, but the creme fraiche flavour just didn't really come through for me. The preserved blackberry sorbet was the highlight. A little plate of petits fours followed, with my favourite being the toffee in a clever edible cellophane wrapper. 
Parfait and lattice of chocolate, yogurt, honey, olive oil, rose petals and pistachio crumb
Creme fraiche soufflé with preserved blackberry sorbet
Petits Fours
The next morning, we woke up to a light scattering of snow, which made the Tankardstown grounds look even more beautiful. Breakfast is served in Brabazon, but this time it was full of bright daylight, rather than the intimate atmosphere of the previous night. A buffet offering is available, and this is supplemented by a selection of fresh-cooked items. A portion of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was perfect for a Monday morning before we packed up and headed back to Dublin for a late working start. 
Morning sunlight in Brabazon restaurant
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs
Chef Robbie Krawczyk smokes his own meats and makes charcuterie to be served at Tankardstown, (his father is an experienced charcutier making it a family tradition), so I must admit that I was a little disappointed not to get some charcuterie in our meal or at breakfast. It seems a bit of an omission to leave out something that is individual to to Krawczyk and Brabazon. 

Tankardstown House was every bit as charming and gracious as I remember from our first visit. Every aspect of the main house has been beautifully restored and the tempting honour bar ensures that guests feel relaxed and at ease. Robbie Krawczyk's clever and artistic food definitely merits a visit to Tankardstown, and the Brabazon gin bar will ensure that you float to sleep in your comfortable bed. 

Absolutely recommended for a gourmet break and relaxation.

Tankardstown House, Slane, Co Meath
Tel: +353 (0)41 982 4621
URL: www.tankardstown.ie
Twitter: @Tankardstown

Thursday, March 12, 2015

[Listing] West Waterford Festival of Food 2015

The West Waterford Festival of Food returns for the 8th successive year between Thursday, April 9th and Sunday, April 12th. The coastal town of Dungarvan will play host to some of Ireland's best chefs, producers, stall-holders and all-round lovers of fine food. 

The theme of this year's festival is Generations in Irish Food, which will shine a spotlight on some of our home-grown heroes and the generations of Irish families who continue to produce, cook, sell and run some of Ireland's greatest and best-loved restaurants and food businesses. 

One of the festival's key events, Celebrating Generations of West Waterford Food Stories, will take place in Dromana House, which incidently this year celebrates 800 years of ownership by the same family. Local chef Eunice Power will create a tribute to local West Waterford food families, such as the McGraths, Flahavans and Barrons, by showcasing not just their continuing history and narrative, but also their delicious ingredients.

Other highlights will include The Emerging Generation, a series of demonstrations from up and coming members of established food families, where the next generation will cook with the the older generation lending a helping hand. The series will features Jack and Tim McCarthy, the award-winning Kanturk butchers, Richard and Duncan Blair (and their mother) of Georgina Campbell's Pub of the Year 2014 Blair's Inn, and finally charcuterie master Frank Krawczyk with his talented chef son Rob Krawczyk, who will demo together for the first time under the title of Charcuterie from Father to Son.

The Tannery will continue as a festival cornerstone by hosting Generations of Food Producers tasting menus on Friday and Saturday, which will be based on the family producers participating in the festival. On Saturday, the Tannery will host brunch featuring Flahavan's, a family enterprise since 1785 from nearby Kilmacthomas, while on Sunday, they will host a duck feast lunch, in association with Silverhill.

Cois Cé, or Seafood Saturday, will offer fun activities by the water, sensational seafood and inspiring demos. The Farmers' Market will set up in the main square on Sunday with over 100 stalls scheduled to take part. The Busanna Bia will return, with three different routes available this year, giving festival goers the opportunity to visit as many producers as possible on each route. Tickets will be on sale for the The West Waterford Festival of Food Restaurant Trails and booking in advance is definitely recommended.

As if all those activities weren't enough, there is also a special schedule of events for the little cooks, featuring Cócaireacht le Chéile, pizza workshops, Mucking Around with Kitchen Sink Science and baking classes.

Check out the website - West Waterford Festival of Food - for more information, or keep an eye on the @WdFoodFestival Twitter account for the latest news.