Saturday, February 28, 2015

[Review] Fallon & Byrne at the People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

We had driven to Dun Laoghaire with the intention of a having a nice brisk walk along the seafront and taking a goo at the controversial new library. After walking all around the new venue, I quite disliked the cold, bleak exterior of the library, but really liked the wide open inside space, with lots of room for daytime readers. I'd love to see this new resource becoming a big part of the Dun Laoghaire community.

As well as building a new library, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is also currently engaged in restoring the famous People's Park to its original historic layout. The classically beautiful Victorian Tea Rooms pavilion has been refurbished and now hosts Fallon & Byrne's second restaurant (the first being their multi-storied home on Exchequer Street). In order to prepare for its new role, the pavilion has been extended with a lightweight glass structure to allow natural light to flood in, while the beautiful original features are retained. In addition to the restaurant, there's also a cafe/takeaway section stocked with sandwiches and salads where customers can quickly grab and go.
Interior at Fallon & Byrne at the People's Park
Following our walk, we managed to arrive at the Tea Rooms just in time to order from the lunch menu. A large salad of seared tuna salad with asian vegetables, sesame and soy dressing came stacked high on the plate with two decent-sized tuna steaks. A roasted skate wing offered up plenty of meat, along with tasty capers and braised leeks. I love skate wing, especially when served like this with lots of lemony, sharp butter and vinegary capers. 
Skate wing with braised leeks
Seared tuna salad with asian vegetables
Overall, Fallon & Byrne have done a good job here (as you would expect). They will cater to many different groups with this location; the morning coffee crowd, the ladies who lunch, followed by evening diners. When finer weather rolls around, it will be possible to sit on the terrace, or grab something from the deli to eat in the park itself. 

Personally, I know I'll be back on a sunnier day to sit out and watch the sunlight twinkle on the sea.

Fallon & Byrne, The People's Park, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Tel + 353 (0)1 230 3300
URL: www.fallonandbyrne.com
Twitter: @FallonandByrne

Monday, February 23, 2015

[Travel] Another weekend in Amsterdam

We recently returned to the Netherlands, and more specifically to Amsterdam, for a little weekend away. Even though it's been 4 years since I left Amsterdam, I immediately feel at home and comfortable whenever I return. In a city where bicycles outnumber residents, it's so tempting to fall into the Amsterdam cliches of the Red Light district, canals, coffee shops and bicycles. However, if you dig a little deeper and head away from the tourist spots, Amsterdam is a stylish city with many hidden gems.

Following out check in at the hotel, we set off down Overtoom in the bright winter sunshine. We had a specific target in mind, namely the delicious burgers at the fun and lively Cafe Parck. I had first discovered Cafe Parck when living in Amsterdam, and I had fallen heard for their tasty burgers (plus the fact that they have a cat living in the bar). We both ordered the Fabulous Twinburgers, with a portion of parmesan fries and samurai sauce to share. Each portion consisted of two perfectly cooked (medium rare) juicy burgers, complete with all trimmings. The burgers were every bit as good as I remembered, getting our Amsterdam visit off to a flying start.
Twin burgers at Cafe Parck 
Menu at Cafe Parck
Leaving Cafe Parck, we hopped onto the tram and headed north to Central Station. From there, it was a 5 minute walk in the very very cold air to one of Amsterdam's finest cocktail bars. Hiding in Plain Sight sits quietly on the corner of two streets in a residential area and serves drinks across two small floors. Given the small size of the bar, reservations are always a good idea here. The prices aren't cheap, but the exquisitely turned out staff produce some damn fine drinks.  Here, we sampled a selection of seasonal drinks, including cocktails based on sugarsnap peas and christmas cake-infused brandy. All excellent. 
Citron Brûlée at Hiding in Plain Sight
South Snap at Hiding in Plain Sight
The next day, we checked out the newly opened Nacional for a light lunch. The vibe at Nacional is French brasserie, with high ceilings, exposed brickwork and white linen. It feels immediately classic and is a very welcome addition to the touristy venues scattered around Leidseplein. An open tartine sandwich plus a plate of melted brie with roasted red onion set us up nicely for an afternoon of strolling. 
The interior at Nacional
Brie with roasted red onion at Nacional
On Saturday night, we caught yet another tram, this time heading west to the renovated de Hallen. Dinner was reserved at Meat West, a new restaurant firmly targeted at meat lovers. Box iron frames help section the restaurant which sits in a old tram repair shed. Prices aren't cheap here, and service was somewhat slow, but the quality of the steak and the whole roast spring chicken were excellent.

After our dinner, we left Meat West with the intention of having a look around the rest of the de Hallen complex. We wandered through the crowds in the Foodhallen, marveling at the variety of food stalls. In fact, we liked the Foodhallen so much that we returned the very next day for lunch. Read more about our visit here
The interior of Meat West, in de Hallen
Smoked beef ribeye with parmesan cracker
Marinated salmon
Dry-aged ribeye
Grilled whole spring chicken with lemon
On this trip to Amsterdam, we mixed it up with some favourites (Cafe Parck and Hiding in Plain Sight), while adding in some new finds (Meat West and Nacional). The wonderful Foodhallen will be a regular fixture on future visits to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is indeed a city that's worth investigating.

Cafe Parck, Overtoom 428, Amsterdam 1054 JV
Tel: +31 (0)20 412 5335
URL: www.cafeparck.nl
Twitter: @CafeParck

Hiding in Plain Sight, Rapenburg 18, Amsterdam 1011 TX
Tel: +31 (0)6 25 29 36 20
URL: www.hpsamsterdam.com
Twitter: @HPSAmsterdam

Nacional, Kleine Gartmanplantsoen 11A, Amsterdam 1017RP
Tel: +31 (0)20 205 0908
URL: nacional.nl

Meat West, Bellamyplein 51, Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0)20 2181 776
URL: meatwest.nl

Monday, February 16, 2015

[Travel] Foodhallen Amsterdam

You have to give it to the Dutch. In their typically classy and refined manner, a former Amsterdam repair shed for electric trams has been converted into a beautiful event and food space. Large airy halls play home to cultural spaces, a movie theatre and many other attractions. It also is home to Amsterdam's very own indoor food market, the Foodhallen. It's only been open since October 2014 but it's already proving very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Interior of De Hallen
The Foodhallen is a large space with restaurant booths lining the walls with a couple of central bars and loads of communal seating. We passed through on a Saturday night after dinner at the nearby Meat West restaurant (also located in De Hallen) and we returned Sunday for an early lunch. On both occasions, the Foodhallen was full of families, couples and diners.
Food stalls at the Foodhallen
Gin & Tonic bar at the Foodhallen
As we wandered around the stalls, we found it increasingly hard to make up our minds. The incredible cheese sandwiches at Caulils Kaas made us both pause. They were stacked up high, packed full of grated cheese, waiting for the heat of the grill to create some melted magic. The end result was one of the best cheese toasties I've even eaten, complete with buttery grilled outside and wonderful oozing cheese inside. Trust me readers when I say that this sandwich is worth a trip to Amsterdam alone.
Cheese sandwiches piled high at Caulils Kaas
The perfect grilled cheese sandwich from Caulils Kaas
The Rough Kitchen is a concept stall from Jord Althuizen (specialist in pig roasting) and Mark Polman (cookbook author) and it focuses on all things piggy. Several trays of pork pieces sitting under hot lights lured me in and I ordered a pork tasting platter with two hot meats (pork belly and pulled pork) with a selection of three cold meats (terrine, rillette and spek). Utterly delicious and some of the best pork products I've ever enjoyed.
Pork platter from the Rough Kitchen
The Rough Kitchen
Being the gluttons that we are, we couldn't resist staying for some more tasty dishes. I chose a posh dog from Bulls & Dogs, featuring a pork dog with truffle and hazelnut, while Himself chose fresh spring rice paper rolls from Viêt View.  Again, both delicious and great examples of quick food, done well.

The Foodhallen reminds me so much of other food halls around Europe, particularly the new Mercado da Ribeiro in Lisbon. Street food, small stalls and tapas are a great way of eating, particularly as a couple, with family or with friends. In short, it's a great way of eating with anyone. So if you're in Amsterdam, avoid the usual tourist trap restaurants and take a slight detour to the Foodhallen.
The Posh Dog from Bulls & Dogs
Salamis at Bulls & Dogs
Viêt View
Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls at Viêt View
Foodhallen Amsterdam, Bellamyplein 51, Amsterdam

Monday, February 2, 2015

[Review] Wild Goose Grill, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

I'm so over Sunday brunch right now. Eggs benedict, French toast and granola can all jog on. Whereas brunch was originally all about breaking the breakfast/lunch barriers, I now find it to be borderline tedious. Sometimes it feels that all brunch menus are alike and the enforcement of brunch-only policies on Saturdays and Sundays in some restaurants has further disenchanted me. So I've largely hung up my free-wheeling brunching ways and instead I have moved on to the more sedate pleasures of Sunday Lunch. 

Now I do want to be clear about one thing. When I say Sunday Lunch, I do not mean carvery or bar lunch. That's a whole other minefield that I'll reserve for another day. I'm talking about good restaurants and their talented chefs who turn their attentions to more traditional fare on Sundays. Recently, I reviewed Marcel's in Ballsbridge who do a very civilised lunch indeed, and I recently followed this up with lunch at The Wild Goose Grill in Ranelagh, located over the well known McSorley's pub. 

The Wild Goose Grill is perennially popular, but there's little about it said on the internet. Rather usually for a goose (usually to be found honking in a field or honking while flying overhead), it maintains a low profile, which is impressive in the busy surroundings of Ranelagh. The dining room is classically styled with linen, crystal and silver settings. We started with a crispy confit of duck with ubiquitous puy lentils and red wine jus for Himself, and a lighter pickled pear, goats cheese, candied walnut and pomegranate salad for me. Puy lentils have failed to convince me of their worth on many occasions but I liked them here, while the simple salad was nicely done. 
Duck confit with puy lentils and red wine jus
Pickled pear and goats cheese salad
When a restaurant called The Wild Goose Grill serves goose, it's impossible to resist ordering. The duo of goose featured rich breast meat and a little roll of dark meat, served with bright carrot puree and Goose potatoes. Rich, satisfying and perfect for a cold winter day. My wild mushroom risotto was creamily mushroomy, replete with a cornucopia of mushroom varieties. And in a move unknown to many restaurants, the portion wasn't too big either. 
Duo of goose
Wild mushroom risotto
Sunday lunch at The Wild Goose Grill costs €19.95/€24.95 for 2 or 3 courses and is served the entire day from 1pm to 8pm. That should suit even the latest of late risers. The wine list makes for good reading with a good selection of wines by the glass. In a clever move towards the end of last year, they teamed up with downstairs McSorley's to offer a daily three course lunch for €10. That's great value and hopefully it will return. 

So remind me again, why I would choose Eggs Benedict for the umpteenth time when Dublin has a fine range of restaurants serving up belly-busting, top notch Sunday Lunch?

The Wild Goose Grill, 1 Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 491 2377
URL: www.thewildgoosegrill.ie
Twitter: @wildgoosegrill

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[Review] Ox, Oxford Street, Belfast

A gentle aroma of buttery frying hung in the air as I walked into OX. Or at least, I think it was buttery and pan-related. Irrespective of the source of the aroma, it was the perfect welcoming touch at this very hot and very popular restaurant in Belfast. The bleak exterior gives nothing away, but inside the ceiling high windows flood the room with light, caressing the golden wooden furniture and the surprisingly warm blue woodwork. With an open kitchen set at the rear of the room and soft overhead lights, it's unique and comfortable all at once. 

The tributes have been rolling in lately for Belfast, and in particular OX, the poster child restaurant for all that is good in the culinary world of Northern Ireland. Head chef Stephen Toman (formerly of James Street South) and Breton Alain Kerloc'h bring their combined experience to bear in this space on the banks of the River Lagan.
The warm yet crisp interior at Ox
I'm visiting on a Saturday lunchtime and the a la carte menu is very tempting, especially as main course dishes are priced at just £10. But the chance to explore the world of OX through their winter tasting menu, with five courses for £45 (or £70 with wine pairing) triumphs. 

What follows is a wonderful collection of dishes, all exemplifying the best attributes of this season of cold air, bare trees and hibernation. A single perfect scallop is accompanied by surprisingly mild liquid parsley, air-dried ham and a ribbon of beautiful beetroot. A plate of Finnebrogue venison carpaccio, topped with perfectly matched mushrooms and fermented kohlrabi is clean on the palate, yet rich with the earthy denseness of mushroom. The accompanying medium bodied Villa Wolf Pinot Noir is simply stunning.
Scallop, parsley, crapaudine beetroot and chanterelle
Abondance 2013, Domaine la Bastide 13% Languedoc
Finnebrogue venison, black garlic and fermented kohlrabi
Pinot Noir 2012, Villa Wolf 12.5% Pfalz
Wild halibut is paired with romanesco and soft curry, sharped with the herbal notes of bergamot. A piece of Chateaubriand is some of the best cooked meat I've ever enjoyed. While I am intrigued by the little crosnes, I find myself intensely disliking the bitter chicory leaf that is draped across the plate. I am offered a choice of red or white to accompany my beef and I choose the Pouilly Fuissé, which stands up well to the meaty flavours.
Wild halibut, curry, romanesco and bergamot
Condrieu 2011, Domaine Perret 13% Rhône
Chateaubriand, shallot, crosnes and chicory
Pouilly-Fuissé 2011, Manciat-Poncet 13.5% Burgundy
The rich burnt sugar of treacle apple and a delicious ice-cream flavoured with local fig leaf bely the apparent simplicity of my final course. It's a final hurrah as autumn departs, leaving ripe apples in storage for the winter months. Special mention goes to the accompanying dessert wine, a stellar Petit Manseng with enough syrup and sweetness to tackle the rich apples.
Apple, treacle and Ballywalter fig leaf
Pacherenc du Vic Bilh 2012, Les larms celestes, Chateau Boucassé 13%
Selection of macarons
On the riverbank, the Beacon of Hope sculpture (or Nuala with the Hula in local terms) has her back to me as I leave OX,  very well fed, and even better libated. Wine pairings are a great way of exploring a restaurant's wine list, but they can leave you full and foggy-headed. What I especially liked at OX what how my own unique preferences were listened to and incorporated into my tasting. 

The atmosphere at OX is decidedly unpretentious - some dishes arrive by waiting staff, while others are delivered by kitchen staff. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is warm and pleasant, happy to engage in conversation or explain something from the menu. As I leave, Alain presents me with a printed menu on simple brown card, listing the dishes and wine pairings that I had just enjoyed. A perfect gesture to encapsulate what OX does.

OX, 1 Oxford Street, Belfast BT1 3LA
Tel: +44 (0)28 9031 4121
URL: oxbelfast.com
Twitter: @oxbelfast

Monday, January 26, 2015

[Event] TradFest Taste Trail, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

This year, as part of the internationally renowned TradFest, why not savour some world class cuisine as well as world class music with the TradFest Taste Trail. This gastronomic event will wind its way through Temple Bar, stopping at 10 food outlets offering a wide range of cuisine delights. 

Temple Bar offers all categories of food and hospitality from fast food to award-winning restaurants, gastropubs, bakeries, breweries and an outdoor food market. The area has an incredible diversity of cuisines ranging from Kathmandu to Ireland, from Indonesia to Italy. There are chefs who grow their own vegetables, publicans who make their own beer, coffee shops who bake their own cakes, Irish chefs who cook Asian food and Asian chefs who cook Irish food. 

The TradFest Taste Trail will take place on Saturday, January 31st and Sunday, February 1st, between 12pm - 5pm. Ticket books can be purchased from the Festival Box Office or participating restaurants for €22. Each book contains 10 tickets, with a face value of €2. These can then be exchanged for dishes at the restaurants. 

The inaugural Temple Bar Coddle Cook Off will also take place during the TradFest, with Temple Bar restaurants offering up their own unique take on the classic Dublin dish. The Cook Off will take place on Curved Street from 3pm - 5pm, with entries from Chameleon, The Boxty House, Elephant & Castle, Monty's of Kathmandu, La Caverna, The Larder, Oliver St John Gogarty's and The Morgan. Celebrity judges Rick O'Shea (2FM), Leslie Williams (The Examiner) and Gillian Nelis (The Sunday Business Post) will choose the winning dish and proceeds will be donated to Epilepsy Ireland.

For more information, visit www.templebartrad.com, or whet your appetite with the following dieshes from the participating restaurants.

1. Chameleon Restaurant
Indonesian pork belly in a steamed bun with Korean kimchi and caramel €4

2. Elephant & Castle
Basket of spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dressing and celery €4
Roasted red pepper hummus with pitta soldiers €2
Chocolate & pistachio ganache tart with whipped cream €4

3. F.X. Buckley 
2 oz sirloin steak with Bearnaise sauce €4

4. Gallagher's Boxty House
Boxty fries - thin strips of boxy pancakes, deep-fried and seasoned with Dilisk seaweed brittle €2
Boxty bread - toasted boxty loaf topped with St. Tolas goats cheese and Haven turf smoked salmon €2
Boxty dumplings - boxty dumplings cooks with wild Irish mushrooms in a Cashel Blue cheese sauce €2
Boxty pancake - slices of boxty pancake with corned beef and pickled cabbage €2
Boxty ice cream  - caramelized boxty loaf ice cream in a miniature cone €2

5. La Caverna Restaurant and Wine Bar
Minestrone soup - fresh traditional Italian vegetable soup €2
Italian risotto - chicken, mushroom, mixed papers and asparagus €2
Sweet Italian panna cotta - with fruit sauce €2

6. Monty's of Kathmandu
Tare ko Sabji - mild deep-fried mixed vegetables with chutney €2
Chicken mono with chutney - traditional Nepalese dumplings with chutney €4
Mango lassi - traditional Nepali yoghurt smoothie €2

7. The Morgan
Mini crispy pulled pork wraps served with chive yogurt, rocket and pickled carrots linguine €4
Mini Dublin Bay fish cakes with ceviche and mango dressing €4
(Add a glass of Irish pale ale to either dish for €6)

8. The Oliver St John Gogarty
3 Carlingford oysters served with Guinness brown bread €4
Bowl of fresh mussels, shallots, herbs, white wine and cream €4
Continental and Irish cheeseboard with fresh fruit and biscuits €4
Rustic apple tart served with Irish whiskey custard €4

9. The Port House Pintxo
Paella de Pollo Chorizo - traditional Spanish rice dish with chicken and chorizo €4
Churros con chocolate - Spanish doughnuts, coated in cinnamon sugar, served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce €2

10. The Shack Restaurant
Beef Ireland - stew of tender beef, cooked with bell peppers, onion, red wine and grain mustard, served with Irish potato cake €4
Apple crumble - homemade crumble served with custard and fresh cream €2

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

[Review] Marcel's, St Mary's Road, Dublin 4

Life has returned to normal in our house, probably like many houses throughout the country. All the sweets, chocolates and treats have been long since polished off and healthy (or at least healthier) eating is the order of the day. But even so, it's nice to eat out for Sunday lunch, especially with the promise of a brisk walk in the fresh air afterwards. 

Marcel's is located just off Upper Baggot Street, across from the Dylan Hotel. The bright orange awning gives a hint at the interior colour scheme which is dominated by bright bold orange leather chairs, neatly trimmed with dark piping. Carefully mismatched vintage nightshades, fresh starched linen, wooden floors and a backlit display of wine bottles all add up to create a sensation of modern chic. It's a room that is immediately comfortable and welcoming.

The food at Marcel's is French-inspired (as hinted at by the name), with Italian influences nibbling at the edges. The regularly changing menu is very appealing with plenty of choice on offer. We've visited twice in recent weeks for Sunday lunch and didn't find much repetition on the menu. Thin slices of house cured salmon were dotted with dollops of fresh and tangy lemon caper dressing and sour cream. His foie gras parfait was simply sublime with a perfectly translucent pink piece of poached rhubarb with sultanas and hazelnuts. 
House cured gravlax
Foie gras parfait with poached rhubarb
Salmon was beautifull pan fried with perfect flesh and a crispy, salted skin for crunchiness. Lemon and dill gnocchi was flavoursome, but came in the form of a little cake rather than the more accustomed fluffy pillows. Risotto was richly flavoured with thyme and surrounded by a ring of frothy Muscat pumpkin purée. An unusual, but pleasant dimension was added by the addition of a scoop of cool smoked marscapone. 
Pan seared salmon with lemon and dill gnocchi
Pumpkin and broad bean risotto
There's some confident, creative and bold cooking going on in the kitchen at Marcel's, providing a perfect match to the vibrant dining room. I found the dishes to be elegant, assured and yet still possess a certain je ne said quoi. The wine list at Marcel's doesn't disappoint either and our two chosen glasses of Southern Lights Marlboro Sauvigonon Blanc (€8) and Paddy Borthwick's Riesling (€9.50) were well received. 

Sunday lunch at Marcel's costs €20/€25 for 2/3 courses between 12pm-3pm, including a Sunday Roast option, and is stellar value for a venue of this quality. The good value extends to the Early Bird which runs between 5pm - 7pm Monday to Saturday. 

And the final reason that I feel confident in recommending Marcel's? It effortlessly earned the Mrs H seal of approval. And that my friends, doesn't come easily. 

Marcel's, 1 Saint Mary's Road, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 660 2367
Twitter: @MarcelsDublin