Monday, November 17, 2014

[Review] Pomona Pop Up Restaurant

This week's post isn't really a review but a brief run down of my recent dinner at Pomona Pop Up restaurant which took place over the October Bank Holiday weekend. Chefs Jason Walsh (L'Ecrivain) and Lumir Tousek (former head chef at L'Ecrivain) served up an impressive ten courses at their two day event on Thomas Street. At €80 per head, it wasn't exactly cheap, but the professionalism of the staff, lovely venue and generous meal did much to make it feel like good value. 

Thomas Street cafe, The Food Gallery, with its lovely high ceilings and classic parquet floor was converted into a white linen fine dining establishment. I received a warm welcome and exchanged my bottle of Pouilly Fumé for a glass of prosecco. Wine was BYOB with no corkage, which meant that there was a wild and wonderful selection of alcohol throughout the room. 

Pictures of the courses follow below. Beautiful modern presentation, featuring colour and texture, combined with clever use of seasonal, local ingredients and quirky touches was the order of the night. I loved additions such as fermented oats, roasted egg white and malt. Stand out items for me were the foie gras macaron, the hen's egg dish, the crispy skinned sea bass and the rich gnocchi. As I was sitting at a table for one, I received a whole bottle of the lovely Highbank Proper Dry Cider as a precursor to the dessert courses. Such generosity was hardly required after most of a bottle of wine, but it was definitely liked.

Right now, I don't think there are any future plans to repeat Pomona Pop-Up but follow them on Twitter (@PomonaPopup) or on Facebook for updates. 
Pig's head sandwich and foie gras macaron
Cream cheese with Goatsbridge caviar
Organic hen's egg yolk, roasted egg white and crispy shallots 
Scallop with fermented oats and squash
Seabass with romanesco sauce and Ballyhoura mushrooms
Linden cordial with apple cider sorbet 
Venison with beetroot, seasonal leaves and malt
Pork belly with carrot, gnocchi and dandelions 
Highbank proper cider
Plum pudding
Lemon polenta cake
Petits fours at Pomona 

Monday, November 10, 2014

[Travel] Food in New York, October 2014

What does a bon vivant do when she ends up in New York on her own? Well, if she's like me, she plans her eating and drinking and is 100% willing to put in the effort to make sure she gets the job done. Dublin has absorbed so many influences from cities like New York and London recently that you're left wondering what's still left or undiscovered. While New York has a scale and energy that's all its own, by the time I left I was happily convinced that Dublin is currently up there with the best that NY could do. 

I had a short list of things I absolutely had to accomplish on this trip, which included shopping in Century 21, cocktails at the Dead Rabbit and a trip to one of David Chang's Momofuku venues. I got myself down to Century 21 shortly after it opened at 8am and I spent the next few hours happily browsing rails and digging through shoes. But eventually, my stomach started calling so I hailed a cab to head uptown to Momofuku Ssäm Bar 

Momofuku Ssäm Bar, 207 2nd Avenue, New York 10003

Momofuku Ssäm Bar is reservationless, except for certain dishes, and I wanted to get there early to be sure of a seat. In the end, the restaurant turned out to be mainly empty and I parked myself at a counter seat. I ordered the famous spicy pork sausage and rice cakes dish ($19), with a plate of fried duck dumplings to start ($12). The dumplings were indeed crispy, but lacked any significant flavour, despite a little broth with pickled cauliflower and some sriracha mayo. 

The signature spicy pork sausage and rice cake looked like a bowl of heavenly spiciness when it was delivered to my counter space. Don't be fooled by the words "rice cakes" as what you get here are dense, gnocchi-like pillows of rice that have soaked up the oily juices. Once I got to eating, I could pick up some Sichuan pepper flavours, but they were low key and ultimately not spicy. At this stage, I was questioning my palette, wondering if I had picked up a cold or flu that was numbing my taste buds. After all, this dish was oily and red with bean paste, all things that usually bode well. A quick sip of my wine reassured me that I was tasting just fine. Since eating there, I've found numerous versions of this recipe on the internet, and it really does sound better than the version I tasted. I think I'll be trying it out at home to see if it redeems itself.

Momofuku is famous for their addictive Milkbar desserts, so I rolled the dice one last time with the Thai tea pie served with saliva-inducing tamarind. I simply loved this strangely sweet and tangy dessert with its delicious crumb and vibrant parfait-like layers.
Fried duck dumplings at Momofuku Ssäm
Spicy pork sausage and rice cakes at Momofuku Ssaäm
Thai tea pie with tamarind and almond at Momofuku Ssäm

Empellón Taqueria, 230 W 4th Street, New York 10014
Empellón Al Pastor, 132 St Mark's Place, New York NY 10009

Empellón was another to do item on my checklist. I've been following this creative Mexican group of venues from ex-pastry chef Alex Stupak ever since I came across their blog posts. I had made a reservation for one (not lonesome at all, let me reassure you) and was supping an excellent margarita when I was personally welcomed by both the hostess and manager. Turns out they had seen my tweets and wanted to make sure that I enjoyed myself. I was genuinely gobsmacked by their warm welcome and the fact that they cared about a single, overseas visitor.

Empellón Taqueria is a sit-down restaurant in the West Village and was nicely buzzing on my visit. Guacamole and chips came with two punchy salsas, one a nutty, fiery arbol and the other a smooth smoked cashew ($12). Let's just say that a mental note has been made to replicate these at home. A dish of octopus, parsnip and pumpkin seeds coated in a smoky, sweet and spicysalsa papanteca ($16, complimentary from the house) was utterly moreish and was followed by two tacos of succulent pork shoulder and roast, caramelised pineapple ($12). 

In contrast to the Taqueria, Empellón Al Pastor is a less-formal bar-restaurant on the East Village. You order from a short taco menu at either the bar or taco counter, grab a number and wait for delivery at your table. All tacos are just $4 and once again I had the delicious pork shoulder and pineapple taco, along with a beef and caramelised onion taco. Add in another great margarita with smoked salt ($12) and I was completely rocking a party of one. 
Beef taco at Empellon Al Pastor
Pork shoulder with pineapple at Empellon Al Pastor
Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, New York 10010
Bouchon Bakery, 1 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 10016

The next day, I found myself wandering around 5th Avenue and at the recommendation of several Twitter friends, I called into Eataly. I had heard so much about this Italian food emporium and was curious to see for myself. Intially, I wondered what all the fuss was about, but as I wandered deeper and deeper into the halls, it opened up like an Aladdin's cave of treasures. When I found myself in deep contemplation of a jar of pistachio spread, I knew it was time to stop.

Well, as you can predict, it was time for another pitstop, and I pulled up a seat at the marble counter of La Piazza.  Fresh bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls) topped with sautéed spinach and chiles ($14) was followed by nutty, deeply intense arancini flavoured with wood mushroom and Fontina fondue ($9).  My only regret is not getting the lift to the top floor roof bar. 

By accident, I came across an outlet of the famous Bouchon Bakery (from chef Thomas Keller) at Rockefeller Plaza. As I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, in I went for one of their oversized macaron. I ate the delicious creation outside in the fresh cold air, watched closely by many of the little birds that take advantage of the crumbs.
Bocconcini with spinach at Eataly
Arancini at Eatalyv
Macaron at Bouchon
A little table guest at Bouchon
fsOriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth Street, New York, 10013

My hotel for this trip was located in Chinatown, and I had repeatedly promised myself a Chinatown dinner. However, instead of dinner, we ended up having dim sum for breakfast at the Oriental Garden, just off Canal Street. Inside, groups of Chinese women were laughing through breakfast, and we started with a selection of ready-prepared dim sum from bamboo steamers on a table side trolley. Shark fin dumplings and classic pork & shrimp dumplings were light, incredibly fresh and gently aromatic. These were followed by a selection of fried plates, cooked to order from the kitchen. All dim sum range between $3 and $5, meaning that our breakfast just creeped over the $20 mark.
Shark fin dumplings at Oriental Garden 
Pork and seafood pancakes at Oriental Garden
I hope my little eating adventure around New York will give you ideas for your next trip. And in case you're wondering what did I drink while in the Big Apple, my next post will cover my cocktail tour!

Friday, October 31, 2014

[Review] Sister Sadie, Harrington Street, Dublin 8

It's always exciting when a new lunch spot opens near the office. But, the initial novelty of something different lasts only so long, and then it's back to the humdrum. However, with the opening of Sister Sadie on Harrington Street (in the site of the former Tiesan cafe), I don't think there's going to be any ennui anytime soon.. 

Sister Sadie comes from the people behind the acclaimed Brother Hubbard (Capel Street), who currently hold the title of Best Sandwich in Dublin, awarded by McKennas' Guides for their pulled pork creation. The cafe is set back a little from the street, with room for outdoor seating in finer weather. On the day of my visit, autumn was definitely in the air, with golden leaves swirling on the ground. Inside, the style is clean and bright with simple square wooden tables and bench tables along the window. 

Sister Sadie serves breakfast until 11.30ish (taken from their menu), after which it switches to lunch service. The team have continued to work with their established Brother Hubbard suppliers for their new menu. Soups, salads, flatbreads and of course sandwiches all feature with a definite Middle Eastern flavour going on. Most dishes come with a side portion of one of their homemade salads, making each plate a substantial affair.

Cannellini beans in a thick, lightly spiced tomato sauce came with pulled pork and a soft fried egg (€9.95). A gentle citrus note added some zing to the sauce, partnered by a little scattering of sumac across the top. The pulled pork was top notch, not too soft or wet and based on this, it's easy to see why the Brother Hubbard sandwich has won the accolades. 
Beans with puled pork and egg
The Brother Hubbard Turkish Eggs Menemen is another favourite transported from Capel Street. Slices of toast were piled high with eggs scrambled with tomato and red peppers, dressed with black olive and feta yogurt (€9.95). A generous garnish of fresh chopped herbs added many different flavours, although I personally could do with the parsley. However, given the prominence of parsley in Middle Eastern cooking, I suspect my hate/hate relationship with this obnoxious green herb will continue. Chunks of pan-fried chorizo (€2.95 extra) added meaty, spiciness richness.
Turkish eggs menemen with chorizo
A wheat-free coconut and lime bun was dense but really moist, and topped with the most delicious, creamy, smooth icing that I can recall. A perfect tea-time treat.
Wheat-free coconut cake
Sister Sadie is open from 7.45am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and there are plans for weekend brunch soon. The new location is sure to be a winner with potential to catch both the office crowd and the local residents. This winning mix of healthy, tasty food, coffee and sweet treats is bound to be as popular on the southside as it has been on the northside. 

Sister Sadie, 46 Harrington Street, Dublin 8
Twitter: @sistersadiecafe

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[Review] Ashtons, Clonskeagh Rd, Dublin 14

When it comes to eating out, I have a mistrust of certain phrases. Words like "artisan" and "homemade" have long since lost any connotations of honesty or rusticity, while "slathered" brings to mind images of medicinal ointment covering an infected wound. Also, you really don't want to get me started on the not-so-cute words that we have adopted from not-very-literate children ("yummy', "noms" and so on). 

The moniker "gastropub" is one I tend to view with skepticism. Some Irish venues have been quick to adopt the label, but not so fast to up their menu to match. Indeed, the smell of carvery lunch still lingers lovingly in the corners and crannies of some venues. But there are some shining stars in the Irish gastropub category, including Ashton's of Clonskeagh, snugly located on the banks of the River Dodder. During the summer, it's worth sitting outside with a cold drink and enjoy this little enclave on the outskirts of busy Ranelagh.

Inside, the interior is clean and friendly with a mix of traditional bar seating and restaurant tables. The menu at Ashton's is warm and welcoming. In fact, with braised this and slow-cooked that, it's definitely food for cold winter days and trips to the Aviva. Unusually we both ordered the same starter, a delicious Goatsbridge smoked trout and super fresh, sweet crabmeat pot, served with sourdough toast (€8). It was a very generous portion, possibly a light lunch in its own right.
Goatsbridge smoked trout and crab pot
My main of confit pork belly and braised neck, courtesy of Tullamore-based Pigs on the Green, was richly flavoursome, but in the end I had to admit defeat and pass the plate to Himself's brother. The Brother liked it immensely, declaring it to be the best he'd eaten. Across the table, pan-fried Clare Island salmon was perched atop a wonderfully cheesy risotto (made with the legendary Irish Gubbeen cheese). A little handful of toasted hazelnuts finished off this quirky but excellent dish (€18).
Confit pork belly and braised pork neck
Clare Island salmon with Gubbeen cheese and chorizo risotto
We were served dinner at low tables, comfortably seated on deep black leather sofas. After finishing our mains, we inexplicably found it quite hard to get up. Faced with such effort, we took refuge in the dessert menu. A lightly flavoured lime and raspberry pannacotta was decorated with perfect pieces of honeycomb and meringue (€6), while a rich 70% chocolate tart with raspberries suited Mrs. H down to a tee (€7).
Lime and raspberry pannacotta with meringue and honeycomb
Dark chocolate tart with raspberries, espresso and white chocolate cream
Ashton's is a real deal gastropub, with sister locations in Kill (The Dew Drop Inn) and Kildare (Harte's of Kildare). They've fully embraced the craft beer movement with a decent selection on tap and in bottle. plus there's also a gin tasting menu for those who like something stronger.  I might have joked earlier about carveries, but the lunchtime carvery at Ashton's is one of the best I've seen with a tempting selection of roasts, pies and other dishes. It really does set a standard. 

Sometimes I mention Ashton's as a dining option to friends, and I'm truly surprised by the number that haven't been there. It's been a Dublin landmark for quite a while, and when things are around for a long time, they tend to be overlooked. But the large crowd of Ashton regulars testify to the fine food and drink to be found here (plus there are plenty of TVs for sports). It doesn't really matter if you're a craft beer fan or a die-hard carvery diner. Ashton's does it all superbly. 

Ashtons, 11 Vergemount, Clonskeagh Road, Dublin 14
Tel: +353 (0)1 283 0045
Twitter: @BarAshtons

Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Review] Jojos, Parnell Street, Dublin 1

According to the oracle that is Google, the restaurant at the centre of this week's review doesn't exist. Or at least, I can only find one other blog post which references it. No Facebook page or any anything else. The odds of a location not being found on Google is highly unlikely, so I can only assume that the error lies with me and I am somehow remembering Jojo's incorrectly.

I do know however, that I have eaten twice recently in Jojos, so unless I am transitioning to some parallel dimension when I walk down Parnell Street, it most definitely does exist, and it is most definitely very good. There's clearly been some investment in the interior with black marble topped tables and movable extraction flues to position over the traditional BBQs and hotspots. It's a far call from the first Chinese restaurants which opened on Parnell Street.

Over the course of our two visits, we got to try a good selection of dishes. We haven't yet tried the hotpot or BBQ options, which are very popular with the large groups of Asians I've seen in the restaurant. Leaf buns, filled with fresh shredded green vegetables were steamed and then pan-fried, but could have benefited from a side portion of dipping sauce. There's a wide range of spicy BBQ skewers available including chicken gizzards and hearts, but we stuck with the more familiar options of chicken and lamb, flavoured with chili and cumin seeds.
Leaf buns
Chicken and lamb BBQ skewers
I did ask if the Chongqing chicken could be prepared off the bone, only to be met by a resounding "NO". Much as I love this style of cooking, the thought of biting into a piece of chicken bone unnerves me. I ordered regardless and was rewarded by a dish of intensely deep-fried, crispy chicken pieces with a scattering of fermented beans, chills and other tasty additions. Even with careful inspection for bone pieces, we still cleared the plate. 

Cumin beef was tender with moist chunks of beef mixed through with cumin and coriander stalks. Deep-fried fish were topped with a richly flavoursome sauce of ginger, Chinese pork, fermented beans and dried mushrooms. Once the fish was all gone, I scooped tablespoons of this addictive sauce into my rice bowl to make sure that I got every last bit. 

A dish of pork fat and deep-fried tofu was questioned by our waiter who didn't think it would suit our western tastes. To be fair, he did this in a very nice way, but we were rewarded with a clay bowl of fatty belly pork pieces in a rich red broth with cabbage leaves and bean sprouts. 
Chongqing chicken (on the bone)
Cumin beef
Fried fish with Chinese pork and mushrooms
Fried green beans with minced pork
Pork fat and fried tofu
I sometimes find the Chinatown restaurants to be hit and miss. By this I mean that I will get wonderful, flavoursome authentic dishes on one visit, only to get the "Westernised', gloopy version on the next visit. I don't know why this happens, but it's so far, so very good at Jojos. All dishes that we had were under €10 in price and the portions are more than ample. The heat levels are not very high at Jojos either, which would suit people who would to explore authentic Chinese food.
The bill from our second visit to Jojos
Jojo's, Parnell Street, Dublin 1.
Contact details unknown!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

[Review] Balfes at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin 2

Lately, life has been extremely busy. Work has been demanding (nothing new there), but when combined with a house hunt and move, there just wasn't much time left for anything else. Eventually though, everything in our old apartment was boxed and transferred to our lovely new little house. Thanks to a trip to IKEA, I have a wonderful, brightly coloured, new armchair and a regular routine is starting to emerge again. 

We spent last Saturday in town, something that we haven't had an opportunity to do for quite a while. After getting my hair cut, it was time for lunch. The Westbury Hotel have given their restaurant space a facelift and I wanted to try it out. The newly named Balfes (after the street) is an attractive spot with a lovely outdoor terraced area to the side of the main hotel entrance. The white tiled walls and wicker furniture convey the sense of a French brasserie with a classic, sleek New York twist. 
Sitting outdoors at Balfes
We were handed a brunch menu, which is served 10am - 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. When you're shopping in town for a day, brunch just doesn't feel right, and I would very much have liked to have some lunch choices available. A lot of brunch menus feel very samey-samey, with crowd-pleasing dishes which cancel out a restaurant's own personality.

My prime beef burger came in a smoothly glazed, sweet brioche bun, with perfect fries and a smokey paprika mayo. At €16, it was definitely on the pricey side for a burger, but the combination of Gruyere cheese and crispy smoked bacon made for a quite decent effort. Himself's open sandwich of tuna with creamy hummus and radishes looked very healthy, especially when rounded out with a portion of rocket and parmesan salad (€9.00 and €4.50 respectively). Again, there was the slight feeling of expensive, but what else would you expect in a luxury, 5 star hotel?
Burger with fries and paprika mayo
Tuna and hummus open sandwich
During our brunch (how I wish it had been lunch), we sipped on tall, icy glasses of the Devilshoof cocktail. The mix of gin, basil leaves, limoncello and lemon bitters (€10.50) sounded refreshing and cool, but by the end, the original fresh crispness had been replaced by the strong, herbal notes of basil. Perhaps we should have drank quicker?
Devilshoof cocktail
Once home, I visited Balfes website to read the regular daytime menus, whereupon I learned that there is a Josper grill in the kitchen (also to be found in the Morrison Hotel). As we paid and left, I just felt that the brunch menu didn't give the kitchen a chance to shine or show its distinctiveness. Both dishes had been quite good, but didn't feel unique to the restaurant. However, the smart chicness of the decor and the promise of the expanded all day menu will surely draw me back at some stage. Balfes already feels like a spot for a reliable lunch.  

Balfes, The Westbury Hotel, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 646 3353
Twitter: @BalfesDublin

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

[Review] My Meat Wagon, Smithfield, Dublin 7

One of my first work projects involved spending a lot of time around Smithfield and the Four Courts area. I was reasonably new to Dublin and to be quite honest, some of things I witnessed in that area did little to enamour the area to me. In fact, if I was in charge of public health, I might have erected a biohazard zone in some places. Smithfield Square had been built, but even with the large Fresh supermarket, it felt like a big, grey, desolate space. The Celtic Tiger Thomas Read's pub failed, just like our economy, and a horde of marauding zombies probably wouldn't have felt out of place. In fact, they'd have brightened the place up a bit.

I wasn't the only person disappointed by the regeneration project at Smithfield, but slowly, inch by painful inch, the area is coming to life. The old Park Inn hotel is now the Generator Hostel, complete with Jameson whiskey bottle chandelier and a buzzing atmosphere. The Lighthouse Cinema has survived bad times and is now a well-established alternative cinema. But any self-respecting area cannot consider itself as truly regenerated until the hipsters arrive. If only hipsters could exist without jam-jar glasses, if only.
Standing outside My Meat Wagon
And if my visit to the recent Big Grill festival taught me anything, it was that hipsters like BBQ. It's like catnip to them. BBQ, craft beers and RayBans seem to complete the hipster trinity. Therefore, the opening of My Meat Wagon, an American BBQ restaurant, in the corner between the Lighthouse and Oscars is part of the Smithfield barometer. 

First things first, I really liked the decor at My Meat Wagon. There are jute sacks, rough wooden planking, galvanised zinc sheets and suspended pallets. We have many storage sheds with all these ingredients on our family farm, except that no West Cork farmer ever thought of setting up a BBQ in their shed. Despite all these design clichés, the overall effect here simply works, with low, warm lighting and original bluegrass music.
The simple menu at My Meat Wagon
Beef good (tofu bad) - seating at My Meat Wagon
We both ordered the Meat on a Board with a mix of Cow, Pig and Bird. To be honest, I was a little perplexed why beef and pork get named, but the source of "Bird" remained a mystery. Each board has a main meat, accompanied by a selection of other cuts and two sides. BBQ chicken has often been a disappointment to me, left dry and dusty by the BBQ process, but here there was a darkly golden laminated skin with juicy meat underneath. 

The Ole Hickory Texas smoker shipped over to sit at the heart of My Meat Wagon had been equally good to the soft, deliciously fatty beef rib, chorizo sausage and excellent pulled pork. Beef brisket, normally my go-to BBQ meat, was a little dry but tasted well. Sides were equally well executed with mash, fresh slaw and fries (served in a mini shopping trolley, perhaps a tribute to the River Liffey?). 
Meat board with pig, bird and cow
There is much to like about My Meat Wagon and it seems like Dublin is not done with BBQ food yet Two huge meat boards, a beer and a glass of white wine came to under €50 with friendly and efficient service. What started out as a small gourmet burger van has matured into a slick, fine BBQ, which would not be out of place in the US. In fact, I'd definitely rate it above quite a few US joints that I've visited. By the time we finished eating, my initial skepticism over the design had been utterly defeated by the fine meat treatment. Put the diet to one side and order the beef rib with sausage. Trust me...

My Meat Wagon, Smithfield Market Square, Dublin 7
Tel: +353 (0)1 874 8172
Twitter: @myMEATwagon

My Meat Wagon on Urbanspoon