Monday, July 28, 2014

[Review] Mourne Seafood Bar, Charlotte Quay, Dublin 2

This current fine weather will forever collectively be known in the collective Irish memory as "The summer of 2014" (as compared to  the "Floods of 1986" or the "Snow of 2010"). It will also be known as the year that hordes of aggressive seagulls descended on Dublin, terrorising the urban dwellers unaccustomed to malevolent birds. Anyone bought up in the country will be used to eyeballing gigantic rooks and crows, but this year it is all about seagulls. Queue obligatory evil seagull picture...
Invasion of the seagulls
Thankfully, my interaction with seagulls was limited during our recent visit to the new Mourne Seafood Bar, beautifully situated on a corner of Grand Canal Dock, with a fine view of swimming seagulls and bright yellow Viking Splash duck boats. In fact, Mourne Seafood Bar could be quite the spot for people watching, with views over Hanover Quay, the Marker Hotel and the dock itself.

A retro butcher's bike festooned with hanging flowers guides you down the quayside  but that is as far as the tweeness goes. Inside, there are no creels, ratty fishing nets or other cliched paraphernalia, but instead you find a bar and a beautifully bright restaurant, which instantly transports you away from Dublin to somewhere of perpetual light. 
Signposting the way on Charlotte Quay
This restaurant is unapologetically all about the fish. Given that Irish people have a fairly ambivalent relationship with fish, this might stop some people from ever dining there. More fool them is all I say.  It has a raw bar offering with oysters, langoustines, crab and  other delectable fruits de mer, with an all-day menu supplemented by daily specials. 

I started with a perfectly cooked seafood risotto, flavoured and coloured by rich saffron and scallop corals (€9). Nutty grains of rice and a wonderful texture put this firmly in contention for "Best risotto ever". A half dozen oysters, served on ice and gently swimming in their juices, were the epitome of fresh seafood (€12).
Seafood risotto
Half dozen oysters
A whole grilled split lobster (€28.00) served with fries and lobster and basil cream was silence inducing, apart from the sounds of claw crackers being deployed, plus my sighs of frustration when I failed to snag a last delicious strand with the winkler. I had dallied with the thought of the half lobster when ordering, but there is something wonderful about demolishing a whole lobster. 

Across the table, a large pot of mussels, classically steamed with white wine, garlic and cream (€14) was being decimated with equal silence. A side order of Tuscan fries (with salty black olives and Parmesan) seal the deal for us. Their rich salty flavour ensures that we eat every last one, ignoring their poor cousin regular fries. 
Whole split lobster with cream sauce
Mussels steamed with white wine and garlic
Delicious salty Tuscan fries
We decline desserts, as quite frankly, we are full to the brim. Another consideration is that we've also washed down this magnificent feast with a bottle of Finca Montepedrosa Verdejo (€28). Sometimes, it's good to admit defeat and we leave to seek fresh air and a little perambulation.  Our server for the night had been perfection itself, leaving us to our own devices for most of the meal. 

The total bill for the night, including sparkling water, is just shy of €100. If you're not of the gluttonous inclination, it's very possible to eat there for much less and still depart satisfied. The arrival of Super Miss Sue, and now Mourne Seafood, has heralded a change in Dublin dining tastes. Seafood or fish is no longer the minority crowd-pleasing dish on the menu, but sits front and centre. Mourne Seafood is simply "Brill-iant".

Mourne Seafood Bar, Millennium Tower, Charlotte Quay, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 668 8862
Twitter: @DublinMSB

Monday, July 21, 2014

[Cocktails] Raven Rita

The Raven Rita is a delicious variation on one of my favourite cocktails, the margarita. Chambord is a magnificent black raspberry liqueur, which comes in a wonderfully regal, orb-shaped bottle. A little dash of Chambord in a glass of sparkling wine adds some real magic to celebrations, but it also brings depth and sweetness to many other cocktails. In fact, a bottle of Chambord never seems to last too long in our house.

In this variation on the classic margarita, the usual orange component (triple sec, or in my case Cointreau) is dialled back, replaced by the rich Chambord. As always, I recommend using a good quality tequila. I happen to have a stash of Patrón thanks to some well-priced duty-free shopping, but at a minimum make sure your tequila is labelled "100% Agave".
Raven Rita ingredients
Pre-chill some coupe glasses. In your shaker, combine 1 shot tequila, 1 shot fresh-squeezed lime juice, 1/2 shot Chambord and 1/4 shot Cointreau. Add ice, cover tightly with the tin and shake vigorously until the tin is too cold to hold. Strain into your chilled glasses and top with a small Chambord float.

I usually always have a salt rim with my margaritas, but I think it doesn't work with the additional sweetness of the Chambord in this variant. Spread the margarita love.
The Raven Rita

Sunday, July 20, 2014

[Review] The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary

Things often never go to plan, which is why we were late leaving Dublin and why we subsequently found ourselves deep in the Tipperary countryside stuck behind a tractor with a trailer-full of round bales. As a farmer's daughter, the "stuck behind a tractor" is a story I've used many times to explain tardiness, but this time I wasn't trying to dodge my mother's ire. Instead, we were trying to arrive in time for dinner at the Old Convent in Clogheen.
The Old Convent (photo by Joleen Cronin)
Snuggled is a very cute word, not one I use too often, but I really can't think of a better way to describe the closeness of the Old Convent to the Knockmealdown Mountains. The austere lifestyle of the Sisters of Mercy has given way to a gourmet retreat, under the ownership of Dermot and Christine Gannon. From the minute that you set foot on the classic black and white tiled floor, everything has been thought of. The individual bedrooms are beautifully decorated, and unoccupied rooms are left open for a sneak peek. In fact, there's even a treat room, stocked with teas, coffees, snacks, toiletries, books and DVDs. 
Our bedroom at the Old Convent
We were staying overnight on a Hideaway Summer Special, which included an overnight B&B stay plus an 8 course artisan Irish tasting dinner  for €250. After a quick refresh upstairs, we descended for a pre-dinner drink and a chance to relax. Thanks to an earlier wine tasting, there were more wines available by the glass than usual, giving us a little extra to choose from. 

One by one, the various couples were taken into the dining room, which was the former chapel of the convent, and still has several stained glass windows. We would be dining from the Chef's tasting menu, normally costing €65 per head. 
Table setting at the Old Convent
Connemara smokehouse salmon tartare, Goatsbridge trout caviar, creme fraiche, beetroot & smoked almonds

Butternut squash veloutee, cep oil and smoked sea salt

Crowe Brothers rare breed barbecue pork, Crozier blue, poached pear, candied pecans

Lemongrass and marscapone sorbet, pineapple pickle, black sesame

Nenagh Hereford Aga roast beef, confit potatoes, Ballyhoura shitake mushroom puff pastry, veal jus

Lemon curd, raspberries and flamed meringue

'Cacao Berry' chocolate pot, Irish Cream ice-cream, crushed hazelnuts

Tea/coffee with strawberry pecan fudge

Our meal started with a picture perfect glass of Connemara smokehouse salmon tartare topped with bright Goatsbridge trout caviar and edible flowers. The use of vividly coloured flowers continued throughout the meal, adding a touch of whimsy and prettiness. The Crowe Brothers rare breed pork dish could have done without the heavily spiced pear but otherwise was a masterclass in how to cook pork. The cleansing lemongrass sorbet was one of the best courses I've ever enjoyed, intensified by the pineapple pickle and crunchy black sesame seeds. Nenagh Hereford beef was simply superb, barely requiring a steak knife. I ventured on with a sharp lemon curd, but I eventually admitted defeat with the exquisitely rich cacao pot. 

Afterwards, we ventured out into the beautiful grounds for an evening walk to cool ourselves down and start the digestion. It never really gets dark in the country during the summer months, and we could still see the dark shapes of the Knockmealdown mountains watching over us. To the rear of the house, the chickens were cooped up for the night, hopefully safe from neighbourhood foxes and minks.
Salmon tartare with trout caviar
Butternut squash veloutee with cep oil
Rare breed pork with Crozier blue and pecans
Lemongrass and marscapone sorbet
Nenagh roast beef with shitake mushroom puff
Lemon curd with flamed meringue
Cacao pot with Irish Cream ice-cream
We slept with all windows open in an effort to keep some cool air moving through our bedroom, and we awoke to the delighted crows of the cockerel. The usual eating rules don't apply when away from home, so I was looking forward to a generous breakfast, despite still feeling pretty full. And the breakfast experience definitely didn't disappoint. 

Fresh granola, yogurt and local apple juice started us off, while we waited for our cooked breakfasts. We had both chosen the boar breakfast, a variation on the Full Irish which uses local boar-based products, with the sausages deserving particular praise for being juicy and succulent. A plate of toasted farmhouse breads would have provided enough sustenance to see a man clear through to evening, but the overkill came in the form of a little sampler of buttermilk pancakes. These were airily light, capable of flying out through the window, topped with strawberries and lemon. 
The boar breakfast fry
Buttermilk waffles with strawberries and lemon
A selection of homemade toasted breads
The sunshine of the previous day had disappeared behind grey clouds and occasional rain, but that didn't stop us from taking another walk around the grounds. This time the chickens were out in their run, strutting their stuff and occasionally dropping an egg. A trio of rescue donkeys live in a paddock towards the rear, and Christine was keeping an eye on the pregnant females, who were all expecting at the same time thanks to the adventures of a randy rescue male donkey. 

The Old Convent is a perfect little oasis, suitable for a restful weekend or a romantic interlude. Dermot is a chef who passionately cooks with the finest of local and Irish ingredients, while Christine is an attentive and considerate hostess. This lovely couple have crafted something really special and they transfer that passion to their guests. I've heard that it can be hard to get a reservation at The Old Convent, and now I understand why. A perfect gourmet hideaway.

The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary
Tel: +353 (0)52 746 5565
Twitter: @TheOldConvent

Old Convent on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

[Cocktails] Mixed Berry Julep

I've been feeling the heat so much lately. It's subtly oppressive, draining my energy and leaving me restless at night in a bedroom that's too warm. So when it came to making today's cocktail, I went for the julep, a drink with a fine tradition of cooling and refreshing. 

The julep evolved into its current state in the southern states of the USA, where it combines bourbon whiskey, mint, sugar and ice into a drink designed to beat the heat. This version varies slightly from with standard with the addition of some Irish summer berries which add colour and sweetness.

Ingredients for a mixed berry julep
To make a mixed berry julep, place 3 each raspberries and blackberries into the bottom of a glass and muddle gently. 

Add 12 mint leaves (smash them gently between your palms first), 2 shots of bourbon and 3/4 shot of simple syrup. Top with crushed ice and churn (or stir) to combine all the ingredients. There's no real need to muddle the mint first as the alcohol will strip out the flavour anyway. 

Once stirred, add more crushed ice and repeat. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint, add a straw and sip until refreshed. 
Muddle the berries
Add ingredients, fill with crushed ice and stir
When ready, garnish with mint sprig


[Review] Iyer's, 38 Popes Quay, Cork

My real life career involves technology consulting (not eating and drinking alas), which means that I work with a lot of Indians. As a result of chats and interactions, I have developed some understanding of the complexity of Indian culture, regions, castes and cuisines but to be honest, there's an incredible amount that I still don't understand.

I have learned though that when Indians working abroad find a good restaurant, they will visit it non-stop. Particularly if that restaurant makes dosas. On a recent project in the US, the local favourite restaurant would easily have a 30 minute wait time for its buffet lunch. I have often dined out with my colleagues, the sole white person in a sea of Indian dialects and accents. One of my retirement ideas is to open a traditional Indian restaurant in the vicinity of a technology company. Guaranteed success, trust me!

If Iyer's Cafe was located in Dublin, it would be full all the time, with queues of Dublin hipsters and health food fans strung out the door. God knows if the Indian population would even get a look in. Thankfully, it's not in Dublin but instead sits peacefully on Popes Quay in Cork. Gautham Iyer is the man behind Iyer's and he cooks southern Indian vegetarian food which is also often vegan and coeliac friendly. Now here's the science bit, he respects Ayurvedic principles, an ancient form of Indian medicine which maintains that the right food will balance and restore the system. At this stage, you must be wondering how vegetarian, health food could ever possibly tempt you?
Mango lassi
The cafe itself is small with a simple light decor. A blackboard behind the counter lists the daily specials, with prices that are also refreshingly light. I started with one of my favourite treats, a mango lassi (a yogurt drink) which was gently tart, not as sweet as is often found in restaurants. An assorted platter of vegetable bajji was vibrantly coloured, with a tangy green chili, green apple and mint sauce, delivering just enough kick to wake up the taste buds. 
Vegetable bajjis with green chili and tamarind sauce
Dosa are delicate, light pancakes made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. Good dosa have an airlike texture and our masala dosa was filled with a gently spiced potato and vegetable mixture, accompanied by a fresh coconut chutney. Two young kids at a nearby table were making short work of their dosa, relishing every bite. A kadai curry made with chunks of incredibly fresh paneer cheese and assorted vegetables managed to have a hint of rich creaminess without any heavy ingredients present.

Gautham's cooking changes according to the seasons, and menus are changed daily. On an earlier visit in February, a Madras thali plate contained basmati rice, chickpea chole and an incredible beetroot masala. I've always had a soft spot for this vegetable, despite its ability to stain every surface in the kitchen. I'd have Gautham's take on beetroot over the much abused beetroot and goats cheese salad anyway. 
Masala dosa
Kadai paneer curry
Madras thali plate
It's incredible to think that Gautham Iyer used to be an aeronautical engineer. This charming, energetic man has a gift with food that is immediately obvious and which crosses all cultural barriers. Before we left, he popped out from the magical kitchen with a little plate of gol gappas (or panipuri) for us to try. These little delights are a popular street food dish and it's easy to taste why. A crisp little shell, just large enough to be a single mouthful, was filled with a spicy mixture of vegetables and chickpeas. 

Iyer's Cafe is healthy and vegetarian, not normally words that attract food lovers' attention. But forget any preconceptions about nut loaf and chickpeas that you may harbour. This food is sophisticated yet simple, tasty yet light. In a paradoxical way, it's mind blowingly good without being obvious. Once again, Cork leads the way in vegetarian cooking, with Iyer's adding itself nicely to Cafe Paradiso. Get yourself to Cork, get yourself to Iyer's. 

Iyers, 38 Popes Quay, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)87 640 9079
Twitter: @iyerscafe

Iyer's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 29, 2014

[Cocktails] Corpse Reviver #2

This weeks cocktail is from the bracing family known as the Corpse Revivers. These strong drinks are intended to set you straight when feeling a bit ropey after the night before. Nothing like more of the same poison to sort you out, eh?

I'm making the Savoy version of Corpse Reviver #2, which is exceptionally simple to assemble. This is probably a good thing if you're in the sorry kind of state that requires this drink. Equal measures of gin, Lillet Blance, Cointreau (or Triple Sec), lemon juice are combined with a dash of absinthe or pastis in this full frontal shock assault to the system.

1 shot gin (here I'm using Dry Fly gin, distilled in Spokane, Washington state)
1 shot Cointreau (or triple sec)
1 shot Lillet Blanc
1 shot lemon juice
Dash of absinthe or pastis
No fancy bartending techniques required for this drink. Start by placing a coupe in the freezer or fill with ice to chill the glass. Combine the gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and a small dash of absinthe in a shaking glass. Alternatively, don't put the absinthe into the main drink, but instead swirl a small drop around the glass, leaving a small coating.

Fill the glass with ice, firmly cover with the shaking tin and shake hard until the tin is too cold to hold. Strain into the chilled coupe. Decorate with a lemon zest twist.
Add a little dash of absinthe
The final article
Sip this fine drink slowly and carefully until the world stops spinning. But be careful. Treat it with respect. After all, bartending legend Harry Craddock says "Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again." 

[Review] Saison, Kildare Street, Dublin 2

I have a daydream that one day I will own one of the fine Dublin Georgian townhouses for which our city is famous. In my daydream, the townhouse is currently occupied by dismal office suites, but I convert it back to a home. In my head, I am happy imaging how my kitchen, sitting room and home gym (yes!) will be arranged to make best use of the wonderful building.

Even as I walk through town, I am often looking upwards, ignoring the shops and businesses at ground level, but instead imaging the great living spaces that could be made available on the upper floors. I think it's a great shame that there is so much unused real estate in our city centre. 

We recently dined at Saison, located in the Kildare Street basement that was the former home of Town Bar & Grill. After heading down the stairs, complete with a cute little outdoor seat, you enter directly into the bar space which leads through into the dining area. I immediately loved the deep sea blue colour used as an accent, as well as the mismatched (and probably vintage) glass lampshades and chandeliers.  As I sat waiting, complete with a deliciously refreshing G&T, my inner home designer went to work, reimagining the basement as a home. 

Graeme Dodrill is the man in charge of the kitchen, bringing experience from One Pico and La Mère Zou, assisted by a very smooth front of house team. In fact, there's a very definite whiff of Michelin and fine dining in the air. We started with a rather large amuse bouche of crab and tempura courgette flower. I'd have been happy with just the crab meat, it was the absolute essence of the sea.
Crab and tempura courgette flower amuse bouche
The menu at Saison is a joy to read and I had to evaluate each and every dish as part of my selection process. Uncharacteristically for me, I passed over the foie gras starter option in favor of a grilled octopus and clam dish, with succulent chunks of brioche that had soaked up the lemon, chervil and caper juices (€12).  But foie gras did come to the table anyway in a meat-lovers dish, accompanied by roast scallop, truffle and duck heart (€16). 
Foie gras, scallop and duck heart 
Grilled octopus and clams
My main course of roast scallops and fall apart slow-cooked Iberico pork cheek was coloured by a green riot of peas and broad beans, mingled with a rich jus (€30). A tasting plate of Wicklow spring lamb, including fried sweetbreads, came with charred courgette and a creamy, fresh quenelle of ricotta and peas (€34). 
Scallops and Iberico pork cheek
Lamb tasting
Our wine of choice was a La Cote Flamenc Picpoul de Pinet (€36) which displayed a stronger than usual minerality. For us the real star of the show was a roast almond panna cotta, with fresh raspberries, nutty toasted rice and almond milk (€8). It was a superbly confident dessert, drawing on the natural sweetness of the ingredients. We paired it a glass of the recommended Chateau Haut Montlong 2011 Montbazillac (€9), which was possibly a touch too sweet against the panna cotta. 
Almond panna cotta
We were dining on a voucher (which I'd thoroughly recommend picking up should Saison ever run the offer again), but there are set menus available for lunch and dinner. In fact, I've already promised myself a lunchtime date. Right now, Saison are offering a lobster-themed menu through to the end of July which simply makes my mouth water. I was informed by a waiter that there will be a menu change shortly, which gives me another very good reason to return.

Saison is simply superb, with excellent fine food and service. The dining room feels spacious with plenty of room for private chats and intimate meals. It's still somewhat early days for this restaurant, but I've got a feeling that it will be around for quite a while.

Saison, 21 Kildare Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 662 4800
Twitter: @EatatSaison

Saison on Urbanspoon