Stitch and Bear

Food & drink adventures and restaurant reviews from Dublin and Ireland

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

[Review] Hartwood, Tulum, Mexico

I've fallen in love with Mexico. Beautiful white soft beaches, mysterious Mayan ruins and azure warm seas. What's not to love? Well, if you're staying in an all-inclusive resort, probably the food.

We spent 10 days recently south of Cancun on a blissful holiday. Our first stay was at the Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an, which is the adults only, luxury section of a sprawling resort. It was set amidst the jungle, with easy access to a glorious beach and it was wonderful. We then spent a few days at the lively Hard Rock Cancun, where we were treated like royalty. In both cases, I cannot complain in any way about the quantity or quality of the food we ate. But in both cases, the resort restaurants were out of touch with modern dining and overwhelmingly felt like bland American suburbia. I suppose that's hardly surprising given that American tourists are probably the single largest tourist segment in Mexico. But I was personally disappointed that the food wasn't more modern and more importantly, reflective of Mexico itself. Genuinely, I could have been in any country in the world if all I had to judge on was the food. 

One night however, we did leave the seclusion of our resort bubble, and we took a taxi down the road to the town of Tulum, to the internationally acclaimed Hartwood restaurant. And there, next to the sea, under the night sky, we finally got to see something real, something unique and something a little bit special.
Stitch & Bear - Hartwood - Dining outdoors
Dining outdoors at Hartwood
Why all the fuss about Hartwood? Well, it's completely off the grid, with barely any electrical appliances (a single blender) and uses sustainable solar panel powered lighting. Even the adorable bathroom is candle powered. It's owned and ran by Eric Werner, an ex-New Yorker super chef, who decamped to the Mayan jungle with his wife Mya, settling up a wood burning restaurant in an exquisitely charming location that draws in the crowds. 

We managed to secure a reservation via email for Tulum, but the majority of reservations are only available on the day, and customers start queuing from early afternoon to secure their slot. The restaurant itself opens at 6.00pm and is rock solid for the rest of the night. Diners wait their turn, sitting in the dark warm night, drinking fiery cocktails from hipster mason jars, watching the food leave the flaming wood-fired oven which is the very beating, primal heart of the restaurant.
Stitch & Bear - Hartwood - Blackboard menu at Hartwood
Blackboard menu at Hartwood
Due to the lack of electricity, the cooking tools at Hartwood could be described as primitive, but the food can hardly be described in such terms. A Yucatan ceviche with lovely white fish and chunks of avocado was fragrant, light and fresh, while langoustine salad was replete with sweet meat and refreshing melon chunks. A third starter of papaya empanadas with local cheese was more substantial and came with a wonderful honeyed puree.
Stitch and Bear - Hartwood Tulum - Ceviche Yucatan
Ceviche Yucatan
Stitch and Bear - Hartwood Tulum - Ensalada de langosta
Ensalada de langosta - langoustine salad
Stitch and Bear - Hartwood Tulum - Empanadas de papaya
Empanadas de papaya
I had really wanted to try the famous agave sweetened pork ribs, and I was immensely lucky to snag the last portion of the night. A perfect light chicarron came atop a large portion of falling-apart ribs, while another signature dish of grilled octopus was a perfect blend of textures. Tentacles were charred and crunchy from the grill, while the rest remained soft and tender. 
Stitch & Bear - Hartwood - Agave pork ribs
Costillas al agave - agave sweetened pork ribs
Stitch & Bear - Hartwood - Grilled octopus
Platillo de polpo - grilled octopus
Add in two two fiery cocktails fuelled by tequila and mezcal, and it's no wonder I have such warm memories of Hartwood. However, it's hard to blame it on just the cocktails alone. While I did not think the food scaled the rapturous heights I've read about online, I did think it very good. The real magic of Hartwood comes from knowing that you are dining under the inky nighttime sky, just a few feet away from the warm waters of the Caribbean and enjoying food direct from the area. It's magical.

Hartwood, Carretera Tulum Boca Paila 7.6 km, 77780 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Twitter: @HartwoodTulum
Instagram: @hartwoodtulum

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

[Review] Craft, Harold's Cross, Dublin 6W

Saturday lunchtime found us driving over towards Harold's Cross so as to allow me to pick up my mobile phone which I had "forgotten" in a pub on Friday night. In other words, I might have been a bit oiled, and making sure that I had my mobile phone with me when leaving wasn't top of the list of priorities. (BTW, if you haven't checked out the great cocktails in MVP, then you really should. Just don't forget your phone!)

The upside of this unplanned trip was that I finally had an easy opportunity to visit Craft bistro for lunch. Ever increasing rent costs mean that only venues with big backing are opening in the city centre, with other smaller ventures being pushed outwards where rents are cheaper. Thankfully, this is to be benefit of many neighbourhoods, giving the opportunity for some seriously good dining without the trek into town. Think Forest & Marcy on Leeson Street, or newly starred Heron & Grey in Blackrock. In the case of Craft, chef Phil Yeung, formerly of Bang Cafe and Town Bar & Grill is the man with the plan. 
Stitch & Bear - Craft - Torched mackerel
Torched mackerel

Friday, November 11, 2016

[Review] Rosa Madre, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Italian food is one of those things that pleases all, which can delight immensely, yet rarely delights in its common Irish form. An Italian restaurant is usually the safe, crowd-pleaser option, where even people who like "shteak and veg" will be satisfied. We have a huge amount of Italian restaurants in Dublin and in Ireland, but only a handful standout as offering something a bit more special. Especially when it comes to restaurants in the depths of Temple Bar, the most tourist-friendly spot in the country. 

Temple Bar isn't the immediate location that springs to mind when you're looking for good food. However, locals know that some gems do lurk in amidst all the cobblestones and diddle-eye music.  When you think of Italian food in Temple Bar, you would not be blamed for thinking of takeaway pizza slices. But bright lights can shine in the dimmest of corners, and Rosa Made on Crow Street is one such spot.  
Stitch & Bear - Rosa Madre - Irish oysters
Half a dozen Irish oysters


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

[Review] Lt. Cornelis, Amsterdam

I know my way around Amsterdam quite well at this stage, but my curiousity around Dutch food has rarely ventured further afield than stroopwafel, oliebollen and vlaamse frites (aka caramel wafer biscuits, doughnuts and Dutch fries). I've tried rookworst (sausage) and stamppot (stew) and of course, I've eaten loads of aged Dutch Gouda. But to be honest, my view on Dutch cuisine has been akin to that of traditional Irish food. In other words, comforting, homely and not very exciting. 

However, I think I've finally found a restaurant that serves a truly modern take on Dutch cuisine. And to make things even better, it's located right in the middle of town, in a beautiful centuries-old  typical Dutch building. Replicas of classic Dutch paintings adorn the walls, but look closely as some paintings are actually moving, giving you a very bizarre sensation that someone is watching. Blue and white classic Dutch Delft plates add brightness, yet maintain the Dutch theme.
Stitch & Bear - Lt Cornelis - Interior
Interior view at Lt. Cornelis

Sunday, October 23, 2016

[Wine] 4 German rieslings to try

Riesling is one of my absolute favourite wines. Wines made from this incredibly aromatic grape can run the full gamut of taste from steely and flinty, passing through dry fruit crispness and ending up at luscious honeyed sweetness. You'll even get an occasional bang of petrol/diesel which is actually incredibly addictive. It's also a fantastic wine to pair with food, particularly spicy or Asian dishes. 

But how do you navigate Riesling and find the wine that you want, when there is such a choice and  variety of styles to choose from? The ever reliable Germans have produced a detailed and structure system for labelling and grading their Rieslings, and while it's a lot to remember, it's worth making a few mental notes for the next time you're facing a wall of Rieslings. Obviously riesling is grown outside of Germany, with special mention for Alsace in France and Clare Valley in Australia, but to be honest, it's the Germans who have really embraced it.
Stitch and Bear - German rieslings to try


Sunday, October 16, 2016

[Review] Forest & Marcy, Leeson Street Upper, Dublin 4

Dining without reservations has finally made it out of the city centre and into suburbia - well kind of, if you consider Upper Leeson Street to be the edge of the suburbs. John and Sandy Wyer, the force behind Forest Avenue have opened Forest & Marcy in the space formerly occupied by Rigby's and to which the adjective bijou can be truly applied.

Described as a "small neighbourhood wine room and kitchen", Forest & Marcy impresses from start to finish. We visit on a Sunday evening, fully expecting to have to wait to secure a space. Thankfully, the dining gods were on our side, and we took two places at the long dining bar. The theme is here the new normal of small plates of food, made by chef Ciaran Sweeney, using modern techniques combined with the best seasonal ingredients.
Stitch & Bear - Forest & Marcy - Interior
Interior at Forest & Marcy


Sunday, October 9, 2016

[Competition] Win a pair of tickets to JN Wine Portfolio Tasting

I recently put together a listing of all upcoming wine events, featuring many "Meet the Makers" type tastings, which are a great way to try out lots of new wines and meet the people that make them. I was delighted to be contacted by one of the featured wine merchants, JN Wine, who generously offered me some tickets to give away to two of my readers!

JN Wine will hold their annual Portfolio tasting in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin on November 11th, and tickets cost €20. (For wine lovers in Northern Ireland, they will also hold a tasting on Friday November 12th in Andrews Gallery at the Titanic Building). However, two lucky readers will each receive a pair of tickets to the Dublin tasting where they can taste and sample their way around a room of fantastic wines. 

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