Tuesday, December 9, 2014

[Review] Bakers, Donnybrook, Dublin 4

I've driven through Donnybrook many many times since I first moved to Dublin, but I've only started to walk through it in recent months. It's quite amazing what you will notice when passing by on foot, compared to speeding by in a car. The long-term residents of Donnybrook won't be surprised to learn that they have a fire station right in the middle of the village, but it was news to me. (And thankfully, it's only a few minutes away in case of a kitchen disaster). 

Bakers, tucked away on the Crescent, was another recent discovery on my Grand Tour of Donnybrook. It doesn't look very large from the outside, but once through the doors, it opens wide up into a bright warehouse-style setting. At the front, there's a small coffee bar and counter area, suitable for quick pitstops, but then transitions to a mixture of tables and booths. It has the grocery store vibe that I've seen in other restaurants, where shelves are lined with food and drink to purchase for home.

The interior of Bakers Donnybrook
Bread and selection of dips
We were delighted to be seated at one of the large booths, which could comfortably seat four. As there was just the two of us, we can plenty of elbow room to spread out and relax. The evening menu is a mixture of classic, bistro dishes, which perfectly suits the feeling of a neighbourhood restaurant. A generous plate of olives, oil and bread gave us something to occupy our hungry mouths as we made our selections. The Early Bird menu runs from Wednesday to Saturday until 8pm with two/three courses for €19.95/€22.95, with à la carte prices afterwards. 

My starter of pan-fried prawns, brightly coloured in a harissa oil with thin slices of pineapple carpaccio was quite a fresh and tasty dish (€9.50). Peppery rocket added another dimension to the spice and sweetness in a dish that was pleasantly surprising (especially if you don't believe in the combination of seafood and fruit). A perfect, classic Niçoise salad came laden with seared tuna pieces (€10.00) along with the usual egg and green bean components.
Pan fried prawns with harissa oil and pineapple carpaccio
Niçoise salad with seared tuna
The main courses were what I could describe as good, solid cooking. His special dish of duck breast was nicely pink with rich sauce, potatoes and carrots. My piece of salmon was absolutely huge (€17.50), about twice as large as I needed. I suspect the fish was cooked sou-vide as the flesh was soft throughout, but had been pan-seared to add some colour and flavour. I ended up picking away the outside meat and leaving the flabbier meat in the middle. A smaller portion and this would not have been a problem, especially as the lime hollandaise and beetroot puree really complimented the salmon nicely. 
Nightly special of duck 
Seared salmon with asparagus, beetroot and lemon hollandaise
It's always refreshing to find a decent house wine, and here a bottle of house white wine (a French Pays D'Oc if I recall correctly) was very decent drinking. A generous slice of classic Bailey's cheesecake (€5.00) finished off our meal. Service was relaxed and easy going throughout, but still attentive. A sign suspended from the roof advertised a take-away meal of whole rotisserie chicken with vegetables, a fact which Himself noted with interest for future reference. 

All in all, I really liked the large open space and relaxed atmosphere in Bakers. As a nighttime venue, it definitely falls into the reliable and safe dining category. However, I'd say that seeing the venue in daylight with a cup of coffee would really present it at its best. 

Unit D, 3 The Crescent, Donnybrook, Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 516 6169 
URL: www.bakers.ie/donnybrook
Twitter: @BakersCoffee

Monday, December 1, 2014

[Review] Stanley's, Andrew Street, Dublin 2

A trip into town on a pre-Christmas Saturday is an experience to be both enjoyed and feared in equal measure. Shop windows are festooned with joyous cheer, while just inches away shoppers elbow and jostle each other in grim determination. Last Saturday, I had a single, sole, solitary item on my shopping list. All I needed were nude tights from Marks & Spencer, but even that small errand required nerves of steel. Eventually, I cleared the gauntlet of Grafton Street and headed for my lunch reservation at the newly opened Stanley's on Andrew Street. 

The chic ground floor interior still feels a little unfinished, but to be fair, Stanley's was only a mere newborn still in soft opening mode, and I'm sure that the lovely brass fittings and mirror tiled wall will spring to life with some final touches. Downstairs is intended to be a wine bar, while upstairs will be home to a cosy dining room. Experienced Chef Stephen McArdle is the man behind this venture, ably assisted in front of house by his brother Patrick. These two gentlemen have a host of experience in the Irish restaurant industry and now they've taken on the challenge of a city centre restaurant. 

The lunch menu is a clever mix of small and large plates. Crab cakes were crispy golden brown, full of lightly packed crab meat, served atop a corn pureé. I could see these working really well as a tasty bar snack accompanying a cold glass of crisp white wine. A salad of smoked trout with pickled cucumber and apple was a deftly balanced cool mix of fresh and sweet textures. 
Crab cakes with corn and paprika 
Hot smoked trout with apple and pickled cucumber
The daily pasta special was a modern interpretation of pappardelle with chorizo, mushrooms and chunks of chicken, with a little broth resting in the bottom of the bowl. Duck confit was a perfect winter dish with well-rendered crispy skin, roast root vegetables and smooth whipped potatoes. 
Pappardelle with chicken, chorizo and mushroom
Duck confit with whipped potatoes, shallot and parsnip
What struck me as we finished lunch in Stanley's was its potential to become a perfect city centre lunch spot. Every dish was well assembled, satisfying and good value; approximately €7 for small plates and €14 for mains. There is a short but attractive wine list by the glass, from which we both really liked the superb Gruner Veltliner (a favourite of Ross Lewis apparently). 

It's early days for Stanley's, but it's certainly promising. The McArdle brothers clearly love and enjoy their craft and their combination of quality modern Irish cuisine and a smart, modern interior is bound to appeal. Finally, don't leave without trying the Guinness & treacle brown bread!

Stanley's, Andrew Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 485 3273
URL: www.stanleysrestaurant.ie
Twitter: @stanleysd2

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
URL: brotherhubbard.ie/sistersadie
Twitter: @sistersadiecafe

Sister Sadie on Urbanspoon

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
URL: www.ashtonsgastropub.ie
Twitter: @BarAshtons

Ashtons Gastropub on Urbanspoon

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!