Sunday, November 15, 2015

[Wine] O'Briens Winter Wine Fair

The bi-annual O'Briens wine fair was held recently in the Mansion House Dublin, and for the first time, in the Clarion Hotel Cork. It's a great way to taste some of the hundreds of wines sold by O'Briens as well as meeting the producers, who man the stands and are only too happy to talk you through their wines. 

As Christmas is starting to draw ever near, I've selected six of my favourites from the tasting. To be fair, there were many wines to choose from, but these were the ones that I remember best from my tasting notes. O'Briens have some good reductions in store for the November-December period, as well as their regular promotions. So keep your eyes open. 

La Boissonneuse Organix 2013, Jean Marc Brocard, Burgundy, France

A biodynamic and organically produced Chablis, La Boissenneuse combines subtle minerality with crisp green apples and candied citrus fruit. It's really something quite special, and a little different from the traditional Chablis.

Pouilly Fuissé Les Brulés, Château Fuissé, Burgundy, France 2012

Here is a good white for the Christmas dinner. Château Fuisseé dates back to 1604 and has been in the Vincent family for five generations. Grown in the famous Les Brulés vineyard behind the château, the grapes get a high sun exposure (hence the 'burnt' aspect to the name). This is an oaky wine with a creamy texture and buttery notes of hazelnut and almond. 

Bethany Cabarnet/Merlot 2011, Barossa Valley, Australia
€12.99 for Nov/Dec (down from €20.99)

This wine was my surprise of the tasting because, to be frankly honest, I did not expect much from a €13 wine. The price tag is deceptive though, as this wine normally retails at €21. From the Barossa foothills, this is a juicy red of blackberries, cherries and vanilla, complete with a nice smooth texture. 

Château Mont-Redon Lirac, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France, 2012

Here is another red wine that represents immense value for money, and easily competes with wines twice the price. It comes from one of the regions best-regard producers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but without the price tag. Made mainly with Grenache (with Syrah and Mourvèdre making up the remainder), there are flavours of ripe berries and a slight peppery spice. This will go very well with roast red meats, while you enjoy the great value.

Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2007

If you want to kick off the Christmas celebrations with a glass of fine bubbles, this 100% Chardonnay (or Blanc de Blancs) champagne has fine, lively bubbles with citrus and peach flavours, before giving way to a slight touch of the traditional brioche notes. 

Bethany Old Quarry Tawny Port, Barossa Valley, Australia
€22.99 (down from €24.99 for Nov/Dec)

Christmas dinner is over, and now it's time to relax with some cheese and maybe some Christmas cake. To accompany this, I'm suggesting another wine from the Bethany estates, but this time it's a port. Made from Grenache and Syrah, and harvested late in the season for maximum sweetness, the fortified wine is aged in old oak casks for an average of ten years. At first there are strong raisin flavours, giving way to a fino-like finish. 

All wines listed above are for sale through O'Briens, either in-store or online at Get 20% back on your loyalty card when you buy any 6 wines before 10pm Sunday, November 22nd. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

[Review] EIPIC at Deanes, Belfast, United Kingdom

EIPIC is very much the jewel in the crown of the Deane's restaurant flagship space on Belfast's Howard Street. It has already claimed a Michelin star in September 2015, just a mere eighteen months after opening. Owner Micheal Deane has clearly statued his vision for EIPIC as being "amongst the finest restaurants in these islands", and chef Danni Barry has fulfilled that dream in double quick time. 

With both EIPIC and fellow Belfast restaurant OX, claiming Michelin stars in 2015, it was time to revisit Belfast and sample some more of its exciting food and drinks scene. (Read here for my earlier January visit to pre-Michelin star OX). Following some excellent cocktails at new bar APOC, we strolled over to City Hall for dinner at EIPIC. Entering through "Deanes Love Fish", our coats were taken and we were lead through to the calm and serene dining room. Large silver discs gently reflect soft light from one wall, while a slightly askew paining on the far wall triggered my OCD tendencies all night. The Saturday night tasting menu costs £60 per head, with wine options also available.

Once seated, we ordered a bottle of Pike's White Mullet from Clare Valley (£31.95), a lovely wine, made from 79% Riesling, with some Fiano, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. Little delicious filo cheese and onion mouthfuls started the meal, albeit oddly pillowed on a linen napkin, followed by a slow cooked egg yolk of luscious silkiness in a miso broth, mopped up with crusty bread. A great start.
Cheese and onion in filo pastry
Yolk with celeriac, turnip, miso and pork skin
The only dud note in the entire meal came next. Little slices of cured bass had a curiously hard skin, which ground unpleasantly between my teeth, and left little flavour. Things improved noticeably with the arrival of salt-baked beetroots, with goats cured and salty, crunchy sunflower seeds. A piece of halibut was golden fried, served with an intense roasted bone sauce and a little melee of cauliflower and romanesco pieces. Crisp little discs of black pudding were cleverly paired with cider-glazed partridge and cabbage, while smoked bone marrow really set off the juicy piece of salt-aged beef rib.
Cured wild bass with kohlrabi and dill
Baked beetroots, goats curd and sunflower seeds
Halibut with roasted bone sauce and cauliflower
Cider-glazed partridge and black pudding
Salt-aged beef rib, smoked bone marrow, turnips and pickled mustard
A short break to finish our glasses of red wine, and then it was time for the dessert courses. The cheese trolley was wheeled over for our inspection, but we regretfully declined, given it was past 11pm. Spiced apple was deceptively simple, with a custardy core hiding underneath a perfectly fitted disc of sugar crust. Even better was a beautiful piece of chestnut cake with a milk chocolate mousse and ice-cream, demonstrating a wonderful mix of textures and complimentary flavours. 
Spiced apple
Chocolate and chestnut cake, chocolate mousse and toasted milk
The woman in me is delighted to see a successful female chef at the helm, especially one who has earned a Michelin star in short time. It's a fitting and triumphant reward to her decision to return home to Belfast. With a firm focus on local, seasonal produce and a clean, modern presentation, Barry is a woman to keep an eye on. 

EIPIC, 28-40 Howard Street, Belfast, BT1 6PF, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)28 9033 1134
Twitter: @Deanes_EIPIC

Sunday, October 25, 2015

[Wine] Aldi Priorat and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru

Aldi continues to enhance its wine offering, and I recently did a trawl through their French Wine Sale offerings, as well as picking up some other interesting wines from the shelves. My normal preference is for white wine, but these two reds have impressed me. 

Lot 06 Priorat 2014, €13.99
The Lot Series is a new range from Aldi, where each wine has been made by a well-known and well-respected producer of their region. Each bottle is individually numbered and features a beautiful hand-painted label. My bottle was #12,2006 from a batch of 36,000.

Priorat is a Spanish wine region, located close to Barcelona, and is one of only two wine regions in Spain to qualify as DOCa (alongside Rioja). It hasn't been widely known up to recently, but is gaining a strong reputation and producing some of the most expensive Spanish wines. 

This Priorat is made from Grenache with 14.5% ABV. It has lots of red and dark fruit (think cherries) on the nose, which continues on the palate, with some subtle spice. Tannins are firm without being too strong. Very delicious. 

Château Pindefleurs Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2011, €18.99
A Right Bank Bordeaux, this is dominated by Merlot (90%) with Cabarnet Franc making up the remainder. It's a denser beast than the Priorat, with lots of blackcurrants, dark fruit and chocolate, plus a nice smoky woodiness of cedar and oak, complete with good tannins. There's a slight note of violets and mint to balance out the richness. I think I'll be heading back to buy a few bottles for Christmas drinking. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

[Review] Locks, Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8

The tenet of reincarnation sits at the core of the Hindu religion, where the jiva (soul) will continue through endless cycles of birth, death and rebirth until moksa or the final release is achieved. I sometimes feel that the restaurant trade also believes in reincarnation. Occasionally the rebirth is confined to minor tweaks and a lick of paint. Other times, the changes are more substantial; a new chef or a whole reboot.

Sitting in one of the prettiest locations in Dublin, Locks on Windsor Terrace has had an interesting history. As Locks Brasserie, it achieved the highest accolade of a Michelin star in 2012 under Rory Carville, only to lose it the following year following his departure in 2013. It closed in the summer of 2015, and reopened in September as Locks Restaurant, complete with a whimsical swan motif and under the command of head chefs Conor O'Dowd and Keelan Higgs. Higgs had previously worked as head chef in Locks Brasserie and grabbed the opportunity to reinvigorate the venue.

The dining room hasn't changed much, but has been freshened up and finished with lovely little touches. I really liked the warm blood orange bread plates which bought an instant touch of comfort to the table. Incredibly crusty and perfect bread rolls, served with cultured butter were bought to the table, followed by two perfect Kelly's oysters, served in the shell with a small drizzle of shallot vinaigrette (€1.50 each). Potato "crisps" were flat, compressed fried potato slices, served with a divine aioli (€3.50).  
Crusty loaves and cultured butter
Two perfect Kelly's oysters
Snack of potato crisps with aioli
We ordered from the Sunday lunch menu where two courses cost €25 or 3 for €30. Seared mackerel with beetroot, radish and apple (supplement of €2) was perfectly cooked. I love sweetcorn as an ingredient, so it was no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed a bowl of beautifully smooth and yellow sweetcorn soup with sweet crayfish and basil sitting in the centre. 
Mackerel with beetroot and radish
The roast pork platter for 2 to share exceeded all expectations. Soft pork belly, crackling, slow cooked pork jowl and a shiny pork pie were piled high on a slate, while pork fillet, sauces and roast fennel were served separately on plates. The roast for 2 does attract a supplement (I think it was €10) but there is a lot of meat bang for your buck. We were largely silent while eating, which is probably the highest compliment possible. 
Platter of pork belly, crackling, jowl and pork pie
Pork fillet with smoked sauerkraut, apple and gravy
Desserts were simply wonderful, and would make me visit Locks for coffee alone. A perfectly cut slice of coffee tart was richly flavoured, with subtle sweetness.  The simple sounding "Peaches and cream" turned out to be much more than advertised, comprised of a creamy panna cotta topped with peach jelly and other nice bits. Petits fours were stunning in their simplicity; lavender macaron and fluffy coconut marshmallows. It's very clear that there is a highly talented pastry chef at work here. 
Sublime coffee tart
Peaches and cream
Petits fours of macarons and marshmallows
The wine list is interesting and has a strong Portuguese influence, from which we chose a Prova Regia Arinto, which is great value at just €29 per bottle. This wine is always a great choice when in the off-licence as it offers great freshness and zestiness, with some roundness and good complexity. 

The rebooted Locks is just wonderful. Friendly service, a lively atmosphere and really good modern Irish cooking all combine to make this new venture stand out. There is no stuffiness or pretentiousness here, but don't assume that there is a relaxed approach in the kitchen.  The cooking is sharp and on point. Well done to all involved at the new Locks, and here's looking forward to many more great meals on the banks of the Grand Canal. 

Locks, 1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8
Tel: +353 (0)1 416 3655
Twitter: @LocksRestaurant
Instagram: @lockswindsorterrace

Locks Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 12, 2015

[Events] Dublin Cocktail Festival 2015

I'm literally just home from the launch event for the 2nd Dublin Cocktail Fest, courtesy of Great Irish Beverages, and I'm really enthused about some of the very tasty drinks that I've sampled. The whole event is a wonderful recognition of the fantastic cocktail scene in Dublin and the wonderful flourishing Irish distilling industry. 
La Voyage, featuring Shortcross gin, from Koh restaurant
What is the Dublin Cocktail Fest all about?

The festival will take place all over Dublin city between October 12th to 17th in 30+ venues. Each venue will offer a specially designed drink, and the added twist this year is that all cocktails will feature an Irish spirit or liqueur as their main ingredient. 

Which venues are taking part?

The list is too long to name each venue individually, so head on over to the website to find out the latest details. 
From Barrel to Pots, with Glendalough Double Barrel Whiskey, from Candlelight
How does the Dublin Cocktail Fest work?

If you've ever attended on of the Dublin Fests before, then you'll know how it works. Get yourself a festival wristband, which cost €5 and are on sale at each of the venues. The wristband is valid for the entire week and will get you access to each venues' specially created cocktail at a 30% discount. If you want to hunt out some extra value, or add a food deal, visit who are offering a wide range of vouchers across all the venues.

Why use Irish spirits and liqueurs?

Unless you've been living under a bridge, you'll surely be aware that the Irish craft beer and distilling industry is thriving once again. Distilleries are opening all over the country, producing everything from single pot still Irish whiskies, gins, vodkas, poitiíns and liqueurs. In the Irish whiskey business alone, exports are expected to double by 2020 and double again by 2030. It's a dizzying time to be involved and Irish bartenders are taking full advantage.
The Amber Martini, featuring Kalak vodka, from Drury Buildings
Vote for the best cocktail! #BestIrishCocktail

As you sample the very best cocktails, make sure to vote on Twitter or Facebook for your favourites by using the hashtag #BestIrishCocktail. Voting opens on October 12th at 6pm and will close on October 18th at 6pm.

Finally, don't forget the festival hashtag #DublinCocktailFest

[Events] Upcoming wine tastings

Wine tastings are a great way to sample many different wines in one session, and they often come with the benefit of being able to meet the winemaker or distributor. This gives the true wine enthusiasts a chance to ask questions, while the more "dedicated" drinkers can simply get on with the job of tasting. 

The Irish wine calendar is pretty packed at the moment, but here are the details of three upcoming tastings to which I am particularly looking forward. And with the dreaded C-word (Christmas!) starting to loom, these tastings also represent a great opportunity to pick out your Christmas wines or presents.
1. SPIT Wine Festival
About: SPIT is both a professional and consumer tasting event. If you love wines and are interested in something a little out of the ordinary, meeting winemakers and tasting wines made with less intervention at the winery, then SPIT is the wine tasting for you. SPIT is a door to find wines with a strong and unique sense of identity and discover more about wine culture in Ireland. Wines will be presented by Grapecircus, Nomad Wines, Tyrrell and Co, Vinostito and WineMason

When: Thursday, October 29th. 18:30 - 21:00
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €25

2. Ely - The BIG Rhone Tasting
About: Rhone Wine Week returns this November and will be bigger and better than ever. Similar to the hugely popular "ely Big Tasting", there will be a host of winemakers on hand to talk you through a fantastic selection of wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote-Rotie, Gigondas, Vacqeuyras, St. Joseph, Crozes Hermitage, Cornas, Beaumes de Venise, Condrieu and of course, Cotes du Rhone. The Big Rhone Tasting will offer a huge selection of wines from the most diverse of all the French wine regions, if not the world. From price to style, from people to "terroirs", the Rhone delivers.  

When: Wednesday, November 4th. 18:00
Location: Ely CHQ, IFSC, Dublin 1
Cost: €15

3. JN Wines – Meet the Winemakers
About: This is an informal and relaxed walk-around tasting from established wine merchants James Nicholson, where you can chat to the winemakers, taste the wines that interest you and tailor the experience to suit you. You don't need to be a wine expert to enjoy it; interest and a bit of enthusiasm will suffice! It is the perfect opportunity to broaden your wine drinking horizons as well as your wine knowledge while you familiarise yourself with the JN Wines range. Come by yourself, in twos or as a part of a group. The JN team will be on hand to guide you around and answer any queries. With over 20 winemakers and 100+ wines to try, be sure to give yourself enough time to get around.
When: Friday, November 6th.
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €15

4. Spain Uncorked!
About:  Wines of Ribera del Duero and Rueda invite you to join them for an evening of Spanish wine discovery! Renowned Irish wine writer, Liam Campbell, will host a series of wine walks taking you through the wines of each region. There will be plenty of wine to sample from both Ribera del Duero wine regions as well as a Spanish music performance to bring some Olé! to the party.

When: Wednesday, November 11th. 18:30 – 21:00
Location: Smock Alley, Dublin 2
Cost: €20
Link: Eventbrite

5. Cases Wine Warehouse Winter Wine Fair
About:  We head west for the 9th annual Winter Wine Fair from Cases Wine Warehouse, which will showcase over 100 of the wonderful wines stocked by Cases. All proceeds from the evening will go to a local beneficiary, the development of a sports hall at Scoil Mhuire National School in Clarinbridge. The many wines open on the night will be from a diverse range of countries, regions and grapes, while also featuring many old favourites. There will be live music, a raffle and the annual Cases Blind Tasting Competition for anyone who fancies testing their palate.

When: Friday, November 13th. 18:30 – 21:00
Location: Cases Wine Warehouse, Tuam Road, Galway
Cost: €20, available from Cases Wine Warehouse and local shops.

6. O'Briens Winter Wine Fair
About:  The O'Briens twice yearly wine fairs are hugely popular and this year, there will be a Cork wine fair for the first time ever. The Cork event will have 140 wines to taste from 25 winemakers, while the Dublin event will feature 250 wines from 50 winemakers. 

When: Thursday, November 12th. 18:00 – 21:00 (Cork), Friday & Saturday, November 13th-14th (Dublin)
Location: Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork and The Mansion House, Dublin
Cost: €15 (Cork) and €20 (Dublin)  with early bird tickets available for the Dublin event. Tickets

Sunday, October 11, 2015

[Review] Featherblade, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

Eating out is something I really enjoy, and it's something I do a lot. Until recently, I wasn't paying much attention to pricing, but I've started to notice that once again eating out is gradually getting more expensive. Depending on where you go, you might be damn lucky to see change from €100 for two people. I recently updated my Dublin Top 10 Early Birds listing and I found that early birds were no longer as readily available or had increased in price. Walk around town on a Friday night, and the sense of party time is creeping back on the streets, resulting in busier restaurants and bars. Boom,  baby, boom.

So in the middle of all this gradual upwards pressure, I was excited to learn of a new restaurant which was selling steaks for €13. How could this be? Featherblade is a small steak taken from the shoulder blade of the cow. It likes to be cooked rare, or else it toughens and best of all, it's relatively inexpensive. Just like its namesake, newly opened restaurant Featherblade aims to stay true to the principle of simple and affordable.

Here the menu is pared back to the barest essentials, with a handful of starters,  steak for mains and a simple selection of sides. This short menu is presented on a  simple small stand on each table, or via suspended blackboards over the entrance.  In a similar manner to the menu, the interior is likewise pared back. The colour scheme is wood with black and while (white walls, black-topped tables and black thick padded cushions). 

With just three starters to choose from, priced at €8 each, we selected the braised beef croquettes and salmon poke. (Poke is a raw fish dish from Hawaii, so think of dishes similar to tartare or ceviche). 3 large croquettes were packed full of flavoursome braised beef, well-seasoned and served crisply hot with a red cabbage slaw and beetroot chutney. The salmon poke featured fresh sweet salmon, avocado, sesame seeds and a little soy sauce, all served with a riot of sweet potato crisps. Both starters were very good, but what really impressed was the very generous portion size. 
Braised beef croquettes with slaw and beetroot chutney
Salmon poke with sweet potato crisps
The signature 9 oz featherblade steak is a constant on the menu, with a daily steak special also on offer. On our visit, the special was a 9 oz skirt steak, a slightly tougher cut than the featherblade. We ordered one of each, both priced at €13, with accompanying side dishes of truffle mac'n'cheese and beef dripping chips (€3.50 each).

The steaks arrived pre-sliced, simply served with some fresh green leaves. When a restaurant is all about one thing, then that one thing better deliver. And these steaks certainly each. Beautifully cooked, with a little juice escaping around the plate and sprinkled with a little sea salt, these steaks were spot on.   The featherblade was wonderfully tender and tasty, and while the skirt steak had a little more chew, it also had a lovely peppery flavour from the marinating it had received. The chips tasted like chipper chips, thanks to the beef dripping and the truffled mac'n'cheese was superb. The combined price for one steak and one side was €16.50 (or €18.00 if you add one sauce), which represents really exceptional value. 
Skirt steak at Featherblade
Featherblade absoutely nails it with great steaks and sides at great prices. By using "smaller" steaks and less popular cuts, there's little waste at the end, which is appealing given the recent awareness of food wastage. (I recently ate in a US steakhouse, where I could barely eat half of my rib-eye steak and felt awful at the thought of the rest of it being fired in the bin). 

Recommended - absolutely! 

Featherblade, 51 Dawson St, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 679 8814
Twitter: @featherblade
Instagram: @featherblade51

Featherblade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato