Monday, June 29, 2015

[Review] La Bodega, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Some Sundays are made for roast dinners and some Sundays are made for snacking. As we strolled up Ranelagh, heading northwards, we were definitely in the mood for grazing and a cleverly positioned blackboard advertising an outdoors heated terrace at La Bodega proved the snare.

We've been to La Bodega several times and while I like the comfortably darkened interior with its mismatched seating, a summer Sunday evening felt more suitable to eating al fresco. On Sundays, live guitar music fills the dining room, gently wrapping the diners in the magic of Spain. The corridor out to the terrace passes the kitchen area but then opens up in a lovely area with raised decking, faux grass, fairy lights and lanterns. Baskets of rugs are positioned around the space so that diners can wrap themselves up when evenings get too cold. 
The outdoor heated terrace at La Bodega
The menu at La Bodega is pretty typical tapas fare and we ordered with gusto. A generous portion of Garbanzas con morcilla (chickpeas cooked with Spanish black pudding €6.50) kicked us off, quickly followed by my favourite patatas bravas (deep fried cubes of potato with spicy sauce €5.00). 

Other dishes followed in swift succession from the kitchen including pan Catalan (crunchy bread rubbed with tomato and topped with thick jamon €5.00) and another vegetarian favourite habas con jamon (pan-fried broad beans with jamon €6.00). Our little feast was rounded out by a portion of gambas al ajillo (prawns fried with garlic €7.95), with additional bread ordered from the kitchen for soaking up of the tasty juices.
Garbanzas con morcilla 
Pan Catalan
Patatas bravas
Habas con Jamón
Gambas con ajillo
It's been a long time since I was in Madrid, but when I saw the traditional dish of churros served with liquid dark chocolate, I was hooked (€6.00). Freshly fried sticks of dough, coated in granulated sugar and dipped into slightly bitter chocolate is an experience everyone should try at least once. It's a recipe for diabetic disaster, but once every so often won't hurt, right?
Churros con chocolate
It's worth mentioning that many of the tapas at La Bodega are available in two sizes, the regular size and the larger racion. I personally found the regular size to be more than enough, so I'd recommend reserving the racion portions for the hungrier days.

Any restaurant that survives for a length of time in Ranelagh is clearly doing something right. While not wildly exciting in its selection of tapas, La Bodega produces a solid, tasty selection of classic tapas, topped up with live guitar music and a comfortable interior. The new heated terrace will have the dual effect of increasing dining space while offering an attractive option for wine on a summer evening. Viva la España!

La Bodega, 93 Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 497 5577
Twitter: @labodegaranelag

Monday, June 15, 2015

[Review] Sunday Pizza and Cocktail at Osteria Lucio

A short post this week, but it's one definitely worth sharing. Every Sunday, the new(ish) Osteria Lucio offers a pizza and cocktail special for €20 and we duly visited to check it out.

Some of you may be a little confused by the transition of the former Pizza e Porchetta into the new Osteria Lucio, In short, Chef Ross Lewis, from Chapter One, has partnered with Luciano Tona to take over the restaurant and gradually transform it with their own personal definition of Italian osteria cooking. 

Eating in a restaurant located underneath a DART bridge is an interesting experience, with the occasional overhead rumble. The low arching bridge adds a slight touch of cool claustrophobia which never quite departs during the meal. This feeling wasn't helped by the fact that the restaurant was largely empty, even at 1.30 on a Sunday lunchtime. The tempting €20 pizza and cocktail offer clearly needs a bit more broadcasting. 
Interior of Osteria Lucio
On the Sunday we visited, the special pizza featured fennel salami, ricotta, dill and fennel, all partnered with a Spicy Bloody Mary cocktail. We decided to have one special pizza, which we partnered with a salami, chili and honey pizza. Once prepped and placed in the oven, the pizzas were both ready in literally a few minutes, complete with thin crispy bases. After leaving the pies for a few minutes to cool and solidify somewhat, we tucked in our napkins and pulled the slices apart. 

Both pizzas were superb - the usually strong flavours of fennel were muted just enough on the special pizza, while the addition of honey to the salami and chili pizza added a little touch of difference. The only weak point was the Spicy Bloody Mary, which to be honest, wasn't very spicy.
Spicy Bloody Mary at Osteria Lucio
Fennel salami, ricotta, dill and fennel pizza

Osteria Lucio, Malting Tower, Clanwilliam Terrace, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 662 4198
Twitter: @luciodublin

Saturday, June 6, 2015

[Competition] Win two tickets to Taste of Dublin with Wines from Rioja

 There's nothing better than free stuff, and thanks to Wines from Rioja, Stitch & Bear have two pairs of tickets to Taste of Dublin to give away. I'll be giving away one pair here on the blog, while the second pair will be up for grabs on my shiny new Instagram page.

Wine from Rioja is bringing its "Summer of Tapas Fantasticas" to the Taste of Dublin Festival from the 11th to 14th June. Visitors will have a chance to taste some of Rioja's best wines, alongside traditional food from the famous London jamón bodega Bar Tozino. From Spain's gastronomic heartland, Rioja wines are amongst the world's most food-friendly, and with over 600 wineries in the Rioja region, there's bound to be a wine to suit everyone. Wine experts will be on hand to offer informal masterclasses to festival goers so that they can make the most of Rioja with their favourite foods. 

In order to be in with a chance of winning one pair of tickets for a Taste of Dublin session of your choosing, simply answer the question below by leaving a comment on this blog post, or by emailing Please make sure to provide contact details, as I have to be able to reach you if you're lucky enough to win. The competition is now closed for entries.

Congrats to Daniela Simmons, who wins the pair of tickets from this blog post.

Question: What is the famous Spanish wine region that is bringing its wines to the Taste of Dublin?

Don't forget to like my new Instagram page, where I will be giving away another pair of tickets to one of my lucky followers. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

[Review] Amuse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

 I've eaten at Amuse before for the evening tasting menu and was immensely impressed. Unfortunately, the matching tasting wines made an equal impression on me and my photos of that night grew progressively blurrier. But the French-Japanese cooking of chef Conor Dempsey lingered in my memory, calling for a return visit. Then a recent email arrived from Amuse announcing a three course set lunch menu for €35, which includes a glass of wine, a half bottle of water and tea or coffee. 

Located at the St Stephen's Green end of Dawson Street, Amuse is a small, but perfectly presented restaurant. The theme is perfectly executed French style cooking with a strong Asian influence. It's utterly unique by Dublin standards and is surely under scrutiny from the Michelin inspectors. (However, I am skeptical about Michelin in Ireland, given the other great restaurants who are yet to land a star).

To start, we were presented with an amuse of pureed aubergine, topped with black sesame and peanut, which concealed a small piece of anchovy sushi. My starter of goat's cheese curd was elegant simplicity with intense dashi infused grapes and quinoa crisps. Pork belly marinated in hoisin was served with apple, a sweet shrimp tartare and kombucha dressing. 
Amuse of aubergine, sesame, peanut and sushi
Goats cheese curd with dash infused grapes and quinoa crisps
Hoisin marinated pork belly with apple and shrimp tartare
Both main courses were exquisitely presented on pleasing, simple, white plates with a slightly raised rim. His main course of seared Atlantic cod was meaty and beautifully cooked. It was accompanied by sweet potato, mouth puckering intense baked lemon, a wonderful peanut satay and a shire miso dressing. My choice of guinea fowl absolutely blew me away, especially with the sweet and salty crusted neck (?) meat and wonderful dabs of coconut sauce.
Seared cod of fillet with sweet potato and satay 
Guinea fowl with green vegetables
The superb standard of cooking was maintained with the dessert courses. We shared two desserts, one of milk chocolate with blood orange sorbet and dried ginger and a second being a celebration of strawberries with white chocolate. I often find it hard for restaurants to maintain a consistent standard across savoury and sweet courses, but no such issues here. 
Milk chocolate with blood orange sorbet
Strawberry and white chocolate plate
In addition to great food, the wine service at Amuse is also to be commended. With the set course menu, you are limited to a single red or white, but I was impressed by the crisp Côtes de Gascogne Colombard. Later, when it came to desserts, sommelier Léna Duhamel presented us with two superb sweet wine options, one red and one white. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't take a picture of the labels.

The food at Amuse is complex and joyous. It's a complete world apart from the minimal ingredient approach we recently experienced at Relaæ in Copenhagen. On my first visit, I had been impressed. On this second visit, I was blown away by the increase in performance. The dishes feature flavours that are light and ethereal, but balanced against strong and vibrant notes. Presentation is meticulous with a mind-boggling level of detail concealed in the smears and dabs of every plate. 

For me, this is the best fine dining restaurant in Dublin right now. And a €35 lunch is a very affordable way to experience this superb venue. 

Amuse, 22 Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 639 4889
Twitter: @Amusedublin

Sunday, May 3, 2015

[Review] Relae, Copenhagen

Sometimes you come across a district that is achingly cool, in a genuine way and not in a "trying too hard" way. This was the feeling we encountered as we got out of our taxi on the quiet street of Jaegersborggade in the Copenhagen district of Nørrebro. 

Relæe comes from two Noma alumni, Christian Puglisi and Kim Rossen. To be honest, having Noma alumni in your kitchen is pretty much de rigeur for any self-respecting Copenhagen restaurant. At the time of writing, the restaurant is ranked No 53 in the World's Best 50 Restaurants. Located on a corner, the interior is deceptively simple with an open kitchen, white walls and plain wooden tables. But as always, the devil is in the details and we find that our cutlery, napkin and menu are located in clever drawers concealed within the table. This is self-service, Scandi-Michelin style.

What makes Relæ even more unique, in a country of unique cooking, is that practically all of the ingredients are organic, while all the wines are natural. The topic of natural wines is causing some strong debate in the wine world right now, so the offering of an all-natural wine menu is a strong statement.
The menu at Relæ
Table drawer with cutlery, menu and napery
The menu offers a 4 course omnivore or herbivore tasting menu for 440 DKK each, rising to 725 DKK for a 7 course tasting menu. All options include filtered water, sourdough bread and olive oil. We choose the 7 course option, but paired with the tasting wines from the 4 course menu (395 DKK). 

The courses started to arrive: fried salsify with a mushroom juice for dipping, an intense aromatic broth with bright green drops of pine oil, dense and chewy sourdough with a vibrant olive oil. So far, so good. This was followed by a stellar combination of bergamot ice, lumpfish roe over which was poured a green ransom broth. 
Salsify with mushroom broth
Broth with pine oil
Sourdough bread with olive oil
Bergamot ice, lumpfish roe and ramson broth
Next up was a simple plate of shredded sunchoke, mushroom and walnut. This looked somewhat like a hedgehog on the plate, but in the mouth, I found flavours emerging and blending together in a way I could not have predicted.  Baked, pureed potato was served with brown butter and citrus, yet another combination that surprised and amazed me. 
Sunchoke, mushroom and walnut
Baked pureed potato with brown butter and citrus
All was going very well so far, but then we were served two dishes which drastically changed my perception of Relæ. First up was a dish of celeriac with local havgus cheese and coffee. My first impression was of whiteness, and this didn't really improve upon tasting. Eating the bland ribbons of celeriac was simply tedious. However, the dish of slow-cooked Sødam chicken which followed has taken the crown of worst dish I've ever tasted. After just one forkful, I found myself pushing the plate away. For me, there is nothing attractive about boiled chicken, especially when it has been deliberately cooked in such a way as to retain the textures of raw chicken. The colour is wrong, the texture is wrong and when combined with insipid parsnip, it was all just too much of the wrong stuff. 
Celeriac with havgus cheese and coffee
Sødam chicken with parsnip and sesame
Goats cheese and wine
Our waiter warned us that our first dessert of frozen yogurt contained a hidden surprise. Underneath the grated egg yolk, we found an incredible salted egg yolk. In contrast to the nadir of the slow-cooked chicken dish, this was the zenith of desserts. This was followed by another excellent little stone bowl of almonds and marscapone, enhanced by black olive bits. 
Frozen yogurt dessert with salted egg yolk
Almond, marscapone and olives
In my mind, Relæ has the distinction of serving one of the singularly most unpalatable dishes I've ever tasted. But the meal also showcased simple ingredients with a laser-like intensity. The memory of the lumpfish roe and potato dishes will linger with me for a long while, not to mention the egg yolk dessert. 

It was also quite fun to enjoy a natural wine tasting alongside our meal. I must admit that I didn't particularly take to most of the wines served. There were some good glasses that I would happily drink again, but unfortunately, I didn't get to write down their  details. For the most part though, I'll stick with wines produced through modern techniques. I think I'm just not quite ready for the musty, even manure-like aromas of natural wines just yet. 

Sometimes you need to be reminded that Michelin dining is not always about enjoyable fine food. Sometimes it should make you think, it should make you react (good or bad), it should educate you and it should make you form an opinion.  Relæ gave me a good shaking, challenging me with regard to what I liked. It is creative, it is modern and it is well worth a visit. 

Restaurant Relae, Jægersborggade 41, 2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark
Tel: + 45 3696 6609

Monday, April 27, 2015

[Review] Samphire at the Garryvoe Hotel, Garryvoe, Co Cork

Over the last couple of years, we have developed a habit of booking ourselves into a hotel for Good Friday. It's usually a day off from work, so we can usually head to the hotel early and relax for day. Staying as a hotel resident means that we can bypass all the Good Friday palaver that grips the country and finally, it's a chance to relax before spending some quality time with the family. In fairness, it's an all round, win-win situation. 

This year, we were in Cork for a family wedding, so we chose Garryvoe Hotel as our destination. We made sure to book a front-facing sea view room, which turned out to be a good idea in the fresh and bright Spring weather. What wasn't such a good idea was leaving a bag of ice in the car boot for a few hours, but there was still enough left to chill our pre-dinner cocktail. (Yes, I am one of those people who is so particular about their alcohol that I bring my own).

Our overnight package included a 3 course dinner in Samphire restaurant, under the command of Chef Kevin O'Sullivan. A wild mushroom chowder with tarragon cream was deceptively simple but revealed some rich and meaty flavours. Pan seared Castletownbere scallops were served with corals still attached (I'm sure I've said before how much I love the coral of a scallop) along with sweet potato puree and samphire.
Castletownbere scallops with sweet potato and samphire
Wild mushroom chowder
The main courses continued to deliver more of the same big, strong flavours. Seared monkfish on the bone came with a generous portion of shellfish flavoured risotto, with fennel, orange and rocket salad. A tender piece of slow cooked beef short rib was accompanied by a riot of parmesan potato puree, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, wild mushroom fricassee and a Madeira reduction. But somehow it all worked.
Monkfish on the bone with shellfish risotto
Short-rib of beef with wild mushroom fricassee and asparagus
A selection of Irish cheese was just perfect, accompanied by a pressed fig and almond slice, while the house variation on the classic Tiramisu involved a mini shot of Irish coffee. Thankfully, a brisk walk outside in the cold night air under the bright moon helped kickstart our digestion before an early bedtime. 
Selection of Irish cheeses
Tiramisu with Irish coffee shot
Service throughout our dinner, and indeed the entire stay, was welcoming and refreshingly honest and local. Because it was the Easter weekend, the hotel was literally full of families taking advantage of the Easter break offers. A screening of a children's film in the evening kept the kids occupied, but in the morning, the dining room was packed with families having the usual breakfast breakdowns. But even in the face of all this bedlam, the servers kept their cool and dealt with it all with grace. They were a real credit to the hotel.

Garryvoe Hotel, Garryvoe, Co Cork
Tel: + 353 (0)21 464 6718
Twitter: @Garryvoehotel

Monday, April 20, 2015

[Review] Taco Taco, Dame Court, Dublin 2

Bank holiday weekends are great in Dublin. A lot of people have left the city which means that it's easier to get tables in restaurants and easier to find taxis. Even Dublin's hottest, newest pop-up restaurant Taco Taco was largely empty on Easter Sunday, which is always good in a restaurant that doesn't take reservations. 

Taco Taco comes from the team behind San Lorenzo's, namely chef Temple Gardner and promoter Anthony Remedy. The incredible success of the San Lorenzo's #brunchofchampions convinced them that there was a need for a pop-up restaurant for the brunch crowd and hence Taco Taco was born. It's located on the ground and basement floors of the Odessa building on Dame Court. The ground floor isn't large, and the tables are relatively small. But that doesn't matter somehow. This is a restaurant for the younger people, who want an easy, casual meal, preferably accompanied by some killer cocktails and tunes. 

Maryland crab cakes (€11.95) were chunky patties of fresh crab meat, served simply with a rocket salad and sweet chili sauce. A retro-inspired pint of prawns was a real treat, inviting us to peel the shells away from the sweet, plump prawns (€11.95), while a little pot of sriracha mayo provided a touch of heat. A simple but great start to the meal.
Maryland crab cakes
Pint of prawns with sriracha mayo
All our group ended up ordering from the taco section of the menu, but there are plenty of options to be found such as super nachos or the epic sounding Kansas City truck stop burger. The taco selection ranges from €14 for a halloumi vegetarian option all the way to €23 for tuna sashimi tacos. I initially thought that the prices seemed a little steep, but decided to reserve judgement until later. Our small table rapidly piled up with plates as orders arrived from the kitchen, including five spice Chinese duck tacos (€16.95), shrimp popcorn tacos (€18.95) and Jamaican jerk chicken (€14.95).

Everything was pretty tasty, but for me, the portions were far too large. By the time I had eaten one jerked chicken taco, I simply had had enough. I'd personally rather pay per individual taco and create a selection based on what I fancy. 

Side portions of poutine fries (a Quebecois favourite of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds) were simply stellar. In the Taco Taco world, the poutine fries are crunchy pieces of scalloped potato topped with smokey bacon, black pepper sauce and mozzarella (€3.50). Top notch indulgence food. 
Jamaican jerk chicken taco
Five spice Chinese duck taco
Popcorn shrimp taco
Pineapple and chili salsa 
Poutine fries
The famous San Lorenzo's Nutella cheesecake is available on the Taco Taco menu (€7.95) for the die-hard fans. However, my eyes were firmly on the salt caramel popcorn option (€6.00). Now, I don't know which genius came up with the idea for this dish, but awards have been given for less. A combination of popcorn, lashings of salted caramel sauce and scoops of peanut butter ice-cream results in a dessert that is definitely not for children. Like the poutine fries, I found myself thinking of this dish long after leaving. 
San Lorenzo's Nutella chocolate cheesecake
Salt caramel popcorn with peanut butter icecream
Multiple rounds of margarita later (one of which managed to end up in my handbag!), we staggered out of Taco Taco. We were full and we were happy. Bizarrely, the tacos were not the star of the show for me, although I did particularly enjoy the popcorn shrimp variation. They were just too big and "too much of one thing". But I definitely will return for another look at the non-taco section of the menu, and most definitely for the poutine and popcorn dessert.

UPDATE: I've been informed by Anthony Remedy that the kitchen at Taco Taco is quite small, and they just can't handle the individual taco idea. So if you want to experience many different tacos, get in there as part of a group and order loads!

Taco Taco, 14 Dame Court, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)83 449 9584
Twitter: @TacoTacoDublin

Taco Taco on Urbanspoon