Tuesday, September 23, 2014

[Review] My Meat Wagon, Smithfield, Dublin 7

One of my first work projects involved spending a lot of time around Smithfield and the Four Courts area. I was reasonably new to Dublin and to be quite honest, some of things I witnessed in that area did little to enamour the area to me. In fact, if I was in charge of public health, I might have erected a biohazard zone in some places. Smithfield Square had been built, but even with the large Fresh supermarket, it felt like a big, grey, desolate space. The Celtic Tiger Thomas Read's pub failed, just like our economy, and a horde of marauding zombies probably wouldn't have felt out of place. In fact, they'd have brightened the place up a bit.

I wasn't the only person disappointed by the regeneration project at Smithfield, but slowly, inch by painful inch, the area is coming to life. The old Park Inn hotel is now the Generator Hostel, complete with Jameson whiskey bottle chandelier and a buzzing atmosphere. The Lighthouse Cinema has survived bad times and is now a well-established alternative cinema. But any self-respecting area cannot consider itself as truly regenerated until the hipsters arrive. If only hipsters could exist without jam-jar glasses, if only.
Standing outside My Meat Wagon
And if my visit to the recent Big Grill festival taught me anything, it was that hipsters like BBQ. It's like catnip to them. BBQ, craft beers and RayBans seem to complete the hipster trinity. Therefore, the opening of My Meat Wagon, an American BBQ restaurant, in the corner between the Lighthouse and Oscars is part of the Smithfield barometer. 

First things first, I really liked the decor at My Meat Wagon. There are jute sacks, rough wooden planking, galvanised zinc sheets and suspended pallets. We have many storage sheds with all these ingredients on our family farm, except that no West Cork farmer ever thought of setting up a BBQ in their shed. Despite all these design clichés, the overall effect here simply works, with low, warm lighting and original bluegrass music.
The simple menu at My Meat Wagon
Beef good (tofu bad) - seating at My Meat Wagon
We both ordered the Meat on a Board with a mix of Cow, Pig and Bird. To be honest, I was a little perplexed why beef and pork get named, but the source of "Bird" remained a mystery. Each board has a main meat, accompanied by a selection of other cuts and two sides. BBQ chicken has often been a disappointment to me, left dry and dusty by the BBQ process, but here there was a darkly golden laminated skin with juicy meat underneath. 

The Ole Hickory Texas smoker shipped over to sit at the heart of My Meat Wagon had been equally good to the soft, deliciously fatty beef rib, chorizo sausage and excellent pulled pork. Beef brisket, normally my go-to BBQ meat, was a little dry but tasted well. Sides were equally well executed with mash, fresh slaw and fries (served in a mini shopping trolley, perhaps a tribute to the River Liffey?). 
Meat board with pig, bird and cow
There is much to like about My Meat Wagon and it seems like Dublin is not done with BBQ food yet Two huge meat boards, a beer and a glass of white wine came to under €50 with friendly and efficient service. What started out as a small gourmet burger van has matured into a slick, fine BBQ, which would not be out of place in the US. In fact, I'd definitely rate it above quite a few US joints that I've visited. By the time we finished eating, my initial skepticism over the design had been utterly defeated by the fine meat treatment. Put the diet to one side and order the beef rib with sausage. Trust me...

My Meat Wagon, Smithfield Market Square, Dublin 7
Tel: +353 (0)1 874 8172
Twitter: @myMEATwagon

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

[Review] Coqbull, French Church Street, Cork

We all have little things that make us happy. For me, one such thing is the view of Cork and the River Lee that opens up before you as you drive into the city from the Lower Glanmire Road. Sometimes, the rowing club will be out on the river, or perhaps the sun will be setting, casting a golden glow onto the serene waters of the river. Where ever I may go in this world, I know that Cork will always welcome me home. 

In recent years, I've felt that the food gap between Dublin and Cork has widened hugely. Cork has a real heavyweight in the form of the English Market, but the restaurant scene in Dublin has simply exploded. There are definitely some great eating spots in Cork, but it just doesn't have the buzz of Dublin. So when I heard about Coqbull, a burger and chicken restaurant, I wondered if a little bit of buzz had come to Cork.

New venue Coqbull straddles the gap between French Church Street and Academy Street, in the space vacated by the closure of Café Bar Deli. Apparently the design was done by a leading London agency and it certainly ticks all the cool boxes - pressed tin ceiling, parquet flooring and fancy lightbulbs. I had to smile when I realised that the enclosure for the now-mandatory hip lightbulbs were actually milking machine glass jars. I don't know how many farmers will pass the threshold of Coqbull, but those that do will surely enjoy that particular touch. 
Raspberry mojito
Coqbull details
I had rang earlier to reserve a table as my sisters were joining us, but was informed that reservations were not taken. Despite being reassured that there would be no trouble getting a table, it turned out to be reasonably busy when we did arrive. We settled in at the outside tables on Academy Street with a raspberry mojito (€9.50) and a Tiger beer (€5.50), but it wasn't too long before we were called inside  to our booth table.The restaurant was buzzing inside, as you'd expect to see on a Saturday night. It was that time of evening where soon-to-go-home shoppers were mingling with the early waves of the night out crowd. It definitely seemed that the industrial-milking parlour fusion design blend was working well in Cork. 

A shared portion of Coq wings served with a dish of blue cheese sauce (€12) turned out just fine. They had been coated with something along the lines of Frank's Hot Sauce, but the spice level was definitely (and disappointingly) on the safe side.
Coq wings for two with blue cheese sauce
A half rotisserie chicken looked substantial along with home cut fries (€13). Some internet reading informs me that the chicken is marinated for 24 hours in a sweet tea mixture (using Barry's Tea of course). The end result is good, a decent chicken dinner that will appeal to many. Some of the burger combinations sounded magnificent and I ordered the Supreme Bull burger with Cashel Blue cheese, bone marrow and crispy onion. (€14.50). The toppings were indeed delicious, but the patty was dense and dry, sucking the enjoyment out of the burger. Sweet potato fries were soft, not crispy, lying clumped together on the plate. 
Half rotisserie chicken with fries
Supreme Bull burger with sweet potato fries
There is a decent selection of craft beers and a self-described list of "tantalising coqtails". My raspberry mojito was good, but I struggled to pick a second cocktail from the limited list. The daiquiri was a contender until I realised that they served it frozen (or adult slushie-style) which isn't mentioned on the menu. 

Coqbull would appear to be a name chosen to deliberately raise some eyebrows. But it is a reflection of the restaurant's core offering of rotisserie chicken and burgers, all 100% Irish and locally sourced. The chicken comes from the famous English Market tenant, the Chicken Inn  while the burgers are made to a house recipe by Crowes on the Kinsale Road. 

Ultimately, Coqbull didn't excite me or linger in my memory for a return trip to Cork. While its arrival is a good thing for the Cork dining scene, it's hard not to compare it to Dublin where, simply put, there are places doing this kind of food better. For now, I'll be sticking the to its bigger brother, the Cornstore.

Coqbull, 5 French Church Street, Cork
Tel: + 353 (0)21 427 8444
URL: coqbull.com
Twitter: @Coqbull_Cork

Coqbull on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 25, 2014

[Review] L'EGGS, Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

For me, planning restaurant and bar visits is one of the best parts of holiday preparation. With a short weekend in Barcelona booked, I wanted to pack in the very best I could find. Now, Barcelona is a a city where you'd can't throw a pepper mill or potato ricer without hitting a Michelin-starred chef. Reading the latest articles on the hottest new dining spots, it became clear that every chef who is a Michelin-someone has branched out into casual dining. The legendary Ferran Adria has Tickets while Carles Abellan has Tapas 24 (one of my firm favourites). But when we discovered that Paco Perez (holder of 4 stars) had opened a restaurant devoted to the staple egg, it was game over.

L'EGGS is located on the sophisticated Passeig de Gracia and is a clever blend of trendy and classic styles. A neon window sign of a cracked egg signals that things are a little different within, a feeling which is reinforced by the straw-lined walls, farmyard fittings and now-mandatory cool lightbulbs. However, the leather toolbelts worn by the waiters in lieu of the classic bistro apron should not distract from the precise, classic elements of the restaurant, including perfect crystal and linen napery. It's very, very cool. It may feel like a chicken coop, but it's a very upmarket chicken coop.
Place setting at L'EGGS
The menu is available in Spanish, Catalan and English with a plethora of egg-based dishes to choose from. The dishes are categorised into simple sounding categories such as fried eggs, omelettes and classic eggs. But obviously this is no simple restaurant… Our amuse bouche of a cream cheese, topped with diced green olives was deceptively simple and clean. But internally, I was beginning to get excited about the dishes to come.
Amuse bouche
Both of our starters came from the "Eggs Up" portion of the menu, described as "as a section in which the egg is not the protagonist". A bacon and cheese soufflé came to the table, puffed delicately above the edges of the little cast iron pot. We gave it a few minutes before judging it safe to dive in, as a burnt tongue is never the ideal start to a meal. The browned, softly crusty top gave way to what only can be described as a lusciously light cheese soup, which I simply didn't want to end. A salad of forgotten and kept tomatoes with chills and capers was visually beautiful and featured a selection of heirloom tomatoes atop a rich tomato tartare. 
Cheese and bacon souffle
Salad of forgotten and kept tomatoes
Our main courses came courtesy of the "Fried Eggs" section. His dish of arrabbiata spaghetti with lobster was topped with what appeared to be a deep-fried, poached egg. The crispy outer layer of the egg opened to let the velvety yolk ooze out over the pasta and meaty chunks of lobster claw meat. My choice of quail eggs were delivered to the table, atop a section of bone, split lengthways, grilled and mounted on rock salt. Just like their larger companion, the tiny quail eggs were cooked to yolky perfection, mingling with the rich fatty primevalness of the bone marrow. 
Quail eggs on bone marrow with tender onions
Arribbiata spaghetti with lobster and fried egg
Dessert only served to underline and emphasise the skill, palette and creativity of the kitchen. One dish caught our attention, mainly because we couldn't figure out what it could be. The "cocoegg" turned out to be a ethereal creation of light coconut mousse inside a delicate white chocolate shell, complete with soft mango spheres as yolks and some fluffy "bread" to act a a soldier. In a wonderful balance of flavours, the white chocolate sat quietly in the background, letting the light coconut rule the show. 
Cocoegg with mango and chocolate
L'EGGS is the kind of restaurant name that invites one to "crack" a few puns, or to say that how "eggs-cellent" it is. In our case, a whole bottle of excellent Rimarts Brut Reserva cava, three delicious courses, plus sparkling water cost just €75, making it rather "in-hen-expensive" for the quality food, surrounding and service. That's all yolks! (OK, I'll stop now, but seriously, if you're in Barcelona, visit L'EGGS).

L'EGGS, Passeig de Gracia 116 (Jardinets de Gracia), Barcelona, Spain
Tel: + 93 330 0303
URL: www.leggs.es
Twitter: @LEGGSBCN

Monday, August 18, 2014

[Review] The Exchequer Wine Bar, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

I was pretty saddened when the Diep restaurant in Ranelagh closed. I loved their creamy, rich curries and would often stop there for a meal on my way home from my weekly commuter flight. A major kitchen fire in 2011 closed the restaurant, and that was the end of my late night curry jaunts. 

Disappointed as I was, I looked forward to a restaurant opening in Ranelagh, but surprisingly it took until 2014 for a new venture to reopen the doors at 19 Ranelagh. After all, Ranelagh is home to so many bustling restaurants, with an affluent clientele who like to live it large, accompanied by many many glasses of wine. The team behind the city centre Exchequer gastropub have clearly analysed the Ranaelgh demographics, with the result being the Exchequer Wine Bar. 

Personally, I really liked the remodeled interior, with lots of light pouring in at the rear of the room. Downstairs is a long bar lined with comfortable high stools and a mix of high and low tables. Upstairs is a lovely but small terraced area, which we checked out but declined due to the lack of space (even though it was only about 50% full). 
Inside the Exchequer Wine Bar
The Exchequer Wine Bar does offer cocktails, just like it's bigger brother in town, but we stuck to the wine list on this visit. As you would expect, there are plenty of wines available by the glass and bottle, with the added fun option of a mystery red to try out. Despite the good quality of the wines, a glass Saint Clair Pinot Noir (€9.90) for Himself and a glass of Daniel Chotard Sauvignon Blanc (€11) for me, I found the prices to be a little on the high side.
Wines by the glass… always good
The menu is a mix of casual eating options and several bigger main course. Essentially, it's somewhere between antipasti and tapas. Our first choice of the Spanish meat plate was not available, but we were extremely please with the Italian version (€16.95), featuring piles of San Danielle ham, coppa and Milano salami topped with large capers, pickles and toasts. A Spanish cheese plate (€14.95) held three large chunks of manchego, queso de tetilla and Valdeon along with fresh figs and fig chutney. 

All pretty decent so far, but things went a little south with the arrival of our next two courses. We chose a mixed selection of oysters, half tempura with pickled cucumber and half Asian style with chili, ginger, soy and cucumber (€13.95). Disappointingly, the oysters came on a half-melted bowl of ice, with the water slopping into the oysters, thus diluting the flavours. The much lauded house speciality of chorizo lollipops had been my first pick off the menu (€7.50), but I found them too heavy, especially when paired with the pata negra aoili. The heavy compressed ball of chorizo simply did not get a chance to cook enough, remaining slightly bitter and not releasing its characteristic smoky, oily flavours. I abandoned them half way through, preferring to have a decent night sleep rather than battle the inevitable consequences. 
Italian meat plate
Spanish cheese plate
Chorizo lollipops with pata negra aioli
Mixed selection of oysters
In perfect keeping with it's Ranelagh location, the Exchequer Wine Bar is perfectly poised and polished. After all, the Ranelagh-ati know their wine and foodstuffs and expect the best. There's even the added star attraction of knowing that rugby legend and co-owner Gordon D'Arcy may be spotted on the premises. But to be honest, my enthusiasm is slightly cooled by a somewhat pricey wine list and some simple execution errors. A simple rule of thumb with a new restaurant is to imagine yourself returning and we just couldn't see ourselves coming back for more tapas and wine. However, we did spot a tasty looking brunch menu on our way out, so never say never. 

The Exchequer Wine Bar, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 421 5780
URL: www.theexchequerwinebar.ie
Twitter: @theexchequer

Exchequer Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 11, 2014

[Competition] Win a Knorr Flavour Pot hamper

We all value a bit of convenience every so often and it's rare to find a cook who assembles everything from scratch. The key thing is to employ some good old-fashioned common sense and choose clever convenient ingredients. I tend to be pretty light on the convenience ingredients, but there are always tins of tomatoes in the cupboard, along with high quality stockcubes. After all, I wish I had the kitchen space and time to make wonderful homemade stock (like my mother) but reality takes precedence. 

Knorr Flavour Pots recently invited me to a tasting event featuring a range of quick dishes cooked using a selection of the Flavour Pots. As a thank you for attending, I was given a little package of the different pots, which I gradually tried out at home over the following few weeks. The simple pots of minced garlic, red chilis and pepper pots proved to be very useful as base ingredients, while the curry pot worked quite well one evening when making a korma-like curry along with some ground almonds. The mixed herbs were a little too sweet for my liking (I really can't see any way preserving fresh herbs well), but overall I could definitely see a space for these pots in my store cupboard. 

The good news is that Knorr have provided three Flavour Pots hampers in a giveaway for the readers of Stitch & Bear. To be in with a chance of winning one of the three hampers, answer the simple question below, either by leaving a comment on this blog post, or emailing stitchandbearblog@gmail.com. Please make sure to leave some contact details, as anonymous comments can't win. 

Q: Name any of the five varieties of Knorr Flavour Pot.

The competition will close at 8pm on Sunday, August 17th, and the winners will be randomly selected from all correct entries. Good luck!

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the three lucky winners: Michael Breen, Amy Bennett & Rachel Douglas.

You can find the Knorr Flavour Pots in the herbs and spices aisle of your local supermarket, where a pack of 4 pots has a RRP of €2.29. More information and recipes can be found on the Knorr website

[Review] Sakura Sushi, Lower Kimmage Road, Dublin

Being a food lover is not just about eating the latest food crazes in the hottest restaurants. I believe that any real food lover will appreciate the simple and excellent, just as much as they will appreciate the finest dining. g. Japanese cuisine is probably the best example of combining exacting precision with traditional techniques and quality ingredients. 

I'm personally very partial to Japanese food when I'm hungover. I don't quite know why this is, but a combination of sushi and something tasty often does wonders to my pickled body and shriveled soul. While driving through Kimmage, I had noticed a new sushi restaurant and had made a mental note to try it out the next time I needed care. 

Sakura Sushi is a small little cafe, with just a few tables inside the door and some traditional Japanese banners overhead. Chef Guiqi has worked in various restaurants around Dublin for over 10 years, before opening Sakura. Once we'd ordered, a pot of green tea in a prettily-decorated teapot with matching cup started to soothe my aching head. Green tea always makes me happier and surely that's half the way to feeling healthier.
Green tea
Agedashi tofu came as deep-fried pieces of tofu with mixed salad and Japanese sauce (€4.90), while Seafood Sunomono came with pieces of sushi fish on a dressed salad (€5.90). Both dishes were pleasingly tasty, with different dressings and salads. 

A large bowl of Cha Han was comfortingly carby (€8.90) with plenty of beef, chicken and squid pieces, along with an accompanying bowl of miso soup. I love sushi rolls, so an Ebi Tempura Masago roll (€7.90) was an easy and satisfying choice for me. 
Agedashi tofu
Seafood sunomono salad
Cha han
Ebi tempura masago
Sakura is simple, but it really does tick all the boxes. It's tasty, fresh, healthy and incredible value for money. It's good to see sushi restaurants becoming more mainstream and accessible, providing a healthier takeaway option. If you live anywhere nearby, show them some support and give them a go.

Sakura Sushi, 157 Lower Kimmage Road, Dublin 6W
Tel: +353 (0)1 555 8888
URL: www.sakurasushi.ie
Twitter: @SakuraSushiDub

Sakura Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 4, 2014

[Competition] Brookwood, Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2

In case you haven't noticed, there's a dining war ranging in town at the weekends. On one hand, we have the young guns with their brunch offerings and fancy cocktails that run all day. On the other hand, there is the traditional market offering the Sunday roast with all the trimmings. But what happens when you combine the most traditional meal of the week, with a new, sleek steakhouse?
Placesetting at Brookwood
Brookwood is newly opened on Lower Baggot Street, covering three floors in the site of a former Black Tie location. It's very masculine and sleek, with dark wood and leather banquettes, while a magnificent metal rhinocerous head maintains a watch over the kitchen proceedings. On the first floor, we have the bar with beautiful graduated overhead lighting, parquet flooring and a jewel-like display of decanters, crystal and soda siphons. A private dining area on the top floor completes the fit out. 

Stitch and Bear, along with the in-laws, were invited guests of Brookwood for their Sunday roast experience. Arriving reasonably early in service, we were seated upstairs in the first floor dining area. I found myself admiring the quality of everything, from the heavy crystal water glasses to the crisp white napkins and tan leather chairs with buckle details. However, even without food, the table felt cramped and it just didn't get any better as our food and fellow diners arrived to fill up the small space. 

Our Sunday roast arrived at the table in a series of deliveries. First was a warm skillet of roast parsnips, carrots and goose-fat potatoes. This was followed by a wooden platter with thick, juicy slices of fine beef and a scattering of Yorkshire puddings. Last to the table were jugs of gravy and horseradish, and a little pot of mashed potatoes. This carnivorous feast drew an admiring comment from our dining neighbour, but to be fair, he had a ringside view. 

Everything was excellent - juicy, flavoursome beef with a crunchy crust, rich meaty gravy and perfectly cooked vegetables. There was plenty to go around, without overdoing it. Personally, I loved the medium-rare finish, although it may not be to everyone's taste. Finally, we finished off with a creamy sweet banoffee pie and a mixed cheeseboard of Cashel Blue and Comté.
Roast beef  with Yorkshire Puddings and horseradish
Roast carrots, parsnips and goose fat potatoes
In addition to offering a fine Sunday roast, a regular lunch menu is available at weekends, along with live music and half-price cocktails on Sunday. The Sunday Roast offer runs from 1pm to 8pm, which will surely work for even the latest risers, while pitchers of margaritas or ruby red Bloody Marys will help revive and refresh.

Brookwood have kindly sponsored a lovely giveaway for the readers of Stitch & Bear. The lucky winner will enjoy a dinner for two, with a cocktail on arrival. To be in with a chance of winning this prize, answer the simple question below. You can enter by leaving a comment on this blog post, or by emailing stitchandbearblog@gmail.com. Please make sure to leave contact details, as anonymous comments can't win. 

Q: On which famous Dublin street is Brookwood located?

The competition will close at 8pm on Sunday, August 10th and the winner will be randomly selected from all correct entries. Good luck!

The competition is now closed. Congratulations to the lucky winner, Aiden Gallagher. Enjoy!

Brookwood, 141 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 661 9366
Twitter: @BrookwoodDublin