Sunday, January 24, 2016

Help!! My Instagram account has disappeared

I was a late convert to Instagram, even diligently avoiding it for a long time, for some reason that I now cannot remember. But in early 2015 I created my first account (joanne.cronin), and I started to upload my photos. 

As someone with in excess of 4,000 followers on Twitter, I obviously wanted to try to recreate that success on Instagram. Bit by bit, I found myself developing my own posting style for Instagram, and both my Following and Followers counts grew. I got selective in the accounts that I followed - if you posted too many selfies or inspirational messages, you were out. And I followed many new accounts from across the world with great imagery and stories. 

By the end of 2015, I had posted 487 photos, and was thoroughly enjoying myself. As you can see from my "Best nine" summary below, there were a lot of cocktail photos with tasty food coming a close second. My top-rated photo? A picture of one of the alleyway entrances into Cork's English Market. 
I found Instagram superb for quickly posting pictures of the moment. If I was having a nice cocktail, or saw something interesting, then I posted a quick photo. (Well, quick is a misnomer with Instagram. Editing the photo and adding your hashtags can take a few minutes!). And I took a lot of joy in scrolling back down through my timeline, reliving the memories behind my photos. 

I woke up on Saturday January 16th, and wanted to post a picture from the previous night. I opened my Instagram app and prepped the picture. But when I hit "Post", the app logged me out, prompting me to enter my log-in details. I tried, and I failed. I scratched my head and tried "Forgot your password" only to find that "That user does not exist". I tried logging in via Facebook to no avail and finally, when I visited my timeline page, I was greeted by "Sorry, this page isn't available".
The sickening feeling hit me. My Instagram account had been nuked. And I no longer had access to my pictures or memories. 

It also turns out that Instagram don't do customer service. To date, I've tweeted them, messaged them via Facebook and submitted two help requests via their Support section. To zero avail. Not a single acknowledgement from them about my missing account. 

I'm sure that the Terms & Conditions I accepted when I signed up protect Instagram in eventualities like this. But for me, there are memories missing. I am missing connections with people I followed. I feel quite bereft. And ultimately I feel ignored. Epic #fail #instagramfail

Sunday, January 17, 2016

[Review] Bastible, South Circular Road, Dublin 8

Early in 2015, I signed up for the Level 2 WSET qualification in wines and spirits. Many of the attendees on the course were already involved in the food & beverage industry, with only a few non-industry stragglers, like myself, taking part. One of the attendees was a young chef, Barry, with his wife and their story of a soon-to-be-opened restaurant.

Little did I realise that Barry was Barry FitzGerald, former head chef at  Dublin hotspot Etto and, prior to that, the Harwood Arms in London. And in due course, his restaurant Bastible did open, perched on the junction of Leonard's Corner. 

The interior is very modern masculine with dark green walls and an open kitchen located to the rear where Barry and the chefs work with smooth, calm efficiency. In fact, the whole affair is sleek and smooth, starting with the impeccable sourdough bread and delicious butter followed by two potato crisps topped with tartare and onion. I don't know if the chefs at Lock's and Bastible are sharing notes, but that's two amuse of crisp potato slices I've received in the past few months.
Little amuse of crisp potato with tartare
The lunch menu is straightforward with 3 choices each for starter, main and dessert. Two courses cost €32, while three courses cost €38. It's somewhat expensive for lunch, but the menu is deliciously seasonal featuring all manner of en-vogue ingredients including sea beet, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts. My starter of roasted baby beetroot and sliced pickled candy beet is balanced nicely by the creamy smoked ricotta, enlivened by the pungent black garlic. Pan-seared mackel is perfect with Jerusalem artichokes and sea beet. 
Roast beetroots with smoked ricotta and black garlic
Mackerel with Jerusalem artichokes and sea beet
Hake is accompanied by a scattering of fresh cockles, salt-baked kohlrabi and meaty, chewy kale. It's a fish dish for cold winter days. The description of roast onion squash had tempted me to go vegetarian, and I was not disappointed by the hearty meaty flesh, dipped into the smooth egg yolk and chestnut. 
Hake, salt-baked kohlrabi, cockles and kale
Roast onion squash, chestnuts and warm egg yolk.
As you would hope from a restaurant with interesting food, the wine list is also interesting with a good selection of wines by the glass. With accompanying glasses of Italian Faleria (€7.25) and Pinta Negra Branco from Lisbon (€6.95) and some sparkling water, our total bill is €82.70.

From the minute it opened, Bastible was the target of all Dublin restaurant hype. Bookings surged following some stellar reviews and the restaurant struggled to keep up with demand. On our lunchtime visit, things were very quiet, no doubt influenced by the biblical deluge outside. 

I must admit that I'm a bit on the fence about Bastible. There's something great there for certain, but I wasn't a fan of close to €90 for lunch and the dining room is a bit too dark in decor for my tastes. I think I'd like to try it again, as the seasons swing towards Spring and Summer, with different ingredients to flavour the menu. 

Bastible, 111 South Circular Road, Dublin 8
Tel: +353 (0)1 473 7409
Twitter: @Bastible111
Instagram: @Bastible111

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The year that was 2015

It's time for a little recap on the year that was 2015. For me personally, it was a better year than 2014 which had left me exhausted and bruised. I took charge of myself in 2015 and made sure that I had a higher quality of life. It's such a simple lesson, but one that we are bad at remembering. We have to make time for happiness in our lives, which in turns helps us balance the stresses of life. 

Anyway, 2015 was the year that luxury dining returned to Dublin. At the start of the year, I dined in John Farrell's SMS Pop-Down, but by the end of the year, the space had been transformed into the super-luxe, red-velveted Luna. While this restaurant is charmingly named after John's young daughter, it's not a restaurant for kids, with whopping great steaks, fine wines and gins and a New York dining club vibe. 

2015 also saw rising restaurant prices in Dublin, indicating a gradual return to the boom times. This was probably mainly stimulated by rising rent costs, but the question has to be asked if some of the price increases can be attributed to good old-fashioned desire to make more money? I re-wrote my guide to the Top 10 set menus and Early Birds in Dublin, and I was struck by the decrease in availability and value for diners. 

Finally, I think 2015 was the year that pop ate itself for restaurants in Dublin. Gluttonous, belt-stretching brunches were everywhere and expensive (even over-priced) cocktails appeared in any self-respecting trendy restaurant. It's time for a return to simpler dining. 

I ventured to Belfast at the start and end of 2015, topping and tailing the year with two excellent meals in Ox and Deane's EIPIC respectively,  both of which earned Michelin stars this year. The cocktail scene is also booming in Belfast, where I particularly enjoyed the 5 star luxury of the cocktail bar of the Merchant Hotel and the speakeasy New York vibe in APOC.  I think Dublin could benefit from a truly luxurious and professional cocktail service in one of the 5 star hotels. Who will step up to the mark?

Speaking of cocktails, Irish bartenders performed highly on the world stage in 2015. Karim Medhi from Saba reached the semi-finals of the Bacardi Legacy World Championships while Anna Walsh from MVP competed at the Diageo World Class competition and claimed Best Bartender in the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards. It was sad to see the temporary closure of Upstairs @ Kinara Kitchen following their Best Restaurant Cocktail Bar win, but things are looking good for a re-opening early in 2016.

No-shows continued to haunt restaurants, particularly smaller venues. It was truly saddening at times to read about restaurants being 50% empty due to no-shows on confirmed reservations. This kind of shitehawk behaviour puts jobs and businesses at risk. Some smaller venues will lose relative fortunes because they simply trusted a customer to show when they said they would.

As this is a summary of 2015, I suppose I should hand out some awards! I'll keep the list short. My best fine dining was undoubtedly Amuse on Dublin's Dawson Street. This small venue produces exquisite Asian-French food and is just sublime. 777 continues to be my choice for best casual dining in Dublin. On the drinks front, it's a draw between Upstairs@Kinara Kitchen and MVP for my favourite cocktails. 

This year, I decided to fulfil a long held wish and I enrolled for the WSET Level 2 qualification in wines & spirits with Premier Wine Training. I was delighted when the results envelope arrived informing me that I had passed with distinction. I think this is the start of something special and I've started to add more wine reviews to the blog.

A huge smile was put on my face when I was invited to judge the Pitmaster Competition at the Big Grill BBQ Festival in Herbert Park. Off the back of this event, we've purchased a column smoker for our back yard and are getting acquainted with the finer arts of low and slow BBQ. 

My views on blogging and the blogging community have continued to evolve over the last year. I've been blogging for over 7 years now, and I've seen a lot of change. The strong Irish food blogger community that was fostered several years ago has somewhat faded, and it's been replaced by the rise of the lifestyle blogger. Either way, I've continued to post in my own style, writing the reviews that I want to write and crafting a blog in my own voice. Even so, I was disappointed not to make the Food & Drink shortlist at the Irish Blog Awards in 2015 and my requests for feedback went unanswered. 

Finally, 2015 was the year that I adopted Instagram (follow me here). Interestingly, Instagram has taken partially taken over from blogging, allowing me the freedom to quickly share images with my followers. While I think Snapchat might be a step too far for me, Instagram just works. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

[Events] Australia and New Zealand Wine Tastings

I hope everyone had a Happy Christmas and that you all enjoyed some damn fine food and drink over the festive period. For those of you who aren't planning a dry January, here are details of two upcoming wine events, featuring the wines of Australia and New Zealand. And even if you are planning a dry January, surely you can allow yourself a little wine?

New Zealand Wine Fair

When: Thursday, January 21st between 6.30 pm - 8.30 pm.

Where: Hilton Hotel, Charlemont, Dublin 2

The Kiwis are on a wine tiki tour - join them for an evening of meandering, digressing, indulging and awakening the senses. Tickets cost €15 and can be booked here.

Australia Wine Fair

When: Wednesday, January 27th between 6.30 pm - 8.30 pm.

Where: Royal Hibernian Academy, Ely Place, Dublin 2

Taste a selection of Australian wines in a relaxed and fun environment, suitable for everyone from the absolute beginner to the savvy wine lover. Australian winemakers will be on hand to answer your questions and tell you more about the wines and how they are made. Tickets cost €15 and can be purchased online here

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.