Tuesday, March 24, 2015

[Review] Söder + Ko, South Great George's Street, Dublin 2

Did you ever notice how things clump together? It's similar to the old story about waiting ages for a bus, and then three come along at once. Or that bad things happen in threes. In my case, we had a weekend away booked in Copenhagen (thanks to Ryanair's newly launched route), so of course we ended up in a Scandinavian influenced restaurant the night before. 

Newly opened Söder + Ko is literally the hottest restaurant ticket in an already over-heated town. Chef Kwanghi Chan has left the famous Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore and moved to Dublin to take over  this Scandinavian and Asian influenced kitchen. The interior of the former Dragon bar has been renovated into an open dining area with a stunning long bar. 

The menu is split into 5 main sections: raw, dim sum, hot, sides and steamed buns. At dinnertime, €25 will get you a choice of 3 courses from the RAW, DIM SUM or HOT sections, along with a side of your choice. In my opinion, this was the perfect way for us sample as much of the menu as possible. Once ordered, the dishes arrived in a steady stream, coming out from the kitchen in the order of preparation.

Our RAW dishes kicked off the meal magnificently. My scallop ceviche was beautifully sweet balanced with soft coconut flavours and a gentle touch of coriander and chili. Tuna sashimi was dark red in colour with a seaweed salad and wasabi mayo. DIM SUM dishes of pork and shrimp dumplings were juicy and flavoursome, while squid tempura arrived in a joyful riot of battered fronds and a lemongrass dipping sauce.
Scallop ceviche
Tuna sashimi
Pork and shrimp dim sum
Squid tempura
At this stage, we were convinced that the €25 three course menu was definitely the right option. And then the main courses arrived.  Chargrilled peppered beef was interspersed with glutinous mounds of sticky rice topped with tiny exquisite quails egg yolks. This dish was presented with the precision of Kwanghi's Michelin heritage, but the chopsticks provided were inadequate for the size of the beef pieces. A piece of steamed cod was topped with gently waving bonito flakes, adding a sensation of motion to this classically delicate Asian dish.

Our main three courses had all been excellent, but we disappointed with our choice of roasted aubergine with garlic and chili, and fried sweet potato with parmesan. Looking back at the menu, I think we should have chosen more green vegetables to better suit the dishes ordered. 
Charred peppered beef fillet with sticky rice
Steamed cod with Shitake mushrooms and bonito flakes
Even though we had eaten 6 dishes (and 2 side dishes) at this stage, the steamed bun section of the menu was still looking very attractive. A spicy kimchi bun with bean sprouts, red onion and coriander  in a light fluffy pun was packed full of flavour and got the seal of approval (€4).

Söder + Ko will have a full cocktail menu (and a beautiful bar to match) but on the night we visited, only a few cocktails were available. I tried the Söder Sura (Zapaca rum and grapefruit), as well as a Stockholm 866 (a Negroni variation) with fresh herbs and a rock salt rim. The Scandinavian herbal bittersweet influences came through on both drinks making me look forward to the rest of the menu.
Kimchi steamed bun
Stockholm 866 (or a Scandinavian Negroni)
I have to admit that service was extremely shaky on the night we visited, although the restaurant manager did a great job of keeping things moving. There were several small errors on the final bill, but I do need to point out that it's early days for Söder + Ko and I'm optimistic that these issues will shake themselves out in time. Therefore, it's not fair to consider this a proper review, but rather an early dispatch.

In short, Söder + Ko is beautiful and delicious food, with a healthy vibe, served in a modern relaxed bar. I can't see how it will be anything other than a high success.

Söder + Ko, 64 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 478 1590
URL: www.soderandko.ie
Twitter: @SoderandKo

Sunday, March 15, 2015

[Review] Tankardstown House and Brabazon Restaurant, Slane, Co Meath

Ever since I first visited Tankardstown House back in 2011, I have been waiting to return. I had fallen in love with the 18th century manor house and the old stables which had been converted into self-catering cottages. On our first visit, we really enjoyed our dinner in Brabazon restaurant, but since then Chef Rob Krawczyk has reputedly turned up the heat in the Brabazon kitchen and I was keen to investigate. 

We arrived on a bright Sunday afternoon and following check-in, we immediately headed to the honour bar to watch the Irish Six Nations match. We weren't alone in this idea as several other couples were also in the bar, pouring their own drinks and cheering on the men in green. Following the match, we walked outside to our stableyard cottage to relax before dinner. The cottages are really finished to the highest standards with lovely sofas and chairs, fitted kitchens with Belfast sinks, a Nespresso machine and the loveliest bedrooms tucked in under the eaves. For a few extra Euro, we could have upgraded to a room in the main house, which I'm sure would have been just beautiful, but I was delighted with our cosy cottage.
Interior of our cottage at Tankardstown 
Kitchen area in our Tankardstown cottage
Having a pre-dinner drink
Drawing room at Tankardstown House
Our stay at Tankardstown was courtesy of a Pigsback.com voucher which included a 5 course dinner at Brabazon. This turned out to be based on the 7 course Tasting Menu from Land & Sea, so we definitely got to experience a wide range of the cooking on offer. We started with an amuse bouche of light-as-air pork crackling, followed by crusty mini-loaves of home-made bread with smoked butter. 
Amuse of crackling at Brabazon
Selection of breads
A starter of scallops, sand, seaweed and gold oxtail vinaigrette was beautiful to behold and exquisite to eat. The scallops were cooked to absolute perfection and were the star of the show, supported by the delicate flavour of the oxtail. Beef tartar was innovatively flavoured with smoky, mineral charcoal and served with pickled shallots, hen's egg and watercress. 
Scallops, sand, seaweed and gold oxtail vinaigrette
Beef tartar with pickled shallots, hens egg, charcoal and watercress
Both our main courses featured pastry in one form or another and both were perfectly suited to a menu that was waving goodbye to the end of winter. A perfectly pink piece of trimmed hay-smoked duck breast came with a Wellington, charred leeks, parsnip and a plentiful drift of artistic snow. My only complaint was that I would have liked the duck fat to have been slightly more rendered.  His pork loin was gently spiced and served with a little pithivier, burnt apple and sunchoke (also known as Jerusalem artichoke) and some fermented cabbage. 
Hay smoked duck breast with Wellington, parsnip, leeks and duck jus
Spiced pork loin, pork pie, burnt apple and sunchoke, fermented cabbage and granola
A chocolate parfait and crispy chocolate lattice was restrained from too much sweetness by the use of 70% chocolate, olive oil and yogurt. If you haven't already tried it, the pairing of dark chocolate, salt and olive oil is one of life's treasures. I really enjoyed the use of textures in this dessert, making it about more than sweetness and taste. A 20 minute wait was required for the creme fraiche soufflé which came served in the now-mandatory tea-cup. It was a perfectly made soufflé, with the typical buttery sugar crust, but the creme fraiche flavour just didn't really come through for me. The preserved blackberry sorbet was the highlight. A little plate of petits fours followed, with my favourite being the toffee in a clever edible cellophane wrapper. 
Parfait and lattice of chocolate, yogurt, honey, olive oil, rose petals and pistachio crumb
Creme fraiche soufflé with preserved blackberry sorbet
Petits Fours
The next morning, we woke up to a light scattering of snow, which made the Tankardstown grounds look even more beautiful. Breakfast is served in Brabazon, but this time it was full of bright daylight, rather than the intimate atmosphere of the previous night. A buffet offering is available, and this is supplemented by a selection of fresh-cooked items. A portion of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was perfect for a Monday morning before we packed up and headed back to Dublin for a late working start. 
Morning sunlight in Brabazon restaurant
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs
Chef Robbie Krawczyk smokes his own meats and makes charcuterie to be served at Tankardstown, (his father is an experienced charcutier making it a family tradition), so I must admit that I was a little disappointed not to get some charcuterie in our meal or at breakfast. It seems a bit of an omission to leave out something that is individual to to Krawczyk and Brabazon. 

Tankardstown House was every bit as charming and gracious as I remember from our first visit. Every aspect of the main house has been beautifully restored and the tempting honour bar ensures that guests feel relaxed and at ease. Robbie Krawczyk's clever and artistic food definitely merits a visit to Tankardstown, and the Brabazon gin bar will ensure that you float to sleep in your comfortable bed. 

Absolutely recommended for a gourmet break and relaxation.

Tankardstown House, Slane, Co Meath
Tel: +353 (0)41 982 4621
URL: www.tankardstown.ie
Twitter: @Tankardstown

Thursday, March 12, 2015

[Listing] West Waterford Festival of Food 2015

The West Waterford Festival of Food returns for the 8th successive year between Thursday, April 9th and Sunday, April 12th. The coastal town of Dungarvan will play host to some of Ireland's best chefs, producers, stall-holders and all-round lovers of fine food. 

The theme of this year's festival is Generations in Irish Food, which will shine a spotlight on some of our home-grown heroes and the generations of Irish families who continue to produce, cook, sell and run some of Ireland's greatest and best-loved restaurants and food businesses. 

One of the festival's key events, Celebrating Generations of West Waterford Food Stories, will take place in Dromana House, which incidently this year celebrates 800 years of ownership by the same family. Local chef Eunice Power will create a tribute to local West Waterford food families, such as the McGraths, Flahavans and Barrons, by showcasing not just their continuing history and narrative, but also their delicious ingredients.

Other highlights will include The Emerging Generation, a series of demonstrations from up and coming members of established food families, where the next generation will cook with the the older generation lending a helping hand. The series will features Jack and Tim McCarthy, the award-winning Kanturk butchers, Richard and Duncan Blair (and their mother) of Georgina Campbell's Pub of the Year 2014 Blair's Inn, and finally charcuterie master Frank Krawczyk with his talented chef son Rob Krawczyk, who will demo together for the first time under the title of Charcuterie from Father to Son.

The Tannery will continue as a festival cornerstone by hosting Generations of Food Producers tasting menus on Friday and Saturday, which will be based on the family producers participating in the festival. On Saturday, the Tannery will host brunch featuring Flahavan's, a family enterprise since 1785 from nearby Kilmacthomas, while on Sunday, they will host a duck feast lunch, in association with Silverhill.

Cois Cé, or Seafood Saturday, will offer fun activities by the water, sensational seafood and inspiring demos. The Farmers' Market will set up in the main square on Sunday with over 100 stalls scheduled to take part. The Busanna Bia will return, with three different routes available this year, giving festival goers the opportunity to visit as many producers as possible on each route. Tickets will be on sale for the The West Waterford Festival of Food Restaurant Trails and booking in advance is definitely recommended.

As if all those activities weren't enough, there is also a special schedule of events for the little cooks, featuring Cócaireacht le Chéile, pizza workshops, Mucking Around with Kitchen Sink Science and baking classes.

Check out the website - West Waterford Festival of Food - for more information, or keep an eye on the @WdFoodFestival Twitter account for the latest news.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

[Review] Fallon & Byrne at the People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

We had driven to Dun Laoghaire with the intention of a having a nice brisk walk along the seafront and taking a goo at the controversial new library. After walking all around the new venue, I quite disliked the cold, bleak exterior of the library, but really liked the wide open inside space, with lots of room for daytime readers. I'd love to see this new resource becoming a big part of the Dun Laoghaire community.

As well as building a new library, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is also currently engaged in restoring the famous People's Park to its original historic layout. The classically beautiful Victorian Tea Rooms pavilion has been refurbished and now hosts Fallon & Byrne's second restaurant (the first being their multi-storied home on Exchequer Street). In order to prepare for its new role, the pavilion has been extended with a lightweight glass structure to allow natural light to flood in, while the beautiful original features are retained. In addition to the restaurant, there's also a cafe/takeaway section stocked with sandwiches and salads where customers can quickly grab and go.
Interior at Fallon & Byrne at the People's Park
Following our walk, we managed to arrive at the Tea Rooms just in time to order from the lunch menu. A large salad of seared tuna salad with asian vegetables, sesame and soy dressing came stacked high on the plate with two decent-sized tuna steaks. A roasted skate wing offered up plenty of meat, along with tasty capers and braised leeks. I love skate wing, especially when served like this with lots of lemony, sharp butter and vinegary capers. 
Skate wing with braised leeks
Seared tuna salad with asian vegetables
Overall, Fallon & Byrne have done a good job here (as you would expect). They will cater to many different groups with this location; the morning coffee crowd, the ladies who lunch, followed by evening diners. When finer weather rolls around, it will be possible to sit on the terrace, or grab something from the deli to eat in the park itself. 

Personally, I know I'll be back on a sunnier day to sit out and watch the sunlight twinkle on the sea.

Fallon & Byrne, The People's Park, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin
Tel + 353 (0)1 230 3300
URL: www.fallonandbyrne.com
Twitter: @FallonandByrne

Monday, February 23, 2015

[Travel] Another weekend in Amsterdam

We recently returned to the Netherlands, and more specifically to Amsterdam, for a little weekend away. Even though it's been 4 years since I left Amsterdam, I immediately feel at home and comfortable whenever I return. In a city where bicycles outnumber residents, it's so tempting to fall into the Amsterdam cliches of the Red Light district, canals, coffee shops and bicycles. However, if you dig a little deeper and head away from the tourist spots, Amsterdam is a stylish city with many hidden gems.

Following out check in at the hotel, we set off down Overtoom in the bright winter sunshine. We had a specific target in mind, namely the delicious burgers at the fun and lively Cafe Parck. I had first discovered Cafe Parck when living in Amsterdam, and I had fallen heard for their tasty burgers (plus the fact that they have a cat living in the bar). We both ordered the Fabulous Twinburgers, with a portion of parmesan fries and samurai sauce to share. Each portion consisted of two perfectly cooked (medium rare) juicy burgers, complete with all trimmings. The burgers were every bit as good as I remembered, getting our Amsterdam visit off to a flying start.
Twin burgers at Cafe Parck 
Menu at Cafe Parck
Leaving Cafe Parck, we hopped onto the tram and headed north to Central Station. From there, it was a 5 minute walk in the very very cold air to one of Amsterdam's finest cocktail bars. Hiding in Plain Sight sits quietly on the corner of two streets in a residential area and serves drinks across two small floors. Given the small size of the bar, reservations are always a good idea here. The prices aren't cheap, but the exquisitely turned out staff produce some damn fine drinks.  Here, we sampled a selection of seasonal drinks, including cocktails based on sugarsnap peas and christmas cake-infused brandy. All excellent. 
Citron Brûlée at Hiding in Plain Sight
South Snap at Hiding in Plain Sight
The next day, we checked out the newly opened Nacional for a light lunch. The vibe at Nacional is French brasserie, with high ceilings, exposed brickwork and white linen. It feels immediately classic and is a very welcome addition to the touristy venues scattered around Leidseplein. An open tartine sandwich plus a plate of melted brie with roasted red onion set us up nicely for an afternoon of strolling. 
The interior at Nacional
Brie with roasted red onion at Nacional
On Saturday night, we caught yet another tram, this time heading west to the renovated de Hallen. Dinner was reserved at Meat West, a new restaurant firmly targeted at meat lovers. Box iron frames help section the restaurant which sits in a old tram repair shed. Prices aren't cheap here, and service was somewhat slow, but the quality of the steak and the whole roast spring chicken were excellent.

After our dinner, we left Meat West with the intention of having a look around the rest of the de Hallen complex. We wandered through the crowds in the Foodhallen, marveling at the variety of food stalls. In fact, we liked the Foodhallen so much that we returned the very next day for lunch. Read more about our visit here
The interior of Meat West, in de Hallen
Smoked beef ribeye with parmesan cracker
Marinated salmon
Dry-aged ribeye
Grilled whole spring chicken with lemon
On this trip to Amsterdam, we mixed it up with some favourites (Cafe Parck and Hiding in Plain Sight), while adding in some new finds (Meat West and Nacional). The wonderful Foodhallen will be a regular fixture on future visits to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is indeed a city that's worth investigating.

Cafe Parck, Overtoom 428, Amsterdam 1054 JV
Tel: +31 (0)20 412 5335
URL: www.cafeparck.nl
Twitter: @CafeParck

Hiding in Plain Sight, Rapenburg 18, Amsterdam 1011 TX
Tel: +31 (0)6 25 29 36 20
URL: www.hpsamsterdam.com
Twitter: @HPSAmsterdam

Nacional, Kleine Gartmanplantsoen 11A, Amsterdam 1017RP
Tel: +31 (0)20 205 0908
URL: nacional.nl

Meat West, Bellamyplein 51, Amsterdam
Tel: +31 (0)20 2181 776
URL: meatwest.nl

Monday, February 16, 2015

[Travel] Foodhallen Amsterdam

You have to give it to the Dutch. In their typically classy and refined manner, a former Amsterdam repair shed for electric trams has been converted into a beautiful event and food space. Large airy halls play home to cultural spaces, a movie theatre and many other attractions. It also is home to Amsterdam's very own indoor food market, the Foodhallen. It's only been open since October 2014 but it's already proving very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Interior of De Hallen
The Foodhallen is a large space with restaurant booths lining the walls with a couple of central bars and loads of communal seating. We passed through on a Saturday night after dinner at the nearby Meat West restaurant (also located in De Hallen) and we returned Sunday for an early lunch. On both occasions, the Foodhallen was full of families, couples and diners.
Food stalls at the Foodhallen
Gin & Tonic bar at the Foodhallen
As we wandered around the stalls, we found it increasingly hard to make up our minds. The incredible cheese sandwiches at Caulils Kaas made us both pause. They were stacked up high, packed full of grated cheese, waiting for the heat of the grill to create some melted magic. The end result was one of the best cheese toasties I've even eaten, complete with buttery grilled outside and wonderful oozing cheese inside. Trust me readers when I say that this sandwich is worth a trip to Amsterdam alone.
Cheese sandwiches piled high at Caulils Kaas
The perfect grilled cheese sandwich from Caulils Kaas
The Rough Kitchen is a concept stall from Jord Althuizen (specialist in pig roasting) and Mark Polman (cookbook author) and it focuses on all things piggy. Several trays of pork pieces sitting under hot lights lured me in and I ordered a pork tasting platter with two hot meats (pork belly and pulled pork) with a selection of three cold meats (terrine, rillette and spek). Utterly delicious and some of the best pork products I've ever enjoyed.
Pork platter from the Rough Kitchen
The Rough Kitchen
Being the gluttons that we are, we couldn't resist staying for some more tasty dishes. I chose a posh dog from Bulls & Dogs, featuring a pork dog with truffle and hazelnut, while Himself chose fresh spring rice paper rolls from Viêt View.  Again, both delicious and great examples of quick food, done well.

The Foodhallen reminds me so much of other food halls around Europe, particularly the new Mercado da Ribeiro in Lisbon. Street food, small stalls and tapas are a great way of eating, particularly as a couple, with family or with friends. In short, it's a great way of eating with anyone. So if you're in Amsterdam, avoid the usual tourist trap restaurants and take a slight detour to the Foodhallen.
The Posh Dog from Bulls & Dogs
Salamis at Bulls & Dogs
Viêt View
Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls at Viêt View
Foodhallen Amsterdam, Bellamyplein 51, Amsterdam

Monday, February 2, 2015

[Review] Wild Goose Grill, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

I'm so over Sunday brunch right now. Eggs benedict, French toast and granola can all jog on. Whereas brunch was originally all about breaking the breakfast/lunch barriers, I now find it to be borderline tedious. Sometimes it feels that all brunch menus are alike and the enforcement of brunch-only policies on Saturdays and Sundays in some restaurants has further disenchanted me. So I've largely hung up my free-wheeling brunching ways and instead I have moved on to the more sedate pleasures of Sunday Lunch. 

Now I do want to be clear about one thing. When I say Sunday Lunch, I do not mean carvery or bar lunch. That's a whole other minefield that I'll reserve for another day. I'm talking about good restaurants and their talented chefs who turn their attentions to more traditional fare on Sundays. Recently, I reviewed Marcel's in Ballsbridge who do a very civilised lunch indeed, and I recently followed this up with lunch at The Wild Goose Grill in Ranelagh, located over the well known McSorley's pub. 

The Wild Goose Grill is perennially popular, but there's little about it said on the internet. Rather usually for a goose (usually to be found honking in a field or honking while flying overhead), it maintains a low profile, which is impressive in the busy surroundings of Ranelagh. The dining room is classically styled with linen, crystal and silver settings. We started with a crispy confit of duck with ubiquitous puy lentils and red wine jus for Himself, and a lighter pickled pear, goats cheese, candied walnut and pomegranate salad for me. Puy lentils have failed to convince me of their worth on many occasions but I liked them here, while the simple salad was nicely done. 
Duck confit with puy lentils and red wine jus
Pickled pear and goats cheese salad
When a restaurant called The Wild Goose Grill serves goose, it's impossible to resist ordering. The duo of goose featured rich breast meat and a little roll of dark meat, served with bright carrot puree and Goose potatoes. Rich, satisfying and perfect for a cold winter day. My wild mushroom risotto was creamily mushroomy, replete with a cornucopia of mushroom varieties. And in a move unknown to many restaurants, the portion wasn't too big either. 
Duo of goose
Wild mushroom risotto
Sunday lunch at The Wild Goose Grill costs €19.95/€24.95 for 2 or 3 courses and is served the entire day from 1pm to 8pm. That should suit even the latest of late risers. The wine list makes for good reading with a good selection of wines by the glass. In a clever move towards the end of last year, they teamed up with downstairs McSorley's to offer a daily three course lunch for €10. That's great value and hopefully it will return. 

So remind me again, why I would choose Eggs Benedict for the umpteenth time when Dublin has a fine range of restaurants serving up belly-busting, top notch Sunday Lunch?

The Wild Goose Grill, 1 Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 491 2377
URL: www.thewildgoosegrill.ie
Twitter: @wildgoosegrill

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