Wednesday, January 14, 2015

[Review] Marcel's, St Mary's Road, Dublin 4

Life has returned to normal in our house, probably like many houses throughout the country. All the sweets, chocolates and treats have been long since polished off and healthy (or at least healthier) eating is the order of the day. But even so, it's nice to eat out for Sunday lunch, especially with the promise of a brisk walk in the fresh air afterwards. 

Marcel's is located just off Upper Baggot Street, across from the Dylan Hotel. The bright orange awning gives a hint at the interior colour scheme which is dominated by bright bold orange leather chairs, neatly trimmed with dark piping. Carefully mismatched vintage nightshades, fresh starched linen, wooden floors and a backlit display of wine bottles all add up to create a sensation of modern chic. It's a room that is immediately comfortable and welcoming.

The food at Marcel's is French-inspired (as hinted at by the name), with Italian influences nibbling at the edges. The regularly changing menu is very appealing with plenty of choice on offer. We've visited twice in recent weeks for Sunday lunch and didn't find much repetition on the menu. Thin slices of house cured salmon were dotted with dollops of fresh and tangy lemon caper dressing and sour cream. His foie gras parfait was simply sublime with a perfectly translucent pink piece of poached rhubarb with sultanas and hazelnuts. 
House cured gravlax
Foie gras parfait with poached rhubarb
Salmon was beautifull pan fried with perfect flesh and a crispy, salted skin for crunchiness. Lemon and dill gnocchi was flavoursome, but came in the form of a little cake rather than the more accustomed fluffy pillows. Risotto was richly flavoured with thyme and surrounded by a ring of frothy Muscat pumpkin purée. An unusual, but pleasant dimension was added by the addition of a scoop of cool smoked marscapone. 
Pan seared salmon with lemon and dill gnocchi
Pumpkin and broad bean risotto
There's some confident, creative and bold cooking going on in the kitchen at Marcel's, providing a perfect match to the vibrant dining room. I found the dishes to be elegant, assured and yet still possess a certain je ne said quoi. The wine list at Marcel's doesn't disappoint either and our two chosen glasses of Southern Lights Marlboro Sauvigonon Blanc (€8) and Paddy Borthwick's Riesling (€9.50) were well received. 

Sunday lunch at Marcel's costs €20/€25 for 2/3 courses between 12pm-3pm, including a Sunday Roast option, and is stellar value for a venue of this quality. The good value extends to the Early Bird which runs between 5pm - 7pm Monday to Saturday. 

And the final reason that I feel confident in recommending Marcel's? It effortlessly earned the Mrs H seal of approval. And that my friends, doesn't come easily. 

Marcel's, 1 Saint Mary's Road, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 660 2367
Twitter: @MarcelsDublin

Sunday, December 28, 2014

[Review] East Side Tavern, Leeson Street, Dublin 2

It's time for a Christmas review, and in the season of short days and long nights, what's more appropriate than Dublin's  newest gastropub? I'd been hearing quiet words about this new dining venture for the past few months, with the doors to the East Side Tavern finally opening in late November.  

The interior at Easat Side Taven (formerly the Tavern on the Green) has undergone a seismic shift. An eye-catching backlit tiered bar showcases an extensive collection of whiskeys and other spirits, while blackboards list a selection of cocktails and drinks. The atmosphere here is casual comfort with leather upholstered seats, exposed brickwork and a roaring fire in the open fireplace. Decor accents are provided by brass pieces and salvaged timber, making the interior feel both extremely contemporary and aged. Whoever was responsible for the design and fit out got this one spot on. 
The tiered bar at East Side Tavern
The comfortable interior at East Side Tavern

Niall O'Sullivan (formerly of Isabel's) is the Head Chef in the kitchen, and the menu bears his distinctive stamp. I dined twice during the month of December, once off the Express Lunch menu, while my other visit was from the a la carte lunch menu. I love the concept of the Express Lunch which offers two courses for €14 (or €16 with dessert). It's a great option for a business lunch or catchup with friends. After all, there are more than enough offices with well-paid workers in the vicinity to sustain this concept.

The Express Lunch starters are a choice of soup or salad, each of which changes regularly and is served quickly, while the main courses are delivered from the kitchen when ready. In our case, soup was a smooth butternut squash soup, with a salad of beetroot, whipped goats cheese and leaves. The portions aren't huge, but really, they're meant to satisfy you while waiting for the main course. Slow braised should of lamb ragu was served in a light broth with pillowy gnocchi and parmesan shavings. Beer battered fresh cod was served on a board, along with a freeform log pile of crispy triple cooked chips, tartar sauce and a delectable frozen pea mousse.
Beer battered fish and chips
Lamb ragu with gnocchi
On another visit, I chose the Fish of the Day, which was chargrilled salmon with Jerusalem artichoke risotto. I love it when salmon is served with a crispy skin, as was the case here, but the artichoke risotto was the true star on the plate. The earthy sweetness of the artichoke, along with naturally sweet parsnip crisps combined so well with the burnt notes of the chargrilled salmon. Dessert was a set custard flavoured with woodruff (also knowns as Wild Baby's Breath), imparting a sweet almost perfumed note. Apple sorbet and sorrel granita provided balance and crisp textures to the luxurious custard. 
Chargrilled salmon with Jerusalem artichoke risotto
Woodruff set custard
Obviously the East Side Tavern works really well as a restaurant, but how does it fare as a pub? Maybe it was the Christmas decorations and the warm lighting, but I didn't want to leave after our Express Lunch. Instead I wanted to settle in for the afternoon,with some nice drinks and company, and watch the daylight fade to winter dusk. 

For me, the East Side Tavern feels like the next evolution of the gastropub, smoothly combining the relaxed atmosphere of a pub with the refined food of a fine restaurant. Are you ready to cross over to the East Side?

East Side Tavern, 104-105 Leeson Street Lower, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 678 9529
URL: www.eastsidetavern.ie
Twitter: @eaststavern

Friday, December 26, 2014

[Feature] 2014 in Review: Most Read Posts

2014 is nearly over, and as part of the mini-habit I've established on this blog, I've assembled a list of the most-read posts.It's an interesting list, offering an insight into what is popular right now. Interestingly, all the Top 10 posts come from Dublin and all feature recent, or relatively recent restaurants. There's a good mix of styles, ranging from fine dining (The Hot Stove), French-influence (Brioche) to burgers (Bunsen) and Asian (Opium). It clearly shows that Dublin diners are an eclectic lot but with a constant finger on the pulse. It's amusing to think that Bear, the restaurant from Joe Macken and Jamie Heaslip which is just under 3 years old, is now the grand-daddy of the group.

So what caught the interest of Stitch & Bear readers in 2014? Read on for the top 10 posts...

Brioche sits in a lovely red-brick building just off the main street of Ranelagh. Inside, Gavin McDonagh creates beautiful French-inspired tasting plates that showcase the best of Irish ingredients.

The front of house restaurant space in the Westbury has been remodeled into Balfes, featuring an attractive outside terrace and a Josper Grill in the kitchen. Perfect for people watching in the middle of the city. 

Hot Stove Restaurant has been open on Parnell Square for nearly 2 years now, and has firmly established itself as a high quality and good value fine dining spot. It's a great option for pre-theatre dinner or a special occasion.

Super Miss Sue will shortly celebrate her first birthday, but even in that short time, SMS has become a fixture at the bottom of Drury Street. Fresh seafood, a top notch chipper and now a charcoal-grill "pop-down" in the basement.

I may not like the tunes at Opium, but there's no denying that the food and cocktails at this fashionable bar restaurant are damn tasty. Keep an eye on their Twitter account for special deals and offers. 

Ever since it opened, Bunsen has been recognised as the spot for the best burgers in town. With a simple menu that literally fits onto the back of a business card, it's still the best spot for a beefy fix.

Salt Lick is the semi-permanent pop-up brainchild of Brian McCarthy and William Toft. Every Friday & Saturday, they take over the kitchen at Hobart's Cafe in Ranelagh. With a menu that changes on a monthly basis and house-made cocktails using BYO bottles, there's always something to enjoy.

I first visited Bear nearly three years ago, making it the longest established restaurant on this list. But clearly its popularity still hasn't waned one iota.

The cocktail scene is definitely exploding in Dublin right now, with many high quality venues. But it's definitely been a great year for Kevin Hurley and the team at the Liquor Rooms, achieving a first nomination for Ireland at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards and 4 awards at the inaugural Irish Craft Cocktail Awards.

Looking at the statistics from Google Analytics, there's no doubt that 2014 belonged to Pizza e Porchetta. I recently returned for a pre-theatre dinner and was once again impressed by the modern Italian food from Ronan Ryan and Pat Lalor, plus we all got to laugh at one of the funnier TripAdvisor reviews.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Review] Bar Rustic, South Georges Street, Dublin 2

Cocktail bars are springing into existence everywhere at the moment. If you listen carefully, you can hear the gentle shakey-shakey* sound of a new bar being born, complete with waistcoated bartenders and artistically arranged gin bottles. One of the latest bars to pop into being is Bar Rustic (by Dylan McGrath), located directly above his popular Rustic Stone restaurant. The decor is an extension of the restaurant downstairs and is immediately comfortable. Think wooden floors and black quilted leather seats with matching bolsters. There is an attractive back-lit tiered arrangement of bottles behind the bar, while cocktails are listed on retro letter boards as well as printed menu cards.
The comforting interior at Bar Rustic
I've always loved the wide range of bold, strong flavours used by McGrath throughout his restaurants, so I was expecting to find similar influences on the cocktail menu. There are many promising flavour combinations, such as a mango & tarragon smash or a lemongrass sidecar, and I was looking forward to sampling. 

Our first round involved an Irish Honey for me (rhubarb liqueur, Glendalough Poitín, honey syrup, marmalade and lemon) and a JR Sour for him (a classic sour made with Jameson and flavoured with rosemary). Overall, I liked the use of Glendalough poitín in the Irish Honey, but it was was a little on the sweet side for my taste. The JR sour was well-made with an attractive foam cap, but ultimately it lacked the promised rosemary note. 
The cocktail menu at Bar Rustic
Irish Honey and a JR Sour
Second round was a Thyme for Tequila (a thyme flavoured Margarita) and a Lemongrass Sidecar. The margarita was robust with a definite thyme kick. Tequila can take herby flavours quite well, and I definitely liked this combination. On the other hand, the delicate flavour of lemongrass was lost in the sidecar, which is a classic combination of brandy, lemon and orange liqueur. 
The Thyme for Tequila and Lemongrass Sidecar
Overall, I really liked the atmosphere and style of Bar Rustic. The room is welcoming and would be even more attractive at nighttime, with gentle lighting inside and the street lights outside. With some good background music (not the generic beat stuff that was playing on our visit), this room could be an instant classic. It's got a great location, bang in the middle of town and the menu definitely has enough variety to warrant a few visits. 

We used a voucher from TheTaste.ie, which offered us 4 cocktails for €20. Without this voucher, the cocktails would have cost approximately €40, which is pretty much the going rate for cocktails at the moment. 

*For those of you who don't know what I mean by shakey-shakey, let me tell you that it is simply the best sound in the world. All the ingredients have been placed in the shaker, ice has been added and the tin has been closed with a solid tap. The bartender picks up the closed shaker, adopts their preferred stance and starts to shake. Inside the tin, all the ice is banging today, mixing the ingredients, bruising any leaves or fruit present and adding a little dilution. Shakey shaky is part of the magic of cocktail making.

Bar Rustic, Rustic Stone, South Georges Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 707 9596
URL: www.rusticstone.ie
Twitter: @rusticdublin

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

[Review] Bakers, Donnybrook, Dublin 4

I've driven through Donnybrook many many times since I first moved to Dublin, but I've only started to walk through it in recent months. It's quite amazing what you will notice when passing by on foot, compared to speeding by in a car. The long-term residents of Donnybrook won't be surprised to learn that they have a fire station right in the middle of the village, but it was news to me. (And thankfully, it's only a few minutes away in case of a kitchen disaster). 

Bakers, tucked away on the Crescent, was another recent discovery on my Grand Tour of Donnybrook. It doesn't look very large from the outside, but once through the doors, it opens wide up into a bright warehouse-style setting. At the front, there's a small coffee bar and counter area, suitable for quick pitstops, but then transitions to a mixture of tables and booths. It has the grocery store vibe that I've seen in other restaurants, where shelves are lined with food and drink to purchase for home.

The interior of Bakers Donnybrook
Bread and selection of dips
We were delighted to be seated at one of the large booths, which could comfortably seat four. As there was just the two of us, we can plenty of elbow room to spread out and relax. The evening menu is a mixture of classic, bistro dishes, which perfectly suits the feeling of a neighbourhood restaurant. A generous plate of olives, oil and bread gave us something to occupy our hungry mouths as we made our selections. The Early Bird menu runs from Wednesday to Saturday until 8pm with two/three courses for €19.95/€22.95, with à la carte prices afterwards. 

My starter of pan-fried prawns, brightly coloured in a harissa oil with thin slices of pineapple carpaccio was quite a fresh and tasty dish (€9.50). Peppery rocket added another dimension to the spice and sweetness in a dish that was pleasantly surprising (especially if you don't believe in the combination of seafood and fruit). A perfect, classic Niçoise salad came laden with seared tuna pieces (€10.00) along with the usual egg and green bean components.
Pan fried prawns with harissa oil and pineapple carpaccio
Niçoise salad with seared tuna
The main courses were what I could describe as good, solid cooking. His special dish of duck breast was nicely pink with rich sauce, potatoes and carrots. My piece of salmon was absolutely huge (€17.50), about twice as large as I needed. I suspect the fish was cooked sou-vide as the flesh was soft throughout, but had been pan-seared to add some colour and flavour. I ended up picking away the outside meat and leaving the flabbier meat in the middle. A smaller portion and this would not have been a problem, especially as the lime hollandaise and beetroot puree really complimented the salmon nicely. 
Nightly special of duck 
Seared salmon with asparagus, beetroot and lemon hollandaise
It's always refreshing to find a decent house wine, and here a bottle of house white wine (a French Pays D'Oc if I recall correctly) was very decent drinking. A generous slice of classic Bailey's cheesecake (€5.00) finished off our meal. Service was relaxed and easy going throughout, but still attentive. A sign suspended from the roof advertised a take-away meal of whole rotisserie chicken with vegetables, a fact which Himself noted with interest for future reference. 

All in all, I really liked the large open space and relaxed atmosphere in Bakers. As a nighttime venue, it definitely falls into the reliable and safe dining category. However, I'd say that seeing the venue in daylight with a cup of coffee would really present it at its best. 

Unit D, 3 The Crescent, Donnybrook, Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 516 6169 
URL: www.bakers.ie/donnybrook
Twitter: @BakersCoffee

Monday, December 1, 2014

[Review] Stanley's, Andrew Street, Dublin 2

A trip into town on a pre-Christmas Saturday is an experience to be both enjoyed and feared in equal measure. Shop windows are festooned with joyous cheer, while just inches away shoppers elbow and jostle each other in grim determination. Last Saturday, I had a single, sole, solitary item on my shopping list. All I needed were nude tights from Marks & Spencer, but even that small errand required nerves of steel. Eventually, I cleared the gauntlet of Grafton Street and headed for my lunch reservation at the newly opened Stanley's on Andrew Street. 

The chic ground floor interior still feels a little unfinished, but to be fair, Stanley's was only a mere newborn still in soft opening mode, and I'm sure that the lovely brass fittings and mirror tiled wall will spring to life with some final touches. Downstairs is intended to be a wine bar, while upstairs will be home to a cosy dining room. Experienced Chef Stephen McArdle is the man behind this venture, ably assisted in front of house by his brother Patrick. These two gentlemen have a host of experience in the Irish restaurant industry and now they've taken on the challenge of a city centre restaurant. 

The lunch menu is a clever mix of small and large plates. Crab cakes were crispy golden brown, full of lightly packed crab meat, served atop a corn pureé. I could see these working really well as a tasty bar snack accompanying a cold glass of crisp white wine. A salad of smoked trout with pickled cucumber and apple was a deftly balanced cool mix of fresh and sweet textures. 
Crab cakes with corn and paprika 
Hot smoked trout with apple and pickled cucumber
The daily pasta special was a modern interpretation of pappardelle with chorizo, mushrooms and chunks of chicken, with a little broth resting in the bottom of the bowl. Duck confit was a perfect winter dish with well-rendered crispy skin, roast root vegetables and smooth whipped potatoes. 
Pappardelle with chicken, chorizo and mushroom
Duck confit with whipped potatoes, shallot and parsnip
What struck me as we finished lunch in Stanley's was its potential to become a perfect city centre lunch spot. Every dish was well assembled, satisfying and good value; approximately €7 for small plates and €14 for mains. There is a short but attractive wine list by the glass, from which we both really liked the superb Gruner Veltliner (a favourite of Ross Lewis apparently). 

It's early days for Stanley's, but it's certainly promising. The McArdle brothers clearly love and enjoy their craft and their combination of quality modern Irish cuisine and a smart, modern interior is bound to appeal. Finally, don't leave without trying the Guinness & treacle brown bread!

Stanley's, Andrew Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 485 3273
URL: www.stanleysrestaurant.ie
Twitter: @stanleysd2

Stanley's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 17, 2014

[Review] Pomona Pop Up Restaurant

This week's post isn't really a review but a brief run down of my recent dinner at Pomona Pop Up restaurant which took place over the October Bank Holiday weekend. Chefs Jason Walsh (L'Ecrivain) and Lumir Tousek (former head chef at L'Ecrivain) served up an impressive ten courses at their two day event on Thomas Street. At €80 per head, it wasn't exactly cheap, but the professionalism of the staff, lovely venue and generous meal did much to make it feel like good value. 

Thomas Street cafe, The Food Gallery, with its lovely high ceilings and classic parquet floor was converted into a white linen fine dining establishment. I received a warm welcome and exchanged my bottle of Pouilly Fumé for a glass of prosecco. Wine was BYOB with no corkage, which meant that there was a wild and wonderful selection of alcohol throughout the room. 

Pictures of the courses follow below. Beautiful modern presentation, featuring colour and texture, combined with clever use of seasonal, local ingredients and quirky touches was the order of the night. I loved additions such as fermented oats, roasted egg white and malt. Stand out items for me were the foie gras macaron, the hen's egg dish, the crispy skinned sea bass and the rich gnocchi. As I was sitting at a table for one, I received a whole bottle of the lovely Highbank Proper Dry Cider as a precursor to the dessert courses. Such generosity was hardly required after most of a bottle of wine, but it was definitely liked.

Right now, I don't think there are any future plans to repeat Pomona Pop-Up but follow them on Twitter (@PomonaPopup) or on Facebook for updates. 
Pig's head sandwich and foie gras macaron
Cream cheese with Goatsbridge caviar
Organic hen's egg yolk, roasted egg white and crispy shallots 
Scallop with fermented oats and squash
Seabass with romanesco sauce and Ballyhoura mushrooms
Linden cordial with apple cider sorbet 
Venison with beetroot, seasonal leaves and malt
Pork belly with carrot, gnocchi and dandelions 
Highbank proper cider
Plum pudding
Lemon polenta cake
Petits fours at Pomona