Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Righteous Men - Sam Bourne

So I've finally finished my Sam Bourne binge-read. For the finale, I read his first book last, following reading "The Last Testament" and "The Final Reckoning". Like his other novels, this tale draws heavily on historic and religious references. It features an amazing immersion into the world of the Hasidic Jews in New York. It's probably the strongest of his books, despite being the first.

The general story - a newspaper reporter uncovers a series of seemingly unrelated murders. His wife is kidnapped and he is receiving cryptic text messages from an unknown individual. The journalist has unwittingly become the central character in an apocalyptic scenario of amazing scale and imagination.

The Righteous Men is an entertaining and interesting read.

Slash - The Autobiography

I was never quite of the Guns'N'Roses era - I was a tiny bit too late for that. However, "Welcome to the Jungle" is constantly on the playlist on my iPod along with other tracks. There is no doubt that Guns'N'Roses were an incredibly successful rock band, due to the excellent vocals of frontman Axl Rose and amazing sounds of guitarist Slash. Their debut album Appetite for Destruction was a major success but the band fell into controversy over the death of two fans at a concert in England and the controversial cover artwork for "Appetite for Destruction".

Slash was the lead guitarist from nearly the start of the Guns'N'Roses story and is an immediately recognisable figure due to his trademark top hat and big hair. He is acclaimed as one of the modern guitar heroes and even featured on the cover of the game Guitar Heroes III.

His autobiography (assisted byAnthony Bozza) is Slash's own attempt to tell his story. He tells it in a manner that is open and honest. He rarely apologies or attempts to conceal his actions. He simply tells it as he saw it. He begins with his childhood and family life and descibes his initial encounter with a guitar. However from there on in, there is very little mention of music in the book (in a technical sense that is). The book is more about Slash than about his music. His alcohol and drug-related excesses are presented as is his struggle to eventually become clean and be a father to his two sons.

Fans of Guns'N'Roses will love the descriptions of the band's rise to success and manic tour adventures. The tension between Axl and Slash is described, with long-reaching roots to early days. Slash often refuses to say anything truly bad about his former band member and this is to his credit.

Slash is famous for his open character and honesty, and that shines through in this book. His love for the music and respect for the fans is evident. This is the real story of how it all went down.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pool Gate and Anarkali Restaurant - Brussels

After working hard for many weeks, and meeting our deadlines, it was time for our team to have a night out. Additionally, several team members are rolling off shortly (myself included) so this was one of the last times we would all be together.

We settled on playing pool so we trekked through the Parc Royal to Pool Gate on Chausée de Wavre. There was much whinging from theb Belgian contingent who were leaving their cars parked on the opposite side of the Parc, but little sympathy from shown to them from the ex-pats.

Pool Gate turned out to be quite a cool bar, featuring 5 pool tables, as well as comfortable leather armchairs. The decor is reminiscent of a gentleman's club and we quickly settled in at two tables for a mini-tournament. Turns out that the database geeks are fairly handy pool players with a pretty decent standard across the board. Personally, I was worried that the corrective surgery on my eye would have affected my pool playing, but I can gladly report that all errors and missed shots were entirely due to myself.

Following the pool-sharking, we headed along to Anarkali Indian restaurant, which features an all you eat buffet for €17 (or €28 with alcoholic drinks included). There were a huge amount of chafing dishes on show with plenty options, but to be honest I found the food lacklustre. The food wasn't spicy in the slightest and sauces were slightly watery. However, the staff were excellent and friendly, and if you were after value for money, then this place definitely does that.

Pool Gate, Chausée de Wavre 100, 1050 Bruxelles (Elsene)

Anarkali, Rue Longue-Vie 31, 1050 Bruxelles (Elsene)

Meet Zorro - the Winter White Hamster

I've posted before about my dwarf hamsters, but considering how much joy and happiness they give me, they deserve a lot more space.

Today, I'm introducing Zorro, a female winter white dwarf hamster who is approximately 18 months old. She shares her cage with Mojito, a male, and the poor man is henpecked to death by her. She is undoubtedly the dominant hamster in cage, constantly harassing and bothering poor old Mojito, who I imagine just wants a quiet life.

She loves to run and clocks up miles every night in her wheel. I've often walked into the kitchen/living room at 4 or 5 am to find Zorro looking at me from her wheel. Mojito, on the other hand, is definitely a much more easy-going hamster, only running the odd time. I just think that Zorro is a little ball of energy.

I took these photos with my new Nikon D40 and was delighted with some of the results. I want to get photos similar to those you see in pet books, but to be honest, Zorro wasn't the best photography subject as she's just too active. In the end, I had to bribe her with a little crumb of bread just so she would sit still long enough. In the picture below, she's doing her downright best to escape from the impromptu pen I created on our living room floor.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Last Testament - Sam Bourne

Sometimes you just have to read thrillers, especially thrillers with religious conspiracy overtones. Reading these books is like finding that sweet spot when scratching your back. Sam Bourne is the man of the moment, replacing Dan Browne as the readers choice. I recently read "The Final Reckoning" and "The Righteous Men" as well as "The Last Testament", all in quick succession.

Israel and Palestine are close to accord, settling the age old dispute that has wracked the region for generations. Top negotiator Maggie Costello (an Irish woman if you will!) is asked to assist in the talks but other peoples machinations and an age-old document (nothing less than the testament of Abraham himself) threaten to derail the process.

I won't reveal much more than that but what you have here is a fast-paced, action-packed book that entertains while delivering some historical and political information. I didn't think that the characters were hugely developed (and I'll always question a male writer choosing a female lead character). Like other Bourne books, I found this one to be well-researched and the author manages the mix history, politics and drama quite well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Music Teacher - Barbara Hall

Pearl Swain is a violin teacher who works in a music store, along with other disillusioned adult musicians. She is someone who never really made it as a musician, although her devotion to music cost her her marriage. She now mainly teaches uninterested children and tries to avoid relationships.

However, a new student enters her life, the orphan Hallie. Hallie possesses true talent and understanding of music and Pearl soons begins to dream of her future. However, it is clear that Hallie is not happy in her foster home and Pearl intrudes further than she should. Running alongside this story is the tale of Pearl's loneliness and relationships.

The authors waxes repeatedly about the playing of music bringing a person closer to God and of the power of music. These philosophical ramblings did not elevate me, and to be honest, I found the main character to be annoying. She appears to be one of those annoying women who cannot leave well alone and irritate those around them. Perhaps this is the mindset of the middle-aged divorcée in Los Angeles.

Ultimately, I did not realyl enjoy the novel. This was mainly due to what I perceived to be an irritating main character and an unsatisfying conclusion.

The False-Hearted Teddy - John J. Lamb

Teddy bears are a bit of an in-house entertainment for me, and I noticed this book in a charity shop one day. The teddy bear connection was enough for me to buy it and give it a try.

I also learned that this book is part of the 'cozy' subgenre of crime fiction where violence is downplayed or treated humourously. I had never heard this term before but wasn't surprised to learn that Miss Marple, or Murder, She Wrote are considered examples of the subgenre.

Bradley and Ashleigh Lyon are artisan teddy makers, taking part in a Baltimore teddy bear show. Bradley is a retired homicide cop from SFPD. While there, the creators of the Cheery Cherub teddy bear line dies in suspicious circumstances and Bradley's interest is piqued.

To be honest, the story is standard mystery with a liberal line in wisecracking and humour. Bradley is a bit moralistic but it's an easy read and if you are a true murder mystery fan, then this isn't bad at all.

The one thing that confuses me is that I can't figure out how the title links to the story.

Citizen Restaurant, Brussels

I've turned into a fan of many of the restaurants in the St. Boniface area of Brussels. It's within easy walking distance of my apartment and when I arrived into Brussels on a cold Monday evening, I headed straight to Boniface to get some food. To me, there's very little point in going to somewhere familiar when there are new restaurants to be visited, so I headed to Citizen which proclaims itself as Asian Cooking.

The restaurant is small inside and decorated in black tones with a projection screen on one wall. At night the interior is dark with lighting provided mainly by night lights on the table. It's serious atmospheric. When I visited, the restaurant was surprisingly busy for a Monday evening, and most tables were full of couples or groups of friends out for a chat. However, I squeezed myself and my laptop bag into a table for two and settled down to relax.

The menu takes you through all main asian cultures and represents great value for money. I went for an assorted set of starters, to be followed by beef penang curry. All main courses come with rice (where applicable) and a bowl of prawn crackers was placed on the table while I waited. The starters turned out to be 3 spring rolls comprising different fillings. Unfortunately, two turned out to contain celery, which is my demon vegetable and it marred the dish for me. However, the rolls were crispy and substantial.

The beef penang was served in a little pottery crock, along with a large portion of rice. It turned out to be that rarest of things in Belgium, namely spicy! It wasn't as hot as I longed for, but it was spicier than a lot of Thai food I've had here. So kudos to Citizen for that.

The toilets are located downstairs down a winding stairs where it is hard to see where your foot is going. The toilet roll dispenser featured 12 rolls of toilet paper along with the one in use. That just tickled me pink.

Citizen strikes me as a restaurant providing good value, tasty Asian food in a romantic and convivial setting. It's listed as one of the cool restaurants in Brussels and it's easy to see why. My two courses, a bottle of sparkling water and a cubra libre cocktail resulted in a total bill of €30.

Citizen: Rue Saint Boniface 4, 1050 Bruxelles

Soho, Dublin

Obviously there was something wrong with the Cornerhouse Grill formula, because it has been replaced by Soho, a restaurant offering friendly, comfort food at good prices. Good things have been done with the decor as it's much brighter than the dark wood interior of the Cornerhouse Grill.

I did like the Cornerhouse Grill - it just wasn't going to work in Dublin. The first time I went, I had the cheesy soufflé and steak - divine, but a bit pricey. Then I saw that the menu had changed - you know the kind of change I'm talking about - the kind a restaurant does as it fights the downhill slide. So I must say that I wasn't surprised to see new arrival Soho in its place.

The new version, Soho, is good. We went for Brunch on a Saturday morning. I was surprised to see that they didn't start serving food until 11.30. It's close to Christmas and people will have been shopping since earlier. To miss out on at least 2 hours of potential trade in what is a tough climate seems a bit daft. I went for the corned beef hash, fried egg and green salad while my partner went for the haddock, egg and hollandaise sauce. The food turned out to be excellently executed - very good indeed. My corned beef hash did not feature any green salad at all, but to be honest, the rest was so good that I barely noticed. I would say though to the chef that a fried egg does not mean a poached/steamed egg. Get out a pan and actually fry the egg! The haddock in the other dish was the real smoked deal, not the artificial smoked version that's so common.

Two lattes, two coffees along with the food bought the bill to somewhere in the region of €40. I liked Soho a lot, and definitely will be back.

Soho, 17 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2. 01-7079596

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Let's go to Brighton for the Weekend

Well, it was my 30th birthday recently. To be honest, I didn't feel anything special in the run up to it, nor have I felt anything different since. But I did book tickets to see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds perform in his home town of Brighton on my weekend birthday. So off we went to Brighton.

It turns out that Gatwick Airport is approximately only 30 minutes from Brighton by train, so that was a no-brainer. Trains are plentiful and frequent. We arrived on one of the coldest mornings of the year so far, with the remainder of a storm blowing over the town. We walked straight down Queens Road to the beach and walked on the storm-tossed beach for quite a while. I love being out in the open and the weather did not disappoint. I had fun taking photos with my camera, and although the light conditions were not ideal and I think that I had the ISO setting too high, I still got some great stormy shots. Later, some bleak winter sunshine broke through the clouds, and the atmosphere began to change. The sea was still stormy, but it was clear that calmness was on the way. I quite like the following shot and think it's one of my best so far.
We turned away from the beach and went in search of food. After a wander through the Lanes, we found lovely Crepes & Co which makes savoury buckwheat crepes and omelettes to order. It fortified us to face the cold outside and we went to check in at our hotel.

We booked a seaview double room in the
Queens Hotel Brighton which, although holding a 3 star rating, has recently been redecorated. It's located just a stone's throw from the Brighton Pier and the luxury shopping area of the Lanes. The room turned out to be fantastically spacious and was warmed by the winter afternoon sun streaming in through the bay window. The rooms are decorated in a clean modern fashion while retaining some of the period features. It's still a 3 star hotel, but represents excellent value for its class. Our room cost £65 for the Sunday night.
Our room featured a great view of the famous Brighton Pier, so off we went to walk along the Pier. It is the most amazing structure. It's rickety and tacky and yet gloriously historic. However, there is a real sense of impending doom around the structure as you realise how much it is hanging on in there.

As it was Sunday, and we were in England, home of the Sunday Roast, we went in search of a pub with a good roast. Our wandering left us up past the
Royal Pavillion, which is the most bizarre structure. After rejecting several options, we chose the quirky and funky White Rabbit in Kensington Gardens for our late lunch. We had two plates of roast lamb with roast potates, savoy and red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower and Yorkshire puddings for the price of £7.95 per plate.

Later, we enjoyed some fresh fudge courtesy of Roly's Fudge, before deciding to take a rest before the concert, which was taking place at the Brighton Centre. I'll leave the concert for another blog session, but I want to make one final mention for the Thai restaurant where we had lunch before leaving Brighton on the Monday.

We headed back to the funky area around Kensington Gardens and found ourselves in the Krua Anne Thai restaurant for lunch. Our waitress was simply the most charming woman I've ever met, and the food wasn't half bad either. In fact, it was downright great and was a great finish to our trip to charming Brighton.

In summary, I loved Brighton. It's a cool, quirky town, with plenty to offer everyone. We've already decided that we're taking a return trip early next year, so that we can check it out further.


Friday, November 21, 2008

McCalls 3434

It's no secret that I have a thing for 50's dresses. They work on me and I love the shape and style inferred from wearing them. This McCalls pattern is just lovely, but what really caught my eye was the expression of the woman in the red version. Just what is up with the snooty finger held just below her lip? Is she saying that the lady in the foreground is just too much?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld

I would say that easily 50% of my library (available for viewing on has come from charity shops. For €10-20 euros, and a bit of luck, you can come home with a bagful of books, as well as helping some good causes. Generally, I look for authors that I like, and occasionally will pull out a novel that's new to me. It's a bit of pick and mix really. Pot luck.

Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep is one of those pot luck novels. Despite the critical acclaim and good reviews, I don't ever recollect seeing it in any of the bookstores or shops that I go to.

Lee Fiora is a scholarship student at Ault, a prestigious East Coast boarding school in USA. The book charts her 4 year journey of self-discovery at Ault, but the glorious part of her self-discovery is contained in the fact that that main character is narrating the events many years after they happen. Experience allows her to look back on her teenage self and see the events for what they truly were.

This is a true coming of age novel - but weirldly the character doesn't come of age during the narration of events - it's only by hearing the grown-up narrator's comments that you realise that she has matured. The novel really does capture the yearning for conformity and acceptance that many teenagers struggle with. Ultimately, the main character is a normal person with normal talent and this is her major appeal to the reader.

I've seen critics place this book with Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" - to me this is better. It's more accessible, more down to earth and more honest. Truly recommended.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oasis Poppy Print Dress

I got invited to a wedding at short notice, and I was desperately wondering what to wear. I have a wardrobe full of lovely beautiful dresses, but being in Brussels, working on a time-consuming project hasn't left my waistline with kind memories.

Anway, I was browsing in Debenhams in the Frascati Centre, Blackrock, when I came across this beauty on the sale rack in Oasis. It's a stunning 50's reproduction, inspired by prints at the Bath Fashion Museum. There is a little layer of tulle under the skirt to add a little body and there are lovely little bows on the shoulder straps to add a little focus to the neckline. The back is cut low for what appears to be a demure little dress. It's just adorable and I got it for the princely sum of €34!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Max Payne

Max Payne, starring Mark Walhberg, Mila Kunis (from That 70's Show) and recent Bond girl, Olga Kuylenko, is the latest video game to hit the big man. It wouldn't be an understatement to say that the film inflicted a fair amount of pain, both on the baddies and on the audience. The film is dark, moody and scowling, just like the lead character. "Atmospheric" snow-laden shots of the city fail to work and the twists and turns of the story do not inspire.

Pride and Glory

This is a film that looks great on paper. Cop movie, featuring some great actors (Voight, Norton and Farrell). Unfortunately, it's a dull, seen-it-all-before, corrupt cop movie that just doesn't cut it. Recent television series such as The Wire have truly upped the ante when it comes to cop-based entertainment, and Pride and Glory should have paid some attention to their success.

The climax is gawkish and clichéd and leaves you wondering what the hell they were thinking. Combine this with "gritty" cinematography (in other words, dark and/or grainy) and the product is a film that I damn near fell asleep in.

Quantum of Solace

This film is a fantastic development in the Bond series of films. Its predecessor, the first film to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond, somehow fell a little short of the mark, but I believe that they've nailed it this time around.

It's time for Bond fans the world over to grow up and look at the modern times. Bond doesn't fight camp villains who live with their cats/sharks/lasers (delete as appropriate) in secret underground lairs anymore. Instead, the villains are now businessmen and politicos, people who governments are willing to interact with, distasteful as it may be.

Craig's Bond is a man for these times. He's grittier, definitely tougher and does a meaner line of suits thanks to Tom Ford. The Bond series of films is always entertaining, but the humour has taken a darker twist in these recent two films and they've left the slapstick humour by the wayside. Sorry Q, but these days everyone has supergadgets in their pockets. Instead, we get a much more refined and dark sense of humour.

Action still abounds and pretty girls fill the screen. Some things will never change for Bond, but he's definitely grown up and come of age. This is a thoroughly modern Bond for a thoroughly modern time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Templar Legacy - Steve Berry

You might think that this book is in the vein of the Da Vinci Code. Who could blame you? It's about the Knights Templar, ancient secrets and Christianity as well as following an ancient trail of clues and puzzles. However, I'm glad to say that this is a deserving novel in its own right. Steve Berry has undertaken some thorough research and woven it into a tense and thrilling tale.

As well as being an exiciting and fast-paced tale, the author leaves us with a bit of food for thought at the end as the great secret of the Templars is revealed. An interesting slant to a book typical of its genre.

The Templar Legacy is easy to read and will entertain anyone who enjoys this type of historical thriller. Ultimately, it's more than the sum of its parts and one of the best of its kind.

A Tale of Two Burgers

So I was back in Dublin for a few days recently and I took advantage of it to try out some restaurants for lunch.

First up was the new venue on Camden Street, the modern and sleek Green Nineteen. From what I gather, they've only just opened, but they already appear to be doing quite well. The interior is clean and sleek and the menu is simple, Irish-based, well thought out and most importantly, easy on the pocket. I went for the beef burger, served with mayo, home-made ketchup and fries. Total cost €10. It is such a nice feeling to see lunches priced at the €10 mark, rather than pushing you over. The burger was tasty, nicely cooked and I loved the home-made ketchup. A nice lunch spot for sure.

No contact details available yet for Green Nineteen, but I'll add them as soon as I have them. This place deserves some good word of mouth.

Second up was Stonrs on Stephen Street. This is part of the burgeoning empire that has recently bought Dublin Darwin's and and the Bald Barista. I'd been to Stonrs several months ago for an evening meal, but hadn't really enjoyed it. However, I did think that a second go was in order. I went for the lamb burger with smoked paprika, cucumber raita, mint and what were described on the menu as "French Fries". What I got were not french fries, but instead the common irish chip. They were tasty, especially when dipped into the raita, but I do wish restaurants would get their potato-related descriptions right. Us Irish are potato conoisseurs and we appreciate an accurate description.

The lamb burger was cooked until slightly pinked and had a lovely paprika flavour throughout. Very decent but 2 factors let the meal down. One was the dim lighting in the restaurant. I couldn't helo but compare it to the brightly lit Green Nineteen from the previous day. The second was the price of the latte. At €3.50, it's bordering on being too expensive. Again, a latte at Green Nineteen the day before had cost just €2.50.

So there - a mixed bag. Once again, Irish restaurants appear unable to differentiate a chip from a french fry from a wedge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Yushan Fang Chinese Restaurant Dublin

Firstly, let me state that I'm not too sure about the spelling of the name of this restaurant. It used to be called the Chili Apple, but the business card I picked up as I left was in Chinese, and I'm doing my best to recollect the name. It's located at 6 Mary Street, Dublin 1 and is one of the plethora of Chinese restaurants that have sprouted up in Dublin's own new "Chinatown".

The menu is full of traditional chinese dishes, with accompanying photos for the hesitant and prices are more than reasonable.

We ordered deep fried whole fish in hot garlic sauce, fried beef shreds in spicy sauce and smoked chicken shreds. Our waiter was clearly overwhelmed with the sudden influx of guests late on a cold Sunday afternoon, and when our order arrived, the fish had somehow turned into fish and corn soup. Not that we complained mind, as it was delicious and to be honest we had more than enough to eat for a lunchtime neal.

The smoked chicken shreds were punchy and fried with plenty of chili. The beef shreds had that lovely wok-fried taste that I was craving and came in a generous portion. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and the bill came to a total of approx €25, including two soft drinks. Thumbs up to the Yushan Fang restaurant.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Congratulations Barack Obama

Wow, doesn't it seem as if something really special and unique has taken place in the world. There has been a subtle shift that will ripple throughout the world. Every generation has a list of world-defining events. For my parents, it probably included the assasination of JFK. For me, until now, it was the senseless destruction of the Twin Towers.

Watching the election coverage on Tuesday night left me with a feeling of real change and purpose. The election of Barack Obama signifies a fundamental shift in the attitude of the American people, and by definition, any member of the free world. Weirdly, the race issue isn't the reason I feel this sense of change. It's more to do with the fact that we are now ready to move away from the doldrums and weirdness that has surrounded us for the last period of time and move forward.

In a choatic time, Obama's election message and demeanour was steady, calm yet fresh and exciting. He has promised so much, now he must deliver. I, for one, don't doubt him.

Congratulations Barack Obama.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mumtaz Indian Restaurant Brussels

Another late night at the project, and another night with no food in the fridge. Thanks to Belgium's arcane shopping hours, there was also no chance of finding an open decent grocery shop. I was meandering towards Boniface in Ixelles, when I turned a corner onto Chaussée de Wavre and found myself standing in front of Mumtaz.

I hadn't had an Indian meal since I arrived in Brussels and I remember asking an Indian colleague about good Indian restaurants in the town. He had recommended Mumtaz to me, but since he is a fairly Europeanised Indian, I hadn't taken too much heed of his recommendation. I did learn however that Mumtaz was the name of the queen for whom the Taj Mahal was built.

However, the combination of hunger, and the busy-looking atmosphere of the restaurant propelled me inside. Once seated, I was left to browse the menu, while looking around the restaurant and the clientele. Like most restaurants in that area of town, you get an overflow from the European district, but it also seemed to be popular with locals as well. The room isn't very large and the decor is a bit dated but it feels comfortable.

The menu was mainly traditional Indian food with some recommended chef's specials. I fancied an achari curry though and I asked the owner if it was possible to get one made for me. He readily agreed (after first warning me that it was a bit strong). Word of warning. This man is chatty and speaks excellent English. He's a great host and very entertaining.

For starters I went for onion bhajee. The bahjee's were quiet nice and generous, but could have been a little more strongly flavoured. The achari arrived looking very promising but it failed to deliver that pickled-punch I associate with achari. If this was "strong", I shudder to think how mild the Belgians must like their food. Spice and pungency level aside, the curry was quite tasty and came in an absolutely enormous portion. I asked for a garlic and coriander naan to accompany the meal.

I like the food. It was really spicy enough or hot enough (to me, hot does not equal spicy) for my liking, but it was well made and executed. However though, I got a shock with the bill. Over €5 for a very normal sized naan. I'm sorry Mumtaz, but who are you kidding here? I would have returned nurmerous times, but you lost a customer.

Total bill including the infamous naan and a glass of rosé came to €28.75.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hana Restaurant, Brussels

Hana is a Japanese - Korean restaurant located on Rue Saint-Boniface, close to the buzzing St. Boniface area of Brussels. Given that I had just wrapped up a key piece of work, I wanted to have something nice to eat, rather than facing into cooking a meal at 10.30 pm.

I had thought about going to a Mexican restaurant on Chausee de Wavre, but it was closed, so I remembered seeing Hana when wandering around the Boniface area on a previous day. I was scanning the menu in the window when two ladies who were standing outside for a cigarett told me to get inside as it was "le meilleur sushi" - pardon my french spelling. I didn't really need any more persuasion, so in I went. The restaurant is simple and clean inside with a simple menu. However, there was a nice level of occupancy, even at 10pm on a Tuesday night and customers were clearly enjoying themselves.

I opted for the shrimp roll, followed by the beef bulgogi. The shrimp roll consisted of deep fried shrimp, placed into a sushi roll and served with prawn on top with a tasty, soya-based dipping sauce. I ordered the 5 pc portion for starter and it turned out to be quite a generous size. The beef bulgogi arrived at the table in a cast-iron pot, bubbling awaty merrily, along with sides of rice, miso soup, kimchee and sesame beansprouts. You can't fault this restaurant on portion sizes - that's for certain. I love the Korean stews that feature thinly sliced cooked meats, and this was no exception. It wasn't spicy, but instead slightly sweetly flavoured with soya sauce. Delicious.

A quarter beaker of wine, and an espresso bought the bill to €35.50 in total for quite a large meal. Too much for me anyway. Great food - this restaurants compares very favourably to any other Korean or Japanese restaurant that I've eaten in. A new favourite for me.

Monday, November 3, 2008

La Kasbah Restaurant Brussels

My time in Brussels is drawing to a close, so I'm on a mission now to maximise what time I have left in this city. Therefore on Saturday, I wanted to visit one of the well-known restaurants on the city's Rue Antoine Dansaert. Saturday had been an extremely frustrating day as it had been raining for the most of the day, and all shops and most restaurants were shut as it was a public holiday. It looks as if consumerism doesn't have quite the same grip on Belgium as it does in Ireland. I think that there would be a revolution in Ireland if all shops and restaurants were closed on a public holiday!!

Luckily restaurants were open on Saturday evening, and the rain had stopped. We got into the Kasbah restaurant without reservations after only waiting for a few minutes. While waiting, I picked up one of their cards, which has to be one of the prettiest designs I've ever seen - a lovely metallic red mosaic pattern. The interior of the restaurant is dim and it is lit by literally hundreds of jewel-coloured hanging lanterns, creating a lovely relaxed atmosphere.

I can never relax at a restaurant until I've placed my order, so I focus completely on the menu for the first few minutes. We ordered Harira soup and a Trio de Briwats (deep fried parcels of cheese, chicken and almonds and lastly lamb). Both were quite nice, not spectacular, but the chicken and almond filling in one of the briwat parcels proved very intriguing.

I had a lamb tagine with prunes and almons for my main. Those poor waiters. They spend the whole night rushing back and forth from the kitchen with these scalding, volcanic ceramic tagine pots. I wonder if there's ever been a tagine-related accident at the restaurant. Once the waiter had ceremoniously removed the lid, I was able to start shredding the meat from the lamb shank and mixing it into the stew. Our other main was the Kasbah Royal, a plate of tasty mixed grilled meats, served with couscous and a vegetable stew.

I got the feeling that the food was peasant-style, though I don't have much experience with Moroccan food. It was tasty, served in generous portions, but I just felt that it lacked a certain flair. For instance, a little touch of honey and tomatoes in my tagine would have elevated it to heavenly propotions.

One glass of wine, one Moroccan beer (Casablanca for those beer fanatics out there) and two espressos bought the bill to €60. It was a great value meal given the quantity of food served and the atmosphere was just lovely. Great for a romantic date.
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