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!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Mighty Queens of Freeville - Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson is an American agony aunt who writes the syndicated advice column 'Ask Amy'. 'The Mighty Queens of Freeville' is her story about life, love, her daughter, her tight connection with her family, her hometime of Freeville and her pets. It's a trip through a life that will resonate with many readers.

Amy doesn't claim to have all the answers, but she does know the value of family. Her immediate family is practically all female (hence the book's title) and she herself raised her daughter as a single parent following a divorce. Amy and her daughter, Emily, lived for a while in Washington D.C. and Chicago, but they always find themselves returning to her small hometown of Freeville and her family.

There is a quiet sense of humour and dry with throughout the book. One suspects it is one of Dickinson's key weapons in dealing with life. Speaking of her divorce and her father's abandonment of his family she says "One advantage to actual abandonment is that it cuts down on marital discord. In order to fight with my father, my mother would have had to locate him first."

This is a positive upbeat story about the affirming support of family and smalltown communities. It will make a lot of readers feel happier in their hears, and that is no mean feat.

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man!

I must admit that I wasn't delighted when Brian O'Driscoll was announced as the captain of the Irish Six Nations team. He's a great player and a talisman, but I really felt that it was time for Paul O'Connell to take the helm.

But, right now, I am in awe of the rugby machine that is Brian O'Driscoll. In the face of an extremely determined and physical English side, not the mention the 17 points missed by Ronan O'Gara, O'Driscoll led the Irish squad to a one-point victory today. His drop-goal gave Ireland the spirit that they needed and his great try was truly inspiring.

I honestly think that there was a time during the match when O'Driscoll didn't know where he was or who he was. He took a ferocious and targeted battering from the English, but he psuhed on, even though the whole crowd could see the pain etched on his face.

Well done Brian. You made it a fine day to be Irish.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

El Bahia - Dublin

El Bahia claims to be the only authentic Moroccan restaurant in Ireland. It's tucked away upstairs behind Brown Thomas and features 4 different room decorated in different styles. Following a chilly day in Croke Park watching Ireland's great rugby win over France, we were definitely in the mood for something a little exotic and warming.

Well, warm was the word for the welcome we received from the host. Once our coats were taken from us (and hung on a series of coat hooks that line the stairs), we were shown to our reserved tables in one of the smaller rooms which is decorated like the inside of an arabian tent. The only problem was that the fabric which covered our bench seats. I just kept slipping right off it!

As there were 6 of us, we chose one of the shared menu options (mezza for parties). For E40 per person, we received a selection of 6 starters, our choice of main course and a half bottle of wine per person. Service was slow overall on the night, but we were quickly served with our wine and some spicy olives flavoured with preserved lemons. This kept us amply entertained until our starters arrived.

The host described each of the six starters to us and then left us to get started. We got delicious grilled sardines, spicy mergues sausages, a Moroccan tossed salad, gently spiced lentils, kobiza (spinach cooked with lemon and herbs) and, finally, zaaluk, a dish made from grilled pureed aubergines. Pitta bread was served on the side and all of us agreed that the flavours (in particular the lentils and zaaluk) were excellent. We just felt that the portions could have bigger as it was hard to divide the plates between six people.

Mains at El Bahia are very much traditional with plenty of tajine and couscous options. I chose the Elham Batata, which was described as succulent lamb cooked with ginger and saffron, served with potatoes and peas. To be honest, I couldn't tell the difference between the tajine and an Irish stew. It was pleasant with tender lamb but it wasn't in anyway different. Or at least I thought so until I found the preserved lemon lurking in one part of the tajine. Once I mixed that through, things improved dramatically.

My partner went for the Chicken Bastilla which is a mixture of sweet and savoury mix of chicken and almonds filling a filo pastry which is then dusted with icing sugar. It sounds a little odd, but tasted delicious and was by far and away the best dish at the table.

Overall, what did I think of El Bahia. There were certain food highlights and I think that it would be enough to convince me to go back there once more. The atmosphere can be very romantic and it's definitely a unique dining space in Dublin. I did feel that the E40 per head was not great value as you'd definitely have a cheaper meal by ordering a la carte. One definite fault was the terribly slow service. Overall, I like El Bahia, but neither am I raving about it.

El Bahia, 37 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2. 01 - 6670213

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dublin Bus

It's kind of hard to have sympathy for Dublin Bus drivers when you're a passenger on their (ahem) regular services.

To date:
  • I've stood waiting in the sleet for 45 minutes, because a bus driver decided he wasn't finishing the route and threw all the passengers off the bus.
  • I've been told by a driver that Dublin Bus couldn't run regular services because of the Ireland vs Georgia match in Croke Park and therefore services were terminating on Burgh Quay rather than continuing to the southside, despite the fact that there were no blockages on the southside.
  • I've stood outside buses in the morning, watching the driver having a snooze instead of loading passengers and departing on time.
  • Additionally I can't buy a weekly ticket or smart card that caters to my needs. No option currently available from Dublin Bus allows me to save money.
Stand at any main bus stop in town and try to figure out the frequency of a bus - you know what you'll learn? That Dublin Bus is probably more random than the lotto. At least in the lotto there are a maximum of 45 numbers, so something is bound to start repeating eventually. Not so with Dublin Bus.

In fairness, drivers aren't fully to blame for the financial mess that Dublin Bus is in, but they are the public face of the bus company, and unfortunately you are more likely to remember the bad ones than the good ones.

I don't care whether Dublin Bus runs at a profit or a loss, it is a public service after all. But I would like it to be run in an efficient manner with proper timetabling and a service that actively caters to the needs of the public. Bus shelters that give the departure time from the shelter rather than the departure time from the depot would be nice too.

We had many years of surplus cash that we could have used to improve public transport, make it more efficient and suited to the needs of a modern Ireland. But of course, we didn't.

The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable has been a recent bestseller recently. Given the current economic turmoil, the lessons that Taleb imparts in this book are even more relevant. However, much of what is interesting and relevant is undermined by the author's attitude and dare I say, arrogance.

Let's start with the definition of a black swan. It is a rare (or outlying) event, which has a maximum impact and that with hindsight could have been predictable. What Taleb reiterates throughout the book is that we should not confine ourselves to the realm of the usual and predictable. Fair enough.

Taleb then goes on to disparage Gaussian statistics and the reliance that is placed on such statistics, particularly in financial or economic matters. Given that Taleb is an ex-trader himself, I found it highly interesting that he doesn't detail any of the modelling methods that he employed. He refers to himself as a skeptical empirist, someone who is not easily convinced.

However, as a physicist (though not working as such anymore) I found his bashing of the bell-curve to be tedious. Most good scientists are well familiar with the limitations of such statistics and do not place any real credence in them. However, judging from the author, you would gain the impression that all of the world is founded upon these methods, and it's just waiting to come crashing down.

In short, I did enjoy his concept. Black swan events should happen and we should not ignore them when they do. Life is a blend of random and predictable and to ignore the former in favour of the latter is hardly a clever thing to do.

I did not enjoy the book because of the Taleb's attitude. His sense of superiority is astounding, especially when you consider that he rails so often against the arrogance of those who think they know it all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Creme Patissiere

I love french patisserie and I never cease to be amazed at the level of sophistication that the French bring to the world of desserts. A few weeks ago I had strawberries in the fridge and the desire grew strong within me for a Tarte aux Fraises (most probably inspired by my recent visit to the excellent Chez Max).

The tarte didn't turn out too great as I put too much liquid into my pate sucree (sweet pastry), but the creme patissiere turned out amazing. I used Gordon Ramsay's recipe from his book Just Desserts. People tend to forget that Gordon Ramsay is a very classically trained French chef and this book of dessert recipes is quite inspiring (and technical too).

Here's the recipe (makes about 650 ml). It makes a great filling for eclairs and pastries and is the base for classic hot sweet souffles.

350ml whole milk
150ml double cream
75g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds extracted
1 large free-range egg
3 large free-range egg yolks
40g cornflour

Put the milk and cream in a heavy-based saucepan along with 1 tblsp of the sugar, the vanilla seeds (you can also use natural vanilla extract) and the empty pod. Slowly bring to the boil.

In the meantime, beat the egg, egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Sift a third of the cornflour into the egg mixture and beat until smooth. Repeat two more times with the rest of the cornflour.

When the milk is on the point of boiling, slowly pour a third onto the egg mixture while beating continuously. Gradually pour in the rest of the milk, whisking all the time. Take out the vanilla pod.

Return the milk and egg mixture to the heat. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking all the time, until thick and smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover and cool until needed.

Then We Came to the End - Joshua Ferris

What do a bunch of workers in a post-dotcom boom advertising agency talk about or think about? With the threat of redundancy constantly looming, this book describes the creative escapades and personalities of bored workers in the modern office.

I must say that I didn't particularly like a lot of this book. It reminded me painfully of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs and jPod. Maybe the slow descriptions of mundane events is meant to evoke the triteness and banality of the office life. It certainly nearly made me give up on the book.

However, as the book turns towards the story of Lynn, a partner in the advertising agency, who is struggling to come to terms with breast cancer, we find some merit and humanity in this story. Her employees are both fascinated and sympathetic towards her and it becomes important to the reader to find out what happens.

Overall, I ended up somewhat liking the novel instead of hating it. If you want to experience a commentary on the stupidity of modern cubicle culture, you'd be better off buying a Dilbert book.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Only in Ireland - Meet Prawo Jazdy

Apparently Gardai the length and breadth of the country were reporting multiple traffic offenses against one Polish individual, namely Prawo Jazdy. Everytime he was stopped, a different address was given and over 50 different instances of the individual were created on PULSE, the Garda computer system.

Turns out that our fine men in navy blue had been mistakenly reading the Polish driving licenses and incorrectly recording the individual's name. Prawo Jazdy means nothing more than 'Driving License'.

It does amaze me that Gardai could not figure out that the really big letters at the top of the licence were just a title (hint: Permis de Conduire is written above), and that the real infomation was next to the photo. In fact, the words 'Prawo Jazdy' are currently on the front of every recently issued Irish driving license. Gardai have since been given training on how to read the driving licenses of most foreign nationals currently residing in Ireland.

Fancy Some Roasted Pig? Oink If You Do!

Here's a question of a philosopical bent. What do you say when you see a whole roasted pig in a shop window? Do you curl up your nose and go 'Yuck' or are you the kind of person that goes 'Hmmm, how can I get me some of that?' My reaction was definitely of the latter kind when we passed by the window of Oink on Victoria Street, near the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. However, it was Friday evening and we were shortly scheduled to meet a friend for dinner and drinks, so we decided that we would indulge in Oink for our brunch the next morning.

When I wake up slightly hungover, I crave some water, some coffee and hot salty food. From the minute I woke up on Saturday, I was thinking of Oink. The shop is small and oddly enough, decorated with pigs. The rolls are simple, either white or brown, with crackling or without. Sage stuffing or haggis? Apple sauce, coleslaw or chili relish? The rolls come packed to the brim with flaky, juicy shredded pork, plucked from the pig in the window.

The rolls were simply divine, but the best part of eating in Oink is watching the reactions of passers by in the street. You can see a whole gamut of emotions cross their faces. My personal favourites were the people who snuck back 5 minutes later, having left their companions , to order a roll. The japanese man who didn't know what crackling was, but sure as hell knew that he wanted a pork roll.

Our conversation took another turn when my other half asked me which meat sandwich I'd prefer from our travels. There was the salt beef sandwich from Selfridge's in London, the pastrami sandwich from The Pastrami Queen in New York and now the Oink roll. Hmm, tough choice... I think that I'd have to try all once more to be sure!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Under the Stairs - Edinburgh

We visited Edinburgh for the weekend and stayed in the excellent Apex City Hotel on Grassmarket. We just wanted a few drinks on our first night and we visited the two traditional pubs on Grassmarket, The Last Drop and The Beehive Inn. Both bars were very nice and comforable, but we wanted to find somewhere a bit more unique.

We went for a wander up Candlemaker Row where we noticed a cool looking basement bar called Under the Stairs. There are a certain number of things that are guaranteed to fascinate me, and things in basements are definitely on that list. So down the stairs we went.

The room is large and low-ceiling in muted colours. There are scattered old armchairs and eclectic decorations (flying ducks) on the walls with old sewing machines and radios. The whole shabby chic effect is relaxed and comfortable. The staff were excellent and provided us with great service. The only thing I didn't like was the music. House music just isn't to my taste. But when it comes to finding somewhere comfortable to sit and chat, Under the Stairs fits the bill

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gluten-Free Chocolate Brownies

I had a craving to do some baking while sitting at work today, so I decided to make a batch of chocolate brownies. I had some dark Moser Roth chocolate (from Aldi) in the cupboard at home, along with ground almonds, so I knew that I'd have no problems making them.

I particularly like this Moser Roth chocolate. Thanks to Aldi, it's great value and there is a fantastic orange and almond variety that I'm becoming very partial to. I'd recommend getting chocolate with a high cocoa content as there is enough sugar already in this recipe.

75g dark chocolate
100g butter
200g castor sugar
75g ground almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder (gluten-free variety)
1-2 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt
coarsely chopped walnuts

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over some hot water. Cream the butter and sugar together and gradually incorporate the beaten eggs. While beating, slowly add the melted chocolate and vanilla essence. Mix in the almonds, salt, baking powder and walnuts. Pour into a lined and greased baking tin and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about 30-35 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin and turn out when still a little warm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Land of Marvels - Barry Unsworth

Take yourself back to the tense times in the Middle East just before the outbreak of World War I. The world is beginning to fully wake up to the need for oil in the new modern world and the importance of securing a steady supply. The world powers are manouvering for access to the newly discovered desposits in what will become modern day Iran.

However, as many of us will know from ancient history, Mesopotamia was the birthplace of civilisation, and a British archaeologist, Sommerville, dreams of finding fame and reknown. His wife is wondering about her marriage, while Sommerville's assistant has fallen for a young female research assistant. This little community of Brits is living together and tensions are heightened when the British government sends an America geologist posing as an archaeologist to work with them. Sommerville is in a constant state of nerves as he fears that the building of a German railroad will cut through his digsite.

Outside this community there is Jehar, a local who carries messages for Sommerville and dreams of making a life with the woman he loves. It is his desire to earn her bride price, along with Sommervillles fear of the approaching German railroad that ultimately leads to the surprising climax of the novel.

This novel skilfully mixes politics, intrgue, espionage, history and human nature. The growing desire for oil in the early twentieth century is still present today, especially in the context of the Middle East. The novel is an easy read, although there are scholarly passages on geology and Assyrian history. The characters are what make this novel shine.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wifi in Dublin City Council Motor Tax Office

I had to spend a while today in the Motor Tax Office just off Church Street. I joined the queue as number 170, but the ticker was only at 130. Sigh. Until I realised that the offices had free public wifi. So out with my Nokia E65, switch on the wifi and off I was. One read of the Irish Times later, it was my turn.

A big thanks to Dublin City Council for providing free, easy to access Wifi. It made my day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I read Vikas Swarup's book 'Q and A' about a year ago and enjoyed it. It was funny, entertaining, easy-reading but not a classic. Then I heard about this new great Indian film, which had a storyline suspiciously similar to the book I had read. But the name was different. Turns out that the film was based on the book. Now the book has been completely upsurped by 'Slumdog Millionaire'.

Slumdog Millionaire is a good film, as you would expect from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Sunshine, The Beach ...). However, I don't understand why it is receiving all the accolades and awards. It is entertaining and funny, yet exposes the poverty and corruption of modern India. It is a feel-good film, but I think that the world must be in a very depressing place if this is the 'feel-good film of the decade'.

Butler's Ice Cream - Vanilla Nut Crunch

Mrs H. does a fantastic Sunday lunch. It's one of the highlights of a weekend visiting the other half's parents. Her roast potatoes are beyond belief. She has developed a science (nay a philosophy) about roasting the spuds and their delicious crunchiness and fluffy interiors defy description.

Following the roast lamb dinner, she pulled out a tub of Butler's Vanilla Nut Crunch with Caramel Sauce ice cream out of the freezer. It's currently on special offer in Superquinn for E3 (I believe) and it is delicious. The ice-cream is a rich custard colour and it's flecked with deliciously crunchy nuts, pieces of chocolate covered honeycomb and little swirls of caramel sauce. Having tasted this flavour, I'll definitely try the others.

Butler's website has details of stockists for these fantastic ice-creams.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sabai Thai and Vietnamese Restaurant - Waterford

I'm lucky to have "in-laws" who love Asian food as much as my other half and I do. It means that when we go to visit them for the weekend that we can have chinese or thai. There are many good chinese restaurants in Waterford, but I've been longing to try the new-ish Sabai Thai and Vietnamese restaurant for quite a while.

The restaurant in located in an old building and the period features have been preserved in the fashionable dining room. The room is luxurious with heavy curtains, dark walls, restored floorboards and fabulous lighting. An outdoors terrace was closed, but would be lovely on a wam summer's day.

The lunch menu features about 6 starters (E4.50 to E7) and about 15 mains (ranging from E12-E18). The in-laws shared a mixed plate of starters (actually meant for one person, but it turned out to be very generous), while we had Tom Yam soup and Ga Xe Phay salad. The salad is a mix of cucumber, carrot, beansprouts, coriander, chilis, chicken and prawns which has all been tossed in a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing. The portion size was excellent and the clean, fresh and spicy taste really whetted my appetite for the mains. The soup was delicately flavoured with galangal and lemongrass and featured two plump prawns at the bottom of the bowl.

For mains, I chose the jungle curry made with prawns. The waitress asked if I would like it spicy or hot ?? That confused me for a while. Other mains included Phad Med Ma Mung (a cashew-nut based stir-fry with meat of your choice) and the Phad Ka Pao (a chili and basil stir-fry with meat of your choice). All mains were delicious with the cashew-nut Phad Med Ma Mung being a strong contender for favourite. I wasn't too keen on my jungle curry as it featured a strong flavour of star anise, which I am personally not too mad about. It was however, hot, and full of prawns and crunchy veg.

Three starters and four mains cost E63, which isn't bad value at all for delicious food in gorgeous surroundings. The food was authentic and flavoursome. For those people who like value for money, the portion sizing is on the generous size. Hotpress magazine weren't far off the mark at all when they named Sabai as a restaurant of the fortnight.

I think that the word "Sabai" means "happy" or "comfortable", and you will defintely feel quite pleased after a trip to this Waterford restaurant.

Sabai Thai & Vietnamese Restaurant, 19 The Mall, Waterford. 051 - 858002

Red Platforms from Faith

We went to see Ireland play France last week in Croke Park. I was lucky enough to get three standing tickets for Hill 16, where we had a great view. It was a heartening victory for Ireland, and Croke Park was magnificent.

I would like to comment on the cost of the tickets though. Standing on Hill 16 was E38, while all other tickets, which are seated, were E90. That is just a ridiculous amount of money. Croke Park has a capacity of 82,300. Allowing for 13,000 on Hill 16 and Nally Terrace (Railway End), this means that approximately 70,000 seats were available at E90 each. It really just goes to show how much money there is in rugby. In contrast, tickets for the Ireland vs Georgia world cup qualifier were just E50. (Still too expensive in my opinion).

In return for the rugby ticket, my other half today bought me a pair of shoes! He knows me too well.

We were wandering in Debenhams in Waterford when he saw a red pair of platform courts on offer in the Faith concession. As today is Valentine's Day, they were on special offer for E45 and are absolutely lovely. The glossy red mock-croc leather just cries out to be loved.


Sam the Koala

The recent bushfires in Australia have horrified me. The thought of someone deliberately lighting those fires is just astounding. Whole towns and villages have been burnt to the ground. It was heart-wrenching to see parents on television in a shell-shocked state, knowing that they'll never see their children again.

There is some good news and beacons for hope in the midst of this disaster. Sam the koala was rescued from a burnt area by a firefighter, who helped give the thirsty and burned koala some water.

The RSPCA Victoria are currently seeking donations to help animals injured by the Victoria bushfires. It is all too easy to focus solely on the human death toll in this horrific series of fires, but don't forget all the animals that have also been impacted.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yamamori Sushi - Lower Ormond Quay

Yamamori is one of those Dublin institutions - it seems as if the Japanese restaurant has been around for generations on George's Street, and now there has been a second outlet, Yamamori Sushi, on Lower Ormond Quay for quite a while.

I'd say that I first ate in Yamamori nearly 8-9 years ago. It was probably my first authentic taste of Japanese food and where I first ate sushi, so I have fond memories of the place. My many subsequent visits to the place over the years have done nothing to disillusion me. Lunchtime bento boxes, sashimi, sushi, cha han and noodles have all been tasted and enjoyed there over the years.

The new outlet on Ormond Quay is a beautiful tardi-like space which features separate dining areas and which opens out into a naturally lit dining room towards to the back. An outdoor terrace is also available for those finer days. The room contains many of the traditional dining benches as well as several more traditional tables.

We ordered many plates of starters and some sashimi, all of which was exactly as expected from Yamamori. My plate of Yaki Udon was extremely disappointing though. The noodles had the saucy consistency of a Pot Noodle, rather than wok-fried noodles. Additionally, someone had cut the long noodles in matchstick lengths, meaning that they were hard to pick up with chopsticks and did not hold the meat and vegetables. It also meant that too much starch was released into the cooking which caused the gloopy sauce. Very disappointing.

The other diners in our party fared better with good accounts of the cha han, beef teriyaki and karubi beef. I hate being disappointed when I visit familiar restaurants and I really hope that the Yaki Udon was a blip on the radar of Yamamori.

Yamamori Sushi, 38-39 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1. 01-8720003

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

This is the first book in the new Kingkiller Chronicle, and is an amazing fantasy debut from author Patrick Rothfuss. The series will be a trilogy and I am already eager to read the next two installments. However, according to Amazon, I'll have to wait until next year to get my hands on the books.

The book is narrated by Kvothe, who is telling his story to a Chronicler. He recounts the years spent with his parents as part of a travelling troupe and as an urchin living on the streets. He is admitted to the University where he earns fame and reknown. From the real-time parts of the book, we learn that Kvothe is a legendary character, but we do not know why, now why he is an innkeeper in this book. We do not know why the demon Bast considers Kvothe to be his master. The hints dropped throughout are tantalising and draw the reader deeper into the story.

Fantasy fans will realise that they are reading something rather special when they get hold of this book. The characters created by Rothfuss are intriguing and the slow build of the story works well. Well worth a read if you are a fantasy fan. In fact, I don't see how you could not read it.

Chinese Buffets in Dublin

I'm delighted to see buffet-style restaurants opening up in Dublin. They can offer great value for money, allowing you to pick out your favourites and indulge. I still have great memories of a chinese buffet restaurant I found in Birmingham years ago which had shredded roast duck and sweet potato fritters on the starter counter. I barely made it to the main courses!!

In the last week, I've tried two of the new comers, the Full House on Middle Abbey Street and Jimmy Chungs on Eden Quay.

The Full House offers a lunchtime buffet for E8.80 which increases at eveningtime. The restaurant itself is nicely decorated and is more spacious that it appears from the outside. The food on offer is standard fare with limited choices for mains and starters. It was filling, and I noticed that containers were constantly being replenished from the kitchen downstairs. However, it wasn't particularly tasty or inspiring chinese food. The wontons were pretty much all pastry with the tiniest dab of prawn fillings, while the prawn toast was mainly deep-fried bread. Good value though, if you're looking for a quick feed.

A few days later, I visited Jimmy Chungs, which is part of a Scottish chain of chinese buffet restaurants. The dining room is spacious and decorated nicely with modern touches. Lunch comes in at a pricier E10.90 Mon - Thurs (E12.90 Fri - Sun), while it costs E17.90 in the evening. Although this is a more expensive option than the Full House, you do get more choice and dessert is included. Starters are pretty good here and I've seen plenty of people filling up their plates with the substantial satay chicken skewers. In comparison to the previous restaurant, the prawn toast and wontons are generous and the 'Volcano mushrooms' are definitely worth a try. There are plenty of main course choices, although I did find them all a little on the bland side. The chilli chicken, although nice and crunchy, didn't feature any chilli and I found a lot of the sauces to be quite thin. However, the Mr Whippy machine is a clear favourite when it comes to dessert, although cake and fresh fruit is also on offer. In short, there is great choice, if again a little on the bland side.

So there you have it. Both restaurants offer value for money and are good safe, if uninspiring, bets when it comes to eating out. Let's hope that some more restaurants will open offering more authentic Chinese food.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai

This book is set in the Himalayas in a dilapidated magazine, which is hope to three different people. Scattered around them is a community which is facing an upheaval as political unrest spreads through the locale. The house is owned by the judge, English-educated and retired from the judiciary. His orphaned granddaughter shares his home and is dealing with her first infatuation. The last member of the household is the cook, whose ambitions are tied up in the fortunes of his son, who is working a menial job in America.

I found the first part of the book to be quite slow. In fact it's nealrly glacial enough in it's pace to make you give up. However, perserverance is rewarded, to some degree at least. Desai raises interesting questions around the notion of national identity. Anglophile Indians who live comfortable isolated lives suddenly face nationalistic pride.

I did like this book, but I do wonder as to it's Booker Prize credentials. It is a good story, once you stick with it. It deals with a changing India, as well as relating some poignant individual stories. I would like to belive that it accurately portrays a life in India. A sense of decay and loss permeates the whole book. However, I just don't think that it's a great book.

Critique of Criminal Reason - Michael Gregorio

Take yourself back in time to Prussia in 1804, at the dawn of the Enlightenment. A serial killer is striking without mercy in a snow-covered, dark city. Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis is called from his small town to the magnificent city of Koningsberg, which is gripped by terror at the prospect of future murders.

Once in Koningsberg, Stiffeniis begins to realise that greater schemes are afoot and he seeks guidance from the eminent philosopher Immanuel Kant, who is attempting to pioneer a new way of thinking when investigating crimes. The logical ways of conducting a forensic investigation which seem so commonplace to us CSI-junkies are new-fangled ideas in Koningsberg.

Michael Gregorio is actually a husband and wife team of writers, who have combined to create a dark and superstitious world which struggles to emerge into an age of reason. The ever-present threat of invasion from Bonaparte hangs like a grim spectre over all dialogue and interactions. It is in turns a tense thriller and a philosophical read. Look out for more in the series.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Snow in Dublin

We've had some snowfalls in Dublin recently, but none have really lasted. I grabbed a few chances to take some photos one night during the week, as well as this morning. In both cases, the snow was gone about 1-2 hours after falling.

I took the photo of the snowman in Palmerston Park this morning, where he'd been built by a father and his three children. About an hour later, I passed by the park again, and the snowman had a companion! I hope that it was a snowwoman!

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger was the widely-acclaimed 2008 winner of the Man Booker Prize. It was praised as being accessible and a page-turner as well as containing literary merit. It tells the tale of Balram Halwai, the "white tiger" of the title. He is a ex-teashop worker who is now an entrepeneur in modern India, providing services to the multitudes of call-centre workers.

Denied the chance of completing his education by his parents, Balram is forced into work but manages to obtain work as a chaffeur to a wealthy businessman. As he drives, he overhears his master's business and learns about the corruption of moden India. Balram relates his life-story through a series of letters to the Chinese prime minister in which he documents the modern India. One hand hand it is all 'Light' - modern offices and workers bringing prosperity but on the other hand there is 'Darkness' - poverty and corruption.

To be honest, I can't see for the life of me how this was considered to be a worthy winner of the Booker prize. It is a dark satire of modern India, but it isn't particularly funny. In literary terms, the characters are more like caricatures and feel very two-dimensional at times. It's a very average book.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the third Underworld film, but the first in chronological terms. It takes us back to the creation of the Lycans and how they eventually rebelled against their vampire masters. You won't need to have seen the first two Underworld films to be able to follow this movie, but you might well wonder why you spent time in the cinema watching it.

Rhona Mitra (of Nip/Tuck and Doomsday fame) takes the role of Sonja, daughter of the vampire leader, and Michael Sheen reprises the role of werewolf Lucian. The first two Underworld films stood out mainly due to the attractions of Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather and latex (see below). Rhona Mitra has previously demonstrated fine skintight credentials (see Doomsday), but is woefully underutilised in this film.

To be honest, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans isn't up to much. The poorly-lit action scenes don't add much to the film and neither does it extend the werewolf/vampire genre. Go see it if you want, but you can safely leave your brain at the cinema door.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Tom Cruise in an eyepatch playing the role of a German aristocratic soldier in WWII? Hmmm.... well it was always going to be worth going to see this film.

In theory, it's a great story. Based on fact, Cruise plays the role of Count Claus von Stauffenberg, one of a group of prominent Germans who have grown convinced that Hitler must be stopped before Germany is destroyed by the Nazis and WWII. Despite some failed attempts, they devise a plan to seize control of the government following the assassination of Hitler.

This is a fairly restrained film, and Cruise puts in a fine performance in the role of Stauffenberg. Despite knowing what they have to do, we see key people struggle with the decisions that they have to make. Can they decide to do what it right and throw their hat into the ring? Can they become the heroes that Germany needs? Stauffenberg suffers no such hesistancy and is a driving force in the plot. Cruise's natural charisma (scientology aside) makes him an ideal choice to play the role of this key figure.

We know from history that the plot ultimately fails, but what the film reveals is how close this amazing feat came to achieving success. The story is made all the more tragic as we see how close the plotters come, only to lose in the dying moments. It is a story of heroism which is undone by the indecision and politics of others.

The period character of this film is excellently achieved and it is a true story of heroes. Yet there is something lacking in the film that I just quite can put my finger on.

Go see it. It is good. It is true. It reminds us that not all people caught up in atrocities are not complicit in them.

Chez Max French Restaurant Dublin

Chez Max has intrigued me for a long time now. I love its location, tucked next to the gate of Dublin Castle. And yet I never visited, not until last Satuday that is.

I was charmed the minute we stepped inside the restaurant. The decor is French bistro with shelves of wine bottles and framed pictures lining the walls. The menu is printed in the style of a newspaper with lots of old advertisements interspersed between the food. Sometimes, it's a little hard to pick out all the options in the middle of all the ads but I loved the uniqueness.

I've been away from Brussels for nearly two months now, and I had a bit of a hankering for some mussels, I opted for the moules frite, while my partner went for the steak frites, ordered rare. As it was Saturday lunchtime, we also treated ourselves to a glass of the house red and rose.

I was thrilled when a mountain of mussels arrived in front of me, accompanied by a dish of chips. It was actually a daunting Everest of mussels, but I'm not a girl who backs down from a challenge. Once I tasted the creamy garlicky sauce which was coating the mussels, I was in heaven. A lot of restaurants don't make their garlic white wine sauce strong enough, but this sauce was heaven. It was a dish fit for a king, and after looking around the room, I think that a lot of other diners agreed with me.

One thing that you'd expect a french restaurant to offer is patisserie, and Chez Max didn't let us down. They offer a simple selection of desserts (you know the French attitude - "everything we make is so excellent, why do you need more choice?"). I could live on strawberries alone, so the tarte aux fraises was my first choice, while he ordered a creme brulee along with two noisettes (espresso with hot milk). Both desserts were simply excellent. My tarte aux fraises featured fleshy tasty strawberries along with an excellent creme patisserie. The creme brulee was equally delicious.

I'm actually disappointed with myself in that I didn't visit Chez Max sooner. It's a real treasure, and I believe that they've now opened another restaurant on Baggot Street. Chez Max is definitely one place I will be returning to.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Now The Drum of War - Robert Roper

Walt Whitman was undoubtedly one of the most influential American poets and is hailed as the father of free verse. Personally, I have a love for Whitman, and even featured an excerpt from one of this poems on the inscription page of my doctoral thesis.

Robert Roper has compiled and written a detailed and fascinating biography of Walt Whitman and the Whitman family during the time of the American Civil War. Whitman was part of a larage family wsho undertook frequent correspondance with each other for the duration of their lives. Roper does not follow the common trend amongst Whitman biographers to dismiss his mother as unimportant and uneducated. Instead he places her firmly at the centre of their family life. He follows her from rented house to rented house as the family moved and features excerpts from the many letters that were exchanged between her, her sons and daughter-in-law.

Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" was the great work of his career but was denounced as a work of moral obscenity. There have been many debates over the years concerning Whitman's sexuality but these days it is more commonly accepted that he was homosexual.

During the Civil War, Whitman spent most of his days sitting in many of the soldiers' hospital that were dotted around Washington D.C. He would bring the soldiers small gifts and food and would sit with them for ages while they waited to die or recover. At this time, Walt's brother George, was fighting with the 51st New York Infantry and Roper frequently visits George's experiences. His tough and bitterly fought war makes an interesting counterpoint to the life Walt led in Washington.

This is an unusual take on the Civil War. It is a mix of military history, sociology and poetry. It is clearly extremely well-researched and is compelling reading.
© Stitch and Bear | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Developed by pipdig