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!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Buck Owen's Crystal Palace, Bakersfield

We were staying overnight in Bakersfield, California while en route to Las Vegas. A low, grey fog had surrounded our car for most of our trip inland from Big Sur to Bakersfield and we arrived in a somewhat glum mood. We were staying at the Wyndham Garden Hotel which turned out to be a hotel decorated slightly behind the times (think 1990s) but with the largest, most comfortable bed I've ever slept in. Plus they brew Starbuck's coffee to boot. Despite an intermittent wi-fi service, we set about finding somewhere to eat for the evening.

It turns out that right across the road from the Wyndham is a very unique place - Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. Apparently Buck Owens was a famous country & wester musician who decided to build his own restaurant and theatre (his Crystal Palace) in his home town of Bakersfield, which he then proceeded to fill with memrobilia gathered from years of performing.

The result is pretty damn cool. The food is straightforward and good - steak and ribs feature large and while you eat, live music plays on stage. On the night we dined there, we were treated to an excellent band covering the hits from a wide range of country & western stars. We resisted the temptation to head for the dance floor and join the line-dancing enthusiasts, but we definitely enjoyed our night at Buck Owen's Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd, Bakersfield, CA 93308. +1 (661) 328-7560

Bang San Thai, San Francisco

Our guidebook to San Francisco, Frommer's, recommended the Bang San Thai as being the best Thai restaurant in the city. When we located the restaurant on Jones Street, we were a little amused to find that it was located literally right across the street from Dottie's, where we had enjoyed breakfast literally the day before.

The Bang San Thai is a small restaurant with a few tables to the front of the restaurant and counter seating running alongside the open kitchen. Get past the smallness though and get stuck into the food as it is really good. I went for the drunken noodles topped with BBQ lamb while he had duck red curry. Following a flurry of activity from the chefs, we received two large plates of food, both of which turned out to be very tasty indeed. Barbequed lamb chunks topped flat rice noodles, which had been fried with vegetables, while the duck red curry was rich, creamy and spicy. Mmm... even though I'm now all the way back home in Ireland, I'd really go for some of the BBQ lamb right now.

Can't remember the exact cost, but two large plates of food, and one soft drink came in somewhere around $30. Excellent value, and judging by the large amount of positive comments on Yelp for the Bang San Thai, it looks as if it'll be around for quite a while.

Bang San Thai, 505 Jones Street, San Francisco CA 94102. +1 (415) 440-2610

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eagle Cafe, Pier 39, San Francisco

Pier 39 on Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, is a fairly horrible tourist orientated place, designed to extract money from tourists as quickly as possible. We were on our way down to Pier 33 to catch our tour to Alcatraz Island, looking for something to eat, when we saw the Eagle Cafe perched atop Pier 39.

It's not cheap, but it is traditional and cheerful. The image above isn't quite accurate as the day we visited was grey, gloomy and wet but it's nice to think of it in the sunshine. We shared 6 excellent fresh mixed oysters served with hot sauce, grated horseradish and lemon. We then shared a whole Dungeness crab, served again with hot sauce and drawn butter. This was excellent eating with plenty of moist, sweet crabmeat. Since then, I've been experiencing a craving for more of that delicious crab.

Somehow, it's OK to be overcharged (and to be honest, it wasn't terribly expensive, approx $60 once wine was added) by places like the Eagle Cafe. Fresh food, great wine and superb service in a tourist spot is hard to come by.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, San Francisco

The guidebook warned us that Dottie's is a perenially popular place, with queues frequently in place outside this tiny diner. We were there soon after 8am (I believe that it opens at 7.30 am) and we were the 4th party in the queue. However, the wait wasn't too long (about 10-15 mins). While we were waiting, it was fascinating to watch the kitchen and waiting staff in action, performing a synchronised ballet in this tiny space.

There's a great selection of cooked breakfasts, as well as patries. I chose the pulled pork, roasted onion and monteray jack scramble while himself had the lamb and fennel sausage, roast garlic and cream cheese omelette. (eggs seem to feature a lot at Dottie's). In addtion to al this, we also ordered a side of their famous chili corn bread with jalapeno jelly.

The corn bread came toasted, with chunks of chili embedded in it. The jalapeno jelly was sweet and spicy and melted into the wam bread. Mmm. Both egg dishes were amazing, although I wan't overly keen on the accompanying hash browns. A charming waitress kept our mugs topped up with coffee. Total bill came to about $35 and as we left, we could see the queue extending down the hill.

Dottie's True Blue Cafe, 522 Jones Street (between Geary & O'Farrell), San Francisco, CA 94102

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Evermore - Alyson Noel

Evermore is one of a stream of young adult fantasy novels that are hitting the market at the moment. The flavour of Evermore is not vampires or werewolves, but instead Immortals.

Ever is an orphan, sole survivor of a car crash that killed her parents, sister and family dog. She is wracked with guilt following the collision and she is now living with her aunt. The difficulty of adapting to a new school and life is compounded by the fact that she acquired psychic abilities as a result of the crash. She spends her time in baggy jeans, baggy hoodies with iPod buds in her ears in an attempt to negate the pyschic noise that washes over her.

Her life gets even more complicated when Damen, an incredibly hot young man, enrols at her school and shows an interest in Ever. When she's with him, silence falls around her, and she is drawn deeply into him.

Alyson Noel weaves an interesting, intriguing and romantic first section to this story. It is sexy and alluring, but falls apart somewhat in the later section. Ever's dilly-dallying is a bit annoying and things never feel quite resolved enough to be truly satisfying. Despite all this, Evermore is going to be successful - Noel can really conjure up teenager romance. This will surely be a series to watch.

Viral Loop - Adam L. Penerberg

The internet has transformed how we communicate and it has given virality a whole new lease of life. In the past, word of mouth generated publicity for goods. Recommend a book to a friend and chances were that they might buy it too. However, with the advent of the internet, this effect has snowballed.

Virality is now an integral part of life, with events on the internet taking on a life of their own (recall how Obama's campaign used the internet and Twitter to groundbreaking effect). Penerberg has written a book which focuses on the viral effect used by sites such as and Facebook. In essence, what good is posting a video on YouTube if no one sees it. To grow, these sites have to get people to visit, connect and share. The author discusses the concept of the Viral Loop, or the point of referral which a website has to pass in order to become self-sustaining (i.e. have a viral coefficient greater than 1.0).

While the book claims to reveal the "Power of pass it on", it really is more a history of the most successful websites in recent years. It takes us through Ning, Hotornot, Facebook, Flickr and many more, but doesn't really reveal too much other than a potted series of anecdotes. Ultimately, while interesting, it's not very revealing.

Monty's of Rathgar

Monty's of Rathgar is one of those long-established Asian (Nepalese to be precise) restaurants in Dublin, along with its sister restaurant in Templebar. We'd never eaten there before despite being afficionados of all forms of Asian cooking, but we were finally lured in with their recent value menu. They offer 4 courses - vegetarian for E20 and meat for E21.

While we waited, we were given thin, crisp poppadoms and sauces to munch on. The starters were simple, but perfectly executed. He had delicately trimmed, spiced chicken wings cooked in a tandoor oven, while I had onion bhajee. The mains turned out to be truly excellent. My Masu Ra Cauli (lamb curry with cauliflower) had a rich, tomato based sauce, with a warming heat level that built up the more you ate. His Jhinga Pathia (prawn curry) was tangy, flavoured with lime. Rice or naan is included in this offer, as is the chef's dessert of the day. Dessert that evening turned out to be gajar halva, or a pudding made with carrot which has been cooked for hours. Served warm with a quinelle of vanilla ice-cream, it turned out to be naturally sweet and very pleasing as a cooling counterpoint to a spicy meal. Tea or coffee is also included in the offer.

I really enjoyed the meal at Monty's - it really was exceptional food. I hope that they rotate the dishes on offer on the value menu as this will give me another excuse to return.

Total cost, including two very nice glasses (a tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon) came to E53.90.

Monty's of Rathgar, 88 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6. 01-4920633

Sunday Lunch at Bijou, Rathgar

Late last Sunday, on a bitterly cold and wintery Sunday, we found ourselves in Bijou, Rathgar. We had been trying to get to Dundrum, but the lines of cars snaking into the centre from every direction meant that we gave up and headed back towards home instead.

Bijou is relaxed and elegant with striking glass chandeliers and impeccable service. As we defrosted, we browsed the menu. I chose the ribeye steak with bearnaise sauce and home fries (E21.95) while he chose the venison pie (E16.95). A perfectly cooked and seasoned steak was just gorgeous, while the addition of green peppercorns to the bearnaise sauce added a little something extra. The venison came softly cooked with winter veg and richly flavoured with juniper and other herbs. It was served in a little pastry dish topped with a little puff of pastry and served with mash. This was really warming winter food.

We shared an absolutely fantastic black forest gateau and two espressos to finsh the meal, bringing the bill to a total of E56. There is something so nice about a relaxed Sunday lunch, with no time pressures and rich, warm food. Bijou definitely delivers.

Bijou, 46/47 Highfield Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6. 01 - 496 1518

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ireland vs South Africa at Croke Park

I was lucky enough to get tickets to this potentially epic match at Croke Park last Saturday. Granted we were in Row Z of the Cusack Upper Stand, where you'd practically need oxygen masks, but the view was good, if more than a little arctic.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Le Cirk, Dame Street, Dublin 2

I've been meaning to try out Le Cirk for a while now, and we finally called in last Friday evening. We were in need of a quick bite to eat and Le Cirk's advertised offer of a bowl of Creole mussels and fries for E9 seemed very attractive.

Firstly, I really like the decor of Le Cirk. It's a welcome break from the ubiqituous dark-wood, pre-designed pub interior of the celtic tiger. The aluminium-edged tables and rugs on the floors are a welcome flash of individuality, delivering a Parisien-sense of chic to Dublin. Our mussels arrived, served in a bowl with a liqour made from white wine, garlic and paprika. Thick, fluffy home fries came separate. The mussels were fresh, plump and juicy and the broth was tasty. Overall, this was an excellent meal for E9. I'm looking forward to another visit.

Triumff - Dan Abnett

It's 2010, and Elizabeth XXX sits upon the throne of the Unity, the English and Spanish empire that rules the world. This is a wholly different England to the modern version, instead it is regressive and Magick is used in place of modern technology.

Sir Rupert Triumff is a swashbuckling explorer who has just returned from a voyage of exploration. He's a playboy, a drunk, an expert swordsman and mariner, and above all else, devoted to his queen. It quickly becomes apparent that a treacherous and devious plot is afoot, and Triumff is stuck bang square in the middle. Cue the rollicking adventures.

With this novel, Abnett has staked himself firmly as a successor to Pratchett. It is, in turns, adventurous, creative and inventive, and above all else, hilariously funny. Abnett holds a degree in English from Oxford and this is apparent in the quality of the writing. He's managed to fit in a lot of modern puns and jokes, merging them seamlessy with the Elizabethan London. The villains are bad, the heroes are good (if sometimes a little morally dubious) and it's a great read. I'm genuinely looking forward to picking up the next installment of Triuff, Her Majesty's Hero.

The Information Office - Mark Mills

Mark Mills, author of The Secret Garden, has once again drawn on the history of World War II for his latest novel, The Information Officer. It's 1942 and Malta is under daily barrage from the Germans and Italians. A resolute band of English soldiers help the local Maltese protect the island and live day to day.

There's a delicate balance to be maintained between the English and the Maltese and Max Chadwick plays a part as the British Information Officer. When a friend brings a recent murder of a local hostess to his attention and the apparent involvement of a British submariner, Chadwick realises that this could disrupt the accord between the British and local Maltese. Despite being warned by the top brass to stop investigating, Chadwick continues to dig, uncovering evidence of Nazi spying and subversion.

Mills magnificently recreates the atmosphere of an island under constant aerial attack and attention to historical detail is excellent. However, it feels a little like mystery by rote, and the final revelations just don't ring true. The story just isn't memorable.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

Gerard Butler plays Clyde, whose wife and child are murdered in a senseless home invasion. Jamie Foxx plays the district attorney who cuts a deal with one of the murderers in order to send the other to Death Row. Not surprisingly, a distraught Clyde is disgusted with how the legal and justice system works.

Fast forward 10 years and two the murderers die in horrible ways. Suspicion quickly turns to Clyde, who is indeed responsible. He lets himself be arrested and placed in jail, pitting his wits against Foxx's attorney character.

There was a while in this film, particularly in the first interrogation scenes between Butler and Foxx and later in the first courtroom scene that I thought I would see a truly original and clever film. I imagined a story where a man commits a crime, willingly lets himself be arrested and then plays the legal system from the inside to be proven innocent, thus exposing the flaws of the system.

But you know what? I overestimated the film. Vastly overestimated in fact. Ultimately it is a mess, with a nonsensical story and oodles of violence. If only they could have steered in a different direction after the first 30 minutes.


According to my friends and family, I'm in the minority of people who actually enjoyed the movie 2012. Now don't take this as a wholehearted recommendation for the film, I'm simply saying that I enjoyed it.

It's a fairly typical smaltzt family story against the backdrop of epic destruction. Well that's nothing new, we've see it all before numerous times in "The Day After Tomorrow", "The Poiseidon Adventure" to mention just a few. And 2012 does appear to borrow heavily from previous films.

But once the earth stops to drop away, San Francisco slides into the bay, and Las Vegas disappears into a canyon, I was gripped. The CGI is big and doesn't let up for most of the film. Somehow the film succeeds in conveying a real sense of danger. However, it does lose pace towards the end and could have benefited from a snappier ending without the sub-story. Better writing could really have elevated this film to something above the norm.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Opposite Field - Jesse Katz

Jesse Katz was born in New York and raised in Portland, Oregon by a politically active mother and artist father. When he was finishing college, he chose to go live in the rapidly changing city of Monteray, California. Monteray was experiencing a period of rapid demographic change, with a large influx of asian and hispanic inhabitants. As a budding journalist, Katz wanted to be part of it.

Throughout this book, Katz's love of all things hispanic is clearly illustrated. He married a Nicaraguan barmaid and had a single son, Max, whom he adored from day one. He also inherited his wife's son from an earlier relationship, who proved resistive to Katz.

This story is all about Katz's involvement with Little League baseball and how he moved from being a baseball coach to being Commisioner for baseball. He describes how he resurrected the league, bringing it back to fiscal stability and increasing the numbers playing. Ultimately though the book is about his relationship with Max, and how he used to sport to bond with his son.

Katz's story is not one of super-human achievement, but rather it is the story of an imperfect family and imperfect, but yet normal, father-son relationship. The blurb on the back oversells the book, but it is a refreshing and honest take on fatherhood.

Timewalker - Justin Stanchfield

Timewalker is a fairly unique cross between the distinct genres of science-fiction and westerns. It's got a touch of grittiness and toughness which will make it appeal to young boys while also introducing them to the world of classic science-fiction. It deftly pulls together UFOs, technology and crop circles.

Sean, a young teenager, has always suffered from sleepwalking, ever since his mother left his life. But all is not as it seems, and a mysterious visitor is about to change his whole world. Sean, it seems, is a point on which the future pivots and his survival is crucial.

Stanchfield has taken a story which has been told many times in the past, but adds something new. It is ultimately a story about family, and the need to pull together. It's wholesome, simple and honest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tesco vs Local Shop

We've got a great little shop near us called Field & Vine. It sells all manner of nice food, veggies and fruit. A few days ago I picked up some limes for 25c each there. Imagine my surprise when I saw limes for 39c each in Tesco Dundrum. That's a 56% increase on my local, 'fancy food' shop.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meal Deal for 2 at Saba To Go

Saba To Go, located in Rathmines, is currently offering a Meal Deal for two people. It consists of two starters and two mains from a limited menu for €25.00, or for €32.50, you can add in a bottle of wine.

The menu available is listed below. It's a pity that Saba's delicious curries are not included in the offer, but the choice is still good and the price is even tastier.




Now choose chicken, pork or vegetables & tofu with your wok dish.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Gu Cheeky Little Pots Au Chocolat

While in Tesco recently, I noticed that they have mini Gu puddings on a 2 for 1 promotion. I picked up two boxes - one of cheeky little pots au chocolat and one of cheeky little chocolate tortes. Each box contains three little pots of pure pleasure. The pots au chocolat are absolutely stunning with a smooth, rich chocolate ganache.

South of Broad - Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy is the famous author of Prince of Tides, and he is heavily influenced by his Southern roots. Critics of his latest novel, South of Broad, have argued that it is repetitive but as a first-time Conroy reader, I was enchanted by his use of the English language.

There is no doubting that Conroy is a superb craftsman, whose tools are words. He paints beautiful pictures of Charleston and its inhabitants, endowing the images with luminous light through the use of mere words. The dialogue between the characters is witty and very contemporary - more than once was I reminded of the snappy dialogue found in modern dramas such as Dawson's Creek, The OC and others.

South of Broad centres on Leo King (or more accurately Leopold Bloom King, named after the hero of Joyce's Ulysses), a southern gentleman and journalist. Leo has a close group of disparate friends who came together in the late 1960s in high school. The book skips back and forth between the 1960s, where Leo is beginning to resume a normal life following the suicide of his elder brother, and the late 1980s where their group is under threat and one of its members faces death from the AIDs epidemic of that era.

The story may be somewhat obvious and even laboured, but it was a book I found hard to put down. The music and harmony present in Conroy's wordcraft puts him head and shoulders above many competing authors.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

M&S Giardini Merlot

When I shop for wine, I generally go by grape and price. Merlot and shiraz and two of my favourites, so when I saw M&S had reduced the price of their Giardini Italian Merlot, I just picked up a bottle and popped it into the basket.

When I opened the bottle and tasted it, I immediately went mmm! Light and fruity, it's a very refeshing wine. I was curious, so I googled it, only to find out that it's a wine naturally light in alcohol (just 9.5%). It's really plummy and fruity and definitely one to note for a future trip to M&S.

Jimmy Choo for H&M

So, my newly-married friend texted me yesterday to find out if I was heading to H&M to shop for the Jimmy Choo diffusion line. TBH, I hadn't really considered it, as I like my Saturday mornings in bed, but the thought of catching up with my friend, and shopping for shoes won out.

I arrived in Dundrum for 6am as I figured that it would be busy. I'd estimate that I was about the 100th person there, and when my friend and her sis arrived, I'd say that they were somewhere around 120. The first 160 people were given wristbands, which would get them access to the accessories area in allocated timeslots for 10 minutes. Clothing items would be a free-for-all with no restrictions.

When I entered the shop, the two rails of clothing had been stripped. It was apparent that most of the items were in the accessories section, so I went for a coffee with my friend, returning later to gain access to the shoes. There still was a good selection when I was granted access in my group of 20 and I was quickly able to nab the clutch that my friend wanted, as well as the shoes that each of us had our eyes on.

I had wanted the red, strappy, patent sandals, as they were the only style with a platform sole. (top lefthand in the above picture). My usual size, 37, was all gone, but I tried on a 36 (the last pair) and they fitted! By the time I left the shop, it was 10.45 am (4.75 hours after starting to queue), so I was delighted to leave with a gorgeous royal blue bag on my arm.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seagrass, Dublin 2

UPDATE: Please read my 2012 visit to Seagrass for a more up to date review

Seagrass Restaurant has been established on Dublin's South Richmond Street for some while now. It's currently offering value lunch menus - €13 for two courses or €16 for three. I decided to treat myself to nice, quiet lunch.

The restaurant is calmly decorated with Scandinavian overtones. It's peaceful and cool - it urges you to have a relaxing lunch. I decided to go for the €13 menu and ordered the pate followed by a pea risotto. While I was waiting, the waitress brought me some tomato bread, along with a passata dip. I loved the texture of the bread - airy with firm bubbles, but I found it devoid of taste with no salt or discernible tomato flavour. Only the colour gave away the nature of the bread.

The pate came with two little ramekins of chutnies, one was spiced apple and the other seemed to be plum or fig-based ( I really can't be sure), but both were really good. Crispy slices of bread accompanied the generous dollop of pate, but again I found the pate itself to be a little underseasoned.

Although I was pretty full from the generous pate and bread, I soldiered on with the pea and sun-dried tomato risotto. Served in a bowl-plate, it came with green pesto dressing poured around the sides and parmesan on top. It had a smooth creamy texture and I loved the pops of flavour delivered by the fresh little peas. Once again though, I experienced the recurring issue of seasoning.

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Seagrass - there is something really good going on in the kitchen with good, fresh, hearty food at very good prices. Very well recommended and with an early-bird menu for €20 (two courses and a glass of wine/bottle of beer), it's never been a better time to pay a visit.


Secrets and Lies - Jaishree Misra

This is chick-lit, but chick-lit of a high calibre. Four childhood friends from a Catholic school in India have created lives for themselves in London and India. However, their lives have been overshadowed by a tragic event which took place during their last year in school. One day, they find that they have been summoned to a reunion by their old principal.

As their minds return to the buildup to that tragic event, the women start to realise how their lives have been shaped, and indeed damaged, by their inability to deal with that night. Misra moves seamlessly between the past and the present to weave her story.

The major negative in this book is the anti-climatic and somewhat unsatisfying ending. Misra spent a lot of time developing the characters and their lives, and to finish on this dull note was disappointing. But overall, if you want an easy read you could do a lot worse than this tale of friendships and second chances.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


This film springs from the wonderfully creative minds of Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and Edward Scissorhands), Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Nightwatch) and new kid director Shane Acker.

9 awakens in a deserted laboratory only to find himself alone in a post-apocalyptic world. When he ventures out, he finds others like him (8 others to be precise). Together, they strive to discover why the world has been destroyed and the reason for their existence.

This is technically a fantastic animated film - beautiful settings and exquisitely created characters. What a pity then that there is zero emtion or attachment to the film. Its gradual desecent in a morally-overpowering tale is lamentable. The weak story (surely I've seen this one before in Final Fantasy) and overall lack of symmety and cohesion pulls apart the tapestry woven by the animation and vocals.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

When I was about 9 years old, I was given a box set of Roald Dahl books as a present. I started reading about 8pm on Christmas Eve while waiting to go to Midnight Mass. I read non-stop, actually I couldn't stop. George's Marvellous Medicine, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and of course, one of my all-time favourites, Fanstastic Mr. Fox.

The story of the clever and cunning Mr. Fox and his battle with the three greedy farmers Boggis, Bean and Bunce had me glued to my seat. I literally cheered with glee when Mr. Fox scored a victory and cowered in terror when the farmers chased him and his family. Roald Dahl had a special gift for children's stories.

Now Wes Anderson has bought the exceptionally Fantastic Mr. Fox to a bigscreen near you using fantastic, imaginative stop-motion puppetry to bring the characters to life. George Clooney is on form as the smooth, aspirational Mr. Fox while Meryl Streep acts as his supportive, tolerating wife.

The puppets dance lightly through sets stuffed full of retro quirk (it's got a real 70s feel) occasionally breaking into a dance. The juxtaposition between the wild animals and the domestic, urban life works brilliantly. While traditionalists might have baulked at the thought of the americanisation of this quintesentially British tale, rest assured, it does not detract from the magnificent, super, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Men Who Stare at Goats

More of this is true than you know...

First of all, a big thanks to Kate Bowe PR for giving me two tickets to attend a screening of The Men Who Stare At Goats. Adapted from the John Ronson book of the same name, this film is centred around the reporter (Ewan McGregor) who heads to Iraq when his wife leaves him. While he waits to gain access to the front lines, he meets George Clooney's character, a veteran of the U.S. Army's research into psychic warfare.

Word of warning, whenever Clooney reprises his moustache, he's clearly in comic actor mode.

What follows is meant to be a light-hearted and humourous adventure romp. The film is a welcome counterpoint to all the serious films of the Iraq war, and while it has its funny moments, it is let down by a lack of story.

Give that the book upon which the film is based is an investigation into various research carrier out by the U.S. army, the lack of cohesive story makes sense. Goats, LSD and invisibility aren't natural bedfellows, but they've been joined together in this film.

With a stellar cast (McGregor, Clooney, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges), there is indeed some great acting in this film with some excellent comic timing. However, the whole point of the film eluded me.

Monday, November 2, 2009

SuperFreakonomics - Stephen D. Levitt & Stephen K. Dubner

Superfreakonomics is the inevitable follow-up to the best-selling book on microeconomics Freakonomics which took a light look at the decisions and motivations of the individual and presented it in an easy to read format. It was a novel approach at the time and bought microeconomics to the attention of the general public.

Well, why change a winning formula? Superfreakonomics continues much in the same vein and it will undoubtedly be bought by the buckload. Be prepared to see the intellectual poseurs reading this book on the morning and evening commute.

The authors do make some interesting and controversial arguments at times, especially with regard to climate change and children's carseats. I must admit that I did find their arguments quite controversial, given the general public concensus on these topics. But that's no bad thing. It would be a dull world indeed if we all agreed.

Overall though, I found no sense of cohesion in the book and I found that it reinforced my view of economists as people groping around in the dark for a lightswitch. Despite ending with a very humourous description of an experiment where Cappuchin monkeys were taught the value of money, there was no wrap-up or final conclusion to the book. I literally turned the page expecting more and was greeting by the bibliography.

Right now, we are in an era of massive change, i.e. on a macroeconomic scale, and I found the minutiae of microeconomics tedious, unoriginal and non-contemporary.

Great Value Lunch at Ananda Indian Restaurant

I think Ananda Indian Restaurant in Dundrum Town Centre is something special. It's a collaboration between the Jaipur restaurants, with executive chef Sunil Ghai and London-based and Michelin chef Atul Kochhar. The results are nothing short of amazing, all served in a beautiful, colourful dining room.

Ananda have recently introduced a special value lunch menu, served Tues - Sun, 12.30 to 15.00. For €16, you can enjoy 4 tapas (either a vegetarian or non-vegetarian selection), one main course and a tea/coffee. When we saw this amazing value outside the restaurant we rolled right in.

We got one set of the vegetarian and non-vegetarian tapas, while I chose the lamb rogan josh and he went for the curried seafood biriyani. The little tapas blew us right of the water. Served one at a time, we were treated to super little pops of flavour, where for one, the vegetarian was not overshadowed by the meat-based tapas. Featured in the photos below are a chicken supreme (tandoor cooked), a goat's cheese salad, prawn tempura served with a tomato chutney and finally a delicious curried broccoli in cheese sauce. And that was just half of our tapas.

His biriyani featured fantastically plumped grains of rice, succulent and mixed with deliciously sweet fried onions. Plump prawns and seafood was dotted throughout and came with a sweet yet spicy curry sauce.

My lamb rogan josh was not the spicy hot dish that I was expecting. Instead I got a milder, richer sauce, which featured lots of saffron. Very nice indeed. Add one tasty garlic, onion and coriander naan and we were very happy campers.

This was really high quality cooking. Just because its lunchtime doesn't mean that Ananda is comprimising on quality or taste. The best part, lunch for two people with two large bottles of sparking water and one extra naan - €40.50. Wow.

Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake

One of my favourite blogs,, recently featured a pumpkin cheesecake recipe in the run up to Halloween. My curiosity was well and truly piqued, so off I went to purchase a pumpkin and some cream cheese.

I roasted the pumpkin in chunks in the oven and then blitzed it quickly using my handheld blender. I made the cheesecake according to the recipe, with the sole addition of a 1/2 teaspoon of natural vanilla essence. I baked it for about 1 hour until the middle had started to firm, then I turned off the oven, opened the door, and left it to sit and cool for a while.

It's an absolutely delicious cheesecake and really benefits from sitting in the fridge for at least a day. I'd use a little less cinnamon powder the next time, as I feel that it does overpower the pumpkin flavour slightly but still.... there's nothing quite like a good cheesecake.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Supper for a Song - Tamasin Day-Lewis

Supper for a Song is billed as being for the clever cook in the cost-concious kitchen. Tamasin Day-Lewis is a well-regarded food writer with an eclectic style, and while this cookbook represents her style, I don't believe that it lives up to its billing as a count-the-cost and spare-the-energy cookbook.

To fully take advantage of a lot of the recipes would mean having a well-stocked larder or cupboard, and while this is an admirable way to be, I can't see a lot of cost-concious cooks fitting into this category.

I received this book as the evenings start to darken and I am immediately tempted by a lot of the receipes which promise warmth and filling on cold winter evenings. However, I did find the layout of the book to be distracting with a mixtures of savouries and starters, rather than more clearly defined sections.

It is a beautiful cookbook with an exciting and interesting mix of recipes and tips. I just feel that it is completely missold by the strapline on the cover.

Coppinger Row, Dublin 2

Coppinger Row is the new kid on the block on the Dublin restaurant scene. With it's super-chilled relaxed vibe, along with cocktails, tempting bar bites and comfort-food menu, it appears to be carving a niche for itself.

I finally got to visit last weekend... months behind everyone else. All the staff appeared to be comfortable and relaxed with each other, joking and chatting as they went about their business We ordered from the Sunday Brunch menu. Himself chose the Kedgeree with poached egg while I broke with tradition and went for the broad bean and chorizo ragu on toast. A bit carby for my liking but it sounded delicious. Unlimited filtered still and sparkling water is available for E1 per person, with a portion being donated to the Movember charity.

A blackboard behind the bar promised bar bites served with toast for E3 so we chose the marinated anchovies. A large dish of anchovies arrived along with several slices of toasted rosemary flavoured sourdough bread. Absolutely delicious, especially when combined with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar available on the table.

The kedgeree turned out to be more of a smoked haddock risotto but was creamily smooth and unctious. The broad bean and chorizo ragu was filling and nicely flavoured from the smoky chorizo. The toast soaked up all the juices from the ragu - mmm. A side order of home-cooked fries completed this perfect Sunday brunch.

Overall, I was highly impressed with Coppinger Row. I could easily see myself sitting along the bar, relaxing with a glass of wine and some more of those delicious, great value bar bites. Coppinger Row is a restaurant that is doing all the right things.

Coppinger Row, Coppinger Row (off South William Street), Dublin 2. 01 - 672 9884

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bel Cibo

We went to the wonderful Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield tonight to see the Korean vampire film, Thirst. Before heading to the film, we went for a bite to eat in the newly opened Italian pizzeria and restaurant, Bel Cibo.

Bel Cibo is located right next to the cinema, making it a very attractive option for the pre-cinema goer. It's a very high-ceilinged room with a lime green floor. Tables and seats are in red, providing a strong splash of colour. I do wish however that restaurants with such high ceilings would add a layer of fabric (or something) to help dampen the sound.

The menu is simple with pasta, pizzas and insalatas. There are two meat options with several specials on a board. I went for the Rucola pizza (rocket, bacon, olive oil, basil and smoked cheese) while he had the spaghetti carbonara. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente with a delicious eggy sauce coating the strands. My pizza came with a thin crispy base, with lashings of cheese and bacon. Very good indeed.

One gripe - himself ordered a glass of the house red which turned out to be a very small glass indeed. Quite miserly. However the total cost for two mains, one small sparkling water and one glass of red came to E28.90. So not that bad after all.

It's good to have another proper Italian restaurant in the city, following on from the excellent Caffe Parrigi on Sir John Rogerson's Quay. Here's to Bel Cibo and la Dolce Vita.

How to Catch and Keep a Vampire - Diana Laurence

Vampires are definitely the bad boys of the moment, though when you stop to think about it, did they ever fall out of fashion? Lestat, Angel, Celine, Edward Cullen and Moonlight - vampires have always been sexy, dark and downright alluring.

Diana Laurence is on the ball with this tongue-in-cheek guide to dating a vampire. It covers the gamut of the dating experience from initial flirtation and pickup lines through to the secret of the red satin ribbon. Drawing on her 'personal experience', Laurence steers us mortals through the world of dating undead bloodsuckers in her step-by-step guide to loving the bad and the beautiful.

Entertaining and a little fluffy, this would be a great Christmas gift for the Twilight-besotted teeenager in your life.


Save the Kino Cinema

I just read in today's Irish Times that the Kino Arthouse Cinema on Cork's Washington Street after creditors initiated proceedings to recover more than €50,000 owed to them.

I spent 9 years in Cork as a student starting in 1996 persuing first my B.Sc. and then my Ph.D. A lot of that time was spent in various cinemas watching mainstream in the Capitol and then the Gate. But I also saw a lot of films (both good and bad) in the Kino, the only cinema in the city where you could get real coffee and bring it with you to the film.

Films I saw in the Kino include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Howl's Moving Castle, Sunshine, PI, Run Lola Run, Titus Andronicus and many many more. It is a fantastic cinema.

I'm more than happy to pledge some financial support to the Kino. I want the management to know that I appreciate all the good stuff they've done over the years. Although I live in Dublin now, I want to know that the Kino is alive and kicking in Cork


Monday, October 26, 2009

Ilya Tapas Mullingar

We were in Mullingar recently staying at the Annebrook House Hotel celebrating the wedding of two of our friends. The unfortunate problem with celebrations is that they usually mean hangovers the next morning. Two nights celebrations means that we suffered two mornings' worth of hangovers.

Thankfully, on both mornings, my non-wellness was assisted by the charming and lovely Ilya Tapas. On morning one, I enjoyed a delicious fluffy homemade scone with butter, strawberry jam and cream. On morning two, I went for the eggs benedict, which came with grilled bacon rather than ham, but delicious none the less.

Ilya seems to be the real deal and is clearly popular with Mullingar people. Thanks for making my mornings a little cheerier.

The Swansong of Wilbur McCrum - Bronia Kita

The Swansong of Wilbur McCrum is set in the Wild West, but it is not a tale of cowboys and the Wild West. Yes, there is the occasional train robbery and cathouse, but is ultimately a story of one man's quest to make a better life for himself and his undying love for the mother of his child.

Wilbur McCrum has had an unlucky life. He has been cursed with fits which cause him to be bullied at school and he has a terrible fear of cattle, following several traumatic events with cows. Abandoned by his mother, he spends most of his life travelling, trying to hide his afflictions, sometimes working honestly and sometimes stooping to a life of crime.

Wilbur's life is just a sequence of unfortunate events, each captured in a short, snappy chapter. We realise early in the story that Wilbur's life is flashing before his eyes as he is drowning, but thankfully this is not the end of our lovelorn and lacklustre hero. Eventually his good nature, and desire to do the right thing turns Wilbur's life around and he eventually achieves some redemption.

This was a charming, quirky book which was very easy to read. It was refreshing to have an unfortunate hero and an intriguing supporting cast of characters. Very recommended reading.

The Hunt for Atlantis - Andy McDermott

The Hunt for Atlantis is as cliched as they come. It is a mish-mash of styles, genres and action sequences and the reader can easily predict every baddie action and every twist and turn.

However, it is a rollicking good read, ideal for the beach or lazy evening by the fire. Dr Nina Wilde believes that she knows where Atlantis lies. After surviving an attempt on her life, she is engaged by the Frost Foundation to search for Atlantis. It is here that she meets Eddie Chase, an ex-SAS bodyguard, who has been hired by the Frosts to protect Nina. Together they will travel the world, facing constant danger, in order to discover the fabulous legacy of the Atlanteans.

If you're looking for a fast-paced plot, with a dose of mythology and history and liberally laced with action scenes, then The Hunt for Atlantis is definitely for you. A surprisingly enjoyable story.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Farmleigh House, Dublin

After one of our regular trips to the Hilan on Capel Street for an excellent value Sunday lunch, we drove across town to the Phoenix Park. Everytime I drive through the park, I am struck by its size. Today, the colours were amazing in the park - reds, browns and golds were everywhere as the leaves turn colour and fall off the trees.

We ended up parked at Farmleigh, where we wandered around the grounds before having a lovely cup of coffee in the fresh air at the charming Boathouse cafe. I was sorely tempted by the lovely looking cakes and desserts on display inside, especially these little mini loaves or the scones with cream and jam, but I resisted... barely.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oliver's Eatery, Terenure

Oliver's Eatery is located over Vaughan's Eagle House pub in Terenure, and is run by Breton chef, Olivier Quenet, previously of Patrick Guilbaud and a director of La Maison des Gourmets. What this establishment delivers is hearty, hale food at excellent prices.

Once seated, I ordered the traditional farmhouse bake. Now let me assure you, that having been bought up in an Irish farmhouse, I've never experienced a farmhouse bake before. But other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed my filling dish of sausage, bacon, potatoes and veg baked in a cheesey sauce.

Himself ordered the fantastic looking looking beef and Guinness pie. A large crusty, puffy pastry lid topped a rich, peppery filling with tender beef. It's just a pity that I don't consider a lid to pastry to be a pie. A pie is self-contained, and designed to be eaten in the hand. But I digress, this was a seriously good pie. One portion of perfectly cooked fries completed a very good meal.

To drink, we both chose a glass of a delicious, juicy spanish red which was well-priced at E5 a glass. Overall our meal came to approx E38.

What struck me as we left Oliver's is that this food will be excellent in winter time. It will insulate and sate you, cushioning you against the cold of winter.

Oliver's Eatery, Terenure Road, Terenure, Dublin 6W. 01 - 490 1251

Mellifont Abbey

Today we visited the Old Mellifont Abbey, located a short distance off the M1, near Drogheda. Only ruins are left now of this once-magnificent Cistercian abbey. The main feature is the unique octagonal 'lavabo' where the monks would have washed their hands prior to eating. Only low walls and remnants remain of the rest of the abbey.


M&L Chinese Restaurant, Dublin

Update: Read here for a more recent 2013 review of M&L Szechuan restaurant

I had heard via word of mouth about a 'real' Chinese restaurant located off O'Connell Street. Hmm.. I said. I thought that at this stage I had tried all the traditional restaurants in that part of the world, but it turns out that I hadn't.

The M&L is located on Cathedral Street near the Pro Cathedral. When we walked up, we could see that the place was literally heaving with Chinese. Entire families were seated enjoying feasts of food. There seemed to be a real vibe and buzz in the place.

When we were seated, the waiter handed us an English menu. A very bland looking menu at that which didn't seem to match up at all with the glorious looking spreads around us. So we folded the menus shut and beckoned over our waiter. I asked for a fried beef dish with chilis (no sauce). He hummed and hawed and eventually wrote something down on his little pad. My other half asked for a whole steamed fish with some form of spicy sauce. But this seemed to cause an incredible amount of confusion. The waiter even returned from the kitchen, obviously sent by the chef, to be sure that we wanted the whole fish, 'head and all'.

My beef turned out exactly as I wanted. Dry-fried pieces of beef, flavoured with dried chilies, cumin, sesame and vegetables. My tastebuds tingled and my mouth rejoiced. The fish came served in a large bowl of chili and siuchan pepper flavoured oil. He dived straight in, emerging with many large portions of fish, pronouncing it very flavoursome.

I think that Chinese food can be quite addictive, and spicy food the more so. All day, I had been craving my 'hit' of spiciness and flavour, and I definitely got it at the M&L. As we left, we saw a family tucking into a plate of gorgeous looking crabs, so the challenge for us on our next visit will be to persuade the staff that we really want to eat their food and that they should share that elusive Chinese menu with us.

Total cost for the two dishes, along with a plate of 10 dumplings, one sparking water and one diet coke came to E35. Excellent value and definitely on my list to restaurants to return to.

M&L Restaurant, 13 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1. 01-874 8038

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Dictionary Day

October 16th is Dictionary Day, named in honor of the birthday of Noah Webster, the father of the American Webster dictionary.

I think that dictionaries are amazing works. They are dense and learned, packed with explanations, pronunciations and etymology. Imagine the task that faced lexographers when compiling the first dictionary. In order for a word to be considered, they had to discover its origins and provide adequate proof of its use. For a great story about the making of the famous Oxford English Dictionary, check out The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary.
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