Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some Saturday Food Shopping


 Today was a lazy day around town. After an excellent lunch at Chez Max, we called into the expensive foodie haven that is Fallon & Byrne on Exchequer Street to pick up some cheese and ended up with chunks of Montgomery cheddar (E30/kg) and Gorgonzola Cremificato (E26/kg). The cheddar will be used to make toast melts to go with some French onion soup. It's an unpasteurised English cheddar that has a wonderful dry texture and nutty, tangy flavour. The Gorgonzola is luscious, magnificently creamy and runny and will be lovely eaten with some crispy bread.

I have a strong love for relishes, jellies and any form of condiment that you can eat with cheese. I do try to limit myself to one jar at a time, as I can get carried away and have often opened the fridge to 10 or more jars. Looking at the racks in Fallon & Byrne, I found a jalapeno jelly from the El Paso Chile Company.

When I got home and tasted the jelly, I was delighted by its sweet but very spicy taste. It was a perfect companion to both the gorgonzola and cheddar. Tonight we shared a plate of cheeses, chorizo, anchovies, olives and sundried tomatoes. It's a tough life sometimes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Way of Shadows - Brent Weeks


The Way of Shadows is the first book in the Night Angel trilogy from author Brent Weeks. In this novel, he creates a fantasy world in which things are truly dark and evil. Rape, murder, cannibalism and sodomy all feature in this tale.

Azoth is a street urchin, working in the gang of the evil Roth. Azoth desires to be an apprentice to Durzo Blint, who is acknowledged to be the best 'wetboy' or assassin in the city. He wants to do better, and to be able to protect himself and his friends from the evil of the gangs.

Weeks combines a story of personal advancement with international plots and intrigue to create a memorable world. This isn't the best fantasy I've ever read but I truly liked the grittiness, darkness and flawed characters that permeate the book.

The Wrestler


The Wrestler is a great film.

Mickey Rourke gives the performance of a lifetime - undoubtedly helped by the fact that the filmis somewhat autobiographical. None the less, his portrayal of an ageing, lonely, physically worn wrestler who was once the greatest in the world is stunning.

The somewhat farcical and comical world of pro-wrestling is given a poignant spin by director Aronofsky in this portrayal of man struggling to come to terms with his life. Faced with the prospect of no more wrestling, Ram (Rourke) looks for meaning elsewhere in his life. Without the routines of highlights and tanning beds needed for wrestling, he is left with emptiness in his life. Once he is taken out of his unusual and 'glamourous' lifestyle, Ram has to cope with the reality of everyday humdrum. Things in the real world clearly can never match up to the excitement and adrenaline of wrestling though.

This is a film about a quest for meaning, and doing what you love. The body may be weak but the spirit is always willing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

M&S Gluten-Free Chicken and Mushroom Crispbakes


Passing through Marks & Spencer today, I noticed a new addition to their crispbake range: gluten-free chicken and mushroom crispbakes. Normally priced at E2.49 for a packet of two, they were on special offer with two packets available for E4.50.

They bake from fresh in approximately 15 mins and were nicely cruncy on the outside. The inside was a substantial mix of chicken chunks, mushrooms and potato. Very nice and warming indeed. It was also a relief to eat gluten-free food that didn't taste like rubber or have that awful texture that will be familiar to coeliacs.

It's good to see a major retailer like M&S making an effort to expand the range of gluten-free food available to consumers. Well done M&S.

Etta - Gerald Kolpan


Take yourself back in time to the ear of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with this fun and energetic novel from debut author Gerald Kolpan.

Next to nothing is known about Etta Place, the woman who was presumed to be the girlfriend of Harry Longabaugh, more commonly known as the Sundance Kid. At the start of the book, we are shown a picture of Etta Place and Harry Longabaugh which was taken in 1902, prior to their trip to South America.


Etta Place was said to have spoken in an educated manner, was an excellent horsewoman and a superb shot with a rifle. Using these scant facts, Kolpan has imagined a story for Etta Place. Here she is an improverished gentlewoman who is forced to assume an alternate identity who then gets caught up in events beyond her control.

Kolpan uses the interesting technique of mixing traditional writing with newspaper articles, journal entries, letters and novellas (all imagined of course) to vividly sketch the story of Etta Place.

While I did feel that there was something lacking in the character of Etta Place (she remained a bit too pure and wholesome throughout) there is no doubt that Kolpan has created a fun, fast-paced and thrilling read.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Value Set Menu from Carluccio's


 I was in Carluccio's recently and was hugely impressed by their Menu della Casa for E11.95. This includes a choice of two starters, choice of two pastas and an espresso/cappucino/latte. For an additional E4.95, you can also enjoy a large glass of house wine.

This menu represents great value for money and portions aren't small either. The ravioli were simply divine and gluten-free pasta is available on request for those that want it. Two thumbs up to Carluccio's.

Carluccio's Cafe, 52 Dawson Street, Dublin 2. 01 - 633 3957

Another Pair of Duo Boots


Thanks to those fine folk at Duo Boots and their marvellously well-fitting boots, I now have another pair of boots that fit my calves perfectly. This time I went for a more sedate pair of Bologna boots in black leather. They have a soft heel and will be brilliant for everyday wear. I love the detail - it kind of reminds me of Napolean Bonaparte.

Best part of it all? Thanks to the sale on Duo Boots, total cost, including shipping came to approximately E80.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kildare Village: Simple Pleasures Competition




A wee bit of shameless pimping - vote for my competition entry in the Kildare Village Simple Pleasures Competition

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Siam Thai Restaurant, Dumdrum, Dublin


Does anyone ever feel that it is possible to be addicted to spicy food? It doesn't matter whether it is Thai, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese, I am a sucker for asian food. Today, the two of turned to each other and said that we wanted Thai. Given where we live, there is only one option for Thai food, the Siam Thai in Dundrum Town Centre.

I was glad to see that entrance to the restaurant has been finally given a little bit of a makeover. Prior to this it was like the entrance to a carpark with bare concrete walls. These have now been covered with an attractive bronze-coloured covering. Arriving upstairs we were quickly seated at a table overlooking the open area in front of the shopping centre. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and is always a pleasure to be in. The leather chairs are comfortable and the whole atmosphere is luxurious and relaxed.

An Early Bird menu is on offer most days whereby you can have a starter and main course (chicken, beef, pork or prawns) for E23. This might seem a little steep for lunch, but the food in the Siam Thai is truly worth it.

We had dim sum and thai herb cod for starters. There were 5 meaty dim sum in the steamer along with a sweet dipping sauce. The Thai herb cod was superb with flaked pieces of cod and vegetables served in a tangy sauce. Mains were a prawn Choo Chee curry and duck in chilli oil. The Choo Chee curry is a coconut red curry and was strong and pungent. The strong flavours and the meaty juicy prawns were most pleasant. The duck in chili oil consisted of a whole breast served with vegetables and sauce. Although the duck could have been crispier, the dish was excellent with a flavoursome sauce, which wasn't uncomfortably hot.

The Siam Thai always gets the thumbs up from me and it appears to be equally popular with other visitors. The food is flavoursome and tasty, well-presented in decent sized portions. The surroundings are amazing and service is excellent. Sometimes it's just worth paying a little more to get an experience like the Siam Thai.

Siam Thai, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 14. 01 - 296 4500

ely chq Winebar, Dublin


ely chq is on of the chain of ely winebars throughout Dublin. They were a product of the Celtic Tiger, providing good food and wine at steep enough prices. A recent visit to ely chq near the IFSC shows that they are suffering as people are clearly staying away. We stopped in on a Friday night and instead of being packed to the brim, as would have been the case a year ago, the bar was fairly quiet with just a handful people scattered about.

I was glad to see that wi-fi was on offer, but when I pulled out my laptop I was disgusted to see that the service was provided by Bitbuzz, one of the pet hates in my life. I really dislike having to get vouchers from staff, and Bitbuzz's prices are far from cheap. I really wish more venues that have Bitbuzz would just throw it out. Internet is a free comodity these days (just about) and persisting with this old-fashioned and irritating way of providing internet is not going to win you many fans.

When I asked the waiter for a voucher for the Bitbuzz service, he told me that I didn't need one, and that simply providing my credit card details would give me free service. Eh, NO! Why provide internet if your staff don't how to tell customers to use it?

While waiting for himself, I ordered a glass of the Donna Rosa Albarino white (E7.50), which turned out to be very nice indeed. When he arrived, we decided to order some light food, so we ordered a starter each. His smoked haddock chowder turned out to be very tasty with a lovely creamy texture and gentle smoked haddock flavour. I had ordered the foie gras & chicken liver parfait, which turned out to be absolutely vile. It tasted (and smelled) very strong with a bitter aftertaste. I would nearly suggest that it was on the cusp of spoiling. I left most of it behind me on the plate as I couldn't stomach it. The chicken liver parfait that I enjoyed last week in the Boqueria in Cork was far superior.

To be honest, I reckon that ely is going to have to adapt to survive. The restaurant simply does not represent good enough value. Portions are small and elaborate for the money. The restaurant itself is beautiful, but will that be enough?

Two starters, one wine and one beer came to just over E40.

ely chq, Custom House Quay, Dublin 1. 01 - 6720010

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hilan Chinese and Korean Restaurant, Dublin


Anyone who is a fan of Chinese food in Ireland will know that there has been an explosion of authentic Chinese and Asian restaurants in the capital. Located mainly on the northside of the city, Parnell Street and Capel Street are the main homes to this new wave of Asian restaurants.

Initially, a lot of these restaurants offered truly authentic food, but many have now altered their menus to offer more "traditional" Chinese fare to Irish punters. It's a pity, as it was a chance for the many Irish who are accustomed to Swwet and Sour or perhaps the more adventurous Szechuan to try something new. Ultimately I presume the restaurants are catering to demand, and you cannot blame them for that.

The Hilan is a Chinese and Korean restaurant that has remained closer to its roots than other restaurants and is all the better for it. It is a long narrow room whose tables feature traditional Korean grills. We arrived one cold winter night, and although the restaurant was heaving, the genial manager quickly found us a table. It's clear that the restaurant is hugely popular among the local asian population and we found that us Irish were definitely in the minority.

We were given an English language menu, although I did notice that a Chinese menu was in circulation as well. It made me wonder if there was a different (or better) range of food on offer for Chinese. The menu is mainly Chinese with several Korean plates on offer as well. However, the hightlight of the menu is the range of Korean hotpots and BBQs on offer. Having previously eaten BBQ at this restaurant, I can honestly say that they are good.

This time though, both of us ordered from the Korean section. I chose pork and squid bolgogi (E12.90), while he went for beef bibmbab (E10.90). My bolgogi was delicious, although not as spicy as the waitress had warned me. I think that they just warn every Irish customer as a precaution. Tender pieces of squid and pork served in a red bean paste sauce. The bibmbab was a pot of rice, beef pieces, vegetables, fried egg and spicy sauce. According to the waiter, you're supposed to mix the lot together and dig in. Like the bulgogi, it was delicious and the spicy sauce added a nice bit of flavour to the dish.

This was excellent food, served in generous portions, in a popular restaurant. I quite like Korean food and it is a pity that is not more readily available. Irish punters need to be pushed out of their comfort zone more. Total damage for the above as well as two bottles of beer and one glass of house white came to approximately E37.

The Hilan is also offering a fantastic lunch menu with a starter, main course and soft drink for E9.88. I don't know where the weird figure of 9.88 came from, but it's great vaue for money.

Hilan Chinese and Korean Restaurant, 45 Capel Street, Dublin 1 
Tel: + 353 (0)1 874 8677

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Stylophone is Back!!

OK, hands up! Who where remembers the Stylophone? Or maybe you might remember Rolf Harris promoting the stylophone? His never-ending jollity and relentless cheer meant that a lot of households ended up with stylophones, but never fully understood what to do with them. Granted, not a lot of people did. David Bowie, Pulp, Kraftwerk and Jack White have all used the stylophone in recording, but only ever as a "cute" aside.


The Stylophone was a "pocket electronic organ" whereby you touched the metal stylus to the metal keyboard to produce an electronic warble. They must have driven parents demented all over the world. Endless toneless noise... it wssn't helped by the fact that the original Stylophone had no volume control!

However, the Stylophone has been relaunched and is readily available for sale. I recently picked up a new one in Zavvi for 15 euro. Joy of joys, it now comes with volume control, headphone output and most impressively an mp3 output. Truly, the stylophone has now been bought into the modern era.

Now to master the Star Wars Death March...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cork Coffee Roasters


Surprise, surprise, it was raining in Cork when I was visiting last weekend. I was actually smiling as we walked in the rain. There's nothing quite like being blown off your feet as you leave the shelter of Bridge Street and venture onto the openess of Patrick Bridge.

I was also smiling because I'd just had a great cup of coffee. Cork Coffee Roasters is a new (well to me anyway) coffee shop located near the corner of Bridge Street and McCurtain Street. It's a cosy room with eclectic seating scattered around. And it was packed on a very wet morning in Cork when there was barely a soul to be seen. That speaks volumes about the place. We ordered a latte and an americao, both of which were rich and dark. A great start to a bleak and mildy hungover morning.

All beans are roasted locally by John Gowan and it is possible to buy packs of their various blends to take home. How could I resist the chance to take some Cork coffee back to Dublin? It turned out that none of the packs on display were ground for an espresso machine, but the barista kindly ground a pack specially for me. At 5.50 euro a pack, it represents good value and it's great to support a local industry.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Abbot's Ale House - Cork


 The Abbot's Ale House is tucked away on a first floor on Devonshire Street, just at the end of McCurtain Street. A vast and extensive off-license is located on the ground floor.

When we visited recently, the upstairs bar was quiet, featuring just a few regulars and friendly barman. The range of beers on offer is quite impressive and the prices are friendly on the pocket. The barroom is cosy with tables scattered around and walls papered in beermats and is weirdly reminiscent of the walls of the Delirium Cafe in Brussels. A few bottles of chilled Framboise and I was one happy camper.

I only wish Dublin had an easy-going, friendly, well-stocked bar like the Abbot's Ale House. Any bar that I've encounted in Dublin which sells an extensive range of beer is generally pretentious, but it was apparent in the Abbot that this is being done for the love of the beer. It is a pub that I could easily make a local, if only I still lived in Cork.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Boqueria Tapas Restaurant - Cork


We were back in Cork recently and looking for food. As we walked the streets, it was clear to us that restaurants were far quieter, with fewer customers than the same time a year ago. The Boqueria tapas restaurant opened several years ago on Bridge Street, a short hop from Patrick Street. Back then, it was moderately pricey - now maybe I remember it way because I was a poor PhD student at the time. It always had good wines, and used good quality local ingredients to make their tapas, so I had no hesitation about heading there again.

The one thing that struck me as we took some seats at the bar was how quiet the place was. Two years ago, it would have been packed out the door. But hey, it meant that we were going to be able to get some food. The menu is divided according to tapas type and we went for prawns fried in garlic and chilli, serrano ham with machego cheese, chicken liver pate, boquerones and patas bravas. Additionally we went for a glass of house rose (well there was only one rose wine in total - come on restaurants, serve more rose!) and house red.

In fairness to Boqueria, the wines can reach 10 euro a glass, but you get a generous 250 ml for the price. The food arrived quickly and in much more generous portions than I remembered in previous visits. All our plates of food were excellent and we were more than satisified by the time we finished. I particularly liked the boquerones, served on toast, and the chicken liver pate, which came with an excellent spiced relish.

In total, 5 glasses of wine, along with the plates listed cost in the region of 90 euro. As the wine and food portions are generous, and of the best quality, I felt that this really represented excellent value for money. I'm already planning a return visit to the Boqueria the next time I'm back in Cork.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rhodes D7 Closed for Refit


Rhodes D7 has recently closed its door, pending a refit and redesign. It plans to reopen on March 17th, 2009.

Well, a lot of people might say that this was on the cards since the day the restaurant opened. Despite good food at reasonable prices, the location was always going to work against this venture. And to be honest, the dining space could have done with a bit more sound proofing and thought. The novelty of trekking over the river to the Northside soon wore off for a lot of the yummy drummies, especially when parking your BMW/Mercedes/Volvo/4X4/SUV proved hard due to the limited street parking near the restaurant. The local heroin addicts probably didn't help either.

Articles in the press say that the new menu will be along the style of snack plates and sharing platters and will also feature a slimmed down wine list. I really hope that there will be a successful reopening. I like Gary Rhodes, and I always like the effort placed into the ingredients at Rhodes D7. Let's hope that the death throes of the Celtic Tiger don't mean the permanent close of this establishment.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Lost City of Z


I have to give the book its full title "The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon". Impressive eh? And truth be told, it is an impressive book. It charts the life story of Percy Fawcett, an intrepid British explorer who was the last of the great explorers. It has been suggested many times that the character of Indiana Jones, amongst others, was based upon the larger than life tales of this amazing and fascinating man.

Fawcett disappeared in 1925 in the Amazon along with his son and his son's friend. Over the years he had spent in the jungle, he had become convinced of the existence of a great and ancient civilisation, which he enigmatically called Z. He wasn't the first European to fall into this train of thought. After all, the legend of El Dorado has been around for centuries.

Fawcett's reputation, resilience and strength as an Amazonian explorer was legendary, yet Fawcett had to fight hard to obtain funding for his final expedition. At the time, his ideas were generally disdained. Scientific study of the Amazon declared that, despite the apparent abundance of the jungle, it was generally incapable of sustaining a large human population. The journals and diaries of fellow explorers describe hardship, dense growth, vicious burrowing insects, hostile warlike natives and many incapacitating illnesses. People simply did not believe that a great civilisation once existed in the Amazon.

Fawcett sent many letters from the jungle on his last expedition, describing his adventures for newspaper columns the world over. But the letters stopped and Fawcett was never seen or heard from again. Over the years, stories would emerge from the jungle of a white man seen with native tribes, or the son of a white man, but no definite evidence of the fate of the expedition was ever uncovered.

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and this is his first novel. He freely admits to becoming absorbed with the subjects about which he is writing. In the case of this book, he decided to follow in the footsteps of Percy Fawcett and venture into the thick Amazon jungle. He studied the surviving Fawcett journals and documents and obtained access to hitherto unread family archives. By piecing together a new perspective on Fawcett, Grann entered the jungle and revealed how Fawcett may not have been that far off the mark after all.

Grann's writing is superb. He moves seamlessly between the past and present. His research into the scientific and historical aspects of the Amazon help form a fascinating and truly entertaining biography of this amazing man and his quest. Fawcett emerges as a character who had the courage of his convictions and an amazing capacity for action. This tale is a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life character.

The Trudeau Vector - Juris Jerjevics


When I added this book to my library on LibraryThing, it turned out that I was the only user with this book on my bookshelf. I always get a little kick when I am the only person with a book. It can mean that you are a person with uniquely individual tastes, or that perhaps you have stumbled upon a book overlooked by everyone else.

Trudeau is an advanced Canadian research station situated deep in the Arctic Circle, where an international community of scientists collaborate in harmony. But tradegy strikes, and 4 scientists are killed by an unknown factor. Jessie, a brilliant, unconventional, American epidemiologist is requested to visit the station to determine the cause of these mysterious deaths.

Deep in the depths of the polar oceans, an experienced, old submariner is asked to lead a Russian team to investigate the disappearance of a Russian submarine. As the book unfolds, their missions converge as they race to solve the scientific and political mysteries that surround them.

I both liked and disliked this book. Jurjevics' grasp of scientific and engineering concepts is impressive, resulting in a book that is rich in information. Initially, the plots builds well, leaving the reader with a nicely tense sense of foreboding. Unfortunately, the book fails to maintain its excellent start and the plot descends into borderline silliness. Still though, it's well worth a read for the interesting scientific concepts raised by the author.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates


Richard Yates has been held in high regard by many literary critics for years now, but never seemed to make it through to the cultural mainstream. His deeply autobiographical first novel, Revolutionary Road, was optioned many times since its publication in 1961 but has only finally made it onto the silver screen.

The Wheelers are a married, settled 1950s couple who are struggling with the slow death of their ambitions and hopes. On the surface they are conventional, with two children, friendly neighbours and roles in the local dramatic society. Frank works in the marketing department for a large business machines company, while Alice is a housewife. Gone are the days when they were a carefree couple living a post-war bohemian lifestyle. Instead they find themselves enclosed by work, children and society.

A daring plan to move to France and rediscover a bohemian lifestyle initially unites the couple and brings them happiness and peace once again. However, their frustration and pettiness surfaces once again and threatens their future happiness once again. The portrait of Jack Wheeler is eerily brilliant, but I did think that the character of Alice Wheeler was porrly drawn by the author.

This novel has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and it's easy to see why. Both novels are concerned with the cost of appearing successful and living the American dream. It's also not surprising that Yate's novel has found a new market in today's society. It's quiet story of frustration and aimlessness with resonate with many in today's world. Other characters are superbly created. We have the Campbells, a neighbouring mirror-image couple who live on a thin line of liking and disliking the Wheelers. Also in the cast is the dysfunctional Givings family who struggle with emotional expression and their disturbed son.

Revolutionary Road is not easy reading nor does it have a happy ending. It is bleak. It is an amazing portrayal of quiet despair and the simultaneous liking and hatred of conventionality. Despite being nearly 50 years old, its tale is still potent and will reach a new audience through the release of the film by Sam Mendes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Spirit


I'm still a bit bewildered following my trip to see The Spirit. Made in the style of Sin City, it is visually quite sharp, though this type of cinematography is already a wee bit cliched. What left me unusually perplexed is the ridiculous dialogue and the intensely incomprehensible plot.

Another confusing aspect is how this film managed to make Scarlett Johansson look dowdy and barely made Eva Mendes look her usual stunning self. That takes some doing. Still though, you have to give Samuel L. Jackson for realising that he was in the most confusing and silly film ever made and therefore deciding to ham it up.

It's clear that Frank Miller doesn't know how to direct - or should I say direct in a way that any linearly-thinking person could follow. I feel sorry for Gabriel Macht. This was his potentially breakthrough lead role, but he really should have read the script before accepting. Leave this film well alone unless you're actively seeking confusion in your life.

Twilight



I've been to see Twilight twice now. The first time was out of curiosity and in a cinema in Brussels. The second time was to accompany a friend. My youngest sister is quite a fan of the series and had been eagerly anticipating this movie, so I was a little concerned that it might not be geared towards a more "mature" audience (i.e. 30 years old as opposed to half that), but I was more than delighted with what I saw.

It is the classic teenage romance of good girl, Bella, (with slight rebellious streak) and the bad boy, Edward Cullen, (with a heart of gold). Only there's a twist. He's a vampire. Da Dah!!

However, it is the acting, ethereal cinematography and excellent soundtrack which make this film truly come to life. It is generally well-paced, although things do get a little frentic towards the climax. These two young actors embrace their roles, and it will be really interesting to see how the franchise develops as these actors mature.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this film - a lot more than I did other so-called must-see films. There's a lot more to this film than teenage female fodder.

Bleu Bistro, Dublin


Bleu Bistro is offering a two-course lunch menu for E15, which was enough to tempt me in through its doors last week. At that stage of the day, any other nearby restaurant would be charging the same amount of money for just one course. Upon entering, it seemed as if the last of the celtic tigers were in there for lunch - with groomed hair and luxury shopping bags around the place.

The menu is simple, and somewhat French-inspired with a mediterranean twist. We chose a green salad with caesar dressing, bacon and pumpkin seeds to start along with grilled aubergine, goat's cheese and pesto. It was only after our starters arrived that the waitress twigged that we had not received any bread and she arrived belatedly at the table with a basket of fresh breads. Based on her suggestions, we both chose bacon and onion rolls, which turned out to be olive bread. Hmmm..

Starters were good though. My slice of grilled aubergine with goat's cheese was very pleasant although I think that it could be improved by the use of a less-sharp cheese. My partner's salad suffered from the lack of a punchy caeasar dressing and next to no bacon. The pumpkin seeds were a delicious crunchy addition.

Mains were venison sausages served with mash, a rich gravy and some onion rings. The other main was fresh fried sea trout served with mash and other vegetables. The sea trout, although quite a small portion, was fresh out of the pan, perfectly cooked and delicious. My sausages were a much more substantial portion and I loved the rich gravy.

Overall, you couldn't fault this lunch for E15 a head. The food was very well cooked in all courses and the small-sized portions are perfect for lunch. The only downside to the whole experience was the somewhat slow and amnesiac service. We called for our bill, but eventually walked to the till to pay after our server disappeared into the ether. I quite liked Bleu, and could definitely handle a few more recession-friendly E15 lunches of that quality.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Island At The End Of The World - Sam Taylor


How can a man protect his family from a flood? Can he protect them from the evils of the modern world? Can he raise his children isolated and seperate from other humans? This is the story of Pa and his children. The book is told initially from the viewpoints of Pa, a controlling, religious man and Finn, his young son. Each character has a uniquely different voice, even down to the poor semi-phoenetic spelling of Finn.

This family live in their ark, on an abundant and fruitful island. However, Pa's peace and new paradise is threatened when a young man arrives on their island. To illustrate the change in their circumstances, we now hear the voice of teenage Alice, who has vague recollections of her mother and events prior to the flood.

As events unfold, an eerie sense begins to build, leaving the reader feeling uncomfortable and discontent with the paradise in the book.

This is a book that I expect to hear lots about in the coming year. It is simply written (although Finn's voice is annoying) but has a powerful and potent story to tell. I think though, that while it will be strongly liked by some readers, it will be disliked for it's message and voice by others. Still though, I would encourage you to try it for yourself.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Commonwealth Gastropub, Washington D.C.


I was on the hunt for a netbook while on holidays in the States. The receptionist at Hotel Rouge was kind enough to list some electrical stores for me, and as a result we ended up heading to 3100 14th Street. As it turns out, I didn't find anything suitable but we did stop for lunch at the newly-opened Commonwealth Gastropub on Irving Street.

Commonwealth is an attempt to bring the British Gastropub to Washington D.C. The owners, who are the people behind the famous Hank's Oyster Bar on Dupont Circle, are keen to create a gathering place in Columbia Heights where people can relax and nourish themselves with "farm-to-table" food.

It was quiet when we entered but the pace gradually picked up as the clock ticked towards lunchtime. Our server, Karim, was attentive and full of suggestions for excursions when he realised that we were visiting Washington D.C. for the first time. We got some fresh crusty beard with butter and piccalilli to munch on while we waited for our food. Commonwealth offers a nice, short lunch menu with attractive options. We went for a seared beef salad with blue cheese dressing and a homemade burger. We also treated ourselves to some beer and a glass of wine from their extensive and interesting drinks menu.

The food was excellent. It was simple, tasty and excellently executed and really represented good value for money. We made an exit into the cold wet day outside, but now before we had a discussion about football and American football with Karim. Good luck to those Redskins Karim!

Cafe Novo, Dublin


Cafe Novo is the newest change to the Westbury Hotel in Dublin. It's been getting good press and I decided to stop in one afternoon for a coffee while shopping in the post-Christmas sales. The bar was fairly busy for the time of day, so it seems that Cafe Novo must be doing something right.

It's nicely decorated in dark wood and modern touches and muted lighting. As all the tables were occupied, I had to take a high seat at one of the large communal tables. I must say that although the high chair looked quite stylish, the fruit-basket wire-mesh chair wasn't that comfortable in the long run. I ordered a cafe latte, which I thought was a touch expensive at 3.40 but in reality turned out to be quite large. I'd say that I sat there for the best part of an hour, relaxing, reading my book, making some notes and just enjoying the calm atmosphere of the place.

I then received a call from my other half and we decided to have a quick bite to eat in Cafe Novo. I had been watching food as it was delivered to other tables and I was looking forward to trying some dishes. When he arrived, we switched tables to a window seat and after reading the inspiring menu, we ordered a Thai beef salad (starter) and crispy squid rings to share between the two of us. We also had a beer and a glass of the house white.

A word about the menu - prices are competitive for the location and a lot of the dishes will appeal to diners. Classic and traditional dishes dominate and several dishes are available as sharing platters. The squid turned out to be perfectly cooked but suffered from the fact that the crispy coating kept falling off. This meant that I ended up eating squid on its own and then picking up the crispy coating afterwards. The accompanying garlic aioli was delicious. The squid was served with one of the latest fads - chips in a paper cone. I'm amazed that there are people in the world actually manufacturing chip-cone holders. However, the chips appeared to be of the frozen variety and would have been so much nicer if a little more handcut. The Thai beef salad was a bit confusing as it was essentially red onion, tomato and seared beef. It could have benefited from a few salad leaves. The beef was seared just a little short of medium and sliced into the salad. It was tangy but benefited from a squeeze of the lime wedge that came with the squid.

Overall, I thought that the food was good. I think that it's probably a Euro or two more expensive than it should be but I'd have no reservations about going once more.