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, January 25, 2010

The Larder Bistro, Parliament Street, Dublin 2

Last Saturday night, an old friend and I arranged to meet up to discuss our careers and lives, preferably over some nice food and wine. We had initially arranged to go to the new snazzy Ormond Wine Bar on Ormond Quay Upper, but it turned out that they wouldn't be serving food until later that night due to a private party booking.
Well, we weren't going to let that put a spanner in our works and we headed off out into the night in search of somewhere nice to sit and chat. Turns out we didn't have very far to go, because right over Parliament Brdge, we came upon The Larder Bistro. Given that it was early on Saturday night, we had no trouble getting a table. I especially loved the little sprigs of rosemary which decorated each cutlery and napkin setting.
We both ordered a small salad for starter (smoked salmon for my friend and goat's cheese with balsamic carmelised onions) and then shared a large mixed platter of charcuterie and cheese. The large platter was more than enough for the two us and we loved the fruits, pickles and honey which accompanied the dish. We both enjoyed two glasses of wine each (a Rioja for my friend and a lovely Pinot Grigio for me). Total cost for two starters, one large main course and 4 glasses of wine came to a very respectable €55.
I really think that The Larder is doing the right food with the right wine at the right price. It's straightforward, honest and downright nice.
The Larder Bistro, Parliament Street, 8 Dublin 2. 01 - 633 3581

Short Girls - Bich Minh Nguyen

A good while back, I reviewed "Free Food for Millionaires" by Min Jin Lee, a book which explored the experiences of a first generation Korean American. I was struck by the parallels between that book and this debut novel from Bich Minh Nguyen. Granted, the former focuses on Korean immigrants and the latter on Vietnamese, but both novels are rich with the struggle of American-born children of immigrants.

This novel centres on two sisters, Van and Linh Luong. Van is the elder daughter, an immigration lawyer, serious and with a marriage in difficulty. Linny is the younger, carefree, working as a cook, and trying to end an affair with a married man. Both sisters are dealing with crises but keep their distance from the other.

At the centre of their lives is their widowed father. He has been obsessed with the short stature of Vietnamese people his whole life and uses all his inventive mind to create the Luong Arm, a device to help shorter people reach items on top shelves. In order to futher his inventions, he decides to become a naturalised citizen of the U.S. and enter a reality TV show for inventors.

It is while begrudgingly attending to their father that the two sisters realise that they are both at crossroads in their lives. Drawing on each other in way that they haven't done since childhood, they find the strength to start living new lives.

Nguyen has written a simple novel that somehow captures the readers' interest. The two sisters are real characters who will resonate with a lot of female readers. The author switches deftly between the present and the past to tell this tale, but maybe the characters realness is their failing, as somehow this novel fails to linger to any great degree.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Lemur - Benjamin Black

John Banville is a writer of legendary proportions who has chosen to write under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black. This short novella is a deviation from his other Black novels in that it is set in New York, rather than Dublin.

Our protagnist, John Glass, is a once-famous Irish journalist, who is living a loveless marriage in New York. He is having an affair with an Irish artist, but is subservient to his wife, a glamourous New Yorker who runs the famous Mulholland Trust. Her father is Bill Mulholland, an ex-CIA operative reknowned for his honesty who later made his fortune in the electronics industry.

Bill has asked John to write his biography, telling him of his desire to keep things in the family. Struggling to rise to the challenge and rediscover his desire for writing, Glass hires Dylan Riley to help with the research. Unfortunately Riley turns up dead, leaving Glass worried and more than a little scared.

Despite an initially intriguing outline, the story is weak, uninspiring and a bit too fantastic. For a short story, it feels too long.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Annie's Gastropub, Cork

When I was a student in Cork, friends of mine lived in a grotty old house in Sunday's Well Cork. Just around the corner was Annie Mac's, a traditional old pub. Well, in 2oo8, Annie's Gastropub replaced the old Annie's. Thing is, I wasn't living in Cork anymore, so I didn't get to see this transformation firsthand.

Well, on a recent visit to Cork, friends told us about Annie's, so we decided to visit for Sunday lunch. It turns out that Chef Zico Ali is an old hand at the gastropub game, having worked at The Lord Palmerston, a leading early London gastropub.

Upon entering we were greeted by a large blackboard featuring the many varied offerings of the day. I wondered how a small pub on the wrong side of the Lee could manage to offer so much choice to diners. The interior is a little chilly, having been painted all creamy white, but some sunshine managed to struggle in. Having decided, we took our seats in the winter sunshine and ordered.

While waiting, the waitress delivered some delicious homemade bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. With excellent oil and bread, we appeared to be off to a good start. The spicy sweet potato soup (E4.95) turned out to be a little more vegetable-y and brothy than I would have liked. I know sweet potatoes can make a beautiful, smooth soup with a sweet flavour. This however, was not that. My starter of haloumi, hummous, babaganoush and warm pittas (E9) turned out to be pretty good with a deliciously smoky babaganoush and rich hummous. I couldn't help however but unfavourably compare the price tag for 4 small dollops and half a pitta with the price for a full-on Lebanese lunch in the Cedar Tree, Dublin.

With our starters cleared, we returned to the Sunday papers while we waited for the mains. About half a dozen local men were seated at the bar, enjoying their post-mass, pre-lunch Sunday pint while discussing sport and other important local stuff. It was clear that these lads were impervious to the gastropub tag. They were continuing to visit their local, regardless of the changes around them.

My main of belly pork with winter vegetables and apple sauce (E20) turned out to be just too sweet. The pork was beautifully cooked, two nice squares falling apart at the touch of the fork. But there was a general lack of salt in the dish, both on the meat and the accompanying piece of crackling. A sweet gravy, combined with the apple sauce overpowered all the other flavours on the plate. The Hereford rib eye steak (E24) was superbly well-aged with a dry texture that wasn't dry! It was well-cooked and rested and came served with potato wedges and aioli.

Overall, I just wasn't impressed by Annie's. The ingredients used are clearly of good quality but the overall effect was of trying too hard, and charging too much. Gastropub doesn't mean a licence to charge large amounts for Sunday lunch. All through the meal, I couldn't help but think of the likes ofOliver 's Eatery in Terenure were you can enjoy good pub food at great prices. It's always been a Cork thing to charge too much - but I don't believe that restaurants in Cork do any less business than restaurants in Dublin.

Two espressos bought the bill to E62! For lunch! Not on lads.

Sixty-One Nails - Mike Shevdon

One morning, while on his way to work, Londoner Niall Peterson suffers a heart attack on the underground. He comes round to find an elderly lady working to save his life. As soon as he feels better, Blackbird begins to tell him an amazing story. Niall is of Feyre blood and a creature from another dimension just tried to use his body to gain access to this world. Niall's powers are awaken and he has to adjust to a new and dangerous world.

As Niall learns about his heritage and his new view on the world, he uncovers a dangerous secret. The barrier that separates our world and the Feyre world is weakening. Racing against time, Niall and Blackbird must recreate the ancient ceremony of the Sixty-One nails and reinforce the barrier that protects humanity.

Shevdon has created an intriguing world in his first novel. It's very real, set in a London that is familiar to all of us. The author has used fascinating historical facts as the basis for his story, but takes the traditional fairy tale and turns it on its head. Not every question is answered which leaves the reader waiting for more in the next installment. A very good debut in the fantasy world.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Bankers - Shane Ross

Christmas bought us a raft of books on the recent collapse of the Irish economy, one of which was "The Bankers: How the Banks Ruined the Irish Economy". The author, Shane Ross, is an independant senator for TCD, who has always questioned largesse in the Irish economy. As business editor of the Sunday Independent, he has seen it all and was the 2009 winner of the Journalist of the Year award for his investigations into the shennanigans at the state agency FAS.

In The Bankers, Shane Ross investigates the history and actions of all the various factions involved in the recent meltdown. He takes us through the story of key players such as Sean Fitzpatrick (Anglo Irish Bank) and Michael Fingleton (Irish Nationwide) who both acheived phenomenal growth at the helms of their respective institutes. The actions of the supposedly independent Financial Regulator, headed by Patrick Neary, did nothing to control the increasingly reckless lending promoted by the Irish banks.

The story gets more intriguing and gripping as Ross brings us towards the climate. The retelling of how the new Finance minister, Brian Lenihan, dealt with events is illuminating and surprisingly personal.

Ultimately, upon finishing the book, I was gripped with the dual emotions of both anger and helplessness. Anger at this shambolic mess the country was driven in, and helplessness, as a normal person, in the face of such collusion. It is all too evident from Ross' retelling that a cabal of bankers, developers, politicians and mandarins was always the most powerful force in the country, rather than the elected govenernnent, or the people.

Ross is clearly passionate about the events that have unfurled in the country, and while this is apparent in his writing, he also tells the facts as they are. Read The Bankers, and be prepared to get angry.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House is the story of a true murder mystery, which formed the basis of inspiration for many of the great detective stories of the late 19th century. It has all the elements of the great whodunnit: intrigue, secret relationships and a small cast of characters.

In 1860, the Kent family, resident at Road Hill House, consisted of Mr. Kent, his second wife Mrs. Kent (formerly a governess to the family), his chilren from his first marriage and a group of younger children from his second marriage. As may be expected, there were typical lines of separation and favouritism between the two groups of children.

One morning the governess awoke to find Saville, one of the younger children, missing from his bed in the nursery. Thinking that he was in bed with his mother, she returned to sleep. It wasn't until the household fully awoke that they realised Saville was no longer in the house. Police were called and neighbours assisted in searching the grounds. Unfortunately, the body of young Saville was found in an outdoor toilet.

The local police were faced with a conundrum, the house had been locked securely from the inside, which meant that the murderer was most likely a member of the household. The pressure from the public and media on the Kent household challenged the strong Victorian feelings about the home (everyman's home is his castle), and the assignment of a police detective to this case furthered added to the interest.

Summerscale has compiled and researched a wealth of knowledge for this book, but I felt a lack of cohesion throughout. Despite the meticulous detail, and the fascinating insights into the mentality of the era, the story never really pulls together. Instead it remains cut and dried. It offers a fascinating view of the Victorian era, as well as the evolution of the crime novel and the modern police detective. Recommended for fans of the era.
© Stitch and Bear | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Developed by pipdig