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, April 26, 2010

The Mao Case - Qiu Xiaolong

Although labelled as a murder mystery, The Mao Case and other works from Qiu Xiaolong, are deeper stories concerning with the rapidly changing and mutating society in millenium China. The shadow of Mao and the Cultural Revolution looms over a society which is looking towards the future. 

Inspector Chen is both a poet and detective. Cultured and educated, he is entrusted with investigating the suddenly affluent lifestyle of Jiao, granddaughter of a disgraced movie star. But as he begins his investigation, the body of Jiao's friend is found in the garden of a gently decaying Shanghai mansion.

The case is politically sensitive, due to the connection between Jiao's grandmother and Chairman Mao. In fact, Internal police are convinced that Jiao holds some secret material from Mao, which cannot be allowed to resurface and tarnish his beloved and treasured image. 

This is a crime novel of a different ilk. Originating as it does from a different culture, Xiaolong's story offers a different type of crime novel - intellectual and educated. It is wistful, literate and utterly unique.

Angels of Death: Inside the Bikers' Global Crime Empire - William Marsden & Julian Sher

What do you think of Hells Angels? Are they a free-wheeling group of "good old boys" who occasionally have a run in with the law, or are they a global crime empire dealing in drugs and guns? Originating in West Coast America, the HAMC have expanded into every major continent, but by doing so, have attracted the attention of every major law enforcement agency.

Marsden and Sher are two Canadian journalists who initially wrote a feature on Canadian motorcycle gangs. From this, they expanded the scope of their research to include biker gangs across the world from Canada to Amsterdam, Scandinavia to Australia. Many horrific tales of murder, beatings and feuds are recounted, but also we read the stories of the undercover police who have risked their lives and sanity to reveal the extent of the bikers' activities.

The authors have done a lot of research following the trail of HAMC and their affiliates across the globe. For anyone new to the world of outlaw biker gangs, this serves as a great introduction, but the bland writing style negates a lot of the excitement and danger contained in these stories.

Monday, April 19, 2010

P.King, Amsterdam

P.King is a modern, funky bar located at the corner of Herengracht and Vijzelstraat. Or wait.. is it a Chinese restaurant? It's a glorious concept. Settle down for some beers and when the munchies kick in, you can order some Chinese food. Downstairs is bar-like, while upstairs is more restaurant-like.

The menu is cleverly arranged with a good selection of starters, followed by main courses which are available in small and large sizes. We shared a mixed platter of starters (all delicious) which we then followed with two small main courses. Although we weren't keen on the lemon chicken (gloopy without a real lemon bite) or the roast pork (just roast pork, no flavouring), there was the added benefit of getting a bowl of rice as a side dish. I think we just chose badly, as other dishes coming out from the kitchen looked and smelled delicious.

I think that I've found an ideal spot in P.King for mixing beers and nibbles. Additionally, there is a nice selection of seating outside facing onto Herengracht, so this place is bound to be popular in summertime.

P.King, Herengracht 515, 1017 BV Amsterdam. +33 (0)20 320 8175

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon 3D

I think that this is the first 3D film I've seen that really worked. Simple animation combined with intelligent use of 3D seems to be the way forward. (Clash of the Titans take note - that film nearly put me off 3D for good). 

This is a typical story (outsider, friendship, acceptance and love) but it stands out from the rest with some amazing and funny characters as well ashaving a charmingly cute black dragon! Set in a dour Viking outpost which is beset by dragons, Hiccup is a young boy who just doesn't quite fit in. In an attempt to prove himself, he injures a Nightfury, the most feared of all the dragons. This leads to a deep bond between himself and Toothless. The Vikings (who have scottish accents!) have battled the dragons for eons and Hiccup finds himself in the unenviable position of being expected to kill a dragon.

This is a funny film (with an odd obsession with underpants) and is easily one of the best children's/family movies I've seen  in a while. Kids will enjoy it but adults will also find it more than amusing, and probably a step above the inane Nanny McPhee 2.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This is Social Media - Guy Clapperton

Social media has grown phenomenally over the last few years. It's a rare person who hasn't heard of Twitter or Facebook at this stage. Initially used by individuals, businesses are realising the potential of these new media channels and are starting to embrace them.

Guy Clapperton is a highly experienced media consultant who has produced a simple, easy to read guide for business owners who want to get started in the world of social media. Clapperton advises caution and warns against starting a social media strategy simply for the sake of doing it. He recommends making sure that it fits with your audience, with your strategy and more importantly, with your budget.

Clapperton devotes a chapter to a high-level review of the main social media channels, providing a description of each along with a description of the typical audience for each site. People mystified by the burgeoning world of social media will no doubt appreciate this chapter.

This is an honest book that is easy to read. It's for the complete beginner, so it's easy for more experienced people to dismiss it and the advice it contains. But remember, there was a first time for everyone and therefore this book has its market. It's a good starting point for novices in this brave new world.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cafe de Fles - Amsterdam

Cafe de Fles is located just over the canal from my Amsterdam residence. It's located down a steep flight of stairs and has looked so tempting for so long now. I finally got to visit last weekend, and immediately I regretted not visiting much sooner.

Step carefully down the steep flight of stairs and you'll find yourself entering a dark wood panelled basement with an enclosed kitchen in the middle. The delicious smell of grilling meat will greet you, making you keen to get started. In order to maximise space, there's even an indoor balcony to hold some extra tables.

The set (or monthly) menu looks like amazing value with three courses for €28.50 featuring king crab, ostrich steak and duck liver mousse. We however, opted for a single course each. I chose the tuna steak while he went for the spare ribs. My tuna steak came rare, served with a fennel and potato cake, while his ribs were cooked until tender and served with a delicious barbeque sauce. A bowl of fries and a delicious spinach and lardon salad came as sides.

This is classy cooking served in a traditional basement pub. Cafe de Fles is a true Amsterdam experience. Now that summer seems to be arriving, I'm looking forward to enjoying some evening meals at their outdoor canalside tables.

Cafe de Fles, Vijzelstraat 137 (ingang Prinsengracht), Amsterdam 1017 HJ. +33 (0)20 624 96 44

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes - David Grann

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession comes from the pen of David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z. I had really enjoyed this true life tale of swashbuckling adventure in the Amazon so I was pleased to receive an ARC copy of his newest book. Sherlock Holmes noted that “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent". Grann has taken that mantra to heart and presents a collection of true tales which feature obsession, perverse behaviour and even murder.

The collection starts with the apparent murder of the world's pre-eminent Sherlock Holmes scholar who is found dead following an obsessive quest for the missing archives of Arthur Conan Doyle. Grann progresses to arson detectives, an amnesiac guilt-ridden survivor of 9/11 and white supremist gangs. The scope is wide and far-reaching and Grann has clearly taken each story to heart, travelling to research and meet the characters involved. He even manages to make some pretty unsavoury characters seem sympathetic.

Because each story is free-standing, this is an easy book to read in pieces. In fact, each of these essays has been previously published, with the majority appearing in The New Yorker Magazine (although they have been revied and updated for this edition). This explains perhaps why the collection of essays in one edition doesn't seem to gel quite right. They are fantastic stories, but are better suited to piecemeal reading, rather than a continuous read.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2009

The other half received two bottles of wine during the week as a thank you for a favour. He polished off the red wine on his own while I was in Amsterdam, but we just opened the bottle of white.

It's a Blind River Marlborough Sauvignon Blacn 2009 and it received a 94/100 score from Bob Campbell, a Master of Wine. It's really tasty with strong fruity flavours - gooseberry and passionfruit come to mind. A delicious wine of which I wouldn't mind drinking more.

Recent purchases

Sometimes the urge to shop takes over - and when it does, you have to satisfy it!

eBay is both my most favourite and most hated site. It's been the cause of too many impulse purchases. However, these Irregular Choice shoes for about $25 didn't break the bank.

On our way to Waterford today, we stopped at Kildare Village for a quick browse and bite to eat. Despite the horrible rain, the place was pretty full. I popped into Reiss and couldn't resist this gorgeous beige trench coat with pleated trim. I have been thinking about changing from my red wool winter coat - so this will do the job nicely.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

House of Cards - William D. Cohan

Wall Street has long been a source of fascination for me and many people. It's kind of frightening to think that the money you earn and spend, the money you invest in pensions and savings, and the debts you incur are all influenced by the actions of a relatively small group of (mainly) men located in financial centres like Wall Street.

House of Cards tells the story of Bear Stearns, a global investment bank, which was the first major casualty of the recent crisis in the financial markets. Bear Stearns was a pioneer in the area of securitisation and asset-backed securities which initially resulted in bumper figures at the bank, but ultimately led to its downfall in 2008. This resulted in the bank being sold in a firesale to JP Morgan Chase.

The story starts in 2008 and recounts the mounting pressure on the bank's executives as they faced an unparalleled liquidity crisis in the overnight lending market, resulting in the sale of the proud and historic bank, all in the space of just 10 days. Having established the present, Cohan then starts to take us through the history and key personalities of Bear Stearns.

What emerges is a portrait of how powerful and dominant personalities came to be in charge of billions of dollars. One of the main figures in the rise, and ultimate downfall, of Bear Stearns is long-serving CEO Jimmy Cayne. Named as one of the worst American CEOs of all time, Cayne is endemic of both the brilliance and faults that lay at the heart of the bank. A championship bridge player, he was playing in a tournament when B.S. hedge funds experienced difficulty, and it was clear to see that he did not comprehend the financial instruments upon which the success of Bear Stearns had been built.

Cohan paints a picture of character over integrity, forcefulness and personality over knowledge and regulation. It is a scary world, full of folly. Many people are confused about recent events, but House of Cards is a wonderful place to start to learn. It is well researched, detailed and well-written. Cohan does not eulogise, but simply presents the personalities and facts. There is no need for embellishment - the outcomes of recent years speak for themselves.
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