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!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Top 10 Food Moments in Dublin

I haven't been blogging for quite a while, but I haven't stopped eating out. In an effort to get myself back in the zone, I compiled a list of my Top 10 favourite food moments in Dublin. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but my main assessment criteria was the the item in question would make me travel to the shop or restaurant just for that item.

10. Starting off my list is the Peanut and Lemongrass Chicken available from the salad counter in Donnybrook Fair. This stuff is very moreish. Boxes of this very snack-friendly salad never seem to last very long in my fridge.

9. I never ate at Peacock Alley, but I have had the pleasure of dining several times at Conrad Gallagher's Salon des Saveurs. I think that this is one of the best restaurants in Dublin and I just love the luxurious and unctious taste of the Foie Gras and Oxtail with Pain d'Epices. Mr. Gallagher clearly likes the auld Foie Gras, as I also received a Foie Gras lollipop with my seared scallops, shown below.

8. Time for a caffeinated entry. For those of you with a sweet tooth, you should try the Bicherin at Carluccio's on Dawson Street. You get three little jugs - once each of thick dark hot chocolate, espresso and milk which you mix to your desired taste. Any location that gives you a jug of melted chocolate is good in my book.

7. The first Asian entry on my list comes from Madina Desi on Mary Street. My favourite dish here is the Keema Mutter, or minced mutton/lamb curry with peas. This dish is buttery (thanks to all the ghee) and nicely spiced which contrasts nicely with the sweet little peas.

6. A classic French dish takes the spot at No 6 - Moule Frites (mussels and fries) as served by Chez Max. I lived in Brussels for an extended period of time, where I developed quite a taste for Moules Frites. Chez Max is one of the few spots which serves them garlicky enough for my liking, along with delicious frites! (Read here for a previous visit).

5. The Sweet Basil Thai in Rathmines is a true hidden gem. You won't visit this place for the decor, and you may even be tempted to avoid it. But it offers very good Thai food at what are, frankly, stupidly cheap prices. Currently they have a E5 curry promotion running and I am baffled as to how they are still surviving. Anyway, my favourite dish here is the duck in red curry paste (but to be honest, you can't go wrong with most of the menu). This is good Thai food, without the expensive price tags.

4. Here's another sweet entry in a list that is dominated by the savoury. One of the culinary highlights of Ireland is to be found at Eddie Rocket's. (A Fifties-style diner chain for those not in the know). Go and order a burger and fries - you won't be disappointed. But the true star in the Eddie Rocket's crown is their Oreo Malt milkshake. It's large, cold and full of crumbled Oreos. Delicious.

3. Ny number 3 is no longer on the menu at Balzac, Dawson St. However, it was a dish of amazing calibre and hence, I feel that it still deserves a place. Balzac, now being led by chef Malcolm Starmer, was initially rejuvenated by Paul Flynn (owner and chef at The Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford). Balzac is possibly the most beautiful and elegant dining room in Dublin and my favourite dish there was the Crab Creme Brulee, served with pickled cucumber. This fantastic eggy, crabby starter was a delight on the palate, only disappointing in absence.

1. I found it hard to separate my top 2, so I'm going for a joint No 1. The first joint winner is the amazing Chili-Mango Caipiroska cocktail from Koh Thai restaurant. Koh is a modern Thai restaurant/lounge/bar which has proved very popular since opening several years ago. The food is very good here, and an extensive cocktail menu provides an excuse to linger long after you've eaten your food. The Chili-Mango Caipiroska (made with vodka & lime) is both sweet and fiery and really constitutes a true taste sensation.

(If you find that tempting, check out the Koh Cocktail Masterclass video on YouTube)

1. The Hilan on Capel Street is a Chinese & Korean restaurant which has been open for several years now. It offers a mix of regular Chinese food, alongside Korean BBQs and spicy Hunan/Szechuan food. The staff are so friendly that dining at the Hilan is always a pleasure, even as they run past you bearing buckets of glowing coals. My favourite dish here, and therefore my favourite dish in Dublin, is the Chili bowl (which comes with your choice of lamb, chicken, fish or veg). You get a bowl of flavoursome stock, full of meat, beansprouts, & veg, A delicious topping of fried onions, chili & garlic elevates this dish to the truly sublime.

These are my top 10 dishes in Dublin. I would happily eat any of these at any time. But if you have other contenders or worthy candidates, please let me know.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Exchequer, Exchequer Street, Dublin

One of my common laments is the fact that pub food in Ireland is generally of a fairly lamentable standard. Take the newly-opened & allegedly beautifully designed Copan Bar in Rathmines. They go to all that effort, but they still offer Chicken Goujons on their bar food menu! Why??

Living in Amsterdam for the past year has really provided me with an insight into how basic pub grub should be. Kitchens in Ireland are limited with riduculous Health & Safety rules on food prep, which results in a fair amount of pubs having to buy in pre-prepared veg and meals. How this is supposed to help the consumer eludes me.

Last night I went for burgers to Cafe Parck on Overtoom, Amsterdam. This place serves great burgers and bitter ballen (Dutch deep-fried bar snacks). In fact, the burgers are possibly among the best in Amsterdam. This pub also has a housecat, Shiva, who treats the entire bar as her personal domain (as cats are wont to do). In fact, she spent a reasonable part of last night sprawled out on the bar. I could see the food inspectors in Ireland having a nuclear conniption at this, however the Dutchies just make sure that everything is clean, letting the cat do as she pleases, while continuing to serve great food.

Ranting aside, the Irish pub food scene has taken some very encouraging steps lately. I had eaten in the Exchequer ages ago, soon after it initially opened and I had enjoyed it very much. However, I didn't have cause to return until recently. Thanks to CityDeal, I had 2 vouchers (for one main course, one side dish and one cocktail of the day) which were shortly approaching their expiry date. I may fight against those genes I share with my mother, but just like her, I do hate to throw money away, so I was determined to use these vouchers.

We ended up at a cosy table for two near the fireplace in the back of the bar. The decor at the Exchequer is just lovely and the dining room space was warm and comforting. The waiters were well aware of the CityDeal vouchers and we were quickly offered the option of having our cocktail straightaway or waiting for dessert. No competition really, and we were quickly served with 2 passionfruit caipiroskas. I chose crispy pork belly with a fish sauce caramel, crispy calamari and carrot & chili puree, while himself went for the ling fingers with chips, tartar sauce and pea puree.

Both dishes turned out to be excellent choices. The pork belly was tender, pulling apart easily with the fork. If I had a complaint, it would be that the skin wasn't quite crispy enough for my liking. The carrot & chili puree was an excellent sweet contrast to the pork, while the crispy calamare had a slightly salty and sweet batter. The ling fingers came in a delightfully light beer batter and the pea puree was a vivid green pea experience.

During the meal, himself decided that he would like to switch to the beer and he ordered a bottle from the beer menu. The waitress returned after several minutes with the unfortunate news that they didn't have it in stock, and would he choose another. However, it transpired that the second choice was also not in stock, at which point the bartender recommended a beer personally to himself and provided us the bottle, gratis! Excellent tactic, which completely made up for the lack of the previous beer choices. In addition, the recommended beer was well received.

I like the Exchequer - it serves good food, good cocktails and beers in a comfortable setting. Essentially, I consider it to be the standard that all food pubs should aspire to. Here's hoping that more pubs will take note.

The Exchequer, 3-5 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2 
Tel: 01 - 670 6787
© Stitch and Bear | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Developed by pipdig