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!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Black & White Chocolate Cheesecake Squares

I've been reading a lot of cookbooks lately, some for the first time and others for the umpteenth time. The new Cake Days cookbook from the lovely Hummingbird Bakery has already become a firm favourite, despite being one of the new additions. So far, all the recipes have been a success at first try, and the cakes I've tried have been nothing short of delicious and indulgent.

The latest recipe I've tried was so successful (and scrumptious) that I have to share it. It takes a little effort as two rounds of baking are required, with some cooling time in between, but the results are a very adult, very rich snack. The mix of a dark cocoa base and a tangy, white chocolate cheesecake is a great combination.

Firstly, you need to make the dough for the dark chocolate base. For this, you will need to line a 23 x 30 cm baking tray with parchment. (Try to get a tin that is at least 2-3 cm deep). When I first made this, I thought the ingredient quantities seemed huge, but it does work.

For the base
250g butter (softened)
420g castor sugar
2 eggs (beaten)
380g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. It really pays to have the butter as soft as possible. It's not really possible to overwork the butter and sugar, so make sure to spend some time on the creaming, getting it as smooth and light as possible. 

Add the eggs one a time, beating well between each addition, making sure to occasionally run a spatula down the sides of the bowl to incorporate the ingredients.

Sift together the remaining ingredients, then add to the batter in two batches, beating well with each addition. At this stage you should have a stiff, sugary dough. Cut off one quarter of the dough, wrap it in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge to rest for a while. 

Press the remainder of the dough into the baking tray, cover and leave to chill in the fridge for 20 - 30 mins. In order to get a smooth base, I spooned the mixture into the tin, covered it loosely with clingfilm and then pressed out the dough through the clingfilm. I then used a small spice container like a rolling pin to make sure that I got a smooth even finish.

At this stage, preheat your oven to 170 Celsius. Once ready, bake the base for 20-25 mins. Cool it completely in the tin before you move to the next stage of adding the cheesecake. However, it's best to leave the oven on as you will be baking the cheesecake.

For the cheesecake
80g good quality white chocolate
300g full fat cream cheese
60g icing sugar
1 large egg, beaten

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Once melted, take off the heat and leave to cool slightly. In the meantime, mix the cream cheese and icing sugar until smooth. Add the egg, mixing well. Finally, mix in the melted chocolate.

Pour the mixture over the dark chocolate base. Lastly, take the chilled dough from the fridge and tear off lumps. Drop the lumps randomly into the cheesecake mixture. As the dough cooks, they will expand slightly and provide a nice contrast.

Bake the completed dish for about 25 mins, or until the cheesecake has set. Allow to cool completely, then place in the fridge for a few hours before serving. Once the cake is fullt set, cut into squares or bars with a very sharp clean knife (the cheesecake mixture will crumb slightly, so a sharp knife helps). Finally, enjoy!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

L. Mulligan Grocer, Stoneybatter

L. Mulligan Grocer opened its doors in Stoneybatter last year, describing itself as an Eating & Drinking Emporium. Although I was based in Amsterdam at the time, I followed their initial trials and tribulations through their engaging Twitter feed @LMulliganGrocer. Soon after opening, a family member by marriage tried to make a reservation, only to find that the person on the phone wouldn't believe him when he said that his name was L. Mulligan (it really was!).

Roll forward to April this year, and I had heard enough about Mulligans from other sources. It was time to go and sample their delights for myself. I visited on a Friday evening, when it became apparent that a delayed flight at Dublin Airport meant that I would be dining on my lonesome.

Mulligan's is a traditional pub when you enter, but the back opens out into a dining area. On that Friday evening, just about all seats were taken, but I was able to procure a small table in the bar area. One of the staff dropped off the drink and food menus, which come as pages inserted into a selection of old books. The food menu is broken down into starters and mains, each with a suggested beer pairing. I'm a sucker for belly pork, so I chose that along with a glass of the recommended Metalman pale ale. 

The pork came served with mash, cabbage and a balsamic and rum gravy. Portion size was decent for the money, but I found the pork to be only average. The skin was cooked to a kind of plasticky finish and although the flesh was moist, I couldn't find any really flavour in the pork. I found myself using the gravy to add flavour to the meat. (I couldn't help but contrast this to the fantastic pork that I had recently enjoyed at the Exchequer, which was effectively the same dish, but executed with much more aplomb). The accompanying Metalman ale was fantastic, with a light and tangy taste that I enjoyed much more than the pork.

After I had finished my pork, I sat back, releaxed and watch the crowd pour into Mulligan's. The place was turning a brisk trade, with many people enjoying the selection of craft beers on offer. It's definitely enjoyable to see an establishment offering an alternative selection. At this stage, I was offered a dessert menu, and I decided to try the Apple Crumble, served with Murphy's very delicious Sea Salt ice-cream.

My apple crumble came as a single serving in a little ramkin. The sides were warm to touch, but when I eventually managed to punch through the compacted top, I found the inside to be cold. This was a pity as I had looked forward to warm apple crumble with melting ice cream. The apple filling was too sugary which when mixed with the sweet crumble, meant that the whole dessert was just saccherine overkill.

Total damage came to approx €25 (sorry that I can't remember precisely). I am a fan of the virtues that Mulligans espouses and I wish them all the best. Perhaps I chose the wrong menu items, but I left feeling very "meh" about the whole experience. I wish I had felt otherwise. 

L. Mulligan Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Tel +353 (0)1 670 9889


La Maison Restaurant, Dublin

La Maison restaurant on Castlemarket Street has been around since 2009 when it evolved from the popular cafe La Maison des Gourmets. It is under the guidance of Breton chef Olivier Quenet, with Nathan Dimond in charge of the kitchen. Their aim is simple, to produce freshly prepared, classic French food.

Thanks to deals wesbite Living Social, I had purchased an €80 voucher for La Maison and we set out to use it for an early dinner on a sunny Friday evening at the start of April. As we walked to the restaurant, the streets were thronged with Friday evening drinkers enjoying the evening sunshine. However, it was still a little chilly outside, so I was glad when our table turned out to be upstairs on the first floor of La Maison, rather than outside.

The interior of La Maison is narrow, with a view of the kitchen to the back of the ground floor. The decor is classically French in colour, while the first floor is flooded with light from the windows looking out on Castlemarket Street.  Although we were seated quickly, it took a while for our distracted young French male waiter to actually come around with the menus. As you'd expect, the menu is packed full of French goodies and features plenty of seafood with scallops, oysters and crab all on offer.

I chose Os a Moelle Rotis et son Beurre a L'ail (roasted bone marrow with garlic butter, €9) as my starter, while he chose the Saise de Noix de St Jacques (scallops with Sauce Vierge, €13.50)as his starter. When the starters arrived, we were disappointed to see only 3 small scallops dotted on the plate. Despite a lovely sauce vierge, this was a very meagre portion. 

My bone marrow came in two large chunks of bone, served with a slice of toasted sourdough bread. The last time I'd eaten bone marrow was at the fanstastic slow food restaurant Resource in Brussels (unfortunately since closed) and I recalled an unctious gloop, rich in flavour.  Unfortunately, I wasn't as impressed with my bone marrow in La Maison. In a stark contrast to his scallops, there was far too much of it to work as a starter, and it didn't feel like it was cooked enough. Once the flavour of the garlic butter had dissapated, I was left with a somewhat unpleasant fatty taste in my mouth. 

Roasted bone marrow with garlic butter
Two disappointing starters (for different reasons) meant that things weren't looking good for La Maison at this stage. However, we had pushed the boat out when ordering our main having chosen the Cote du Boeuf Irelandaise avec Pomme de Terre Sautee for 2 people (Rib of beef, served with sauteed potatoes and salad, at a stonking €58). At our waiter's suggestion, we ordered this medium rare.

Well folks, let me tell you something for free. This is a magnificent dish and it rescued La Maison from the lists of restaurants not to visit again. A lump of sliced rare beef arrived, served on a wooden chopping board, complete with rib bone. The meat was cooked to perfection, still very pink and moist. Alongside was a pot of potatoes and onion with a little bowl of green leaves. The beef had been seasoned and salted prior to cooking, resulting in lovely little crusty bits of flavour. After we finished the sliced meat, we attacked the rib bone, seeking the last little bits of meaty goodness. The potatoes were excellent, served swimming in butter  and rich with lovely sweet sauteed onions and garlic. The flavour just got better and better as we worked our way down to the bottom of the dish.

Cote du Boeuf Irelandaise ave Pomme de Terre Sautee

For wine, I enjoyed a very refreshing glass of Lombeline Sauvignon Blanc (delicious on a summer evening), while he was not impressed with the Lombeline Grenache-Syrah, finding it rather "meh". Both were priced at €5.50 a glass. 
Overall, we left La Maison with mixed feelings. Service had been slow, and a bit unresponsive at times and while we simply adored the absolutely carnivourous main course, the starters had distinctly failed to impress. Overall, the prices felt a little too high for the current climate, although I would consider a return visit at lunchtime, when prices should be cheaper.

La Maison, 15 Castlemarket Street, Dublin 2. Tel +353 (0)1 672 7258.

La Maison on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

[Review] Ananda, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 16

Ananda Indian restaurant in Dundrum has been keeping a little secret to itself. From Thursday to Sunday lunchtime (12.30 - 15.00) , it is possible to enjoy a tapas lunch (2 courses plus tea/cofee) for the princely sum of €16.00. 

Yes - that is right. You can enjoy a delicious lunch, from an excellent kitchen supervised by executive chef Sunil Ghai with a menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. Given that I've eaten Sunday lunch at Atul's previous restaurant, Tamarind in London, where a Sunday lunch costs in the region of £30, the deal at Ananda is truly great (and the food is better than Tamarind!).

Ananda is a lovely restaurant, decorated in dark colours with splashes of pink and other bright colours. Amazing flower-like lanterns are suspended from the ceiling. At night-time, the atmosphere is intimate and cosy.

The stylish interior
You start your lunch with a choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian tapas. Having enjoyed lunch at Ananda several times, I can say that it doesn't matter which platter you choose, as both are delicious. On my recent visit however, I went for the non-vegetarian tapas (shown below). From left to right, I enjoyed 
  • Malai kebab (chicken in a gently spiced marinade)
  • Tempura fried prawn - deliciously plump and firm
  • Fish tikka - Tilapia fish in a mustard marinade, cooked in the tandoor
  • Seekh kebab - juicy, spicy minced lamb, bursting with flavour
The meat-based tapas platter
The selection for main course is short and sweet with approximately 4-5 curries and biryanis on offer. From my experience, the vegetarian curries are the best (although the Goan prawn curry and chicken  tikka masala are well tasty). I selected the Paneer Lababdar as my main course, which consisted of chunks of silky smooth paneer cheese in a smooth, tomato and onion masala finished with cream. All curries come served with rice, but if you fancy adding a naan, a basic naan or garlic, onion & coriander will cost you a measly 1.50 extra.

Paneer curry
The paneer curry was deliciously tangy with a hint of browned onions and tempered gently by the cream. The garlic, onion and coriander naan was a superb specimen of the species, with plenty of flavour and a fabulous buttery finish.

Ananda is one of the best Indian restaurants in Dublin. No questions about that. Perhaps it's location in Dundrum Town Centre contributes to the fact that it seems to be a bit of a hidden gem on the Dublin dining scene, despite being around for several years now. Either way, I don't care. The quietness means that I never have an issue getting a table for Sunday lunch!

Ananda, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 14. 
Tel: +3535 (0)1 296 0099 
Twitter: @AnandaDundrum
Ananda on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chocolate & Dungarvan Stout Cake

Stout has always been something that I've both liked and disliked. I can remember my grandmother giving me a glass of Guinness (from the bottles which were kept under the kitchen sink) when I was little and poorly. She said that it would help me feel better and make me stronger. We all know now that stout is full of B vitamins and iron, but all I knew then was that it tasted vile (flat & warm) and I threw it down the bathroom sink as soon as she was gone.

Given that this was the same grandmother who used to put whiskey in my bottles when I was a baby to help me sleep, I actually think I've done pretty well to only be a moderate drinker.

I also remember her making porter cakes, which were rich with fruits soaked in stout for hours before baking in thick, heavy cakes that were delicious when smothered in butter. Yes, it's fair to say that my granny was pretty handy with alcohol. 

I came across the following recipe when reading the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days cookbook. The mention of a chocolate and stout cake imediately reminded me of Nana, but I'd doubt that she have much faith in this recipe given that it features lots of chocolate and not a lot of dried fruit and glace cherries. (She was rather big on the dried fruits). However, when making this cake, I decided to abandon the traditional Guinness and instead use a newer alternative - Dungarvan Brewing Company Black Rock Stout.

The result is a magnificently moist and rich chocolate cake, that has a lovely stout flavour to cut through the sweetness. It keeps well and as with most cakes, the flavour improves with age.

Chocolate & Stout Cake
Chocolate & Dungarvan Stout Cake
250 ml Dungarvan Black Rock stout
250g butter
400g castor sugar
80g cocoa powder
140 ml buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 eggs
280g plain flour
2 teaspoons bread soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 170 C and line the base of a 23cm diameter spring-form cake tin. Alternatively you can use an equivalent silicone bakeware dish, which requires no lining or greasing. Place the tin on  flat baking tray which will make it easier to get in and out of the oven.

Gently heat the stout and butter together in a saucepan over a low heat , stirring frequently until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and cocoa to the stout. Mix until the sugar and cocoa has melted into the stout, leaving you with a dark, sweet liquid.

In a bowl or jug, mix together the milk, eggs and vanilla essence, then add to the stout mixture. At this point it will look like a lot of liquid, but the cake will be all the moister because of this.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour and raising agents. While beating slowly, gradually add the stout & chocolate mixture, ensuring that all ingredients are well combined.

The cake batter
Pour the batter into the baking tin. Gently transfer to the oven and cook for approximately 45 mins, or until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and free of crumbs. Resist the temptation to open the oven and check on the cake until close to the end of the cooking time. This is a very liquid cake and you don't want it to collapse or sink inwards in the oven. 

Once you're satisified that the cake is ready, remove it from the oven and transfer the baking tin to a wire rack. Leave the cake to cool in the tin until cool enough to release from the tin. To remove the cake from the tin, run a butter knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the cake, then place a large plate on top and turn the tin upsaide down. Place another large plate on the cake and flip over to the right way up. Leave the cake to cool thoroughly.

My favourite way to serve this cake is with a chocolate buttermilk frosting, which is so easy to make, and uses some more of the buttermilk that you bought to put in the cake. It's best to ice the cake the day before as this will give the icing some time to crust and set, although it will remain quite soft to the touch.

500g icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
150g butter, softened
50 ml buttermilk

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle of the bowl. Add the butter and a spash of the buttermilk to the well and gradually start to mix the butter with the icing sugar, working from the inside of the well outwards. Add more milk as the mixture becomes dry. Beat until all the icing sugar has been mixed in and the icing is soft and fluffy. 

Carefully apply the icing to the top and sides of the cake with a butter knife, or spatula knife. Dust with some more cocoa powder if preferred. It's best to leave the icing sit for a while  (or overnight) to allow it to crust slightly before serving.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Crackbird - Addictive Chicken

Crackbird, a temporary restaurant serving fried chicken, opened its door on Crane Lane on February 21st. Until today, I didn't have the opportunity to pay a visit, and I'm sorely disappointed that I waited so long! Crackbird comes from the Joe Macken stable (along with the excellent Jo'Burger in Rathmines,) so I suppose that it was always going to be good, I just didn't realise how good.

My Twitter friends who have visited Crackbird had all proclaimed its excellence, so there was a lot of hype to live up to. Crackbird is offering free food to Twitter users who make advance reservations using the #tweetseats hashtag, but I quite hadn't gotten my head together in time and went along as a regular user. I visited late on Friday lunchtime, at which point the restaurant was quiet, but still turning over. It's located down Crane Lane (just off Dame Street), and its easily found via the collection of potted plants and outdoor benches. Inside, there is a selection of booths & communal tables, with clearly labelled tables for the #tweetseat diners. What stands out is how small the space is, yet the decor makes it comfortable.

The menu is short - offering chicken 4 ways (I went for the buttermilk marinated, skillet fried half chicken €9.95). Alongside the chicken, you can choose a side for €3.75 (Carrot & cranberry salad) and a sauce for €2.00 (chermoulla for me please!). Alcohol is provided in the form of beer and wine (the more beer you buy the cheaper it is) while there is also a selection of artisan soft drinks as well as coffee and tea from local providers 3FE and Wall & Keogh respectively. 

My rhubarb lemonade (€2.50) came served in what can only be described as a jam jar. This immediately took me back to childhood days cutting turf in the bog, where the jam jar was the drinking utensil of choice. Now, it should be said that this wasn't your average small jam jar. This was more like the super economy size, filled to the brim with sweet and tangy lemonade.

Next out was my chicken, along with side and sauce. The ordered half chicken came as 4 pieces of coated, fried chicken served prettily on paper with a sprig of thyme. I took a portion, cracked off a wing and started to eat. And that was that. I was addicted, transported, in love, whatever you want to say. They ain't lying when they call this Addictive Chicken. The coating and skin is light and crispy with a lovely hint of thyme throughout while the flesh remained soft and juicy underneath.

My accompanying salad was moist with a flavour of orange throughout and it acted as a good counterpoint to the fried chicken. The chermoulla was equally good featuring oil richly flavoured with garlic and lemon. I really couldn't decide whether to dip the chicken into the chermoulla and enjoy both or simply keep the chicken to itself!

Crackbird has a projected lifespan of 12 weeks, meaning that it will shut its doors around the middle of May. My generous lunch came to a total of €18.20 (including taking home one piece of chicken which I couldn't eat). Crackbird really has delivered - tasty food that isn't expensive in a casual setting. Here's hoping that Crackbird becomes a more permanent addition. Why, because there are a lot of diners out there who have become addicted to this amazing fried chicken, and I'd hate to see how they'd react when it closes.
Crackbird, 19 Crane Lane, Dublin 2. (@CrackBIRDdublin)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ba Shan Restaurant London

I'm stone mad crazy for Chinese food. It started many years ago with Sweet and Sour (as it does for many Irish people), but I gradually branched out into the more exotic varieties (black bean, hot garlic etc). 

It wasn't really until the mid-2000s that I finally got to flavour 'real' Chinese food, thanks to the explosion in the Asian population of Ireland. My first experience was in a horribly grotty upstairs restaurant in the now closed buildings on Moore Street. The place may not have been a fit abode for a rat, but the food was a revelation with layers of garlic and chili flavour.

From that point onwards, I was hooked. In fact, the obsession hasn't abated any, it's just got stronger. My favourite styles of cooking are Sichuan (pungent and flavoursome with lots of chili and garlic) and Hunan (hot and spicy with deep flavours & fresh aromas).  A while back, while googling on Hunan cuisine, I had read a restaurant review from Jay Rayner, critic with the Guardian, which featured the Ba Shan Hunan restaurant in SoHo, London. "Hmmm", I thought, "I must remember that place". So I entered it into a little note on my iPhone and tucked it away for later retrieval. 

Well, time passed, and I found myself in London, alone on a Friday. It was lunchtime and, as is not uncommon, my thoughts turned to spicy food. I recalled a very nice Korean restaurant I had enjoyed near the Palladium theatre, but then the better part of my brain took over and turned my feet towards SoHo. So, it was that I found myself seated in the Ba Shan restaurant drooling over their large, picture-based menu, trying to decide if ordering three plates would be too much.

I chose crispy fried beef with white onion for a starter. I received a plate of thinly sliced raw onion mixed with spaghetti-thin pieces of crispy beef, all deliciously dressed in a chili-oil which contained a liberal dash of prickly ash oil (derived from Sichuan pepper, which has a peculiar tingly, buzzing & numbing flavour). The combination of mouth-tingling Sichuan pepper with the bite of raw onion was amazing and a true challenge to the tastebuds. This was not a starter for the faint of heart. I ploughed my way through it, relishing every mouthful (although every swallow of my accompanying beer hurt, due to the effect of the Sichuan pepper).

For my main course, I had gone for an oil-based dish, as oil is often used in Chinese cooking to capture the rich flavours of garlic, beans & chili. My main course of twice-cooked pork belly did not disappoint.  It came served prettily in a steel wok, which sat atop a small burner at my table. This meant that as I ate, the flavour was intensifying and improving as the oil slowly bubbled. The pork was succulent and juicy and the juices were rich and deeply coloured with the flavours of dried chili, fresh chili, whole cloves of garlic and fermented beans. This wasn't as hot as the starter, but the rich, deep flavours and milder heat would make it a good introductory dish for those starting out to experience Hunan cuisine.

There is something about food this spicy and flavoursome that seems so healthy. It lifts you, it cleanses you and it challenges you. It becomes an addiction. 

Ba Shan Hunan Restaurant, 24 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AH. Tel +44 (0)20 7287 3266

Curacao Ostrich Farm

During our December holiday on the island of Curacao we visited the Ostrich Farm in Curacao. As part of your visit, a tour guide will drive you on a short circuit around the farm, stopping frequently to explain different aspects of ostriches & ostrich keeping. (It turns out that ostriches are unintentionally hilarious).

As part of our trip, we also got to stand with a bowl of food and feed two adult ostriches. It's a bit intimidating when they are towering over you, with their cold reptilian eyes. One of the birds could have had a career as a lurker - he featured in the background of every photo I took, just lurking.

Once you're finished with the tour, you can also grab a quick snack or more leisurely meal at the Zambezi restaurant, where I enjoyed an amazingly tasty, spicy & moist ostrich burger. The Ostrich Farm offers a free pick-up service if you book evening dinner. Sitting on the veranda at twilight or during the night would be amazing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Whoopie Pies

Fancy some chocolately goodness? How about a bite-sized cake made up of two halves filled with a buttery oozing filling? If that sounds good to you, then I'd like to introduce you to the Whoopie Pie. (I first came across these little beauties on Donal Skehan's Good Mood Food Blog). Originally made as a dessert for the working men of New England, they can be a rather fantastic little dessert or party snack. The cakes bake with a lovely soft crusty and are deliciously sweet and rich.

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsuius and line some baking trays. For the cakes you will need the following ingredients. This will make about 16 cakes.

120g butter
190g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
270g plain flour
5 tablespoons cocoa powder (good quality!)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250ml of milk (or buttermilk for extra richness)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. Slowly add the eggs, vanilla extract and some of the dry ingredients to the eggs in order to bring the mixture together. Continue to add the flour along with the milk. The end result whould be a thick, rich batter, which has a smooth creamy texture.

Place nice rounded spoonfuls of the mixture (think small dessertspoon) on the baking trays, making sure to leave plenty of room between, as these little bad boys will expand in the oven. Bake in the oven for 15 mins, or until springy to touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray. Transfer carefully to a wire rack to cool fully.

While the cakes are cooling, it's time to make the buttery filling. It's pretty easy - just mix the following ingredients together until smooth.

250g icing sugar
170g butter
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Once the cakes are cool, select two evenly sized halves, and sandwich together with a generous dollop of the filling. I didn't use too much in mine, as I don't want it to ooze all the way out. However, feel free to layer in as much filling as you want! Finally, the best part - enjoy!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Butter Biscuits

I had to bake something today, but when I looked in the fridge, I realised that I had no milk or eggs. Being too lazy to head to the shop, this lack of ingredients limited my baking options, so I decided to make some butter biscuits. These are a simple biscuit to make, yet they're the equivalent of any shop-bought shortbread I've ever had.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line some baking trays with parchment.

240 g butter, cubed
150g castor sugar (although I used a mix of brown and castor sugar)
360g plain flour

Use a food processor to mix all ingredients to a crumbly dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough to bring it together. I split my dough into two parts, keeping one half plain, and adding chocolate chunks to the other half.

Flatten out the mixture to about 5mm thick and cut into desired shapes. Transfer onto the baking trays and bake for at least 10 mins before checking. You may need to cook for another 5-10 mins depending on size, but the biscuits should be taken out when lightly golden. Leave to cook on the tray for 5 mins before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. To really bring these biscuits into the luxury zone, melt some chocolate and half dip each biscuit into the chocolate.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cocktails @ Harry's on the Green

I love cocktails. Well, to be more honest, I love well-made cocktails with plenty of flavour and plenty of booze. Whether it's a fruity punch, or a more classic gimlet, as long as it's well made, then I'm a happy camper.

Cocktails have been a hit and miss adventure in Ireland. In the Good Auld Days, charging a tenner for a cocktail was common. In some places, those days are still living on - I recently had the most abysmal mojito ever at the Meyrick Hotel in Galway for €10. Not only was the price extremely sore, but it was a terrible cocktail, resulting in the feeling of me being rid twice over. 

In Dublin, I've enjoyed cocktails at the swish Dylan Hotel. However, given that the basic Mojito costs €11.50, a trip to the Dylan and their fabulous couches is best kept for a treat. If you do fancy a visit, I recommend the Dylan Firecracker - fresh raspberries muddled and shaken with red chili infused vodka and white chocolate liqueur. Another favourite location has been the delicious Koh thai restaurant near the Millenium Walkway. They make a mean chili-mango caipiroska which is both deliciously sweet and spicy and not too bad at €9.50 when you consider that you can also avail of some nifty thai cuisine.

But now there's a new boy in town and he is definitely throwing his weight around when it comes to cocktails. Harry's on the Green is a New York-style bar located under the St. Stephen's Green shopping centre. They promise keenly priced food and drink and employ a team of 12 mixologists to create the perfect cocktails. The first time I visited, I was impressed and that sense of enjoyment and pleasure continued with my second visit. 

You enter the bar by walking down a flight of wooden stairs into the basement room where a nighttime picture of the Manhattan skyline sets the scene. A large cocktail bar sits in the centre of the room, with a second bar located off to one side. There is ample seating all around with plenty of booths for small groups. A decent amount of effort has been put into the design and layout, but my favourite spot is sitting at the bar where you can watch the mixologists at work. The only downside is the sound levels in the bar. On my first visit, a live band was playing and they literally drowned out all conversation in the bar. The second night was better, but the music choice was borderline odd (dance music featured at one stage).

The cocktail menu is broken down into various categories and covers fruity drinks all the way through to champagne cocktails and American vintage classics. There's no shortage of choice. On my first visit, I enjoyed the following

Gimlet Equal parts Bombay gin and homemade lime cordial stirred and finished with lime zest. Served in a classic martini glass, this was the perfect starting drink. Cool and refreshing.
Bourbon Smash Fresh raspberries muddled with fresh lime and sugar shaken with your choice of bourbon, angostura bitters, fresh mint and cranberry juice served tall. On the night we visited, my Bourbon Smash was made with blackberries instead of raspberries (and all the better for it) and the bourbon used was Wild Turkey 8. Served with ice in a tall glass, this was a masculinely fruity drink. Definitely recommended. 
Strawberry & Green Pepper Caipirovska Homemade strawberry and green pepper syrup shaken with fresh strawberries, lime juice and SKYY Citrus vodka. This was a lovely finish - the desert to my meal, if you will. Served short and chilled, with delicious strawberry chunks, the little pieces of cracked pepper added a spicy bite.
The mixologists at Harry's know their stuff. If you're a discerning cocktail drinker, with a penchant for martinis or American old-style cocktails, then Harry's is the place for you. However, it does seem to fall into the trap of crap music, the affliction common to most Dublin pubs. (Take Cafe en Seine - a most beautiful establishment, but one I don't visit because of the terrible music and crowd attracted by said music). I could imagine Harry's as a jazz bar, speakeasy style - now that would be unique and enjoyable. 

Harry's on the Green, 2 King Street South, Dublin 2 +353 (0)1 475 8504

Vie de Chateaux, Naas

I'm currently working on a client site on the outskirts of Naas. Most days I bring in my lunch with me, or else I stop at the Tesco or M&S and buy a variety of salads or snacks. However, yesterday was a spring Friday, complete with sunshine and blustery freshness and I wanted to get out and about for my lunch.

I'm not overly familiar with Naas, so I went to TripAdvisor and searched for restaurants in Naas. Vie de Chateaux came back ranked as #2 and a quick glance at their website revealed that they were indeed open for lunch.

Vie de Chateaux is centrally located, but down a quiet cul de sac, near the Harbour in Naas. There's a lovely seating area outisde, covered by an awning, which would make for relaxed outside dining on a sunnier, warmer day. On a windy spring day however, it was a little more prudent to head inside.

Once inside, I could see from the table arrangements that they were expecting a lot of Friday lunch groups, but there was no problem in finding a small table for me (dining alone). My coat was taken (a nice touch!) and I was given the short and simple lunch menu. The restaurant is beautifully decorated in very Gallic style and makes for a very elegant and relaxed dining space. There are chalkboards on the walls which still carried descriptions of the previous night's specials (which, by the way, sounded delicious).

The menu carries a selection of tartines, both cold and warm, along with a short selection of starters, mains and desserts. In addition, there are several "Grand Assiette" on offer - a large plate which holds both a starter and main. I chose La Parisienne where the starter was a salad of Mortadelle sausage, walnut, diced Emmental and sweet corn, with a main of grilled sirloin steak, fries and garlic butter.

While I was waiting, a basket of fresh sliced bread was delivered to the table along with butter. As I was dining solo, I entertained myself by catching up on Twitter and reading the newspaper online. My plate arrived quickly, an important factor when dining out for lunch on a weekday. The salad came served in a little bowl and featured crumbed, crispy pieces of sausage on lightly dressed lamb's lettuce. A very nice little starter. My steak was decent in size (for those that like their meat). I had ordered it rare, and rare it was served, along with a slice of very garlicky garlic butter. A large handful of fries completed the Friday feeling.

I debated dessert, but after such a decent lunch, nothing on the menu stood out enough to tempt my sated appetite. FYI, there was a Poire Belle Hellene, as well as star anise creme brulee on offer. I opted for a coffee instead and relaxed for several more minutes before gathering myself back to work. As I paid the bill, I chatted with the very charming French owner (quelle surprise!). I left Vie de Chateaux with a "Bon Weekend" ringing in my ears and a feeling of happiness.

Total damage came to €23.50 for a grand assiette, coffee and large bottle of sparkling water.

Vie de Chateaux, The Harbour, Naas, Co. Kildare. +353 (0)45 888 478
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