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, May 23, 2011

Restaurante All Beef, Portimão

The Algarve is a weird spot when it comes to food. You can walk into a very pedestrian looking restaurant and find yourself enjoying a plate of delectable, charcoal grilled fish. Or you can walk into a very pedestrian looking restarant and enjoy a very pedestrian meal. A lot of restaurants appear caught in a timewarp and menus often all look the same, blurring into a haze as they offer the same fare, one after the other.

So what can a person do to try and pick out the wheat from the chaff. Appeal to friends on Twitter? Tick. Use the internet? Tick. Turns out that reviews on TripAdvisor seem to favour the pedestrian restaurants. The number 1 ranked restaurant turned out to be a trip back to the 80s with reasonable food and service.  But in a region where charcoal-grillled fish transcends a diner to ecstasy, serving plain old grilled fish doesn't quite cut the mustard.

Halfway through our holiday, we decided to take a break from gorging on fresh fish. We had driven past Restaurante All Beef several times and its sleek, modern, glass-walled interior had caught our eyes. We reckoned that it would make a welcome respite from the dated restaurants that are so common on the Portimão strip. The restaurant is entered via a wooden decking with covered outdoor areas. The dining room is completely glass wall with modern, contemporary furniture, clean delph and smart wineglasses. At one end, there is a backlit wall completely filled with wine bottles, while the other end provides an open view into the kitchen.

Multilingual menus bound in rich, dark leather (as usual for the area) were presented, along with the usual couvert. We received a bread basket filled with different bread types (including an unusual sweet cornbread), along with a little tray of fresh sardine paste, olive tapenade and little cubes of fresh cheese. An excllent llight green olive oil provided yet another alternative dipping option. To top it all off, we received complementary glasses of sparkling wine as aperitifs.

Warm Scallop Starter
 For my starter I chose the warm "Au gratin cone scallop with sea flavour" while himself chose a cold starter of "Algarve style octopus salad". My scallop came very elegantly presented on a large plate and essentially featured scallop (including the coral) in a cream sauce which was then gratinated. It was packed full of scallop meat and the sauce was creamy and tasty. It was somehow extremely comforting.

Algarve Style Octopus Salad
His octopus salad came piled high on a plate. Chunks of tender, marinated octopus were simply dressed with olive oil, onions, garlic and herbs. It would have made a decent sized course on it own.

For the main, I decided to push the boat out and chose the Fillet of Beef for 2 served with Bearnaise sauce. Once cooked to your liking, this is carefully carved at the table by your waiter and served along with roasted mediterrean vegetables and rice. Once sliced, the skill with which the lean fillet was cooked became apparent. It was crispy and flavoursome on the outside, yet remained red and juicy at the core. Complemented with a light dusting of sea salt flakes, and some smears of the buttery Bearnaise sauce, this fillet of beef became a memorable dining experience. 

The total bill for our meal for 4 at All Beef, including 3 starters, 4 mains, 2 desserts and a bottle of house red wine and other drinks came to a staggeringly good value €122. Granted, it is a bit more expensive than other nearby restaurants, but you are paying for excellent food, with attentive service in a modern, crisp environment. All Beef is throwing down the gauntlet for the modern restaurant experience in the Algarve. I wonder will others follow?

Restaurante All Beef, Sítio dos Três Castelos, Praia da Rocha, Portimão, Portugal.
Tel: +351 282 496 261

Sunday, May 22, 2011

[Review] Kinara Kitchen, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

We've just spent a week on the Algarve in Portugal where we enjoyed lots of fantastic grilled fish and meats. However, as we arrived home in Dublin, the one thing we bemoaned was the lack of our beloved spicy food. For a week, we had denied ourselves Chinese or any other form of Asian food. Something had to give.

Thanks to Boards Deals, I had purchased a voucher for Sunday lunch (3 courses and cocktails) for €33 at the very tasty Pakistani Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh. We've eaten there before shortly after it opened and enjoyed it immensely, so it seemed a good idea to finish off our holiday with an indulgent lunch. The last time I dined there, I had just come off the evening flight from Amsterdam and had navigated my way through the empty tunnels of Pier D at Dublin Airport, baggage reclaim and the city centre to arrive at Kinara. The food was very tasty, but I was worried that it was a case of "Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras". Well now was the chance for the return visit.

The split-level dining room is beautifully decorated with dark green tones and dark leather seats with strap detail.The restaurant makes a feature of its cocktail menu, with a bar located the left of the entrance. Dark wood tables with copper inlays add to the elegant room, which looks as good in the daylight as it does at night. We were presented with the shortened lunch menu. Once we had ordered, we received a portion of poppadoms on which to graze while we waited for our cocktails and starters.
Sauces for poppadoms at Kinara Kitchen
The same attention to detail that exists throughout the dining room also extends to the delph and serving ware. Our poppadom dips came served in chilled, heavy-bottomed shot classes, which were inset into a slate plate. The dips were simple and tasty with the fresh chopped salad making the greatest impact.

For starters, I had chosen the Champ Kanddhari  (grilled lamb chops) which I had enjoyed previously as a main course in Kinara. Yet again, they didn't disappoint. Two lamb chops came served butter soft and covered in spices. I found myself picking up the bones and cleaning off every last morself of flesh and tasty spice coating.
Champ Kanddhari
His starter of chilli chicken came served in a similar style to my lamb chops. These succelent little strips of chicken were beautifully soft and juicy coated in a spicy chilli sauce. The chicken appeared to be lightly battered underneath the sauce, which gave them a slightly crunchy texture, but was softened by the tangy, spicy sauce.

Chilli chicken starter
For mains, I had decided to go vegetarian with the Mutter Mushroom Paneer. This consisted of peas, mushrooms and paneer cheese cooked in a tomato, onion and garlic sauce. Paneer cheese was cooked into the sauce, and the dish arrived with an additional sprinkling of paneer cheese pieces on top, served in a little red casserole dish. This was a beautiful dish, rich and buttery with which mixed gentle, delicious flavours with the sweet pop of green peas.
Mutter Mushroom Paneer
Himself has always been a fan of fish curries, so it wasn't a surprise when he chose the Ethnic Fish curry which featured fillets of red snapper in a curry of pickles, curry leaves and vinegar. The sauce here was a buttery as mine, but the flavours were very different. The curry was rich with the flavours of curry leaves and black mustard seeds. The use of pickles and vinegar gave the curry a mild tang which kept the sauce light and tasty. This type of curry would be a great dish for those who would like to experience a new type of curry and move away from the more "usual" flavours.
Ethnic Fish Curry
Our main courses came served with pilau rice, which we embellished with a garlic naan, which came to the table piping hot and buttery with ghee. After clearing our plates, we literally couldn't face the dessert course, which we had to politely decline. Thanks to our voucher, this was an excellent value lunch, but it you're contemplating a visit, lunch starters all cost €6.95 while mains come in at €11.95 and cocktails cost €8.75.  There is live music in the bar area on a Sunday, when lunch runs from 12 to 5 pm. Evening time prices are a little steeper at Kinara Kitchen, but it definitely does deliver tasty, authentic Pakistani food in an elegant, sophisticated setting. Very much recommended.

Kinara Kitchen, 17 Ranelagh Village, Dublin 6. 
Tel: +353 (0)1 406 0066

Kinara Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pea, Ham & Feta Muffins

I woke up last Saturday without much of a hangover. I was a bit surprised by this to be honest as I had drank a *few* glasses of wine on the Friday night (including a lovely Pouilly-Fumé at Ely Wine Bar.  Anyhow, after a relaxing little lie-in, I decided to make a quick batch of pea, ham & feta muffins to have for breakfast. These can be whipped up really quickly, and are delicious when slightly warm. Like most baking, the flavour improves and intensifies if they are left to sit for a day.

Feel free to play with the ingredients to come up with your own variety of muffin. I like to use smoked ham to add flavour, and I have a feeling that a little chilli wouldn't go astray. These make a great breakfast or a snack on the go.

 Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius and linke a deep hole muffin tin with cases. This recipe will make approximately 10-12 muffins. Although the recipe given references a traditional muffin tin and cases, I actually used a silicone muffin tray, meaning that I didn't need to use muffin cases.

300g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bread soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
250ml whole milk
85g butter, melted
40g peas fresh, or defrosted from frozen
60g sliced ham, diced (I like smoked ham)
40g feta cheese

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bread soda and salt into a large bowl. Break the eggs into a jug, add the milk and beat well.

Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour in the milk & eggs, and mix until the ingredients come together. Add the melted butter and continue to mix. Make sure to scrape down the side of the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. 

When the batter is smooth, add the peas and ham and crumble in the feta. Stir together by hand, making sure that they are evenly dispersed. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases, filling until about 2/3 full. Bake for 25-30 mins or until golden and springy to touch. Allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Apple & Oatmeal Cookies

These apple & oatmeal cookies are a fantastic variation on the more classic oatmeal cookie.The use of two types of sugar keeps the cookies light but still golden, while the use of cinnamon and crispy and sweet Granny Smith apples lends a delicious background flavour. Depending on how long you leave them in the oven, you can end up with lightly golden, cake-like cookies, or else crisp and crunchy. The choice is yours.

Chocolate drizzle on top is optional! This recipe makes about 10-12 cookies.

135g butter, softened
80g castor sugar
80g light brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 teasp vanilla essence
190g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 Granny Smith apples
60g rolled oats

Preheat oven to 170 Celsius and prepare a baking sheet.

Cream the butter and two types of sugar together, until light and fluffy. As always, the more time you spend on this, the better the end result will be.Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat well until incorporated. 

Sift together the flour, salt, cinnamon & baking soda and mix into the batter in two stages. At this stage a light dough should have formed.

Now for the good stuff. Peel and finely grate the apples. Squeeze all the liquid from the apple pulp and add the apple pulp to the dough, along with the rolled oats. Stir in by hand.

Using a spoon (I think a dessertspoon gives the best results), place rounded measures (or balls) of the dough on the banking sheets, making sure to leave plenty of space for expansion while cooking. 

Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the desired end result. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray for about 10 minutes, before tranferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sage Butter Gnocchi

I was late home this evening and the last thing I wanted to do was spend another 30 -60 mins cooking. I had thought about dinner a lot on the long drive home, but I was still undecided as I neared home. At this point I was (thankfully) hit by a bolt of inspiration. A quick stop-off at Tesco and I had a bag of fresh gnocchi and a packet of sage leaves.

Once I got home, I put a generous pot of salted water on the boil. I warmed up a little olive oil in my cast iron skillet and gently sauteed some finely sliced garlic. I shredded about 5-7 sage leaves and added them to the oil so that they would cook through (uncooked sage is very bitter and unpleasant). As the garlic and sage was cooking, I added a lump of butter and let it melt down and cook with the garlic and sage.

Once added to the boiling water, the fresh gnocchi cooks quite quickly. Keep an eye on it - the pieces will gradually rise from the bottom to the top of the water. Give it about 10 sec after they have all risen and then drain. Quickly toss the gnocchi in the butter and pour onto a plate. Add some parmesan and season to taste.

Buon Appetito!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Montys Rathgar

Sometimes you don't want a big meal out. You don't want all the effort of getting dressed up and heading into town. You just simply want to relax and take it easy, and on nights like those, it's good to know the restaurants in your neighbourhood. Such was the situation we found ourselves in last Friday night. Tired after a week's work, we were looking for an easy and reliable option. Therefore, it wasn't much of a surprise we decided to head to Montys on Rathgar Road, an easy 5 minute ramble from home.
The interior of Monty's Rathgar
Montys is not an Indian restaurant, it is Nepalese, and while you will find some familiar Indian dishes on the menu, you will also find a selection of more original offerings. One such famous dish are Momo - Nepalese dumplings served with a special chutney which must be ordered 24 hours in advance. Every time I visit, I promise myself that I will have my act together the next time that I visit and order the momo in advance. Hah! If only.

The restaurant interior is dark and relaxing and is spread out over two floors. Montys was pretty busy on the night we visited, but despite not having a reservation, the staff were easily able to offer us a choice of tables upstairs. Rather than choosing a regular table, we took the option of sitting at the low tables, on benches lined with brightly covered satin bolsters.

Choila Lamb
Khukura Ko Chuso Masu Lollypop

For starters, I chose the Choila Lamb (8.95) while he opted for the Khukura Ko Chuso Masu Lollypop (7.00 for 6, essentially chicken wings). The choila lamb came as a mound of fried lamb pieces, intermingled with ginger, red onions, green chillies and coriander. The lamb was juicy and cooked lightly while overall the dish was spicy, but not overly so.

The Lollypop came as 6 chicken pieces, each individually wrapped in a twist of tinfoil, presumably to protect the diner's fingers from the tasty sweet and spicy tomato sauce. Although these were tasty, I'm more of a fan of the crispy chicken wing variety and I found these to be just a little too soft. Overall, they were just sauce coated chicken wings and could have been served in any generic restaurant.

I didn't realise until after I had ordered, that I had also requested lamb for my main course, in the form of Khasi Ko Karang (€21.95) which are tandoor cooked, marinated lamb chops served sizzling. To accompany this I asked for a Kulfi naan, which comes stuffed with vegetables and covered with coriander. Himself chose a more unusual speciality dish, the Chicken Chilli Nanglo (€16.50) which consists of spicy, deep-fried chicken in a light batter with chillies, onions, capsicum & fresh herbs.

Chicken Chilli Nanglo

The chicken nanglo was a unique dish, with a lovely tart and quite spicy flavour. It reminded me a little of Chinese cooking which involves fermented beans and vinegar, and it was absolutely lovely. It was dotted throughout with little slices of green chillies and their seeds, so there was a pretty decent spice level to this dish.

Khasi Ko Karang
My lamb chops came served thick, juicy and slightly pink in the middle, in other words cooked to perfection, with a lovely flavour from the tandoor. My only critique is that I would have preferred for them to be spicier but lamb of this quality is not often found.

The total bill came to approximately €78, including an (expensive) glass of light & tasty Pinot Gris at €9.00 and two bottles of Tiger beer (€5.00 each). Montys offers an interesting alternative to those people who are familiar or perhaps a little tired of Indian cuisine. Nepalese cooking introduces new flavours and textures and there's no doubt that the staff at Montys will take good care of you.

Montys Rathgar, 88 Rathgar Road, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 492 0633

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Coppinger Row, Dublin

I joined my current employer approximately 4 1/2 years ago, along with 10 other great people. A lot of time has passed since, some of us have left and moved to pastures greener, while others of us remain. However, we still occasionally make an effort to get our intake group together, have some good food and catch up on our news. 

Trying to get us all together in one place is harder than herding cats. Even if we all eventually manage to agree on a date, then the next problem of deciding a location remains. But, it must be said that the selection of Coppinger Row for the most excursion was probably one of the most pain-free decisions to date. 

We gathered at Coppinger Row early on a Thursday evening. Even at this relatively early hour, the place was hopping. We were given menus on clipboards and ordered bottles of still and sparkling water (available unlimited for €1 per person with a percentage going to the Movember charity). The menu is full of fresh, tasty options and I chose the Garlic and Chili Prawns a la Plancha (€8/€11) for my starter.

Before my prawns were served, a little finger bowl of lemon water was placed quietly to one side, a sure sign that messiness was going to be involved. My starter arrived comprising 4 whole prawns covered in olive oil. There was no ladylike way to eat these beauties, so I simply got down to work, cracking off the heads and shells, making sure to mop up the lovely flavoured oil. These were nice prawns, plump and juicy, but I would have like a more intense oil, more strongly flavoured with rich garlic and chili. As it was, the oil tasted predominantly of, well oil.

For my main course, I chose the special of pan-fried fillets of John Dory served with baby new potatoes, tenderstem broccoli and sauce vierge (€21). This single dish combined so many of my favourites that I simply couldn't pass it up. I received two lovely fried fish fillets, served with crushed, fried potatoes mixed with broccoli. Also served on the plate were yummy little slow-roasted tomatoes and slivers of salty black olives. If the prawns had promised flavour, but had just not quite delivered, this main more than compensated. It was a delicious plate of summery, moreish flavours.

At this stage in the proceedings, we were all feeling pretttay good, probably due in no short measure to the copious amounts of wine we were consuming. I didn't choose the wine, but I do remember a lovely, light and fresh white wine.We decided to order some digestifs and 2 desserts to share amongst our table of 8. 

The dessert menu was strikingly different to the main menu, with more unusual flavour combinations on offer. One of desserts chosen was a vanilla pannacotta, served with berry and coconut compote and some form of biscotti. When the plate arrived, it looked far too busy, containing all the advertised features, as well as some fig and other pieces of fruit. The pannacotta was beautifully set and refreshingly only slightly sweet. It had a lightly salted outside which contrasted nicely with the sweet compote. The biscotti were disappointing, tasting more of flour than anything else.

Overall, Coppinger Row was good. It's a lovely place to spend a summer's evening with friends, relaxing and shooting the breeze, while enjoying some good cooking. I also hear now that there is a 2 course lunch menu available for €10, which sounds very attractive indeed. 

Coppinger Row, off South William Street, Dublin 2. 
Tel +353 (0)1 672 9884


Grilled Halloumi & Slow-Roast Tomato Salad

It's been a beautiful bank holiday weekend here in Dublin, and my household (all two of us) has been very inspired by all the lovely food we've been seeing and tasting lately. Today's supper snack was a perfect example of how to use ingredients that you may have lying around in your fridge. In our case, it involved some halloumi cheese, rocket, some vine-ripened cherry tomatoes and a yellow pepper.

Slow-roasted tomatoes
Last night, we slow-roasted some lovely large cherry tomatoes. This inolved halving the tomatoes, drizzling them with some olive oil, sea salt & black pepper. For a little extra flavour, some freshly ground fennel seeds were sprinkled on about half of the tomatoes. These were then placed in a pre-heated, low oven (about 100 - 120 Celsius) for about an hour, or until they had shrunk and somewhat resembled sun-dried tomatoes. The end result is a wonderful, condensed blast of tomato flavour that you can keep in your fridge for a few days. They make wonderful additions to salads, cheeseboards or fancy sandwiches. 

Grilled halloumi salad
Grilled halloumi is a really fantastic starter dish. I prefer to fry it (rather than grill) as I feel that the improved heat distribution from frying results in a better texture. However, the choice is entirely yours.

Warm up a heavy pan (cast-iron skillet in this case). From a block of halloumi, cut slices that are about 3-5mm in thickness. Drizzle a little olive oil on the slices, and fry in the pan until both sides are golden and the cheese has melted slightly. Remove from the pan and rest on some kitchen paper for a minute.

Serve with a green salad of your choice. In the picture below, we used rocket leaves, a mix of fresh and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and some thin slivers of yellow pepper. This was dressed with some olive oil and a small dash of balsamic glaze. 

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