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!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Campo Viejo Tapas Trail

Studies into the DNA of ancient Europe have revealed a close genetic link between the Basque people of Northern Spain and the westerners of Ireland. It's a pity that the ancient travelling farmer-gatherers didn't bring more of good Spanish cooking with them as Irish cuisine might have turned out a bit better. I like my bacon and cabbage but I think that Serrano ham with Manchego cheese has the edge.

In modern times, the Spanish have decided to target the capital city, Dublin, and tapas are the weapon of choice. Spanish tapas bars are booming in the city, and many restaurants now offer tapas-style plates to go with your wine. How things have changed. Now, in a celebration of Spanish food and wine, Campo Viejo are offering a chance to exerience a tapas trail around Dublin during the month of June. (I received tickets to attend a complementary session of this event courtesy of Conway Communications and the Irish Food Bloggers Association).

The structure of the tapas trail is simple. Over the course of approximately 3 hours, groups of 20 people will be taken on a guided walking tour of 5 tapas restaurants in Dublin. At each location, there is a chance to sample the best tapas on offer from each location as well as enjoying some Campo Viejo Rioja wines. Tickets cost an amazingly good value €20, with some music, dancing and chat thrown in for good measure.

We kicked off on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Salamanca on St. Andrew's Street. We got a chance to get to know each other before our guide kicked off the proceedings. We were treated to some fantastic flamenco dancing before the chef came out from the kitchen to present us with our selection. We could choose from delectable-looking mini-burgers made from pork cheeks, bright saffron-coloured seafood paella or a smoked salmon Russian salad. Of course all this was washed down with plenty of red wine!

Pork cheek burgers with bacon & Teriyaki mayonnaise at Salamanca
Classic seafood paella at Salamanca
Flamenco dancing at Salamanca
All this choice does present you with one dilemma. You have got to resist the temptation to eat too much at the first location as there's plenty more to come. From Salamanca, we moved to the stylish Bar Pintxo in the middle of Temple Bar. Here, we were greeted by Franc, the charming French manager, who explained the history of the Port House, Bar Pintxo and the new Porthouse Iberico to us. He explained how the managers of the different restaurants take turns to rotate between the different venues in order to keep things fresh and interesting. His enthusiasm and enjoyment for his work was clear, as was ours when the tapas plates arrived from the kitchen.
The charming Frenchman at Bar Pintxo
Tapas selection at Bar Pintxo
Our tapas came as one plate, featuring Brochette de Pollo (marinated chicken skewers), Garbanzos con Morcilla y Espinacas (Chickpeas with Black Pudding & Spinach) and finally Lomo en abodo (Pimenton Pork). I am not a chickpea fan, but this chickpea dist wowed me with delicious flavours, plump sultanas and pine nuts. Second on my list of favourites was the pork sandwich with the bread soaked in tasty garlic juices.

The next stop on our tour was the second Salamanca venue located at Parliament Street, opposite Dublin Castle. As we waited for the food, we were treated to some atmospheric Spanish guitar music and singing. As we enjoyed our food, sitting in the evening sunlight, it was hard to believe that we were in Dublin.

Spanish music & singing at Salamanca
As we left Salamanca, our tour guide continued on his mission of educating us to the food and & Spanish history of Ireland. We stopped near Dublin Castle to listen to a recitiation of a Joycean homage to food. As our guide orated, crowds of passers-by and tourists stopped to listen and enjoy the entertainment. From there, it was on to Havana. I must admit that Havana was the one restaurant I wasn't anticipating as much as the others (I've never really enjoyed a trip to Havana) but I was impressed by some simple, but extremely plump garlic chili prawns with orange sauce. A chicken and chorizo roll in filo pastry proved to be a surprisingly good counterpoint to the  dark fruit  flavours from the Campo Viejo Reserva on offer.

A Joycean homage to food
At this stage, our group had been in a bit of a lull, full of good wine and food. But it was time to rally and face our finest hour as we headed for the final stop at the Port House on South William Street. I've loved the Port House since it opened, but haven't visited there in a while as it was too hard to get a seat when it was busy. It turns out that the Port House has addressed that problem with the opening of a new upper level which is marginally better lit than the famously dark lower levels.

At the Port House
We settled into our nook seats in the Port House and were greeted by another of the Port House managers. I really warmed to his passionate telling of the Port House history. It's clear that the restaurants in the Port House group have dedicated staff who care about their offering. Our final tapas selection consisted of Seafood Paella, Pinchos Morunos (Moroccan spiced chicken skewers) and Papas Arugada with Salsa Mojo Roja (salted new potatoes with red spicy sauce). I really enjoyed the simplicity of the baby new potatoes which are boiled in salted water (traditionally seawater) and served with a tasty almond-based sauce.

I understand that tickets for the Campo Viejo tapas trail have now sold out, so if you were lucky enough to procure some, then enjoy. You'll have a very good time. More information to be had at the Campo Viejo page on Facebook.

Salamanca, 1 St. Andrews's Street, Dublin 2. (01) 677 4799
Bar Pintxo, Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. (01) 672 8590
Salamanca, 38-40 Parliament Street, Dublin 2. (01) 671 9308
Havana, George's Street, Dublin 2. (01) 400 5990
The Port House, South William Street, Dublin 2 (01) 677 0298


WiseMóna said...

Great (and very informative) post.
Glad to hear the CVT sold out. It sounds like an excellent idea.

Caroline@Bibliocook said...

You even got all the names of the tapas! With Little Missy keeping me company I sometimes missed out on a few of the finer points...

Lovely to meet you on the day!

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