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!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

[Review] Cafe Paradiso, Lancaster Quay, Cork

Not many good things come from Macroom, possibly bar the road to Cork. Now, before anyone gets a bit snotty at this statement, I am nearly a Macrompian, coming as I do from the nearby village of Cill na Marta. Road to Cork aside, probably the only other good thing to emerge from Macroom is the amazing talent of chef Dennis Cotter.

Cooking from Cafe Paradiso on Lancaster Quay in Cork, which he established in 1993, Cotter has firmly proved to many sceptics and carnivores that vegetarian cooking can be as high-end and as satisfying as any other cuisine. A meal at Cafe Paradiso is a true pleasure and immensely soul-warming.

We used to live to the rear of the restaurant, in a little flat on Dyke Parade while we were both PhD students and in those days, our budget didn't extend very frequently to Cafe Paradiso. On a recent visit however, we treated ourselves to an indulgent lunch, kickstarted by two glass of prosecco with raspberries (7).

Stitch and Bear - Prosecco with raspberries
Prosecco & raspberries to start
For my starter, I chose baba ganoush with tomato & avocado salsa, red pepper & cashew dip all accompanied by plenty of oiled, grilled sourdough bread (7.50). My plate arrived with 3 little bowls of deliciousness - the baba ganoush was spicy with that lovely warming texture that comes from aubergine. It was balanced with by the sweet red pepper dip and the cool tomato flavours of the salsa. Best of all, there was more than enough of the tasty bread to scoop it all up.

He chose a starter of grilled halomi with gooseberry chutney and a warm salad of purple potatoes, summer beans with a citrus and herb dressing (8). The grilled cheese had a wonderful buttery flavour which layered amazingly well with the sweet, spiced chutney. Although not tasting any different to regular potatoes, the purple potatoes added incredible vibrancy and colour to the plate. The citrus dressing provided a tangy counterpoint to the sweet, sweet chutney and the soft flavour of the cheese.

Stitch and Bear - Baba ghanoush at Cafe Paradiso, Cork
Baba ghanoush with salsa and red pepper dip
Stitch and Bear - Grilled halloumi at Cafe Paradiso, Cork
Grilled haloumi with gooseberry chutney and purple potatoes
Our starter plates were cleared away, giving us a chance to look around the restaurant and into the kitchen. What stood out about the restaurant was the amount of young people dining there. Given that most of the tables were occupied by couples, I'm guessing that a fair few of the men had been dragged their by their vegetarian other halves. An American family was seated at another table, who were on a return trip to Cafe Paradiso for the second year in a row. Immense praise indeed, that a family would cross the Atlantic for this cooking.

His main was aubergine involtini of spinach, almonds and Knocklara sheep's cheese with fresh cherry tomato sauce, green chili pesto and coriander crushed potatoes (14.50). 3 aubergine parcels were dense and meaty in texture while the accompanying roasted cherry tomatoes provided sweet, intense pops of flavour. (If you want to try this dish at home, the recipe features on the Cafe Paradiso website here).

I had chosen a corn pancake with black kale, leeks, walnuts and Hegarty's cheddar (14.50). Again, the clever combinations of dense green vegetables with cheese provided a denseness to the vegetables that would sate the most meat-loving of cavemen. Also on the plate was a tasty, juicy medley of baby courgettes, cumin, sungold tomatoes and new potatoes.

We declined dessert as we were teetering on the edge of a vegetable induced afternoon nap, but we did have two excellent cups of coffee (but priced at a steep 2.80 - possibly the worst value on the menu). The total bill for our lunch came to 64.60. Without the afternoon glasses of bubbles, this would have cost approx. €50 and to me, it really represents an excellent price for what is unique and fantastic cooking. The cooking is creative, fresh and light. It really shames the nuts & lentils brigade of vegetarians showing, as it does, how vegetarian cooking can be elevated to polished heights.

Stitch and Bear - Aubergine invotini at Cafe Paradiso, Cork
Aubergine involtini of spinach, almonds & Knocklara cheese
Stitch and Bear - Corn pancakes with black kale & Hegarty's Cheddar at Cafe Paradiso, Cork
Corn pancake of black kale, leeks, walnuts & Hegarty's cheddar

Cafe Paradiso, 16 Lancaster Quay, Cork
Tel: (021) 4277 939
Twitter: @paradisocork
Cafe Paradiso on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pizza Pizza

Sometimes there's nothing quite like pizza. And it's at its absolute best when it's a homemade pizza - thin and crispy with your own favourite combinations. I like to use a recipe for pizza dough from Jamie Oliver's Italy cookbook. It's simple and always delivers great results. The quantities given will create enough dough for 6-8 medium pizzas.

My tomato sauce recipe came from an old friend during my PhD days. He used honey and parmesan to bring the final sauce to life, a recipe that I still follow.

Final tips for a good pizza - make sure that the oven is hot and cook your pizzas on a pizza stone, or else directly on the oven racks. Don't use a baking tray underneath as this won't give as good results.

Pizza Dough
800g strong white flour
200g semolina (or instead use strong white flour)
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
650ml lukewarm water
1 tablespoon light golden sugar
pinch of salt

Pile the flour and salt in a bowl or on a board and create a well in the middle. Measure the water into a jug and add the yeast and sugar. Stir and leave to stand for a few minutes. Pour the water into the well (at this point, I also like to add a dash of olive oil also) and using a fork, stir in a circular motion from the inside of the well outwards. Gradually, a dough will start to form. When it gets too heavy for the work, tip it onto a floured surface and start to knead. 

You will need to work the dough for about 10 minutes and your goal is a smooth, springy dough. It is amazing to see the dough transform as you work. Once ready, place the dough in a bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel. Leave to rest in a warm place. When you return, the dough will have doubled in size and you will need to beat it back down with some more kneading. 

Divide the dough into pieces, wrap in clingfilm and chill until required. 

Tomato Sauce for Pizzas
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried basil or oregano
salt and black pepper
honey to taste
grated parmesan

Gently sautee the onion and garlic in some olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan, until lightly coloured and soft. Add the tomatoes & tomato puree, sugar, herbs and season. Stir well and simmer until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Make sure to stir frequently. Add about 1 tablespoon of honey and stir in. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Transfer the sauce to a blender and puree until smooth (or alternatively use a handheld blender). Add approx 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan and blitz one more time. Let the sauce sit until ready to use.

Goat's cheese, carmelised red onion, artichoke and rocket

Prosciutto, pepperoni, roquito peppers & mozzarella

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cheers: A Weekend in Brussels

When I was a young thirsty student, I drank a lot of beer. It was cheap, it was plentiful and it had the desired effects. Later, as I moved into my postgraduate years, those years of faux-sophistication, I decided that I should become better acquainted with beers. Dutifully, I drank my way though Schneider-Weisse, Warsteiner, Krombacher, Bitburger & Paulaner, to name just a few. The more I drank, the more I came to the realisation that I didn't really seem to like beer.

In a way, this realisation set me free of the obligatory student beer obsession, and I embraced wine, spirits and particularly G&Ts with gusto. I also came to realise that I didn't dislike all beers, I still had quite a liking for stout (Murphy's if you ask!). As a rule of thumb, I don't like overly-gassy beers, or very hoppy beers. In general light flat beers are much more to my liking.

However, despite all this, I remain a sporadic beer drinker. I much prefer to enjoy an occasional, but tasty beer, rather than drink it on a more frequent basis. I recently spent a weekend in Brussels, home to the Delirium Cafe, which many would regard as a true temple to all things beer. In fact, Delirium currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most beers available to purchase (2000+). It's a fantastic spot, with different themed venues, all located in a cosy complex centred on Impasse de la Fidelite.

The memorabilia-covered walls in Delirium
So what did I enjoy on a recent trip to Delirium? Well, I started with one of my perennial favourites, Lindemans Kriek. This is an unsweetened cherry lambic beer. It has the classic sour taste of a lambic, but the use of cherries makes for a sweet, richly flavoured beer, which comes in at 4% ABV. (I also love the Art Deco label and glasses).

Lindemans Kriek
We also tried Floris Cactus beer, which had the most remarkable green colour, due to the presence of cactus pulp. Colour aside, it was a light, refreshing beer with a limey taste. 

Floris Cactus beer, on tap
I continued with Floris, this time trying a bottle of Floris Chocolat (surely this would combine two of the best Belgian products, beer and chocolate). At 4.2% ABV, it's a light lambic beer, but maybe a tad too sweet or cloying for my liking. There is a profound chocolate flavour with other tones of honey or sweetness. Looking around the bar, this particular beer has a clear novelty factor, with many females choosing to try it out.

Floris Chocolat
I decided to try another tap beer, this time choosing an unknown name (to me at least), Gueuze Tilquin. I received a small glass of an attractive golden cloudy beer with a nice light head. It turns out that Gueuzerie Tilquin is the first new lambic brewery to open in 15 years. It's a dry, sour beer (somewhat reminiscent of a really tart cider). It's garnering praise as a lambic, but to be honest, it was a bit too mouth-puckering for me.

Gueuze Tilquin
My last beer of the evening was a bit of an indulgent sweetness - perhaps the equivalent of a dessert wine. I went for the colourful yellow bottle of Mongozo Banana beer, 4.5% ABV. (If you order the coconut version, you can drink it from a coconut shell). It's quite yellow in colour, and smells strongly of bananas. However, it tastes somewhat better than it smells, but to honest, it's the novelty factor that makes this beer a popular choice with tourists.

Mongozo Banana

Monday, July 18, 2011

[Recipe] Simon Hopkinson's Porcini & Pancetta Pasta Bake

Simon Hopkinson has accumulated much respect over his years in the cookery industry, but he maintains a low profile. One of his early cookbooks, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, was voted the most useful cookbook of all time in 2005, causing its sales to suddently outstrip Harry Potter. The funny thing was that Hopkinson had written the book 11 years earlier. He is praised for recipes that really work, which the home cook can understand and more importantly, replicate.

Now he has a series on Fridays on BBC, simply called The Good Cook. While watching the very first episode, a recipe for Porcini and Pancetta Pappardelle Bake caught my fancy. It looked simple, but the promise of a rich flavour from the use of dried, earthy porcini mushrooms promised something special. I decided to make the dish using rigatoni (the best dried pasta I had in my cupboard). 

Additionally, I substituted some Irish bacon for the pancetta, but otherwise I used the same quantities as given in Hopkinson's recipe. For future reference, I would make extra sauce if using rigatoni again, as the sauce seeped into them.
Pasta Bake with Porcini and Pancetta
Baked Pappardelle with Porcini and Pancetta

500ml milk
20g dried porcini
40g butter
25g plain flour
Salt & freshloy ground black pepper
100g pappardelle
50g pancetta, cut into 2cm pieces
4-5 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 190C.

Place the milk in a saucepan bring close to the boil. Add the porcini mushrooms, remove from the heat, and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Strain the milk into a bowl of jug, squeezing out all the juice from the mushrooms. Keep the mushrooms to one side. At this stage the milk will be fabulous, mushroom colour.

Heat the butter in a clean saucepan, add the flour and stir over a low heat for 2-3 minutes without colouring the roux. Pour in the flavoured milk in one go, whisking continously until smooth. Cook the sauce for 10 minutes or so until thickened. Season to taste and set aside. (Remember that there is still pancetta to be added).

Bring a large pot od salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Strain, place in a bowl and mix through with the pancetta, porcini and sauce. Pour the pasta into a lightly-buttered, ovenproof dish. Flatten and cover with 2 tablespoons of the parmesan. Cook in the oven for approx 30 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Serve hot with extra cheese.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Houtsiplou, Brussels

Due to my current client assignment, I am making occasional visits to my client's offices in Brussels. In a way, it's like a trip home as I was previously fortunate enough to live in Brussels for 7 months in 2008. After checking in at the Sheraton, I decided that I wanted a burger, so a quick internet search led me to Houtsiplou. The quirky graphics on their fun website won me over and so I headed to the metro.

Houtsiplou is located on Place Rouppe (or Rouppeplein, depending on your linguistic inclinations), which is only a short walking hop from the Grand Place, or even less from the Annessens metro stop. For the gourmands amongst my readers, you may be aware that Place Rouppe is home to a 2-star Michelin restaurant, Comme Chez Soi, but also houses other relaxed bars and cafe. Houtsiplou is located in an old townhouse, with ample outdoor seating for when the weather is fine.

I took a seat inside and my eyes were immediately drawn to the large mural which takes up all of one wall and details the mixed history of Belgium. Houtsiplou is the name of an imaginary, faraway place in Belgium, and this restaurant definitely captures that whimiscal nature. I was initially confused by the presence of Smurfs in the mural, but a Wikipedia search revealed that the Smurfs comic strip originated in Belgium!

Fun & colurful mural at Houtsiplou
The menu is a colourful laminated card, covered in cute characters and drawings, while offering many food and drink choices. I chose the Routpolis burger, which came with gorgonzola, rockets and roasted tomatoes. When the burger arrived, it looked very impressive on the plate, with accompanying chips served in a cute little saucepot. Although substantial, the burger proved to be a bit lacklustre in taste due to the undersalted patty and bizarre gorgonzola-less sauce. Still though, it hit the spot and was great value.

Routpolis burger with fries
I ate once more at Houtisplou during my trip to Brussels, and although the food was again only OK, there is something captivating and fun about this bistro. It's cosy as well as being family and wallet friendly. Given the large amount of over-priced tourist traps near the Grand Place in Brussels, you could do a lot worse that going a few minutes past the usual tourist routes and heading down Rue Midi to Houtsiplou.

Houtsiplou, 9 Place Rouppe (Rouppeplein), Brussels 1000.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pasta with Italian Sausage

When it comes to pasta, I frequently prefer recipes with little or no sauce. Olive oil (or butter) with a few flavours is how I like to roll. A few staple ingredients, along with some good quality dried pasta, can form the basis of a kingly meal. Supper tonight was a simple mix of rigatoni pasta, oil, garlic, basil pesto, Italian sausage and parmesan.

Bring some salted water to the boil and cook the rigatoni until al dente. When ready, strain off the cooking water, making sure to reserve a few spoonfuls in case you want to want to add some liquid to the pasta later. Toss the pasta with oil and out aside until needed.

In the meantime, gently sautee some onions and garlic. Get some Italian sausage (we purchased ours from our excellent local butchers, Lawlor's on Rathmines Road Upper) and cut into chunky slices. Fry these with the onions and garlic until cooked. Toss this mixture with the pasta and a spoon of good quality basil pesto, adding more oil if required. Serve with parmesan and enjoy!

An Overnight stay at Tankardstown House

These deal websites will be the death of me. Tempting me from all sides with offers of overnight stays, 3 course dinners and fish pedicures (all of which I have purchased and enjoyed). Some while back, one of the smaller sites offered an overnight stay with dinner at Tankardstown House, near Slane, Co. Meath. Conde Nast Traveller recently voted this venue the best private house on the island of Ireland, so I gladly purchased the deal.

We arrived towards the end of a gloriously sunny evening, which really showcased the grounds and house to the best effect possible. Tankardstown House has all the features you could ever possibly want in a country house - large sweeping driveway, wide expansive lawns, walled gardens and even two dogs lying outside keeping an eye on the world.

Stitch and Bear - The terrace at Tankardstown
The Terrace at Tankardstown
After checking in, we were shown to our room which turned out to be one of the cottage rooms located just a short hop from the main house in what probably was the old stables, enclosing a little courtyard. Our cottage turned out to be très confortable with a lovely kitchen, sitting room and two upstairs bedrooms. This would definitely be a lovely location for a family holiday, and it's even possible to arrange for a chef to come and cook for you in the privacy of your cottage (Aga is provided!).

We headed back to the main house for a drink before dinner. Inside, the house is beautiful with perfect period features and decor. The bar turned out to be an honour bar so we had the  fun of playing bartender and pouring our own drinks before we settled down into the comfortable leather seats and relaxed in the evening sunshine. The genial owner Brian Conroy (who owns Tankardstown along with his wife Trish) stopped and chatted with us for several minutes.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to our included dinner. With drinks in hand, we left the main house and walked the short distance to the Old Cow Shed which thankfully now hosts the charming Brabazon restaurant. On the way, we passed the little bar which is cosily tucked inside the old cellars. The menu is full of seasonal produce and prices are quite competitive. After ordering, we received a bread basket full of fresh-baked, tasty sliced bread.

Stitch and Bear - Bread basket at Brabazon in Tankardstown
Bread Basket at Brabazon
Our starters were
  • Corned Swiss Eye of Martin Callaghan's Beef with soused cauliflower, Castlebellingham blue cheese, roasted bone marrow with black pudding (8). To be honest, I was disappointed by the beef, both in quantity and taste, but the bone marrow and black pudding mixture was phenomenonal and should really have received the star billing
  • Smoked Duck Salad with crispy duck pastilles, pink grapefruit, fennel and Cointreau jelly (9). This was a lovely salad with tangy fresh meat to balance the rich meat.
Stitch and Bear - Corned Swiss Eye of Martin Callaghan's Beef at Brabazon in Tankardstown
Corned Swiss Eye of Martin Callaghan's Beef
Stitch and Bear - Smoked duck salad at Brabazon in Tankardstown
Smoked Duck Salad
Main courses were
  • Roast loin of suckling pig, rilette of the leg, potato terrine, Peter Callaghan's black pudding, crispy bacon with apple & pear cider puree (26). This was attractively presented on a wooden chopping board witha little jug of the gravy on the side. All the meat components were well cooked and tasty, but the gravy was a bit of a let-down.
  • Baked fillet of Atlantic hake with saffron creamed leeks and salsify, pommes puree, Annagassan crab saald and tempura courgette flower (22). This was a substantial piece of fish, served atop the potatoe. The saffron sauce was delicious, working well with the fish and crab (which was stuffed inside the tempura courgette flower).
Stitch and Bear - Roast loin of suckling pig Beef at Brabazon in Tankardstown
Roast Loin of Suckling Pig
Stitch and Bear - Baked fillet of Atlantic hake at Brabazon in Tankardstown
Baked Fillet of Atlantic Hake
After this great dinner, it was time to turn in for the night. Even the short walk back to our cost cottage was magical, bathed in the summer twilight. Rolling into our super comfortable bed, I wished that I didn't have to ever leave. Something about Tankardstown causes you to wish to escape from everyday life, and simply spend each day wandering about their grounds, or relaxing in the comforts of your own cottage. 

Although an often misued cliche, Tankardstown really does represent a oasis of calm and an escape from the modern rat race. It's full of modern conveniences and luxury (Molton Brown goodies in the bathrooms with Wi-Fi in the Courtyard), but it all fits together in the periodic charm that seeps from every stone. Simply put, I'm already wondering when I can fit in another visit. 

Tankardstown House, Slane, Co. Meath.
Tel: (041) 982 4621
Twitter: @Tankardstown


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Common Ground: A G.H. Mumm Exhibition​, Twisting Convention​s in Fashion & Architectu​re

An invitation to an intriguing photography exhibition recently crossed my desk from Conway Communications. Common Ground was commissioned by champagne company G.H. Mumm, it is described as a "visually impactful exhibition which twists conventions and brings to light the parallels between fashion and architecture".

Twist Convention is the fusion of work from Irish stylist Aisling Farinella and photographer Rich Gilligan and it will run between July 13th and 19th at 28 South William Street, Dublin 2.

Now it must be said that I like fashion, and photography is one of my hobbies, so this definitely sounds like a date for my diary. Personally, I can take or leave architecture (Frank Gehry aside), but hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Jacobs Creek Pop-Up Wine & Dine Experience

Recently I was very lucky to receive an invite to attend the opening session of Jacobs Creek Pop-Up Wine & Dine Experience. Over the course of 4 nights, this event offered fans of Jacobs Creek the opportunity to learn about wine during a master wine class with David Whelehan (@Whelehanswines) while enjoying some canapes and a 3 course meal cooked by chef Clodagh Mc Kenna. All this was promised to take place in a super secret location, which would be revealed just before the event.

The location did indeed turn out to be surprise - the Crypt in Christchurch Cathedral. Upon receiving the news, I had visions of tombs & coffins, but the reality turned out to be far more sophisticated and elegant than I could ever had imagined. A mixture of low-lighting and candlelight created an intimate atmosphere against which we were treated to canapes, a classical string quartet and of courses, glasses of Jacobs Creek Sparkling Rosé. As a confirmed lover of all bubbly wines, I have to say that this rosé is light and fresh with lots of lovely berry flavours.

The Crypt at Christchurch Cathedral
After mingling and chatting, we were shown to our beautifully set tables. We were seated with the energetic Paula from Where's My Parade (who I also chatted with on the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail) and Joanna Schaffalitzky from the Irish-Danish food blog Smörgåsblog

David Whelehan took to the floor and proved to be both entertaining and educating as he went through some of the basic language of wine. Part of our challenge was to blind taste test some white and red wines. For this we had to don the provided eyemasks which definitely changed the whole experience. White wine 1 was no problem, as I quickly guessed a Sauvignon Blanc but wine 2 was a little more problematic. It seemed like a Chardonnay but much more sophisticated than normal with lovely caramel tones. It was revealed to be a Jacobs Creek Reserve Chardonnay - definitely one I'll buy in future and one which has caused me to reconsider my general opinion of chardonnays.

Blind wine tasting (in the dark!)
I was later pleased to also guess both reds correctly, particularly because red wine is not my usual tipple. A large part of the fun was to be found in discussing the flavours with my dining companions - many different opinions were expressed, and even though we might all have been in agreement on the wine variety, each of us tasted it in different ways. For one wine, I was hearing the words "muddy" while at the other end I could hear "blackcurrant". It serves to remind how wine can be an individual experience!

I want to thank Jacobs Creek for giving us the opportunity to participate in what was a fun and elegant night. BTW a tip we picked up from Mr. Whelehan when looking to impress in matters oenological - simply describe a wine as "elegant" with "bright fruits" and "sophisticated". Sounds just like moi, eh?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Dining Room by Conrad Gallagher

Irish chef Conrad Gallagher appears to have quietly added another venue to his growing list of ventures. The beautiful dining room at La Stampa hotel on Dawson Street has been annexed to become The Dining Room by Conrad Gallagher. (By the way, check out the length of the internet name!)

I'm a big fan of Salon des Saveurs where, despite a crowded space, Conrad Gallagher and his team manage to produce some extremely fine food. The Dining Room appears to be a more commercial offering, with the menu offering delicious sounding food at very refreshing prices. I was really pleased to see an Early Bird menu on offer, even on a Saturday, for €23 per head, so I booked a table for 4 to give it a whirl.

The brother-in-law and his wife were quick to accept our invitation and thus it was that we gathered in the cocktail bar at La Stampa on a sunny Saturday evening. We were seated by the hostess, but no one offered us a drink. Feeling a little bit ignored, I aked for a cocktail menu. As it was approaching 7pm, we took our seats inside so we could make the deadline for ordering off the Early Bird menu. It was a bit of a shock leaving the lovely evening sunshine to enter to darkened dining room. This is one of the few flaws in what is a stunning space - it is just too glum and dimly lit. Even the large bevelled mirrors all around the walls failed to enhance the brightness of the room. I did take some pictures of my food, but the darkness of the room, and my reluctance to disturb other diners with a flash meant that the photos did not really reflect well on the food, and therefore I decided not to use them.

We were given both Early Bird and A La Carte menus, but after a quick read, all of us decided to go for the Early Bird which really does offer excellent value. There is one word of warning - the rib-eye steak carries a supplement of €8, which was not printed anywhere on the menu.

For starters, I had duck rilette with foie gras terrine, beetroot puree, salad of pear and toasted pain d'epices, while mains consisted of salmon & tomato fondue with courgette, confit of tomato,tomato mash with wild broccoli. Both dishes were nicely sized and flavoursome. This was good food, well-executed, with nice textures and balance of flavours. Others at the table also enjoyed their food, with the daube of beef receiving extra mention. Dessert was a lemon tart with cooling blueberry sorbet.

For the money, this is really good food. However, our trip was slightly marred by erratic and forgetful service. Two of our party ordered the rib-eye which comes with duck fat chips. However, the steaks arrived at the table without chips and the staff looked confused when we enquired as to their whereabouts. The mistake didn't end there though, as when we received the bill, the chips were listed. Despite all this, I'm giving the staff the benefit of the doubt as the venue has only just opened, but it needs to be fixed. 

Oh, and for you celebrity spotters out there - Mr. Gallagher himself was on the prowl in the Dining Room, stopping by to check with every table as to how they were enjoying their meal. At other times, he was standing at the welcome desk, watching over all activity in the room, and when we left, we could hear his voice booming out the orders at the pass. 

The Dining Room, La Stampa Hotel, Dawson Street, Dublin 2. 
Tel: (01) 612 7911

[Review] Chapter One, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

I have to admit that this review has taken me quite a while to write. I am lucky to visit lots of restaurants on a regular basis, and in the case of most venues, it is easy to think of some words to express my thoughts. However, once in a while, I visit a restaurant that's harder to write about. Such was the case with Chapter One.

Chapter One was my fifth visit to a Michelin-starred restaurant, and my third in Ireland (after Thornton's and L'Ecrivain). My experiences in other starred restuarants had left me a bit disgruntled with the whole Michelin-star thing. None had been really memorable and on one occasion in San Francisco, the food had been downright bad. And while I am still skeptical of the whole Michelin vibe, I am glad to say that Chapter One proved to be an absolutely memorable and special experience.

What can I possibly add to the volumes that have been written about Chapter One? With chef Ross Lewis in charge, it has garnered numerous accolades and awards, the least of which is the aforementioned Michelin star. In fact, when you walk down the steps to the entrance of Chapter One, you are greeted with a veritable Hollywood Walk of awards and plaques. My words on this blog will not add any insight hitherto unmentioned. I cannot possible enhance their culinary reputation more than the editor of Saveur magazine or Tom Doorley already has.

But I can tell you about what I personally enjoyed at Chapter One. I enjoyed the warm hospitality and welcome exhibited by Martin Corbett and his front of house staff. It was throroughly Irish in nature, with references to local events and venues. You simply wouldn't get this warmth and intimacy anywhere else in the world. Chapter One magnificently balances fine food with the intrinsic informal nature of the Irish.

The food, as you would expect, was excellent. We chose the four course menu, at €65 per head. As usual, the "no-samesies" rule was applied so that we could experience as much of the menu as possible. While I loved all dishes, I have to give extra special mention to my first course. This was a little plate of silky plump ravioli, filled with 36 month parmesan and black pepper, served with a spring onion puree. When the little parcels burst, I was overwhelmed with the pure essence of parmesan. Extraordinarily good.

Parmesan ravioli with spring onion puree

Other dishes I enjoyed included
  • Charcuterie Trolley (pig's trotter boudin, potted rabbit & ham, Gubbeen salami and foie gras terrine). The boudin was full of deep spicy flavours and crumbled apart at the touch of the fork.
  • Dombes duck breast with fried cabbage and smoked potato, carrot and black cumin puree & duck sauce sharpened with apple balsamic vinegar. This came with a slice of flattened, crispy duck skin which I simply didn't get. It didn't match with anything else on the plate as far as I was concerned. But I could have ate bowls of that eye-popping, smooth carrot puree.
  • Carrageen set Glenillen double cream with strawberries, fresh yougurt mousse, brown bread sugar biscuits and Irish apple balsamic vinegar meringue. Srawberries, cream - how can you go wrong?
And if you do decide to indulge yourself at Chapter One, make sure to order the coffee and petit fours to fnish your meal. At just €3 per head, this represents fantastic value as you will receive loads of decadently luxurious homemade chocolates and macaroons, all presented very prettily.

I'm not going to go into the details of our overall bill (like I normally would). You don't go to an establishment like this in order to watch the pennies. Chapter One exists for celebrations and conversations. Suffice to say, it wasn't cheap, but I did feel as if I had gotten value for every red cent I spent.
Dombes duck breast (check out the intense carrot puree)
Glenillen double cream with strawberries & biscuits

Chapter One on Urbanspoon
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