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, August 27, 2011

Bellinter House, Co. Meath

We recently spent a night at Bellinter House near Navan in Co. Meath. This hotel has been on my hit-list for several years now, but I could never quite stomach the expensive rates charged. Firstly, I can't stand hotels that charge per person, and secondly, I can't really get my head around a hotel charging more than €100-150 for a night's B&B. Only 5 star venues in great locations with perfect service can justify big-buck rates. Thanks to Boards Deals, I was able to secure a mid-week B&B stay in Bellinter House and two 30 minute spa treatments for the excellent value sum of €99.

The very first impression of Bellinter House is that of slamming on the brakes. The entrance is located on a bend with no signage beforehand. It makes me wonder how many people sail past, rubbernecking at the entrance they've just missed. A short drive leads to a fine example of Palladian house, designed by the same architect responsible for Russborough House, Carton House, Powerscourt House and lastly, Leinster House. Bellinter House has had a mixed history passing through the hands of landed gentry, the Sisters of Sion,and the goverment before finally arriving into the hands of the current owners.

As we climb the steps to reception, we are greeted by two running kids and their nanny. I can safely assume she was the nanny due to her ethnicity and the fact that Mammy and Daddy were following behind. I sigh. A luxury night away with spa treatments just doesn't seem the same when there are rugrats involved.

The public areas...
Stitch and Bear - The lounge at Bellinter House
The Lounge at Bellinter House
All the receptions rooms are interlinked allowing us to wander from hallway to games room to bar to lounge. Only the library is separate, presumably to allow for some quiet time. Original features have been maintained, but there is a minimal amount of the expected period furnishings. Instead, there are leather loungers, velvet sofas and cowhide rugs. Fantastic Minotaurine paper lamps feature on the walls. Later in the night, when sated after dinner and full of wine, these provide a focal point for thoughtful gazing.

Stitch and Bear - Bull head light Bellinter House
Paper lighting at Bellinter House
We arrive straight from work, so we don't have much time before our dinner reservation. We  head to the lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Sitting on the comfortable seats, looking out the sash windows, we breathe deeply and relax. Big, tall rooms are always a good influence on me. It makes me wonder why we have an obsession with building box-like, identikit homes and apartments. Why have we abandoned the scale and elegance that our ancestors enjoyed?

Himself is pleased to find that the bar sells pint bottles of Guiness (priced at €5.20) while I go for a mojito. This is despite the fact that I cannot find a price list, an omission which comes back to haunt me the next morning. The mojito turns out to be quite poor and bitter, mainly due to the use of too-old limes, so I choose a much better glass of Sauvignon Blanc (€6.50) for my next drink. 

Later that night, after dinner, and after the children have gone to bed, we invade the games room to play pool. Dimly lit with mis-matched balls, it's immense fun and feels like a secluded spot.

Stitch and Bear - The games room at Bellinter House
Pool table in the Games Room at Bellinter House
The food....
Dinner is not included in our deal, but when booking we were offered the option of dining at Eden for €25 per head. The restaurant is located in the old basement which turns out to be a space even more sparse than upstairs. I  can't bring myself to like the swivel chairs and orange carpet. The menu offers plenty of choice and we enjoy the dishes listed below. Overall, the food is good in a traditional way. I get the feeling that Bellinter House is somewhere the whole family could eat. Meat & 2 veg grandparents all the way down to little ones will be satisifed with the food on offer.
  • Crispy slice of pork belly served with scallops, mixed Shiso cress, pancetta crisps and honey & soya dressing. Perfectly cooked scallops and very tasty.
  • Eden Smokies - smoked haddock, cherry tomatoes, scallions, creme fraiche and melted cheddar cheese. I'd been informed beforehand that I had to try the Smokies. Having done so, I now offer the same advice to all my readers. They are addictive.
  • Pan-seared fillet of beef, green beans & champ. The menu offers peppercorn sauce, which is a substance that I abhor so I request another sauce. The waitress looks at me as if I have two heads, but after some guiding, she suggests that the chef might be able to offer some garlic butter.
  • Braised pork belly served with crushed pea mash potato, carmelised onion and Calvados sauce. A massive portion of pork belly arrived. Clearly Bellinter House is used to catering for men with large appetites.
  • Chocolate pear and caramel gateaux with pear sorbet. Now why would anyone list a dessert as gateaux and then offer a single-serve dessert portion that bore no resemblance to a slice of gateaux. Descriptions - they're important.
  • Vanilla creme brulee with hazelnut biscotti
Stitch and Bear - Eden Smokies at Bellinter House
The famous Eden Smokies

Stitch and Bear - Braised pork belly at Bellinter House
Braised pork belly - enough for two!

Stitch and Bear - Fillet steak at Bellinter House
Fillet steak - with garlic butter
The next morning, we're back in the same venue for breakfast. As well as the familiar, dreary continential buffet, we are also offered a selection of fresh-cooked dishes. The menu looks tempting, but it takes ages to get a waiter to take our order. The staff display an amazing failure to make eye contact and we eventually resort to grabbing the manager and asking (a little rudely it must be said) for service. Other tables around us suffer the same lacklustre service.
The freshly-cooked dishes are a nice change from the normal heat-lamp breakfast. My French toast with marscapone and berries is delicious, if drowning in berry coulis. Less is more. However, the long delay for service means that we are running late for our spa treatments and I have to wolf it down.
Stitch and Bear - French toast with marscapone at Bellinter House
French toast with marscapone & berries
The spa...
We had both chosen the 30 body polish as part of our package, and we very much enjoy our treatments in the Bathouse. A mixture of sugar and lavender is used to scrub off all the badness and then we are left to relax in loungers with a snack of smoothie & fruit, which is very cutely served in Villeroy & Boch delph. We planned to continue our relaxation in the pool and sauna, but we find that the pool is infested with children. Any continued feelings of relaxation quickly disappear.

The room...
Our room was located in the West Wing and first impressions are good. A large white fluffy bed, a flatscreen TV on the wall and a well-appointed bathroom. Tea making facilities are provided via a set of 8 mason jar which contain everything from coffee and herbal teas to tea cakes. The ceiling is high, with exposed wooden beams which have been washed with white paint.

Stitch and Bear - Teacakes in the bedroom at Bellinter House
Tea cakes in the bedroom
However, things just don't work out for us in the room. The night is boiling hot, despite the fact that we've left the two small windows open. The rough finish on the plaster doesn't cut the mustard in the retro-chic stakes and the lighting control panel results in me blinding himself twice while on a late-night trip to the bathroom. I wonder what is wrong with basic switches. All that aside, despite a night of tossing and turning in our sauna, I can testify that the beds are comfortable.

The verdict...
Bellinter House is an elusive venue - it's all shabby chic, but with distincly unshabby prices. At checkout I am stunned to learn that my mojito costs €14. This leaves a sour taste in my mouth as I hand over my credit card. Leaving aside the sauna bedroom experience, I am somewhat happy with our stay. There is a lot of charm here, but it needs to acquire some polish.

Bellinter House, Navan, Co. Meath
Tel: +353 (0)46 90 30 900
Twitter: @BellinterHouse

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Baked Mini Blackberry Cheesecakes

Did you know that there's a National Cheesecake Day (well, in the US at least)? The official date was July 30th, and I have a whole heap of websites bookmarked following a blitz of cheesecake-related tweets on Twitter. My undoubted favourite of all these links is "10 rich recipes for National Cheesecake Day" from your eyes on the luscious photos in this link - don't they just want to make you run to the kitchen and start baking?

Lately, baking seems to be obessed with individual portion food. First there were cupcakes, now the trend seems to have moved on to mini-cheesecakes. Now, I can undoubtedly see the attraction of miniature cheesecakes. Perfectly sized for an individual treat, they also look adorable. Check out Irish blog Like Mam Used to Bake for Individual Strawberry Cheesecakes for a miniature take on the traditional cheesecake.

Like most Irish people, I grew up on the traditional cheesecake, but in later years, I've grown the prefer the American-style baked cheesecake. Thus, when I decided to make my mini-cheesecakes, I went Yankie-style. Autumn fruits are in season now, so it's easy to pick up plump, sweet blackberries which, when baked, will produce fabulous streaks of colour in the finished treat.

Stitch and Bear - Baked mini blackberry cheesecakes
Baked mini blackberry cheesecake
1 pack shortbread biscuits
100g butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1x 220g tub of cream cheese
1 egg
70g icing sugar
1/2 small punnet blackberries

(makes approx 12 cheesecakes)

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius.  Line a bun tray with paper cases.

Place the biscuits into a plastic bag and smash with your rolling pin until broken with evenly sized crumbs. Alternatively, you can blitz the biscuits in a food processor. Meanwhile, place the butter in a saucepan and melt over a low heat. Once melted, add the biscuits and cinnamon and mix thoroughly. 

Divide the mixture bewteen the paper cases (if you're falling a little short, then allocate the mixture so that you have a reasonably thick base, rather than too many thin bases). Tamp down the mixture and pop the tray into the oven for 10 minutes in order to firm up the base. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack, but make sure to leave the oven on.

Place the cream cheese into a bowl, along with the egg & icing sugar. Beat with a mixer until smooth and combined. Roughly chop the blackberries into large pieces and stir loosely into the mixture. Divide the mixture between the cases, filling up the top.

Place the cheesecakes in the oven, and bake until lightly golden, and the top has started to split. Turn off the oven and leave the cheesecakes to cool in the oven. Once cool to touch, remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Stitch and Bear - Baked mini blackberry cheesecakes
Baked mini blackberry cheesecakes

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Campaign for Raw Milk

Raw milk is a nostalgic subject for me. I grew up on a small dairy farm in rural Cork, where we drank our own milk. One of my jobs as a child was to take a bucket and jug, walk down to the milking shed and fill up the bucket with the creamy, rich milk, straight from the bulk tank. 

The bulk tank appeared as a fearsome device to the young me. It was a massive, enclosed, stainless steel tank whose cleanliness sat in stark contrast to dirt that comes naturally on a farm. It had two agitators which ran on a regular cycle to keep the milk from sitting still too long. My naturally jumpy disposition meant that I would leap a foot in the air if they started while I was in the vicinty. To get the milk, I would lift off one of the small circular lids and peer in. My nightmare scenario was finding the milk level to be low, meaning that I would have to drag over a milk crate so that I could reach in I feared falling into the tank, despite the fact that the aperture was really only about a foot across.

Back at the kitchen table, you quickly learned to shake the milk bottle, or give the jug a stir, before using the milk. Otherwise, the rich creamy top would pour out, causing disaster central when you were making a cup of tea. I drank this milk from infanthood through to my teenage years. I never thought anything about it until I departed for university and started to drink cartons of pasteurised milk Then I realised that there was something missing. The pasteurised milk tasted flat and thin. Don't even get me started on how low-fat and skim milk tastes.

Tiernan's Raw Milk available at Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Carnaross
I realise that I was a product of my environment. My parents drank raw milk and thus my siblings and I drank raw milk. Nothing more fancy than that. I realise that there are health concerns associated with drinking raw milk, just as there are health risks associated with eating or drinking any uncooked, or unclean foodstuff. (Trust me, grow up on a farm and you are used to dirt and sh*t, it's a natural part of life). I simply fail to see why there should be a complete ban on the sale of raw milk. Surely this is a simple matter of choice for the consumer?

Currently, the Irish government is proposing to ban the sale of raw milk before the end of 2011. This proposal is stirring up a debate on the internet and in the newspapers. Sheridan's Cheesemongers are supporting the pro-raw milk side, and have been involved in the creation of the Campaign for Raw Milk - an organisation of  farmers, food sellers, food organisations and consumers who are opposing the proposed ban on the sale of raw milk.
Campaign for Raw Milk
In order to educate and inform, a debate has been organised for September 6th at the Sugar Club, Leeson Street, Dublin. Doors will open at 19.00 with the debate commencing at 19.30. The event will consist of a panelist debate with arguments for and against, with lots of audience participation and Q&A. The evening will be chaired by journalist Aoife Carrigy, one of the organisers of the For Food’s Sake series of debates. Panelists will include broadcaster and journalist Ella McSweeney, farmer and raw milk producer David Tiernan and retailer of raw milk Kevin Sheridan. Other panel members will include scientists and food and farming industry representatives (more details to follow, check the Raw Milk Ireland website).

Rustic Stone, Dublin 2

If you know anything about the Irish food scene, then you will know about Dylan McGrath, once the Michelin-starred chef at Mint in Ranelagh, and now the chef at Rustic Stone on Georges St.  I'm a bit late on the scene in visting Rustic Stone which is shortly celebrating its first anniversary. Still, better late than never.

We visited Rustic Stone as a party of four using the Irish Times reader offer, which consisted of a special menu priced at €25 per head. This menu offered a selection of bread'n'dips to begin, followed by a starter and pasta dish, then a main course with a side and finally, a dessert. This seemed like a fantastic offer, and it was clear from the packed restaurant that we weren't the only diners to think so. Arriving at 19.30, all the tables were fully occupied and waiting staff were zipping around resetting tables and dealing with customers. Clearly McGrath is doing something here that people like. 

So what does an ex-Michelin chef do to keep his creative juices flowing? It seems that McGrath has chosen to go down the route of healthy, lifestyle-inspiring dining. Quoting directly from the Rustic Stone website
Rustic Stone’s philosophy is simple: tasty, nutritious, innovative cuisine that is accessible to all. Simple and scientific techniques are used to release the maximum flavour. Rustic Stone only uses the best of local produce, sourcing our ingredients from local producers.
So the word "simple" is mentioned twice in the blurb. However, when presented with a Rustic Stone menu, simple is not the word that jumps immediately to mind. It's jammed with little coloured dots, representing  concepts such as gluten-free, wheat-free and super food. It's like a polka dot kaleidescope at times. In addition, each dish is accompanied by a verbose description that takes time to read. In fact, it might be an idea to order a glass of wine and kick back in your seat before you start to read the menu.

Our waiter took all our order, including dessert, in one go and following that, a wooden stand arrived quickly at the table, with a selection of breads, cumin-scented hummus and baba ganoush. Breads were ho-hum but the dips were tasty variations on the normal versions. Very quickly afterwards, our starters and pasta dishes arrived at the same time. In the space of about 10 seconds, our table went from empty to heaving, as each of us had two dishes placed in front of us.To be honest, although it may have made life easy in the kitchen, it felt over-whelming.

I had chosen a starter of cold marinated prawn which came served on little boats of scooped out cucumber. Despite the weird appearance, the cool, fresh flavours were very welcome on a hot sticky evening. My penne pesto was rich and very tasty with marinated tomatoes and black olives. I'm a massive cheese-fiend (my favourite dish could be described as grilled cheese served with grilled cheese) but even I half-baulked at the amount of parmesan on top of this little bowl of pasta. A special mention has to be made for the chicken wings, which were coated in a sticky, sweet soya sauce with sesame seeds and were utterly finger-lickin' good.

At this stage, we were all feeling pretty full. Two quick courses had dampened our appetites and any questions we had about limited portion size on this special value menu had disappeared. Thankfully, our main courses did not appear for quite a while. We had all chosen the meat for 2, cooked on a lava stone for our mains. Two lava stones were deposited on the table, covered in a selection of beef cuts. We could immediately feel the heat off the stones, and temperatures in our local vicinty rocketed up a few degrees. When combined with the smoke streaming off the stones, it felt as if we had been transported to a sauna where the naked inhabitants had a fetish for BBQ.

Stitch and Bear - Grilling meat on the hot stone at Rustic Dublin
Meat on the stone

Overall, the meat cuts were excellent quality, but I really can't see much point in cooking the meat myself. The smoke and heat at the table is an unwelcome distraction in a restaurant like the Rustic Stone which is already warm and busy. My accompanying side of pesto chips were fabulous - four big fat chips, skewered and served with a dollop of pesto. It was the spot-on carby accompaniment to the steak-fest. Another side, green relish with peas, broad beans and spring onions was surprisingly rich and buttery, and definitely didn't feel as healthy as the name suggested.

Finally, we were ready for dessert. All four of us had chosen the Brulee Pain d'Epice, which was a baked, spiced low-fat custard served with a pear sorbet. Desite the low-fat tag, I found this to be an indulgent dessert with the pear sorbet cutting through the gently sweet creaminess. The portion size was quite generous, meaning that I left half of mine unfinished.

Stitch and Bear - Brulee Pain d'Epice at Rustic Dublin
Brulee Pain d'Epice
By the end of the meal we were absolutely stuffed to the gills. But we were also hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. We called for the bill, which came to a very pleasant €130 for 4, people with €100 of that being for food, and headed outside to the fresh, sweet air of ... well Georges Street. 

As an aside, Rustic Stone continues to offer a very similar €25 menu all day on Sunday, and between 18.00-19.30 Monday to Thursday. It must be said that this represents stonking value for money and is probably the way I will return in future. I cannot fathom why people would pay the same amount of money (or even more) for a single dish from the main menu. Next time however, I'll be looking for a table outside, or in a well-ventilated spot.

Rustic Stone, 17 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2. 
Tel: +353 (0)1 707 9596
Twitter: @rusticdublin

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Port House Ibericos, Dundrum

Earlier this year, I received an invitation to attend a session of the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail which included a pit stop in the excellent Bar Pintxo in Temple Bar. This is part of the Port House group of venues, all of which are cosy, darkly romantic and very tasty. After this visit, I had marked my to-do list with the name of the latest Port House venture - the Port House Ibericos, located in the busy and movied-heaven of Dundrum Town Centre.

Despite being part of the newest and shiniest shopping centre in Ireland, the Port House Ibericos is housed in the Pembroke Cottages, which were a series of 3 developments built between the 1870s and 1880s by Lord Pembroke as part of his philantrophic efforts to provide housing for his estate workers and labourers. These charming cottages have been carefully restored under strict guidelines from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, providing a relaxing contrast to the glass and steel of Dundrum Town Centre.

Inside, the Port House Ibericos follows the same guidelines that have proved so popular in the other locations. Lighting is low, with fat candles providing most of the ambient light. Tables are small and cosy, nestled into nooks and crannies. Romantic and cosy is the vibe here. When we arrived (approx. 21.30 on a Friday night) the restaurant was just at capacity. We were invited to take a seat at the bar, but thankfully, we were quickly seated. Other later arrivals weren't as lucky as us, with many having to wait for longish periods.

The menu is a double-printed sheet of A4 paper, which later doubled up as a mat to absorb all the  inevitable oil and foodstuff spillages. (In case you didn't know, my enthusiasm for my dinner often leads to "incidents" - I shall say no more). We were unsure as to how hungry we were, so we decided to order just a few tapas, promising ourselves that we could order more later. 

Service proved to be quite slow, although we received our drinks quickly enough. He chose a bottle of Estrella (expensively priced at €5.00), while I chose a glass of Vina Esmeralda Gew├╝rztraminer (€5.60). This was a really refreshing, light wine with delicate floral and honey flavours. Between the tasty wine and the long wait for food, my glass was bordering on empty when we finally got our food. 
Stitch and Bear - Tapas selection at Port House Ibericos Dundrum
Our tapas selection
Starting from the bottom and moving clockwise, our tapas were as follows:
  • Garbanzos - chickpeas with black pudding (5.35). The black pudding crumbs added a gentle warmth to the bulk of the chickpeas, which did require some additional salt. 
  • Gambas Pil Pil (7.25) came in a dish of garlickly oil, which still had the light flavour of green olive oil. Very moreish! 
  • Patatas Mojo (€3.85) - The potates had a light golden crust with a fluffly inside, and the paprika-alond mojo sauce made for an interesting alternative to aioli and bravas sauce. 
  • Caballa - makarel fillets on toast with tomato (6.30). This was last, but most definitely not least. The mackarel was outrageously fresh, with juicy flesh and full of sea-flavour. A little dish of these would make for a fine lunch any day of the week. 
Despite our original thoughts to perhaps order more tapas, we found ourselves quite full after these dishes. The carby nature of the chickpeas and potatoes provided enough bulk, while the rich oil of the prawns filled us up. Slow service aside, the tapas were excellent and the best part of the night came with the bill. Our total for the night was just €33.35!

The Port House Ibericos, 5-6 Pembroke Cottages, Ballinteer Rd., Dublin 16.
Tel: +353 (0)1 216 6133

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Ginger Beer Tasting

I've always loved the taste of ginger. I think it comes from my mother who uses lots of it in her baking and and makes incredibly delicious ginger bread (see here for my mother's Ginger Nut recipe). I love the spicy warm taste of ginger when used in baking, or the bite that it brings when used fresh in curries. So the idea of ginger beer naturally intrigues me. It appears that the alcoholic ginger category in the UK is currently worth £21.8m and growing. So it seems that I've hit on a current trend, without even knowing it.

I've been seeking out different brands, and I've found that there are some big differences out there. Here are my thoughts on what's good, and maybe not so good.
Stitch and Bear - Stone's Ginger Joe
Stone's Ginger Joe

Bottom of the pile was newcomer Ginger Joe (4% ABV), launched recently by Stone's. I loved the ginger tache on the bottle as well as the catchy name, but the drink itself was syrupy with no ginger bite or tang. I guess that it's ginger beer for the young or the alcopop generation. I've seen this drink in some specialist beer venues (Bierhaus Cork, I'm looking at you), and I am disappointed that it is taking shelf space from other, better ginger beers. (Available at Redmond's of Ranelagh)

Stitch and Bear - Crabbie's Ginger Beer
Crabbie's Ginger Beer
Also sitting at the bottom of my taste test is Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0% ABV). Like Ginger Joe, this drink comes from a long-established producer of ginger wine. And like Ginger Joe, it suffered from too much sweetness and not enough ginger. It would probably be good over ice on a hot summer's day, but it just isn't enough for beer-loving taste buds. Not one I'm going to buy again. (Available at Redmond's of Ranelagh)
Stitch and Bear - Williams Ginger Beer
Williams Ginger Beer
Things improved dramatically when I tasted Williams Brothers Ginger Ale (3.8% ABV). This had a proper beer taste, but with buckets of ginger warmth as well as slight citrus. It has the lowest alcohol content of the all the beers that I've tasted, but it tastes the most beer-like. A definite favourite. (Available at Redmond's of Ranelagh).
Stitch and Bear - M&S Ginger Ale
M&S Ginger Ale (Courtesy of the Beer Bunker blog)
Marks & Spencer Ginger Ale (6.0% ABV) features a lovely hen motif on the label, but the label mentioned both Fentiman's and Robinsons. Confused, I was, so I turned to Google, where I learned that this is a blend of Fredrick Robinson’s Dark Ale and Fentiman’s Traditional Ginger Beer and is bottled exclusively for M&S. The fact that this is ale-based is easily determined upon tasting, and the ginger flavour is weak and doesn't linger on the palate. This retails at €3.09.
Stitch and Bear - John Hollow's Ginger Beer
John Hollow's Ginger Beer
Top of my pile was John Hollows' Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.0% ABV). This was launched in 2010 by soft drinks manufacturer Fentiman's and I loved the warming tingle that it left my tongue. Despite this, it's a refreshing, crisp drink, probably helped by the fact that it contains pear juice. I've found it in Dublin at the Bull & Castle, but if anyone knows any other stockists, please let me know.

So there you go, that's my quick round up of ginger beer tasting. If you're sweet of tooth, you'll probably prefer my bottom two, but if you want more of a ginger hit, then I'd heartily recommend Williams Bros and John Hollow's.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pork, Apple & Red Onion Sausage Rolls

Sausage rolls are a guilty pleasure for most of us, right? I initially made sausage rolls in the mandatory Home Economics class in my first year at secondary school (I switched to Technical Drawing once I was given free choice). We made simple rolls by either wrapping sausages or sausage meat in pastry, and we were damn proud of them!

Fast forward to my early student days when Campbell's Catering had the catering contract at UCC. Despite the dubiousness of the daily "Student Special", they had fine sausage rolls which I enjoyed at the trestle tables of the Kampus Kitchen, located in the bowels of the Science Building. I loved these rolls, despite the fact that they were pale and flaky, with a very generic pink "meat" filling.

These days, petrol station or convenience store hot counters are usually another good source for a cheeky sausage roll. I often sneak a sausage roll from Centra into the cinema for a cheeky snack. It smells and tastes a damn sight better than that putrid popcorn they serve. 

But can a sausage roll be made into an artform? I definitely believe so, and I found one such location when I lived in Amsterdam. I was lucky enough to secure an apartment just around the corner from Patisserie Holtkamp on Vijzelgracht. Holtkamp is a treasure, and I urge you to visit it if ever you find yourself in Amsterdam. It produces fine patisserie, chocolates, croquetten (a favourite Dutch snack) and finally, saucijzenbroodje (sausage roll to you and me). I would hop out of bed on Saturday morning, and hurry to the little shop, lined with dark wood and glass display cases, so that I could beat all the other locals and grab the best goodies. The sausage rolls were a wonderful combination of dense, flavoursome veal, mixed with spices and herbs, and wrapped in a thin, slightly flaky butter pastry. Absolutely fantastic.

Lately, I've been working on homemade sausage rolls and I think that I'm getting close to a great recipe. For convenience I'm using ready to roll pastry, and the last step in this process will be to make my own pastry. I also use good-quality butcher sausages as my meat source, but if you can get sausage meat from your butcher, then feel free to use that. Anyway, here's my favourite attempt to date (makes 8 sausage rolls).

Stitch and Bear - Freshly baked pork, apple & red onion sausage rolls
Homemade sausage rolls
1 pack of good-quality butcher sausages (I used M&S Pork and Herb sausages 400g)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 Granny Smith apple, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 packet of ready to use puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg
Salt & pepper


Pre-heat your oven to 170 Celsius and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.Prepare a little bowl of eggwash by breaking an egg and mixing with a fork.

Gently sautee the red onion and garlic in a little oil over a low heat, until soft and sweet. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Squeeze out the sausage meat from the packet of sausages into a bowl. Discard the sausage casing. Add the spices, onions, garlic and apple along with some salt and pepper. Using either your hands or a spoon, mix thoroughly so that the ingredients are well distributed throughout the meat.

I used Jus Rol puff pastry to make these previously, and I found that it was easiest to divide each of the 2 sheets into quarters, giving me 8 sausage rolls in total. Take a sheet of the pastry, and brush with the eggwash. Cut into quarters. In the middle of each quarter, place a thick "pipe" of the sausage meat and then roll up in the pastry. Place each completed roll on the baking sheet. Make 2-3 shallow diagonal cuts in the top surface of each sausage roll and then generously apply a coating of eggwash.

Place the tray into the oven and allow to cook for approximately 20 minutes before applying a second coating of eggwash. Multiple coatings of eggwash allow for a deep golden colour (like a varnish) to develop, making the end result all the more attractive. Bake the rolls for another approx 20 minutes, until golden and cooked. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before gently transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly. 

Best served with a pinch of salt and perhaps a fine relish or chutney!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Fatted Calf, Glasson

The Twitter machine is a weird and glorious thing. When I started out on Twitter back in 2008, I couldn't see the point, or how it was going to work. Fast forward a few years, and I simply love Twitter. By carefully choosing who I follow, I have gleaned lots of valuable foodie information & tips. I've gotten to go to free food events and film screenings courtesy of several PR firms. I've also entered and won several cool competitions. 

The Irish food community has really taken to Twitter, with many food bloggers, restaurants and producers actively participating. It has produced some vibrant and interesting discussions, and Twitter is now my number one resource when I need suggestions or information. And so it was last Saturday when journalist Clare Kleinedler (@clairekleinedler and author of the blog An American in Ireland) tweeted that she was heading to the Fatted Calf in Glasson for dinner. This was a new venue to me, so a little bit of Googling informed me that not only was Glasson about 20 minutes from my hotel, but more importantly, it was run by Feargal O'Donnell (along with his wife Fiona), who was previously head chef at the nearly Wineport Lodge. Feargal is also currently Commissioner General for Euro-toques Ireland, so he is a man in the know when it comes to food. 

Glasson is a postcard-pretty little village (you will think Tidy Towns when you see all the flower baskets!) and the Fatted Calf fits in beautifully on the main sign. The sign outside promises BBQ and smokehouse, two words which always leave me in a state of breathless excitement. As we were a little early for Sunday service, we walked around for a few minutes. This lead us to the cosy outside eating area at the rear of the pub and the gorgeous Tamworth (and perhaps Saddleback?) pigs busily eating in a small paddock. Pigs, BBQ and smokehouse... this was starting to seem like a little piece of heaven.

Inside, part of the old pub lounge has thankfully been left intact, but with the improvement of cushions and dancing cow ornaments! A larger and brighter dining area is to the rear which allows the venue to cater to different audiences. If you want to dine at the bar, the snacks menu offers tasty sounding onion bhajis and buttermilk-fried spiced chicken. (Makes a pleasant change from King crisps and Pringles).

Stitch and Bear - Rear dining area of the Fatted Calf, Glasson
The bright rear of the Fatted Calf
As it was Sunday, the menu on offer was a bit more traditional in style than the food still listed on the board from the previous night's specials. I was a little disappointed at this as I wouldn't be someone who goes out looking for a Sunday lunch. Too many bad carveries have left me with what borders on a pathological fear of lamp-lit roasts. Check out the photo of the blackboard below for examples of evening cooking - I think that I could have happily ordered every dish on that menu.

Stitch and Bear - Chalkboard with evening specials at the Fatted Calf, Glasson
Evening specials

There was plenty of choice on the Sunday menu, which also listed the main suppliers used by the Fatted Calf. No messing around here when it comes to provenance. I decided to go for two starters so that I could sample a little more of the menu, while he opted for a main course only. I apologise for the lack of photographs, but the photos I took in the restaurant weren't really good enough quality to do justice to the food. While waiting for the first dishes, we snacked on some of the homemade bread left on the table, including a fruity brown Guinness & Treacle bread.

Stitch and Bear - Sunday lunch menu listing Irish producers at the Fatted Calf, Glasson
Our Sunday menu
Our courses were as follows:
  • Starter 1 - Warm salad of McGeough's black pudding, new potatoes, buffalo mozzarella and smoked tomato dressing (€8). The mozzarella was fresh and creamy smooth, the black pudding was smooth and spicy, but the real star of this show was the smoked tomato. It tasted as if it had been dipped in a turf fire and made a wonderful addition when chopped up and mixed through the salad.
  • Starter 2 - Barbecued pork terrine, celeriac remoulade & toasted sourdough (€8). I received two pieces of bread, topped with generous scoops of pulled pork and a quinelle of celeriac remloulade. The pulled pork was mixed with a sweet BBQ sauce, and combined brilliantly with the mustardy, sharp celeriac. I love pulled pork, but it's not something that appears on Irish menus very much.
  • Roast rib of Donald Russell Irish beef with pearl onion and rosemary jus (€15). This came with a Yorkshire pudding with a roast potato cheekily ensconced in the pudding. Himself also ordered a side of the ahdn-cut chips (€3) to round out his dinner. This was an awesome plate of roast beef - it was very tender and tasty (despite being cooked through) and the decent hefty slice satisified his appetite. The accompanying roast potato was nearly as good as my mother-in-law's (trust me, she makes amazing roast potatoes) and the whole plate was cleaned down to the last crumb.
I was in a state of bliss leaving the Fatted Calf. I wouldn't call it a gastropub, as I sometimes think that that particular title implies a sense of pretension or fanciness that is gladly lacking at the Fatted Calf.  It's simply a bar that serves really good, creative food. Our total bill, including 2 coffees and 2 soft drinks came to €43. I'm already looking for an excuse for a return visit.

The Fatted Calf, Glasson, Co. Westmeath
Tel: (090) 648 5208

Camden Kitchen, Dublin 2

I first visited Camden Kitchen just over a year ago (blog post here) shortly after it had opened. At the time, I had liked my food, but felt perhaps that prices were just a tiny bit on the high side. Recently, an offer came via Boards Deals to purchase a Sunday lunch for two for the sum of €32, with a quoted value of €77. The voucher covered a 2 course lunch, with Bellinis and tea/coffee. 

So it was that we arrived for Sunday lunch on a wet & dreary lunchtime. However, once inside the door, we were warmly greeted and quickly given our two included bellinis. This might be the time to share a little fact about me: I love bellinis. If you're ever serving them at a wedding or event at which I am a guest, then make sure to stock up well. One of the things I must do before I'm too old is to visit Harry's in Venice (home of the Bellini) and indulge while sitting on the waterside.

The menu is full of seasonal dishes, with 5 options available per course. Daily specials were chalked up on the board behind us, and I really felt as if I had plenty to choose from. For starters I chose the confit duck boudin (€10.00) while he went for a special of French fish soup, with bright yellow rouille and croutons. The boudin was spiced, soft and crumbly, and partnered very well with the sweet apricots. Two decent chunks made for a good starter, though I didn't find any benefit from the harsh taste of the toasted walnuts. His fish soup was creatively served in a mason jar, which looked great, but posed difficulties when it was time to float the croutons in the soup. However, this was an authentic fish soup, rich and flavoursome, and I especially loved the bright orange-yellow of the saffron-flavoured rouille.

Stitch and Bear - Confit duck boudin at Camden Kitchen
Confit duck boudin, poached new season apricots & toasted walnuts
Stitch and Bear - French fish soup at Camden Kitchen
Fish soup with rouille and croutons
For mains I chose the pea risotto (€14) while he went for another special, rare-breed pork chop served with the spanish flavours of roasted peppers and chorizo. My risotto was nothing short of spectacular. It was a bright green colour, which I can only assume came from the peas being pureed and added to the cream and parmesan when cooking. The consistency was creamy and rich (as a risotto should be) but came topped with a pile of crunchy green vegetables, including asparagus, salty samphire & pea shoots. This was a wonderful dish of summer cooking and I revelled in every mouthful.
Stitch and Bear - Pea risotto at Camden Kitchen
Fresh pea risotto, summer vegetables, sprouting broccoli & pumpkin seeds
His pork chop came served with a pile of rich, stewed peppers & chorizo. The chop itself was thick and juicy, cooked perfectly. For some people though, the lack of further accompanying vegetables (requiring the addition of a side order) would be a bit offputting.  Lack of additional veg aside, this was a substantial and tasty piece of meat and the spanish flavours were well-judged
Stitch and Bear - Spanish-style rare breed pork chop at Camden Kitchen
Rare-breed pork chop with red pepper & chorizo
We declined dessert, as we simply too full to consider eating any more.One note - our coffees came served with warm milk, which wasn't pointed out to us, or noticed until we had poured in the milk. This wouldn't be to my taste, and I think it's a bit unfair of Camden Kitchen to assume that we'd like warm milk in our coffee.

Overall, I think that the cooking at Camden Kitchen is pretty damn good. It's casual and relaxed in atmosphere but the food is definitely good enough to feature in more prestigious establishments. (In fact, my confit duck boudin reminded me of a similar boudin enjoyed on a recent visit to Chapter One). In fact, the fabulous green pea risotto has inspired me to cook a version at home. So hats off to Chef Padraic Hayden.

Camden Kitchen, Grantham Street (off Camden Street), Dublin 2
Tel: (01) 476 0125
Twitter: @CamdenKitchen
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