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!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pay as You Please, Killarney

Petty thievery in Ireland...If something isn't nailed down, there's a fair chance that some light-fingered kleptomaniac will pop it into their handbag or pocket and take it home. And to be quite honest, this will probably happen even if the item is nailed down. 

This rather "socialist" view of property (i.e. belongs to all equally) was accepted behaviour in the student years when having the coolest road sign or beer glass collection was a sign of a true die-hard student. What is perhaps more worrying is that this tendancy never quite goes away. Irish people like "free" things. Recently, Stoneybatter gastropub L. Mulligan wrote a blog post pleading with punters to return pilfered items. Treasured childhood editions of Beatrix Potter books, old novels and even  a wall painting have gone missing from the pub, which have lead the Mulligan team to placing an amnesty box on the bar counter. (It remains to be seen how successful this initiative will be.)

Given this rather free and liberal characteristic of Irish people, then why would anyone open as a "Pay As You Please" restaurant in Ireland? Fedora-loving Rob O'Reilly and Barry Bride have taken this bold step in  the most touristy of towns, Killarney and business has been going well. Clever use of Facebook and Tripadvisor have raised the profile of this unnamed and unconventional restuarant. And it always helps that one of your chefs has trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Located on New Market Lane, off High Street, the cafe is located in an old warehouse.  As we enter, a tasty looking selection of cakes sit under net covers. Mismatched furniture and shabby retro chic are the order of the day here, matching the relaxed vibe emanating from the owners. On the day we visited, a silent black & white Elvis film was projected onto the rear wall, to the soundtrack of a mix of cool jazz & blues music.

Stitch and Bear - Pick and Mix interior at Pay As You Pay Killarney
Bohemian, relaxed interior at Pay As You Please
The menu is simple, presented on colourful plastic clipboards and feature a short selection of dishes. Hearty warm soups come in a bread bowl, or alternatively in a jar. Looking around, Tripadvisor is clearly working for the business as plenty of American tourists were tucking in. Tap water and glasses were provided without asking.
Stitch and Bear - Daily menu at Pay As You Pay Killarney
The changing daily menu at Pay As You Please
I dillied between the salad and dish of the day. The smoked mackarel fishcakes with beetroot salsa sounded delicious, but I really wanted a light lunch, so instead I chose the Nicoise salad, with tuna, potatoes, olives, egg and green beans. I received a punchy, well-dressed salad served on a retro enamelled plate. with the bright yellow yolk of the perfectly hard-boiled eggs shining like jewels on the plate rim.

Stitch and Bear - Nicoise salad at Pay As You Pay Killarney
Nicoise salad at Pay As You Please
Himself chose one of the pizza options, going for a classic prosciutto, parmesan and rocket. The pizza arrived on a wooden breadboard, along with a pizza cutter (genius idea- I really don't understand why more restaurants don't provide pizza cutters to diners). The pizza is cooked with all the toppings in the middle, allowing the outside edge to puff up while baking. The dough was light and crispy, with a lovely basil flavour shining through.
Stitch and Bear - Prosciutto pizza at Pay As You Pay Killarney
Prosciutto pizza at Pay As You Please
The only bad aspect to our meal at this little bijoux venue was the coffee quality. I'm not sure what brand was used, but it had a liqourice flavour that I dislike in coffee and came served in a French press. While living in Amsterdam, lots of restaurants used to serve Nespresso-type coffee via machines, which meant that it was possible to obtain high-quality cups of coffee in most venues. This could be an avenue for the cheeky chappies at Pay As You Please to explore.

Overall, very good cafe-style food. It's also worth mentioning that the cafe operates a BYO policy, meaking it an affordable spot for nighttime dining on Fridays and Saturdays. And how much did we pay? Well, we left behind €25 (broken down at €10 per main course and €2.50 each per coffee). I'd love to know what others think. Was this a fair price?

Pay As You Please, New Market Lane, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Tel: +353 (0)86 306 8253
Facebook: Pay As You Please

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Electric, South Mall, Cork

Ah Cork. My home city and possibly the most relaxed city in Ireland. Maybe I'm waxing a wee bit too lyrical, but that could be due to the effect of the singsong local accent. Bye bye to the harsh sounds of Dublin, and hello to the Cork lilt. Even after just a few hours in the city, I find my accent strengthening and returning.

The main contrast I notice betwen Cork and Dublin is the lack of bustle. Things are simply quieter and less busy in Cork. The South Mall is home to several legal and accounting practices, as well as many other businesses, but the street is pleasantly quiet. The remodelling of the Grand Parade means that people can now sit outside and relax with a coffee. Tis all very continental. And nothing is more continental than that most Corkonian of Cork institutes - the English Market.

I used to shop frequently, if not daily, in the English Market when I lived in Cork. I accepted its loss when I moved to Dublin and thought no more of it, but that loss comes home to haunt me as I wander the stalls. Good value butchers selling cruibins and tripe. Fresh bread, charcuterie, cheeses and of course, lots of fish and seafood. The prices and range amaze me - Dublin simply has nothing like it. (For instance, I've been trying to source ham hocks from a Dublin butcher. All have told me that they require a few days to obtain, yet here are ham hocks, both raw and cooked, piled high in the English Market, and priced under €2 each. I doubt I'll be paying that price in Dublin).

Just a few minutes walk from the English Market lies a beautiful Art Deco building that houses a newcomer to the Cork dining scene - the wonderfully named Electric. With a scattering of tables outside on the river bank, this venue mixes casual bar dining with a more formal first floor restaurant. The first floor also features an outside covered terrace, which is where we find ourselves on a sunny autumn lunchtime. The terrace offers views of St. Finbarr's Cathedral and Sullivan's Quay.

Stitch and Bear - The terrace at Electric, Cork
Outside terrace at Electric with a view on Sullivan's Quay
At first glance, the menu looks quite good with very attractive pricing. According to the website, the owner and head chef, Kevin O’Regan, is committed to Irish food and this appears to be reflected in the menu. We choose to share a starter of grilled halloumi and pesto salad with mango chili salsa (€6). This arrives with two thick slices of halloumi on a bed of lambs' lettuce and mixed leaves. I simply love seeing lambs' lettuce and other green leaves in salads (as opposed to horrible frisee or red leaves) so this pleased me. Unfortunately, there was none of the advertisted mango chili salsa (replaced intead by juliennes of mango) but the halloumi was grilled to perfection and the pesto was top notch (hopefully sourced from the nearby English Market?)

Stitch and Bear - Grilled halloumi salad at Electric, Cork
Grilled halloumi salad
 For mains, I chose the fillet of organic salmon with mussels, leeks, samphire and creme fraiche (€12.50). I received a large piece of perfectly cooked salmon which sat atop a mix of fried leeks, baby new potatoes and mussels in the shell. The accompanying sauce was amazing, reminiscent of a bearnaise, with a light silky texture. The samphire had been cooked in the sauce, whereas I would have preferred it uncooked and brighter in colour, but otherwise, an excellent dish, which could command a higher prices in many other establishments.
Stitch and Bear - Salmon fillet with mussels and leeks at Electric, Cork
Salmon with mussels, leeks and samphire
 Himself was torn betwen the tagliatelle and cod, but in the end he chose the tagliatelle of sauté prawns & basil pesto (€11). When it arrived, the pasta looked very pretty on the plate with a smattering of leaves, parmesan and green beans. However the pasta was so overcooked that that it fell apart while eating. The flavour though was very good, with meaty prawns and more of the intense basil pesto that had featured on our halloumi starter. 
Stitch and Bear - Prawn tagliatelle at Electric, Cork
Prawn tagliatelle
I indulged with a glass of Martin Codax Albarino (€6.25) which was straw-yellow in colour, aromatic and fresh - a very good accompaniment to the salmon and seafood flavours. Coffees were priced at a reasonable €2.00 each, and our total bill, including some drinks, came to €47.25.

Overall, I'm highly impressed with the value on offer in Electric. Main courses are excellent value, with a good standard of cooking (treating the overcooked pasta as a glitch in the Matrix) and generous portion sizes. The interior is lovely, with the Art Deco theme running throughout the interior design and branding. Electric has all the potential to become a Cork institution, a place to which diners will return regularly for watering and dining.

Electric, 42 South Mall, Cork, Ireland
Tel: +353 (0)21 422 2990
Twitter: @ElectricCork

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mulberry Garden, Donnybrook, Dublin 4

There's no doubt that Ireland is deep in the grips of bad times. Friday evening drinks in the pub after work appear to have taken a severe beating and on a recent visit to Cork, I was literally gobsmacked at the empty state of some previously packed bars. I think that the goverment and CSO should forget about unemployment statistics and mortgage default rates. A truer measure of Irish consumer confidence would be to look at pub visits. The Irishman has always had a natural affinity with establishments that serve alcoholic beverages, so anything that perturbs that relationship must indeed be catastrophic. How about the Pub Punter Index?

(By the way, I am not being facetious with my previous comment. For all the bad news on the television, the deep impact on Irish pockets has been most apparent to me when visting my local.)

Conversely, certain restaurants seem to be booming. You can't swing a cat in Ranelagh village with the amount of people packed into restaurants and a recent visit to Chapter One on a Wednesday evening showed that there was no shortage of punters willing to part with their cash for food. Granted, consumers are looking for good value and restaurants are listening. All that said, it's a brave venture to open a new, high-end restaurant, especially one such as Mulberry Garden which operates a limited choice, €40 set menu only. This is compounded by the fact that Mulberry Garden is open only Thursday - Saturday evenings. Brave indeed.

Charmingly located on Mulberry Lane, near Kiely's of Donnybrook, the restaurant is centred on a little garden. The space is elegant with the mulberry theme running throughout the interior colour palette. Tables are set with crystal, silver and linen and everything is very gently lit. As we are shown to our table, we pass tables packed with besuited business men and couples. Looking around, we appear to be the youngest couple in the room.

As mentioned above, the menu is extremely short with just two options presented for each of the three courses. Given that one of the dessert choices is actually a cheeseboard, this leave only one true dessert choice, which may not be to everyone's liking. On the other hand, the menu changes on a weekly basis, with a strong focus on fresh seasonal ingredients. As we were dining as a couple, we simply ordered one of each item allowing us to taste the full menu. 

In contrast to the short menu on a little piece of paper, the wine menu comes attached to what appears to be a wooden plank. After selecting a New Zealand Malborough Sauvignon Blanc (€30), I am left with a dilemma as to where to put the damn thing. In the end I lean it against the table leg. A selection of fresh breads appears along with a pat of smoked butter. I initially found the smoked butter intriguing, but after a few bites I wanted rid of it. The taste was overpowering and I would even have settled for that other horrid form of butter - unsalted. The breads were fine.

Due to the low-lit nature of the dining room, most of the photos I took didn't do justice to the food served. Therefore I'm only publishing two of the pictures. 

Stitch and Bear - Hereford ox tongue starter at Mulberry Garden
Hereford ox tongue starter at Mulberry Garden
  • Poached free range hens egg with natural smoked haddock, sweetcorn, grilled spring onion and bacon crumb. I must admit that I found this dish a bit too salty, but the sweetcorn kernels dotted around the side added little pops of sweetness.
  • Hereford ox tongue with organic beetroot, corned beef hash, horseradish, shaved celeriac and watercress. This was very prettily presented, but the tongue just didn't stand out at all for me. The little croquette of corned beef hash was a winner.
Main Courses
  • Rump of Connemara Hill lamb with braised lamb shoulder, tomato tart fine, dried black olive, pine nuts and crushed aubergine. The lamb was cooked beautifully pink but the tart fine was the star of this plate with fantastic tomato sweetness. The dried black olive was wonderfully intense, but it overpowered the other flavours, particularly the delicate aubergine.
  • Lightly salted Atlantic cod with cauliflower, summer cabbage, caper brown butter, roast & pickled carrots and gratin potato. A very well cooked piece of meaty cod with a delicious butter.
Stitch and Bear - Lightly salted Atlantic cod at Mulberry Garden
Lightly salted Atlantic cod at Mulberry Garden
Main Courses
  • Vanilla panna cotta with coffee & truffle ice-cream, hazelnut biscotti and espresso jelly. When I ordered this, the waitress did ask if I would be OK with the taste of truffle in my dessert. Apparently a lot of people don't find the combination palatable. The dessert came presented in a spherical tumbler with layers of panna cotta and espresso jelly, topped with the (in)famous coffee & truffle ice-cream. I absolutely loved this flavour combination, mixing together coffee, sweetness and the oiliness of the truffle. A really unique dish.
  • Special dessert of chocolate cake with coconut sorbet. This dessert wasn't listed on the menu, but was suggested separately by our waitress. Given that the other option was a cheese plate, himself took the opportunity to have some chocolate. He receive a dense, moist slice of chocolate with a surprisingly creamy coconut sorbet.
Our total bill, including wine and some sparkling water came to €113.95. When booking, I had been skeptical about paying €40 for 3 courses. It seemed a bit too pricey particularly given the limited choice. Now that I've eaten there, I'm a little more convinced. This is a restaurant with the intimate atmosphere of a supper club. There is some really good cooking with excellent Irish ingredients, but many dishes had one touch too many and could benefit from a tiny bit of simplification. Ultimately though, the limited choice remains an issue. Go there on a day when the cards do not fall your way with dish selection and you could well feel cheated. 

Mulberry Garden, Mulberry Lane, Dublin 4
Tel: 353 (0)1 269 3300

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mandarin House, Parnell Street, Dublin

I love reading restaurant reviews. If I have eaten at the venue under review, I compare notes, while for unvisited venues, I make mental bookmarks to visit or avoid. It's fair to say that restaurant reviews are a subjective business and wars have been fought over lesser matters. You have to find a restaurant reviewer whose opinion you trust and with whom you feel an affinity. In Ireland, I am a fan of Tom Doorley, currently with the Irish Daily Mail, while in the UK I enjoy reading Jay Rayner from the Guardian, and reviews from blogger Chris Pople (Cheese and Biscuits). Just like Jay Rayner, I have a great love for spicy chinese food and thanks to his reviews, I have visited some great London Sichuan restaurants.

I do think that Sichuan (and Hunan) food can constitute an addiction. I literally find myself craving that chili hit, with intense garlic and salty bean flavours. It took me a while to become accustomed to the numbing sensations of sichuan pepper and prickly ash, but now I would sit through a Hollyoaks omnibus in order to satisfy my cravings. (For reference, I think Hollyoaks is possibly the most absymal television ever made).

Here in Dublin, I think it's fair to say that Chinese food has been up and down. I ate in the first  wave of authentic Chinese restaurants that opened their doors on down-at-heel Moore Street. Undoubtedly, the Health & Safety inspectors were pleased when some of those venues were closed, but the food was a revelation. The next wave of restaurants opened on Parnell Street, near Marlborough Street. It was clear to see that general restaurant standards were increasing, but in parallel with this was the increasing westernisation of the menus. Restaurants started opening on Capel Street, extending the availability of real chinese cuisine.

My favourite restaurant for a long time has been the Hilan Chinese & Korean restaurant on Capel Street. Friendly and pleasant staff combined with some amazing dishes has kept me coming back for years. But  I think it's time for a new favourite. Let me introduce you to the Mandarin House on Parnell Street.

The restaurant itself is straightforward and plain (a lot of Chinese restaurants don't go for style) with  utilitarian wipe-down paper tablecloths. The menu lists a combination of authentic Chinese food, "regular" Chinese food and there's even a Thai section. Some specials are taped to the inside cover of the menu, along with a value evening menu that includes a glass of wine. On previous visits I've enjoyed the belly pork slices with butternut squash, which  can probably be described as a Chinese version of roast dinner. It's a unique dish, not very spicy and well worth a try if you want to experience something different.

On our recent visit we ordered crispy dumplings, served with soy sauce (5 for €4.50). These actually arrived last of our food order due to the longer cooking time, but they were fat and tasty, full of prawn mixture, with a crisp, pan-fried coating. Black vinegar and chili oil is also available on request to add some extra flavour to the dipping sauce

Stitch and Bear - Crispy dumplings at Mandarin House, Dublin
Crispy dumplings with soy sauce
Fried spicy green beans came piled on a plate mixed with deliciously crisp slices of fried garlic, dried chilis and minced pork (€10.00). If you've ever eaten alongside Chinese people, you will know that fried green beans is a very popular dish and this was a great example. The mixture of fresh and dried chilis provided different layers of heat and smokiness and I found myself picking out the garlic slices and savouring them with my eyes shut.
Stitch and Bear - Spicy fried green beans at Mandarin House, Dublin
Spicy fried green beans
Our other dishes included cumin lamb (€10.00), listed as Northeast Supreme (I think?) on the menu and Chili chicken (€9.00) with fried rice (€2.50 per portion). The chili chicken was moderately hot with a bean-flavoured sauce. The use of thigh meat meant that the chicken remained soft and moist. The lamb was spiced as opposed to spicy through the use of cumin seeds and a smattering of the ubiquitous dried chilis.

Stitch and Bear - Cumin lamb at Mandarin House, Dublin
Northeast lamb supreme (Cumin lamb)
The total bill for this feast came to €44.50, inlcuding two beers and some sparkling water. Given that we had 3 main courses, this represents great value for very tasty food. Our waitress was smiling as she cleared away our empty plates. Clearly our enjoyment of their food was appreciated.

Mandarin House, 179 Parnell Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 878 3146

Monday, September 12, 2011

Little Jerusalem, Rathmines, Dublin

Every city suburb needs a neighbourhood joint. In high-flying Ranelagh, the neighbourhood joints are pricy and packed. In nearby, but slightly dingier, Rathmines there is a joint that is just as packed, but far more affordable and easy going on the auld wallet. Rathmines has been hiding the light that is Little Jerusalem, probably in an effort to ensure that seats will remain for the locals, rather than blow-ins from adjoining suburbs.

Little Jerusalem, a Palestinian & Lebanese joint, is located on Wynnfield Road, which is also home to an internet cafe, an adult shop and an amazing little sports shop. It's not really a street that you stroll down, it's a street that demands a purpose. When we stepped inside the restaurant late on a Thursday night, it was packed to the rafters, with a single empty table. I muttered a short prayer to the restaurant gods, and they listened.

Another little secret about Little Jerusalem is that it's a Bring Your Own (BYO) venue, which means that you can bring in your own alcohol and enjoy it with your meal.  Corkscrews are even provided on the tables. We bought along a bottle of the light and tasty Durvillea Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from O'Briens Wine which had been on special offer at €9.99. As we settled in at the table, we poured some wine and watched the chefs hard at work behind the counter of the original kebab joint. The interior is dimly lit with rugs scattered on the floor, contributing to the sense of coziness and intimacy.

The menu is printed on a simple cardboard booklet with straightforward selections of mezza (starters), with chicken, lamb, fish, vegetarian dishes and salads. I love baba ghanoush or grilled aubergine mashed with olive oil and seasoned with tahini and other spices (5.50), so that was an easy choice for me, while he chose the tasty sounding Palestinian salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, red onions, mint, parsley with a sumac and fresh pomegrante seed dressing (5.50). My baba ghanoush came in a little dish accompanied by a fresh naan which was perfect to scoop up the smoky, richly flavoured mush. (Although it must be said that I ate most directly from the bowl - still on low carb). His salad however, was disappointing, with no real trace of the listed pomegrante dressing.

For mains, I chose the Mashawi Mushakla, which is a mixed plate of grilled chicken, lamb and kofta skewer served with hummous, tabbouleh, sauce and more naan bread (14.99). The grilled meats were rasty, with the lamb really standing out due to a spicy flavour that reminded me of that Cork Christmas favourite, spiced beef. He chose Samak Mashwi, or seasonal marinated & grilled fish, which is served with rice and salad. (13.99) The fish was fleshy and juicy, served simply with a tasty, spicy sauce, plenty of rice and more of the tabbouleh. By the way, this was well-made tabbouleh, featuring plenty of vegetable and a light smattering of bulgar wheat.

Little Jerusalem is a small, cosy spot that cheerfully feeds a crowd every night. All of the about cost us approximately 40, exlcuding the BYO wine. We were quite full after all this, but other diners around us clearly weren't and we watched little plates of baklava and tiny pots of Turkish coffee being delivered by the well-worked waiter. Little Jerusalem delivers. Now you've finally got a purpose to walk down that street.

Little Jerusalem, 3 Wynnfield Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 412 6912

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Old Kilbeggan Distillery, Co Westmeath

The word whiskey descends from the Irish words "Uisce Beatha", which translate direcly as "Water of Life". Due to the similarities between the Irish language and Scots Gaelic, the Scots use the variation "whisky" for their national spirit. Currently, Scotland supports about 90 distilleries, while Ireland has just a mere 4, albeit each producing several whiskies. Only one company remains independant, Cooley Whiskey, which has resurrected the Kilbeggan Whiskey brand and invested in the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.

The town of Kilbeggan is located a few minutes off the M4 motorway between Dublin & Galway, on the old N6 road. It's just over an hour from Dublin, and it's well worth making a detour to visit the charming Old Kilbeggan Distillery. Located on the main street of Kilbeggan, the distillery is housed in an old set of whitewashed buildings. Daily guided, multilingual tours are available, or alternatively, it is possible to take a self-guided tour and explore the distillery at your leisure (This was our chosen option at €7.00 each).

Clutching the sheets of paper which comprised our guide, we set off to explore. The guide takes you through a sequence of numbered features scattered amongst the gigantic copper tuns (vats) and massive toothed gear wheels of the original water-powered machinery. Outside, the local river is dammed to provide a steady flow to the water wheel, and it is pretty amazing to think how the smooth-flowing small river  powers the rotating iron gears and cogs that run throughout the building.
Stitch and Bear - Chimney at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Chimney at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Stitch and Bear - Old gears at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Gears from the water wheel at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
The leaflet was full of straightforward facts and numbers, as well as providing some amusing insights into how the workers "acquired" the benefits of working in a whiskey distillery. Some of these perks were highly guarded secrets such as the pipe which ran from underneath the spirit receivers connected to the stills. From this, the workers could tap their own supply of the clear unaged spirit that would eventually become whiskey. Outside in the yard, it is possible to see copper stills which would have been used to distill the whiskey from a wash to a clear spirit ready for casking. Unfortunately, the stills on display are not the originals, which were sold for copper scrap in the 1960s, but they are old, coming from B. Daly's Distillery, Tullamore. Spent wash, which was not distilled into sprits but still contained alcohol, was dumped into the river where it had the effect of temporarily knocking out the fish, until they were washed downstream and literally sobered up.

Stitch and Bear - Copper still at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Copper still at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
There are rules and regulations which govern the production of Irish whiskey. They are relatively simple - whiskey must be distilled and aged in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. The contained spirits must be distilled to an ABV of less than 94.8% from a yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains and lastly, the whiskey must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks. Thus, any distillery will have large amounts of wooden casks laid down at any given time containing whiskey that is maturing and aging.
Stitch and Bear - Commemorative whiskey casks at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Commemorative whiskey casks at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
The last portion of our tour including a little tasting of Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey in the little bar. The standard Kilbeggan whiskey is a smooth, sweet spirit with a malty finish. Other more matured versions are also available, and we took home a bottle of 8 year old Greenore Single Grain Irish Whiskey. It's made from maize/corn and aged for 8 years in first fill ex-bourbon casks. Like it's relation, it's a sweet whiskey, with tastes of vanilla and caramel and is a lovely whiskey to drink neat.
Stitch and Bear - Tasting Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey at the Old Kilbeggan Distillery
The Old Kilbeggan Distillery is a wonderful location to visit. It hasn't been glossed and polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, it's been bought back to working condition and the factory is allowed to sing its own song. The air in the yards is fragrant with alcohol aromas and it's not hard to imagine the hustle and bustle that once filled the buildings.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

[Review] Eastern Seaboard, Drogheda

I work as a management consultant for a major consulting firm. It's a great job with challenging work and interesting clients. During the 5 years I've spent with my current employer, I've had the privilege and pleasure to work with a wide range of firms, some of which have been well-known household names. Others have been less well-known, like one pharmaceutical firm but which is truly doing something special for people who suffer from rare, degenerative disorders.

My job involves travelling, and I have more familiarity with airport lounges than any sane person should have. I've lived in Brussels for 7 months and Amsterdam for 13 months, but right now, I'm currently back home in Dublin and commuting to Drogheda. To be quite honest, I used to think that the best thing in Drogheda was the M1 road back to Dublin, but that viewpoint has changed recently, thanks to the Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill (and its sister venues Mo's and the Brown Hound Bakery).

The Eastern Seaboard & Brown Hound Bakery was the recent target of an Irish Food Bloggers Association field trip. Afterwards I read the results of the trip with increasing envy and jealousy. Check out Claire's Brown Hound & Eastern Seaboard summary from her An American in Ireland blog. The Katz Miaow went even further with a 3 part summary - you can start with Part 1 here. The professional accolades have been rolling in as well with Chef Reuven Diaz winning a Best Chef award at the 2011 RAI Leinster Awards.

I've visited the Eastern Seaboard 4 times in recent weeks and I have to say that it is a fantastic spot. It's large and open, with bare concrete floors and exposed walls. Warmth and charm comes from the funky art pieces and furniture arranged throughout and daily specials are chalked onto one of the main columns. In short, it's an inviting and relaxing space.

Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard Interior
Fresh flowers on tables at Eastern Seaboard
So what have I sampled? I'll quickly run through the assortment of dishes that I've enjoyed. Word of warning - as I'm currently eating low-carb, I cannot comment on the bread in any of the following dishes, as it all got pushed to the side of the plate. On my first visit, I sampled the Irish beef burger with cheese, which comes with tangy tomato relish, fried onions and spicy mayo (9.95 + 1.00 for cheese). This dish comes with one side, so I chose the garlic zucchini (courgettes to you and me). The burger was moist and tasty, I really enjoyed the sauces, but the garlic courgettes were the star of the show. Thin slices, gently cooked with a lovely garlic flavour - soulfully good.
Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard burger
Burger with garlic zucchini
For my second visit, I decided to choose two of the smaller plates, so I ordered the Butcher's Board with saucisson, pork rilettes, black pudding & chorizo ballotine and parma ham (€8.50) along with the Ploughman's Plate which featured cheddar, apple and relish (€4.95). Both dishes came prettily served on wooden boards and featured lashings of crusty fresh bread. The Butcher's Board was a visual feast for the eyes, and although the ballotine looked amazing, it just didn't deliver in the taste stakes. Pork rillette was deliciously soft and flavoursome. The Ploughman's Plate featured large chunks of tangy mature cheddar with a rich, darkly sugary relish for dipping.
Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard Butcher's Board
Butcher's Board at the Eastern Seaboard
Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard Ploughman's Plate
Ploughman's Plate at the Eastern Seaboard
On my next trip, I decided to try one of my favourite dishes, Caesar Salad - with chicken and crispy bacon (€10.00). The bacon turned out to be crispy pieces of parma ham and I love the chargrilled flavour on the chicken. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough dressing on the leaves for my liking, and when I got to the bottom of the bowl, the dressing was diluted by the excess water which had drained off the leaves into a pool at the bottom of the bowl.
Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard Caesar Salad
Chicken Caesar Salad with crispy bacon
My favourite dish however, came on my last visit. As I was feeling in a fishy kind of mood, I chose the sesame seeded Loch Duart salmon with soy butter (€14.50) which came with two optional sides - so again I chose my beloved garlic courgettes and wilted spinach. The salmon is described as being sustainably farmed and environmentally responsible and is cooked medium, unless otherwise requested. It arrived looking beautiful with a monochrome sesame seed coating, sitting in a golden brown pool of soy butter. Deliciously soft, flavoursome salmon and I found myself running my finger around the plate to catch every last drop of the beautiful sauce. A definite winner of a dish.
Stitch and Bear - Eastern Seaboard Soy Salmon
Sesame seeded salmon with soy butter
The Eastern Seaboard is the kind of restaurant that every town should have. (All the more amazing that Drogheda has it). I have been recommending it far and wide and with Drogheda Train Station only a hop and a skip down the road, there's no excuse not to visit. And after you've sated your appetite, you can head down to the delectable Brown Hound Bakery to select a box of delicious cupcakes or goodies to take home. You just might end up becoming addicted!

Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill, 1 Bryanstown Centre, Dublin Road, Drogheda, Co. Louth.
Tel: +353 (0)41 980 2570
Twitter: @eseaboard

Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Michie Sushi

Michie Sushi has been around for quite a while now, quietly tucked away on a little Ranelagh laneway. It's not a big spot, probably seating a maximum of 20 people in close quarters. Based on that fact alone, it's probably fair to say that it's authentically Japanese. The addition of a kimono-clad waitress and some top-notch food are only garnishing the experience.

We visited late on a Saturday afternoon, but despite this, there were enough customers present to make the place feel busy. You enter through a sliding door which you could easily pass by. Inside, the walls are painted a fresh shade of green with lightweight tables and chairs. We were given cups of  a light green tea to drink while reading our menus, which featured covered lunch, sushi, hot food and specials. No shortage of choice here folks. 

Stitch and Bear - Place setting at Michie Sushi
Plate setting at Michie Sushi
As I'm currently eating low-carb, my options were a tiny bit limited and I did cheat a little with my main course. We chose a plate of tuna & salmon sashimi (€9.95) to start which quickly arrived at the table with 5 slices of each fish along with some seaweed and a dollop of the fiery goodness that is wasabi. As you'd expect from a good sushi restaurant, the fish was impeccably fresh, with that sweet taste of really excellent sashimi.

Stitch and Bear - Tuna and salmon sashimi at Michie Sushi
Tuna and salmon sashimi
I chose a special of Tonkatsu (€8.51) for my main. I was cheating somewhat on my low-carb eating as this featured sliced pork loin in crispy Panko breadcrumbs served with a sweet homemade tonkatsu sauce. However, I did justify it somewhat by declining to order a side dish of rice to accompany it. The pork was fine on its own, but came to life when dipped into the excellent sauce or smeared with a little of the hot Japanese mustard that lurked behind the shredded cabbage. Despite all my years eating in Japanese restaurants, this was my first time experiencing Japanese mustard and I can now tell you that it a condiment that deserves respect. There's a reason that you're only served a small amount.

Stitch and Bear - Tonkatsu at Michie Sushi
Tonkatsu with homemade tonkatsu sauce
He chose a salmon bento box (€10.95) for his main course. It featured a tasty miso soup, piece of delicately cooked salmon with courgette, rice, a lightly dressed salad and 2 large pieces of sushi roll. The main components of salmon & sushi were excellent and the salad was tastily dressed. A great example of healthy, balanced eating.

Stitch and Bear - Salmon bento box at Michie Sushi
Salmon bento box
Our total bill for lunch came to €31.21, including one small bottle of sparkling water and unlimited free green tea. It's an absolute pleasure to eat lunch somewere like Michie Sushi. There are no pretensions and no fuss. Instead you get clean, exact food with the balance and delicacy that is so typical of Japanese food. This is truly food for body and mind.

Michie Sushi, 11 Chelmsford Lane, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 497 6438
Twitter: @MichieSushi

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gambas Pil Pil

Recently I've been eating low-carb. This is in an effort to knock off some weight, which I could frankly well afford to do. Several years ago I successfully lost 12-13 kg on a low-carb diet with lots of taekwon do training and kept it off for a few years. Then I moved to Dublin and started work as a consultant. Irregular hours, lots of travel, bad canteens and an eye injury meant that I stopped exercising and the weight crept back on. So, I'm back on the low-carb wagon and I'm running again. I'm only at at the start, but I already feel much more energetic. I do low-carb 6.5 days of the week, with one carby meal a week. I think this is psychologically as well as nutritionally important.

As any low-carb follower will tell you, eating out can be a challenge. I have ended up in canteens with the weirdest combinations of food - sometimes boiled broccoli from the hot counter with rocket and ham slices from the salad counter. My current work assignment has ZERO low-carb suitable options at breakfast time. So where's good to go when low-carbing?

Well, one clear option is tapas. I've been to Port House Ibericos in Dundrum twice recently, and both times I had the Gambas Pil Pil or basically prawns served in a garlic & chili oil. Plump juicy prawns that you can dip into the garlicky oil, what's not to love? Today, while shopping, I picked up some raw, peeled prawns and I decided to make Gambas Pil Pil at home. It's really easy, but the secret is to take your time and not overheat the oil. The results are amazing. I've listed quanities below, but don't get hung up on the measurements. I used 140g of prawns because that was the pack size I purchased.

I use a lot of garlic in my version, because that's the way I like it. Feel free to adjust to your own tastes. One word - the traditional recipe uses parsley, which I don't personally like, so I've omitted it. However, feel free to add some finely chopped parsley if that floats your boat. Pimenton, or smoked paprika, adds a real Spanish flavour of smokiness and warmth to the dish. It's readily obtainable in any good food shop and makes a valuable addition to any spice shelf.

Stitch and Bear - Gambas Pil Pil
Gambas Pil Pil and assorted snacks
140g raw prawns, peeled
6-7 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/2 red chili, finely chopped
1 knob butter
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon pimenton (smoked paprika)
Lots of olive oil
Sea salt (flakes are best)

The first thing required is to remove the prawns from their packaging and place them in a bowl along with some salt. This is not to add flavour, but instead to draw out some moisture from the prawns. Otherwise, when later placed in the oil, the water will leach out causing the prawns to boil rather than fry. Leave them to sit while preparing the oil.

Put a small skillet or heavy pan on a low-heat. Pour in lots of olive oil. The idea is that the prawns will sit in the oil and cook that way, rather than shallow-frying. As the oil warms up, add the knob of butter. I do this because it helps me see how hot the oil is getting. Reserve about one clove of garlic and a little chili. Once the butter has melted, add all the remaining garlic, chili and pimenton to the oil. They should be sizzling gently. The idea is to cook the garlic and chili very gently in the oil, so that it absorbs all the flavour. If the garlic shows any sign of browning, remove the oil from the heat until it is cooler. Allow the oil to infuse for approx 10 mins. Stir frequently and taste occasionally to see how the flavour is developing.

Place the prawns on kitchen paper and pat dry. Once ready, turn the heat up under the oil, stir in the reserved garlic and chili, then drop in the prawns one by one. Depending on the size, they should take no more than 2.5 - 3 minutes to cook. Serve either in the skillet or remove to a dish along with plenty of the tasty oil. Add a light sprinkle of sea salt and some crusty slices of bread for the people who are not low-carbing. Enjoy!

You may find that you won't eat or use all the oil. But this oil can be reused to cook more prawns, or reserved for use in a salad dressing.

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