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, October 29, 2011

Bon Appetit, Malahide, Co Dublin

Have you ever wanted the chance to critique a Michelin-starred chef and actually have him listen to you? Over the course of two weeks in October, Bon Appetit offered diners the chance to enjoy 6 courses for just €40. In return for this exceptional value, chef Oliver Dunne and his team sought feedback from the diners which they could use to refine and improve their new winter menu. Bon Appetit has a strong reputation, so this open invitation to would-be critics was hardly going to cause any consternation in the kitchen, but it was still a brave move on their part. You could also argue that the request for feedback represents how sophisticated Irish diners have become.

Well, I think all my readers know that I like a bargain, just as much as I like to eat good food, so I duely put my money where my mouth is. An early arrival into Malahide meant that we could spend a few relaxing moments looking at the boats in the marina. Wistful dreaming complete, we headed up the steps into Bon Appetit for an aperitif at their very fabulous and well-priced tapas & wine bar, Le Bon Vin. As I was driving, I decided to order a Kir Royale, which would be my sole alcholic treat for the evening. Dining at a Michelin restaurant is always a special occasion, hence the glass of bubbles.

We were escorted upstairs to the dining room which is a very calming and elegant space with the tables set well apart. The ever watchful staff even provided a little footstool on which to rest my handbag. (Heaven forbid that it would have to rough it on the floor.) The beauty of a tasting menu is that you don't have to choose your courses, which means that you can sit right back, relax and wait for the chef to perform his magic.

As a little appetiser, we received two warm simple choux puffs fragrant with Gruyère. We were also offered a selction of fantastically light and crusty homemade breads, which were easily the best that I've enjoyed in any restaurant. Our 6 course tasting menu consisted of the following dishes (no photos are available due to the low light levels).
  • Amuse Bouche of white onion & thyme veloute - beautifully smooth with a lovely sweetness coming from the onion.
  • Pan-fried foie gras, confit rhubarb, hazelnut snow, wild rice crispies, rhubarb puree and parsnip custard - The rhubarb confit caught the eye due to its vivid pink colour, but I found the foie gras to be a little underseasoned. The little drifts and clumps of hazelnut snow had a beautiful nutty flavour which complemented the butteriness of the liver.
  • Pan-roasted brill, cauliflower 3 ways (roasted, pickled & puree), couscous & cheese macaroni - A perfectly cooked piece of firm fish, served on plump, juicy couscous. The accompanying mac'n'cheese had been made with goat's cheese whose tanginess overpowered the delicate fish.
  • Rump of lamb, sweetbread with herb praline, Madeira reduction, creamed leeks and glazed baby carrot - I simply loved the sweetbread served alongside the lamb. It reminded me of the foie gras served earlier, but it was the glazed carrot that I will remember the most. I never thought a carrot could taste that good.
  • Fig & Hibiscus purée, star anise foam with carmelised nuts - Served in a pretty little shot glass, this fruity liquid tasted of Christmas and spicy winter warmth.
  • Peanut parfait, chocolate & chocolate tuille, pear sorbet & poached pear- This came to the table looking like a fabulous Philip Tracey creation. A large circle of tuille was perched atop a little square of parfait, with a quenelle of sorbet sitting in the loop. I simply loved the combination of peanuts and chocolate and the pear sorbet added a cool refreshment. However, when I tried to cut the poached pear with my spoon, it damn near rocketed off the plate and across the table.
We finished off our meal with coffee and homemade choclates. I loved the colourful elegant Wedgewood coffee cups, and while the chocolates were delicious, I would have liked something a little lighter (perhaps a macaron?) to finish the meal.

The only serious critique of our meal would be in relation to time it took to serve our food. Other couples who came in later in the evening caught up with us over the course of dinner. A well-paced service is to be expected when indulging in some fine dining, but this was a bit too lengthy. However, we occupied ourselves in the intervals between courses by imaging what the other diners were doing. Older men and younger women are always good for speculation.

Our total bill for the evening came to over €150. Food totalled €80, drinks and sparkling water , coffee and petit fours were €5.95 per head, while the remainder was due to a 12.5% service charge. Sometimes I forget how much drinks and extras can add to a bill. However, in return for that hard-earned money, we received excellent food, smooth (albeit a little slow) service and a very relaxed evening. On our drive home, we debated the relative merits of Bon Appetit and Chapter One, which was our favourite restaurant to date. The jury is still out on that decision, but one thing is clear. You won't go wrong at Bon Appetit.

Bon Appetit, James's Terrace, Malahide, Co. Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 845 01314
Twitter: @bonappmalahide\
Bon Appetit on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Melting Moments Biscuits

Everyone needs a party piece when it comes to baking. It should be something that you can make quickly with a minimum of fuss and ingredients, but delivers maximum impact. When I saw Mary-Anne Boermans bake some tiny, dainty biscuits on BBC's The Great British Bake Off, I was intrigued. She used a minimum of ingredients, 5 to be exact, but the judges oohed and aahed over the results.

I found Mary-Anne's recipe on her blog, Time to Cook - Online, and the more I read, the more I liked. The biscuits are super adaptable, delicious served plain, but also capable of being dolled up with buttercream or filling of your choice. They go especially well with coffee.

Stitch and Bear - Delicious Melting Moments
My version of Mary-Anne's Melting Moments

250g unsalted butter, room temperature
58g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
250g plain flour
58g cornflour

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius for fan-assisted ovens, or 200 Celsius for conventional ovens. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

In a bowl, beat the butter for several minutes until pale and creamy. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl and continue to beat for another minute or two until well incorporated. It is worth having the butter as soft as possible before starting as this is the main source of liquid in the recipe. The softer the butter is, the easier it will be to pipe the biscuits.

Add the vanilla essence and quickly beat in. 

Sift the flour and cornflour into the bowl and beat well until mixed in. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that all dry ingredients are incorporated into the mixture. 

Once ready, fit a wide star nozzle to a strong piping bag (preferably canvas) and fill with the mixture. Pipe evenly onto the baking sheets. Placing a template guide under the greaseproof paper will help you produce even results. Depending on your piping skill level, you can pipe swirls or simple stars, as in my photo above. 

Mary-Anne recommends placing the baking sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm the mixture before baking, but I don't have the freezer space to do this, and my biscuits have turned out pretty good without. Place into the oven and bake for approx 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. 

Remove from the oven and leave on the tray for a few minutes to harden. They are too delicate to move while still hot from the oven. Once cool, transfer gently with a palette knife to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy on their own, or sandwich together with fillings such as jam, buttercream, chocolate or caramel. Only your imagination will limit you.

Stitch and Bear - Melting Moments sandwiched with chocolate buttercream
Melting Moments sandwiched with chocolate buttercream


Tuesday, October 25, 2011 Cake Sale in aid of Barnardos

If you're a keen baker, and fancy helping out a worthy cause this October Bank Holiday Weekend, while also getting to eat some goodies from other bakers, then read on.

Childhood charity Barnardos are running a week long fundraising effor in conjunction with RTÉ 2fm. The Dress Up for Barnardos week involves getting dressed up for Halloween while raising some much needed money. It's really easy to take part and all contributions will go to a good cause. 

The good folk at are organising a cake sale this Saturday, October 29th with all proceeds going to Barnardos. In order to gather foodstuffs for the sale, they are calling on all Irish food bloggers and keen bakers to get working in the kitchen to create some tasty treats for donation to the sale. If you would like to bake something for this, please email so they know of your participation, and so that you can receive some top tips.

The cake sale will take place Saturday afternoon in the Grand Social bar, on Liffey Street, alongside the Hapenny Flea Market with all the stallholders dressing up for Halloween. Donations will be accepted between 11.30 and 12.00 on Saturday, but get in touch with Jean to organise an alternative time, if required.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gourmet Burger Company, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

It was Friday evening, and we were faced with a dilemma - what to do with ourselves. I'd had a stressed week at work, which when combined with two hours of daily driving, means that I'd finished the week tired and drained. I'd managed to leave an hour early for the weekend, and all I wanted to do was to relax and not do anything strenuous, but he wanted to get out of the house for a bit. As a result, we decided to go out but stay local, and after a quick Luas trip, we were in Ranelagh.

A few days earlier, I had purchased a Living Social voucher for the Gourmet Burger Comapny which had offered four beers or glasses of wine with a bowl of buffalo wings (€14) or two steaks, salads and glasses of wine (€27). As I'd been to Gourmet Burger before for burgers, I  went for the steak voucher. I hadn't reckoned on using it so soon after purchasing, but it fitted nicely with our desire for an easy evening.

Gourmet Burger Company is one of those fancy burger joints that seemed to appear everywhere a few years ago, but it has the distinction of trying harder than its competitors. We took a seat close to the window, and I did take some small pleasure in watching all the late commuters on their drive home. It felt good to be home and not out on the road in the dusky light. Himself asked if  he could swap a glass of wine for a beer, but our waiter informed us that this was not possible. Not to mind, and a Flensburger Pilsener beer was ordered, which comes in a flip-top bottle (6).  I chose a glass of the house white wine, which was a very serviceable Sauvignon Blanc.

Stitch and Bear - Flensburger beer at Gourmet Burger Company Ranelagh
Flensburger Pilsener beer at Gourmet Burger Company
I'd heard great things about the chicken wings at Gourmet Burger Company, so we decided to share a bowl as a starter to our steaks (€9.75). With several sauces to choose from, we went for the Suicidal sauce, which turned out to be just right. Not too hot but still with plenty of tang and bite, the wings came served with an unfortunately dull blue cheese dip and crunchy batons of carrot and celery. The portion size was extremely generous and one bowl of these wings would easily serve as a meal in its own right. If these was a best wings in Dublin competition, these would be serious contenders.

Stitch and Bear - Chicken wings in Suicidal sauce at Gourmet Burger Company Ranelagh
Chicken wings at Gourmet Burger Company
Our steaks came served on a half-ciabatta, with garlic mayonnaise, fresh horseradish and portobello mushroom. Perfectly cooked, they were juicy and well-sized. A simply dressed side salad comprised the advertised "salad" from the voucher. Being greedy gits, and not realising our own limitations, we had also ordered a side of hand cut fries (€3.40) which were excellent chips, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. 
Stitch and Bear - Rib eye steak with salad at Gourmet Burger Company Ranelagh
Grilled rib eye steak at Gourmet Burger Company
We took our time over dinner and service was excellent throughout, managing that fine line between friendliness and over-familiarity. The decor is simple and clean, with dark wood against lime green walls,  leather seats and little amusing motifs featuring the little character from the branding. All burgers are 100% Irish organic beef, and if you're looking for something a little bit different, it's even possible to enjoy a Kobe beef burger. 

Our total bill came to €19.15, once our voucher had been deducted. Ranelagh is a suburb that demands sophistication, particularly in its restaurants, and Gourmet Burger Company more than meets these requirements. Personally, I'm already contemplating another trip for some more of those spicy chicken wings.

Gourmet Burger Company, 97 Ranelagh Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 497 7821
Twitter: @GourmetBurger

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tullamore Dew whiskey tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer

Twitter can be really good to me sometimes. Last week, I saw a tweet from Stoneybatter gastropub, L. Mulligan Grocer, offering places at a whiskey tasting where Tullamore Dew whiskey would be paired with specially made desserts from the L. Mulligan team. Best of all, places were free! One email later and I had secured two places at the event.

Stitch and Bear - Glasses ready for Tullamore Dew tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer
Glasses at the ready for Tullamore Dew at L. Mulligan Grocer
The tasting was scheduled to commence at 8pm sharp, and attendance was high, with the dining area at L. Mulligan packed out by freeloaders whiskey fans, keen to get their hands on some free whiskey and tasty desserts. Every place was set with 4 whiskey glasses, each containing a small sample of some Tullamore Dew brands. Alongside was a description of the desserts to be paired with each whiskey and some pointers on flavours.

Stitch and Bear - Samples of Tullamore Dew at L. Mulligan Grocer
The Tullamore Dew samples at L. Mulligan Grocer

Stitch and Bear - Happy crowd at the Tullamore Dew tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer
The keen crowd at L. Mulligan Grocer
Our two tasting guides from Tullamore Dew introduced themselves and the show got underway. We started with the standard Tullamore Dew Original whiskey. This was not paired with a dessert as it was simply meant to get us ready for the treats to come. I was pleasantly surpised by this whiskey, being light and smooth, with sweet and citrus flavours. A very drinkable everyday whiskey.

The first dessert pairing came courtesy of Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve and a plum & oat madeira cake with orange drizzle icing and ginger pouring cream. This was my favourite pairing of the night as I thought that the sweet almond and vanilla tones of the whiskey matched the cake beautifully, while the whiskey's spicy tones were complemented by the warmth from the delectable ginger pouring cream.

Stitch and Bear - Pairing number 1 at the Tullamore Dew tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer
Plum & oat madeira cake with Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve
Next, vanilla and orange zest spiced mousse served in an adorably tiny little jar was paired with Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt. The vanilla and long citrus finish of this single distillery whiskey reminded the Mulliganers of Milky Way bars and orangette, leading them to create this zesty mousse. Although I thought the mousse reminded me of  my 80's childhood favourite, Angel Delight, it did pair well with the malt whiskey, as the two nicely rounded off each others corners.

I found the the Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Malt to be a very aromatic whiskey with lovely sherry  aromas. The Tullamore Dew team explained that this arose from the long aging process whereby the whiskey is moved between Bourbon, Dry Oloroso Sherry, Madeira and Port casks. Phew - that's a lot of effort!

Stitch and Bear - Pairing number 2 at the Tullamore Dew tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer
Vanilla & orange zest spiced mousse with Tullamore Dew 10 Year Old Single Malt
The last of our pairings consisted of Boyne Valley blue cheese, served with oatcakes, apple & grapefruit jelly and pomegranate seeds, paired with Tullamore Dew Year Old 10 Reserve. This was the least favourite of the pairings, as I found the whiskey to clash with this strong blue goat's cheese, causing an unwelcome sharp flavour in my mouth. Later, we were told that the original pairing was to involve Mossfield Organic, a Gouda-style cheddar, which I think would have worked much better.

Stitch and Bear - Pairing number 3 at the Tullamore Dew tasting at L. Mulligan Grocer
Boyne Valley blue cheese with Tullamore Dew Year Old 10 Reserve
The tasting session finished up with a cocktail making challenge. Each table, or group, was given a cocktail shaker, a shot of whikey and a cocktail recipe. We drew a Chocolate Orange Old Fashioned, a challenge for which I felt adequately qualified. Thanks to the fabulous mixologist at Cliff Town House, I'm an expert in Chocolate Orange Old Fashioneds, so I set about the challenge with some gusto. And the best part - we won the challenge, receiving a gift card to spend at the bar later.

Unfortunatley, I was the designated driver for the night, so I was truly only "tasting" the whiskies and cocktail. Himself was the main beneficiary of the night, as he received all my whiskey surplus. However, I've got to admit that I kept all the desserts for myself! Somethings you can't share.

Overall we had a great night. I really can't recollect drinking Tullamore Dew in the past - iI'd go so far as to say that I had it confused with Irish Mist in my head. In fact, Tullamore Dew is a long established brand, being in existence since 1829, and is very popular abroad. It actually ranks as the No 2 whiskey in Eastern Europe.  Other interesting facts learned on the night include that the use of the word "dew" in the title is not an effort at lyricism, but instead arises from the initials of a manager in the early years of the distillery, a certain Mr. Daniel E. Williams. 
L. Mulligan Grocer will be running similar events in future, so keep an eye out for future dates via their blog, Twitter, or get added to their mailing list.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Food waste in our kitchens - Blog Action Day 2011

How much unused food do you throw away? Are you one of the households where 50% of salad leaves get thrown out as green sludge? According to the website, about 1/3 of the food we purchase ends up in the bin, costing the average household up to €1,000 per annum. The most common foodstuffs which find themselves in the bin are bread, apples and potatoes.

Food waste isn't limited to just households. Think of all those useless side salads on your plate in restaurants that you don't eat - the total effect of uneaten food in Irish restaurants comes to a stunning €125 million

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

October 16th is World Food Day, an event used to mark the foundation of the  Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 1945. October 16th is also Blog Action Day, an annual event whereby the global blogging community unites to focus on a particular topic of immediate concern. As a result, the selected topic for Blog Action Day 2011 is "Food" and registered participants are free to write on any relevant area.

As a poor Ph.D. student, I learned the hard way not to over-purchase when food shopping. It's all too easy when out in the supermarket or that lovely farmers' market to end up with trollies or baskets full of produce. Everything looks so good in the shop, but later on in the week when throwing food in the bin, you can feel the pennies slipping through your fingers.

Simple tips to help you avoid over-purchasing include the following:
  • Plan your meals in advance and purchase what you need. Granted, this requires some discipline.
  • Don't shop when hungry. This is common sense really, after all "Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras"
  • Don't get suckered by multi-purchase deals (i.e. 2 for 1) deals that you don't really need. This also extends to multipacks. Do you really need a bag of 10 apples or will 4 loose apples suit your needs better?
  • Check best-before or use-by dates before placing the goods in the trolley. Supermarkets rotate stock on their shelves so that older produce is typically located towards the front. This gives you less time to use the product. Instead, look on the shelves for a further in the future date.
For more savvy tips and advice on fighting against food waste, visit Stop Food Waste. By taking some simple actions, you can keep more money in your pocket as well as reducing the amount of waste being generated for your rubbish collection. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Box Tree, Stepaside, Dublin 18

The Great Britain & Ireland Michelin Guide 2012  was recently released to some anticipation. Judging by the conversations on Twitter, several Irish establishments were keenly looking forward to the announcement. In the end, it was a bit of a non-event, as there were no changes in the 1-star and 2-star establishments on the island. There was a little more movement in terms of Bib Gourmands with the Box Tree in Stepaside and Fontana in Holywood both gaining a Bib Gourmand. Unfortunately, Cafe Hans in Cashel, La Maison in Dublin and Rosso in Dundalk all lost their Bib Gourmand. Thus Irish dining lost more than it gained.

The recent good news for The Box Tree, which has been open for just under one year, did prompt me to pick up the phone and make a lunch reservation. Eamonn O'Reilly (One Pico & Bleu Bistro) is the force behind this restaurant in the lovely suburban village of Stepaside where it shares a building with a sister gastropub, The Wild Boar. A two course lunch is available for the attractive price of 17.95.

Stitch and Bear - The calm interior of the Box Tree
The classic interior of the Box Tree
The Box Tree is a relatively spacious restaurant, capable of seating 100 people, but despite this, the tables are nicely spaced. The decor is muted and relaxing, painted in that famous French grey-green colour whose name I do not know, although I must admit that I took a dislike to the fabric used on the upholstery. The menu offers 5 choices for starter and main, and we quickly homed in on several dishes which we were both keen to try.

Stitch and Bear - Castletownbere crab & avocado starter at the Box Tree
Castletownbere crab salad
The Castletownbere crab salad with avocado crème fraiche, avocado puree and red pepper dressing came as a pretty little tiane of crab with lovely layers of white crème fraiche and green avocado. Although visually stunning, the red pepper dressing didn't seem to add much to the crab, which managed to be both rich and light all at once. 

Stitch and Bear - Old Spot ham hock terrine at the Box Tree
Old Spot ham hock terrine
I had chosen the ‘Old Spot’ ham hock terrine which came served on a wooden board with a caper & gherkin mayonnaise and apple chutney. The slice of terrine featured decent chunks of tasty, meaty ham, tiny onions and had been beautifully set in a casing of savoy cabbage leaves. Their bright green colour had been preserved, providing a great visual contrast with the meat.

Stitch and Bear - Wicklow lamb and shallot pie at the Box Tree
Wicklow lamb, shallot & cumin pie
The daily special was a pie of Wicklow lamb, shallot and cumin served with buttered peas and mash. This arrived rather intriguingly as a set of components on the now ubquituous wooden board. A single, rather lonely-looking quenelle of mash sat in the middle of a plate, awaiting the contents of the pie. I could take umbrage with the definition of "pie" given that it consisted of a small tureen of rich, gelatinous filling with a golden puff pastry lid set on top, but it's hard to be finicky when something tastes this good.

Stitch and Bear - Roast cherry tomato and goat's cheese risotto at the Box Tree
Roast cherry tomato & goat's cheese risotto
My main of roast cherry tomato and goat's cheese risotto with rocket and goat's cheese beignet was beautifully cooked with a nutty kernel remaining in the rice and a rich sauce with strands of cheese visible when lifted away. A good risotto is a soul-satisfying experience, and I quietly worked my way through most of the dish with satisfaction. The sharp tang of the little beignets offered some taste contrast, but I thought they were perhaps a little too "chip-shop" for the dish.

I chose a glass of Domaine Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet 2010 (7.25) which was full-flavoured  with touches of citrus. With a large bottle of sparkling water and two coffees, our bill comes to a total of 52.15.

A holder of a Michelin Bib Gourmand is deemed to be a venue that offers good food at moderate prices. The publicity that comes with the awarding of such an accolade can boost the profile of a restaurant, and the Box Tree is a deserving recipient. O'Reilly has continued to do what he is famous for, namely offering good local food at prices that customers will appreciate. Such honest endeavour deserves to be rewarded.

The Box Tree, Stepaside Vilage, Dublin 18
Tel: +353 (0)1 205 2025
Twitter: @TheBoxTree

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sweet Potato & Coconut Soup

Winter is starting to make its unwelcome presence felt, although that Indian summer is stubbornly holding on. It's getting darker a littler earlier every night, and even as I prepared the photographs for this post, the room has darkened noticeably. Sigh.

At least winter gives you an excuse to wear warm comfy clothing, and in the kitchen, you can start to make thick, warming soups. My recipe for sweet potato & coconut soup ticks all the right boxes - it's healthy and tasty. My secret ingredient of a Tom Yum stockcube (packed full of Thai flavours) adds lots of vibrancy to the soup, and you can play with the chili heat to suit your own personal tastes. In the recipe below, I list the chili as being deseeded, but personally, I leave the seeds in for a little more kick. 

Even the simple act of making this soup involves lots of colour - the red of the chilis, the green of the lime and the lovely orange of the sweet potato. As you cook, fragrant aromas will fill the kitchen, helping to banish those dark nights.

Some points to consider
  • I use a Tom Yum stockcube in this recipe which should be readily available in any good Asian supermarket (see picture below). This stockcube can be used as the base for a Thai Tom Yum soup and is full of the sharp fragances and aromas that we have come to associate with Thai cooking. Like any stock cube, it contains salt, so keep that in mind when seasoning the soup.
  • Make sure to shake the coconut milk before opening the tin. This is to help mix back together the cream and the liquid which may have become separated while in the tin.
  • Palm sugar is a form of brown sugar commonly used in Thai and Asian cooking. Again, you should be able to source in this any Asian store, but if not, you can replace with brown sugar, or even white sugar.
  • Finally, I like to make my soups really thick, which means that I try to cook them with a minimum of liquid. Once I blend my soups, I then add more water/stock to bring it to the desired consistency.
Sweet potato and coconut soup

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1.5 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 red chili, deseeded & chopped
2 teaspoons palm sugar (or brown sugar if not available)
3 tablespoons sherry (or dark rum)
3-4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tin of coconut milk, shaken and opened
1 Tom Yum stockcube
Fish sauce to season
Juice of 1/2 lime

Heat some cooking oil (sunflower or peanut) over a medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the shallots and sautee for a few minutes until softened. 

Add the garlic, ginger and chili and continue to cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes until all ingredients have softened.

Some of my favourite ingredients
 Add the palm sugar and stir until the mixture starts to carmelise. At this point, add the sherry and stir until the alcohol has evaporated and the mixture has become a little sticky.

Add the sweet potatoes to the saucepan and toss with the onion mixture. Once all the sweet potato has been coated in the mixture, pour in the coconut milk. Crumble the Tom Yum stockcube to the mixture and stir well. Add extra water to the saucepan until the vegetables are covered. Add 1 tablespoon of fish sauce and stir through.

Place the lid on the saucepan and bring the mixture to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and allow to simmer, stirring frequently until the sweet potato is cooked through. Remove from the heat and allow to cool down sufficiently for blending.

Using either a handheld stick blender or a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. If too thick, just add some more water or stock until the desired consistency is reached. Stir in the lime juice and taste. At this point, I find that the soup usually requires more fish sauce, so add until you feel that you have the right balance.

Ladle the soup intb bowls and garnish as desired. Some suggestions could include dessicated coconut, coconut flakes, a spoonful of coconut cream or fresh coriander. Be creative and enjoy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

[CLOSED] Il Segreto, Merrion Row, Dublin

Il Segreto is now closed. 

Il Segreto comes from the team behind Unicorn restaurant and opened in 2009 in a courtyard venue on Merrion Row. Head chef is Lorcan Cribbons, formerly of the Ivy Restaurant, London and neighbouring Bang Cafe. This little section of Dublin is home to Bang, Pearl, Hugo's and Il Segreto, so competition is tough.

We visited the restaurant to use a Living Social voucher giving us two starters, two main courses and two glasses of wine for €39. Apparently this had been a phenomenonally popular deal with over 1,700 people purchasing a voucher. Once we arrived at the restaurant, it was therefore no surprise to find ourselves seated alongside other voucher users, 4 other couples to be exact. Clearly the restaurant has the management of voucher diners down to a fine art.

The dining room, downstairs and upstairs, was full to the brim with all tables occupied. We were seated upstairs, where a large dinner group was celebrating a birthday. Lighting is dim throughout, providing what some may see as a romantic, intimate atmosphere, but what I consider to be just dark. Despite being voucher users, we were able to order anything from the menu without supplements or restrictions. Two glasses of house Sauvignon were quickly brought to the table after ordering. The bread basket was a rather drab affair with two slices each of bog-standard baguette and a better brown bread. Not enough butter was supplied for the bread, and it was hard to boot.

(Apologies in advance for the dark photos - the low lighting in the restaurant proved to be a challenge)
Foie gras with onion galette and cherries
Spiced duck salad
Our starters arrived shortly after ordering, giving the feeling that the kitchen was running a tight ship. I had gone for the seared foie gras served with onion galette and cherries (€11.00). The liver was cooked nicely with buttery, meaty gravy and sweetness from the cherries. However the dish was let down by the galette which was overcooked and actually bordering on burnt. His starter of spiced duck slices, with watercress and sherry vinaigrette (€8.15) was a bit of a non-event. The delicate flavour from the spiced duck was evident, but the salad was bland with a dressing that tasted of nothing.

Pan fried scallops with mousseline potato, pancetta & garlic butter
The conveyor belt efficiency continued with the delivery of our main courses. I had chosen a signature dish - pan fried scallops with mousseline potato, pancetta & garlic butter (€25.50).  A large bowl plate arrived, with 5 scallops arranged on a small dollop of potato. The scallops were very uneven in size, ranging from massively plump to skinny-minny. They were cooked to perfection, with the beautiful natural sweet flavour shining through and a lovely carmelisation on the outside. But, for €25.50, this was a meagre dish and, scallops aside, pretty devoid of flavour. I had my knife and fork arranged together long before he had finished his course.

Himself ordered the grilled rib of beef with fries and bearnaise sauce (€25.25) which arrived with a portobello mushroom on top. The steak was exactly cooked as requested (rare) , but the fries were presented terribly in a ceramic dish on the plate, while the bearnaise was a weak and insipid affair. One of life's greatest pleasures is steak frites with bearnaise where you get to dunk the steak and fries into the sharp & buttery sauce. Il Segreto's steak frites just did not deliver on this front.

The house Sauvignon Blanc was a very drinkable wine, which went well with the food. We were finished eating within an hour of sitting down, and we declined desserts and coffees as we just wanted to leave. We asked for the bill, which arrived nicely itemised, showing the deduction for our voucher and the "pleasant" surprise addition of a flat €10.00 service charge. I didn't recollect seeing this on the menu, and neither was it mentioned on our voucher.I presume this is an attempt on the part of Il Segreto to recoup some money from the voucher diners who will visit without ordering anything extra from the menu. In our case, we had ordered one extra glass of wine, which never featured on the bill, so we felt that the "free" wine roughly cancelled out the service charge.

Concluding thoughts on Il Segreto? Slightly overpriced and rather bland in places. It has the feel of a "pile them high and serve them fast" venue that cares more about the amount of covers served per night than providing diners with a quality restaurant experience. To put it another way, I'd return as long as someone else was footing the bill.

Il Segreto, 13a/13b Merrion Row, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 661 8700
Twitter: @ilSegretodublin

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recent Irish food winners

I'm dedicating this post to some excellent Irish food & drink producers. In recent days, I've read of wins abroad for Irish cheese manufacturers Knockdrinna at the British Cheese Awards 2011, while at home, we've been busy celebrating great Irish produce through events such as the Blas na hÉireann National Irish Food Awards. Later this month, Irish food producers and enthusiasts will gather at Savour Kilkenny to continue the celebration of all that is good and great about Irish food. 

Based purely on my personal preferences, I am going to write about three different producers, each of whose products I like for different reasons. One is an old childhood friend, one is relaxing in front of a fire and one is made from caprine milk (well, goat's milk). 

The childhood friend - Folláin

I grew up in the Muskerry Gaeltacht (Gaeltacht Mhúscraí) and one way of earning a few bob in the summertime was to pick blackberries and other soft fruit for the small, local jam factory. We'd head to the fields with an empty bucket (formerly used to hold caustic soda for cleaning the milking machine) and pick blackberries from the briars. Every day I'd eagerly anticipate the small fortune that was to be made, but of course, by the end of the day, I'd have purple lips and tongue, while my bucket was definitely not overflowing.

The local jam factory was Folláin, which started by producing a grapefruit marmalade in 1983, based on a O'Lionáird family recipe. This family-run business is a true success story, growing from a small kitchen enterprise to a fully-equipped and high-tech production facility, while still remaining rooted in the small village of Cúil Aodha. While I've always loved their jams and preserves, my real love lies with their range of relishes, particularly the Fire Roasted Pepper and Exotic Fruit relishes.

Stitch and Bear - Follain relishes
Folláin Red Pepper & Exotic Fruit relishes
My favourite is the Exotic Fruit Relish, although 2fm DJ Rick O'Shea from is a well-known fan of the Fire Roasted Pepper Relish. It's delicious as the base to a cheese toastie, or else served with cheese and crackers. 

Folláin have found a profitable side to their business in the production of own-label products for different supermarket chains and their quality was recognised at the Blas na hÉireann 2011 awards where their Supreme Fire Roasted Pepper Relish for Supervalu and Irish Country Relish Chargrilled Pepper for Aldi took Gold & Silver respectively in the Pickles & Chutneys category.
There's an old Irish saying "Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras", which translates as "Hunger is a great sauce". Let me tell you, the old Irish folk got it all wrong, they really meant to say "Is maith an t-anlann Folláin" or "Folláin is a great sauce"

The fireside friend - Cooley Distillery

Irish whiskey is mainly dominated by large multinationals these days, and only one independently owned distillery remains in the country - Cooley Distillery. When created in 1987, it was the first new distillery in Irleand in over a century and it set about revitalising some old Irish whiskey brands as well as restoring the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.

Greenore, one of the Cooley brands, is a single grain whiskey, made with corn and aged in bourbon casks. Different age statements are available, and I'm particularly fond of the 8 year version. It's a smooth whiskey with tastes of caramel and toffee and makes for very easy drinking. It comes in a very attractive thick glass bottle  with clear labelling which allows the colour of the whiskey to shine through. In 2010, Greenore was awarded a Best in Class and a World Whiskeys Awards Best in Class. I'm not sure how readily available it is, but I have seen it for sale in the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street for €32.99
Stitch and Bear - Greenore 8 year irish whiskey
Greenore 8 Year (Image taken from Celtic Whiskey Shop)
Like Folláin, Cooley Distillery also manufactures spirits for own brand labels, and they too were successful in the recent Blas na hÉireann 2011 awards, where their Avoca Aged Blended Irish Whiskey and Avoca Irish Whiskey took Gold and Bronze respectively in the Spirits & Liquers category.  My bottle of Greenore 8 is coming to an end, so I called into Aldi to buy the Avoca Aged Whiskey, which sells at the attractive price of  19.99. It's ever so slightly darker in colour than the Greenore, and is similarly smooth tasting. The flavours are sweet with a bit more wood than the Greenore. Personally, I'll be sticking to Greenore for my nightcaps, but when you consider price, the Avoca is good whiskey to have on your shelf.

Stitch and Bear - Avoca Aged Blended Irish Whiskey
Avoca Aged Blended Irish Whiskey
The Farmyard Friend - Knockdrinna

Kilkenny-based Kockdrinna has been making cheese since 2004 and now their range covers cow's, sheep and goat's milk cheeses. Their new goat's cheese Kilree swept the boards at the British Cheese Awards 2011, being named Supreme Champion in addition to winning the Best Irish Cheese & Best Semi-Soft Cheese.

My favourite Knockdrinna cheese, however, is the wonder Knockdrinna Snow. Made from goat's milk, it gets its name from the velvety snow-white rind. It is firm when young, but matures into melting softness. It has the most wonderful lustrous, pearl-like white colour,  making it a feast for the eyes. Once you've finished gazing, you can get on with grazing as it is delicious smeared on cheese biscuits. I get my Knockdrinna  from Sheridan's Cheesemongers, but it can also be bought online directly from the farm.

Stitch and Bear - Knockdrinna Snow goat's cheese
Knockdrinna Snow Goat's Cheese (Picture from Knockdrinna)
That's the end of my celebratory post of Irish food and drink. As I said earlier, these products are chosen purely on my personal preferences and childhood memories. I'm sure that everyone will have their own favourite candidates. Why don't you share your favourites with me, and take the time to explain why they are your favoruites. Perhaps I'll discover some great new products, thanks to your recommendations!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ham Hock & Pear Salad

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a lovely, light lunch at Dax Cafe Bar. This is definitely one of my favourite spots for lunch when I'm working in town. It's a slice of Gallic heaven, serving great French-inspired dishes in a beautiful club-style room. I love their salads which usually feature just a handful of ingredients, but are executed really well with good textures and flavours. (Dax Cafe Bar is also open in the evenings, serving a range of "tapas" and other dishes. You can read more about it on one of my earlier reviews).

Tonight, we were cooking slow braised beef cheeks for dinner. These take time to cook, and I wanted to make a quick starter or salad dish as we waited for the magic to happen in the oven. Earlier in the day, I had visited the wonderful Byrnes Butchers on North Circular Road in Phibsborough, where I had purchased a smoked ham hock. My plan had been to put this in the fridge for snackage, but I decided to use it in a Dax-inspired salad. I simply tore at the ham hock until I had a pile of shreds. The different sizes and rough textures keeps the salad looking rustic and simple. I added some carmelised pear slices for a touch of sweetness against the mustard vinaigrette.

Smoked ham hock & pear salad
4-5 slices of pear, cored
Knob of butter
Olive oil

Cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
Strong mustard

Lamb's lettuce, or leaves of your choice
Shredded cooked ham
Salt & pepper to taste

Start by heating a pan over a medium to high heat and melt the butter. Place the pear slices in the pan, and cook for several minutes on either side, or until golden and carmelised. You need the heat to be above medium in order to get the sugars to carmelise, but make sure not to burn the butter. 

Once happy with the pear slices, carefully remove from the pan, and place on some kitchen paper to drain off some of the butter.

To make the vinaigrette, combine olive oil, vinegar and some mustard in a bowl until blended. I'm deliberately not recommending quantities here, as everyone has different taste when it comes to dressing strength. Personally, I like my dressings to be really punchy, with lots of mustard flavour.

Arrange the lamb's lettuce on a plate and spoon over several teaspoons of the dressing. Place the ham shreds and pear slices on top, and finish with a little salt & pepper.

Once I had the salad ready, I took some quick photos. Later as I looked at them on the laptop, I was struck by the beautiful colours and textures. So here's a close-up from one of the shots for you to enjoy!

Close up of smoked ham hock & pear salad
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