Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Best of 2012

It's time to have a little recap on 2012 and all the eating and drinking that was done therein. I've downloaded the viewing statistics from Stitch and Bear, and I've crunched the numbers while digesting Christmas dinner. I've also reviewed all my posts from 2012 to pick out some of my personal favourites. 2012 was an incredibly busy year for me, involving a lot of travel and a hell of a lot of work. Despite that, I am delighted with how much I accomplished with Stitch and Bear during the year. 

Looking down the Readers' Top 10 list, it's amazing to realise that all the entries opened in 2012, or very close to it. The Dublin restaurant scene is buzzing, with just a single entry from the newest Cork seafood restaurant, Oysters. (In order to provide a more balanced ranking, I've normalised the page views for each post with the post age. In other words, this ranking is based on average page views per day.)

The Readers' Top 10
Clockwise from top left: Bear, Musashi, Pho Viet, Ouzos, Oysters, Stitch and Bear, Ozakaya, Jamies, Skinflint, 777 with the Greenhouse in the middle

1. Bear - The viewing figures for Bear are streets ahead of other entries on the list, reflecting the popularity of this joint venture from Jamie Heaslip and Joe Macken. Several visits later, Stitch and Bear are still fans of the beefy Bear. 

2. Musashi - Tasty and affordable sushi came to Dublin's Northside with the opening of Japanese restaurant Musashi. A BYOB policy, friendly staff, and excellent food have resulted in strong popularity.

3. Pho Viet - A very newly opened Vietnamese restaurant on Dublin's Parnell Street, Pho Viet has managed to make it onto my 2012 list. Thanks to Pho Viet, the legendary Vietnamese dish pho is now available for the first time in Dublin. It's wholesome, tasty and above all great value. 

4. Greenhouse - In 2012, Mickael Viljanen left the Burren and Gregan's Castle to move to Dublin and take up residence at the brand new Greenhouse restaurant. His exquisite presentation and precision cooking have taken Dublin and critics by storm, and a Michelin star is surely inevitable in 2013. The Greenhouse is my personal pick for Restaurant of the Year.

5. Jamie's Italian - Love him or loathe him, Jamie Oliver has arrived in Dublin. His Dundrum restaurant has proved insanely popular so far, with queues often developing at weekends. Despite the commercialness, the food doesn't disappoint at Jamie's.

6. Skinflint - Another entry from the Macken family, Skinflint's low-key approach to pizza and meatballs has maintained it's popularity throughout 2012. Hipster chic ain't dead yet baby!

7. 777 -  Featuring a bright orange formica counter and tattooed lovers on the tiled walls, 777 opened with a tijuana trumpet fanfare and really wowed with bright, fresh flavours. Their no-reservation policy can be annoying at times, but the cocktails taste damn good when you do bag a seat.

8. Ouzos - The first of two seafood restaurants to appear on this list, Ouzos in Blackrock certainly hit the spot when it came to fine fishy fare. How many restaurants actually buy their own trawler to ensure a fresh supply of seafood?

9. Izakaya - Located in a downstairs basement off South George's Street, Izakaya has proved a slow-burner on the dining scene, but anyone I know who has ate there raves about their wonderful mini-burger. 

10. Oysters - The only entry to come from outside Dublin, Oysters has proved popular since it opened in Cork's Clarion Hotel. Oysters brings fine dining and deftly cooked seafood to Da Real Capital with great value to be had on the fixed price Table d'Hote menu. 

My Other Restaurant Picks
From top left clockwise: Foie gras during from Nobu @ Bon Appetit, the counter at ORSO, a birthday surprise at San Lorenzos and a surprise starter plate at Alexis

Like all critics, my personal selection doesn't always correlate to the public vote. I'm genuinely surprised that San Lorenzo's isn't in the list. I had some wonderful meals in this modern New York Italian inspired restaurant where chef Temple Garner showcases his cooking. I may not like the wooden panelling, but I love the food, and I loved my birthday surprise.

We were also excited by the food at Alexis in Dun Laoghaire, which was beautifully presented and very substantial. It's worth leaving the city centre and making the trip south.

Down in Cork, ORSO Kitchen is bringing North African & Mediterranean flavours to life in a compact space. Great for lunch, it also opens some evenings for more relaxed dining.

Once again, Bon Appetit continued to deliver Michelin food at relatively pocket friendly prices. I enjoyed Wagyu beef at the downstairs La Brasserie, as well as experiencing the food of the French Laundry and Nobu in the upstairs dining room.

Stitch and Bear's Other Adventures

Clockwise from top left: Coffee cupping with Badger & Dodo, tapas at Tapas 24, open brisket sandwich at Katz's Deli, The Pit in Raleigh, strawberry action photo at the Science Gallery and Crisp Fest 2012

I decided to broaden my tastebuds, and therefore attended a coffee cupping session hosted by Brock from Cork coffee-roasters Badger & Dodo in L'Atitude 51. To say it was challenging would be putting it mildly, but it was lots of fun and very informative.

I attended a food photography workshop with Scott Heimendinger, food photographer and blogger, at the Science Gallery as part of their Edible exhibition. Scott works with the Modernist Cuisine team and showed us some of the techniques used to generate their incredible photos. Later we got the chance to shoot our own action-packed (!) food photos.

This year, I travelled to the US several times for work and holidays. I fell in love with proper barbecue, as epitomised by The Pit in Raleigh, North Carolina. Slow cooked meats that fall apart at the touch of a fork worked their way into my soul, as did the wonderful beef brisket and Rueben sandwiches we enjoyed at the famous Katz's Deli in New York.

In April, we took a brief break to Barcelona where we drank far too much cava and discovered Michelin-standard, creative tapas at Tapas 24. The craving for chocolate topped with olive oil and sea salt is yet to subside.

We attended the inaugural Crisp Fest 2012, a celebration of all things crisp, at the Bernard Shaw. With loads of crisps and lashings of crisp sandwiches, I really hope that this event becomes an annual fixture.

My love of cocktails continued to grow, and appears to be reflected in loads of new cocktail offerings. The Vintage Cocktail Club opened in Temple Bar, The Blind Pig Speakeasy gives a feel of Prohibition America, while Paul Lambert mixes sensational cocktails at Kinara Kitchen.

To celebrate the Christmas season, Stitch and Bear gave aways loads of food-related goodies. A massive thanks to Bombay Pantry, Mango Tree, Roganstown House, Urbun Cafe, Castle Cafe and ORSO Kitchen for sponsoring the prizes. You guys are awesome!!

And so it is that 2012 draws to a close, but I am very much looking forward to 2013. There is an amazing vibrancy and creativity in the Irish food & drink scene. Charge your glasses and celebrate the year that was and the year to come.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

[Review] Pho Viet, Parnell Street, Dublin 1

Dublin has never really had a Vietnamese restaurant, at least not one that serves the legendary comfort food know as pho. Pho is a soup noodle dish made with a fragrant broth, meat and oodles of rice noodles (confusingly also called pho). The broth is the central element of the dish, from which you pull up tangled strands of noodles and pieces of tender meat.

Pho Viet is a newly-opened Vietnamese restaurant in the heart of Dublin's Asian community on Parnell Street. Its spread out over three floors with a clean and simple interior which is all white walls and floors with faux marble-topped tables. Even the downstairs toilets are beautifully decorated.  The French history of Vietnam is evident in the menu, where curry is offered with either potatoes or baguette. It's  a simple menu which makes ordering easy. 

First to arrive were the Goi Cuon, fresh and light Vietnamese spring rolls (€3.00) filled with prawns, vegetables and mint all neatly tucked up in a translucent soft rice wrap. Banh Xeo featured a mix of prawns and pork with bean sprouts and onions folded into a rice pancake (€6.00). While we were still eating the starters, staff carefully carried our bowls of pho to the table, along with a plate of herbs and garnishes to give additional crunch and flavour to the pho. Both our phos were similar with me having a brisket and steak version, while he had steak, brisket and flank. 
Stitch and Bear - Pho Viet - Starters
Goi Cuon (fresh spring rolls) and Banh Xeo (pancake) 
Stitch and Bear - Pho Viet - Pho

Pho gives you a chance to eat like a child. Dig up a wad of noodles with your chopsticks, lean you head in over the bowl and slurp up the noodles. Use your spoon and chopsticks to ladle in tasty tidbits, or add sriracha sauce for extra heat. But above all, enjoy the wonderful, flavoursome broth. 

Making pho broth is a lengthy process typically involving marrow bones, knuckles and an assortment of meat pieces, along with a selection of spices. In some cases, the careful preparation of the pho broth can take up to 12 hours of careful simmering, all designed to get the bone marrow released and dissolved throughout the broth. But it's all worth it. There is such a sense of comfort and wellness from a good bowl of pho that it's practically a health food.

A pot of jasmine tea was served complementary alongside our meal, but Pho Viet also offers Vietnamese coffee which I enjoyed hot with a thick layer of sweet condensed milk (€2.50). It's possible to have a drink and bowl of pho and still have change from a tenner, which is truly remarkable  and filling value. 

The very last thing to talk about is how to pronounce pho. Even though it has a mere three letters, it's a fun word. For me, the closest sound is "fuh" with the last part being drawn out, so it becomes more like "f-uuuh". You can listen to the Wikipedia pronunciation here.

Pho Viet, 162 Parnell Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 878 3165

Sunday, December 16, 2012

[Competition] Christmas Giveaway #5 - Urbun Cafe & Sophie Kooks

This competition is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to the lucky winner - Sabrina Glynn of Rathmines. 

It's hard to believe that I'll be finishing work for Christmas this Thursday, and that I have a glorious two weeks vacation ahead of me. But before I can relax, I have one last giveaway for you my readers, thus bringing an end to my Christmas series of giveaways. 

This final giveaway consists of two items. First is a €25 voucher, donated by the lovely Urbun Cafe in Cabinteely Village. This should cover two main courses, cake and coffee, making a nice treat in the New Year for the lucky winner. The second part of the prize is a copy of the fun and tasty cookbook "Sophie Kooks", written by Sophie Morris. 

To win, just answer the following question: What charity is supported by the Urbun Cafe 2013 calendar? (Hint: Keep reading!)

Please email your answer to with your name, contact details and answer. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below, but please make sure that you are contactable. The competition will close on Sunday December 23rd, at 6pm, and the lucky winner will be chosen from the pool of correct answers. I will put your prize in the post following the Christmas break.

This year, the dishiest Urbun Cafe staff will appear in a 2013 charity calendar, with all proceeds going to the Children's Medial & Research Foundation (CMRF) at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin. The calendar will cost a mere €8, and proceeds will go towards raising the €4 million required by the charity. There's no excuse folks, Our Lady's in Crumlin holds a special place in my heart, and it really does need the cash.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

[Review] Ouzos Bar and Grill, Blackrock

There are some people in this world who simply don't let barriers get in their way. My own father is one such person. When he wanted a camper van, he simply built one. As a result, I spent the summer between my Leaving Certificate examinations and results learning to how stick aluminium skins to wooden frames. It's a measure of my father that he doesn't give in. Instead he thinks about problems, and proceeds to figure it all out.

I felt a chord of similarity when I recently met Padraic Hanley, owner of the Ouzos group of restaurants. In order to ensure a steady supply of fresh seafood, he went out and bought a trawler based off the West coast. The resulting catch was transported up to Dublin and served fresh in the Ouzos restaurants. Since then, the trawler has moved to the East coast, it's been traded in for a bigger model, it's been sold on, but Ouzos still retains a share. The devotion isn't limited to just seafood, as Ouzos also offer a fine selection of aged beef.

I recently found myself gathered around a table in Ouzos Blackrock with Rachel (one half of Gastronomic Girls), David (The Silver Chicken), Julie (Shananigans Blog) and Sarah Ryan. It was a chance to solidify our Twitter relationships and get to know each other. We had all been invited by Padraic to sample the seafood and beef on offer, and provide some feedback. The restaurant at Blackrock has a cream and wood colour scheme, which when lit by candlelight, was warm and welcoming on a cold winter night. The menus are a little awkward, printed as they are on large cards, but there's a good choice and it took me some time to choose my meal.

I started with a half dozen Irish queen scallops, served in the shell with a mornay sauce (€9.95). Simple, but so sweet with lashings of sauce. This was followed by grilled organic Irish salmon with crab crust, served with roast potato Provençal (€19.95). Once again, there was sweetness, due to the  thick layer of fresh crab meat on top of perfect salmon. 
Irish queen scallops
The scallop aftermath
Grilled Irish salmon with crab crust
Despite protestations of being full, we still all managed to find room for a dessert. I chose the simplicity of a vanilla creme brûlée (€5.95), which was spot on. 
Vanilla creme brulee with shortbread
There really wasn't a single thing that I could fault throughout the meal. The seafood was superb, cooked simply with a minimum of fuss and service throughout was wonderfully friendly. I'm always partial to a bit of value, and Ouzos offers two fixed price menus (The Early Bird and The Crab & Lobster Feast) for €21.95 and €24.95 respectively. That alone will guarantee a return visit to Ouzos.

FYI, I didn't return to making camper vans with my father.

My meal & drink at Ouzos Blackrock was complimentary.

Ouzos, 39 Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin
Tel: + 353 (0)1 210 1000
Twitter: @OuzosDublin

Monday, December 10, 2012

[Listing] Unique pop-up dining experience at Urbun Cafe, Cabinteely

I recently received news of what should be a very interesting pop-up dining experience. Chefs Yannick Van-Aeken and Louise Bannon will cook for two nights only at Urbun Cafe in Cabinteely Village.

What makes this special? Welll, Louise and Yannick have spent the past five years at Noma (Best Restaurant in the World and twice Michelin starred Noma) and are now touring Ireland, staging exclusive pop-up events. On December 16th and 17th, these two chefs will cook a five course once-off meal using locally sourced produce. 

Louise and Yannick have already produced outstanding results with recent pop-up events in Kai Restaurant in Galway and Ballymaloe in Cork. The quirky and laid back Urbun Cafe will make a perfect backdrop for this unique experience. Urbun's ethos, reflecting Yannick& Louise's own philosophy, is all about using locally sourced produce and quality ingredients to create tasty and hearty meals. 

The five course meal will cost €80 per head, including an aperitif, snacks and petit fours. Wine is not included but selected wines will be available on the  night at specially discounted prices. For reservations, call Urbun at (01) 284 8872. Please note that due to high demand, places are extremely limited and booking is required. A credit card will be required at the time of booking and a cancellation policy will apply. 

Urbun, Old Bray Road, Cabinteely, Dublin 18
Tel: +353 (0)1 284 8872
Twitter: @urbuncafe

Sunday, December 9, 2012

[Competition] Christmas Giveaway #4 - Little Christmas at Roganstown

This competition is now closed and I am process of notifying the lucky winner. Thank you very much to all those who entered.

It's time for Giveaway #4 in my Christmas series of cheer, and this prize is a goodie. When I made my Twitter requests for prize sponsorship back in early November, I was blown away by the generosity of those who responded to me. In these tough times, there are companies out there who want to give away some prizes and spread some happiness.  Andy Greenslade, manager of Roganstown Hotel & Country Club, was one of the earliest to respond. When he emailed later to confirm the prize, I was gobsmacked, and delighted to be able to offer this lovely prize. 

Roganstown House will host a special event to celebrate Little Christmas (or Nollaig na mBan). January 6th signals the end of the 12 days of Christmas, and this old Irish tradition dictates that men do the chores, while the womenfolk get to relax from all that Christmas work and celebrate their Christmas. Roganstown House are delighted to offer an overnight stay for 4 people on January 6th, which will also take in dinner at the Little Christmas event. So if you want to treat your mother to a little break, or reward yourself after a hard Christmas, then this is the event for you.

To win, just answer the following question: On what date in January does Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan fall? (Hint: Check out the text above)

Please email your answer to with your name, contact details and answer. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below, but please make sure that you are contactable. The competition will close on Sunday December 16th Wednesday December 19th, at 6pm, and the lucky winner will be chosen from the pool of correct answers.

Tickets for the Little Christmas event at Roganstown cost €25 per head, and include a mulled wine reception and a four course dinner in their McLoughlin's Restaurant. Discounted overnight packages are available if you want to make a night of it.  More details, including how to book, can be found here

Friday, December 7, 2012

[Review] Oysters, Clarion Hotel, Cork

There was some sadness in Cork when chef Brendan Cashman decided to close down his popular restaurant Augustine's, which was located in the Clarion Hotel. As a regular guest of the hotel, I watched the empty space with curiosity, wondering what type of restaurant would open in its place. Eventually, renovation works started and signs appeared promising Cork's first ever dedicated seafood restaurant. 

It turned out that the man behind Oysters is Donald Morrissy, former deputy general manager at the Clarion. Given that the dining room doubles as the hotel breakfast room, there is some clever concealment of the hot counter and other permanent fixtures. Some of the tables have been removed from the dining room, thus creating a little more space which definitely gives the room a slightly more refined and comfortable feel than it had before.

We were dining from the €35 Table d'Hôte menu, which offers 5 courses. A little plate of bread along with a fresh fish pate and some quite bizarre vanilla butter arrived, followed by an amuse bouche. My starter of crab with pink grapefruit, asparagus, radish and dill mayonnaise was clean, light and simple. He chose the half dozen local oysters served simply with shallot vinaigrette and lemon. The oysters appeared to be unusually somewhat small, but were bright and fresh.

My soup course of cauliflower and cumin velouté was well-blended and warming, but I found the two small dumplings to be superfluous and bland. It would have been much better to let the velouté speak for itself. However, the Oysters seafood chowder was an absolute knockout. The addition of samphire and pancetta to a rich bisque, along with perfectly cooked pieces of seafood, resulted in a beautifully coloured and flavoured dish. I would happily drive back to Cork for more of this alone. 
Clockwise from top left: Oysters seafood chowder, fresh oysters on the shell, cauliflower and cumin velouté, crab and pink grapefruit
Oysters does offer some limited non-fish options, but to be honest, when one is in a seafood restaurant, one orders seafood. Fish of day was served with perfect Boulangere potatoes, a light pancetta and baby gem stew finished with broad beans. A little serving of carmelised orange zest added sharp sweetness, balancing the fresh broth and dense potatoes. Sea bream was served with minted ratatouille, perfect saffron arancini, fennel and herb oil. In the case of both dishes, the fish was spot on with moist flesh and perfectly crispy skins. 
Fish of the day and sea bream
We finished our meal with a selection plate of homemade desserts, including a tangy raspberry sorbet and a dense, fudgey chocolate cake. Throughout the dinner, we had drank an Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) which worked really well with the seafood. 

My only gripe with Oysters is the pricing. Quality seafood is rarely cheap, but as someone who stayed in the Clarion Cork for the bones of a year, I simply couldn't justify paying the a la carte prices on a regular basis. And while the 5 course set menu is good value, it's still too much food to eat regularly. Perhaps Oysters could offer hotel guests a slimmed down menu at a leaner price? I know that I would avail of such an option.

Oysters has delivered what it promised. Fresh seafood is beautifully cooked and served with a understanding and deft touch from the kitchen team led by French head chef Alex Petit. The main seafood supplier is Seafood Cuisine in Skibbereen, an independent operation with three trawlers who ensures that fish caught in the morning is delivered to the kitchen by lunchtime. And during the month of December, every reservation will be entered into a draw to win a pearl necklace worth €500 (winner will be chosen on December 22nd).

I could now start to make some clever puns about Oysters, pearls, jewels and so on. But I'll spare you all that. I'll just simply tell you to go to Oysters and order that beautiful chowder followed by some pan-fried fish. You won't go wrong.

Oysters, Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 427 3777
Twitter: @oysterscork

Saturday, December 1, 2012

[Review] El Toro Bravo, Portobello, Dublin 2

Sometimes when eating out, you desire lots of little things. You want to be a butterfly, flying daintily from dish to dish, grazing from each, before moving on to the next tempting bite. When you feel like this, there is no better cuisine than Spanish tapas. Whenever we go for tapas, we always order our favourites dishes of patatas bravas and garlic prawns, but I'm always on the lookout for dishes that are a little different. 

El Toro Bravo is a relatively new restaurant on Dublin's South Richmond Street. This area is slowly improving and becoming a decent destination for a casual night out. You can have a pint in a proper pub at O'Connells, or eat at Rotana, Seagrass or even Kebabish Original. I've eaten at El Toro Bravo before, but didn't write about it. However, on a more recent visit, we sampled a good range of dishes, and hence plenty of photos. The interior is all dark wood with simple tables and chairs and it felt a little cold to me. We managed to get one of the more isolated tables, giving us a little space in this small room.

Pan con Jamón was for him (€4.00) featuring two slices of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato topped with slices of Iberian ham. I really love the Spanish version of black pudding, so I ordered reveulto de morcilla leonesa, or scrambled eggs with morcilla, served atop a potato nest (€6.00). The eggs were a little too scrambled and dry for my liking, but the portion was generous and the advertised nest of potato strips added some nice bulk to the dish. Chistorra or pan-fried spicy pork sausages, were delicious, spiked with smoky paprika flavour (€5.00).  A large disc of goat's cheese (queso de cabra) was served warm, topped with a double whammy of onion marmalade and carmelised onions on more potato nest (€5.75)
Stitch and Bear - El Toro Bravo - Selection of dishes
Clockwise from top left: scrambled eggs with morcilla, pan con jamon, goat's cheese with onions and spicy Spanish sausages 
The patatas bravas, fried potato pieces with spicy tomato sauce, were at the expected standard (€4.50), while gambas al ajilo rounded out the savoury section of our meal (€7.15). This generous bowl of garlicky prawns hit all the right notes. We completed our meal with two desserts from the chalkboard offering of homemade desserts, several of which were advertised as being gluten-free. In my case, I had the tarta de Santiago, a marzipan-like almond cake while himself chose the somewhat pedestrian cheesecake. 
Stitch and Bear - El Toro Bravo - Selection of dishes
Clockwise from top left: Patatas bravas, gambas  al aijilo, cheesecake and tarta de Santiago
El Toro Bravo strikes me as a neighbourhood joint, a place to get a Spanish fix without getting all dolled up for the trip to fancier places in town. Occasional live flamenco and Spanish music adds atmosphere, while there is outside seating for those sunnier days. El Toro Bravo often runs deals in conjunction with daily deal websites, so it's possible to eat here at a very decent price. Just don't expect too much fanciness for that decent price. 

El Toro Bravo, 27 South Richmond Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 475 8460
Twitter: @torobravodublin

Sunday, November 25, 2012

[Competition] Christmas Giveaway #2 - Mango Tree Thai

This competition is now closed. Thanks very much to all those who entered and a Happy Christmas.

My second Christmas giveaway comes courtesy of Mango Tree Thai takeaways in Rathfarnham and Lucan. If you're overdosing on chocolate, mince pies and Christmas party food, you may feel the need for something different, something spicy and fragrant perhaps?

There's no doubt that Thai food is increasingly popular in Dublin and Ireland, and Mango Tree believes that Dubliners should pay a fair price for authentic Thai food. Owned by a husband and wife team, all kitchen staff employed at Mango Tree outlets are Thai. Husband Keith looks after business, while his wife is Head Chef Nipaporn. She was trained from a young age by her mother, herself a successful Thai chef. Mango Tree has been open for two years in Rathfarnham and 1 year in Lucan. You can watch Nipaporn in action and learn a little more about Mango Tree by checking out this YouTube video.

Mango Tree is generously giving readers of Stitch and Bear to chance to win 1 of 4 takeaway meals for two. Each prize will consist of 2 starters and 2 main courses, which can be selected from the Mango Tree menu. I will be giving away one meal each week for the next four weeks. The prizes can be redeemed until January 31st, 2013.

To win, just answer the following question: What type of cuisine is on offer from Mango Tree?

Please email your answer to with your name, contact details, and your preferred location (Rathfarnham or Lucan). Alternatively, you can leave a comment below, but please make sure that you are contactable. The closing dates for each prize will be November 30th, December 7th, 14th and 21st at 6pm. I will contact each lucky winner following their win.

Congratulations to the first lucky winner - Louise O'Toole

Our second winner is Nicola Brennan - Happy Eating

Our Week 3 winner is Pamela Dunne. Only one more prize left!!

The final lucky winner is Eimear Kearney. 

Mango Tree
51 Main Street, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14 (01) 444 2222
Sarsfield House, Chapel Hill, Lucan, Co Dublin (01) 628 0000
Twitter: @mangotreedublin

Saturday, November 24, 2012

[Travel] New York November 2012 - Part Two

It's been approximately a week since we returned from the USA, and I want to go back. We gorged ourselves in New York before heading south like swallows to the sunnier climate of Florida. The sun shone every day, temperatures remained firmly in the balmy region and I even got some colour. I'm still examining my head to figure out why we returned to a cold, dark and wet Ireland.

Last week, I presented you with Part One of our eating in New York. Now it's time for Part Two. We stayed mainly in the vicinity of our hotel, somewhere in the midst of SoHo, NoHo and the Lower East Side. The area around Essex Street and Rivington Street is heaving with coolness and great venues and we didn't have a hard time finding places to eat. 

The time difference kicked in hard on the Saturday morning and we were up early looking for our breakfast. I came across Shopsins while browsing and their frankly bonkers menu hooked me in. Shopsins is located in a tiny space in a little corner of the Essex Street Market (a wonderful market, which makes me want to live nearby). Apparently chef-owner Kenny Shopsin has a reputation for eccentricity, but all I know is that the food was good. My plate of crisp hash, eggs and bbq duck was colossal ($18),  but matched equally by his heuvos racheros made with brisket ($18). 
Stitch and Bear - New York - Shopsins General Store
Shopsins - heuvos rancheros with brisket and crisp hash with eggs and bbq duck
We headed south from Essex Street, heading towards Century 21 at the bottom of Manhattan. The thought of hours in this bargain heaven department store was too much for Himself, so we split up for a few hours before regrouping and heading back to our hotel. Later we headed out for drinks, finding ourselves at The Noho Star where himself ordered the grilled shrimp BLT ($16.50). I don't know how he does it, as I was still stuffed from breakfast.  The BLT came with a creative side serving of potato crisps mixed with fried sage and rosemary, and himself was delighted with the juicy shrimp. 
Stitch and Bear - New York - Noho Star
The Noho Star - Grilled shrimp BLT with that amazing side dish and some tasty cocktails
Later in the night, my appetite resurfaced so we called to Cocktail Bodega, which himself had spotted earlier. I can only describe the concept as juice bar meets cocktail bar meets diner. Spiked smoothies and fruit juices are served alongside a short selection of street snacks. Despite the informal, counter-order surroundings, the drinks aren't cheap with my coconut smoothie mojito costing $13.  However, just like a juice bar, there is a loyalty card offering every seventh drink free, so perhaps the long term economics are a little easier on the pocket. We ordered tasty glazed coconut curried shrimp ($11) and spicy jerked chicken satays ($7), before crossing the street back to our comfortable hotel bed.
Stitch and Bear - New York - Cocktail Bodega
Jerked chicken satays and coconut curried shrimp at Cocktail Bodega
Sunday morning, and it was time to pack up before grabbing brunch and heading to the airport for our flight to Fort Lauderdale. We strolled back to Rivington Street watching the neighbourhood wake up, this time to Spitzer's Corner, which describes itself as an American gastropub. The walls are covered with dark wood planks, giving this venue an immediate feeling of intimacy. With over 80 beers on offer, this could easily be an ideal pub. However, we were here for brunch with me ordering the chorizo hash ($11) and himself having the pork belly and eggs ($12). The pork belly was the clear winner with its succulent fatty softness and  sweet asian marinade of soy, garlic and ginger. 
Stitch and Bear - New York - Spitzer's Corner
Spitzer's Corner - chorizo hash on top, with asian pork belly below
Thus New York November 2012 came to an end - but there's more to come when I round up our eating in Miami. 

Shopsin's General Store, 120 Essex Street, New York 10002

NoHo Star, 330 Lafayette Street, New York 10012
Tel: +1 (212) 925-0070
Twitter: @TheNohoStar

Cocktail Bodega, 205 Chrystie Street, New York 10002
Twitter: @cocktailbodega

Spitzer's Corner, 101 Rivington Street, New York 10002
Tel: +1 (212) 228-0027
Twitter: @spitzerscorner

Thursday, November 22, 2012

[Competition] Christmas Giveaway #1 - Bombay Pantry

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the lucky winners, whom I have contacted with the good news. Congratulations to Helen Moloney, Alan Stephens & Rachael Canning. Your prizes will be in the post shortly.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Stitch and Bear is planning a series of giveaways, in order to help bring a little bit of food-related cheer to the impending season of gluttony. It's also my birthday, so I'm kicking off with a great prize, three sets of vouchers from the wonderful Bombay Pantry.  

Bombay Pantry started 15 years ago with the aim of producing top quality Indian food to go. Since then they have grown and now operate 7 shops in the greater Dublin area, with plans to open more outlets in the near future. Their commitment to quality has been recognised by winning Great Taste Awards for the past 3 years!

Personally, I love the fact that most dishes at Bombay Pantry are naturally gluten-free (which suits my wheat intolerance), and I often order their stonking value €7 Early Bird deal. There's been many a night when I've driven home to Dublin, and this meal deal has been my saving grace. This great deal gives you a batata vada or bhajia for starter, any beef, chicken or vegetable main course plus a naan or rice.  Alternatively there's the meal deal for 2, which gives you batata vada or bhajia for starter, any chicken or vegetable, plus one rice and one naan, all for €19. You can check out their menu here.

The lovely people at Bombay pantry have provided the following vouchers for readers of Stitch and Bear, giving me a total of 3 prizes to give away.
  • 2 sets of 2 x €7 Early Bird vouchers
  • 1 x €19 Meal Deal for 2 voucher
To win, just answer the following question: Name any of the seven Dublin Bombay Pantry locations. (Hint: you can find the answer on the Bombay Pantry website).

Send your answer in an email to along with your name and contact details. Alternatively, you can answer by leaving a comment below, but make sure that you are contactable so that I can get the prizes to the lucky winners. The competition will run until 6pm on Friday November 30th. The lucky winners will be chosen at random from a pool of all correct answers. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

[Listing] Buy a Big Mac on November 24th and support a good cause!

It's not often that I mention or promote McDonald's on this blog, but this is a exception I am happy to make. I was born with a hole in my heart, for which I had corrective surgery in Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin in 1989. The surgery was a complete success, and all has been in good working order for the last 23 years. 

I barely even registered that I was having surgery, I was having such a blast in this amazing hospital. There were toy rooms, TVs on trolleys and lots of other kids with which to play. However, I can only imagine how worrying the whole experience was for my parents. But the staff of Our Lady's did everything they could to make things comfortable for my mother and father. 

Ronald McDonald House offers accommodation for the parents of sick children on the grounds of Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin since 2004. It is funded and operated by the independent charity RHMC, who will have their national fundraising day McHappy Day on November 24th. €1 will be donated from the sale of every Big Mac on the day, while McDonald's restaurants nationwide will also sell RHMC festive santa hats from November 24th to December 5th for just €2. 
Shane Jennings launches McHappy Day 2012
It costs €300,000 annually to run RHMC, and the charity receives no funding or financial support from   either the hospital or the Government. It relies solely on fundraising and donations to be able to continue to provide a "home away from home" for over 2,200 families to date. 

Leinster and Ireland rugby star, and Board Member of RHMC, Shane Jennings
Ronald McDonald House is an important resource for parents who are caring for children who are seriously ill. Having to be out of home for long periods of time to be close to their children can cause major stress emotionally and financially, this is where RHMC steps in. The idea is simple, nothing else should matter when a family is focused on healing their child. 
So make sure that you get yourself to a McDonald's this Saturday, November 24th and order a Big Mac. You can also drop your change into the collection box on the counter. Any parent who has taken care of a very sick child will know that this is a truly good cause!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

[Review] Nobu @ Bon Appetit, Malahide, Co Dublin

On Wednesday, November 7th, we visited Bon Appetit for the last in the current series of Restaurants of the World. This time, Oliver Dunne and his team would showcase the food of world-famous Nobu. This multi-Michelin starred chain of restaurants comes from Nobu Matsuhisa, who is famous for blending his native Japanese cuisine with South American influences. 

Our courses featured well known favourites such as prawn tempura and sushi rolls, all with an elevationary twist. The third course was a sublime piece of foie gras served with a Japanese truffle sauce and brown butter. This was last-meal-on-Earth quality food and was of monumentally indulgent proportions. Thankfully, this was followed by a light and fresh salmon and avocado plate. 

Fifth course was the signature Nobu dish of black cod with miso which had a sticky sweet salty skin and moist flesh. Then it was on to wasabi poussin with wonderful sweet onions. Upon reading the menu, I had been curious about our first dessert course, featuring passionfruit mixed with numbing Sichuan peppers. Needless to say, I shouldn't have been concerned as the little foamy puffs of Sichuan were lightly tinged with the strong berry flavour and balanced beautifully with the sharp passionfruit. We finished with a creamy peanut parfait, paired with caramel ice cream. 

Photos of each course follow below, and thanks to my new iPhone 5, I'm now able to take much better quality low light photos. Check out the wonderful presentation on the foie gras, salmon and black cod. 
Prawn tempura with sweet & sour ponzu sauce
Assorted sushi rolls and sashimi
Foie gras, edamame with Japanese truffle sauce
Sashimi of salmon, avocado puree, keta and horseradish
Signature Nobu dish - black cod with miso
Barbecued wasabi poussin, braised leg and slow cooked onion
Passion fruit gel, Schezuan foam with pink peppercorn dust
Peanut parfait, Matsuhisa Cabernet sauce, caramel ice cream
Bon Appetit is currently celebrating 6 years in business, and are offering a three course meal for two in the Michelin restaurant with a glass of bubbly on arrival for €99. This offer runs from November 14th - 24th and represents the continuing great value available from Bon Appetit. 

Bon Appetit, 9 Jame's Terrace, Malahide, Co Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 845 0314
Twitter: @bonappmalahide
Bon Appetit on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 16, 2012

[Travel] New York November 2012 - Part One

We arrived into New York on Friday afternoon. The flight with Aer Lingus had been far from great (food-wise) as my pre-ordered gluten-free meal hadn't made it onto the plane. In addition, all of the snacks and chocolate on sale from the trolley contained wheat in some form or another. By the time we were approaching JFK, my tummy was growling.

We had booked a hotel in the middle of all the cool spots - SoHo, NoHo, the Lower East Side and the East Village. Even better was the fact that the famous Katz's Deli was just a few blocks down the street. Around since 1888, and lately featured on Adam Richman's show "Best Sandwich in America", Katz's Deli is truly legendary. It's gloriously untouched by time, from the paper ticket you receive as you enter all the way to the formica tables and counter tops. Hundreds of photos line the walls, and their famous "Send a salami to your boy in the army" slogan is everywhere. 
Tables and photo adorned walls at Katz's Deli
Even before we had left Ireland, himself had decided that he was going to order the Reuben ($16.75) - a massive sandwich of thickly sliced pastrami, melted swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut. I went for the melt in your mouth fatty gloriousness of a hot open faced brisket sandwich ($16.05). Even the terrible frozen steak-style chips couldn't ruin this carnivore delight. Katz's Deli feels immutable, as if it will transcend the centuries. You can read more about Katz's in this GQ article from Alan Richman.
Hanging salamis, the Reuben sandwich and the hot open brisket sandwich
Schillers is located in a former drugstore on the corner of Rivington & Norfolk and comes from famous New York restauranteur Keith McNally. We were lured in by the promise of half-price happy hour cocktails, but our server told us that they wouldn't be available for another hour. Regardless, we decided to stay for one, and I had a slightly savoury tasting pear-jalapeno margarita (if possibly a little too light on the lime). 
Schillers, Rivington Street
Later in the night, we found ourselves down at the northern end of Chinatown. To be honest, it never takes us very long to find asian food, and so we entered Nam Son, a Vietnamese restaurant on Grand Street. After waiting for some tables to turn over, we were seated and we quickly chose two bowls of the ridiculously cheap pho, along with a beef & lemongrass stirfry.

The broth used in pho is made over many hours, by boiling bones, spices and meats. The result is a light coloured broth, which is rich in flavour. Both varieties of pho were wonderful (beef for me and seafood for him), with oodles of noodles. In my case, the topping of thin raw beef slices cooked quickly in the broth once pushed under with the chopsticks. 
Bowls of pho and condiments at Nam Son'n
That's the end of Part One of our eating in New York, but if you want more, read on in Part Two.

Katz's Deli, 205 East Houston Street, New York 10002
Tel: +1 (212) 254-2246

Schiller's Liqour Bar, 131 Rivington Street, New York 10002
Tel: +1 (212) 260-4555
Twitter: @SchillersNY

Nam So'n, 245 Grand Street #1, New York 10002
Tel: +1 (212) 966-6507

Thursday, November 8, 2012

[Listing] Celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau with L'Atitude 51 and Brendan Cashman

Cork people are going to be happy with news of the following event, featuring chef Brendan Cashman (ex-Augustines). There was much sorrow when Brendan decided to close Augustine's, but now fans can share his cooking once again.

On Thursday, November 15th, the kitchen and wine workshop at L'Atitude 51 will be handed over to chef Brendan Cashman for an exclusive, French-themed pop-up style event that coincides nicely with Beaujolais Nouveau Day. On this special night, Brendan will be cooking a hearty 5 course French-style bistro feast and L'Atitude 51 will select wines to match each course (with Beaujolais playing a leading role).

Beaujolais Nouveau can only be released at the strike of midnight on the third Thursday in November, which is November 15th in 2012. It's a time-honoured tradition to celebrate the harvest and the release of this youthful and fun vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks before being released. 

The cost for the evening is €50 per person, which includes a welcome drink, the 5 course meal, tasting wines and a coffee to round off the meal. The evening kicks off at 8pm. Spaces are limited, so get in touch with 'Atitude 51 via email or phone (021) 239 0219.A

[Listing] This is Beer brings tastings to Cork & Dublin

Very short notice on these events, but if you're interested in learning more about beer, read on. 

Despite the fact that over 40,000 beers from around the world are produced using just four natural ingredients (hops, barley, yeast and water), it seems that 25% of Irish consumers still believe that the beer brewing process involves chemicals, according to a survey by Therefore, will host a series of events this November, designed to celebrate beer's four natural ingredients and challenge the misconceptions around one of the nation's favourite beverages. 

Events will be held in Dublin and Cork as hosts multi-sensory beer tasting experiences in Cork on Thursday November 8th, and at 4 Dame Lane on Monday to Wednesday November 12th - 14th. Internationally renowned experts Marc Stroobandt and Fiona Smith will bring to life beer's completely natural brewing process and excite the senses, flavour matching a range of beers with different foods.

I have attended tastings with both Marc and Fiona in the past (link) and would really recommend these events if you are starting out on your beer education.

Beer fans can book their spot on this beer tasting experience on the This Is Beer Facebook page.

Where: The Kiln Bar, Leitrim Street, Cork
When: Thursday, November 8th @ 7pm

Where: 4 Dame Lane, Dublin 2
When: Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday, November 12 - 14th @ 7pm is a hub for beer fans, as well as those who enjoy an occasional beer, to get the best out of beer. The website includes expert video blogs, beer tasting notes, food matching tips as well as information on beer's four natural ingredients. is a Heineken Ireland initiative and features  beers from the Heineken range such as Tiger, Coors Light, Paulaner, Moretti, Affligem & Zywiec. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

[Review] Jamie's Italian @ Dundrum Town Centre

Jamie Oliver mania has hit Dublin hard with the opening of Jamie's Italian in Dundrum Town Centre. Twitter has been awash with fulsome praise for the food, the venue, the staff, and practically everything else.  I reckon that I won't be breaking any bad news if I reveal that Jamie himself won't be cooking the kitchen. The Dundrum location is an outpost in this popular chain of restaurants. As Jamie himself said back in June
That's not what I do. I pay for it, I pay people's wages, I choose the right people and really the only thing I do is write the menus, change the senior management and create a culture where people get a 40-quid meal for 17 to 21 quid. 
Like most people, I think Jamie is rather great. From his initial cheeky-chappy, moped-riding persona in The Naked Chef, he now campaigns vigourously for better food for school children and employs young troubled people in his Fifteen restaurants. He is one of the TV chefs that I can watch time and time again. I like his food as it's big on flavour and impact, but easy to make. I've eaten in Fifteen in London and liked it. But would the Jamie charisma translate in Dundrum? 

Two recent lunches (firstly by ourselves, and then with Mr. & Mrs. H) have given me plenty of material. On both occasions, we hit the restaurant early on a Saturday, seeking to avoid the queues that come later in the afternoon. God bless the Irish and their tendency to think that lunch doesn't start until 1pm. In an effort to prove the earnestness of the Oliver brand, a chef is hand making pasta in a little glass cubicle as we enter the restaurant. I wonder if they feel like an animal in the zoo?

The interior is retro cool with a polished concrete floor, white and dark red tiles and canteen style furniture. The walls of the split-level space are filled with foodstuffs both for consumption and for sale to take home. After all, this is Jamie-brand central. It's a cheerful and happy space that channels the Jamie approach.

So what about the food? A special of cauliflower and romanesco fritti was bland in it's deep-fried coating, while a butternut squash and ricotta bruschetta was bright and seasonal. I was puzzled when our server plonked two tins of tomato on the table, which turned out to be the base for a dolmen-like structure with my meat plank (a slightly meagre selection of cheeses & Italian meats, €8.75). Arancini, or risotto balls filled with gooey strings of smoked mozzarella and porcini mushrooms were decidedly moreish (€6.50).
Clockwise from top left - risotto balls, wild ragu pasta pipe, ricotta & butternut squash bruschetta and funky chips
Pastas were deemed rather good. A prawn linguine with shaved fennel, chili, tomatoes and rocket  was bright and flavoursome (small €9.50). Wild ragu pasta was rich and warming - a perfect pasta dish for cold winter days. All pastas are available gluten-free, although this isn't mentioned on the menu. Not knowing this vital fact at the time of choosing, I went for wild truffle risotto with butter and parmesan (large €14.75). This was an excellent risotto, fragrant with earthy truffle. The only downside was the dotting of parsley seedlings on top for decoration. For the record, I don't like parsley, which I find  pungent and harsh. As a result I ended up picking off all the little leaves from the risotto.

We sampled both types of potato fries - namely funky chips with garlic and parsley (€3.95) and the now commonplace posh chips with parmesan and truffle (€4.25). The jury's verdict was unanimous, the funky chips were the best.
Black truffle risotto

Garlicky prawn linguini

The staff at Jamie's are incessantly cheerful, and there's plenty of them, but it doesn't grate (immensely) on your nerves. In one case, we practically had to shoo away our server as he just wouldn't stop praising the daily specials. This either speaks volumes about the staff enthusiasm for the Jamie brand, or else it's crass commercialism. I haven't quite figured out which one.

Irrespective, the food at Jamie's Italian is enjoyable, and the small/large portion sizes makes it easy to mix and match. On both visits, Gerry Fitzpatrick (Jamie's Irish business partner in the venture) was keeping a close eye on goings on. Jamies has been in the making since 2011, and lots of Irish produce features on the menu, bringing an Irish touch to this Italian menu. As we leave after lunch, all seats are taken and the place is humming with conversation. It's a winning recipe.

Jamie's Italian, Pembroke District, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 16
Tel: +353 (0)1 298 0600
Twitter: @JamiesItalianIE
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