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!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seagrass, Portobello, Dublin 2

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, we decided to go out for dinner. Regular readers of the blog might mutter that this isn't a surprise. We hadn't made any reservations, which is the height of folly in the current Dublin dining scene. Despite the economic pressures, good Dublin restaurants are experiencing high demand, and diners really need to reserve tables in advance. After a short hop on the bus, we found ourselves at Seagrass, Portobello, which appeared to have some free tables.

Seagrass was reasonably full when we wandered in at 8pm, but lots of diners appeared to have finished eating. This lead me to brilliantly deduce that there must be a popular Early Bird, confirmed later by the menu posted at the entrance. In another moment of Holmesian deduction (craft beer bottles on one table, bottles of cava on another), I realised that Seagrass must also operate a BYOB policy. In case I hadn't figured it out, droves of diners were arriving in with all kinds of plastic & brown paper bags. This appears to be one of the best kept secrets in Dublin. The most impressive thing about the BYOB policy at Seagrass is that they don't charge a corkage fee!

Chef Seán Drugan has a simple policy - offer great food and service at affordable prices while sourcing the best local and international produce. The Irish provenance was apparent in his starter of sauteed Kerry & Sligo mussels and wild clams with chili, herbs and lime (€9). The shellfish were perfectly cooked, served plump in the shells with a tasty broth that was both light and creamy.

Clams & Mussels
My slow braised beef terrine with tomato ketchup, mint cream and capers (€8.50) came served on a wooden board with a crazy shock of rocket leaves hiding the terrine. Digging underneath, I found what looked like a slice of set gravy. I have to admit that the mixture of cold & wet gravy just didn't work for me, despite the tasty tomato ketchup. The addition of mint cream and capers just added to the bizareness of the dish.

Slow braised beef terrine
At this point, we were at a fork in the road. His starter had been top notch, while mine caused the mind to boggle. I wondered aloud if we were dealing with a crazed genius chef. The score was tied, only the main course could decide for us. We had ordered the special, a lamb platter (€40 for two, or €25 for one). What arrived at the table was a thing of beauty, with immaculate presentation, worthy perhaps of Masterchef. Other diners even muttered appreciatively as it arrived at the table.

Shoulder of lamb platter with roast vegetables
The lamb was succulent and juicy lamb with the crusty flavoursome end bits also included, accompanied by hearty roast vegetables and sweet, sharp gravy. Our questions about the creativity of the chef were definitively answered as there was undoubtedly a cook of ability in the kitchen (if sometimes a little off-track). 

We finished up and left satisfied, but other diners lingered after us. Clearly there is no pressure from Seagrass staff to turf out customers in order to prepare the table for the next set of diners.  Seagrass was a refreshing discovery for us - excellent value (Early Bird offers 3 courses for just €21 all night Sun - Thurs, and 5-7pm Fri & Sat), relaxed service and a 100% free BYOB policy. The BYOB trend is surely set to grow this year, as wine sales in restaurants suffer due to over-priced wine lists. Well done to Seagrass for being ahead of the pack.

Seagrass is that rare elusive beast - the lesser spotted, good value, creative local bistro.

Addendum: Following our dinner, we organised to visit again with a party of six, where we dined on the Early Bird, and took advantage of the BYOB policy. Some of the quirkiness experienced on our first visit was still here, but there were zero complaints and lots of praise from our group for the meal. The fact that the meal cost only €150 (including some supplements and service charge) was an additional bonus.

Seagrass, South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 478 9595
Twitter: @seagrassdublin

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jake's Wayback Burgers, Mebane, North Carolina

So I'm in the US again for 3 weeks of work. When I left work on the Friday evening of Week 1, I went out to Raleigh Durham Airport to pick up my reserverd hire car. It turns out that Americans don't understand "hire car", so I'm starting to learn to use "rental". Sheesh!

Anyway, I had a few drinks at the hotel bar on Friday night to celebrate the end of the week. Obviously, I suffered the inevitable consequences of over-indulgence on Saturday, and having to sit through a work-related conference call at 10am didn't help matters much. Still though, by midday, I was feeling much better, and a group of us headed off for some outlet shopping at Tanger Outlet Mall Centre in Mebane, North Carolina.

After 90 minutes of shopping, I needed to take a break and give my melting credit card some time to cool back down. There's a reasonable selection of dining options in the Tanger Mebane outlet including pizza and juices. However, Jake's Wayback Burgers caught my eye.

I ordered the Jake Cheeseburger ($5.59), which comes with a wide range of toppings, free of charge. I wanted to keep it simple as I'm not a fan of large amounts of cold salad in my burgers, so I simply added grilled onions & relish. A side of fries ($2.99) and a vanilla malt milkshake (3.99) completed my order.
Stitch and Bear - Burger and fries at Jake's Wayback Burgers
Burger & fries at Jake's Wayback Burgers
My burger came simply served on a platter lined with greaseproof paper. It consisted of two thin, but very juicy and tender patties with good flavour. Fries came with skin still on, and the vanilla malt was excellent, and gave a great contrast to the salty fries. The burger simply melted in my mouth and into the soft burger bun. It reminded me of a cross between a gourmet high end burger and a burger from a famous burger chain. It was thin and easy to eat (like the burger chain version) but juicy and succulent (more like a gourmet burger). 

Later, I found the website for Jake's Wayback Burgers, which describes how the brand started as a single burger joint in 1991. It's grown since then, but still strives to deliver an authentic burger, with a home-cooked, old-fashioned feel (hence the Wayback title). All I can say is that I'm glad to have found a burger chain that provides a burger that is both great value and real.

Jake's Wayback Burgers, Unit 100 Tanger Mall Outlet Centre, 4000 Arrow Head Blvd., Mebane, North Carolina 27302
Tel: +1 919-563-2888
Twitter: @waybackburgers

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Brancott Estate Wine Tasting Masterclass (and a chance to win tickets)

I just received a press release in my inbox which may be of interest to some of you Dublin-based wine lovers out there (particularly if you are a Sauvignon Blanc drinker). Personally, I love Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, which have really rocketed in popularity recently. Unfortunately, I can't attend on the evening, but maybe one of you can. Read on for more details...

On Tuesday, 31st January, Brancott Estate winemaker, Jamie Marfell will host a free wine tasting masterclass in the Odessa Club, Dublin. This will tie in with Marfell's visit to the New Zealand Wine Fair, where he will be promoting Brancott Estate's Sauvignon Blanc. Jamie will offer 30 guests his expert tips on wine as well as a unique insight into wine making in the Marlborough region having grown up on a farm overlooking the Brancott Valley and working for the brand for over 20 years.

On the evening Jamie will be joined by Irish wine expert Jean Smullen who will help him to guide the audience through the wine tasting process. Guests will be treated to a selection of delicious canapés and will have the opportunity to try five wines from the Brancott range; three from the classic range (Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio and Brancott Estate Pinot Noir), one wine from the Letter Series Range, Letter Series B and one of the newest varietals to the range, the sparkling Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Brut NV. 

The Brancott Estate wine tasting masterclass hosted by Brancott Estate winemaker Jamie Marfell and Irish wine expert Jean Smullen takes place in Odessa Club on Tuesday 31st January at 7.00pm. Tickets are free and guests can register for spaces by emailing with their name, date of birth, contact details and address or they can find out more information through the Brancott Estate Facebook fan page ( are allocated on a lottery basis and guests will be notified of attendance by Friday 27th January. 

UPDATE: The draw is now closed. More information on Brancott Estate wines can be found on their Facebook page.

Skinflint, Dublin 2

It seems like Dublin restauranteur Joe Macken cannot sit still. First Crackbird appeared as a pop-up fried chicken restaurant in Crane Lane, then it closed, it reappeared on a somewhat more permanent basis on South William Street, and it will close again shortly. (You can read about my visit to the original Crackbird here). In the meantime, he has also launched Momma's Place in Temple Bar, and more lately, the grilled pizza joint Skinflint.

Skinflint occupies the original Crackbird premises on Crane Lane, but the interior has been cleaned up to give a more open space. Tables consist of old painted wooden doors, laid flat on trestles and topped with thick sheets of glass. The menu comes printed on small sheets of thin brown paper and mainly features a set of grilled pizzas named after the mothers of various staff members. A few small snax options are also available as well as more of Joe's now-trademark home-made lemonades.

Stitch and Bear - the new interior at Skinflint
The new Skinflint interior at Crane Lane
Everything here is meant to be cheap and cheerful (hence the name!), right down to the brown paper wrapped industrial rolls of tissue paper that take the place of napkins. (Given the stories I've heard of cloth napkin theft at Crackbird, the tissue paper must be a far more economical option). We kicked off with a plate of beetroot caviar - fantastically hued with thin strips of what I presume was pizza base to scoop it up (4.24). Some salt was needed to bring this to life, but the earthy flavour of beetroot shone through.

Stitch and Bear - Beetroot caviar at Skinflint
Beetroot Caviar

Stitch and Bear - Our #tweetseats companion at Skinflint
Our friendly table companion
Skinflint's pizzas are made with Odlums Irish flour (no Tipo 00 here) and come served on long rectangular wooden boards. Our friendly server whipped out a mezzaluna and made quick work of chopping the pizzas into more manageable pieces. My Vonie pizza consisted of harissa, mozzarella, egg and serrano ham (12.00). For me, the harissa did't quite work as a tomato substitute, but a drizzle of the chili-infused Firebee honey bought some sweetness to the pizza. Himself chose the Tess, a combination of pulled pork, fennel seeds, braised fennel and marscapone (13.00). Although I'm not a fennel fan, this was a magnificent combination and I especially loved the creamy texture from the marscapone.

Stitch and Bear - Pizzas at Skinflint

We dined courtesy of the popular #tweetseats offer that frequently runs in Crackbird and Skinflint. Simply follow @skinflintDUBLIN on Twitter and keep an eye open for the next #tweetseats offer. Secure yourself some places by following the rules, and you can enjoy one main course per person free of charge. Simples! We paid for extras, so one beetroot caviar and some drinks bought our total to 9.20. Unfortunately, espressos were not available on the day we dined, but filter coffee is priced at just 0.99 a cup.

It looks like Skinflint is yet another winning creation from the Joburger team. It's quick, tasty and cheerful. In addition to the pizza, there is one daily meatball special, which is promoted daily on Twitter. Skinflint doesn't have quite the same addictive quality that Crackbird possessed, but it does promote good Irish produce and the pizza sizes are more than generous. I don't know how long Skinflint will last (I'm sure Joe already has the next project planned), but I'd definitely recommend giving it a whirl while still around.

Stitch and Bear - The bill at Skinflint
The bill at Skinflint

Skinflint, 19 Crane Lane, Dublin 2
Tel: No telephone
Twitter: @skinflintDUBLIN
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