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
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