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!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

[Review] Bear, South William St., Dublin 2

I wonder why Dublin restauranteur Joe Macken and Irish international rugby player Jamie Heaslip decided to call their new joint venture "Bear"? A vision of carnivore masculinity perhaps? In fairness, this unholy alliance is not totally unexpected given the proclivity displayed by Leinster rugby players for the protein-fest burgers and chicken served in Macken's Jo'burger and Crackbird.

Bear is all about the beef, although other meats do get a look in. Old-style cuts such as bavette, onglet and flank are front and centre here, all cooked on the grill or passed through the impressive Imperial broiler, where an intense infrared radiant heat finishes steaks to perfection. 
You have been warned!!
The premises on South William Street was home to Crackbird, before its move to Dame St, but it has received a real facelift to prepare for Bear. A bar has been installed that runs the length of the upper area, the walls are darker, the ceiling is finished and it's all far more grown-up. One consistent complaint from my peers about Crackbird was in relation to the hipster staff, but the wait staff at Bear are less "Too kool for skool" and it's all the better for it. However, Bear maintains certain familiar themes such as a no reservations policy, low hanging bare bulbs and large communal tables.
Dark and chic interior
Once we'd read through the menu, we quickly got an order into the kitchen for the flank steak for two (€34.95), which would take 30 minutes to cook.  That done, we went back to the start and ordered some toasts to keep us occupied. However, despite all this intense planning on our part, the steak was still the first to arrive. It was even taken back from our table, as no one could believe that it would be out so fast. But it was ours, and it was quickly followed by our starter dishes.

A spicy pork, carrot & pistachio slice (€5.95) was delicious despite not being spicy, served with a homemade chutney. A little pot of smoked haddock skordalia (€5.95) featured generous haddock chunks mixed with mashed potato but it just didn't shine in the same manner as the pork terrine. For the money, these were two generous portions.

After the toasts, we turned our attention to the steak. It was served sliced, in it's own juices, with a scattering of salt flakes, and two Opinel steak knives tucked underneath. The outside bits were cooked through, but the inside remained pink and juicy and Joe recommended that we start from the inside out.  It was incredibly juicy, tender and flavoursome. We had ordered a selection of sauces (€2 each or three for €5), so we slathered on rich oily chimichuri, red wine & tarragon butter and an intense orange habanero. In addition, we also received a little pot of creamed fresh horseradish.
Spicy pork, carrot and pistachio slice

The flank steak for two
In anticipation of the carnivore orgy, we ordered just a single side between the two of us. But we chose big, plumping for the millionaire fries (€6.50).  These are not regular fries, but instead are gently fried, golden blocks of sliced dauphinoise potatoes, which are surprisingly not heavy at all, but extremely moreish.
Millionaire fries (a new dimension of gratin)
Belly full - compliments to the chef
After eating, Joe himself came over to chat and give us a view of the world through Bear-Vision glasses. There are plans to serve breakfast, targeting people on their way to work with a selection of light, office-friendly dishes. The bar will offer daily special sandwiches and salad, limited to just one option per day. And there was even mention of a bakery! The more grown-up attitude shown by Bear will expand to include changing monthly wine specials and perhaps a few surprises.

I was kindly allowed to take some photos of the kitchen and pass, including the beating Bear heart, the special Imperial broiler. Standing near it, I was struck by the intensity of the heat - working the grill at Bear must be like taking several Bikram yoga classes each and every night.
The team at work in the Bear kitchen 
Imperial - where the magic happens
Delicious sauces waiting to go
The total for our meal came to €60.85, including a small glass of pilsner. In my opinion, this was quite good value for the food we enjoyed. Bear isn't a steakhouse in the traditional sense, but a modern lighter take. The addition of toasts and the trademark creative sauces and sides make it fun, as well as deliciously tasty.

Bear is a perfect continuation of the creativity that is Joe Macken. But it's also deadly serious, with plans to target the breakfast and lunch markets. Bear is most definitely for grown-ups (although kids are welcome).

A final word of warning, please use caution when googling "Bear Dublin"...

Bear, 34 South William St, Dublin 2
URL: www.joburger.ie
Twitter: @BEARdublin Bear on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

[Review] Kimchi Restaurant at the Hophouse, Dublin 1

I studied Taekwon Do (the Korean martial art) for several years, so I got pretty good at shouting instructions such as Spinning back kick and X-shaped block in Korean. I also learned to count as well as learning a few small bits and pieces of Korean history. However, Taekwon Do classes didn't prepare me to order Korean food. All the punching and striking instructions in the world don't really count for much when faced with the menu in Kimchi restaurant, part of the Hophouse bar on Parnell St (unless you want to intimidate the waiter into bringing you food).

Primarily based on rice, vegetables and meats, there is a strong Japanese flavour to Korean food (due to it's proximity with Japan, and indeed the Japanese invasion of Korea). Kimchi restaurant is named after one of the staples of Korean cuisine, namely a dish made from different types of pickled vegetables. I've long been a fan of Korean restaurants (having enjoyed my first meal in Dusseldorf in 2000) and have tried the entire range in Dublin with mixed results.

Kimchi is a simple restaurant with a varied menu. We considered sushi for a starter, but instead chose two sushi type dishes. He had carpaccio of sea bream served with a zig zag of wasabi sauce (€8.00). A tiny cracked pink peppercorn was perfectly positioned on each slice, along with a small serving of oriental dressed salad. My choice was seared peppered tuna, rolled in sesame seeds and served with an avocado mousse, salad and a sweet dressing (€9.50). There was plenty of the tasty tuna, but the avocado mousse was underwhelming and could have benefited from a wasabi kick. 

Stitch and Bear - Sea bream carpaccio with wasabi at Kimchi
Sea bream carpaccio
Stitch and Bear - Seared peppered tuna with sesame at Kimchi
Peppered tuna with avocado mousse
For a main course, he chose the unfamiliar tuna dubap which turned out to consist of a bowl of sushi rice, topped with fragrant marinated tuna, dried seaweed, cress and onion, topped with all the sushi elements of ginger, wasabi and soy sauce (€12.00). It was a dish with particularly elegant flavors and was very light and refreshing.

Stitch and Bear - Tuna dubap at Kimchi
Tuna dubap
I had opted for a spicy selection, the sogogi kimchi jeongol, or spicy kimchi and beef stew with tofu and vegetables served in a traditional Korean burner (€14.80). A massive shallow bowl arrived at the table atop a burner, whose intensity could be controlled via a sliding cap. After watching heated bubbles rising from the lava depths, I decided to close the shutter contraption with some nudges from my chopsticks, and keep the boil under control. The broth wasn't too spicy in the end and was well flavored from the kimchi. Thin slices of beef and silken tofu were good at soaking up the spicy flavour.

Stitch and Bear - Spicy kimchi and beef stew at Kimchi
Spicy kimchi & beef stew
It's worth mentioning that Korean chopsticks tend to be thinner than those from China or Japan, and are frequently made from metal. This means (to me at least) that they are a little harder to manipulate. Total cost for our meal, including two Korean beers at €4.50 each, came to €52.30. This was really good Korean food and the best part about the meal was how healthy, light and flavoursome the food was. I should also give a shout out to one of our male waiters, whose blow-dried super-shiny, super-styled hair, was really quite impressive. He clearly thought so too, because he could frequently be seen looking in the mirror, making minute adjustments, between service. 

I think that Kimchi could be the best Korean restaurant in the city. Personally, I love the Hilan on Capel Street, but that isn't exclusively Korean cuisine. The last thought that crosses through my head is that I must resist the temptation to title this review something along the lines of "Seoul-food" or the likes.

Kimchi Restaurant, Hophouse, 160-161 Parnell St, Dublin 1.
Tel: +353 (0)1 872 8318 / 872 8536
URL: www.hophouse.ie

Hop House on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chuan Restaurant, Capel St, Dublin 1

In 2009 I visited the then incarnation of Chuan restaurant on Capel Street. It was a disappointing meal, representing all that is bad about European versions of Chinese food. Sometime though, Chuan changed and is now serving real Chinese food. I've eaten there a few times recently and can genuinely say that I've enjoyed each and every dish. Therefore it's only fair to tell you why you should ignore my old review.

The first thing you notice when you walk up to Chuan are the colour pictures of Chinese dishes that fill the window. The window is blanketed with them, each accompanied by Chinese script. This type of advertising fills me with hope (and trust me, I will walk across hot coals for good Sichuan or Hunan food). If a restaurant is proud to advertise traditional Chinese food as boldly as this, then surely it can walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

Inside, Chuan is plain, perhaps even bleak and cold. When we took our seats, the waitress hauled an electric heater into place behind us and plugged it in. An effective solution. We dove straight into the Chinese menu, but there is also a set menu of standard Chinese dishes for people who might prefer to stick with what they know.

Beef with broccoli and green veg

Slow cooked beef belly stew
The pair of us are greedy gluttons when it comes to Chinese food, so we ordered three dishes. Our goal was to end up with a range of spiciness and wetness. As we waited, we could hear the chef cooking in the kitchen and soon the smells started to reach us. After some clashing wok sounds, the dishes started to emerge.

First to come out was the stir-fried beef with broccoli and green vegetables, followed by slow cooked beef belly pieces. The former was a mildly pepper-flavored stir-fry with tender, soft beef and bucket loads loads of crunchy green veg. The slow cooked beef was a fine example of a Sichuan stew. The meat had been cooked until very tender, and gently spiced. We even got a plate decoration in the form of a chinese pancake, which had been cut into wedges and arranged in a star shape.  

Spicy fish
Our waitress had made impressed sounds when we ordered the beef belly and these increased when himself ordered the spicy fish. Fair play to the woman, she understood that we were familiar with Sichuan food, and she replaced the cutlery with chopsticks without asking. The spicy fish was the last dish out from the kitchen. The broth was a rich, deep red, containing large chunks of white fish (even the head was floating in the bowl). It had the look of a mind-blowing Sichuan dish, which even I would approach with trepidation. Thankfully, it wasn't ridiculously spicy, but rather it set a decent level of heat that didn't get any worse as you ate.

All dishes were priced in or around €10-12, but are very generously portioned. My only complaint about Chuan is the lack of garlic in the cooking, but on the plus side, it doesn't induce head-melting with excessive heat levels. The restaurant has often been empty or quiet when we've visited, which is a pity, as this is proper Chinese food. It's not fancy (and sometimes you might even want to leave your coat on), but it's tasty and wallet-friendly with good service. Chuan is in my top 3 Dublin Chinese restaurants (FYI the others are the Hilan on Capel St and Mandarin House on Parnell St).

Chuan, 123 Capel St, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 874 7632
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Wine Tasting with Little Beauty

It's amazing to learn that New Zealand didn't really have a wine industry until the early 1970s. This late start makes the phenomenal growth of Kiwi wines in the intervening 40 years all the more impressive. The natural topography of the islands means that most wine is produced on the sheltered east side of the islands, with the now famous Marlborough region located at the northern tip of the South Island.

These were some of the interesting facts that I picked up at a recent wine tasting in the new L'Atitude 51 wine bar in Cork. The first in a new "Meet the Winemaker" series, this evening was showcasing the independent Little Beauty winery, represented by the vibrant Fleur McCree. 

Fleur took us on a tour of NZ wine history, before telling us of the story behind Little Beauty. It's not easy buying and planting a brand new vineyard, and with a first vintage produced only in 2008, the success achieved by Little Beauty is all the more impressive. Stocked by hotels such as Claridges, the Savoy & Gleneagles, the accolades have flowed in, and it's easy to see why when you taste the wines.

The Little Beauty range of wines (from the Wine Alliance blog)
Over the course of the night, Maurice from Wine Alliance poured out glasses of the different wines, while Fluer amused us with stories and facts about the grapes and wine. In order of tasting, here are my thoughts on the wines we enjoyed
  • Riesling: Aromas of honey (maybe beeswax) with lots of fresh citrus and later petroleum. This continued on the palate, with loads of crispness.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: Smells of soft exotic fruits but comes alive in the mouth. Very vibrant. It was amazing to learn that all Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc comes from a single clone - especially given the different end versions that I've tasted. My definite favourite on the night.
  • Pinot Gris: Fleur had me in stitches with descriptions of the fast-growing, handpicked and pampered Pinot Gris grape. On the nose, it smelled of stone fruits, with perhaps a touch of sea air. This was definitely a more adult wine with creaminess on the palate and is definitely a wine to drink with food. For some reason, I thought about martini and their oiliness when drinking this wine.
  • Gew├╝rztraminer: Another delicate grape, handpicked like the Pinot Gris. Perfumed and floral nose with rose petals. Some spice on the tongue. A bit too floral for my tastes, but would go well with dishes containing tamarind, coconut and coriander.
  • Pinot Noir: This is the only red in the Little Beauty range, but it is a stunning example of wine made from traditional Burgundian clones. Intense aromas of soft fruits such as strawberries and black cherries. In the glass it has a beautiful light ruby colour while the taste is more complex. A really recommended wine.
All throughout the night, lovely snacks and canap├ęs were provided by Emma and Beverly, the team behind the newly-opened L'Atitude 51 wine bar. I remember when this was the famous Lobby bar, followed then by An Cruibin. Now it looks like a new era is starting with this lovely new venue providing fine wines, Irish craft beers and tasty eats.

The Little Beauty range of wines is imported by Wine Alliance, and is available for drinking in L'Atitiude 51, or for purchase in Bradley's Off-Licence on North Main St, Cork.  Prices range from €15 to €24, depending on the wine. 
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Food Photography Workshop at Science Gallery

Dublin's Science Gallery is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Edible: The Taste of Things to Come. Running from February 10th to April 6th, Edible promises to look at the topic of food from the perspective of the eater, probing how our actions shape what is sown, grown, harvested and consumed. 

There are loads of events scheduled to run throughout the exhibition, one of which was a food photography masterclass with nerd-tastic food photographer and blogger Scott Heimendinger. Check out his food experiments and photographs on his website, Seattle Food Geek. I just love his clean, sharp style to photography where the food literally pops from the screen. It makes a refreshing change to the soft-focus, Scandinavian-vintage style that seems to be in vogue with food bloggers at the moment. How many more pictures of mismatched cutlery and milk bottles do we really need to see?

Scott kicked off the session by showing some photos taken by Ryan Matthew Smith during the making of the epic bible of modern cooking, Modernist Cuisine, where Scott now currently works as Business Development Manager. These photos are jaw-droppingly detailed and intricate, each a miniature masterpiece. Scott then followed on with some of his own work, and in some cases took the audience through the Photoshop steps required to produce these kinds of shots.

After a light lunch, it was time for us to start taking our own photos. Out came a wide variety of DSLRs and we all got to work at the different work areas. In one corner was a series of tumbling mushrooms on a black background, while across the way, strawberries were splashing into a sharply contoured tumbler. A slice of orange sat on a sheet of clear perspex, with a flash gun underneath, while we attempted to shoot from overhead. 

The day finished up with a whirlwind guide to Photoshop, with Scott whizzing through image processing. This was absolutely inspiring stuff, ranging from simple touch-ups, to creation of a composite image from multiple shots. Once I got home, I made an effort to do some work on my own shots, the results of which are below.

First up, the mushrooms on a black acrylic (?) sheet with a black backdrop. I love the reflections in this shot.

Original mushroom photo (f/16, 1/125s, ISO 200)

After minor editing

Next, a strawberry dropping into a tumbler of water. This was on a white acrylic sheet with a white backdrop which got blown out when the flash fired. I had switched to my 35mm prime lens at this stage due to an issue with the auto-focus motor in my kit lens. I shot with the lens set to manual focus and I didn't get it quite right as the shot is a little soft, but I still like it!

Strawberry in water (f/16, 1/160s, ISO 200)
Some tweaking of curves, and background evening
And lastly, an orange slice, laid on a sheet of clear acrylic, with a flash positioned underneath on top of a black cloth. This image received the most processing, in order to remove the dust specks, boost the color as well as bring out the beautiful cell structure of the orange.

Orange slice (f/16, 1/160s, ISO 200)
Dust removed, colour boosted and image sharpened
This was a fantastically fun event, and Scott proved to be a very fun and informative host. Some of his pictures were truly inspiring, and I fell in love with his shot of a gin & tonic garnished with delicate micro flowers. Several of his photos featured dishes made with vibrantly green pea butter (you only need a centrifuge to make this substance, simples), or how about mussels suspended in spheres made from their own liquor. 

Thanks to Science Gallery, Scott and my fellow attendees for a memorable afternoon.
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Friday, February 10, 2012

Brancott Estates - A Curious Feast for the Senses

Recently, I published details of how my blog readers could enter a raffle to win tickets to a wine tasting with New Zealand winery Brancott Estate. Now, Brancott Estate is back with another event, and once again, tickets will be allocated on a raffle basis. Read on for more details...

This March, pioneering New Zealand wine brand, Brancott Estate, will take wine and food enthusiasts on a voyage of discovery where all their senses will be stimulated as part of a four night wine and food event.  (March 5th - 8th) in the theatrical surroundings of the Sugar Club, Dublin 2.

Well known Irish food duo Cully & Sully will guide guests on this culinary adventure as top Irish restaurants (Pichet, Campagne, Tankardstown House & Locks Brasserie) will create a range of palate-tickling and delightful dishes. Each night a different chef will take to the stage to create a three course sampling menu which will explore food combinations that shouldn't work together, but do!

Food on the night will of course be matched to wines from the Brancott Estate range, featuring 3 classics (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio) as well as the new young buck in the range, the  sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Brut NV. Party games will be played (some including blindfolds), so you have been warned.

PLEASE NOTE THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

The best part is that a massive 100 diners will have a chance to attend each night (That's 400 people over the course of the event). You can register for your place in the draw by visiting www.brancottestatestaycurious.com, or by scanning the promotional QR codes on promotional bottles of Brancott Estate or finally, by visiting Brancott Estate on Facebook. Winning guests will be notified by February 28th and will receive two tickets (so you can bring a +1!). 

What's also worth noticing is that the QR code used in this promotion is made entirely from food images. Pretty as well as useful.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

[Review] Market Lane, Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork

In November 2011, I reviewed Market Lane in Cork. The constant churn of diners and buzz in this Cork restaurant highlighted that this was a locally popular venue, although I came away a little confused. Maybe we just hadn't ordered the right dishes, but the whole affair seemed too busy for my liking.

I recently returned to Market Lane, this time dining on the Early Bird Menu, and I'm glad to report that the streamlined options available suited me much better than before. The Early Bird offers great value with 3 courses (plus tea/coffee) for €20.00 and is available Sunday 1-7pm and between 5-7pm Monday to Thursday. With 4 starters and 7 main courses to choose from (including sea trout and ham hock), there is plenty of choice on offer.

I decided to go with some lighter options, so I kicked off with French onion soup served with Gruyere cheese and croutons. The soup was sweet with the taste of caramelised onion, and strings of melted cheese hung from my spoon. A slice of homemade brown bread and the large swimming croutons went untouched as there was more than enough in the soup itself. 
French onion soup at Market Lane
I asked for the pan-fried sea trout with fennel citrus salad, crushed baby potatoes with tomato and caper dressing. Unfortunately, there was no trout available that day, but I was offered the same dish with salmon. Two crispy, skin-on tail fillets were a little overcooked for my liking, but still moist and well-seasoned. They sat atop an Everest-sized mount of fennel pieces and crushed baby spuds. The diced tomatoes and capers were a nice contrast to the fish, but there simply wasn't enough on the plate. On the menu, this choice gave the impression of being a light fish dish, but there was no shortage of food here.
Salmon with crushed new potatoes, fennel & tomatoes
In order to round off your dinner, the Early Bird offers a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream, fresh fruit or a mini chocolate pot along with a tea or coffee. No competition here folks, I ordered the chocolate pot, which was charmingly served in an espresso cup along with my decent Americano. Some little chocolate drops sat on top, making me think of Cork-based O'Conaill's delicious chocolate. Check out the miniature milk bottle in which my coffee milk was served.

Little chocolate pot with coffee
As before, the Market Lane was bustlingly busy. As 7pm approached, practically every table was occupied, an impressive feat on a Tuesday night. My meal was served quickly, and service was smooth and efficient throughout. However, I was glad to leave my money on the table and step out of the heat into the cool fresh air. A busy restaurant and a quick meal meant that I was overheating somewhat. However, at least the price didn't get me hot and bothered. Really excellent value for €20.

Market Lane, 5-6 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 427 4710
URL: http://www.marketlane.ie/

Twitter: @market_lane

Market Lane on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pinochio, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

New Year's Day was a bit of a quiet day in Dublin. In fact, it's fair to say that there were livelier graveyards. 

We had driven out to Dun Laoghaire with the intentions of having a nice lunch somewhere, followed by a bracing and refreshing walk along the sea. However, the best laid plans were scuppered by the fact that there were next to no restaurants open (not counting Burger King and McDonald's). Thus we turned around and headed back to Ranelagh, thinking that there would be some choice there. To be fair, Ranelagh was livelier than the aforementioned graveyards, perhaps more akin to an old folks nursing home. 

We found ourselves under the Luas bridge at the doors of Pinocchio, which is undoubtedly one of Dublin's best Italian restaurants. We've been fans of this restuarant and wine bar for quite a while now, so we knew we'd be assured of a decent meal.

We shared a caprese salad (mixed slices of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes) to which we added some drizzles of olive oil and thick sweet balsamic vinegar which is available on all the tables (6.50). A big basket of crusty sliced bread provided plenty of material for mopping up the juices.

Stitch and Bear - Caprese Salad at Pinochio
Caprese salad at Pinocchio
When we eat out, we normally have a "no-samesies" rule, meaning that we do not order the same dish. It's an unspoken rule really, and it works well. But once we looked at the pasta section of Pinocchio's menu, we both fixated on the same dish - Ravioli ai Porcini e Olio al Tartufo, or ravioli stuffed with mushroom, served with truffle oil. (All pasta dishes on the lunchtime menu are  priced at a competitive 9.90). We received plates of large flat ravioli filled with dense mushroomy goodness, coated in a light creamy sauce made from panna da cucina. A scattering of rocket, tomatoes and drizzles of truffle oil provided contrasting flavours and textures. It was a dish made from a handful of simple ingredients, and the remaining slices of bread were put to good use in mopping up the tasty sauce.

Stitch and Bear - Ravioli ai Porcini e Olio al Tartufo at Pinochio
Ravioli ai Porcini e Olio al Tartufo
Paolo Tullio has recently proclaimed Pinocchio to be a source of true Italian cooking, awarding it 10/10 for food. Restaurants that serve bastardised versions of Italian food feature high on my list of restaurant hates. It was a revelation to me when I first ate in Italy, and realised how simple (and great) Italian food truly was. But Pinocchio is the genuine article, serving food as you would find it in Italy.

Pinocchio also works as a cafe and wine bar, in addition to selling many Italian foodstuffs. If you like the food, it's even possible to enrol for an Italian cooking class in their Italian School of Cooking.

Buon appetito indeed.

Pinochio, Luas Kiosk Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 497 0111
Twitter: @InfoPinocchio
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