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 31, 2013

[Recipe] Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork

I don't publish many recipes on this blog. In fact, most of you probably think that I live in restaurants! In reality, I do love to cook and do so most evenings when I'm not travelling for work. The real reason I don't post recipes is that I don't have the time or daylight to take decent photographs of my cooking. I simply can't compete with some of the beautiful images posted by other Irish food bloggers!

I've long been addicted to Chinese food, and although I regularly seek out Chinese restaurants, I tend to go through phases of cooking it at home. However, I've lately been inspired by Julie O'Neill's Shananigans Blog, which is in turn inspired by her far-flung family and her travels. Through the medium of Twitter, we discovered our shared love for Chinese food and have swapped cookbook and cooking tips. Julie is cooking up a storm, blending Irish produce with wonderful Chinese recipes and ingredients.

Several months ago, Julie cooked Chairman Mao's Red-Braised Pork, based on the recipe from Fucshia Dunlop's Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Chairman Mao came from the Hunan district and despite the culinary suppression of the Cultural Revolution, he remained a devotee of the spicy cuisine of his native province. This braised pork was his firm favourite. I've cooked this dish several times exactly as per the recipe, but in the version below I've also added just two more extra ingredients to get the dish to sing just the way I like.
My prepared ingredients - dried chilis, star anise, cinnamon, ginger & garlic

Ingredients - (Brackets indicate my optional ingredients)

500g belly pork (skin removed)
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
10g fresh ginger, skin left on and sliced
(3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced)
1 star anise
2 dried red chilis
Small piece of cassia/cinnamon bark
Light soy sauce, salt and sugar
Coriander or spring onion to garnish
(1 tablespooon cornflour mixed with a little water)
(1 tablespoon chili bean paste)


Bring a pot of water to the boil. Cut the belly pork into thick slices. At this stage, I prefer to remove the skin, as well as any rib bones. Place the belly pork into the boiling water and cook for about 4 mins, until partially cooked. Remove the pork from the water and drain on some kitchen paper. Once the pork is cool enough, cut into bite-sized chunks. 

Heat the oil and sugar in a wok over moderate heat until the sugar melts. Raise the heat and occasionally swirl the wok gently until the sugar carmelises and turns a dark golden brown. I find that it is best not to stir this mixture, as it can crystallise. Instead leave the heat to do its work.

Once carmelised, add the pork and Shaoxing wine. Stir briskly, making sure that the pork is well coated. Add just enough water to cover the pork, along with the ginger, (garlic) star anise, chills and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until the pork is tender. 

Towards the end, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce and season with soy sauce, salt and a little sugar to taste. Add the garnish just before serving. 

Optional - at this point, I like to add the cornflour mix in order to thicken the sauce and make it rich and glossy. For extra flavour, I also add a tablespoon of chili bean paste to taste. 
Chinese chili bean paste
The finished dish, served with flat rice noodles
This post is dedicated to Julie O'Neill, her husband and her family who have experienced several recent bereavements. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Monday, January 28, 2013

[Listing] Bringing the Wine Geese Home with L'Atitude 51, Cork

Most of you will probably know by now that I am a big fan of Cork wine bar L'Atitude 51. Emmanuelle and Beverly took over one my favourite pubs from my student days (The Lobby Bar) and turned it into a smart, relaxed wine bar and cafe. These two lovely ladies are very active in the area of wine education and have regularly hosted wine tasting events and classes, several of which I have mentioned. However, a recent email from Beverly alerted me to the fact that they have outdone themselves when it comes to their latest series of wine events. 

Read on for more information...

For such a small country whose climate is totally unsuited to the production of wine, have you ever thought it odd that so many chateaux bear Irish names? Well, it's no happy coincidence that Ireland, small and viticulturally-challenged as it is, has had an influence on the global wine trade that is nothing short of remarkable; many famous vineyards and wine-making practices today owe their success to the exploits of some of our wandering ancestors. 
It's a subject that has generated much interest at home and abroad and has been chronicled in great detail both by author Ted Murphy and wine correspondent Tom Clancy. Given the year that's in it with The Gathering Ireland 2013 attracting many of the Irish diaspora home from around the globe, we have thought it only fit that the Wine Geese be invited home in recognition of the important role they have played in putting Ireland on the world's Wine Map.

In association with The Gathering Ireland 2013, we will be hosting and organising a series of "Meet the Wine Geese" events throughout 2013, which will be open to the public - the goal is to hold one event a month. Wine Geese from across the globe, ranging from some of the more famous Bordeaux players to the smaller less-well known producers, will be flying home to meet wine and history enthusiasts and share their stories and wine. They'll recount their winery's history and connections with Ireland and give a guided tasting of their wines - they'll talk, you'll taste!

Events will take place throughout Cork city, county and a number of venues in Cork have already been made available (some of the more intimate events will take place in L'Atitude 51with bigger events taking place in Ballymaloe, and more venues to be confirmed shortly) and it is hoped that a number of historical buildings will open their doors for some of these events to mark the occasion. 

On an interesting side note, Plumpjack Winery, a boutique winery in Oakville, California was founded by the current Lieutentent Governor and former Mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, who is a direct descendent of Edward Newsom who was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1822. Cork was twinned with San Francisco in 1984. 

These events are the perfect opportunity to showcase the best of Irish and will tie in with masterclasses in cheese & wine and food & wine pairings. Events are open to the public and information of upcoming events will be posted to The Gathering Ireland website along with details on how to purchase tickets. Further information is also available from

Saturday, January 26, 2013

[Review] Mak at D6, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Brothers Ricky and Julian Mak have opened Mak at D6 in the heart of Ranelagh, on one side of the famous triangle. Although it serves a decent variety of Chinese starters and mains, it's also got a focus on Hong Kong style Dim Sum.  Dim Sum (which literally means "touch the heart") is a traditional form of Chinese cuisine which consists of small dishes, designed to be served alongside tea. 

Our waitress was keen to explain the menu concept to us, something I personally could have done without. I've sat across from little old ladies in Dim Sum houses in San Francisco who had chicken feet sticking out of their wrinkled faces, while simultaneously slurping congee. (I still shudder to this day.) Ranelagh doesn't quite reach the same heights of authenticity. Kudos to our waitress though for suggesting that we switch to a bigger table in order to accommodate all our dishes. 

The Dim Sum menu is broken into three sections; steamed, pan-grilled or crispy. You could probably interpret that as a sliding scale of healthy choice! Disappointingly for me, most of the dim sum feature wheat pastry, so I was limited to a handful of choices. We ordered one from each section. 2 portions of sticky rice with prawn and pork steamed in a lotus leaf (€6.00) arrived at the table in the traditional bamboo steamer. At first glance, they didn't look very appetising, but once I opened the parcels, I quite liked the sticky, porridge-like rice inside. Himself ordered spicy chicken potstickers (4 for €6.00) and pork taro ball (3 for €5.50).  The potstickers looked wonderfully golden and crispy against the banana leaf while the pork taro balls were crunchy and filled with sweet char siu type pork.
Spicy chicken potstickers

Singapore udon noodles with chicken
Crispy pork belly
Pork yuk sung with lettuce
I was delighted to see that pork yuk sung (€6.00) could be ordered a single portion, as some many restaurants insist on a two person order for this delicious dish of savoury fried pork mince, served on a bed of crispy rice noodles. The two pieces of lettuce that arrived with my order were insufficient for the amount of tasty pork I received, but the kitchen quickly sent out some more leaves. 

Himself ordered chicken singapore udon (€13.95), with a good spicy curry flavour, while we also shared a portion of the crispy pork belly (€16.50). The pork belly was expertly crispy with not a single piece of soft fat left and flavoured with five spice. I wasn't enamoured with the accompanying overly-sweet hoisin sauce, instead preferring roasted chili oil or soya sauce.

Overall, we liked Mak at D6. The food is what I call standard Chinese, but it was well cooked, flavoursome and beautifully presented. Based on the dishes that we enjoyed, I'd say that the Dim Sum dishes merit further investigation. Service was excellent, with dishes arriving from the kitchen as they were ready. As you'd expect in Ranelagh, the interior is sleek and modern with smart glasses and tableware. Split level seating and some cosy booths break up the interior, while a brightly lit cocktail bar also promises good things. 

Given that Ranelagh recently lost long-established Wongs to a fire, there is now room in the market for a new Chinese restaurant to step up and grab the custom. Mak at D6, with its modern style, and little plates of Dim Sum and cocktails, could well be that place. 

Mak at D6, Charleston Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6
Tel: +353 (0)1 406 0006
Twitter: @MakRestaurantD6

Friday, January 18, 2013

[Review] Rock Lobster, Donnybrook, Dublin 4

As the past year drew to an end, I read many articles summarising the food trends of 2012 and/or looking to the future trends in 2013. One common theme from food journalists and bloggers from our neighbour to the East (i.e. England) was the emergence of "gourmet junk food", a phrase I borrowed from Marina O'Loughlin of the Guardian. London  has been innundated with burger joints, hot dog joints and fried chicken joints just to name a few. The latest and greatest trend to land on English shores involves ramen. At Bone Daddies, tonkatsu comes with pipettes of pig fat, allowing the diner to oomph up the fatty goodness of their ramen.

This trend of dirty gourmet dining has been a little slow to come to Dublin. The Crackbird, Jo'Burger and Skinflint group have done their bit for informal dining but it's safe to say that Dublin isn't knee-deep in sloppy-joe burger joints (much to my dismay). However, the lobster roll trend has finally made it over here, even if it is a little behind the London times. The international lobster market has collapsed recently, which means that lobster prices in Ireland are now far more reasonable.

Rock Lobster is a newly-opened cocktail, seafood and primehouse (aka steak) located about Kiely's pub in Donnybrook. I've eaten in several different restaurants that occupied this space, including a Japanese teppan venture and an Indian restaurant. Rock Lobster have made a serious effort to improve the space by hanging graphic prints and large bold butchers' diagrams. But under it all, there's still a discordant note that isn't helped by the fact that Donnybrook is one long string of constant traffic which is nigh on impossible to traverse.  
The Menu at Rock Lobster
The menu starts with a selection of titbits and we took advantage of the 3 for €10 offer (normally €3.50 each) to create a starter for two. Piggy puffs with apple and ginger puree were light and puffy, but could have benefited from more salt. Posh fish fingers were satisfyingly meaty while a chicken liver brulee was delicious, but quite hard to get out of the small jar in which it was served. Each of these titbits came on a separate plate, so by the time 3 had arrived, the table was dangerously full to overflowing. The same plate size was used for all, which meant that the posh fish fingers looked rather meagre due to the large amout of white space around them.
3 titbits for €10 - piggy puffs, posh fish fingers and chicken liver brûlée
Steak tartare came redolent with the scent of truffle and with a tiny egg (quails?) sitting on top (€7.00). Himself took an alternative starter route and ordered two portions of mac'n'cheese, normally available as a side (€1.00 as upgrade, €3.00 as side). We were both enchanted by the fact that the mac'n'cheese had been shaped into bricks and fried to a crispy crust. This would be a perfect bar snack.
Mac'n'cheese and steak tartare
The star of the show at Rock Lobster is their whole split lobster served with fries and salad (€20), which I had with a sauce Bearnaise upgrade (€0.50). I'm not a massive fan of melted butter with lobster, but I can never say no to a good Bearnaise and I would happily cross many lanes of traffic to get to the version served at Rock Lobster. Armed with my claw cracker and pick, I searched out the chunks of sweet, succulent lobster flesh, depositing the shell and other bits in a little bucket. Despite being the destroyer of several crabs, this was my first time tackling a lobster. However, the people at Rock Lobster have already thought of that, with an infographic printed on the back of the menus.
Himself went the easier route by ordering a Maine lobster roll also served with fries and salad (€20). It came served in a toasted brioche-type roll packed with chunks of meat. The fries at Rock Lobster also deserve a mention, being properly skinny and soft-fried, perfect for dipping in Bearnaise.
Whole split lobster with fries and salad

Lobster roll with fries and salad
I sampled one cocktail, a New Old-Fashioned on the Rocks (€9.50) and thought that it was excellent; a really well-made drink with a good balance of flavours.

Rock Lobster is cracking (groan!) good value - a whole split lobster for €20 will catch my attention any time, and it's even served on greaseproof paper to capture that gourmet junk food vibe. But Rock Lobster is not a junk food venue; instead it's a weird mix of trying to be hip (cool graphics) and staid (over a rugger-bugger pub in Donnybrook). I really hope that it will not be a victim of its location. If Rock Lobster was just a little closer to town, it would be heaving every night. But then, the prices would probably also go up.

It's worth mentioning that there's a lot more on the menu at Rock Lobster besides lobster. There are several steaks that I have my eye on for future visits, especially a porterhouse for 2 that I saw listed once. It's definitely one to revisit.

Rock Lobster (above Kiely's pub), 22-24 Donnybrook Road, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 202 8585
Twitter: @Dublinlobster

Rock Lobster on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 14, 2013

[Listing] Wine Classes in Cork and a Burns Tasting Night

Wine Classes in Cork at L'Atitude 51

Cork wine bar and cafe L'Atitude 51 will start their next series of wine appreciation classes on Saturday, January 19th at 3.30pm. Classes will be held upstairs in their first floor Wine Workshop, overlooking the River Lee. Attedance at all 4 classes is not mandatory, but it is recommended to attend the very first session where the techniques of wine tasting are explained.

Classes cost €25 each, with the complete set of four classes available for a discounted price of €90. Get in touch with L'Atitude as soon as possible, as spaces are limited. Further information is available from their website here.

Burns Tasting Night

In a recent email from the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street, I received news of a Burns Tasting Night, to be held on Friday, January 25th. The night promises a traditional Burns Night feast of haggis, neeps and tatties, all washed down with a number of great whiskies. Hopefully, there will even be a bagpipe player in attendance to pipe in the haggis.

Tickets cost €30, and are available from the Celtic Whiskey Shop, or by phone (01) 675 9744. Numbers are limited and the event is for ticket holders only. Regretfully, children cannot be accomodated at the event. The fun kicks off at Against The Grain on Wexford Street at 7.30 pm.

Friday, January 11, 2013

[Review] A Weekend in Limerick

Booking a break just before Christmas had seemed like a good idea several months beforehand, but as Christmas looked closer, I was beginning to think otherwise. However, my voucher for No. 1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa was going to expire, so we drove off down the M7 to Limerick. We'd stayed at No. 1 Pery Square before, so I knew what to expect at this soothing & charming Georgian hotel.

It's a perfect hotel for a little secluded getaway. Limerick is only about 2 hours from Dublin by motorway, which pretty much drops you into the centre of Limerick. The bedrooms are elegant with typical French chic colour palettes and there are wonderful drawing rooms in which you can relax with afternoon tea or a cocktail. There's a spa, complete with thermal suite and a wonderful restaurant on the first floor.  Trust me, you'd be hard pushed to leave the comfort of No.1 Pery Square.
A bedroom at No. 1 Pery Square (photo taken from hotel website)
On Saturday morning (well, late morning), our first stop was at Canteen, a simple pop-up restaurant on Mallow Street. We arrived after the breakfast service but before lunch service. There is only one thing that you can do in this type of scenario, which is to have cake and coffee. Paul Williams is the man behind Canteen, where he aims to offer healthy fast-food. Blissfully for me, this means that all the cakes and snacks are made with Doves Farm wheat-free & gluten-free flours, or even completely flour-free. 

A slice of Super Bee chocolate tart was one of the best cakes that I have ever eaten. The addition of bee pollen and Manuka honey allowed me to fool myself into believing that this was a healthy cake Everyone should have a slice of this indulgent and tasty cake. A flat white made with Badger & Dodo coffee was the perfect accompaniment.
Delicious Super Bee chocolate tart at Canteen
I had tweeted several weeks beforehand that we would be in Limerick for the weekend. I should have known better. Ireland is a small place where everyone knows everybody and everybody knows your business! I was incredibly honoured when Lorraine (@italianfoodie) offered to have a special wheat-free lunch available for me at her Italian restaurant La Cucina. Considering that La Cucina is pretty much all about the Holy Trinity of Pizza, Pasta & Pannini, this was an incredibly generous gesture.

La Cucina was buzzing when we arrived, and it stayed that way throughout our meal. It's a small location that packs a lot into the space available. We had to wait a few minutes for some tables to turn over, but we were soon seated. A starter of bresaola with rocket, parmesan and balsamic was colourful and simple (€6.00). As I couldn't sample the pasta, himself took it upon himself to order penne boscaiola with chicken, bacon, peas & mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce (€10.00).

The daily special featured beef polpette (meatballs) served with truffle parmesan potato roasties (€10.00) and Lorraine had ensured that there was a special wheat-free portion especially for me. The meatballs were wonderfully juicy and I particularly liked the simple tomato and garlic sauce. The roasties were spot on in terms of crispiness with enough parmesan and truffle to feel decadent. 
Bresaola e rucola with pasta boscaiola
Daily special of polpette (meatballs) with truffled parmesan potatoes
Two excellent espressos and it was time for us to say "Ciao" to La Cucina. But not before we received another example of Lorraine's generosity. We left clutching samples of Real Italian Foodie pasta sauces and a large Christmas panettone. (More about that later). 

O'Connell Street and the surrounding area seem to be dominated by the restaurants of the Jasmine Palace Group. These restaurants offer mainly Asian fare, in a variety of venues, although more European food is also on offer. Personally, I've only eaten in the Jasmine Palace myself, so I'm open to guidance on the other establishments. However, there's plenty for me to like about the Jasmine Palace.  They make decent cocktails, and the food is high-end standard Chinese with plenty of flavour. Szechuan mussels were plentiful (€8.50) while salt & pepper chicken had enough bite to challenge the tastebuds (€6.50).
Szechuan mussels and salt & pepper chicken at Jasmine Palace
One could be mistaken for thinking that the surname of every pub proprietor in Limerick is Flannery. This might be a slight exaggeration, but there certainly are an awful lot of Flannery's in Limerick. However, there's no mistaking the pub owned by ex-Munster rugby star Jerry Flannery!
Outside Jerry Flannery's pub
We returned back to Dublin relaxed and well-fed after our Limerick weekend. And a little piece of Limerick came with us in the form of the 4 varieties of Real Italian Foodie pasta sauces. These lovely pots of fresh sauce were gratefully received over the next week or two as we came in late from work. The tomato & chili variety was heated up and fresh cooked prawns were added for a tasty dinner. We purchased good quality sausages from our local butcher and chopped them into large chunks to make instant meatballs, which were then added to the bolognese sauce for a warming dish. The good news is that Real Italian Foodies pasta sauces will soon be available from a major retailer - so keep your eyes open!
The Real Italian Foodies pasta sauces (photo courtesy of RIF)
And what about the panettone? Given that I don't eat wheat, I was going to have to be creative in my use of that gift. You'll be glad to hear that I put on my thinking cap and made a delicious Bread & Bailey's pudding which was served to my family at Christmas Eve dinner. 

No 1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa, Georgian Quarter, Limerick 
Tel: +353 (0)61 402 402
Twitter: @OnePerySquare

Canteen, 30 Mallow Street, Limerick
Tel: +353 (0)85 734 2320
URL: Facebook page
Twitter: @canteen_

La Cucina, University Court, Castletroy, Limerick
Tel: +353 (0)61 333 980
Twitter: @italianfoodie (Lorraine) & @mritalianfoodie (Bruno)

Jasmine Palace, O'Connell Street, Limerick
Tel +353 (0)61 412 484
Twitter: @jasmine_palace

Saturday, January 5, 2013

[Event] Nikka Whisky Tasting and The Blind Pig

Life is full of great stories. In 1918, a Japanese man called Masataka Taketsuru travelled to Scotland. He came from a family with a history of sake brewing, but his mission in Scotland was to learn all he could about a different spirit, namely whisky. In 1920 he returned to Japan, eventually setting up Nikka Whisky in 1934 in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Masataka considered the Yoichi site to be the perfect whisky making site in Japan, as it bore a strong resemblance to his favourite locations in Scotland. A malt distillery, Yoichi produces robust, peaty malts. 

In 1969 Nikka established a second malt distillery at Miyagikyo in Honshu, which produces a lighter, softer malt when compared to Yoichi. Nikka (and Japanese whisky) has continued to flourish and in 2008, Nikka's 1987 Yoichi was named the World's Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Award. Sales of Nikka whisky grew by an astounding 50% in Europe in 2011 alone. 

The Nikka distillery was recently showcased at a whisky tasting at the Blind Pig Speakeasy on a cold Monday night. The location of the Blind Pig is a secret. To find it, you arrive at the given location, conspiratorially ring the given number and ask to see the Blind Pig. From there, you will be led through some back alleys and downstairs to an underground location. In the interests of secrecy, I'll refrain from giving any more away!

A small group gathered round as we were lead through a tasting of 4 selected Nikka whiskies, covering a wide variety of tastes and price ranges. On a side note, I loved the delicate whisky nosing glasses which did a great job of funneling the aromas. Nikka whiskies come in some beautiful bottles, which look distinctly different to the more standard spirits bottles. These bottles and labels are beautiful in their own right. 
Nikka whisky tasting glasses

(1) Nikka All Malt (50%) is made with 100% malted barley, hence the name. Unusually, this whisky features malt whisky made in a Coffey or column still. It's got sweet notes on the nose and in the mouth with a not-very-long finish. I suspect that drinkers of Irish whiskey will quite like this All Malt. RRP c.€37

(2) Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Old Pure Malt (40%) has a more robust character than the All Malt with a very long finish. It's similar to the All Malt in the sense that it has sweet notes and flavours but with a creamier mouthfeel. This would be my personal favourite from the tasting. RRP c.€52

(3) Nikka From The Barrel (51%) is a blend of malt (from Yoichi and Miyagikyo) and single grain whisky (from Miyagikyo). The blended whisky is then recasked to help the blending process. Finally, the whisky is bottled directly from the cask (hence the name). It's robust character means that it's well suited for the making of classic cocktails such as old-fashioneds. RRP c.€40

(4) Single Malt Yoichi 10 Year (45%) was our final treat on the night. It's quite peaty and full-bodied with a very long lasting finish. This level of peat is not to my personal taste, but is extremely well-regarded, winning Best Single Malt Whisky in 2008. RRP c.€72

Once the whisky tasting finished, The Blind Pig Speakeasy swung into action. The Bling Pig is the brainchild of Paul Lambert, a very talented mixologist (or cocktail-maker). The emphasis at the Blind Pig is on classic, proper cocktails, but make sure to read the "rules" on the back of the menu before you order. (Let's just say that daiquiri or pina colada orders won't be well-received). You just have to be prepared to like your drinks strong, but exquisitely made.
Spiced maple old-fashioned
Not sure what this was - I think it was a julep
I'll be honest and say that I don't really recall the exact cocktails we enjoyed on the night. It was before Christmas and I didn't take any pictures of the  menu to act as an aide memoire.  Several snifters of whisky, followed by cocktails will generally cause that. However, I do remember an excellent spiced maple Old-Fashioned and a sharp but fresh Rickey. The spiced maple old-fashioned got me to thinking about making a bacon flavoured old-fashioned. I mentioned this to Paul, but it was old news to him and me proceeded to take me through the necessary steps. This just emphasises how much Paul knows about making cocktails. (If you're interested, here's a similar method to that described.)

The Blind Pig is currently on a Christmas break, but will return in the New Year. There is another Nikka tasting planned, while a gin tasting is also on the cards. Make sure to follow the Blind Pig on Twitter or Facebook to stay informed. Paul also mixes at Kinara Kitchen in Ranelagh and Kinara in Clontarf, where he has trained some bar staff to his high standards.
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