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!

Friday, March 29, 2013

[Review] The Hot Stove Restaurant, Parnell Square West, Dublin 1

I made our reservation for newly opened Hot Stove Restaurant without realising that it was the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day. When I copped the possible impact of being in Dublin city centre on the weekend of the national day of debauchery, I nearly cancelled. But when you can take a bus direct from your house straight to Parnell Square West, then running the gauntlet of paddywhackery doesn't seem so bad. 

Long-established Michelin-starred restaurant Chapter One is just around the proverbial corner, and just like its older neighbour, Hot Stove is another finely designed basement restaurant. A bar area with seating is to the left upon entering, while two dining rooms open up to the right. The eponymous stove sits centred in the far wall of first dining room, while the wonderful tiled floor and orate radiators emphasise the period origins of the building. These features are somewhat at odds with the crisp white linen and ultra-sleek comfortable leather chairs. But I'm always a sucker for old buildings and I like the mixture. 

We were seated by co-owner Simon Keegan in the second dining room at the sole table with a view onto the rear walled garden area. In fact we were the sole diners in the room for a while, which meant that we received quite some amount of attention from the very attentive waiters. As we were dining early, we had a choice of the Early Bird menu but the well-priced a la carte menu won out. I was charmed by the idea of home-churned butter made with Wexford farm cream, sourced close to the home of chef Joy Beattie, but unfortunately it didn't have enough salty buttery goodness for me. An amuse bouche of bacon-y soup wass cleverly served in a glass espresso cup and set a good tone. 
Beetroot and butternut tasting
Stuffed chicken wing
My starter of beetroot and butternut tasting plate with honey marscapone (€7) and sorrel was a sublime experience, showcasing the skills of a very deft chef. It was a symmetrical balance of light pickles, purees and roasted pieces, all married together by the divine little blobs of cheese. His stuffed chicken wing with artichoke dressing and courgette dressing (€8) was yet another example of how a humble ingredient can be elevated to something special.
Roast pork fillet and belly
Pan-fried ray wing
My main course featured pork two ways, a beautifully cooked fillet, alongside a small square of pressed belly and a shard of perfect pork crackling (€17). Fresh piquant choucroute and Boulangere potatoes provided contrasting textures and flavours in a hearty, warming plate. We had scuffled somewhat over who would order the ray wing, with Himself winning out. It came served on red chard, along with a lime mash and brown butter (€16). This magnificently meaty fish fell easily into shreds, with bite coming from the stripes of tangy sweet lime sauce. 

There was a definite upsell on the sides, but when duck fat chips (€5) and oh-so-buttery crushed Jerusalem artichokes (€3.50) are this good, it's hard to refuse. I could nearly have sworn that the chips came from a proper Cork chipper. (Sorry Dubliners, Cork has the best chips). 
Lemon mousse with pistachio ice-cream
Passionfruit layered pavlova
Desserts were good, with a tangy lime mousse for me (€7) and a rather delicious passionfruit layered pavlova (€7) for him. Both were accompanied by scoops of Wexford ice-cream, another sign where the loyalty of chef Beattie lies. Throughout dinner, we drank a Pazo de Barrantes albariño (€32), with an indulgent glass of muscat Baumés de Venise (€7) accompanying dessert. Our waiters were extremely attentive throughout the meal, checking in on us with annoying frequency. We saw a lot of different faces, but to give credit, they were all unfailingly pleasant and helpful. Perhaps they just need to relax a little and lose the new restaurant jitters. 

The most wonderful thing about Hot Stove is that the final bill only just cleared €100. Food of this dexterity and skill can, and does, command higher prices in Dublin. It's a pleasure to eat the food of Chef Joy Beattie, who must surely be one of the foremost female chefs in Ireland. As Himself pointed out, we could have paid a lot more for a similar meal just around the aforementioned corner. 

As we leave, I can only offer the highest compliment that I possess, "We will be back".

The Hot Stove Restaurant, Parnell Square West, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 874 7778
Twitter: @HotStoveRest
Hot Stove Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 22, 2013

[Review] Aniar, Lower Dominick Street, Galway

At the end of 2012, it was announced that Galway's Aniar restaurant was to be awarded its first Michelin star, making it the second restaurant outside Dublin to win the accolade. Aniar is a terroir-based restaurant, where head chef Enda McEvoy cooks local, seasonal food, influenced by location. Inside, the restaurant is small and slightly informal. There's a feeling of distressed limewash and pastel shades in the decor, but the lights are dim and there's a buzz in the room. 

We are visiting Galway in advance of a family wedding where we would be presented with the inevitable beef or salmon menu choices.  With several of our group of six leaning towards the tasting menu (€60 per head, with wine pairing available for €25 extra), the rest of the table concur and we place ourselves in the hands of the very calm looking kitchen, where we can see serious faced chefs hovering over plates. 

Our first course of raw mackerel with cucumber, crème fraiche and bright green dill oil doesn't do anything for me, despite its beautiful appearance. However, there is a definite change in gear with the arrival of duck hearts with juicy pink interiors, served with radish, buttermilk and a custardy hens egg. I savour every meaty, umami-laden bite.
Stitch and Bear - Aniar - Mackerel
Mackerel withe cucumber, dill and crème fraiche
Stitch and Bear - Aniar - Duck Hearts
Duck hearts with radish, buttermilk and hen egg
The feast continues with golden sweet carmelised scallops, served with pork belly and clever accoutrements of dried black pudding and cauiflower crisps, balanced with purees of the same. The dehydrated cauliflower is the very essence of the vegetable, showcasing its flavour and natural sweetness. The final meat course of lamb loin is beautifully pink and juicy, while everyone at the table falls in love with the pickled ramson (wild garlic) which provides an addictive punch of pleasure. 
Stitch and Bear - Aniar - Scallops and pork belly
Scallops, black pudding, pork belly and cauliflower
Stitch and Bear - Aniar - Lamb loin
Lamb loin, turnip, watercress and ramson
As the plates are cleared away, I am struck by how truly good the last three courses had been. The flavours echoed through my tastebuds and I could not recall the last time I enjoyed three consecutive courses so good. Our final course of goats cheese panna cotta is accompanied by with meadowsweet and rosehip sauce. The panna cotta is so wobbly that there is some creamy subsidence between the kitchen and the table, but it doesn't stop them from being smooth and creamy, albeit with an overly sweet rosehip sauce.

Aniar is a different sort of fine dining. The plates are just as pretty as those served with foams and gels, but there is a simpler approach to cooking, which uses wild ingredients and pickles to provide flavour and a sense of completeness. In fact, the combinations are so harmonious that you might just find yourself bursting into song. With an Irish name that translates as "from the West", it's rare that a restaurant is so aptly named. 

Aniar, 53 Lower Dominick Street, Galway
Tel: +353 (0)91 535 947
Twitter: @AniarGalway

Aniar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 17, 2013

[Review] Bang, Merrion Row, Dublin 2

The last week in February saw the bi-annual Dine in Dublin taking place in restaurants all throughout the capital. I have to admit to being a little skeptical of events like this as I believe restaurants should be offering value menus all year around, and not just during promotional periods. There was some really good value to be had though. Early in the week, myself and several work colleagues enjoyed an excellent 3 courses for the grand total of €25 in the Whitefriar Grill on Aungier Street. 

On Sunday night we headed to Bang Cafe to experience their special Dine in Dublin menu, a five course tasting menu priced at €39.95 with an additional wine pairing available for €20. We chose to eat upstairs looking out onto Merrion Row. It was a perfect spot for one of our favourite pastimes, people watching. If you're ever walking by a restaurant and you feel a little paranoid about staring at the diners, then don't. The odds are that I'll be there, staring back out even more.

We received some homemade brown bread, which was followed by the first course of butternut squash soup with wild garlic and wild mushroom. The vivid colours of orange and green translated into smoother and richer flavours on the palate. A second course of Clare Island salmon came with a grainy black sesame paste, which bore an unfortunate resemblance to a mud smear. It tasted well though, combining nicely with the pickled cucumber. Special mention here for the cooling horseradish snow. 
Stitch and Bear - Bang Restaurant - Butternut squash soup
Butternut squash soup with wild garlic and wild mushrooms
Stitch and Bear - Bang Restaurant - Clare Island salmon
Clare Island salmon with black sesame puree, kimchi cucumber, local radish and horseradish
Slow-cooked beef fell apart into shreds with gelatinous ease, and although the sauce was strong, bordering on bitter, it worked well with the excellent champ mash. A simple cheese board was elevated by the presence of a homemade puffed cracker and truffled honey. This was so good that in future, I shall demand that all cheese boards contain truffled honey. Finally we finished with an airy chocolate pavé, enhanced by a juicy mango sorbet, salted caramel and crunchy nut pieces. A bottle of Domain Feline Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet (€32) was an easy drinking companion to our meal. 
Stitch and Bear - Bang Restaurant - Slow cooked beef
14 hour slow cooked beef, rainbow carrots, celeriac puree and champ mash
Stitch and Bear - Bang Restaurant - Cheeseboard
Cheese board with homemade crackers, grapes and truffled honey
Stitch and Bear - Bang Restaurant - Chocolate pave
Dark chocolate pave with mango sorbet and salt caramel
This was really good food, well cooked and well presented from a team headed by chef Phil Yeung. Bang restaurant was a true Celtic cub, and even though that era has passed, it still remains a fashionable dining spot. Service was smooth throughout the meal, if a little determined to push brown bread on us. The tempo of the courses was well-judged, something which is really important when enjoying a multi course tasting menu. When all of the above is combined with a sleek dining room, the end result is a good dining experience. 

Time for a witty pun - the pre-theatre menu offers plenty of Bang for your buck, but dining a la carte requires bucks for your Bang. More impressively, Bang's business lunch menu guarantees your single course within 45 minutes, or else it's free. 

Stitch and Bear would like to disclose that our food (not drink) at Bang Restaurant was free, courtesy of a competition win on Twitter. 

Bang, 11 Merrion Row, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 400 4229
Twitter: @BangRestauarant1Bang on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 10, 2013

[Event] Taste of China Cooking Demonstration

Did you know that Dublin is twinned with Beijing? Well I didn't, or not at least until I visited the Dublin Chinese New Year website.  This festival of Sino-Irish culture is now six years old, and the 2013 festival was the biggest to date. One of the final events in the schedule was a Taste of China cookery demonstration hosted by Julie O'Neill of Shananigans Blog and Kevin Hui of China Sichuan restaurant in Sandyford. Given that the demonstrated dishes would come from a Sichaun restaurant, I was sold. I clicked through the online ticket office faster than I would get through a plate of Chinese green beans.

The only major obstacle was that the demonstration kicked off at 12pm on Sunday. At that time, I'm normally surfacing from my Saturday cocktail induced stupor. Still though, the lure of Chinese food was strong, and Sunday morning found me rather uncharacteristically bounding up the stairs to the Cooks Academy on South William Street. This was my first time at this venue, and I was very impressed by the bright and airy workspaces. A welcoming glass of prosecco definitely helped ease me into the mood.

Julie kicked off the event with an introduction to Chinese cooking (a massive subject in its own right) and a overview of her trip to China to visit her son and daughter-in-law. We laughed at her stories and we all felt the warmth of her welcoming Chinese in-laws. It served to remind us that meals bring and bind families together, especially in China where food is truly embedded in everyday life. For me, Chinese food, particularly Hunan or Sichuan, is soul food. No other cuisine makes me feel so content and satisfied. Considering I grew up with bacon and cabbage, this is some realisation. 
The interior of the Cooks Academy
Our first dish was fish fragrant pork shreds. The name is a little misleading as there is no fish in this dish but instead the name refers to the ingredients. As Sichuan province is landlocked with fish in limited supply, the aromatics typically used to flavour fish are instead used with other ingredients, hence the name. A key component of this dish is a picked red pepper sauce, which takes 3 weeks to mature in the fridge. (I've already got a bowl sitting in my fridge, tightly sealed to prevent the aromas from leaking out.) Thankfully, the team had provided us with pre-made sauce and we followed the instructions to produce an incredibly fragrant dish with lots of garlic, ginger and tender pork. I really can't wait to crack out my own version of the 3 week sauce and cook it myself at home. If you're not inclined to wait that long, some Sichuan chili bean paste can be used instead. 
Fish fragrant pork
Our second dish of the day were waltip dumplings filled with a chicken & prawn mixture. We watched as Ricky & Andrew got to work making the stiff but simple pastry, followed by the filling. The real fun came in watching Rick deftly portion and roll out the dumpling pastry with deft, practiced motions. A quick dab of filling and then the dumpling was sealed up with some serious pleating action. Cooking is a family activity in China, and children are often set to making the dumplings from a young age. 
Watching Ricky seal up dumplings
Then it was our turn. First thing that we learned was the importance of keeping the pastry short and dry. Our effort was a little too soft but we decided to go ahead and use it anyway. I attempted to roll the wrappers in the same inwards rolling manner as demonstrated by Ricky, but I found it faster and easier to switch to a regular rolling technique. Once I had my little pastry circles ready, it was time to add a little dab of filling and start to crimp the dumplings. I started out using a simplified pleating technique, making sure to put an attractive bend in the dumplings. The challenge was consistency, but I eventually produced four reasonably identical versions. My efforts at the more complicated crimping technique were definitely not as successful! The dumplings were poached in hot water for about 5 minutes, before being fried in a hot pan until one side was golden and crispy.
Top: pastry ready to go. Bottom: prawn and chicken filling
Top: my dumpling efforts. Bottom: Ricky's  pro dumpling
My poached and fried dumplings
The demonstration was scheduled to run for four hours, and I genuinely did not notice the time disappear. It was wonderful to get a chance to cook these dishes myself, with guidance from Ricky, Andrew and Kevin. The session has inspired me to pull out my selection of Chinese cookbooks and produce more dishes at home. There are many Asian supermarkets around the country now, including the Asia Market on Drury Street making many Chinese ingredients easily purchasable. Julie provides a list of basic Chinese ingredients and equipment on her blog, making it even easier to try some Chinese cooking at home. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

[Review] Aobaba, Capel Street, Dublin 1

Back in December, I wrote about a new Vietnamese pho restaurant that had opened on Parnell Street.  Since then, that location has proved extremely popular with Dublin diners, proving the Kevin Costner adage that if you build it, they will come. Alongside this venue, I'd heard about a second Vietnamese eatery on Capel Street. Aobaba is a small cafe painted in a palette of pastel colours, which offers a selection of Vietnamese street food along with milk and bubble teas. You order and pay at the counter, take your seat and wait just a few minutes before your food arrives. Each table holds a fairly decent selection of condiments, including picked soy bean sauce for pho, sriracha sauce, fish sauce and a fairly potent jar of minced chilis. 
Stitch and Bear - Aobaba - Sauces
Selection of condiments at Aobaba
First to arrive at the table was the portion of summer rolls (2 for €3). I liked the clever name, and these were substantial rolls with prawns and mint, bulked up with rice noodles and held together by translucent rice wrappers. These rolls contained contained significantly more rice noodles that I had experienced in previous versions, making them practically a meal in their own right. His Banh Mi (or Vietnamese baguette) was a substantial sandwich of pork, fresh crunchy salad and chilis and all for just €4. Yet again another meal. More importantly, the Banh Mi came in a wonder soft, yet crusty baguette.
Stitch and Bear - Aobaba - Summer Rolls
Prawn & rice noodle summer rolls
Stitch and Bear - Aobaba - Banh Mi
Banh Mi - Vietnamese pork baguette
Last to arrive at the table was the Spicy Hue Style Noodles (Bun Bo Hue) with lashings of beansprouts, red onions, pork and noodles (€6). I'm not enough of an expert on Vietnamese noodle soup to know if this bowl qualified as pho, but it was soothing and comforting, with fragrant spice. Granted, the broth was not as rich as other versions I've enjoyed, but the additional touch of spice made up for that. And it cost just €6!!
Stitch and Bear - Aobaba - Spicy Hue Style Noodles
Spicy Hue Style Noodles (Bun Bo Hue)
The total cost for our little meal was €13, and any individual dish would have easily sufficed as a lunch dish. The Banh Mi in particular stood out. A somewhat bizarre legacy of French colonialism in Vietnam, this baguette was stuffed with good things. I was fascinated by the bubble tea machine behind the counter which mechanically shakes the tea in a back and forth motion. Another day for sure.  For those that like their pastries, there is an intriguing looking selection of tarts and pastries at the counter. 

In short, Aobaba is tasty and exceptional value. Many venues claim to sell street food, but charge restaurant prices. Aobaba will go easy on your wallet, but not on your taste buds. 

Aobaba, 46A Capel Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 878 8555
Twitter: @aobabainfo
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