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, April 26, 2013

[Event] La Pergola | A Celebration @ Bon Appetit

La Pergola is the only three star Michelin restaurant in Rome, where Executive Chef Heinz Beck oversees an eye-wateringly expensive menu. If you were to opt for the tasting menu, you would leave €210 poorer and that's without wines. Even with a bargain basement Ryanair flight to Rome, that would put a dent in anyone's pocket. Fortunately, Oliver Dunne of Bon Appetit restaurant in Malahide recently hosted La Pergola | A Celebration featuring a menu inspired by this great restaurant but with a far more affordable price tag (€60 per head).

Malahide was bathed in bright light from a setting springtime sun as we took our seats in the first floor restaurant. It's so nice to watch the day pass into nighttime and have the room gradually turn from light to dark. It's definitely a summer feeling, rather than the abrupt transition we experience in winter. As you will see, the lighting in the photos below clearly shows the move from evening to night.

Tuna with wasabi foam, pickled vegetables

Roma tomato foam, tomato tartare, Taggiasca olive salt

Pesce San Pietro
John Dory, smoked aubergine puree, fresh linguini, red pepper oil

Cuscini di Vitello
Cushion of veal, pistachio crumb, puree of artichoke and Mortadella, salsa verde, roasting juices

Cioccolata Blanca
White chocolate sorbet, poached Alfonso mango, basil crisp

Espresso mousse, cioccolata cream, Balsamico gel, walnut gelato, cioccolata Anglaise

For me, the standout items were the tomato tartare which was rich and meaty, full of intense tomato flavour. The veal, with it's pistachio crust, and the fresh linguine (a rare exception to my wheat-free eating) accompanying the lightly cooked John Dory were also excellent. I really enjoy coffee flavours and the quinelle of espresso mousse in the deconstructed tiramisu paired well with the walnut ice-cream. Even himself, who doesn't like white chocolate, liked the white chocolate sorbet served with basil infused mango. (I could definitely see this flavour combination inspiring a new cocktail creation in the new future.) 

Once again, Bon Appetit has demonstrated its ability to offer something a little different. The combination of three different dining venues (the Michelin restaurant, the Brasserie and `Le Bon Vin) along with frequent special offers and themed evenings, demonstrates a restaurant that caters to multiple markets, while maintaining high standards. Oliver Dunne is a modern Irish chef who produces extremely skillful dishes (I still remember a stunning clear tomato jelly), but also recognises the importance of a comfortable and friendly dining room. Bon appetit indeed!

Bon Appetit, St James' Terrace, Malahide, Co. Dublin
Tel: +353 (0)1 845 0314
Twitter: @bonappmalahide

Monday, April 22, 2013

[Listing] Campo Viejo Tapas Trail 2013

The Campo Viejo Tapas Trail has been great value since it launched 2 years ago in Dublin. For a pretty reasonable €20 per head, ticket holders get a walking tour of Dublin, as well as enjoying a selection of tapas and Campo Viejo wines at a selection of tapas bars. Inhabitants of Da Real Capital can also join in the fun this year, as the Tapas Trail will now also include Cork! You can read about my 2011 Tapas Trail experience here, or read below for more information...

Throughout the months of May to July, food and wine enthusiasts can enjoy the culinary culture of Spanish tapas and discover the true passion, generosity and vibrancy of Spain on the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail which will run from 8th May to 5th June in Cork and from 9th June to 17th July in Dublin. 

Inspired by the Spanish way of life and Campo Viejo’s mantra of ‘stimulating a more expressive world’, the Tapas Trail will this year bring Spain’s expressiveness and vibrancy to the streets of Dublin and Cork through urban art.   In an exciting new collaboration with renowned Irish urban artists, Psychonautes and Fatti Burke, Campo Viejo will capture Spain’s colourful culture and passion for living through bespoke installations which can be seen and enjoyed during the Tapas Trail.  Urban art features heavily in contemporary Spanish culture, with Madrid often considered the spiritual home of urban art, making it the perfect complement to the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail 2013. 

Now an annual celebration of the best of Spanish cuisine and wine, the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail allows participants to enjoy the unique colourful social experience of going from eatery to eatery and sharing a selection of authentic Spanish tapas cuisine, while experiencing  the vibrancy of Spain right on their own doorstep.  

Tickets for the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail are priced at €20 with the trail taking place each Wednesday between 6.30pm and 9.00pm and each Sunday between 2.00pm and 4.30pm (excluding Sunday 2nd June in Cork) in participating restaurants in Dublin and Cork. During the event, participants will visit four top tapas restaurants in Dublin and Cork where they will be presented with the venue’s best three tapas specially created to complement the well balanced, tasty and round, full flavours associated with Campo Viejo Reserva.  Participants will also enjoy a glass of Campo Viejo Reserva in each restaurant. Dublin restaurants include; Salamanca, St. Andrews St., Havana Tapas Bar, Georges St., The Market Bar, Fade St. and Bagots Hutton, South William Street while participating Cork restaurants are; Arthur Mayne's, Pembroke St., Electric, South Mall, The Cornstore, Cornmarket St. and Oysters, Lapps Quay

80 people can participate on the trail during each session. They will be split up into four groups of 20; each group will be assigned a different route, starting from different restaurants and work their way around the trail. Hosts will guide participants on the trail educating them on the importance of the Rioja region and describing Campo Viejo’s unique characteristics. For further information and to purchase tickets, priced at €20 per person, log onto or  

Monday, April 15, 2013

[Review] Bison Bar BBQ, Wellington Quay, Dublin 2

My favourite cuisine type is undoubtedly Chinese, and I especially love Chinese barbecued skewers, such as the lamb skewers to be found at the Hilan on Capel Street. This little mention allows me to segue neatly from the topic of Chinese food to that of my next favourite cuisine, namely BBQ. Spending several months in North Carolina in the US opened my eyes (and stomach) to the glory of smoked and slow-cooked meats. Since then, I've tortured myself by watching episodes of Man Vs Food, drooling over slow-motion shots of juicy brisket and carmelised ribs, knowing that I would not be able to experience such delights until I again returned to the US.

Essentially, I am a glutton. I am addicted to taste. And when I heard tantalising mentions on Twitter that the Bison Bar on Wellington Quay had acquired an American smoker and was now producing proper BBQ, then I knew that I simply had to visit. I think that I waited a whole 2 days before I visited. Yes, I am a master of self-restraint.

Upon entering, one of the first sights is the eponymous bison head overseeing all activity. Through a set of salon doors, seating opens up to the rear featuring uncomfortable-looking saddle stools (yes, there are saddles fixed to stools). There is a short list of €5 drinks specials and we order whiskey sours before settling into seats under a magnificently antlered deer head.  The whiskey sours go down all too easily, and we relax in the evening sunshine streaming in through the windows. Muted blues and Southern music provide the perfect atmosphere. Outside on the quay, a guide dog is looking at us. I think he senses what is to come.
At the Bison Bar
Drinks at the Bison Bar
It's always a good sign when a BBQ joint has an industrial roll of tissue on each table, or in the case of Bison Bar, a roll of kitchen paper. Two squeezy bottles of BBQ and mustard BBQ sauce and a jar of plastic cutlery finish the stage dressing. As we wait, the delicious odours of BBQ start to waft through the bar, and it doesn't take long before the waitress appears with our order. The food is served on a metal tray, lined with a sheet of brown paper, which soon loses its pristine appearance under a deluge of meat juices and BBQ sauce. Two little cardboard bowls hold our side orders (fries & burnt end beans for me, fries and coleslaw for him), along with a little tub of chipotle mayo.
Our dining companions at Bison Bar
Both of us have ordered the combo plate, featuring two meats for €16.95. My ribs are advertised as St. Louis style and come in the expected square format. They are lightly sauced and the flesh falls away with perfect ease. They are joined on the tray by a portion of juicy brisket slices which feature a crusty smoked rind. He has ordered chicken and brisket and is delighted to find that the chicken has retained some moistness through the BBQ cooking. In previous visits to BBQ joints, dried-out chicken has been a major bugbear, but that is not the case with this golden brown example. 
Chicken and brisket for Him
Brisket and St. Louis-style ribs for me
Fries are perfectly standard and are elevated by the chipotle mayo. My portion of burnt end beans are delicious with a deep smoky tomato flavour and I can even see the burnt end shreds in the sauce. The coleslaw is average, and it would be so much better to see a homemade slaw on the platter.

BBQ is on offer everyday at the Bison Bar, starting at midday and lasting as long as meat is available. If you're too late for BBQ, Bison Bar is also a whiskey bar, with a menu running several pages long and covering 150 Irish, Scotch, American and Japanese whiskies, plus another 50 tequilas. With BBQ'd and whiskey sours in your stomach, you'll be hard pushed to find a more perfect pub in Dublin. 

Bison Bar, 11 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2
Twitter: @BisonDublin

Bison Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 14, 2013

[Review] M&L Szechaun Restaurant, Cathedral Street, Dublin 1

Dear readers, I have a confession to make. It has been barely more than 12 hours since my last Chinese meal and I already crave more. As I sit here, it is a blustery yet stunningly beautiful Sunday morning in Dublin's fair city. Clouds are scurrying across an azure sky and surely it is a time to think about Eggs Benedict or perhaps a proper fry. However, in my head I am dreaming of streamed fish with fragrant ginger and garlic, or perhaps lip-tingling Sichuan peppers dotted throughout a dish of crispy chicken and peanuts. 

I have several favourite Chinese restaurants in Dublin, which I alternate through depending on my moods and desires. All have featured on this blog, some more than once. In fact, this is a second mention for the M&L Szechuan Restaurant, over 3 years since I first mentioned it. The M&L Szechuan restaurant lies in the shadow of St. Mary's Pro Cathedral, a mere hop and a skip from O'Connell Street. Despite the solemn surroundings, M&L is a vibrant spot, often packed and full of bright flavours and aromas. As the name suggests, the main dishes originate from Szechuan province, famous for its use of spicy and pungent flavours. Inside, the restaurant is cosily lit and the staff are welcoming. The M&L used to suffer from the problem of having dreary English and exotic Chinese menus, but things have improved and there are now many authentic offerings on the English menu. 

Deep-fried seabass with chili garlic garlic sauce came on the bone (€13.50) with a bright flash of spring onions. The sweetness of the sauce had been tempered with garlic, resulting in a sticky sauce in which to dip the delicate white flesh.  Stir-fried dry beef with hot and spicy taste (€10.50) was flavoured with cumin and fermented beans and finished with sugar, resulting in a carmelised flavour to balance the salty & spicy flavours. It was also a visually pretty dish with dark red dried chills and bright green from fresh coriander and spring onion. 
Stitch and Bear - M&L Szechuan Restaurant - Deep fried sea bass
Deep fried seabass with chili garlic sauce
We managed to go off-piste when we persuaded our waiter to provide a dish of aubergine and pork from the Chinese menu. It didn't look the most appealing when it arrived but it was melt in the mouth good. Gently sweet and salty, the aubergine had nearly completely disappeared and the whole dish was a lovely counterpoint to spicy beef. Glasses of Tsingtao rice beer were cold and refreshing and great value at €3 a bottle. 
Stitch and Bear - M&L Szechuan Restaurant - Selection of dishes
Stir-fried dry beef, Tsingtao beer and aubergine & pork
A dish of deep-fried crispy chicken and peanuts was flavoured with chili (€10.50) and the fearsome Sichuan peppercorn. Little pieces of chicken skin had escaped from the flesh and had been fried separately. They literally exploded with flavour in the mouth and I searched throughout the entire plate, picking out all these little morsels. Dark red dried chilis make this dish moderately spicy, but the heat factor is amplified if you manage to pick up some of the lurking peppercorns (which confusingly aren't actually peppercorns, but in fact berries).
Stitch and Bear - M&L Szechuan Restaurant - Another selection of dishes
Shredded pork in hot and sour sauce and chicken with chili and peanuts
The climate of Sichuan province tends to dampness (not unlike our own home) and therefore the cuisine features salty and spicy flavours to ward off foul humours. Perhaps this explains why I always feel virtuously healthy after a Sichuan meal, despite the fact that I will have eaten several courses, and practically licked every drop of garlicky oil off the plates. Or perhaps its the fact that a typical meal of 3 courses, several beers and rice will typically come to under €40.

If you like Chinese food but have been nervous about trying more authentic dishes, then M&L could well be the spot for you. Each dish has a wonderful balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours, and the welcoming staff will help you order something suited to your tastes.  Personally, I intend to keep going until I crack the elusive all-Chinese menu. Soft-shell crabs cooked in egg yolk, you have been warned.

M&L Szechuan Restaurant, 13-14 Cathedral Street, Dublin 1
Tel:+353 (0)1 874 8038
Twitter: @MlChinese

M & L Szechuan Chinese on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 12, 2013

[News] Molson Coors launches The Craft Collection

Molson Coors is currently the world's seventh largest brewer by volume, with many major mainstream brands in their portfolio. However, like all major brewing companies, it is waking up to the fact that beer drinkers are becoming more discerning and are seeking more variety in their beer selection. In fact, the Irish craft beer market has grown by an impressive 100% in 2012, and it is expected to capture 10% of the market by 2017. 

Hence, Molson Coors have selected Ireland as the launch country for their new The Craft Collection presenting a selection of award-winning beers from a selection of craft breweries, including Cork's very own The Franciscan Well.  It is possible to argue that Molson Coors are merely jumping on the craft beer bandwagon, but the fact that they are paying attention to this market section shows that the current trend for craft beer is gaining serious traction.

The beers featured are as follows: (if I know something about the beer, I have added my own thoughts).
  • Blue Moon Belgian White (Belgian style wheat ale, 5.4% ABV, Colorado USA) - the number one sellling Norther American craft beer. You can argue all you want about the slice of orange which often comes with this beer, but there's no doubting its appeal.
  • Blue Moon Valencia Grove Amber (American amber ale, 5.9% ABV, Colorado USA) - Blue Moon regularly make seasonal ales, and this spring seasonal ale is meant to sit between the hearty winter seasonals and the more refreshing summer beers.
  • Sharps's Chalky's Bark (Flavoured ale, 4.5% ABV, Cornwall UK) - Created by Sharp's in conjunction with Rick Stein, this beer features a picture of Rick's famous little terrier. Inspired by Rick's travels to the Far East, it has a ginger flavour to give it bark.
  • Sharps's Chalky's Bite (Belgian abbey ale, 6.8% ABV, Cornwall UK) - Again another cute dog label and is designed to partner with seafood
  • Sharp's Doom Bar (Amber ale, 4.3% ABV, Cornwall UK)
  • Franciscan Well Rebel Red (Irish red ale, 4.3% ABV, Cork Ireland) - Named after the Rebel county, this has flavours of fruit and caramel alongside malt and biscuit. 
  • Franciscan Well Shandon Stout (Cork style dry stout, 4.3% ABV, Cork Ireland) - Winner of a 2012 World Beer award, and named after the local landmark Shandon Steeple, Shandon Stout is a roasted, chocolately beer. The Corkonian in me loves this beer.
  • Worthington's White Shield (IPA, 5.6% ABV, Burton-upon-Trent UK)
  • Worthington's Red Shield (Blonde ale, 4.2% ABV, Burton-upon-Trent UK)
For more information, you can follow The Craft Collection on Facebook, or via Twitter.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

[News] Tayto Cheese & Onion Chocolate Bar

Many years ago I would attend Irish step-dancing classes in the local community centre. I never really had much of a sense of rhythm, but I loved the classes. But the best part of the class would come once we had finished and we were free to visit O'MurchĂș's shop. I think every child learns economics at a young age, when they are figuring out how to extract maximum value from their precious pennies. 

I would often go for a chocolate bar, a packet of Tayto crisps and I would use whatever change was left over to buy an assortment of penny sweets. This was the middle to end of the 80s after all, and every penny mattered in those years.  My friends and I would then walk home, eating our haul as we went. The walk was over a mile long, up and down some very steep hills, thus helping to burn off our calorific intake (not that we cared about such things at that stage in our lives). One of my very favourite treats was to take a square of chocolate and eat it together with some Cheese & Onion crisps. I was convinced that this was the best flavour combination ever.

Last year, Tayto starting selling a plain bar of milk chocolate, with Mr. Tayto emblazoned on the wrapper at their Tayto Park in Ashbourne, Co. Meath. However, word quickly got around on Twitter that it was "just" plain chocolate, and didn't actually feature any crisp content. A strong viral campaign eventually resulted in Tayto teaming up with Butlers Chocolates to make the holy grail of chocolate bars, featuring milk chocolate containing pieces of Cheese & Onion crisps.
I may have enjoyed many new flavour combinations since my childhood adventures, but I still think that chocolate and crisps is a winner. I'll be keeping an eye out for this bar, and the subsequent trip down memory lane.
This limited edition Tayto product is available in Tayto Park in Ashbourne Co. Meath and will be stocked in Londis, Gala, Costcutter, Topaz, Spar, Mace, Eurospar, Daybreak plus other select retailers by the end of April. But be warned, there will only 100,000 bars in circulation. More information on Tayto can be found at on Mr Tayto’s page on Facebook, or follow Mr. Tayto on Twitter - @MrTaytoIreland.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

[Listing] Grandmothers Day from Slow Food Ireland

Slow Food Ireland aims to promote good, clean and fair food with emphasis on knowing where food comes from. With that in mind, they are celebrating the second annual Grandmothers Day to celebrate our food heritage and forgotten skills. This event will take place in conjunction with Sandbrook House, Ballon, Co. Carlow on the 20th and 21st of April. The event will be launched by Darina Allen who said:
“The success of last year’s event lead us to recognize that there is a tangible opportunity to use our food culture to develop opportunities for rural employment and for revitalising our small town centres and communities."
Saturday April 20th will feature Slow Roots, an expert-led international symposium, which will tackle the topic of how to use traditional Irish food to create jobs in rural communities as we explore the question “How can we learn from our Food Heritage to create employment for this generation? The debate will be lead by two keynote speakers of international renown: Professor Hartmut Vogtmann, former President of Nature Conservation, Federal Republic of Germany and Angelika Ploeger, Professor of Food Science and Food Culture.

This event, lead by Dr. Margaret Linehan of Cork Institute of Technology brings together many third level Irish colleges who will present project outcomes on topics such as 'Before the Potato', ‘Food of the Monasteries’, Fish and Seaweed projects, Boxty, Artisan Food & Traditions and more. Food historian, Dorothy Cashman will speak of her work on the Culinary Manuscripts and their relevance today. The day will be concluded with a Fulacht Fiadh celebration - a one of a kind reproduction of the traditional Irish cooking method more than 3,000 years old.

The fee to attend the symposium on April 20th is €30, which includes lunch and a traditional Fulacht Fiadh dinner. To secure your spot please RSVP by emailing to

Sunday April 21st is Grandmother’s Day with a series of workshops and demonstrations from some of Ireland’s most passionate Slow Food experts. We will explore the food cycle from beginning to end, with focus on sustainability and celebrating good clean and fair food.

The Sunday will be opened by Darina Allen, Slow Food pioneer, who will give the keynote speech at 12 noon. Later Darina Allen, Pamela Black, Granny Florence Bowe, Niall Murphy of Donnybrook Fair and Sophie Morris of Kookie Dough will do cookery demonstrations. For the children there will be a couple of hands on sausage making sessions with Ed Hick.

A series of workshops and demonstrations on forgotten skills including butter, cheese and chocolate making, preserving, foraging and cooking bastible bread over the open fire will be free to attend.  There will also be talks on Grow It Yourself, beekeeping, willow weaving, seaweed, seed sowing and more. While you enjoy the workshops and demonstrations why not relax on the Sandbrook grounds and enjoy our spectacular Farmers Market featuring the best of Irish artisans and producers?

Grandmothers are invited to bring along a favourite recipe that they would like to pass onto their grandchildren to include in a Slow Food Grandmother’s scrapbook. As the guardians of inherited wisdom and forgotten skills, we encourage grandparents to gather their grandchildren around and show them how to bake a cake, sow a seed, catch a fish, knit or crochet...

Slow Food Grandmother’s Day at Sandbrook runs from 11am to 6pm on Sunday 21st April. Admission is €10 with free entry to all children, free car parking and free entry to all talks & workshops. Cookery demonstrations are €10.00-15.00 and are on a first come, first served basis.

For more information readers can access the website or email

Friday, April 5, 2013

[Review] Brioche Ce Soir, Aungier St, Dublin 2

Let me start this review by getting one thing said early. Brioche Ce Soir is cosy. Cosy in the sense that your elbow is mere centimetres from your neighbours' food and you get to know their nasal hair rather well. On the plus side, you can eavesdrop to your heart's content. Normally, this kind of closeness will have me clawing at the walls and gritting my teeth throughout the meal. But somehow, it's acceptable in Brioche Ce Soir. 

Every piece of space is at a premium in Brioche. You realise this when you enter and see two chefs working smoothly behind the daytime sandwich counter which is now complete with a small countertop cooker.The containers that normally hold lunchtime salads and sandwich fillings are now put to use holding the mise en place for the nights cooking. Throughout the service, the chefs shuttle between the counter and the upright fridges. Given the space constraints in the kitchen and on the table tops, it's only natural that Brioche Ce Soir's menu is centred around little tasting plates, all priced in the starter range.

First to arrive was pan-fried sea bass with cherry tomatoes and basil butter (€7), followed by a house speciality of gravadlax-style home-cured salmon, served with horseradish creme fraiche, beetroot and some hidden pickled cucumber (€7).  A little casserole pot of nuclear hot potato & blue cheese gratin was cold evening perfection, while haricot vert tossed in shallot and smoked bacon dressing (€4.50) demonstrated the way all vegetables should be prepared. Pot braised belly of pork (€7) was cooked just the way I like it, crispy with no flabbiness. The final dish of the evening was a thick buckwheat galette topped with a veritable mountain of creamed leeks and even creamier avocado. 
Pan-fried sea bass with cherry tomatoes
From left: cured salmon with a twist and haricot vert
Braised belly pork with parmesan foam
Pot braised belly of pork (€7) was cooked just the way I like it, crispy with no flabbiness. At Brioche, the belly pork had been sliced and pan-fried for an extra crispy finish before being topped with a parmesan foam. The final dish of the evening was a thick buckwheat galette topped with a veritable mountain of creamed leeks and even creamier avocado.  The photo doesn't do this dish justice, but trust me when I say that it's hard to beat a pile of creamy leeks and avocado. 
Buckwheat crepe with creamed leeks and avocado
Six tasty dishes, resulting in a bill that barely cleared the €40 mark. We didn't have any wine on the night we visited, but a quick glance at the wine list reveals good pricing in line with food prices. So tuck your elbows in, give your neighbours a greeting nod and enjoy some high-quality, small-sized portions of French cooking.

Brioche Ce Soir, 65 Aungier St., Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 475 8536
Twitter: @BriocheCafe

Brioche Ce Soir on Urbanspoon
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