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!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

[Listing] Ed Hick's Pork Pop-Up at KC Peaches Wine Cave

On Thursday 11th June, Ed Hick of Hick & Sons Irish craft butchers will host a pop-up pork fest in KC Peaches Wine Cave on Nassau Street. Hick has become known in Ireland for his passion for well-raised meat, and his love of one animal (the pig!) in particular is illustrated by his best known products.

KC Peaches, who have been buying Ed's excellent pork products for years, have teamed up with the butcher to present a night in celebration of the pig, whose value and deliciousness is sometimes under-appreciated when compared to beef or lamb in Ireland. Hick will lay on a smorgasbord of unusual cuts, including 'lachs schinken' (cured loin) and lardo (fat) from a single organic sow, along with spiced pork brisket and slow roast pork neck. Guests will also enjoy the aromas of the indoor spit roast, which is being brought in especially to do justice to Hick's gently smoke-cured 'bacon' ribs.

The menu will be as follows:

Braised pork neck broth served with Parmesan crouton and wild garlic creme fraiche

Ham hock terrine, pea puree, crispy quails egg

Hick's charcuterie plate (smoke-cured ham, lachs schinken and lardo from a single organic sow) served with bacon jam and Bretzel bread

Gently smoke-cured ribs (grilled table side) served with red cabbage and beetroot slaw

Spiced pork brisket served with baby veg, apple & hazelnut stuffing, roasted potatoes 

Iced summer berries with white chocolate ganache

All this delicious food will cost just €35 per person. To make a reservation, please contact the Wine Cave on (087) 984 5929 or email (ask for Emilie).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

[Event] Campo Viejo Tapas Trail 2013

One of the best value events to hit Dublin in recent years has been the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail. I attended the very first trail in 2011, which turned out to be both great fun and educational. Since then, the event has continued to prove popular, and this year it has expanded to include the fine city of Cork. 

Last Sunday I re-joined the Tapas Trail, starting with a reception in basement wine bar Bagots Hutton. This little corker of a venue is the continuation of a business which was started in 1829 and ran for 150 years before closing down in the 1980s. Owners Giovanni & Brian have bought the name back to life, including the excavation of underground tunnels which originally linked Bagots Hutton to the George's Street Arcade. Lit only by candlelight, these secret tunnels are surprisingly cosy. We rolled out of Bagots Hutton, fueled by an impressive spread of tapas and several glasses of Campo Viejo Reserva and Cava.

Inside Bagots Hutton
Tapas at Bagots Hutton
From South William Street, we walked to the Market Bar on Fade Street, although I would have much preferred to take the more historic subterranean route from Bagots Hutton. Here, we were plied with more Campo Viejo Reserva (are you seeing a theme yet?) along with portions of chicken and chorizo skewers, patatas bravas and finally a tasty rocket, feta and chorizo salad. 
Chorizo and feta salad at the Market Bar
At the Market Bar
We left the Market Bar through a rear entrance which bought us out into the middle of George's Street Market Arcade, showing yet another example of the hidden Dublin. Outside on the pavement, our guide detailed the history of the Arcade, which opened in 1881 in the middle of a furore around the lack of involvement of native Dubliners in the project. The market burned down in 1892, but this time, the rebuilding project was far more inclusive.
Outside George's Street Market Arcade
Tortilla tapas at Havana
We continued on to Havana tapas bar on George's Street where we were treated to yet another three tapas and some impressive Spanish from a San Sebastian native. Our insight into the historic Dublin continued as we learned that Havana is situated on the former sight of the Pims department store. For some insane reason, this gracious building which featured tall display windows was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the current hideous concrete office building. We stopped briefly outside St Andrew's Church to get some gossip on the romantic life of Dean Johnathan Swift, before heading to our final stop at Salamanca. Here, we received another warm welcome along with a tasty crema catalana and several more glasses of Campo Viejo. 

Having twice been on the trail, I really do think that the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail offers great value for money. With tapas, wine and an entertaining look at Dublin's history available for just €20 per ticket , it's a fun few hours around our great capital. I must get myself to the Cork version next year to see how the magic translates to my home city. To learn more, visit or

Disclosure: I was given a complimentary pair of tickets to the Campo Viejo Tapas Trail. All thoughts are my own.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

[Review] Bela Vista, Praia da Rocha, Portimão, Portugal

When we were last in the Algarve two years ago, we often walked past a construction site which surrounded a beautiful Moroccan-inspired building. I often like to daydream about living somewhere special and this building immediately caught my imagination. This year, we found out that the building had become the absolutely stunning Hotel Bela Vista, a boutique 5 star location. I was so entranced with lovely photos and interior design that I came within a hair's breadth of booking our accommodation there, but financial prudence prevailed.

However, I was still determined to take a look inside so I booked dinner at the Bela Vista restaurant. When we arrived, we were buzzed into peaceful haven, complete with heavenly blue swimming pool, white-curtained lounges and sleek decking. Inside, the greeting rooms of the Bela Vista aren't very large, but they are vibrantly decorated with traditional tiled motifs, mosaics and patterned fabrics. The  bright white and blue dining room opens onto the terrace, overlooking the sea below. I find it all rather magnificent.
The view from our table
We opted for the chef's tasting menu, costing €75 per head. I ordered my first ever French 75, a punchy cocktail of champagne and gin, while he chose a sidecar (€9.50 each). An amuse bouche of broad bean veloutee was simple and excellent. It was followed by a seafood tasting plate presented on  the now ubiquitous slate plate. It was a kind of a cross-cultural seafood interpretation with a mix of drab tempura soft-shell crab, steamed dumpling and an excellent seared scallop. 
Broad bean veloute
Seared scallop - part of our starter tasting plate
Our next course was simply described as egg, peas and ham, but of course it was more than that. Slow-cooked egg burst open, letting out liquid gold to coat salty cured ham, crushed peas and a long piped tube of pea puree. It was delicious, but my only qualm was the partially translucent egg-white, of which I've  had a lifelong fear. Everytime I cook an egg, I live in terror of semi-cooked egg white, and I'm well aware that it's irrational, particularly as I will happily scoff down raw egg whites in steak tartare. But each to their own, and partially cooked egg whites is definitely mine. 
Pea, ham and egg
Next was the fish course of stacked crispy pan-fried sea bass portions with saffron-coloured potatoes, sliced string beans and olives. This was followed by a wonderful dish of rare duck breast, served with sweet potato puree, and what I choose to describe as a citrus tarte tatin and sweet potato strings. This could have been one of my favourite dishes of all time if only the duck skin had been crispy, rather than flabby.
Sea bass with saffron potatoes, beans and olives
Duck breast with sweet potato and citrus tarte tatin
When we were seated, the sky was still azure in the early evening. As the evening wore on, the sky dimmed through shades of gold to navy darkness. This pleasant transition was undoubtedly helped along by a very nice bottle of crisp Portugese Quinto do Ameal Vinho Verde (€28). 
Evening into night
Meat courses complete, it was time for desserts. First was a single spoon with a little creme caramel type bonbon nested inside. This was followed by a très posh version of an Iceberger ice-cream sandwich. The English skills of our waiters weren't quite up to the job of describing this dessert, which tasted to me like crude dark chocolate. Eventually, I realised that the flavour was carob, something that I'd never tasted and had only ever associated with health food stores and diabetic chocolate. The dirty smear of brown stuff across the plate (carob, I assume) didn't endear me to finish. 
Pre-dessert caramel
Carob slice (Iceberger, non?)
A little box of petits fours arrived at the table along with the bill. Inside was a little mix of madelines, macarons and bonbons, all excellent, and a good finish to an otherwise lacklustre pastry service.  
Selection of petits fours
There was an error on our bill where we were charged for the more expensive bottle of red wine from the same vineyard. However, the mistake was rectified smoothly (€20 in our favour) and our grand total for the night came to €199.50 exactly. Another pleasant surprise on the bill was a charge for a single bottle of sparkling water (€3.50), despite having consumed several over the course of the night. This was something we experienced in several restaurants over the course of our holidays, and was a pleasant relief compared to home, where you live in mortal fear of consuming too much bottled water. 

Comparisons between this meal and our previous day's lunch at Vila Joya were always going to be inevitable but this meal was more than able to stand on it's own merits. A beautiful hotel, an elegant dining room, smooth service and, at times, some really stylish and adventurous cooking all contributed to a genuine fine dining experience. 

Vista Restaurante, Bela Vista Hotel & Spa, Avenida Tomás Cabreira, Praia da Rocha, 8500-802 Portimão, Portugal
Tel: +351 282 460 280

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Review] Bunsen Burger, Wexford Street, Dublin 2

Sometimes all you want is a good juicy burger. Unfortunately that's not something we get readily in Ireland. Order a burger in any generic bar and odds are it will arrive dry and overcooked with all the flavour profile of sawdust.  You end up wondering if the chef has ever tasted one of his creations, because there really isn't any other explanation for the existence of these bricks. 

Then there are several "gourmet" burger joints which do a great job of making creative burgers with loads of flavours. But in the case of most, when you peel away the toppings and chipotle sauce, the patty itself isn't often great.  Believe it or not, Eddie Rocket's often gets my vote as a venue with a great burger as they don't mess too much with their burgers, and produce a pretty decent end result. 

New joint Bunsen Burger believes that it's time to take burgers back to basics. Owner Tom Gleeson missed the great burgers he'd enjoyed in New York, and wanted to recreate the simple, perfect hamburger here in Dublin. The menu at Bunsen literally fits on a business card-sized menu, with just two options: hamburger or cheeseburger. The patties are made from Black Aberdeen Angus which is ground fresh daily and served on a custom variation of an Amish bread roll. 
The Bunsen menu
First impressions are suitably cool - the Bunsen logo, a nicely stylised letter B, is branded on the fries holder, the burger wrapper and the paper liner which covers our lightweight aluminum trays. The fries are thin cut and crispy, while the burger looks tall in its wrapper.
The burger
Unwrapping the burger reveals the soft Amish roll, which looks light and fluffy. The crumb nature of the patty shows that it is clearly made with ground mince, which hasn't been over processed or handled.  Melted cheese, mustard and ketchup ooze from the edges. When I pick it up, the juices immediately start to run over my hands, onto the paper, while the roll compresses nicely in my grip. 

The burger is juicy, juicy, juicy, cooked to light pink in the middle. Every bite has pickle or onion, mustard or ketchup to complement the meat. The patties aren't actually very big, so the burger disappears in a few mouthfuls. I like this as it means that you don't fall into a meat coma after eating. 
The burger, unwrapped
Halfway there
There's no doubting that this is a damn fine burger. Somehow it reminds me of eating chip van burgers as a child huddled against the rain at summer agricultural shows (Ireland, eh?), or crowding around in the gang after a teenage disco. It reminds me of how good and simple a burger can be. 

One negative. We eat at lunchtime and the total for two cheeseburgers (€7.45), one fries (€2.95), one coke (€1.95) and one sparkling water (€2.50) comes to a total of €22.30. It just felt a tad too dear, especially with the small portion size of fries. 

But I must admit that I did enjoy the burger. I enjoyed it so much that while eating, I wished it would turn into a never-ending burger, along the lines of Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper. Sadly that didn't happen, which means that another visit to Bunsen is required.

UPDATE: Since my trip to Bunsen, I've decided to launch a quest to find Dublin's best burger #BBID.  Feel free to add your thoughts and candidates.

Bunsen Burger, 36 Wexford Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 552 5408
Twitter: @BunsenDublin
Bunsen Burgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

[Review] Vila Joya, Galé, Portugal

When we booked our special holiday lunch at two star Vila Joya, it was listed as No 42 in the World's Best 50 Restaurants. That seemed very promising, but things got even better shortly before our departure when the latest rankings were issued. Vila Joya had moved up the table to No 37.  Now the anticipation levels were even higher.
The day's menu
We arrived a little early, about 30 minutes in fact, as we didn't want to be late. (Typical Irish eh?) After gaining access through the gated entrance, we found ourselves in the peaceful grounds of the Vila Joya hotel. We were taken through to the bar area, which opens out onto the sunlit terrace. With time to spare, we ordered some cocktails, a Negroni for me and a whiskey sour for him. Preparation was well underway for the lunchtime service with the waiting staff doing many different things all at once. The serving staff were attired in snowy white uniforms, including what I could only describe as Hammer Pants. A little googling later revealed that this was probably a variation of Portuguese traditional dress and not a tribute to the master of "U Can't Touch This".
My Negroni in its offset glass
In due course the maître d' started to bring the parties outside to their tables on the terrace. The view from here is incredibly beautiful with landscaped shaded gardens falling away from the terrace, down to a picturesque little beach and the stunning green blue sea beyond. White canvas parasols shade each table, protecting diners from the sun. If it gets a little too breezy on the terrace, blankets are provided to keep you snug. I'd say that it would be equally gorgeous here at nighttime, with burners illuminating the terrace, and the sound of sea below.
Our terrace table
Lunch at Vila Joya costs €110 per person, with a Portugese wine pairing adding €72 per person. The menu lists four courses for that price, but rest assured that plenty "surprise" courses are provided throughout the meal. Chef Dieter Koschina combines local produce with his northern European background and has impressively held two Michelin stars since 1999. Before visiting, I was very intrigued to see how an Austrian chef would incorporate Portuguese influences. Read on for details....

The menu itself was short and simple...

Atlantic lobster, cauliflower, caviar
Monkfish, capers, artichokes
Duo of beef, spinach  pepperpolenta
Apple, hazlenut, honey

Surprise starter Number 1 featured a crisp roll with avocado puree, a sour cream "oyster" with caviar, light crisp discs with small octopus tentacle and caipirinha spheres. Careful removal of the crisp roll from the pincer-like holder was required, and the smooth creamy filling tasted like the darkest, greenest essence of avocado. Lifting the spoon holding the sour cream sphere and letting it slip down really did reproduce the feeling of eating an oyster, followed by the salty pops of caviar. The delicate crisps reminded me of extremely gourmet prawn crackers, and the caipirinha bombs exploded open in your mouth, releasing a not-too-sweet lime experience.
Surprise starter Number 1
Surprise starter Number 1
Surprise starter Number 2 arrived with another pincer contraption holding a cone of steak tartare, a beetroot macaron atop a little slate cube, some parmesan sandwiches and little rolls of crispy fried pata negra.  The steak tartare was meatily chewy all in a delicate cone, but we were both blown away by the sweet, smoky, saltiness of the beetroot macaron which was sandwiched with an eel filling. I would have happily paid €110 for a tray of those delicious little flavourbombs. Moving on, the parmesan crisp sandwiches with a smooth cheese filling were calming after the rich flavours of the first two components, with the parmesan flavour still showing through. Little crispy cigarillo shapes of pata negra finished off a wonderful starter of salty, meaty flavours. 
Surprise starter Number 2
Surprise starter Number 2
Surprise starter Number 3 was all about seafood. Once again, delicate crisps were in evidence, flavoured with gentle spice and topped with little brown shrimp. Sweet razor clams were served in their shells contrasting with sharp, tangy yuzu citrus and decorated with beautiful edible flowers. The final dish featured salmon, rolled in a little pancake, accompanied by cucumber.
Surprise starter Number 3
After this extravaganza of tasting delights, it was time to start the meal proper. First up was a stunningly beautiful dish of Atlantic lobster, cauliflower and caviar. Ravioli filled with celery and served in intense bisque was truly sublime, even for a celery-hater such as myself. All the rawness and bitterness of celery had been removed, leaving a smooth, creamy flavour that was the best part of celery. 
Lobster, cauliflower and caviar
Closeups of lobster, cauliflower and caviar
Monkfish with capers and artichokes featured a perfectly cooked piece of this magnificent fish, topped with peeled, cooked artichokes, tiny gnocchi, deep fried fresh capers and red pepper. A rich meaty jus provided colour and taste contrast, while the artichokes allowed the sweet meatiness of the monkfish to shine through.
Monkfish with capers and artichokes
Our meat course featured a duo of beef (steak and cheek) with spinach and pepperpolenta. Beautifully pink and seared beef, wilted spinach and a perfectly small amount of peppered polenta came in one dish, while another plate held a carmelised, glutinous piece of beef cheek atop the classic partner of creamed celeriac. 
Duo of beef
Main courses done, it was time to wait for the dessert. But of course, there was another surprise course. A reconstructed coconut with coconut ice-cream coated in a dark chocolate shell was visually clever and tasted well, but the accompanying banana ice-cream, pineapple & passionfruit were somewhat lacklustre.  Finally dessert proper arrived. Listed as apple, hazelnut and honey, it was both light and crisp, yet smooth and creamy.
Pre-dessert surprise
Apple, hazelnut and honey
A final surprise came with in the shape of a little dessert bowl of coffee and caramel flavours, accompanied by a glass of viscous, sweet Moscatel de Setúbal 1998 with citrus and nutty flavours. An utterly divine glass on which to finish a meal.
Final "surprise" dessert
I had planned on ordering coffee so that I could continue the gluttony with petit fours. But before I could order, a slate of bonbons was delivered to the table. However, at this stage I had consumed several glasses of fine wine, in the afternoon sunshine, so I decided coffee could be a judicious move anyway.
Petit Fours at Vila Joya
Overall, this was an educational dining experience. The real oohs and aahs had come early in the meal as we worked our way through the three surprise starters but overall, we had absolutely enjoyed every dish. My single negative comment about our visit came with the arrival of our bill, where the unexceptional cocktails were listed as €19.50 each.  Even at a two star restaurant, that is gouging. In comparison, the very next day we dined at the very fancy 5 star Bela Vista hotel where pre-dinner cocktails cost €9. 

But food, while extremely important, isn't everything at a Michelin restaurant. Throughout our leisurely lunch, we observed that everything at Vila Joya was precise and correct, from the waiter etiquette right through to the food presentation. Vila Joya is a great illustration of what is required to be a true fine dining establishment. And it's nice to see that even with this high level of service, the restaurant is still relaxed enough to allow pet dogs on the terrace during service. 

Ultimately, the very best way to judge a restaurant is your likeliness to return and long lengthy lunches on sunlit terraces are hard to forget. Memories are made of this. 

Vila Joya, Praia da Galé, 8201-917-Albufiera, Portugal
Tel: +353 289 591 795
Twitter: @VilaJoya
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