Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

[Review] Beeftro, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 16

I think it's a brave thing to run a steakhouse in Ireland. We have some of the very best beef in the world, yet overall we have a strange attitude when it comes to cooking and eating steak. A lot of restaurants just don't seem to know what the words "rare" and "medium-rare" mean, while the concept of giving steak a good char is often lost in a sea of watery steaks that have only seen a tepid pan. Lots of restaurants claim to be steakhouses, but I've only eaten in a few that compare to the best in the US, despite our better meat. 

Beeftro is newly opened in the Pembroke District at Dundrum Town Centre and on paper, it has good credentials. Head chef, Ryan Bell, is formerly of the famous Shanahan's on the Green and all the 30 day matured steaks are from "stockman selected Irish cattle". The interior sits somewhere between American steakhouse and classic French bistro. There's white tiling, red brick walls, marble-topped tables, wooden floors and dark red leather seating. It's bright and fresh, yet dark and relaxed. It seems the perfect place to get stuck into some steak. The name, Beeftro, is a nifty play on words, and this continues with the well-designed graphics on the placemats and menus. 
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Placemat
Beeftro placemat
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Interior
The interior at Beeftro
A wooden box of fresh bread and Glenilen butter arrived at the table shortly after ordering. It's great to see a proper creamy salty butter like Glenilen in a restaurant, rather than anemic unsalted margarine-y butter. Bonus marks for Beeftro on that front. We hadn't ordered any starters, so it wasn't too long at all before our steaks arrived. Both of us had chosen the 300g rib eye steak (€27.00), ordered medium rare. All steaks in Beeftro come with a choice of pureed potato included, while a sauce will cost an additional €1.50. I must say though that at this level of pricing, including the sauce with the steak price would be far more palatable.
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Ribeye steak
300g ribeye steak
I really liked the fact that the steak arrived naked on the plate. No garnishes or distractions to take away from its charred exterior and beefy aroma. The steaks were quickly followed by the potatoes and sauces. For me it was bacon & crispy onion potato with Béarnaise sauce, while he chose the jalapeño chili and marrow melt. In the interest of having enough food for a decent review (!) I also ordered a side of corn fries (€3.50). 

From the minute that I cut into the steak, I knew that I was on a winner. I could feel the crispy charred exterior giving way to tender, soft meat, with just the perfect amount of pink. The thick, crunchy charred outside was well flavoured and full of smokiness, while the inner pieces of fat in the ribeye had been softened well. The potato purees were perfectly smooth and creamy, although he wasn't a big fan of the BBQ sauce on his mash. The standout sauce was his bone marrow melt or basically liquid fat, with rich salty meaty bits floating in it. So so good. 

Corn fries were essentially a kind of waffle chip with a slightly crispy coating. They were fluffy and nicely cooked,  but a bit of overkill given the large steaks and mash. A typical case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. During the meal, we shared a 50cl carafe of Le Petit Pont, a Grenache and Vermentino blend, which was crisp and very drinkable  in the warm late evening sunshine (€18.00). 
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Bacon and crispy onion potatoes
Bacon and crispy onion potatoes with Bearnaise
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Jalapeno BBQ potatoes
Jalapeno BBQ potatoes with bone marrow melt
Stitch and Bear - Beeftro - Corn fries
Corn fries
Beeftro is a very pleasing place to sit and enjoy a steak. Not only is the interior smart and contemporary, but the cooking of the steaks is also bang on. It's very much in the style of an American steakhouse, and I quite like that. You could stick a stetson on me and call me Desperate Dan.

I noticed that Beeftro also offer daily deals up to early evening time, making it a nice spot for a meaty lunch or early dinner. It's early days yet for Beeftro, and some (eejity) diners may be offput by the fact that it's located in Dundrum Town Centre. But I genuinely believe that it will become known as one of the best venues for steak in Dublin. Yee Haw!

Beeftro, Pembroke District, Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 16
Tel: +353 (0)1 298 8874
Twitter: @BeeftroDublin

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

[Review] The Brasserie at The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2

Walking into the lobby at Dublin's new Marker Hotel is like stepping onto the set of a futuristic science-fiction film. The white, geometric ceiling arches overhead, sloping downwards to meet the floor. The furniture is minimal, sleek and chic, adding to the futuristic atmosphere and it all feels very 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Brasserie is located to the left upon entering, situated under that arching, organic ceiling.  I find it a little hard to distinguish the maître d's station from the supply station, but I suppose that these are the risks in design-lead hotels, where everything is a feature. 

The Brasserie restaurant firmly stakes its claim as having "a sharp focus on Irish, locally sourced produce". I visit on a blisteringly hot Friday, and through the windows I can see teenagers jumping into Grand Canal Dock. The lunchtime menu offers two courses for €22 or three for €26, surely making it an attractive business lunch option for the nearby tech giants. The large dining room is softly bright, with the bright outside light diffused through netted curtains. 
Picpoul de Pinet at the Marker Brasserie
Ham hock terrine with Pink Lady gel
My starter of ham hock terrine came with blobs of Pink Lady gel, precisely aligned bacon crumb, celery cress and horseradish. It looked pretty on the plate, but I quickly had all the celery cress pushed off to one side, where it could not infect the rest of the food. The terrine itself was dense and meaty with a nice ham flavour. Unfortunately, I found the rest of the dish off-balance. The crumb added texture, but not much else, while the Pink Lady gel and horseradish failed to deliver the punchy bite that the meat required. 

Things improved with my main course. I had chosen a 6oz rump of John Stones Co. beef with wild mushroom, tarragon and smoked garlic butter. It arrived looking handsome with a clump of peppery salad leaves and a portion of rosemary fries. I particularly liked that the wooden serving board had a channel cut around the edge, which caught all the meaty juices, stopping them from oozing onto the table. Despite all the wonderful sounding ingredients, the butter didn't really make an impact to the otherwise excellent steak. 
John Stone's Co Longford rump of beef
Gareth Mullins, formerly of the Merrion Hotel, is the Executive Chef here, and he has established the Marker as the first venue to sell "cronuts" in Ireland. For those of you unaware of the cronut, it's a hyrid croissant and doughnut pastry. In New York, people queue from the early hours of the morning to get cronuts from the original bakery. If you're interested, the Marker Hotel sells a limited number of boxes (of four) each morning.

Overall impressions of the Brasserie at the Marker Hotel? Despite the Irish produce, the Brasserie and the Marker itself have an international hotel feel. The sleek design and entire atmosphere just doesn't feel local, or induce any feelings of being in Dublin. If you had conked me over the head, and told me I had been transported to Stockholm, I would not have been surprised.

The presence of an OK starter and a very good steak combined to produce a decent lunch, especially at the €22 price point. Service was constantly checking in, sometimes to the point of the oppression, but always with a smile and pleasant attitude. The Brasserie is a great option for pre-theatre food and the entire Marker Hotel is a valiant effort to bring some life to Grand Canal Square. Is it going to be enough?

The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 687 5100
Twitter: @themarkerhotel

Brasserie at the Marker Hotel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

[Listing] 'Love Irish' Cocktails at the Fitzwilliam Hotel

A few days ago, yet another press release popped into my Inbox. A lot of these emails usually get a quick read and then get filed away for future reference, if required. However, this particular email from the Fitzwilliam Hotel caught my eye, firstly because it involved cocktails, and secondly because it involved well-priced cocktails.

So what was it all about? The Inn on the Green Bar at the Fitzwilliam Hotel has created the 'Love Ireland' cocktail collection which features 5 cocktails inspired by the "Irish landscape and quintessentially Irish memories". All are priced at an attractive €7.95 and will  be available for a limited time at the Inn on the Green Bar.

And so I found myself propping up yet another bar on a Friday evening. We ordered two of the cocktails, the Aul'Fashioned and the Gin-spiration (see below for full details). The Aul'Fashioned is made with Connemara, the only Irish peaty whiskey which brings an extra dimension to this classic drink. The traditional orange aromas and sweetness comes from the clever use of whiskey marmalade. Overall, I thought that it was a very nice take on the Old Fashioned, but the peaty whiskey may not be to everyone's taste.

The Gin-spiration was initially very lavender-y and I thought that I had inhaled some pot pourri. But then some wonderful alchemy happened, and the lavender blended very nicely with the smashed berries. A very pleasant surprise.

I really wish that the Fitzwilliam would consider relocating their bar, perhaps into the lobby space. The existing bar suffers from a lack of natural lighting and the faint odour of food that lingers in the room occasionally. The bar just doesn't do the cocktails justice, especially when there has been an effort at creating something distinctive and Irish. But a definite thumbs up nonetheless for the cocktails.

The "Love Irish" cocktail menu

The Muddled Wexford Strawberries & Cream
Fresh Wexford strawberries, sugar syrup, Absolut vodka, Crème de Fraise and fresh cream. It's designed to be "reminiscent of long summer drives, with the ubiquitous stop off for a punnet of Wexford's finest".

An Aul'Fashioned
Connemara 12 year whiskey, Grand Marnier, Angostura bitters and Irish Whiskey marmalade (hand-made by Helen Gee in Abbeyleix). "Perfect for Dublin-based Don Drapers".

Hedgerow Mojito
Lime, mint leaves, nettle-infused sugar syrup, Cork Dry Gin, soda water and garnished with a carmelised mint leaf. "No dock leaves needed for this bittersweet mix".

The Lavender Gin-spiration
Fresh blueberries, mint leaves, sugar syrup, lavender-infused Beefeater gin, fresh lime juice and soda water. This distinctive aromatic purple flower may be native to Southern Europer, but it's a common feature of the Irish summer landscape. Here it's a key component in this scented cocktail.
The Long Ireland Iced Tea
Java Wild Berry tea, Irish blueberries and strawberries, Absolut Kurrant, Chambord, sugar syrup and lime juice. This is also available in a non-alcoholic version for €4.00. This cocktail captures both "the rich bounty of Ireland's summer berries and our deep rooted tea fascination".

The Inn on the Green, the Fitzwilliam Hotel, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1478 7000
Twitter: @FitzwilliamDUB

Saturday, August 10, 2013

[Pictures] The Greenhouse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

We recently dined at the Greenhouse, where the food truly looks as beautiful as it tastes. We chose the 5 course surprise tasting menu, which is a combination of items from the standard menu, plus a few specials from the chef.  I'm not going to write a review on this visit to the Greenhouse (I've already done a review of lunch at the Greenhouse) but I do want to share some pictures of the elegant and truly wonderful food. 

First up was a selection of amuse bouche, all creative and fun, with great play on textures and flavours. The clear favourite around the table was a little canapé of watermelon with smoked mackerel (which is the course the one I didn't photograph).
Marshmallows dusted with smoked paprika
Prawn cocktail "Greenhouse style"
Chicken liver bombes (I think?)
Then it was time for the surprise tasting menu. Apologies in advance for the last of a dessert picture, which was a delicious strawberry and meringue plate. Strawberries just short-circuit the primal part of my brain and I had already dived in before I thought about taking a picture. Bonus marks go for bringing an aromatic smoking wooden box to the table containing the Skeaghanore duck.

Foie gras royale with walnut and green apple
Lightly smoked yellowfin tuna, Iberian ham cream, avocado, olive and horseradish
Pan-fried stone sea bass with cauliflower, smoked leek ash, truffle and lobster
Smoked Skeaghanore duck with cailette and celeriac

The Greenhouse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 676 7015
Twitter: @_the_GREENHOUSE

The Greenhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 8, 2013

[Review] Yuan Ming Yuan, Princes Street, Cork

Cork has been a bit of a wasteland when it comes to authentic or proper Chinese food. There are many Chinese restaurants, but all are of the European variety. Having said that, some of these restaurants are quite good, while others are downright poor and overpriced. One of the more highly-rated establishments in Cork has caused me to cry with despair at both the gloopy quality of its food and its high prices.  I suspect that it holds fond memories for many people and hence it continues.

Yuan Ming Yuan (YMY) is a welcome spot, and it's become my default Chinese restaurant when back home in Cork. Even though it had been over a half year since my last visit, the friendly waiter immediately recognised me and made sure that our table was set with chopsticks and rice bowls, rather than cutlery. The interior of YMY is extremely ornate with lots of carved dark wooden screens and an intricate ceiling festooned with Chinese lanterns. I don't think I've ever seen so many dragons in one location.

To the best of my knowledge, YMY is the only restaurant in Cork offering Dim Sum, and we ordered a portion of Siew Mai or steamed prawn and pork dumplings (€3.90) from the selection on offer. The pork filling had a really satisfying firm bite and was studded with chunks of prawn and spring onions. A little bowl of roasted chili oil provided a little kick to the juicy and fragrant dumplings. 
Prawn and pork steamed dumplings
A whole steamed seabass came opened out, sitting in fragrant juices and topped with gingery pickled vegetables (€13.95). The moist flesh slid free of the bones with some careful prodding of chopsticks and we scooped it up along with the light juices and vegetables. Grilled spicy lamb skewers were mixed with chunks of raw white onion which grilled to a crunchy finish on the sizzlingly-hot cast iron platter (€15.95). The cost was a bit expensive for three skewers, but the lamb retained its moistness and was gently spicy with lots of toasted cumin.
Steamed seabass with pickled vegetables
Grilled spicy lamb skewers

I think I spent many of my postgraduate years in UCC looking  for authentic Chinese food. Perversely, it seemed that I had to leave before I would find what I sought. For the less adventurous diners, YMY offers the standard Chinese fare, but please look beyond those options to find the more authentic dishes and dim sum. I think you'll be pleased.

Yuan Ming Yuan, 17 Princes Street, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 425 4968

Yuan Ming Yuan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 1, 2013

[Review] The Morrison Grill, Ormond Quay, Dublin 1

A while back the Morrison Hotel on Ormond Quay underwent a major makeover and moved under the umbrella of the Doubletree by Hilton brand. One of the signature features of the Doubletree brand is receiving a freshly baked cookie upon checkin. We stayed recently at the Doubletree in Amsterdam and the glorious smell of those cookies nearly droze me into a frenzy due to the cruelness of not eating wheat. Colleagues who have stayed at the Morrison assure me that cookies are available here also.

For those of you who may remember the old layout, the lobby area has changed significantly. It's now a single open space, subdivided into dining & drinking areas. To the left is the bar, Quay 14, with a cocktail list full of Dublin and Irish song-themed drinks. And to the right is the Morrison Grill, a bright and relaxed dining space, with a menu that is described as "refined rustic". The kitchen is home to a Josper Grill, which is a combined charcoal grill and oven that can reach temperatures of 500C. It's the most macho sounding oven I've ever come across. Suck on that standard fan oven.

The place settings are suitably retro, and they don't look out of place in the sleek and hip lobby. There is a set lunch menu with 2 courses for €20 or 3 for €25. However, none of the options jumped out at men (chicken, salmon or gnocchi for mains), so I chose from the à la carte menu. In addition, as it's a Friday and I have the day off, I also choose a Final Straw cocktail, which is a mix of bison grass vodka, vermouth, apple juice and prosecco (€9.50). 
Retro style place setting at the Morrison Grill
A cooling Final Straw cocktail
My starter of Richard Doyle's potted pork comes in an elaborate arrangement of glass jar, toast rack, mini cast iron skillet and a wooden board (€7.50). This must be a trial of strength and balance for the waiting staff and personally, I could have done without the toast rack which tore a slice when I attempted to extract one from its grip. 

As a big fan of all things porcine, I liked the potted pork very much. The jar was full to the brim and could easily act as a main meal on its own, especially when bulked out with the thick slices of bread and accompanying homemade pickled vegetables. Thankfully, it was served cool, as opposed to cold, which gave the dense meaty strands a chance to display their flavour. Blobs of mustard and apple sauce add some bite and zing and I could have done with more of them.
Richard Doyle's potted pork 
Homemade pickled veg to accompany the potted pork
And then it was time for the star attraction. As you'd expect in a restaurant with such a manly grill, there are lots of grilled meats on offer. It would feel a crime to order something not cooked in the searing magnificence of the Josper grill. My choice is the 9oz ribeye, dry aged on the bone for 28 days and served with mixed leaves and sumo chips (which I ask to be replaced with skinny fries) and a choice of sauce (€25). Fries and steak demand béarnaise, so that is what I order. 

Other steak options range from a flat iron (€22) to the "I will never understand why anyone orders it" fillet steak (€29). A 16oz bone-in tomahawk ribeye steak for two weighs in at €45, making it a good choice for carnivorous couples or bromance buddies. First impressions of my ribeye were solid, with a good char in evidence. It came medium rare, as ordered, and I tucked in with the joy that a good steak creates. The fries were lacklustre, but the peppery dressed salad leaves were a good addition.
9oz ribeye steak
Chef John O'Leary hails from Kerry, and when I heard his accent I was whisked home, close to the Cork-Kerry bounds. John is a fan of hearty, earthy Irish dishes and the Morrison Grill serves brown bread made using his grandmother's recipe. He has a big commitment to sourcing Irish produce, with regular seasonal updates to the menus. Hotel restaurants can be grim places at times, and it really is wonderful to see such a venue stepping up to the mark by offering Irish, seasonal produce.

I very much enjoyed my lunch at the Morrison, even if I did feel that everyone who passed through the lobby was staring into my plate. A little more privacy for the diners might not be a bad idea. The food here is sure to be enjoyed by the American and foreign guests that the Doubletree brand will attract, hopefully helping raise the profile of Irish cooking. 

The Morrison Grill, The Morrison Hotel, Ormond Quay, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 887 2400
Twitter: @MorrisonGrill and @morrisondublin

Morrison Grill on Urbanspoon
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