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!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

[Review] Cleaver East, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

When Mr and Mrs H came to visit in Dublin a few months ago, I knew that there was only one place I could take them. Just a few days earlier, a critic's review in the Sunday papers followed by a chef's response had sparked off a media storm. If nothing else, it definitely served to raise the already impressive profile of Cleaver East. With two Michelin-starred chefs involved, the venue was always going to be held to high standards, but we needed to verify for ourselves. I suppose you could consider it a form of gastronomic rubbernecking.

Somewhat disappointingly, all the famous cleavers were firmly attached to their frames, rather than sitting quivering and embedded in the table of a naughty diner (or even food critic). I found the cleavers in the exterior windows to be dour, but I quite liked the orange backlit arrangement on the rear wall. 
The eponymous cleavers
Cocktail special - a clever take on a mojito
Mr and Mrs H had arrived early (the luxury of being retired) but it took a few more minutes for Himself and myself to arrive from our respective workplaces. Despite being at the table for quite a while, we had to request menus from a member of staff, even though the dining room was reasonably empty. Cleaver East is all about small plates, designed to share around the table. With 4 of us dining, this challenge was accepted with gusto. We ended up ordering a plethora of plates, which eventually arrived in two rounds from the kitchen.

First up was the Cleaver East twisted take on a Scotch egg (€9), a sublimely excellent St Tola goat's cheese parfait (€8), a fresh and cool heirloom tomato salad with salty black olive crumb (€6) and a spiced Dublin Bay clam chowder, served in an organic glass bowl worthy of being part of a Philip Treacy hat (€13). Each plate was exquisitely pretty, adorned with fashionably required pea shoots, crumbs and dollops. Apart from the somewhat dull Scotch egg, the other plates were excellent examples of the craft.

We had been warned about the tasting plates concept (well it is 2013 and it's a bad state of affairs if you haven't been told at this stage), but even so we found ourselves waiting quite a while for the second wave of plates. Roast cod was delicious with wild artichoke (€9) while royal monkfish was partnered well with sweet piquillo peppers and Iberico crumb (€14). We had looked forward to the two meaty dishes of crispy lamb breast with rosemary aioli and glazed baby turnip (€10) and BBQ rare breed pork belly with apple and ginger (€9). The pork belly lived up to all expectations, but despite the excellent quality of the lamb, I felt that the rosemary aioli just didn't cut through the richness. 
St Tola goat's cheese parfait with heirloom beets and walnut praline
The twisted Cleaver East Scotch egg
Heirloom tomato salad with pickled onion shells and black olive crumb
Pan-fried scallops with crispy pancetta and potato bubbles
Spiced Dublin Bay clam chowder
Roast cod, wild artichoke cream and brown shrimp vinaigrette
And then we waited again for desserts. I'm sure that you can see the trend developing here. The Black Forest gateau? (yes, there is a question mark) invited many questions of our server, and it was duly ordered along with a Cleaver twisted version of banoffee and a strawberry pannacotta for myself, all extremely well-priced at €6 each. The tasting plates might be smaller-sized but the desserts are judged perfectly for one jealous diner. I quite liked the firm pannacotta base (how wobbly you prefer your pannacotta seems to be matter of personal opinions) but the honeycomb shards tasted too much of sodium bicarbonate, leaving an unwelcome chemical tang.
Strawberry pannacotta with honeycomb
Slow wait times aside, the service was genuinely warm and friendly. Don't let the surly, macho interior misguide you, as the food is a true reflection of what it takes to achieve a Michelin star. Rory Carville and Oliver Dunne have created a place where fine dining and tasting menus are combined at affordable prices in a social, casual venue. In short, it's a perfect restaurant for modern Dublin.

Cleaver East, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 531 3500
Twitter: @CleaverEast

Cleaver East on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 20, 2013

[Listing] The Movember Cookbook

It's that time of year where men can validly grow all sorts of facial fuzz in support of a good cause. And the women in their lives have to grin and bear the pain of looking at the soup strainers. This year, the Movember charity launches its first official cookbook 'Cook Like A Man'. It aims to encourage Mo Bros and Mo Sistas to eat well, enjoy the tradition of good feasting with friends and family and transform themselves from bewildered cooks into fearless gourmets. 

The cookbook offers a host of Mo-friendly recipes from serious salads and soups to meat, fish and poultry dishes that pack a punch. It also features tips and tricks from Irish Mo Bro chefs, gleaned from their years of knowledge and exploration. Chefs from the Fumbally Cafe, Damson Diner, Ukiyo and the Brook Lodge have given their time and talent, alongside some mustachioed brethren  from the UK, Spain and Finland.

The recipes represent a true mix of individual Mo Bro Chef's tastes and family traditions with dishes that range from a simple Man Jam and Davis Family Ribs to the adventurous Chanterelle-Filled Reindeer Fillet and Som Tam Green Papaya Salad.  As Mo Bro Chefs, these guys know that the most important part of cooking up a feast is to bring family, friends, food and conversation around a table and so, with the release of 'Cook Like A Man' they hope to inspire Mo Bros and Mo Sistas to gather a crowd and cook up a storm.

'Cook Like A Man' will be in store from October 24th. For more information on Movember and 'Cook Like  A Man' visit

A few facts about Movember

Movember, the month formerly known as November, is when men around the world grow a moustache, with the support of women in their lives, to raise awareness and funds for men's health - specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men's mental health. The Movember journey began in 2003 when a few friends in a pub in Melbourne, Australia. The goal as simple - to create a campaign promoting the growth of the moustache among like-minded people and to have fun along the way. 

The campaign how spans the globe with a reach of 21 countries. In 2012, over 1.1 million Mo Bros and Mo Sistas raised a staggering €113.5 million with Ireland's 17,250 participants raising over €2.1 million. Funds raised around the world and directed to men's health programmes which are shaped by Movember's vision to have an everlasting impact on the face of men's health. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

[Review] Cocktails at House, Leeson Street, Dublin 2

Because I work in the vicinity of Harcourt Street, I think that I  have been dragged to most of the depressing bars and venues that litter the area around Harcourt Street and Leeson Street. Many of them are grim places with bad, loud music, forced jollity and the reek of desperation. I was intrigued when word started to filter through on Twitter that the venue formerly known as Kobra had been redesigned as House, a new "leisure option" including a greenhouse type location and wine room.

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the smell of a real fire, burning in the fireplace to the left. The entrance opens up into a wooden floored bar area, before transitioning to a conservatory and finally opening out onto the large garden area. The hostess offered to set me up a small foldaway table at the very beginning of the garden area, but the wafts of cigarette smoke were off-putting, so I took another table, tucked against the wall in the conservatory. 

On first acquaintance, I very much liked the decor. It was bright and airy with apparently mismatched (yet carefully  matched) tables and comfortable chairs and lots of verdant greenery. It promised a different kind of nighttime work bar and I especially liked the cocktail menu which was bound in heavy dark leather, embossed with the House logo.
The conservatory area at House
My first cocktail choice was the Fiorello, a mix of Cointreau, pisco, agave and fresh thyme (€11.50).  Served short over chipped ice, it was a good choice for the first Friday evening drink. I've seen thyme starting to appear on cocktail menus recently and this was an excellent example of how to use it. 

The second cocktail of the evening was the Mariposa, a richly coloured drink made with lime, passion fruit, Aperol, rum and topped with champage, served in a coupe (€9.50). I had chosen this because of the Aperol and rum base, but I should have remembered that I don't terribly enjoy the sweetness of passion fruit juice. This is definitely a drink for the more sweet toothed drinkers. 
The Fiorello cocktail
The Mariposa
My last cocktail of the evening was the classic Last Word (€11.50). This mix of Chartreuse, gin and Maraschino came served atop a coaster formed from a folded paperback novel page. I sincerely hope that no decent book was sacrificed in its making, but I would nominate Fifty Shade of Grey or any Mills & Boon novel as fair game. Alongside our last drink, we shared an antipasto plate of reasonable meats and cheeses (€16.00) and excellent sweet potato fries with a punchy aioli (€5.00). 
The Last Word with its 'novel' coaster
As the evening wore on, it darkened outside and the atmosphere inside the conservatory area became more intimate and cosy. This would have been great for cocktail drinking except for the that the music volume was turned up and the vibe was regressing back into the horrible Celtic Tiger bar that I thought it had escaped. This was disappointing to me as the cocktails at House are well-made with a well thought out menu. But the level of the cocktails just didn't suit the atmosphere of the bar.
The nighttime conservatory at House
I have been told that there are other rooms, including a wine room, in House which may be better suited to relaxing back and drinking some serious drinks. But I do believe that you shouldn't have to escape to a special room when enjoying drinks that cost around the €10 mark. House strikes me as a great concept, which is well presented and packaged. However, I feel that it needs to escape the ghost of earlier venues and do something different, instead of merely looking different. My recommendation, go early in the evening, enjoy a drink or two and depart before the cattle-like crowds arrive.

UPDATE (December 22nd, 2013): I recently went for lunch at House, where I ordered the burger.  To be honest, I don't know why I keep playing Russian roulette when it comes to burgers. I should stick to the good places.

What I received was truly an insult to the meat that went into it. It was everything that could be wrong with a burger. Mealy grey mince, over processed with all texture removed. Given the time between ordering and arriving, there was no possibility that this burger was cooked to order, which means that burgers are sitting pre-cooked in the kitchen.

Why go to the effort of dressing up like a supermodel when you're wearing tatty grey underwear underneath?

House, Leeson Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 905 9090
Twitter: @HouseDublin2

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

[Travel] October in Amsterdam

I fell in love with Amsterdam several years ago, and the love affair is still ongoing. The Dutch treat their capital city with such respect, maintaining a beautiful balance between modernity and tradition. To paraphrase the Lotto, the first thing I'd do upon winning would be to buy a canalside apartment in Amsterdam.  As hotel rooms appeared to be a premium price when booking our recent trip, I expanded my search, and we found ourselves a lovely apartment on Weteringschans via Airbnb. Why on earth would I pay over €600 for two nights accommodation in any of our usual spots when a charming  apartment would cost than half?

As this was our first Airbnb experience, I wasn't too sure what to expect. However, our host was perfect, quickly getting us settled in and then leaving us to our own devices. Our choice of location turned out to be a winner, with light wooden flooring, white walls and lovely views over Stadhouderskade and the famous Rijksmuseum. Over the course of just two days, I fell in love with sitting on the leather sofa, watching the city fade into twilight. 
Our Airbnb apartment on Weteringschans
During our earlier visit in February 2013, we had explored some of Amsterdam's cocktail scene, and I was determined to continue. Door 74 (Reguliersdwarsstraat) is a private bar, with reservations only possible on the same day. I left a voicemail at approximately 11am and waited. Not knowing if I had a table or not didn't sit comfortably with me, but eventually a text message arrived at 4pm confirming our reservation. 

Door 74 is dimly lit, with a group of mixologists working behind a very bottle-laden bar. Large bowls of olives and snacks were delivered to the table and water glasses were kept continuously topped up throughout. The current menu is tattoo-themed with prices on the slightly high side. My first cocktail, a Dia de los Waffelos, featured a smoky and sweet mix of mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, lime, stroopwafel, speculaas and black walnut bitter. The uniqueness continued with the Message on a Bottle (thyme-infused Blanton's Special Reserve bourbon, Fee peach bitters, Bonifatius bitters and a homemade apricot-lime cordial) which came served in a small glass bottle ready for pouring. 
Cocktails at Door 74
The Philosopher at Door 74
After Door 74, we decided to hop on the tram and head out of town towards the De Pijp district. I had heard rumours of a secret cocktail bar and restaurant behind The Butcher burger bar on the famous Albert Cuypstraat. Unfortunately, I couldn't secure a reservation, but we decided to visit for burgers anyway. The minute I saw the grill chef heavily salt a patty with rock salt and place it on a charcoal grill, I knew we were in business.

My Daddy burger was the veritable father, featuring a 250g patty topped with Edam cheese and grilled bacon (€10.95) with a side of perfect fries (€2.50). His smaller truffleburger was wonderfully pungent from a truffle glaze atop the usual salad accoutrements (€9.45). 
The Daddy burger at The Butcher 
The fun menu at The Butcher
The truffle burger at The Butcher
The next day we got up late and caught a tram to Dam Square so we could visit de Bijenkorf, Amsterdam's famous department store. It was the final day of a 3 day sale and the store was hopping with bargain seekers. We joined the untypically chaotic Dutch shoppers with gusto, finding ourselves some excellent deals. But however good the deals were, one of the best things about de Bijenkorf is their excellent self-service cafeteria on the top floor. 

There's a wide range of fresh foods on offer, stretching from burgers and salmon which are grilled while you wait, glasses of fresh smoothies embedded in ice, a wok station, traditional Dutch sandwiches and patisserie. Oh, and did I mention the pizza and sushi? In short, there's something for everyone. On our visit, he made straight for the tuna sandwich and a flaky kaasbroodje (cheese roll). I filled a plate with sushi, and chose a nutty meringue dessert as a sweet treat. 
The best self-service selection at de Bijenkorf department store
Another favourite casual dining spot when in Amsterdam involves Burger Bar, with three locations throughout central Amsterdam. The basic burger option features Irish beef, with Angus and wagyu beef available at extra cost. The special featured topping changes monthly with Old Amsterdam cheese available on this visit, while foie gras was available on an earlier trip. The fries are really superb, and I always choose a pot of spicy samurai sauce for dipping. For a quick, but high quality meal, Burger Bar comes recommended. 
Great burgers at Burger Bar
Another long-term favourite is Cafe de Klos (close to Leidseplein). In a city where spare ribs are a borderline obsession, the ribs at de Klos surely reign supreme. de Klos is full of the traditional Dutch brown bar atmosphere with gilded crests and Old Master style paintings on the wall, but in reality it's the grill at the end of the room which is the real heart of the bar. It's always busy, but you will understand why when the scarred and battered wooden platter lands in front of you. 4 small slabs of ribs, a side salad, sliced baguette and some sauces will cost €16, with plenty of toothpicks to help remove the inevitable meat pieces. 
Rib platter at Cafe de Klos
On our final morning in Amsterdam, we walked the short distance to the Rijksmuseum. This grand old building had been swathed in sheeting during my time in Amsterdam, but now the 8 year renovation project is complete and the results are magnificent. An arched and vaulted tunnel allows you to walk through the building, opening out onto Museumplein. It's a little surreal to have bicycles whizzing past as you walk through, with large windows granting views into the supersleek museum. 

We didn't have time to explore the galleries, but we did stop for a quick morning coffee. I was delighted to see that the patisserie in the cafe is supplied by the delicious and wonderful Holtkamp patisserie, which was located just around the corner from my apartment. So in order to finish our Amsterdam trip, we enjoyed two slices of cheesecake, topped with a sharp blackcurrant layer. 
Passage through the Rijksmuseum
Cheesecake from Holtkamp Patisserie at the Rijksmuseum
And then it was time for home. But first there was shopping at Schiphol Airport where I filled up on the delectable stroopwafel for my friends and colleagues and a block of mature Repyenaer cheese for myself. Then it was time to say "vaarwel" to Amsterdam and take my weary feet home. 
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