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, November 17, 2013

[Review] Restaurant Forty One at the Residence Club, Dublin 2

You've got to hand it to the Georgians. They knew how to build a fine house, of which a fair amount survive in Dublin, despite the efforts of mid 20th-Century developers. Originally, most of the wealthy Georgians built their homes on Dublin's Northside, centred on Rutland Square and Mountjoy Square. But the Earl of Kildare caused a bit of an upset when he built his newest residence, Kildare House, on the "lesser" southside. By moving to the Southside, the crafty Earl was able to build the biggest residence of them time, resulting in a fair amount of social envy. 

The fickle fashionistas followed suit, and soon Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square and St Stephen's Green were established, lined with many elegant residences. Following Irish independence, these fine buildings sometimes fell into disrepair and were even regarded as being "un-national". Many fell to the developer's demolition ball, even going as far as knocking an entire block to build the ugly ESB head office on Fitzwilliam Street.
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Aviation Cocktail
Aviation cocktail before dinner
Thankfully there are no modern monstrosities at 41 St Stephen's Green, which is home to the private members Residence club. Even though it is a symptom of Celtic Tiger largesse, it has survived and continued to develop. Today it plays home to Restaurant Forty One, under the command of chef Graham Neville and voted the Restaurant of the Year 2013 from Good Food Ireland. 2013 has been a year of continued success for Graham, and I was eager to taste his cooking for the first time.

Following a cocktail aperitif in the downstairs bar (where my Aviation cocktail was disappointingly light on the maraschino), we were taken upstairs to the beautiful dining room. Downstairs, the staff had been playfully dressed in creative Halloween costumes and the walls were decorated with gothic-themed daguerrotypes. But upstairs, all was serious with muted golds and champagne colours overlooking a streetlamp-lit St Stephen's Green. Before too long, it was time for the first dish from our 6 course tasting menu (€75.00); a plate of roasted heirloom vegetables with a stunning 36 month aged Parmesan emulsion.
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Roasted Heirloom Vegetables
Roasted heirloom vegetables with 36 month aged Parmesan emulsion
From there, we progressed to exquisite seared scallops, simply served in a puddle of sweetcorn, a wonderful sweet partnership. Rich foie gras, a gourmet's delight, came served two ways, with seasonal elderberries for a tart bite. A piece of meaty wild turbot was paired with crushed Jerusalem artichoke and a delicate pumpkin mussel nage. It was a knockout dish.
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Seared Scallops with Sweetcorn
Seared scallops
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Foie Gras Two Ways
Foie gras two ways with poached quince, elderberries and walnut crumble

Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Turbot with Artichokes and Mussel Pumpkin Nage
Wild turbot, crushed Jerusalem artichokes and mussel pumpkin nage
The seasonal focus continued with roasted grouse served deliciously pink, alongside a single large meaty cep. It was a ballsy meat-lovers dish, served with a little jar of wonderful reduction, but yet it retained a sophisticated balance. We were then invited to choose a selection of cheeses from a wonderfully stocked cheese trolley, accompanied by a cornucopia plate of dried and fresh fruits, quince and crackers. 

Finally it was time for dessert, a delicate white chocolate cylinder filled with passion fruit and a refreshing elderflower sorbet, mirroring the elderflower berries on the earlier foie gras dish. I generally find passionfruit too sweet, too acidic but here the soft fatty sweetness of the white chocolate cut through the tangy fruit. A simple selection of petits fours, including delectable macarons, was provided to finish our meal, even though we had declined tea/coffee.
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Roast Grouse with Ceps
Roasted grouse with ceps
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Cheese Plate
Artisan cheese plate
Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - White Chocolate, Passionfruit and Elderflower Sorbet
White chocolate, passionfruit and elderflower sorbet

Stitch and Bear - Restaurant Forty One - Petits Fours
Selection of petits fours
Throughout the meal, I had been impressed by the confident simplicity of the dishes, which belied the delicate flavours and skilful cooking involved. Despite his French training, Neville eschews traditional creams and fats to create his sauces, but instead relies on lighter techniques. If the pumpkin and mussel nage is any example, then this is an approach worth following. His food is clean and light, even when dealing with the most substantial of ingredients.

Our serving staff had been excellent over the course of our meal, but we definitely felt like the youngsters in the dining room (and trust me, we're not that young). It felt a little odd as Neville's food is not old in style; it's a younger interpretation of French dining. Throughout the meal, Himself and I kept finding something to praise, something to scoop up with our fingers, joyously cleaning every last morsel off the plate. Who cares what fine dining etiquette recommends. Food this good shouldn't be left on a plate to be returned to the plate scraper in the back kitchen. It is a celebration.

Restaurant Forty One, The Residence, St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1662 0000
Twitter: @REST_FortyOne

Forty One on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 8, 2013

[Listing] A Taste of Mexico Festival

I found yet another email in my inbox, which offers some more free and fun food-releated entertainment to Dubliners. The Mexican Gastronomic and Cultural Festival will run between November 12th - 17th and will bring the sounds, culture and taste of Mexico to Dublin for the third year running. Mexican food has become hugely popular in Dublin over the last few years, and ‘A Taste of Mexico’ features many of the growing number of Mexican restaurants and offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in Mexican culture.
“It is wonderful for us to offer a little taste of Mexico to Irish people, and we hope many will take advantage of that”, said Mexican Ambassador, Carlos Garcia de Alba.
  • November 13th - Chef Helma Honda, a specialist in authentic Mexican food, will host a conference about genuine Mexican cuisine, sharing her expertise and love of this unique cuisine in The Instituto Cervantes on Lincoln Place.  The conference will be followed by a tasting of tequila, the iconic Mexican spirit. 
  • November 14th - A hosted tasting of mezcal ,a little known spirit that has recently been generating worldwide interest, will take place in the Instituto Cervantes.
Both these events are free and open to the public.
  • November 15th - The search is on for ‘The Best Taco in Dublin’. This will be hosted in the Mansion House with a judging panel including the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Oisin Quinn, renowned chef and food writer Darina Allen, and chef Helma Honda, (this is an invitation only event). Foodies around Dublin have also been asked to vote online who serves the best tacos in town. Voting has now opened on the taste of Mexico Dublin Facebook page, 
The festival offers a wide range of authentic and traditional Mexican events including a variety of tastings, cookery workshops by the renowned Mexican Master Chef Claudio Loredo  and chef Helma Honda, live Mariachi music and events so bring your amigos to this fiesty fiesta. For further information visit the Embassy of Mexico’s website:

The Taste of Mexico Festival is sponsored by Pernod Ricard-Irish Distillers, the Cervantes Institute, The Village at Lyons, Aeromexico, the regional office of the Mexican Tourism Board, Corona, Barry and Fitzwilliam, and The Porterhouse Group. 

[Listing] Bend in the River Wine & Style Night

I'm always a fan of a free event so when details of the inaugural Bend in the River Wine & Style Night appeared in my inbox, I felt it was worth sharing. The event will take place in House of Fraser at Dundrum Town Centre on Thursday, November 14th. It will form part of the Shop & Rock event, and The Bend in the River will host their own VIP exclusive event as part of the fun-filled night.

Cafe Zest on the top floor of House of Fraser will serve The Bend in the River wine alongside tasty canapés, free beauty makeovers, tips by Benefit and other cosmetic houses, great music, a novel photo booth, jam-packed goodie bags and much more. Bairbre Power, fashion editor of the Irish Independent will deliver a winter fashion masterclass, outlining all the key trends to watch out for this season.

In addition, there will be prizes on offer on the night including a trip to London with, an overnight stay at the lovely Wineport Lodge thanks to Ireland's Blue Book and a House of Fraser shopping bonanza. 

The Bend in the River takes its name from a beautiful gorge section of the majestic River Rhine, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where it meanders and bends it way past the small town of Bingen in Germany, the home of The Bend in the River wines. 

[Feature] A burger manifesto for Ireland

I don't know who was the first person to think of placing a grilled meat patty between two slices of bread, along with salad and condiments, but I thank that person from the bottom of my gluttonous stomach. The burger probably started out as a quick dining option, and while it still serves that function, it's also possible to dine on gourmet burgers. The burger is truly a king among foodstuffs.

Across the pond in the US, they take the burger pretty seriously. Patties are juicy and often cooked to order, even to my preferred medium rare. In recent years, several hamburger chains have achieved something close to cult status, including Five Guys, In-N-Out and Fatburger. Even the Wahlberg brothers have a hamburger restaurant, the cleverly titled Wahlburgers. Recently, I found myself running through Washington Dulles airport, hoping my make my connecting plane to Newark, where a plane home to Dublin awaited me. But, just a short distance from the gate, I noticed a Five Guys outlet. I skidded to a halt. 5 minutes later, I was sitting at the gate gleefully wolfing down my lettuce-wrapped, bacon cheeseburger and praying to St Jude (patron saint of lost causes) that this burger would not leak it's juicy goodness over my work clothes.
Stitch and Bear - Burgers - Selection of US burgers
A selection of US burgers (from top Houlihan's, Stanford Grill and Five Guys)
All these wonderful burger experiences have made me despair of the standard of burger production in Ireland (with some obvious exceptions, which I'll get to later). If you order a burger in most pubs or casual dining spots, chances are that you will receive a hockey-puck lump of dry grainy meat, cooked to an attractive grey wallpaper paste colour. A slice of tomato and a few lettuce leaves usually sit miserably on top as garnish, unsure as to how they ended up there. I understand that cooking meat through is a food safety issue, but there is no excuse for much of the woeful mistreatment of burgers to which I have been subjected in Ireland. Most of them belong to a monochrome world which has been sucked dry of all pleasure and joy.

It really a travesty. The chefs who cook and serve these monstrosities should call themselves aside. If they don't understand the burger, then they shouldn't have it on their menus. So this is is my manifesto. If you are a restaurant or venue that serves up a burger crime, I will critique you. Simply put, Irish diners and Irish beef deserve more respect.

There are some bright spots of burger cuisine, enough to make me optimistic that there are some chefs  and restaurants out there who really do understand the burger. For me Bunsen Burger on Dublin's Wexford Street serves up the best burger in Dublin. Their offering is a juicy and flavoursome dirty-style burger, the complete opposite to standard grey Irish burger.
Stitch and Bear - Burgers - Bunsen Burger
The Bunsen Burger
The Morrison Grill at the newly refurbished Morrison Hotel also serves up a burger worth eating. It's a substantial beast with a thick patty but their Josper Grill ensures that the meat remains juicy. Half the burger was more than enough for me, especially as it comes with additional sides such as pickles and crispy onion strips.
Stitch and Bear - Burgers - Morrison Grill Burger
The Morrison Grill Burger
During my quest around Dublin for the best burgers, I revisited Bóbós. Several years ago, I hadn't thought much of their burgers, but I was quite pleased by their bacon cheeseburger offering. It ticked all the boxes with a juicy, tasty patty and clean simple toppings. Extra marks were awarded for the excellent fries, plus who can resist a restaurant packed with cow pictures?
Stitch and Bear - Burgers - Bobos Burger
Bóbós Burger
My final mention is for Gourmet Burger Kitchen, a chain of gourmet burger restaurants. While this place does suffer from a soulless atmosphere, a forced Kiwi jollity and a tendency to construct burgers Pisa-style, it must be said that the burgers are good, plus they have a brioche bun option.
Stitch and Bear - Burgers - Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Bacon Cheeseburger at Gourmet Burger Kitchen
What do you think about burger crimes? Which places serve the best (and maybe the worst burgers)? Please comment below, especially if you have any hidden gems which deserve to be praised.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

[Review] Luke's Lobster Roll, Washington DC

I've been in Washington DC before, but never on a sunny Autumn day. Right now, the leaves on the trees are the most vibrant shades of russet and gold and are all the more stunning against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. Driving along the Baltimore Washington Parkway is a visual delight with constant immersion in rich autumnal colours. It's a treat for the soul.

The good thing about visiting Washington DC on a Saturday is the quietness. It makes it pretty easy to get around and see the sights. I started with the Library of Congress, located in the 1897 Jefferson Building, a glorious Beaux Arts building right across from the Capitol. I wasn't expecting to find such elaborate architecture and design in an American building of this era. It is a wonderful tribute to everything book-related and our guide, Tom, was simply amazing. 
The US Capitol in the sunshine
Inside the Library of Congress
The Sciences on the vaulted ceiling at Library of Congress
Later I headed to Luke's Lobster, located on E Street NW in the Penn Quarter. Nothing really symbolises North East America food better than the lobster roll and I really wanted to try one. The lobster roll is deceptively simple in nature, consisting of some form of a bun or roll, packed with lumps of lobster meat. I was failing to see how this simple sounding construction could inspire such passion and devotion from aficionados. After all, lobster is the finest of sea food with it's sweet, succulent flesh.
Luke's Lobster
The restaurant itself is relatively small with high stools and a beachshack vibe. Luke's serve their lobster rolls Maine style. This means that the New England-style bun is toasted and buttered while the meat is cold and mixed with the slightest touch of mayonnaise, lemon juice and some secret spices. For $20, the lobster roll comes with chips (aka crisps), a pickle and a beer. At first glance, the bread roll itself appears quite small, but it is packed with large, coral-pink lumps of knuckle and claw meat. And it tastes so good. The bread is buttery sweet, brioche-soft with a slight sugary crunch, while the lobster is a literal gulp of the ocean. I chow it down, savouring every bite, but before too long I'm looking at an empty basket, mournfully dressed with lobster juices and seasoning.
The lobster roll: Before and after
After my Luke's Lobster experience, I fully get the lobster roll love affair. Somehow, this simple dish pays full respect to this magnificent crustacean. Hopefully, the next time I enjoy a lobster roll, I'll be sitting on a beachfront with the wind in my hair and sea-salt on my lips.

Luke's Lobster, 624 E Street NW, Washington DC 20004, United States
Tel: +1 (202) 347 3355
Twitter: @LukesLobsterDC

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon
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