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, December 29, 2013

[Feature] 2013 in Review: Most Read Posts

As 2013 draws to a close, or more accurately, is blown across the Irish sea by hurricane force winds, it's time to get retrospective. Stitch and Bear have downloaded the blog viewing numbers from Google Analytics and have very scientifically determined the most viewed posts (ably assisted by a few cocktails). Please note that this is limited to content produced only in 2013 and is weighted by the age of the post.

I think this is an interesting snapshot of Dublin's eating and dining interests. It's a blend of value and fine dining, but the overall message is that Dubliners are interested in food trends, while still seeking quality food. Read on...

Topping the list of popular posts is Stitch and Bear's roundup of the Top 10 Dublin Early Birds and Set Menus. I dislike Early Bird menus that are more restricted than a corseted Victorian lady and as a result, I assembled a list of offers that I felt stood out from the rest. And clearly, my readers like a good deal as much as I do.

Cocktails are way cool right now and The Liquor Rooms is a great new venue for sipping. Located underneath the Clarence Hotel, it's a veritable warren of dimly-lit rooms, perfect for dalliances. The cocktails are well made, but there's also a good selection of craft beers and finger foods available.
Cocktails at the Liquor Rooms
The dirty burger came to Dublin with the opening of Bunsen Burger and you guys went flipping bonkers for it, even with burger juices running all over your hands. Cooked American style, these burgers are simply excellent.
The Bunsen burger
As a result of Bunsen opening, and my trips to the US, I got to pondering why Irish burgers are so bad overall. I therefore asked you to nominate the best burger in Dublin. And you responded with enthusiasm. I picked a shortlist and got to work, eating my way through some of the best on offer in the city. In the end, when I announced my burger manifesto, Bunsen reigned supreme, although very honorable mentions went to the Morrison Grill, BoBo's and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

You might ask yourself what happens when one Southern Pride smoker makes it all the way from Texas to Dublin. The result is Bison Bar & BBQ down on Wellington Quay. Fresh batches of smoked brisket, ribs, sausages and more roll out of the smoker daily, but once they're gone, you'll have to wait until the next day for more. Bison BBQ is as good, if not better, than meals I've enjoyed in the US of A, but it's here, in Dublin. Life is good.
Brisket and ribs at Bison Bar & BBQ
Our Celtic Tiger heydays might be behind us, but some recent venue openings have had me wondering if that truly is the case. Long-standing night venues The Village on Wexford Street and Kobra on Leeson Street have been transformed into Opium and House respectively. Both nightspots are luxe and very easy on the eye, and often full of easy on the eye people. Both have good cocktail menus, but while Opium is serving very good Asian food, House easily captured the award for worst burger.
Figello cocktail at House
Wexford Street continues its rejuvenation with the opening of Las Tapas de Lola, Opium, Frite Haus and the wallet-friendly Zakura Sushi and Noodles. It seems that there is no end to the Irish demand for sushi.

Dubliners are clearly interested in the opening of high quality restaurants as my posts on The Hot Stove and Cleaver East drew much interest. Chef Joy Beattie is quietly going about producing superb food up on Parnell Square in the basement Hot Stove Restaurant, while Oliver Dunne and Rory Carville got noisily embroiled in a tiff with the Independent's Lucinda O'Sullivan. Either way, both are great new additions to eating out in Dublin.
A tasting plate of beetroot and butternut squash at Hot Stove
St Tola goats cheese parfait at Cleaver East
Stay tuned for the next 2013 roundup post where Stitch and Bear will present our best picks of a year's eating.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

[Review] Thanksgiving Buffet at the Wicked Spoon, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Our recent trip to Las Vegas meant that we would be resident in Sin City over Thanksgiving. Las Vegas is a bubble of suspended reality, but I had no idea what to expect on the biggest American festival day of them all. I have long been intrigued by some of the dishes served on Thanksgiving (sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows anyone??) but really, it was the promise of gluttony and  indulgence which was dragging me in. I was also viewing it as a trial run for Christmas Day. Just like marathon runners, it's important to train regularly. 

Research on the internet suggested that the hotel buffets were the way to go, but to be prepared for long queue times. We were staying at the very new and very sleek Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, and some more reading revealed that their buffet restaurant, The Wicked Spoon, had been amongst the Foursquare Top 10 check-in spots on Thanksgiving 2012. The Bacchanal Buffet over at nearby Caesar's Palace was also getting some serious mentions, but ultimately convenience (and laziness) won out and we headed downstairs to the Wicked Spoon. 

We started to queue at about 2.30pm and moved relatively quickly to the cash registers. The brunch buffet was being served until 3pm, at which point service was to switch to the dinner buffet, along with an increase in prices. However, we got lucky and paid the brunch price, plus an additional $10 per head to secure bottomless Bloody Marys, Mimosas and Champagne. Things slowed down considerably after paying, with the wait to be seated taking approximately 45 minutes. From looking into the dining room, it was clear that there was a policy of regulating the crowd flow, meaning that the dining experience never felt uncomfortable.
Champagne and mimosas for Thanksgiving brunch
When the Wicked Spoon buffet opened, it set a new trend in Las Vegas buffet dining by offering small plates or individual portions at many of their stations. That may not seem overly revolutionary but it has apparently been adopted by many other buffets since. Presentation standards are high with little copper pans being used for cajun shrimp & grits, creamy polenta with pear and walnut or spicy mac and cheese. Fried chicken portions come in miniature deep-fry baskets, while portions of Asian rice are served in iconic cardboard takeout boxes.

The only limit to buffet eating is your own stomach and, of course, the looseness of your waistband. Pretty much every type of cuisine is on offer ranging from seafood and salads, Asian and sushi, traditional carvery meats, fresh cooked omelets to fine patisseries and gelatos. Movement never stops here, with diners roaming the floor seeking their next hit and chefs constantly restocking their stations. It's a surreal sight to see huge buckets of sliced crab legs being loaded onto the buffet, only to be demolished over the course of a few minutes by the waiting diners. 
Mountains of crab legs at the seafood station
Brussels sprouts with almonds and cranberries
Portions of "twisted" fried chicken
We got stuck in, quickly clearing plates of "healthier" seafood and salad options. This endowed us with a sense of virtue before approaching the carvery counter with righteous justification. I loaded up a plate with (from top left, clockwise) bone marrow, roast lamb, roast turkey, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and finally, sausage stuffing. As an Irish person, this plate made me feel like I was cheating on Christmas Day and every plate ever cooked by my mother and aunts.

Given that the buffet is essentially a high volume, mass production venue, the quality of each and every item was outstanding. The roast lamb was brightly pink with a crispy, salty outer skin. The Brussels sprouts sautéed with almonds and cranberries still had some bite, while sweet potatoes were smooth and creamy.  I've definitely taken some inspiration from this plate for Christmas dinner.
My traditional Thanksgiving plate
Next up was a mishmash of items from the Asian counter - BBQ Korean rosary cut ribs, five spice pork belly with hoisin sauce, a beef stir fry loaded with green beans and asparagus, with a crisp and fresh green papaya salad for balance. At this point, our endurance was beginning to suffer and we took a breather. We had selected the bottomless mimosa option, and our server was unrelenting, keeping our table constantly stocked with one glass of champagne and mimosa each. 
My Asian Thanksgiving plate
Finally, I visited the counter that I had been studiously ignoring since we started this gluttonous trip - the dessert counter. All kinds of enticing sweet treats were on offer, with a gelato counter making up one side. I confined myself to the wheat-free desserts, which limited me somewhat, but not too badly. An orange macaron (which I think was pumpkin) was gooey crunchy, and raspberry topped pannacotta was both creamy and sharp. A pistachio chocolate mousse cake was the only weak note, but  scoops of peanut butter ice-cream and mango sorbet quickly put things right. 
A selection of patisserie
By the time we decided to cash out, one side of our table was covered in sticky plates and empty champagne flutes. The cheese and cold meats counter sat across from us, taunting me with its ripe brie and creamy goats cheese. But I was defeated, worn down by a magnificent and varied feast. There were still so many dishes which I wished to sample, but my stomach had waved the white flag.

What really stood out was the high quality and standards of cooking. Producing fresh food on this volume must involve some keen logistics and management, and I'm sure that the kitchens are non-stop bustle. However, the dining room is relaxed and calm, making this feel more like a high-end restaurant than a Las Vegas buffet. Roll on Christmas.

The Wicked Spoon Buffet, Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109
URL: Link
Twitter: @Cosmopolitan_LV

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

[Review] Opium, Wexford Street, Dublin 2

There's an extremely hip new kid in town, the very smartly named Opium, which aims to bring a touch of the cool Hakkasan vibe to Dublin. For those of you who have never heard of Hakkasan, it's an achingly cool modern Asian restaurant, which started out in London and has spread across the world. I recently walked past the Las Vegas location, which featured spa-like soothing water features and floating flower petals, and that was just the entrance.

Based on the above, you can safely infer that Opium, with restauranteur Martina Fox onboard, is targeting the young and beautiful portion of the market. And the remodeled interior is beautiful. Soft golden lighting, exposed brick, interior window walls and leather seating make for a very welcoming room. The only let down are the thin-legged, perpetually rickety-feeling, French bistro-style chairs. Confusingly for a restaurant serving Asian food, I didn't see much oriental stylings in the room, other than a feature wall facing the rear and a single statue standing guard. 
The interior at Opium
While waiting for himself to arrive, I ordered a Japanese Sazerac made with Nikka whiskey which imparted a nicely gentle smoky flavour (€9.90). The food menu is a mix of different Asian cuisines, which allows you to cherry pick your favourite dishes. Vietnamese rolls (a mix of chargrilled prawns, various herbs and vegetables) were fresh and crunchy, but a bit scant for an €8.50 price tag. A clever little bowl of Sriracha mayonnaise came on the side for added spicy goodness.  Scallop and halibut ceviche was crisply sour and a little spicy with sweet mango for balance (€10.50).  

(Pardon the poor quality of the photos below, but we were eating in the bar area where the light was low)
Scallops and halibut ceviche
Vietnamese rolls
Despite dithering with the main courses for ages, both of us ended up with similar dishes, beef rendang (€17.50) for me and red curry duck for Himself (€17.95). Both were indulgently rich and creamy, as only coconut-based curries can be. His dish featured a generous leg of confit duck, while mine had large chunks of tender beef, topped with crunchy coconut. Due to the low lighting in the restaurant, we failed to notice a generous sprig of fresh green peppercorns lurking in the red curry, which were promptly ejected back out. Tasty sweetcorn fritters (€4.50) made for an alternative side dish, but I want to go back for the chicharron or crispy pork scratchings (€3.50) which were unfortunately not available on the night we visited. 
Beef rendang
Red curry duck
We liked the food, we liked the interior, but unfortunately we didn't terribly like the music and atmosphere. If  Opium binned the generic CD of naff lounge "choons"(well, at least during dining hours) and figured out a way to fuse the stunning interior with the Asian flavours, then they could really be onto something sweet. 

The million dollar question is if Dublin is ready for achingly cool, and if so, has Opium reached that zenith? The answer to the former is a probable yes, but unfortunately, the answer to the latter is no. Don't get me wrong though, Opium reached pretty high. The venue is a wonderful reworking of a previously popular nightspot, while the food is very good (but not better than several other restaurants which are already at that standard). I just wish it was a more comfortable spot to eat. 

Opium,  26 Wexford Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 526 7711
Twitter: @OpiumDublin

Opium on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 13, 2013

[Competition] Win an Early Bird meal from Bombay Pantry

Stitch and Bear have long been fans of The Bombay Pantry. It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since the first outlet opened, serving deliciously fresh Indian takeaway food. There are now 7 shops operating in the Dublin area and the business has gone from strength to strength. With frequently changing special dishes and offers, there's often a new taste experience waiting at the Bombay Pantry. 

The lovely people at the Bombay Pantry generously sponsored Stitch and Bear's Christmas giveaway last year, and they've returned this year with some more goodies. Stitch and Bear have two vouchers for the Early Bird offer to give away to some lucky readers.  The Early Bird is available all night Monday to Wednesday, and up to 6.30pm all other nights. It costs a mere €7.50 and gets you a vada or bhaji starter, plus medium sized chicken or vegetable dish with a rice or naan. This offer is not available online. Having ordered this many nights myself, I can verify that it is exceptional value.

To be in with a chance of winning one of these two tasty vouchers, simply leave a comment below or email with the answer to this simple question.  Please make sure to provide contact details, as anonymous comments can't win.

How many Bombay Pantry stores are there in Dublin?

The competition will close at 8pm on Saturday, December 21st and the winners will be randomly drawn from all correct entries. Good luck!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

[Review] Zakura Sushi & Noodles, Wexford Street, Dublin 2

I can't keep up with the current pace of restaurant openings in Dublin! I've never really struggled for material for this blog, but lately I feel swamped. There are cool things happening on every corner with cool concepts and too-cool-for-school kids. Thankfully, one of the new openings comes from an old friend, and brings a nice relaxed pace.

Nearly two years (tempus fugit) I reviewed Musashi Sushi & Noodles on the Northside's Capel Street. I was impressed with its simple organic wooden decor, clean sushi and good value.  And now Zakura on Wexford Street. brings a similar, clean approach to the Southside with its wooden paneled walls and seats. Simple and quick to fit out, yet it perfectly suits the clean, organic nature of Japanese cuisine. 

A cute kimmi doll adorns the cover of the menu, which inside bears more than a striking resemblance to the menu from a particular restaurant chain. There's a good mix of sushi, small plates, teppan, rice and noodle dishes to choose from as you sip your little cup of green tea. Special value €8 lunch dishes and €9 Bento boxes are sure to bring the local office workers looking for a tasty, cost-effective meal. 
The cutey-pie menu complete with Kimmi Doll
Good value lunch time specials
I ordered a yaki bibimbap, a Korean dish of rice, fresh and pickled vegetables, seasoned meat and a fried egg served in a nuclear hot stone bowl. To eat, all the ingredients are mixed vigorously together before getting stuck in. It's a tasty and filling dish, a great choice for a cold winter's day. 

Himself also went with a rice option, cooking the cha han (€7.99), a classic Japanese dish of fried rice, vegetables and meat. Here the cha han came piled high, packed with crunchy green beans and rich fungus. Both dishes came with little bowls of miso soup, while the cha han also had a little bowl of addictively delicious pickles. A small portion of spicy tuna roll gained its spiciness from a dollop of sriracha-like sauce. Simple, just like sushi should be. 
Yaki Bibimbap
Cha Han
Spicy tuna roll
Zakura hits the nail spot on the proverbial head. There's enough variety on the menu to keep you coming back, plus it's cracking value for the lunchtime crowd, or an attractive option for an early evening dinner. It operates a BYOB policy for a mere €4, (hopefully this won't attract the usual drunken Wexford Street crowd). Sometimes you don't need to be the hottest, latest venue. Sometimes a calm, internal confidence is all that's required. 

Zakura Sushi, 13 Wexford Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 555 8000

Zakura on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 6, 2013

[Deals] 2013 Christmas Restaurant Value

I've noticed that several restaurants are offering a little extra incentive to customers this Christmas. If you are looking to buy a nice gift for that food loving person in your life, here's a roundup of the offers currently available.

If you buy a €100 gift voucher between now and December 31st, Bang will give you a free €20 gift voucher. Once purchased, just email the receipt number to Bang to claim your voucher. (€20 vouchers valid for use between January 8th to March 21st, 2014). Click here for more information on Bang's deals and special offers.

Anyone who dines in Cleaver East during the month of December for lunch and dinner will receive a €20 gift voucher for Oliver Dunne's Michelin-starred Le Restaurant in Bon Appetit in beautiful Malahide. The best part... it's one voucher per person. Vouchers can be redeemed during January & February 2014.

Cliff Town House and Cliff House Hotel - EXPIRED
The luxury Cliff House Hotel and their sister venue, the sharp Cliff Town House on St. Stephen's Green, are offering 10% off all gift vouchers purchased in person or by phone. Offer expires close of business on Tuesday, December 11th. Offer does not apply to vouchers purchased online.

Dax Restaurant - EXPIRED
Dax Restaurant is offering a 20% on gift vouchers purchased up until Friday, December 6th. To avail of this offer, go to Dax's gift voucher page and use the coupon code "DaxDec" when purchasing.

For everyone who dines at Fade Street Social over the Christmas period, there are surprise presents on offer, from scratch cards to entry into a prize draw. The jackpot prize is pretty impressive - a dinner for 2 in Fade Street Social EVERY WEEK FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR.

La mère Zou - EXPIRED
Use the code "lmz2014" to get 20% off La mère Zou gift vouchers. Vouchers purchased using this code are valid only from January 1st, 2014. Offer expires at midnight, December 6th.

For everyone who dines at Rustic Stone over the Christmas period, there are surprise presents on offer, from scratch cards to entry into a prize draw. Just like its sister restaurant Fade Street Social, the the jackpot prize is pretty impressive - a dinner for 2 in Rustic Stone EVERY WEEK FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR.

The Bombay Pantry
A 10% discount will be applied to all gift vouchers bought in December. A nice gift for the Indian food fan in your life.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

[Review] Farmer Browns, Bath Avenue, Dublin 4

A cold Saturday morning in Dublin demands a hearty brunch. A good breakfast warms from the inside out, perfect when your breath is visible in the frosty air. Even though it was a rugby Saturday and we could see the Aviva glittering in the morning sunshine, the surrounding streets were still quiet in anticipation. The Bath pub was bracing itself for the inevitable onslaught while across the road, Farmer Browns was nicely packed with the breakfast crowd. 

Farmer Browns is twee, cutesy and retro but in a way that works (as opposed to the kind that causes your teeth to grate together). Images of flat caps and baler twine popped into my head, helped by the use of linoleum and mismatched delf. With dishes called "Starvin Marvin" and "The Farmer Wants a Wife", it's clear that there is a strong tongue-in-cheek humour. Despite the chilly temperatures, there was a decent crowd eating in outside area while the cosy inside was chock-a-block. 
A cheerfully bright mimosa
Coffee in retro glass mugs
A mimosa  (€6) was ordered, along with two coffees (€2.50 each), to help combat the effects of the night before. A large glass of bright orange sunshine was delivered to the table along with coffee in 70s-chic glass mugs. Himself ordered the very manly sounding steak, hash and eggs (€15) while I went for a daily special, a croque madame, kindly made on gluten-free bread for me (€9).

The croque madame came packed full of old-fashioned, crumbly home-cooked ham, with a generous layer of melted cheese topped with the required fried egg. The chunky ham (or 'hang' if you've ever cut turf in a bog) was stellar, a real throw-down to shop bought hams, and I liked how the accompanying fries were served in an old-style enameled mug. His steak, hash and eggs was equally impressive. A well-executed steak sat astride a pile of hash, topped with fried eggs, served with an excellent Béarnaise sauce. Both portions were firmly in the American-sized (i.e. huge) camp. 
My gluten-free croque madame with fries
Steak, hash and eggs with Béarnaise sauce
I've yet to eat at Farmer Brown's for dinner, but I've been told that it's good value and tasty. If the brunch is any indication, then I'm confident of a return visit. Yes, the interior is cosy, a little too cosy perhaps, but the staff are the right side of chatty friendly, the food is quality and the prices are friendly. Surprisingly, the shabby chic decor works very well. I didn't look at the walls very closely, but I wouldn't have been surprised the see the holy trinity of Dev, JFK and JPII looking down on the diners. 

And like a true country girl, I'm still dreaming of that 'hang'.

Farmer Brown's Market and Eatery, 25a Bath Avenue, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 660 2326
Twitter: @farmerbrownsdub

Farmer Brown's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 1, 2013

[Competition] Win a meal for two at Bijou Bistro

If you're a regular reader of restaurant reviews, you will have heard about the great happenings at Bijou Bistro. This neighbourhood restaurant has been serving the residents of Rathgar and beyond for over 15 years, with an accompanying deli selling fresh cakes and savoury dishes. Linda Smith, the owner of Bijou Bistro and Deli says "We have a wonderful team, both on the floor and in the kitchen, that combine years of experience in customer service with young, creative talent producing some beautiful food." Bijou also has strong established relationships with local suppliers, which are being leveraged by their exciting new Head Chef Ian Ussher

Ian joined the Bijou team in October 2012, having previously worked at The Greenhouse and Bang, even spending some time in the kitchens of Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastian (currently ranked No 8 in the World's Best Restaurants). This heritage is evident in his cooking which combines modern and innovative techniques alongside traditional and classic dishes. The critics have been taking reviews and the reviews are starting to flood in, including Stitch and Bear's own visit to Bijou earlier this year. 
Indulge this Christmas with a new creation from Chef Ussher -
mini lobster burgers, brown shrimp cocktail and foie Scotch egg
The beautiful Art Deco interior of Bijou features wooden-paneled walls and delicate glass lighting, making it feel luxurious and intimate, but also comfortable. Chef Ussher's food adds a modern touch to this restaurant gem. To celebrate their recent success, Bijou has generously donated a wonderful prize to be won by a lucky Stitch and Bear reader. The voucher will cover a meal for two, including a bottle of wine, up to €100 value.

To be in with a chance of winning this wonderful prize, simply leave a comment below or email with the answer to this simple question.  Please make sure to provide contact details, as anonymous comments can't win.

In which Dublin suburb is Bijou Bistro and Deli located?

The competition will close at 8pm on Saturday, December 7th and the winner will be randomly drawn from all correct entries. Good luck!!

Congratulations to the lucky winner, Gemma Moore of Dublin 18. Your voucher will be in the post shortly. Thanks to all those who entered! 
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