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!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

[Review] The Little Yard, Georges Street, Wexford

On a weekend trip to Wexford, we came across the Little Yard. It's a recently opened tapas and wine bar to the rear of the established Yard restaurant. As we had been merrily drinking cocktails, we were somewhat late getting out for dinner and as a result, the main wave of evening diners had already been and gone. The Little Yard is very cosy, with a mixed bag of old tables, tealight candles and comfy cushions. I'm guessing that it operates as a cafe-type location during the day, and is repurposed as a tapas venue during the night, somewhat like Brioche Cafe in Dublin. 
Candlelit table at the Little Yard
The menu is short, with a selection of "classic" tapas, but it's the pricing that really stands out. It's refreshingly good value, which is something that I don't often associate with towns outside of Dublin. Some tourist towns really know how to charge. We agreed to order several dishes to get us going, with the caveat that we could always order more later.

We settled on a mix of items, starting with a generous cheese platter (€6.95) with salted almonds and capers scattered on top. Gambas a la plancha (€6.95), or whole grilled prawns, were overcooked but tasty.  The daily special of pan-seared scallops came complete with the liverlike rosy coral, a feature that I quite like. Served on a bed of juicy samphire, the scallops were a knockout dish. Spicy baked eggs with chorizo and chickpea stew were served in an adorable mini cast-iron pot (€5.50) while little cubes of patatas bravas (€4.50) were crispy on the outside, yet fluffy on the inside. 

The Little Yard also fashionably serves a selection of Irish craft beers and ciders, which are a great accompaniment to all the little dishes. As a result, I enjoyed my first bottle of Orpens Irish cider, while he chose from the Dungarvan Brewing Company range. 
Queso - cheese platter
Gambas a la plancha
Special - seared scallops served with samphire
Heuvos fritos con chorizo - baked eggs with chorizo & chickpea stew
In short, the Little Yard is excellent value with tasty plates in a cute and charming setting. Sometimes it's nice to be able to grab a few small dishes rather than a full sitdown menu. But there was one final detail that nailed my approval of the Little Yard. At the end of our meal, we received a voucher for two free glasses of bubbly in the lovely nearby T. Morris pub. Perhaps it's a very clever scheme designed to keep diners in town, but I wasn't complaining.

The Little Yard, 3 Lower George's Street, Wexford
Tel: +353 (0)53 914 4083
URL: www.theyard.ie/little_yard
Twitter: @TheYardWex
Yard on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

[Listing] Meath Food Series - Food Safari in Meath

If you're looking for a fun, food-related event over the August Bank Holiday weekend, then read on. The Meath Food Series is an innovative food adventure, which is encouraging people to get out and explore the culinary delights of the Royal County. 

With words such as traceability, sustainability and labelling hot on the lips of food consumers, Meath producers are opening their doors in a novel way to demonstrate how supporting local is best. Two food safaris will take place in Meath on August 4th and 5th respectively. 

Some of the producers involved in the Meath Food Series
On August 4th, the 'Bia Bus' will travel around south Meath, starting in the gourmet village of Slane and visiting producers such as Burkes Farm Ice Cream, Boyne Valley Blue Goats Cheese, The Whole Hoggs Pork and Keoghs premium vegetable farm. There will be quirk stops along the way, finishing with a producers BBQ at Boyles pub in Slane for some après-safari fun. 

The following day will see the Bia Bus following a similar format, only in the north of Meath, visiting award-winning Kilbeg Dairies, Ryan Farm, Kerrigan's Mushrooms and Hogan's Turkey Farm. Again, there will be stops along the way, finishing this time with a producers BBQ in Jacks Porterhouse, Kells. 

Tickets for the food safari cost €40 per day, which includes the Bia Bus, tastings and the producers BBQ. Full details of how to book, as well as all other events in the Meath Food Series can found on their website or on Facebook
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

[Q] The Best Burger in Dublin?

The arrival of the epic Bunsen Burger on Dublin's Wexford Street has got me thinking. Where is the best burger in Dublin to be found? A few quick questions on Twitter, and I had assembled a list of candidates. Some were obvious like Jo'Burger, Bunsen and The Counter. Others were a little less obvious.

Not all burgers are created equal and everyone has a different opinion. Some prefer the more American (broiled) style, while others choose the gourmet burger style. All have their merits, but surely there are some common elements that all burgers share. At the very least, a good bun, a juicy patty and a tasty selection of toppings should all feature. 

The cheeseburger at Bunsen Burger

The burger at the Wild Boar pub, Stepaside

The glamburger from Rustic Stone
I plan to visit a selection of the candidates listed below in an effort to find what I think is Dublin's best burger. In order to baseline the judging, I am proposing to only choose cheeseburgers or house special burgers, while sides will be limited to classic fries. (Lamb burgers or other variations will not be considered). I am yet to figure out a scoring system, but I'd imagine that the different criteria will include bun. patty, toppings and sides/sundries.

UPDATE: See here for my results, including my best burger in Dublin

The candidates so far are listed below. If you know of any stand-out burgers that you think should feature, then please comment below.  I look forward to your comments, and make sure to return later to see how I'm getting on with this quest.

  • Bunsen Burger
  • Jo'Burger
  • The Counter
  • Eddie Rocket's
  • Rick's
  • Izakaya
  • BóBós
  • Gourmet Burger Kitchen
  • Real Gourmet Burger
  • Rustic Stone
  • Jamie's Italian
  • Damson Diner
  • Whitefriar Grill
  • Elephant & Castle
  • Aussie BBQ
  • Woolshed Baa
  • Moo Burger Bar, Liffey Valley Shopping Centre
  • Yum Yum
  • O'Connells, Donnybrook
  • Dillinger's
  • Tribeca
  • Canal Bank Cafe
  • The Sussex
  • The bar at the Four Seasons
  • The Morrison Grill at the Morrison Hotel
  • The Hole in the Wall
  • McGettigan's
  • The Bridge Bar & Bistro
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Friday, July 19, 2013

[Review] The Table, Portobello, Dublin 8

Dublin on a very sunny Sunday. Surely there's nothing finer. Except for the fact that I had stepped off a transatlantic flight that very morning and had gone straight to bed to catch up on some sleep. As the sun shone outside, I was snoozing in my darkened bedroom. But eventually, common sense prevailed and I got up to enjoy some of the day.

Airplane food is a combination of excitement and depression. I always get a little kick from all the different elements in their different packaging, and how the components vary between the outbound and inbound legs. However, that's usually where the excitement ends and it hands over to reality as you face "chicken or beef". Rather than eat late at night, I had declined a meal on the plane and instead tried to sleep, with the thought of having a good Sunday lunch once back home in Dublin.

Table restaurant, situated in Portobello on the edge of the Grand Canal comes from the same stable as nearby Lennox Cafe. Apparently the goal is to move away from cafe and brunch daytime dining and instead aim for the restaurant and evening market. A staircase is straight ahead of you upon entering with a downstairs bar/dining area to the right. Upstairs is an L-shaped dining room in cool shades of cream and grey. The cool breeze from the air-conditioning is greeted with sighs of pleasure. We snagged a table overlooking the canal, with the added bonus of a view over a topless sunbathing man.  He might have been somewhat perturbed by our presence as he left shortly afterwards.
Stitch and Bear - The Table Portobello - Interior
Upstairs interior at The Table
Himself opted for monkfish scampi served with harissa, aioli and salsa.  A grown up version of fish fingers if you you will, but they didn't taste anything like my 80s childhood teatime treats. Meaty, firm pieces of fish in a crunchy coating with punchy sauces. I opted for crispy goat's cheese, served on a busy plate of salted pecans, pumpkin seeds, raisins, baby beets and spiced apple chutney. The sharp cheese was balanced nicely by the sweet, spicy chutney, and bonus marks were awarded for the near  perfect spherical shapes.

I did groan to see slate plates arriving at the table. Slate plates always make me feel uncomfortable as I dread the sensation of my cutlery coming into contact with the rough surface. It's the same sensation that I get from letting the wooden stick in an ice-cream come into contact with my teeth. Plus, I always feel sorry for servers having to pick up the slates, so I tend to nudge them over to the edge of the table to help them along. 
Stitch and Bear - The Table Portobello - Goats cheese starter
Goat's cheese, beetroot and chutney
Stitch and Bear - The Table Portobello - Monkfish scampi
Monkfish scampi
My main of moist pan seared hake was balanced on pomme puree surrounded by a very light and tasty chorizo and baby vegetable broth. My usual wariness of soupy sauces was allayed by the fresh and light broth which was simple yet elegant. His choice of buffalo ricotta and spinach ravolini were pan-fried for extra flavour although they seemed to lack the advertised beurre noistette and crispy sage leaves. 
Stitch and Bear - The Table Portobello - Hake with pomme puree and broth
Hake with pomme puree and baby vegetable broth
Stitch and Bear - The Table Portobello - Buffalo ricotta and spinach ravolini
Buffalo ricotta and spinach ravolini 
Service was good throughout, although various servers did come to the table too ask to ask the same "is everything is as it should be?" Such questions bring out the philosopher or metaphysicist in me and I have to remind myself to nod, smile and just say yes.

We stuck to glasses of a light chilled Monasterio (€7.00) which suited the bright sunshine outside.  A two course Sunday lunch costs just €18.95 or three for €23.50. It's even better if dining as a group, as parties of four or more will receive a bottle of free house wine.  This is the kind of pricing and value that ensures I will revisit Table, particularly when Mr. & Mrs. H. are in town. It is above average food, but despite the relaxing decor and cool funky animal prints, there was a slight sensation of something missing from the atmosphere.

PS: Even when writing this review, the sense of something missing continued. Perhaps there is a website for The Table, but I couldn't find it. Neither could I find blogger reviews, although I did find reviews from some of the major critics. It just seems weird when good, well cooked food like this has so little said about it. 

The Table, 1-2 Portobello Road, Dublin 8
Tel: +353 (0)1 473 6727
URL: www.facebook.com/TheTablePortobello
The Table on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

[Event] Franciscan Well Jameson-Aged Stout Launch at WJ Kavanagh's

Recently, I attended the Dublin launch of the Franciscan Well's Jameson-Aged Stout, which was held in the perfectly suited location of W.J. Kavanagh's. Being a Cork native, I am of course immensely biased in favour of this beer, which has a double Cork heritage. Firstly, it is made by the Franciscan Well (home of many an undergraduate and postgraduate night out) and secondly, it is finished in casks provided by the Jameson Distillery, another fine Cork enterprise. This special brew was developed by Shane Long, founder of the Franciscan Well, using casks handpicked by Jameson's Master of Whiskey Science, Dave Quinn.
Stitch and Bear - Franciscan Well Stout - The Bottle

Aging beer and stout in whiskey and spirit cases has been around for a while, but it's gaining in popularity. So what happens when Franciscan Well stout and Jameson casks meet? I found the result to be smooth and rich, with definite coffee notes and whiskey warmth and just a little touch of vanilla and caramel from the casks. Plus the ABV weighs in at 7.8% thanks to the alcohol that is reabsorbed from the barrel walls. According to Long & Quinn, it took a few trial efforts before arriving at the final decision to use American oak second fill whiskey casks. "We couldn't wait to test the final result and it has truly surpassed our expectations".

The Franciscan Well Stout (Jameson Cask) comes in a flip-top 750ml bottle, each individually numbered. Given that it's alcohol content is a little higher than normal, it's perfect for sharing. 

To celebrate the launch, the team at W.J. Kavanagh's assembled a special menu to complement the stout. We started with a welcome cocktail of Jameson Select Reserve, homemade ginger beer, grapefruit juice with a finishing touch of grapefruit & oak smoked sea salt. A selection of canapés gave us a range of Irish flavours, with my personal favourite being the incredibly candied, sweet and savoury homemade bacon jam. I could have eaten jars of that bacon jam. As I don't eat wheat, I found myself licking the beetroot and bacon jam off the bases, before then being faced with the dilemma of where to abandon them.

Canapés 
Homemade beetroot pesto, Fivemiletown goat's cheese on garlic croutes with rocket cress
Homemade free-frange bacon jam, vanilla infused sugar on Sheridan's brown bread cracker
Organic black pudding wontons, apple cider & soy dipping sauce
***
Starter
Oysters, cherry puree, lightly pickled shallots and fresh cherries
***
Mains
Pulled slow braised beef short rib, roasted beetroot puree, Crozier blue cheese croquette and "lovely gravy"
or
Marinated carmelised cauliflower cutlet, roasted beetroot puree, Crozier blue cheese croquette, twice-cooked sweet potato chips and horseradish mayo
***
Dessert
Dark chocolate cake, blackberries, cherries, barley malt, chicory & rye cream with sea salt crumbs

Stitch and Bear - Franciscan Well Stout - Canape selection
Beetroot pesto canapés (top) with cherry oysters (bottom)
Slow cooked, shredded beef short rib topped with leeks was superb against the rich stout. I did like the mix of Crozier blue cheese and potato, but felt that the patty we received had mutated in size past the croquette stage and was heading towards the Godzilla stage. One of the table bravely chose the vegetarian option (controversial in such a carnivore environment), but we were all impressed with how the thick cauliflower slice maintained texture and crunch.

The dark chocolate cake was something really special, with the rich dark chocolate bumping nicely against the not-so-sweet flavours of the rye and malt cream, along with stewed blackberry and fresh cherry. And once again, the dark chocolate and savoury flavours teamed well with the Franciscan Well stout.
Stitch and Bear - Franciscan Well Stout - Pulled braised beef short rib
Pulled braised beef shortrib with potato croquette
Stitch and Bear - Franciscan Well Stout - Dark chocolate cake
Dark chocolate cake with blackberry and cherry

Stitch and Bear - Franciscan Well Stout - Entertainment in the ladies
Finally, some useful advice from the ladies
For more information on the Franciscan Well range, visit www.facebook.com/craftcollection or www.facebook.com/franciscanwell, or @CraftBeerIE and @FranciscanWell. Further information on Jameson can be found at www.jamesonwhiskey.com or www.irishdistillers.com.

W.J. Kavanagh's, 4-5 Dorset Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 (0)1 873 0990
Twitter: @WJKavanaghs

Stitch and Bear would like to thank the Franciscan Well, Jameson, W.J. Kavanagh's and Slattery Communications for their hospitality. All opinions remain my own. 
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Friday, July 5, 2013

[Recipes] Summer Cocktail & Drink Special

I have never liked the use of the word "foodie". I've dabbled for a while with being a gourmet, a gourmand or simply a food-lover. But none of these terms quite sat right with me, until I rediscovered the phrase "Bon Vivant". It was a lightbulb moment in my head and its suitability was further reinforced when I was asked by RTÉ food to participate in their Summer Series of guest posts. One of the suggested topics was "Summer Cocktails & Drinks" which I grabbed onto like a drinker at last orders time.

The following is a re-publication of the article, which first appeared on RTÉ Food


Any bartender can mix ingredients together to produce a drink optimistically called a "cocktail". But these sugary, neon-coloured drinks are an insult to proper cocktails. Mixologists take pride in understanding their ingredients and blending them together to create drinks that are classic, seasonal and always satisfying. 

The first recorded use of the word cocktail in the English language occurred all the way back in 1798, followed ten years later by an official definition "Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters". In 1862, the acknowledged father of cocktail making, Jerry Thomas, published his bible "How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant's Companion" . I personally like to think of myself a Bon Vivant, so therefore, I feel a natural affinity with Mr. Thomas and his craft. 

But before we get started with recipes, I want to share some tips and tools for making cocktails at home. Cocktails are generally either shaken or stirred (the nub of eternal James Bond martini dilemma). As a quick rule of thumb, cocktails made with similar spirits are best stirred, while cocktails with different spirits are best shaken. Based on this knowledge, James Bond would have been better served ordering his martini stirred!

Make sure that your ice cube trays are filled as ice is crucial to making cocktails. You'll need it to cool your glasses and for shaking. A handy shortcut I often take to chilling glasses is to rinse a glass and then place them briefly in the freezer. When used in shaking, ice helps dilute and "crush" the ingredients. I prefer to use a Boston shaker when making cocktails, which consists of a metal bottom and glass top. Although the Cobbler shaker (all metal) is more iconic, the metal pieces tend to fuse together which is frustrating when you're trying to get your delicious creation out into the glass. Best to leave the Cobbler as decoration on the shelf.

Finally, a citrus press (also known as a Mexican elbow) is a great addition to your kitchen gadgets. Most cocktails require citrus of some form, but squeezing limes or lemons quickly becomes monotonous. With a citrus press, juicing is simplified thus permitting you to get to your cocktail all the sooner.

Margarita 

Tequila is one of my favourite spirits and it has such a natural affinity with limes, although it is also partial to grapefruit. A real margarita is served short, cold and definitely not in adult slushie form. Try to find a tequila brand that is labelled as 100% agave to guarantee a good tequila. I prefer Cointreau in my version, but any triple sec (orange flavoured liquer) will work. The trick here is to find the ratio that works for you, so feel free to vary the proportions to find your favourite. A salt rim is optional, but I should say that tequila loves salt nearly as much as it loves limes. 

1oz tequila
1oz Cointreau
1oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Dash simple syrup

Place all ingredients into a shaker and add ice. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds and then strain into chilled glasses.

Simple syrup is very simply made by combining equal volumes of white sugar and water in a saucepan, then briefly bringing to the boil before letting it cool down. It allows you to sweeten cocktails and also helps marry flavours together 

My second recipe involves a summer classic - rhubarb! Firstly, we will make a rhubarb cordial, which can then be used in alcoholic cocktails or refreshing sparkling drinks. 

Rhubarb cordial

Take one bunch of rhubarb, trim, chop and place in a saucepan along with one cup of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Place over medium heat and stew for about 10-15 mins or until the rhubarb is soft and mushy. Using a sieve, strain the rhubarb into a bowl. Do not force it through the sieve, but instead let gravity and time do the work. You will be left with a ruby pink tart juice. 

Place equal volumes of the rhubarb juice and white sugar in a saucepan and gently heat until the sugar is dissolved. If any while scum appears during this process, just skim it off. Let the rhubarb cordial cool and add a little squeeze of lemon juice before use. 

Rhubarb Aperol Spritz


Here we combine our homemade rhubarb cordial with the classic Italian aperitvo Aperol to make a refreshing sparkling drink. Aperol contains, amongst other ingredients, bitter orange, gentian and rhubarb, so it marries well with the cordial. Although prosecco would ensure an Italian theme in this drink, I personally prefer a nice brut Cava. 

1 tablespoon rhubarb cordial
1oz Aperol
Cava to top

Place the rhubarb cordial and Aperol in the bottom of a wine glass or champagne flute. Mix lightly and then top with chilled Cava. Sit in the sunshine and enjoy

Rhubarb Apple Cooler

Place one tablespoon of the rhubarb cordial in a highball glass, and half fill with a good quality apple juice. Add some ice cubes and top up with sparkling water. The rhubarb and apple juice will naturally settle into different layers, creating a rhubarb and custard type effect. Stir to bring the layers and flavours together. 

The Pamplemousse 

There are few other liquers which taste as summery and as light as St Germain. It contains elderflowers and comes in the most exquisite 8-sided Art Deco bottle, which is a work of art in its own right. This cocktail combines the floral notes from St Germain with gin and citrus to create a refreshing and balanced drink. 

1oz gin
1 oz freshly squeeze grapefruit juice
1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz St Germain liquer

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds before straining into a small chilled cocktail glass. 
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Monday, July 1, 2013

[Review] Cistín Eile, South Main Street, Wexford

The recent visit of Michelle Obama and her two young daughters to Dublin put me into a somewhat reflective mode on the topic of Irish cuisine. Dubliners will know that their city has a vibrant and innovative restaurant scene, which makes it all the more bizarre that the First Lady and her children dined at two "traditional" restaurants (Matt the Thresher on Pembroke Street and Finnegan's pub in Dalkey). Apparently the first family enjoyed options such as fish and chips, oysters, lamb, corned beef and of course, the obligatory Guinness. 

Why is it that when the Yanks come to town, we are quick to forget our modern cuisine and instead revert back to the traditional stereotypes? As a teenager, I worked in a local bar & restaurant which catered to busloads of American and other tourists. We spent ages slicing brown bread and smoked salmon, prepping and grilling garlic mussels and pouring Irish coffees and glasses of Guinness. To be honest, all of it was good quality and tasty food, but it's now 20 years later and we're still projecting the same image. 

So what exactly makes a restaurant Irish? It's a question that came to mind when we dined at Warren Gillen's Cistín Eile restaurant in Wexford. It's a venue where the old Irish adage "Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras" or "Hunger is the best sauce" is painted on the wall and the tables are dressed with homely linoleum complete with grandmother-style placemats. The scene was further set with a delivery of dark, treacly homemade brown bread complete with thick sugary crust. 
Homemade brown breads
The summer evening menu offers three courses for €27 with a real focus on produce from both Irish and local Wexford producers. My choice of creamy and fresh fried Bluebell goat's cheese (from Clare) sat atop a stack of beetroot slaw accompanied by pear chutney and hazelnuts. His salad of Tony Butler's (Wexford) black and white pudding with cabbage, apple and mustard was a wonderful mix of flavours, all highlighting the excellent quality of the puddings. 
Fried Bluebell goat's cheese
A main of 10 hour Doyle's beef topside, onion fondue, champ, navet and peppered cream was piled high on the plate. The mountainous theme continued with my choice of Wexford lamb cutlets, chard, Doyle's smoked ham, relish, champ and mustard sauce (€3 supplement). The lengthy list of components was reflected in the busy appearance of each plate. However, this apparent cacophony  translated into smooth music when it came to taste.
10 hour Doyle's beef topside
Wexford lamb cutlets with Doyle's smoked ham
When it came to desserts, the consensus from both us was that they weren't quite of the same standard as the rest of the meal.  To be honest though, our opinions on the desserts were probably influenced by the extremely generous plates of food we had just cleared. Pannacotta with rosehip & hibiscus was served with mini meringues and a popping candy oat mix. Popping candy produces a sensation of my teeth collapsing and I ended up scraping the mixture to the side of the plate. His verdict on the organic rhubarb and raspberry sundae  was that the Featherbed Farm (Wexford) mango sorbet was the best thing on the plate.
Panna cotta with rosehip and hibiscus 
Organic rhubarb and raspberry sundae
We had drank a bottle of well-priced crisp Verdejo (€26) which meant that our final handwritten bill totalled €86. Everything about Cistín Eile had made us happy, particularly the use of a wide range of Irish ingredients to produce dishes that felt uniquely Irish. You really couldn't imagine getting this food in any other country. Cistín Eile, Cistín Éireannach. 

Cistín Eile, 80 South Main Street, Wexford, Co Wexford
Tel: +353 (0)53 912 1616
URL: warrengillencistineile.com
Cistin Eile on Urbanspoon
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