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!

Monday, May 26, 2014

[Review] Fade Street Social, Fade Street, Dublin 2

When Fade Street Social opened its doors in late 2012, I deliberately didn't review it. Firstly, it had only just opened and secondly it opened on the cusp of the manic Christmas season when everyone and his office dog goes out for meals. I don't enjoy dining in the pressurised run up to Christmas, so I was happy to leave it be. After several visits last year, I return with to the Gastrobar with my sister E in tow and we set about sampling the menu. To her everlasting shame, E had been in Croke Park jostling kids half her age at the One Direction concert and was in need of sustenance before putting her on a student-friendly priced bus back to Cork. 

We were seated in the middle of the Gastrobar, at a table with high, leather covered gym bars masquerading as seats. Being my usual graceful self, I managed to slide straight off on my first attempt, but gained a solid grip second time out. Once secure, I could see the bandana-ed chefs working behind the open kitchen, furiously grating parmesan over just about everything. The beautiful wood and leather interior is both reflective of, and an improvement on sister venue Rustic Stone.

It's rare enough that I get excited reading a menu, particularly one at a self-titled "Irish Restaurant". But the tapas menu at Fade Street Social would surely have the most jaded gourmand licking their sated lips. Subdivided into categories such as "Grill, Snacks, Carpaccio, Coated & Fried and Pastries", the dishes promise much intense flavour . The dishes are tapas in nature, with most sub-€10, although some are available as larger portions with larger price tags. 
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Chicken popcorn
Fried chicken and popcorn with sumac
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Pumpkin macaroni
Pumpkin macaroni
I kick off with a portion of salted popcorn and fried chicken, topped liberally with sumac (€5.50). It's quite moreish and we are quickly scraping the last fragments out while waiting for the next dish. E adores her portion of pumpkin macaroni (€8.00) which is vibrantly orange in colour and rich in flavour underneath a snowdrift of parmesan.

Both Himself and I have ordered large meat plates, the chargrilled point-end steak (€18.00) for me and the wild duck for Himself (€17.00). Bone marrow butter and a liberal application of flaked salt add intensity to my steak, which soothes my carnivorous cravings.

Crispy salt cod brandade comes with clever batter pieces of chorizo and a delectable pepper chickpea stew (€8.50) while a piece of pork belly on the bone is perfectly fatty with Asian spices and a tooth sticking peanut brittle coating (€10.50). My sister orders the very Irish sounding bacon and cabbage burger which is a dinky creation of pork belly, smoked black pudding and crispy cabbage, served in a mini milk bun (€7.50). 
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Point end steak
Point end steak with bone marrow
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Salt cod brandade
Salt cod brandade
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Wild duck
Wild duck
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Bacon & cabbage burger
Bacon and cabbage burger
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Asian pork belly
Asian pork belly
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Fries with onion puree and parmesan
Skinny fries with brown onion puree and more parmesan
As it's Saturday, and we really have nothing better to do, we order desserts. E chooses basil sugar doughnuts with lychee and mango dipping sauce (€6.95) while we both order the adorable layered baby banoffi (€6.95), although I can't figure out the purpose of the decorative crisp perched on top. A carafe of Albariño is a fresh and light accompaniment to the intense and varied flavours throughout the meal (€21.00).
Stitch & Bear - Fade Street Social - Doughnuts & banoffee
Doughnuts and banoffee
Fade Street Social excites on many dimensions. It's buzzy and lively, with a mixed clientele spread across the variety of seating and the food is pretty damn good. In fact, it's very good. The upstairs Wintergarden allows diners to sit outside while drinking from a range of rather tweely Dublin-named cocktails, while the formal restaurant offers a menu of steaks, grills and flatbreads. 

I spent a while pondering why Fade Street Social would declare itself an "Irish Restaurant". The food is an eclectic mix of flavours and influences, but then I realised Irish people have embraced dining and therefore Fade Street Social is surely the epitome of an "Irish Restaurant". After all, restaurants are no longer defined solely by their cuisine, but more by the experience that they offer. And that is where Fade Street Social scores the highest. 

Fade Street Social, 4 Fade Street, Dublin 2
Tel : +353 (0)1 604 0066
Twitter: @FadeStSocial

Fade Street Social on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 18, 2014

[Review] The Step House Hotel, Borris, Co Carlow

Something miraculous happens in Ireland when the sun shines. Our collective mood lifts, farmers start to haul machinery and round silage bales and the perfume of forced BBQs rises from suburbia. After all, Irish people are natural weather skeptics and we firmly believe in the adage of making hay while the sun shines. After all, it could be hailstones and business as usual again tomorrow.

Getting out of Dublin on a sunny Friday evening would test the patience of a saint, but the promise of weekend sunshine does much to temper the experience. We were heading south to Borris in Co Carlow, where we would be the guests of the Step House Hotel for their "Taste of Friday - Dine & Stay" offer. It's easy to find the Step House (it's located right on the main street after all) and we were soon parked outside. 

One warm welcome later, we were checked in and given our directions for the night. Upstairs, our elegant bedroom was large with diffused sunshine flooding in from outside. The best part though was the Juliet large balcony outside with views over the garden and surrounding countryside. With nothing but blue skies in sight, you could pretend that you were in some magnificent palazzo in Italy. All that was missing was a bottle of something cold and bubbly. 
Our spacious and elegant bedroom
View from our room's balcony
As part of the dinner experience, guests are invited down to the richly decorated and luxurious Cocktail Lounge for an aperitif prior to being seated in The Cellar dining room. As some guests were running a little late, this gave us time to have an extra aperitif (or two) in the sunshine.
Beautiful interior at the Step House
The Cocktail Lounge
Aperitif to start the Friday relaxation
Downstairs in the comfortable and calm Cellar restaurant (formerly known as Reubens), we started with a basket of warm breads. Vibrantly coloured curry and apricot loaf was the clear winner amongst a selection of excellent and crusty breads. Bonus marks for softened, salted butter.
Bread basket
The kitchen at family-owned The Step House hotel is manned by head chef Alan Foley. Not only is he the son of the owners, but he has an impressive CV with time spent at Peacock Alley, Sheen Falls Lodge and Chapter One. Alan's 6 course tasting menu incorporates local ingredients, organic where possible and features lamb from the town, Tamworth pig from Ballon and produce from the Goresbridge Community Garden. The menu costs €50 per head, or €70 with wine pairings. On our visit, we dined from the following menu. 

Kilmore cod with clams, mussels and wild garlic leaf
2012 Pazo Barrantes Albariño (Spain)
Local lamb shoulder with fresh peas, broad beans and home made mint jelly
2006 Pezat Bordeaux Superieur (France)
Lobster with bell pepper, basil and asparagus
2010 Trimbach Reserve Riesling (France)
Tom Salter's free range pork with artichoke and sage gnocchi
2008 Walnut Block Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
Triskel cheese with organic beetroot, walnut and brioche
2012 Hunter's Estate Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Gariguette strawberries and consommé
Cá Masetti rosé prosecco frizzante (Italy)
Kilmore cod with mussels and clams
Local lamb shoulder with peas and broad beans
Lobster with bell pepper
Tom Salter's free range pork
Triskel cheese with beetroot and walnut
Strawberries and consommé
The evening sunshine moved through the room, settling eventually into lantern-lit nighttime as we worked our way through the courses. As the entire room was dining off the tasting menu, we were all served in sequence. At times the timing of the service didn't feel smooth, but the generous glasses of accompanying wines and the extremely friendly staff did much to keep the atmosphere convivial. We each found particular favourites amongst the dishes - the cod for him, the cold lobster for me. But we could both agree that the entire experience, starting with prosecco cocktails and finishing with strawberries was superb. 

After dinner we took a little nighttime stroll around the quiet streets of Borris to help counteract some of the meal. Before going to bed, I sat outside on our Juliet balcony in the cool air, enjoying the quiet of the countryside. As I sat there, I could see the staff members finishing up and heading to their cars. In fact, many of the staff are local, making the team feel more like a family.
Full Irish breakfast
The next morning, as we descended for breakfast, we could see that the fire was already lit in the main foyer. I was quickly learning to expect this attention to detail from the Step House where everything is, frankly, immaculate. Drapes are fluffed, freshly cut flowers fill vases and the entire place gleams. Our breakfast consists of a selection of fruit and cereals served in large Nicholas Mosse bowls with the option of a full Irish available (if you still have some room left over from the night before).

Stitch and Bear were invited guests at the Step House Hotel, where our stay was complimentary. As always, my opinion is 100% my own. The real question to be asked is if I would spend my own money to eat and stay at the Step House. The answer is a resounding YES. It's utterly charming with beautiful decor, local staff, fine dining and just a bit over an hour from Dublin. It's a perfect getaway.

The Taste of Friday offer runs on selected Fridays and costs from €100 per person sharing including champagne reception, dinner and overnight stay. 

The Step House Hotel, Main Street, Borris, Co Carlow
Tel: +353 (0)59 977 3209
Twitter: @Stephousehotel

Rubens @ Step House Hotel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

[Travel] Cocktails in Seattle

If you look for recommendations for cocktails in Seattle, the answer often comes in the form of "wherever Murray Stenson is currently working. He was between jobs on my recent short trip to Seattle, leaving me without the chance to enjoy his work. Stenson had spent many years behind the bar at the Zig Zag Cafe, making it my first choice for a Friday cocktail in Seattle.

Zig Zag is nestled off a little plaza, just below Pike Place Market. It's extremely popular, meaning that I had to wait outside the velvet rope for a while before a seat opened up at the bar. Inside, it's cosily candle-lit and very comfortable. Friday Happy Hour was still in swing so I order a mixed bowl of salty, oily olives and settled in. A Spanish Monk (gin, chartreuse and egg white) is deftly shaken, while my later request for a local cocktail results in the creation of a smooth martini featuring the wonderful Portland-made Aviation Gin

Throughout my time perched at the counter, I watch the stylishly-groomed and very dapper bartender Erik Hakkinen create a range of drinks, chatting easily with customers and taking requests for special drinks. It's clear that Zig Zag is a special spot indeed, but soon it's regretfully time to depart and head back up the steep hills to my hotel and a beckoning bed.
The iconic Seattle Space Needle
Space Needle selfie
On Saturday I find myself with sore feet and tired legs following a day spent around Pike Place Market, the heights of the Space Needle and a rattly trip on the iconic Monorail. This time my choice of drinking location takes me back to Pike Place Market and the relatively newly opened Radiator Whiskey. It's located in a bright first floor space with an open kitchen and serves a wide selection of on-tap drinks and barrel-aged spirits. 

Once again, it's Happy Hour with a delicious bourbon margarita on offer ($8). I also sample a house special cocktail made with aged 2bar moonshine, dry vermouth, gomme and Xocolatl mole bitters. As it's generally not advisable to neck multiple cocktails without food, I order a salad of roasted beets with jicama, lime, coriander, smoked jalapeño cream and jalapeño chicharones ($10). It's absolutely delicious with a wonderful balance of sweet and earthy flavours with a spicy kick from the crackling. 
Barrel aged spirits on tap at Radiator Whiskey
Bourbon margarita at Radiator Whiskey
Bohr cocktail at Radiator Whiskey
Roasted beet salad
At this stage, the night is still young, so I decide to hop in a taxi and head to Capitol Hill cocktail bar, Canon. This bar is an incredible shrine to all things cocktail and was in the 2012 shortlist for the "World's Best New Cocktail Bar"at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail event (it ultimately lost to London's Zetter Bar). If you have a burning wad of cash in your pocket, you can order a Vintage Brandy Crusta made with J.G. Monnet 1875 cognac, Cointreau 1930, Maraschino 1960, fresh lemon and Paychaud's bitter. The cost? A mere $1,100.

The interior of the bar is all pressed tin, vintage cocktail paraphernalia and floor-to-ceiling shelving filled deep with an amazing collection of spirits, including an extensive collection of whiskies. Personally, I was intrigued by the tequila and mezcal selection (which can be hard to find in Ireland), but more about that later. The shuttered windows mean that just the barest amount of daylight filters through, creating the perfect drinking environment.
Canon, Seattle
The stunning interior at Canon
The cocktail menu at Canon was one of the most exciting cocktail lists that I have ever read. I literally wanted to taste everything, not a wise idea given that I had a noon plane to catch the following day. If you want to torture yourself with cocktail porn, then the menu is available online here. I started with a tequila option, the Yakima Cartel made with falernum, grapefruit, cava and garnished with yakima applewood smoked salt (an attractive $11). Just like the Zig Zag on the previous night, my request for a local cocktail involved a local gin, this time Voyager from Pacific Distillery
The Yakima Cartel 
My local cocktail made with Voyager gin
Seattle is definitely a city for the cocktail drinker. Whether you prefer to indulge in the classics, or like to seek out the newest and best, there's a barstool waiting for you. When you add in the fact that Oregon and Washington states have a booming craft distillery industry, it's clear that Seattle bartenders have a magnificent range of ingredients to work with. 

Despite my best efforts, I still managed to leave Seattle on my scheduled plane the next morning. But as we lifted away from the runway, I promised to myself to return and take another bite of this apple. 

Zig Zag Cafe, 1501 Western Ave #202, Seattle WA 98101
Tel: +1 (206) 625-1146

Radiator Whiskey, 94 Pike St Suite 30, Seattle WA 98101
Tel: +1 (206) 467-4268
Twitter: @RadiatorWhiskey

Canon, 928 12th Ave, Seattle WA 98122
Twitter: @CanonSeattle

Monday, May 5, 2014

[Travel] Pike Place Market, Seattle

Lying awake recently in a Seattle hotel bed, I reached for my phone, opened Twitter and typed "#SleeplessInSeattle". Very cheesy I know, but I was excited to be in this famous coastal city, perched atop hills in the northwest of the USA. Bright spring sunshine on Friday evening had dispelled any preconceptions I had around Seattle weather and the lush greenery on my taxi-ride from the airport had definitely brightened my mood.

I wasn't too happy to learn though that Seattle is steeply hilly, just like it's southerly cousin of San Francisco. If I'd known that, I might not have chosen a hotel perched up on the hills. I found myself in a semi-squatting walking gait on more than one occasion in order to counterbalance the sharp pull of gravity. And we're better off not talking about the walk back up the hill. On the plus side, the nighttime views from the bar atop the Renaissance Seattle were rather amazing. 

Saturday morning was bright and fresh, so I struck out for a visit to the famous Pike Place Market. Opened in 1907, this farmers' market is one of the oldest continuously operated markets in the US.  It's a sprawling affair, strung along Pike Place and covering several stories. Walking in under the iconic sign, I am greeted by a cacophony of colour, smells and sounds. 
The iconic sign at the entrance
The Corner Market Building
The first thing I notice are the fishmongers, whose stalls are piled high with crushed ice and a treasure trove of seafood.  Gigantic lobster tails have me dreaming of melted butter, while single serve oyster shots make me think about impromptu picnics along the waterfront. I had been warned to expect the "flying fish" but I am still enthralled by the chanting of the fishmongers, accompanying the flinging of fresh fish from the front to the back of the stall. 
Individual oyster shots at Pike Place Market
Gigantic rock lobster tails at Pike Place Market
The market is packed full of all kinds of stalls, from fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables and street food to collectables and arts & crafts. The market area is even home to about 500 residents, though I imagine they must be haunted by the number of tourists that congregate throng the area.
Multicoloured fingerling potatoes at Pike Place Market
Visit the dentist at Pike Place Market
A colleague had given me several tips for Pike Place Market, so I started to work my way through the list at Beecher's Handmade Cheese. Having pre-loaded with medication to suppress my reaction to wheat, I was ready to experience their "World's Best Mac & Cheese" and their classic grilled cheese sandwich. The mac & cheese was ladled out as I ordered, but the grilled cheese is made fresh to order. I took a seat on a milk churn and watched curds being stirred in the room next door as I waited for my sandwich. 

Mac & cheese, I can take or leave as ultimately, it's just cheesy pasta. However, the grilled cheese sandwich was a thing of oozing, creamy beauty. A combination of Flagship and Just Jack cheeses (the same as in the mac & cheese) was completely melted, flowing out from the grilled bread in soft strings with sweet and nutty flavours. For a grilled cheese fiend like myself, this was manna from heaven.
Seating at Beechers
Beecher's World's Best mac & cheese
Ready to be unwrapped - my grilled cheese sandwich
The oozing cheesiness of Beecher's grilled cheese
Later, I came to Rachel's Ginger Beer flagship store in Pike Place Market. This zingy and flavoursome drink is available in many different varieties including original, strawberry and carrot & beet. As the sun was shining (and it had passed the proverbial yardarm), I went for a Porch Swing cocktail, which was a refreshing mix of ginger beer, gin and Aperol (and just $8). I pulled out my iPad and enjoyed some time sipping my drink and planning my next moves. 
Flavoured ginger beers at Rachel's Ginger Beer
After leaving Rachel's Ginger Beer, I went up one street and down another, eventually finding my way through a mall to Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. This Russian bakery has been open since 1992, feeding the long lines of locals and tourists alike who queue patiently for their turn. A fellow tourist who joined me in the queue struck up a conversation. It turns out that he didn't even know what he was queueing for, but he was working on the principle that the place seemed popular, so therefore it was worth queuing. 

A piroshky is essentially a handheld pie, and the shelves at this little bakery were loaded with a wide variety of sweet and savoury. I was sorely tempted to order several, especially as I watched the workers fold and glaze the pies in preparation for the oven. Miraculously though, some form of restraint kicked in and I ordered a single warm cheddar cheese and garlic roll. One of my guiding principles in life is that the addition of cheese makes anything better. And this roll was a cheese-lovers delight, with ample amounts of cheddar seeded between the pastry folds. My wheat intolerance wasn't going to be thanking me later, but the cheese-loving portion of my brain was already in heaven. 
Piroshky Piroshky Bakery
Delicious selection of sweet and savoury pastries
Pastries ready for the oven at Piroshky Piroshky

Next to Piroshky Piroshky is the original Starbucks shop. They've kept the old signage, but otherwise it is no different  to the many others shops around the world. It is cool though to think that a global chain grew from this wonderful food-loving area, and the queues of tourists outside clearly show the global love for Starbucks.
The original Starbucks on Pike Place
Check back in a few days for my little trip around the cocktail bars of Seattle, plus some Space Needle pictures.
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