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, July 28, 2014

[Review] Mourne Seafood Bar, Charlotte Quay, Dublin 2 - CLOSED

This current fine weather will forever be known in the collective Irish memory as "The summer of 2014" (as compared to  the "Floods of 1986" or the "Snow of 2010"). It will also be known as the year that hordes of aggressive seagulls descended on Dublin, terrorising the urban dwellers unaccustomed to malevolent birds. Anyone bought up in the country will be used to eyeballing gigantic rooks and crows, but no so for our city cousins. Queue obligatory evil seagull picture...
Invasion of the seagulls
Thankfully, my interaction with seagulls was limited during our recent visit to the new Mourne Seafood Bar, beautifully situated on a corner of Grand Canal Dock, with a fine view of swimming seagulls and bright yellow Viking Splash duck boats. In fact, Mourne Seafood Bar could be quite the spot for people watching, with views over Hanover Quay, the Marker Hotel and the dock itself.

A retro butcher's bike festooned with hanging flowers guides you down the quayside  but that is as far as the tweeness goes. Inside, there are no creels, ratty fishing nets or other cliched paraphernalia, but instead you find a bar and a beautifully bright restaurant, which instantly transports you away from Dublin to somewhere of perpetual light. 
Signposting the way on Charlotte Quay
This restaurant is unapologetically all about the fish. Given that Irish people have a fairly ambivalent relationship with fish, this might stop some people from ever dining there. More fool them is all I say.  It has a raw bar offering with oysters, langoustines, crab and  other delectable fruits de mer, with an all-day menu supplemented by daily specials. 

I started with a perfectly cooked seafood risotto, flavoured and coloured by rich saffron and scallop corals (€9). Nutty grains of rice and a wonderful texture put this firmly in contention for "Best risotto ever". A half dozen oysters, served on ice and gently swimming in their juices, were the epitome of fresh seafood (€12).
Seafood risotto
Half dozen oysters
A whole grilled split lobster (€28.00) served with fries and lobster and basil cream was silence inducing, apart from the sounds of claw crackers being deployed, plus my sighs of frustration when I failed to snag a last delicious strand with the winkler. I had dallied with the thought of the half lobster when ordering, but there is something wonderful about demolishing a whole lobster. 

Across the table, a large pot of mussels, classically steamed with white wine, garlic and cream (€14) was being decimated with equal silence. A side order of Tuscan fries (with salty black olives and Parmesan) seal the deal for us. Their rich salty flavour ensures that we eat every last one, ignoring their poor cousin regular fries. 
Whole split lobster with cream sauce
Mussels steamed with white wine and garlic
Delicious salty Tuscan fries
We decline desserts, as quite frankly, we are full to the brim. Another consideration is that we've also washed down this magnificent feast with a bottle of Finca Montepedrosa Verdejo (€28). Sometimes, it's good to admit defeat and we leave to seek fresh air and a little perambulation.  Our server for the night had been perfection itself, leaving us to our own devices for most of the meal. 

The total bill for the night, including sparkling water, is just shy of €100. If you're not of the gluttonous inclination, it's very possible to eat there for much less and still depart satisfied. The arrival of Super Miss Sue, and now Mourne Seafood, has heralded a change in Dublin dining tastes. Seafood or fish is no longer the minority crowd-pleasing dish on the menu, but sits front and centre. Mourne Seafood is simply "Brill-iant".

Mourne Seafood Bar, Millennium Tower, Charlotte Quay, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 668 8862
Twitter: @DublinMSB


Monday, July 21, 2014

[Cocktails] Raven Rita

The Raven Rita is a delicious variation on one of my favourite cocktails, the margarita. Chambord is a magnificent black raspberry liqueur, which comes in a wonderfully regal, orb-shaped bottle. A little dash of Chambord in a glass of sparkling wine adds some real magic to celebrations, but it also brings depth and sweetness to many other cocktails. In fact, a bottle of Chambord never seems to last too long in our house.

In this variation on the classic margarita, the usual orange component (triple sec, or in my case Cointreau) is dialled back, replaced by the rich Chambord. As always, I recommend using a good quality tequila. I happen to have a stash of PatrĂ³n thanks to some well-priced duty-free shopping, but at a minimum make sure your tequila is labelled "100% Agave".
Raven Rita ingredients
Pre-chill some coupe glasses. In your shaker, combine 1 shot tequila, 1 shot fresh-squeezed lime juice, 1/2 shot Chambord and 1/4 shot Cointreau. Add ice, cover tightly with the tin and shake vigorously until the tin is too cold to hold. Strain into your chilled glasses and top with a small Chambord float.

I usually always have a salt rim with my margaritas, but I think it doesn't work with the additional sweetness of the Chambord in this variant. Spread the margarita love.
The Raven Rita

Sunday, July 20, 2014

[Review] The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary

Things often never go to plan, which is why we were late leaving Dublin and why we subsequently found ourselves deep in the Tipperary countryside stuck behind a tractor with a trailer-full of round bales. As a farmer's daughter, the "stuck behind a tractor" is a story I've used many times to explain tardiness, but this time I wasn't trying to dodge my mother's ire. Instead, we were trying to arrive in time for dinner at the Old Convent in Clogheen.
The Old Convent (photo by Joleen Cronin)
Snuggled is a very cute word, not one I use too often, but I really can't think of a better way to describe the closeness of the Old Convent to the Knockmealdown Mountains. The austere lifestyle of the Sisters of Mercy has given way to a gourmet retreat, under the ownership of Dermot and Christine Gannon. From the minute that you set foot on the classic black and white tiled floor, everything has been thought of. The individual bedrooms are beautifully decorated, and unoccupied rooms are left open for a sneak peek. In fact, there's even a treat room, stocked with teas, coffees, snacks, toiletries, books and DVDs. 
Our bedroom at the Old Convent
We were staying overnight on a Hideaway Summer Special, which included an overnight B&B stay plus an 8 course artisan Irish tasting dinner  for €250. After a quick refresh upstairs, we descended for a pre-dinner drink and a chance to relax. Thanks to an earlier wine tasting, there were more wines available by the glass than usual, giving us a little extra to choose from. 

One by one, the various couples were taken into the dining room, which was the former chapel of the convent, and still has several stained glass windows. We would be dining from the Chef's tasting menu, normally costing €65 per head. 
Table setting at the Old Convent
Connemara smokehouse salmon tartare, Goatsbridge trout caviar, creme fraiche, beetroot & smoked almonds

Butternut squash veloutee, cep oil and smoked sea salt

Crowe Brothers rare breed barbecue pork, Crozier blue, poached pear, candied pecans

Lemongrass and marscapone sorbet, pineapple pickle, black sesame

Nenagh Hereford Aga roast beef, confit potatoes, Ballyhoura shitake mushroom puff pastry, veal jus

Lemon curd, raspberries and flamed meringue

'Cacao Berry' chocolate pot, Irish Cream ice-cream, crushed hazelnuts

Tea/coffee with strawberry pecan fudge

Our meal started with a picture perfect glass of Connemara smokehouse salmon tartare topped with bright Goatsbridge trout caviar and edible flowers. The use of vividly coloured flowers continued throughout the meal, adding a touch of whimsy and prettiness. The Crowe Brothers rare breed pork dish could have done without the heavily spiced pear but otherwise was a masterclass in how to cook pork. The cleansing lemongrass sorbet was one of the best courses I've ever enjoyed, intensified by the pineapple pickle and crunchy black sesame seeds. Nenagh Hereford beef was simply superb, barely requiring a steak knife. I ventured on with a sharp lemon curd, but I eventually admitted defeat with the exquisitely rich cacao pot. 

Afterwards, we ventured out into the beautiful grounds for an evening walk to cool ourselves down and start the digestion. It never really gets dark in the country during the summer months, and we could still see the dark shapes of the Knockmealdown mountains watching over us. To the rear of the house, the chickens were cooped up for the night, hopefully safe from neighbourhood foxes and minks.
Salmon tartare with trout caviar
Butternut squash veloutee with cep oil
Rare breed pork with Crozier blue and pecans
Lemongrass and marscapone sorbet
Nenagh roast beef with shitake mushroom puff
Lemon curd with flamed meringue
Cacao pot with Irish Cream ice-cream
We slept with all windows open in an effort to keep some cool air moving through our bedroom, and we awoke to the delighted crows of the cockerel. The usual eating rules don't apply when away from home, so I was looking forward to a generous breakfast, despite still feeling pretty full. And the breakfast experience definitely didn't disappoint. 

Fresh granola, yogurt and local apple juice started us off, while we waited for our cooked breakfasts. We had both chosen the boar breakfast, a variation on the Full Irish which uses local boar-based products, with the sausages deserving particular praise for being juicy and succulent. A plate of toasted farmhouse breads would have provided enough sustenance to see a man clear through to evening, but the overkill came in the form of a little sampler of buttermilk pancakes. These were airily light, capable of flying out through the window, topped with strawberries and lemon. 
The boar breakfast fry
Buttermilk waffles with strawberries and lemon
A selection of homemade toasted breads
The sunshine of the previous day had disappeared behind grey clouds and occasional rain, but that didn't stop us from taking another walk around the grounds. This time the chickens were out in their run, strutting their stuff and occasionally dropping an egg. A trio of rescue donkeys live in a paddock towards the rear, and Christine was keeping an eye on the pregnant females, who were all expecting at the same time thanks to the adventures of a randy rescue male donkey. 

The Old Convent is a perfect little oasis, suitable for a restful weekend or a romantic interlude. Dermot is a chef who passionately cooks with the finest of local and Irish ingredients, while Christine is an attentive and considerate hostess. This lovely couple have crafted something really special and they transfer that passion to their guests. I've heard that it can be hard to get a reservation at The Old Convent, and now I understand why. A perfect gourmet hideaway.

The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary
Tel: +353 (0)52 746 5565
Twitter: @TheOldConvent

Old Convent on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

[Cocktails] Mixed Berry Julep

I've been feeling the heat so much lately. It's subtly oppressive, draining my energy and leaving me restless at night in a bedroom that's too warm. So when it came to making today's cocktail, I went for the julep, a drink with a fine tradition of cooling and refreshing. 

The julep evolved into its current state in the southern states of the USA, where it combines bourbon whiskey, mint, sugar and ice into a drink designed to beat the heat. This version varies slightly from with standard with the addition of some Irish summer berries which add colour and sweetness.

Stitch & Bear - Mixed berry julep - Ingredients
Ingredients for a mixed berry julep
To make a mixed berry julep, place 3 each raspberries and blackberries into the bottom of a glass and muddle gently. 

Add 12 mint leaves (smash them gently between your palms first), 2 shots of bourbon and 3/4 shot of simple syrup. Top with crushed ice and churn (or stir) to combine all the ingredients. There's no real need to muddle the mint first as the alcohol will strip out the flavour anyway. 

Once stirred, add more crushed ice and repeat. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint, add a straw and sip until refreshed. 
Stitch & Bear - Mixed berry julep - Muddle
Muddle the berries
Stitch & Bear - Mixed berry julep - Add ingredients
Add ingredients, fill with crushed ice and stir
Stitch & Bear - Mixed berry julep - Garnish and serve
When ready, garnish with mint sprig



[Review] Iyer's, 38 Popes Quay, Cork

My real life career involves technology consulting (not eating and drinking alas), which means that I work with a lot of Indians. As a result of chats and interactions, I have developed some understanding of the complexity of Indian culture, regions, castes and cuisines but to be honest, there's an incredible amount that I still don't understand.

I have learned though that when Indians working abroad find a good restaurant, they will visit it non-stop. Particularly if that restaurant makes dosas. On a recent project in the US, the local favourite restaurant would easily have a 30 minute wait time for its buffet lunch. I have often dined out with my colleagues, the sole white person in a sea of Indian dialects and accents. One of my retirement ideas is to open a traditional Indian restaurant in the vicinity of a technology company. Guaranteed success, trust me!

If Iyer's Cafe was located in Dublin, it would be full all the time, with queues of Dublin hipsters and health food fans strung out the door. God knows if the Indian population would even get a look in. Thankfully, it's not in Dublin but instead sits peacefully on Popes Quay in Cork. Gautham Iyer is the man behind Iyer's and he cooks southern Indian vegetarian food which is also often vegan and coeliac friendly. Now here's the science bit, he respects Ayurvedic principles, an ancient form of Indian medicine which maintains that the right food will balance and restore the system. At this stage, you must be wondering how vegetarian, health food could ever possibly tempt you?
Stitch & Bear - Iyer's Cafe - Mango lassi
Mango lassi
The cafe itself is small with a simple light decor. A blackboard behind the counter lists the daily specials, with prices that are also refreshingly light. I started with one of my favourite treats, a mango lassi (a yogurt drink) which was gently tart, not as sweet as is often found in restaurants. An assorted platter of vegetable bajji was vibrantly coloured, with a tangy green chili, green apple and mint sauce, delivering just enough kick to wake up the taste buds. 
Stitch & Bear - Iyer's Cafe - Vegetable bajiis
Vegetable bajjis with green chili and tamarind sauce
Dosa are delicate, light pancakes made from a fermented rice and lentil batter. Good dosa have an airlike texture and our masala dosa was filled with a gently spiced potato and vegetable mixture, accompanied by a fresh coconut chutney. Two young kids at a nearby table were making short work of their dosa, relishing every bite. A kadai curry made with chunks of incredibly fresh paneer cheese and assorted vegetables managed to have a hint of rich creaminess without any heavy ingredients present.

Gautham's cooking changes according to the seasons, and menus are changed daily. On an earlier visit in February, a Madras thali plate contained basmati rice, chickpea chole and an incredible beetroot masala. I've always had a soft spot for this vegetable, despite its ability to stain every surface in the kitchen. I'd have Gautham's take on beetroot over the much abused beetroot and goats cheese salad anyway. 
Stitch & Bear - Iyer's Cafe - Masala dosa
Masala dosa
Stitch & Bear - Iyer's Cafe - Kadai paneer curry
Kadai paneer curry
Stitch & Bear - Iyer's Cafe - Madras thali plate
Madras thali plate
It's incredible to think that Gautham Iyer used to be an aeronautical engineer. This charming, energetic man has a gift with food that is immediately obvious and which crosses all cultural barriers. Before we left, he popped out from the magical kitchen with a little plate of gol gappas (or panipuri) for us to try. These little delights are a popular street food dish and it's easy to taste why. A crisp little shell, just large enough to be a single mouthful, was filled with a spicy mixture of vegetables and chickpeas. 

Iyer's Cafe is healthy and vegetarian, not normally words that attract food lovers' attention. But forget any preconceptions about nut loaf and chickpeas that you may harbour. This food is sophisticated yet simple, tasty yet light. In a paradoxical way, it's mind blowingly good without being obvious. Once again, Cork leads the way in vegetarian cooking, with Iyer's adding itself nicely to Cafe Paradiso. Get yourself to Cork, get yourself to Iyer's. 

Iyers, 38 Popes Quay, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)87 640 9079
Twitter: @iyerscafe

Iyer's Cafe on Urbanspoon
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