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!

Friday, October 31, 2014

[Review] Sister Sadie, Harrington Street, Dublin 8

It's always exciting when a new lunch spot opens near the office. But, the initial novelty of something different lasts only so long, and then it's back to the humdrum. However, with the opening of Sister Sadie on Harrington Street (in the site of the former Tiesan cafe), I don't think there's going to be any ennui anytime soon.. 

Sister Sadie comes from the people behind the acclaimed Brother Hubbard (Capel Street), who currently hold the title of Best Sandwich in Dublin, awarded by McKennas' Guides for their pulled pork creation. The cafe is set back a little from the street, with room for outdoor seating in finer weather. On the day of my visit, autumn was definitely in the air, with golden leaves swirling on the ground. Inside, the style is clean and bright with simple square wooden tables and bench tables along the window. 

Sister Sadie serves breakfast until 11.30ish (taken from their menu), after which it switches to lunch service. The team have continued to work with their established Brother Hubbard suppliers for their new menu. Soups, salads, flatbreads and of course sandwiches all feature with a definite Middle Eastern flavour going on. Most dishes come with a side portion of one of their homemade salads, making each plate a substantial affair.

Cannellini beans in a thick, lightly spiced tomato sauce came with pulled pork and a soft fried egg (€9.95). A gentle citrus note added some zing to the sauce, partnered by a little scattering of sumac across the top. The pulled pork was top notch, not too soft or wet and based on this, it's easy to see why the Brother Hubbard sandwich has won the accolades. 
Beans with puled pork and egg
The Brother Hubbard Turkish Eggs Menemen is another favourite transported from Capel Street. Slices of toast were piled high with eggs scrambled with tomato and red peppers, dressed with black olive and feta yogurt (€9.95). A generous garnish of fresh chopped herbs added many different flavours, although I personally could do with the parsley. However, given the prominence of parsley in Middle Eastern cooking, I suspect my hate/hate relationship with this obnoxious green herb will continue. Chunks of pan-fried chorizo (€2.95 extra) added meaty, spiciness richness.
Turkish eggs menemen with chorizo
A wheat-free coconut and lime bun was dense but really moist, and topped with the most delicious, creamy, smooth icing that I can recall. A perfect tea-time treat.
Wheat-free coconut cake
Sister Sadie is open from 7.45am to 5pm Monday to Friday, and there are plans for weekend brunch soon. The new location is sure to be a winner with potential to catch both the office crowd and the local residents. This winning mix of healthy, tasty food, coffee and sweet treats is bound to be as popular on the southside as it has been on the northside. 

Sister Sadie, 46 Harrington Street, Dublin 8
Twitter: @sistersadiecafe

Sister Sadie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[Review] Ashtons, Clonskeagh Rd, Dublin 14

When it comes to eating out, I have a mistrust of certain phrases. Words like "artisan" and "homemade" have long since lost any connotations of honesty or rusticity, while "slathered" brings to mind images of medicinal ointment covering an infected wound. Also, you really don't want to get me started on the not-so-cute words that we have adopted from not-very-literate children ("yummy', "noms" and so on). 

The moniker "gastropub" is one I tend to view with skepticism. Some Irish venues have been quick to adopt the label, but not so fast to up their menu to match. Indeed, the smell of carvery lunch still lingers lovingly in the corners and crannies of some venues. But there are some shining stars in the Irish gastropub category, including Ashton's of Clonskeagh, snugly located on the banks of the River Dodder. During the summer, it's worth sitting outside with a cold drink and enjoy this little enclave on the outskirts of busy Ranelagh.

Inside, the interior is clean and friendly with a mix of traditional bar seating and restaurant tables. The menu at Ashton's is warm and welcoming. In fact, with braised this and slow-cooked that, it's definitely food for cold winter days and trips to the Aviva. Unusually we both ordered the same starter, a delicious Goatsbridge smoked trout and super fresh, sweet crabmeat pot, served with sourdough toast (€8). It was a very generous portion, possibly a light lunch in its own right.
Goatsbridge smoked trout and crab pot
My main of confit pork belly and braised neck, courtesy of Tullamore-based Pigs on the Green, was richly flavoursome, but in the end I had to admit defeat and pass the plate to Himself's brother. The Brother liked it immensely, declaring it to be the best he'd eaten. Across the table, pan-fried Clare Island salmon was perched atop a wonderfully cheesy risotto (made with the legendary Irish Gubbeen cheese). A little handful of toasted hazelnuts finished off this quirky but excellent dish (€18).
Confit pork belly and braised pork neck
Clare Island salmon with Gubbeen cheese and chorizo risotto
We were served dinner at low tables, comfortably seated on deep black leather sofas. After finishing our mains, we inexplicably found it quite hard to get up. Faced with such effort, we took refuge in the dessert menu. A lightly flavoured lime and raspberry pannacotta was decorated with perfect pieces of honeycomb and meringue (€6), while a rich 70% chocolate tart with raspberries suited Mrs. H down to a tee (€7).
Lime and raspberry pannacotta with meringue and honeycomb
Dark chocolate tart with raspberries, espresso and white chocolate cream
Ashton's is a real deal gastropub, with sister locations in Kill (The Dew Drop Inn) and Kildare (Harte's of Kildare). They've fully embraced the craft beer movement with a decent selection on tap and in bottle. plus there's also a gin tasting menu for those who like something stronger.  I might have joked earlier about carveries, but the lunchtime carvery at Ashton's is one of the best I've seen with a tempting selection of roasts, pies and other dishes. It really does set a standard. 

Sometimes I mention Ashton's as a dining option to friends, and I'm truly surprised by the number that haven't been there. It's been a Dublin landmark for quite a while, and when things are around for a long time, they tend to be overlooked. But the large crowd of Ashton regulars testify to the fine food and drink to be found here (plus there are plenty of TVs for sports). It doesn't really matter if you're a craft beer fan or a die-hard carvery diner. Ashton's does it all superbly. 

Ashtons, 11 Vergemount, Clonskeagh Road, Dublin 14
Tel: +353 (0)1 283 0045
Twitter: @BarAshtons

Ashtons Gastropub on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Review] Jojos, Parnell Street, Dublin 1

According to the oracle that is Google, the restaurant at the centre of this week's review doesn't exist. Or at least, I can only find one other blog post which references it. No Facebook page or any anything else. The odds of a location not being found on Google is highly unlikely, so I can only assume that the error lies with me and I am somehow remembering Jojo's incorrectly.

I do know however, that I have eaten twice recently in Jojos, so unless I am transitioning to some parallel dimension when I walk down Parnell Street, it most definitely does exist, and it is most definitely very good. There's clearly been some investment in the interior with black marble topped tables and movable extraction flues to position over the traditional BBQs and hotspots. It's a far call from the first Chinese restaurants which opened on Parnell Street.

Over the course of our two visits, we got to try a good selection of dishes. We haven't yet tried the hotpot or BBQ options, which are very popular with the large groups of Asians I've seen in the restaurant. Leaf buns, filled with fresh shredded green vegetables were steamed and then pan-fried, but could have benefited from a side portion of dipping sauce. There's a wide range of spicy BBQ skewers available including chicken gizzards and hearts, but we stuck with the more familiar options of chicken and lamb, flavoured with chili and cumin seeds.
Leaf buns
Chicken and lamb BBQ skewers
I did ask if the Chongqing chicken could be prepared off the bone, only to be met by a resounding "NO". Much as I love this style of cooking, the thought of biting into a piece of chicken bone unnerves me. I ordered regardless and was rewarded by a dish of intensely deep-fried, crispy chicken pieces with a scattering of fermented beans, chills and other tasty additions. Even with careful inspection for bone pieces, we still cleared the plate. 

Cumin beef was tender with moist chunks of beef mixed through with cumin and coriander stalks. Deep-fried fish were topped with a richly flavoursome sauce of ginger, Chinese pork, fermented beans and dried mushrooms. Once the fish was all gone, I scooped tablespoons of this addictive sauce into my rice bowl to make sure that I got every last bit. 

A dish of pork fat and deep-fried tofu was questioned by our waiter who didn't think it would suit our western tastes. To be fair, he did this in a very nice way, but we were rewarded with a clay bowl of fatty belly pork pieces in a rich red broth with cabbage leaves and bean sprouts. 
Chongqing chicken (on the bone)
Cumin beef
Fried fish with Chinese pork and mushrooms
Fried green beans with minced pork
Pork fat and fried tofu
I sometimes find the Chinatown restaurants to be hit and miss. By this I mean that I will get wonderful, flavoursome authentic dishes on one visit, only to get the "Westernised', gloopy version on the next visit. I don't know why this happens, but it's so far, so very good at Jojos. All dishes that we had were under €10 in price and the portions are more than ample. The heat levels are not very high at Jojos either, which would suit people who would to explore authentic Chinese food.
The bill from our second visit to Jojos
Jojo's, Parnell Street, Dublin 1.
Contact details unknown!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

[Review] Balfes at the Westbury Hotel, Dublin 2

Lately, life has been extremely busy. Work has been demanding (nothing new there), but when combined with a house hunt and move, there just wasn't much time left for anything else. Eventually though, everything in our old apartment was boxed and transferred to our lovely new little house. Thanks to a trip to IKEA, I have a wonderful, brightly coloured, new armchair and a regular routine is starting to emerge again. 

We spent last Saturday in town, something that we haven't had an opportunity to do for quite a while. After getting my hair cut, it was time for lunch. The Westbury Hotel have given their restaurant space a facelift and I wanted to try it out. The newly named Balfes (after the street) is an attractive spot with a lovely outdoor terraced area to the side of the main hotel entrance. The white tiled walls and wicker furniture convey the sense of a French brasserie with a classic, sleek New York twist. 
Sitting outdoors at Balfes
We were handed a brunch menu, which is served 10am - 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. When you're shopping in town for a day, brunch just doesn't feel right, and I would very much have liked to have some lunch choices available. A lot of brunch menus feel very samey-samey, with crowd-pleasing dishes which cancel out a restaurant's own personality.

My prime beef burger came in a smoothly glazed, sweet brioche bun, with perfect fries and a smokey paprika mayo. At €16, it was definitely on the pricey side for a burger, but the combination of Gruyere cheese and crispy smoked bacon made for a quite decent effort. Himself's open sandwich of tuna with creamy hummus and radishes looked very healthy, especially when rounded out with a portion of rocket and parmesan salad (€9.00 and €4.50 respectively). Again, there was the slight feeling of expensive, but what else would you expect in a luxury, 5 star hotel?
Burger with fries and paprika mayo
Tuna and hummus open sandwich
During our brunch (how I wish it had been lunch), we sipped on tall, icy glasses of the Devilshoof cocktail. The mix of gin, basil leaves, limoncello and lemon bitters (€10.50) sounded refreshing and cool, but by the end, the original fresh crispness had been replaced by the strong, herbal notes of basil. Perhaps we should have drank quicker?
Devilshoof cocktail
Once home, I visited Balfes website to read the regular daytime menus, whereupon I learned that there is a Josper grill in the kitchen (also to be found in the Morrison Hotel). As we paid and left, I just felt that the brunch menu didn't give the kitchen a chance to shine or show its distinctiveness. Both dishes had been quite good, but didn't feel unique to the restaurant. However, the smart chicness of the decor and the promise of the expanded all day menu will surely draw me back at some stage. Balfes already feels like a spot for a reliable lunch.  

Balfes, The Westbury Hotel, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 646 3353
Twitter: @BalfesDublin

Balfes on Urbanspoon
© Stitch and Bear | All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Developed by pipdig