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!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

[Review] Ox, Oxford Street, Belfast

A gentle aroma of buttery frying hung in the air as I walked into OX. Or at least, I think it was buttery and pan-related. Irrespective of the source of the aroma, it was the perfect welcoming touch at this very hot and very popular restaurant in Belfast. The bleak exterior gives nothing away, but inside the ceiling high windows flood the room with light, caressing the golden wooden furniture and the surprisingly warm blue woodwork. With an open kitchen set at the rear of the room and soft overhead lights, it's unique and comfortable all at once. 

The tributes have been rolling in lately for Belfast, and in particular OX, the poster child restaurant for all that is good in the culinary world of Northern Ireland. Head chef Stephen Toman (formerly of James Street South) and Breton Alain Kerloc'h bring their combined experience to bear in this space on the banks of the River Lagan.
The warm yet crisp interior at Ox
I'm visiting on a Saturday lunchtime and the a la carte menu is very tempting, especially as main course dishes are priced at just £10. But the chance to explore the world of OX through their winter tasting menu, with five courses for £45 (or £70 with wine pairing) triumphs. 

What follows is a wonderful collection of dishes, all exemplifying the best attributes of this season of cold air, bare trees and hibernation. A single perfect scallop is accompanied by surprisingly mild liquid parsley, air-dried ham and a ribbon of beautiful beetroot. A plate of Finnebrogue venison carpaccio, topped with perfectly matched mushrooms and fermented kohlrabi is clean on the palate, yet rich with the earthy denseness of mushroom. The accompanying medium bodied Villa Wolf Pinot Noir is simply stunning.
Scallop, parsley, crapaudine beetroot and chanterelle
Abondance 2013, Domaine la Bastide 13% Languedoc
Finnebrogue venison, black garlic and fermented kohlrabi
Pinot Noir 2012, Villa Wolf 12.5% Pfalz
Wild halibut is paired with romanesco and soft curry, sharped with the herbal notes of bergamot. A piece of Chateaubriand is some of the best cooked meat I've ever enjoyed. While I am intrigued by the little crosnes, I find myself intensely disliking the bitter chicory leaf that is draped across the plate. I am offered a choice of red or white to accompany my beef and I choose the Pouilly Fuissé, which stands up well to the meaty flavours.
Wild halibut, curry, romanesco and bergamot
Condrieu 2011, Domaine Perret 13% Rhône
Chateaubriand, shallot, crosnes and chicory
Pouilly-Fuissé 2011, Manciat-Poncet 13.5% Burgundy
The rich burnt sugar of treacle apple and a delicious ice-cream flavoured with local fig leaf bely the apparent simplicity of my final course. It's a final hurrah as autumn departs, leaving ripe apples in storage for the winter months. Special mention goes to the accompanying dessert wine, a stellar Petit Manseng with enough syrup and sweetness to tackle the rich apples.
Apple, treacle and Ballywalter fig leaf
Pacherenc du Vic Bilh 2012, Les larms celestes, Chateau Boucassé 13%
Selection of macarons
On the riverbank, the Beacon of Hope sculpture (or Nuala with the Hula in local terms) has her back to me as I leave OX,  very well fed, and even better libated. Wine pairings are a great way of exploring a restaurant's wine list, but they can leave you full and foggy-headed. What I especially liked at OX what how my own unique preferences were listened to and incorporated into my tasting. 

The atmosphere at OX is decidedly unpretentious - some dishes arrive by waiting staff, while others are delivered by kitchen staff. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is warm and pleasant, happy to engage in conversation or explain something from the menu. As I leave, Alain presents me with a printed menu on simple brown card, listing the dishes and wine pairings that I had just enjoyed. A perfect gesture to encapsulate what OX does.

OX, 1 Oxford Street, Belfast BT1 3LA
Tel: +44 (0)28 9031 4121
URL: oxbelfast.com
Twitter: @oxbelfast
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Monday, January 26, 2015

[Event] TradFest Taste Trail, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

This year, as part of the internationally renowned TradFest, why not savour some world class cuisine as well as world class music with the TradFest Taste Trail. This gastronomic event will wind its way through Temple Bar, stopping at 10 food outlets offering a wide range of cuisine delights. 

Temple Bar offers all categories of food and hospitality from fast food to award-winning restaurants, gastropubs, bakeries, breweries and an outdoor food market. The area has an incredible diversity of cuisines ranging from Kathmandu to Ireland, from Indonesia to Italy. There are chefs who grow their own vegetables, publicans who make their own beer, coffee shops who bake their own cakes, Irish chefs who cook Asian food and Asian chefs who cook Irish food. 

The TradFest Taste Trail will take place on Saturday, January 31st and Sunday, February 1st, between 12pm - 5pm. Ticket books can be purchased from the Festival Box Office or participating restaurants for €22. Each book contains 10 tickets, with a face value of €2. These can then be exchanged for dishes at the restaurants. 

The inaugural Temple Bar Coddle Cook Off will also take place during the TradFest, with Temple Bar restaurants offering up their own unique take on the classic Dublin dish. The Cook Off will take place on Curved Street from 3pm - 5pm, with entries from Chameleon, The Boxty House, Elephant & Castle, Monty's of Kathmandu, La Caverna, The Larder, Oliver St John Gogarty's and The Morgan. Celebrity judges Rick O'Shea (2FM), Leslie Williams (The Examiner) and Gillian Nelis (The Sunday Business Post) will choose the winning dish and proceeds will be donated to Epilepsy Ireland.

For more information, visit www.templebartrad.com, or whet your appetite with the following dieshes from the participating restaurants.

1. Chameleon Restaurant
Indonesian pork belly in a steamed bun with Korean kimchi and caramel €4

2. Elephant & Castle
Basket of spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dressing and celery €4
Roasted red pepper hummus with pitta soldiers €2
Chocolate & pistachio ganache tart with whipped cream €4

3. F.X. Buckley 
2 oz sirloin steak with Bearnaise sauce €4

4. Gallagher's Boxty House
Boxty fries - thin strips of boxy pancakes, deep-fried and seasoned with Dilisk seaweed brittle €2
Boxty bread - toasted boxty loaf topped with St. Tolas goats cheese and Haven turf smoked salmon €2
Boxty dumplings - boxty dumplings cooks with wild Irish mushrooms in a Cashel Blue cheese sauce €2
Boxty pancake - slices of boxty pancake with corned beef and pickled cabbage €2
Boxty ice cream  - caramelized boxty loaf ice cream in a miniature cone €2

5. La Caverna Restaurant and Wine Bar
Minestrone soup - fresh traditional Italian vegetable soup €2
Italian risotto - chicken, mushroom, mixed papers and asparagus €2
Sweet Italian panna cotta - with fruit sauce €2

6. Monty's of Kathmandu
Tare ko Sabji - mild deep-fried mixed vegetables with chutney €2
Chicken mono with chutney - traditional Nepalese dumplings with chutney €4
Mango lassi - traditional Nepali yoghurt smoothie €2

7. The Morgan
Mini crispy pulled pork wraps served with chive yogurt, rocket and pickled carrots linguine €4
Mini Dublin Bay fish cakes with ceviche and mango dressing €4
(Add a glass of Irish pale ale to either dish for €6)

8. The Oliver St John Gogarty
3 Carlingford oysters served with Guinness brown bread €4
Bowl of fresh mussels, shallots, herbs, white wine and cream €4
Continental and Irish cheeseboard with fresh fruit and biscuits €4
Rustic apple tart served with Irish whiskey custard €4

9. The Port House Pintxo
Paella de Pollo Chorizo - traditional Spanish rice dish with chicken and chorizo €4
Churros con chocolate - Spanish doughnuts, coated in cinnamon sugar, served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce €2

10. The Shack Restaurant
Beef Ireland - stew of tender beef, cooked with bell peppers, onion, red wine and grain mustard, served with Irish potato cake €4
Apple crumble - homemade crumble served with custard and fresh cream €2
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

[Review] Marcel's, St Mary's Road, Dublin 4

Life has returned to normal in our house, probably like many houses throughout the country. All the sweets, chocolates and treats have been long since polished off and healthy (or at least healthier) eating is the order of the day. But even so, it's nice to eat out for Sunday lunch, especially with the promise of a brisk walk in the fresh air afterwards. 

Marcel's is located just off Upper Baggot Street, across from the Dylan Hotel. The bright orange awning gives a hint at the interior colour scheme which is dominated by bright bold orange leather chairs, neatly trimmed with dark piping. Carefully mismatched vintage nightshades, fresh starched linen, wooden floors and a backlit display of wine bottles all add up to create a sensation of modern chic. It's a room that is immediately comfortable and welcoming.

The food at Marcel's is French-inspired (as hinted at by the name), with Italian influences nibbling at the edges. The regularly changing menu is very appealing with plenty of choice on offer. We've visited twice in recent weeks for Sunday lunch and didn't find much repetition on the menu. Thin slices of house cured salmon were dotted with dollops of fresh and tangy lemon caper dressing and sour cream. His foie gras parfait was simply sublime with a perfectly translucent pink piece of poached rhubarb with sultanas and hazelnuts. 
House cured gravlax
Foie gras parfait with poached rhubarb
Salmon was beautifull pan fried with perfect flesh and a crispy, salted skin for crunchiness. Lemon and dill gnocchi was flavoursome, but came in the form of a little cake rather than the more accustomed fluffy pillows. Risotto was richly flavoured with thyme and surrounded by a ring of frothy Muscat pumpkin purée. An unusual, but pleasant dimension was added by the addition of a scoop of cool smoked marscapone. 
Pan seared salmon with lemon and dill gnocchi
Pumpkin and broad bean risotto
There's some confident, creative and bold cooking going on in the kitchen at Marcel's, providing a perfect match to the vibrant dining room. I found the dishes to be elegant, assured and yet still possess a certain je ne said quoi. The wine list at Marcel's doesn't disappoint either and our two chosen glasses of Southern Lights Marlboro Sauvigonon Blanc (€8) and Paddy Borthwick's Riesling (€9.50) were well received. 

Sunday lunch at Marcel's costs €20/€25 for 2/3 courses between 12pm-3pm, including a Sunday Roast option, and is stellar value for a venue of this quality. The good value extends to the Early Bird which runs between 5pm - 7pm Monday to Saturday. 

And the final reason that I feel confident in recommending Marcel's? It effortlessly earned the Mrs H seal of approval. And that my friends, doesn't come easily. 

Marcel's, 1 Saint Mary's Road, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 660 2367
Twitter: @MarcelsDublin
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