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, April 27, 2015

[Review] Samphire at the Garryvoe Hotel, Garryvoe, Co Cork

Over the last couple of years, we have developed a habit of booking ourselves into a hotel for Good Friday. It's usually a day off from work, so we can usually head to the hotel early and relax for day. Staying as a hotel resident means that we can bypass all the Good Friday palaver that grips the country and finally, it's a chance to relax before spending some quality time with the family. In fairness, it's an all round, win-win situation. 

This year, we were in Cork for a family wedding, so we chose Garryvoe Hotel as our destination. We made sure to book a front-facing sea view room, which turned out to be a good idea in the fresh and bright Spring weather. What wasn't such a good idea was leaving a bag of ice in the car boot for a few hours, but there was still enough left to chill our pre-dinner cocktail. (Yes, I am one of those people who is so particular about their alcohol that I bring my own).

Our overnight package included a 3 course dinner in Samphire restaurant, under the command of Chef Kevin O'Sullivan. A wild mushroom chowder with tarragon cream was deceptively simple but revealed some rich and meaty flavours. Pan seared Castletownbere scallops were served with corals still attached (I'm sure I've said before how much I love the coral of a scallop) along with sweet potato puree and samphire.
Castletownbere scallops with sweet potato and samphire
Wild mushroom chowder
The main courses continued to deliver more of the same big, strong flavours. Seared monkfish on the bone came with a generous portion of shellfish flavoured risotto, with fennel, orange and rocket salad. A tender piece of slow cooked beef short rib was accompanied by a riot of parmesan potato puree, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, wild mushroom fricassee and a Madeira reduction. But somehow it all worked.
Monkfish on the bone with shellfish risotto
Short-rib of beef with wild mushroom fricassee and asparagus
A selection of Irish cheese was just perfect, accompanied by a pressed fig and almond slice, while the house variation on the classic Tiramisu involved a mini shot of Irish coffee. Thankfully, a brisk walk outside in the cold night air under the bright moon helped kickstart our digestion before an early bedtime. 
Selection of Irish cheeses
Tiramisu with Irish coffee shot
Service throughout our dinner, and indeed the entire stay, was welcoming and refreshingly honest and local. Because it was the Easter weekend, the hotel was literally full of families taking advantage of the Easter break offers. A screening of a children's film in the evening kept the kids occupied, but in the morning, the dining room was packed with families having the usual breakfast breakdowns. But even in the face of all this bedlam, the servers kept their cool and dealt with it all with grace. They were a real credit to the hotel.

Garryvoe Hotel, Garryvoe, Co Cork
Tel: + 353 (0)21 464 6718
Twitter: @Garryvoehotel
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Monday, April 20, 2015

[Review] Taco Taco, Dame Court, Dublin 2

Bank holiday weekends are great in Dublin. A lot of people have left the city which means that it's easier to get tables in restaurants and easier to find taxis. Even Dublin's hottest, newest pop-up restaurant Taco Taco was largely empty on Easter Sunday, which is always good in a restaurant that doesn't take reservations. 

Taco Taco comes from the team behind San Lorenzo's, namely chef Temple Gardner and promoter Anthony Remedy. The incredible success of the San Lorenzo's #brunchofchampions convinced them that there was a need for a pop-up restaurant for the brunch crowd and hence Taco Taco was born. It's located on the ground and basement floors of the Odessa building on Dame Court. The ground floor isn't large, and the tables are relatively small. But that doesn't matter somehow. This is a restaurant for the younger people, who want an easy, casual meal, preferably accompanied by some killer cocktails and tunes. 

Maryland crab cakes (€11.95) were chunky patties of fresh crab meat, served simply with a rocket salad and sweet chili sauce. A retro-inspired pint of prawns was a real treat, inviting us to peel the shells away from the sweet, plump prawns (€11.95), while a little pot of sriracha mayo provided a touch of heat. A simple but great start to the meal.
Maryland crab cakes
Pint of prawns with sriracha mayo
All our group ended up ordering from the taco section of the menu, but there are plenty of options to be found such as super nachos or the epic sounding Kansas City truck stop burger. The taco selection ranges from €14 for a halloumi vegetarian option all the way to €23 for tuna sashimi tacos. I initially thought that the prices seemed a little steep, but decided to reserve judgement until later. Our small table rapidly piled up with plates as orders arrived from the kitchen, including five spice Chinese duck tacos (€16.95), shrimp popcorn tacos (€18.95) and Jamaican jerk chicken (€14.95).

Everything was pretty tasty, but for me, the portions were far too large. By the time I had eaten one jerked chicken taco, I simply had had enough. I'd personally rather pay per individual taco and create a selection based on what I fancy. 

Side portions of poutine fries (a Quebecois favourite of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds) were simply stellar. In the Taco Taco world, the poutine fries are crunchy pieces of scalloped potato topped with smokey bacon, black pepper sauce and mozzarella (€3.50). Top notch indulgence food. 
Jamaican jerk chicken taco
Five spice Chinese duck taco
Popcorn shrimp taco
Pineapple and chili salsa 
Poutine fries
The famous San Lorenzo's Nutella cheesecake is available on the Taco Taco menu (€7.95) for the die-hard fans. However, my eyes were firmly on the salt caramel popcorn option (€6.00). Now, I don't know which genius came up with the idea for this dish, but awards have been given for less. A combination of popcorn, lashings of salted caramel sauce and scoops of peanut butter ice-cream results in a dessert that is definitely not for children. Like the poutine fries, I found myself thinking of this dish long after leaving. 
San Lorenzo's Nutella chocolate cheesecake
Salt caramel popcorn with peanut butter icecream
Multiple rounds of margarita later (one of which managed to end up in my handbag!), we staggered out of Taco Taco. We were full and we were happy. Bizarrely, the tacos were not the star of the show for me, although I did particularly enjoy the popcorn shrimp variation. They were just too big and "too much of one thing". But I definitely will return for another look at the non-taco section of the menu, and most definitely for the poutine and popcorn dessert.

UPDATE: I've been informed by Anthony Remedy that the kitchen at Taco Taco is quite small, and they just can't handle the individual taco idea. So if you want to experience many different tacos, get in there as part of a group and order loads!

Taco Taco, 14 Dame Court, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)83 449 9584
URL: www.tacotacodublin.com
Twitter: @TacoTacoDublin

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

[Listing] Dublin Wine Fest 2015

On Wednesday night, I attended the launch of the Dublin Wine Fest in Ely IFSC. Organisers Oisín Davis and Aoife Carrigy both spoke passionately about their vision for this week long festival of wine and food, and left me feeling quite excited about the events and deals on offer. 

The concept is pretty simple. Dublin Wine Fest have teamed up with over 30 Dublin venues far and wide, to create special offers for attendees, running from April 20th to 25th. In addition to some great wine deals, each venue is also offering a "Dublin Wine Experience" to complement the wines on offer. It's different in each event location, but you can expect tapas, cheese, wine-based cocktails and many many more creative options. This addition of food and extra experiences really elevates this festival with good value and enticing offers. 
Stanley's of Andrew Street
In a clever move, which I'm sure will lead to several wine-crawls, the venues have been grouped into 4 neighbourhood hubs allowing attendees to easily move from one venue to another. 

To take part in the Dublin Wine Fest you will need to buy a €5 wristband, available from participating venues or entertainment.ie, which is valid for the entire week. You then simply visit your chosen venue(s) and avail of the special offers. As an added incentive, if you vote online for the Best Dublin Wine Experience, there is a cash prize for the winning venue and a range of lovely prizes for the voters. So make sure to show your appreciation for your favourite venues. 

I've been looking through the list of offers available, and I must admit that I'm pretty impressed by the selection available. Ely Wine Bars will be using their new Coravin system to offer wines by the glass from some pretty expensive bottles. I've got my eye on a 2007 Chablis Grand Cru (€13.25/glass) along with some others.  There's a tasting flight of three wine-based cocktails at Candlelight Cocktail bar in Dublin for €10 or a glass of Godello with salmon tartare tapas for just €4(!!) at Eastside Tavern. And that's just the tip of the  iceberg.

Further details are available at www.greatirishbeverages.com or Facebook.com/GreatIrishBeverages. Alternatively follow @IrishBeverages on Twitter and use hashtag #DublinWineFest to stay in touch with festival news and updates. 

Who knows, perhaps I might bump into some of you on the Wine Fest Trail!


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[Deal] Côte du bœuf with wine at Marcel's

I recently came across a special offer from Marcel's of Ballsbridge that I just have to share. Marcel's is a much-liked restaurant for me, and thankfully, it's not appeared on too many of the "Hot places you have to eat in before you're 50 and die in a bungee jumping while eating a Cornetto accident" type lists that seem to be the standard these days. 

So what's the deal? For the month of April, Marcel's are offering a côte du bœuf for two people with sides, sauces and a bottle of Masi Malbec for an astounding €50. When you consider that many restaurants charge in excess of €50 for a côte du bœuf on its own, the addition of a bottle of red wine makes this truly great value. 

We visited recently to try this for ourselves as (a) we love a good deal and (b) we like steak. Honestly, it was a no-brainer. We ordered two starters while waiting for our beef; a pressed pork belly and grilled mackerel with egg yolk. Both were light, delicate and beautifully presented. But then the beef arrived… perfectly medium rare as requested and served sliced along with the bone.
The côte du bœuf
This was accompanied by a selection of little pots with sauces (a truffled béarnaise and an exceptional red wine jus) and sides (super crispy chunky chips, kale and creamy mashed potatoes).
And the sides
The wine, a Masi Malbec Paso Doble, which normally retails around the €15 mark in shops, was a nice pairing to the beef, with dark cherries, good tannins and nice spice present. This deal isn't listed on the menus or website, but check with the server or host.

So, if you haven't made plans for the weekend, why not think of Marcel's? It's a thoroughly classy joint and in addition to this great deal, they also have excellent value Early Bird and Sunday lunch dinners, as well a private dining room upstairs. 

Marcel's, Mary's Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Tel: +353 (0)1 678 9529
Twitter: @MarcelsDublin

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

[Review] Huguenot, Carey's Lane, Cork

Family. Where would you be without them? Love them, hate them, or merely be indifferent to them, you're stuck with them. I recently returned home to Cork for the wedding of my first cousin and his beautiful new bride. It was a small but close affair, attended by family and friends. The younger adults at the wedding continued the celebrations into the small hours, and I found myself heavily paying the price on the following day. I might still be young in spirit, but the body is definitely beginning to creak a little. Irrespective, I want to wish Richard and Majo every happiness as they embark on their journey together. 

The next night, my siblings and I headed to a new(ish) French restaurant which I had been eager to visit. Huguenot's is all about French cuisine and is aptly located on Carey's Lane, in the middle of Cork's historic Huguenot quarter, just a few short steps off St Patrick's Street. I don't remember what business occupied the premise immediately prior to Huguenot, but I do remember that this lovely multi-storey space was home to Esau's many years ago. Now the ground floor is a cosy wine bar with a French tapas menu while the first floor and above host the bistro restaurant. Huguenot is the second venture from the partnership of chef Brendan Cashman and entrepreneur Richard O'Brien. (Their first venture is the lovely Italian restaurant Gallo & Galletti in Wilton). 

Our table split equally in half when selecting starters. I chose the classic dish of moules mariniere, or mussels cooked in a white wine sauce with shallots and herbs. Irish mussels are a superior specimen (especially when compared to the North Sea version) and these beauties were plump and meaty, nestled in their strong, dark shells (€10.95). The white wine sauce was intensely flavoured and every last drop was spooned from the bowl. A carapaccio of spiced beef from the legendary English Market butcher Tom Durcan, was topped with salad, cranberries and deliciously crispy pieces of sautéed potato. The spiced beef and potatoes were delicious, but the entire affair was just a bit too busy.
Carpaccio of Tom Durcan spiced beef with potato
Moules mariniere
My sisters' main courses of slow-cooked beef cheeks in a rich jus and beautiful pan-fried hake in a light cream sauce with peas and lardons were extremely well-received (both €18.95). My rib-eye steak come more medium to well done, rather than my requested medium rare, but it was a good piece of meat, well-seasoned and topped with a generous piece of intense garlic butter (€24.50). I was disappointed with the thick, chunky chips, much preferring instead to have skinny fries, in the vein of the classic "steak frites". I must admit that thick or chunky chips are a personal dislike of mine. Skinnier chips deliver a much satiating experience. Even though the portions were more than generous, we had ordered a side portion of puree potato deliciously flavoured with roast garlic and Compté cheese (€4.50). 

An easy-drinking bottle of Des Chezelles Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine (€29.00) and a 500ml carafe of pinot noir (€20.00) accompanied our meal. 
Slow cooked beef cheeks
Pan-fried hake with peas and lardons
Ribeye with garlic butter and chips

Family nights out always mean going the full hog, so we ordered two desserts to share. Both were French classics, a perfect creme brûlée, bizarrely served on top of a piece of wood for no discernible reason, and a richly sweet tarte tatin (both €7.00). We had considered ordering some glasses of sweet wine, but a full half-bottle of Sauternes (€39.50) proved to be better value.
Creme brûlée
Tarte tatin with ice-cream
Overall, Huguenot's a real addition to the Cork restaurant scene, which I feel is coming back to life.  Despite a few off notes, we overall thoroughly enjoyed our meal. The menu is packed full of French classics and French-inspired dishes, which make great use of local Irish ingredients (easy when you're located on the doorstep of the English Market). The atmosphere is casual, the menu is accessible and the prices are quite reasonable. Even better, there's a three course Early Bird menu available for the great price of €25. 

Merci beaucoup Huguenot.

Huguenot, 8 Carey's Lane, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 239 3505
URL: huguenotbistro.ie
Twitter: @HuguenotCork

Huguenot on Urbanspoon
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

[Review] Restaurant Geist, Copenhagen

A few weeks ago, we boarded a Ryanair flight and headed to Copenhagen for the weekend. Last year was exceptionally gruelling from a work perspective and part of my tactics for improved mental health this year involve having lots of planned activities. Therefore, when Ryanair announced their new route from Dublin to Copenhagen, I booked a weekend lickety split. We first visited Copenhagen over 8 years ago as relatively poor people. This time around, we were bringing fatter wallets and bigger appetites.

Now, when food lovers think of Copenhagen, they immediately think Noma. But one of the benefits of having the World's No 1 restaurant in town is that it has nurtured an ecosystem of high-quality restaurants, all working together for the gastronomic benefit of Copenhagen and Nordic cuisine. We booked two meals, Friday night at Restaurant Geist and Saturday lunch at Relae. Everything else, we would take as it comes.

Restaurant Geist comes from chef Bo Bech and is a fun, sleek venue with a large open kitchen and bar-stool seating along the kitchen and windows. We took a seat facing onto the Kongens Nytorv square and ordered cocktails to get started. At 100 DKK per cocktail, or just over €13, they were somewhat expensive (like everything else in Copenhagen) but I really enjoyed my mezcal orange martini with its petrol-like sheen while his Danish sour (nay rum, lime and cherry) was equally well constructed.

Tartare of Norway lobster with yuzu and hibiscus
The menu at Geist comes printed on a small folded card. There is no traditional menu layout but the dishes get progressively meatier and richer as you read down. Our server told us that the portions likewise get larger, while prices ranged from 65 DKK to 195 DKK, or approximately €9 to €26. We started with a tartare of Norway lobster with yuzu and hibiscus (130DKK) and a dish of raw beef and lumpfish roe with piment d'espelette (135 DKK). In a bizarre presentation, the lobster flesh had been flattened out and spread across the plate, served with a blob of the sharp yet sweet sauce. My raw beef was likewise spread out on a plate, with slight saltiness coming from the lumpfish roe and heat from the Basque chili. While everything was incredibly fresh and sweet, I found myself longing for the silky binding of a raw egg to pull it all together.
Raw beef and lumpfish roe with piment d'espelette
Our "main" courses followed from the kitchen, in the order we had requested. Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere featured a magnificent two pieces of this royal fish with spectacular and richly intense ravioli fanned on top (195 DKK). This stunning dish was served along with a plate of black kale and wild garlic arranged around a fried egg (85 DKK). Kale may be having a hipster fashion moment right now, but there's no doubt that it's an exceptional vegetable when cooked with care. In my opinion it's a meaty vegetable, and worked well as a contrast to the light turbot. Finally, a bowl of crispy artichokes flakes concealed soft chunks of suckling pig, flavoured with black truffle (185 DKK). Artichokes are amongst my favourite vegetables and I loved the contrast of the crunchy flakes against the juicy, fatty pork.
Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere
Black kale with fried egg and wild garlic
Crispy artichokes with suckling pig and black truffle
The dessert section of the Geist menu proved a challenge when selecting our final plates. Their "Air in Air in Air Tiramisu" is mentioned time and time again on blogs and reviews. However, we went with our hearts. For himself, a plate of blue Stilton and carmelised chocolate (95 DKK) came as a pile of textures with an incredible blend of salt and sweet. I simply wouldn't know how to start recreating this one at home, but I really do want to try. My dessert of salted wasabi toffee cream was another favourite with Geist diners (85 DKK). It took the form of a wasabi-flavoured meringue piece atop a swirl of delicious toffee sauce. Sorry for the lack of a picture, it just didn't come out well due to the low-lighting of the restaurant.
Blue Stilton and carmelised chocolate
Dinner was accompanied by a stunning Gruner Veltliner Strassertal from Martin & Anna Arndorfer (440 DKK).

Ultimately, I had fun at Geist even though I did find it somewhat inconsistent. Despite the high quality of the ingredients in our first two dishes, they didn't really shine. But the main courses and desserts were of a very different standard, with bold flavours and eccentric presentations. The restaurant was buzzing on the Friday night we visited, with queues of people waiting to get in as we left. If this is what modern, fun Nordic cuisine looks and tastes like, then sign me up for more.

Restaurant Geist, Kongens Nytorv 8, DK-1050 Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel: +45 3313 3713
URL: restaurantgeist.dk
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