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!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

[Review] Hartwood, Tulum, Mexico

I've fallen in love with Mexico. Beautiful white soft beaches, mysterious Mayan ruins and azure warm seas. What's not to love? Well, if you're staying in an all-inclusive resort, probably the food.

We spent 10 days recently south of Cancun on a blissful holiday. Our first stay was at the Bahia Principe Sian Ka'an, which is the adults only, luxury section of a sprawling resort. It was set amidst the jungle, with easy access to a glorious beach and it was wonderful. We then spent a few days at the lively Hard Rock Cancun, where we were treated like royalty. In both cases, I cannot complain in any way about the quantity or quality of the food we ate. But in both cases, the resort restaurants were out of touch with modern dining and overwhelmingly felt like bland American suburbia. I suppose that's hardly surprising given that American tourists are probably the single largest tourist segment in Mexico. But I was personally disappointed that the food wasn't more modern and more importantly, reflective of Mexico itself. Genuinely, I could have been in any country in the world if all I had to judge on was the food. 

One night however, we did leave the seclusion of our resort bubble, and we took a taxi down the road to the town of Tulum, to the internationally acclaimed Hartwood restaurant. And there, next to the sea, under the night sky, we finally got to see something real, something unique and something a little bit special.
Stitch & Bear - Hartwood - Dining outdoors
Dining outdoors at Hartwood


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

[Review] Craft, Harold's Cross, Dublin 6W

Saturday lunchtime found us driving over towards Harold's Cross so as to allow me to pick up my mobile phone which I had "forgotten" in a pub on Friday night. In other words, I might have been a bit oiled, and making sure that I had my mobile phone with me when leaving wasn't top of the list of priorities. (BTW, if you haven't checked out the great cocktails in MVP, then you really should. Just don't forget your phone!)

The upside of this unplanned trip was that I finally had an easy opportunity to visit Craft bistro for lunch. Ever increasing rent costs mean that only venues with big backing are opening in the city centre, with other smaller ventures being pushed outwards where rents are cheaper. Thankfully, this is to be benefit of many neighbourhoods, giving the opportunity for some seriously good dining without the trek into town. Think Forest & Marcy on Leeson Street, or newly starred Heron & Grey in Blackrock. In the case of Craft, chef Phil Yeung, formerly of Bang Cafe and Town Bar & Grill is the man with the plan. 
Stitch & Bear - Craft - Torched mackerel
Torched mackerel

Friday, November 11, 2016

[Review] Rosa Madre, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Italian food is one of those things that pleases all, which can delight immensely, yet rarely delights in its common Irish form. An Italian restaurant is usually the safe, crowd-pleaser option, where even people who like "shteak and veg" will be satisfied. We have a huge amount of Italian restaurants in Dublin and in Ireland, but only a handful standout as offering something a bit more special. Especially when it comes to restaurants in the depths of Temple Bar, the most tourist-friendly spot in the country. 

Temple Bar isn't the immediate location that springs to mind when you're looking for good food. However, locals know that some gems do lurk in amidst all the cobblestones and diddle-eye music.  When you think of Italian food in Temple Bar, you would not be blamed for thinking of takeaway pizza slices. But bright lights can shine in the dimmest of corners, and Rosa Made on Crow Street is one such spot.  
Stitch & Bear - Rosa Madre - Irish oysters
Half a dozen Irish oysters


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

[Review] Lt. Cornelis, Amsterdam

I know my way around Amsterdam quite well at this stage, but my curiousity around Dutch food has rarely ventured further afield than stroopwafel, oliebollen and vlaamse frites (aka caramel wafer biscuits, doughnuts and Dutch fries). I've tried rookworst (sausage) and stamppot (stew) and of course, I've eaten loads of aged Dutch Gouda. But to be honest, my view on Dutch cuisine has been akin to that of traditional Irish food. In other words, comforting, homely and not very exciting. 

However, I think I've finally found a restaurant that serves a truly modern take on Dutch cuisine. And to make things even better, it's located right in the middle of town, in a beautiful centuries-old  typical Dutch building. Replicas of classic Dutch paintings adorn the walls, but look closely as some paintings are actually moving, giving you a very bizarre sensation that someone is watching. Blue and white classic Dutch Delft plates add brightness, yet maintain the Dutch theme.
Stitch & Bear - Lt Cornelis - Interior
Interior view at Lt. Cornelis

Sunday, October 23, 2016

[Wine] 4 German rieslings to try

Riesling is one of my absolute favourite wines. Wines made from this incredibly aromatic grape can run the full gamut of taste from steely and flinty, passing through dry fruit crispness and ending up at luscious honeyed sweetness. You'll even get an occasional bang of petrol/diesel which is actually incredibly addictive. It's also a fantastic wine to pair with food, particularly spicy or Asian dishes. 

But how do you navigate Riesling and find the wine that you want, when there is such a choice and  variety of styles to choose from? The ever reliable Germans have produced a detailed and structure system for labelling and grading their Rieslings, and while it's a lot to remember, it's worth making a few mental notes for the next time you're facing a wall of Rieslings. Obviously riesling is grown outside of Germany, with special mention for Alsace in France and Clare Valley in Australia, but to be honest, it's the Germans who have really embraced it.
Stitch and Bear - German rieslings to try


Sunday, October 16, 2016

[Review] Forest & Marcy, Leeson Street Upper, Dublin 4

Dining without reservations has finally made it out of the city centre and into suburbia - well kind of, if you consider Upper Leeson Street to be the edge of the suburbs. John and Sandy Wyer, the force behind Forest Avenue have opened Forest & Marcy in the space formerly occupied by Rigby's and to which the adjective bijou can be truly applied.

Described as a "small neighbourhood wine room and kitchen", Forest & Marcy impresses from start to finish. We visit on a Sunday evening, fully expecting to have to wait to secure a space. Thankfully, the dining gods were on our side, and we took two places at the long dining bar. The theme is here the new normal of small plates of food, made by chef Ciaran Sweeney, using modern techniques combined with the best seasonal ingredients.
Stitch & Bear - Forest & Marcy - Interior
Interior at Forest & Marcy


Sunday, October 9, 2016

[Competition] Win a pair of tickets to JN Wine Portfolio Tasting

I recently put together a listing of all upcoming wine events, featuring many "Meet the Makers" type tastings, which are a great way to try out lots of new wines and meet the people that make them. I was delighted to be contacted by one of the featured wine merchants, JN Wine, who generously offered me some tickets to give away to two of my readers!

JN Wine will hold their annual Portfolio tasting in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin on November 11th, and tickets cost €20. (For wine lovers in Northern Ireland, they will also hold a tasting on Friday November 12th in Andrews Gallery at the Titanic Building). However, two lucky readers will each receive a pair of tickets to the Dublin tasting where they can taste and sample their way around a room of fantastic wines. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

[Events] Irish Cocktail Festival 2016

The brainchild of master bartender Oisin Davis, the Dublin Cocktail Festival first appeared several years ago, and has now gone nationwide in 2016 as the Irish Cocktail Fest. This festival has simply gone from strength to strength and represents a great way to taste some of the very best Irish cocktails and spirits.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

[Events] 2016 wine tastings

Here's a collection of the wine tastings and wine events of which I am aware. If there are events missing, please feel free to get in touch with me and share the details.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

[Review] Two new Thai hotspots in Amsterdam

I've been out and about in Amsterdam recently, trying to get to some of the more newly opened restuarants. To help me keep track of all the latest openings, I like to refer to two great Dutch blogs Your Little Black Book and BySam. Both blogs are written mainly in Dutch, but it's easy enough to find your way around on both. 

I visited two new Thai restaurants lately, both of which were fun and modern. In the middle of town, you will find Adam & Siam on Rokin, while the more casual Soi74 Thai Food Cafe in de Pijp is a little bit more out of the city centre.
Stitch & Bear - Adam & Siam - Interior
Interior at Adam & Siam


Sunday, September 11, 2016

[Review] Charlotte Quay, Dublin 4

The restaurant space on the ground floor of the Millennium Tower on Charlotte Quay has seen several restaurants come and go. Firstly Ocean Bar & Restaurant and more recently, the delightful Mourne Seafood. It's a location with a gorgeous setting, overlooking Grand Canal Dock, but it has no street frontage. And that's surely a main contributor to the previous closures. After all, most restaurants rely on footfall and passing trade. 

So, can Marc and Conor Bereen buck the trend with their new Charlotte Quay restaurant? They do know what Dublin likes to eat, given the strong success of their other popular locations Coppinger Row and the South William. Under Conor and Marc, Charlotte Quay has received a significant overhaul. Gone is the light and bright interior of Mourne Seafood, replaced by marble countertops, chic fittings and moodier, darker lighting. There's a smart little cocktail bar where you can sip a drink while waiting, but where we struggled to hear each other due to the high ambient noise levels. My Flo and basy gin-based cocktail (€12) was light, tinged with elderflower and bright basil, but just a touch cloyingly sweet. 
Stitch & Bear - Charlotte Quay - Flo and basy cocktail
Flo and basy cocktail


Sunday, September 4, 2016

[Blogging] 8 years of blogging lessons

I only realised recently that I've been blogging as Stitch & Bear for over 8 years. That means it's been 8 years since I looked at the Blogger homepage and wondered "What will I call my blog?" Once I got over that major hurdle, then I was left with the question "What will I write about?"

To be very honest, I wrote a lot of crap at the start. Unlike many bloggers today, I didn't start blogging with a game plan in mind. I just started writing. A sense of purpose and clarity for Stitch & Bear didn't emerge for quite a while. I think it was 2011 when I finally said "Enough crap, Stitch & Bear is going to be about food only!"

Since then, I've gained weight, which is a natural consequence of being a voracious eater who wants to taste everything. I've also met many wonderful people who are involved in the production and service of food and drink. I've written approximately one blog post per week and I've learned a few things along the way...
Stitch & Bear - Blogging lessons I've learned


Thursday, September 1, 2016

[Competition] Win a pair of tickets to the BBC Good Food Show in Belfast

The BBC Good Food Show is making its first appearance in Northern Ireland this September, and to celebrate this first the promoters have given Stitch & Bear a free pair of tickets to give away to a lucky reader.

The BBC Good Food Show
Some of Britain's most popular chefs, including handsome baker Paul Hollywood, James Martin, Emmett McCourt and the lovable Hairy Bikers, will share recipes and tips in the 1800 seater Supertheatre. In addition, over 100 culinary exhibitors will be in attendance,, giving visitors the chance to shop for local produces, enjoy taste testing and learn even more tips and tricks from the exhibitors. 

Standard tickets start from £18.50 and are available online. VIP packages with prime seating at the Supertheatre and VIP lounge access plus other benefits are also available 

The show runs from Friday October 14th to Sunday October 16th, at the Belfast Waterfront, with doors open 9am - 6pm daily.

The competition is now closed, and I am delighted to announce that Gemma Thompson of Belfast is the lucky winner. Congratulations Gemma, your tickets will be in the post shortly.

How to win?
I'm keeping this simple. You can enter by any one of the following methods:

(1) Liking and commenting on the Stitch & Bear Facebook page
(2) Emailing me with the subject BBC Good Food Show
(3) Following and tweeting me on Twitter with reference to the competition

The fine print
The competition will close on Sunday, September 11th. The winner will be contacted for their postal address details, and tickets will be posted to them by the promoters. Please note that the tickets are valid for Friday or Sunday only.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

[Review] Fishbone, Clontarf, Dublin 3

It's always nice to have a seafood restaurant actually located near, you know, the sea! Talk about a novel concept but seafood always seems nicer when it's eaten within a hop, skip and jump of the sea. New restaurant Fishbone is located on Dublin's lengthy, sea-hugging Clontarf Road, just opposite the Dollymount Wooden Bridge. While sitting inside, something immediately reminded me of the long-established Bay restaurant, so I wasn't at all surprised to learn that Fishbone comes from the same proprietors.

Fishbone is set back a little bit from the road, with a bright yellow exterior that immediately catches the eye. There's outdoor seating for those lovely sunny days while inside, it's bright and light, with a lovely modern atmosphere, tempered with a slight Moroccan feel. The chalkboard menu is wonderfully attractive, and packed full of daily specials and tempting dishes. As you look out the front window, another chalkboard menu entices you with the list of house cocktails.
Stitch & Bear - Fishbone - Blackboard menu
The blackboard menu at Fishbone


Saturday, August 6, 2016

[Review] Amuse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2

Exciting food and fine dining are not often common bedfellows. Well, not as often as I'd like anyway. During our recent holiday on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, we dined in two separate one star Michelin restaurants, and came away feeling decidedly "bleh" after one and "meh" after the other. In fact, one of the meals was the singularly most sexist experience I've ever had. I never thought I'd describe a meal in a Michelin restaurant as "sexist", but there you go. You live, you learn.

Which is why I'm glad that a recent visit to Amuse restaurant on Dawson Street showed that the creativity of chef Conor Dempsey has abated not one jot. The awarding of Michelin stars in Ireland has long been a source of great puzzlement; indeed it took several years for the neighbouring Greenhouse restaurant to secure its star. Based on my experiences, I feel that the food at Amuse is at the required standard, but who knows if the Michelin judges agree with me.

Amuse is located at the southern end of Dawson Street and often flies unnoticed, not helped currently by the ongoing Luas works. The dining room is small, but the tables are set well apart. I personally love the lampshades, which match in style the plates and glasses used.  Conor's cooking is described as Franco-Asian, which is a hint as to the types of ingredients he likes to use.

We started with an aperitif of lovely sparkling rose, made with Pinot Noir grapes. Shortly, a selection of various seaweed and rice crisps, with puffed rice, goats cheese and a delicious mussel arrived. These were accompanied by a stunning little bowl of gently sweet coconut and pea soup, with salty pops of trout caviar lurking within. Our final amuse consisted of an intense basil puree with anchovy and warming horseradish.
Amuse bouche of various crisps and toppings

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

[Wine] Three wines from Curious Wines

Curious Wines is a Cork-based, online wine retailer, with physical stores in both Cork and Naas. Brothers Michael and Matt Kane are the duo behind the name, and I have been a customer for several years now. Last year, I purchased the wine for my sister's wedding from them, mainly due to their straightforward manner, bulk discount and promise to take back any unopened wine. 

I love calling into either of their stores. The wide open space, with stacks and stacks of wine bottles is the adult version of being a kid in a sweet shop. I was home recently and I called into the shop on the Tramore Road to pick up a mixed case of wine. I always end up with a box that's about 50% tried and trusted favourites with the remainder being some new bottles. I had seen via Twitter that a whole heap of new Rhone wines had just arrived in shop, so several bottles of those went into my cart.
Stitch and Bear - Curious Wines - July favourites
Three recent favourites from Curious Wines
So after some tasting and testing, here my three picks from the recent shop. All of these three wines were new to me and this was my first tasting. At some stage, I'll also do a quick post on my perennial favourites from Curious Wines. 

Johnny Q Chardonnay Viognier 2013
South Australia. Normally €14.99, reduced to €11.99 (at time of writing)

Winemaker Johnny Quarisa has done something very nice here with this Chardonnay Viognier blend. the warm climate Chardonnay (86%) has melon and peach flavours, while the addition of Viognier (14%) adds some floral notes such as honeysuckle and apricot. A portion of the wine spends some time in oak after blending which adds a little backbone. I utterly enjoyed this and think it's great value for this slightly bonkers wine.

Sommos Gewurztraminer 2015
Somontano, Spain. €17.49

There were two things I didn't know before drinking this wine. Firstly, that Gewurztraminer was even grown in Spain, and secondly, that Somontano, a small area in Aragon, is the top Gewurztraminer region. (I've also learned that typing Gewurztraminer repeatedly is a challenge to brain-finger coordination). I'll tell you one thing, my geographic knowledge of wine-producing countries has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years. 

Anyway, I had this wine to accompany an Indian takeaway (from the excellent Rasoi in case you want to know), and it was such an excellent choice. Beautifully aromatic, as you'd expect from Gewurz, it's also bright and lively with a long finish. 

Lavau Vacqueryas 2013
Rhone, France. €23.00

This was one of the new Rhone wines which found its way into my basket, along with several of its siblings. I've come to develop a strong liking for Rhone reds, and this didn't disappoint. First off, it's a GSM blend (50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre) with a touch of aging in oak. This wine is vibrant and beautifully dark in the glass with all the usual Rhone notes of dark berries, a touch of violet and a slight minty freshness to round it all out. Tannins are fine and very approachable.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

[Review] Miyazaki, Evergreen Street, Cork

Tanabata is the Japanese festival of the lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are separated by the Milky Way, and can only meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. And this year, there was a very special celebration of Tanabata held as part of the 2016 Clonmel Junction Festival. Cork-based chef Takashi Miyazaki would cook a celebratory dinner deep underground in Mitchelstown Cave, limited to just 28 diners. Tickets cost a relatively steep €95 each, with no alcohol to be served (for obvious safety reasons), but even so I jumped at the opportunity to dine in a cave. 

And what a beautiful, serene and stunning night it turned out to be. We arrived at the caves in bright, warm sunshine, only to descend down steep, treacherous steps to the caverns below. The temperature in the main cave remains a steady 12C all year round, which was quite a contrast to outside. Jackets and even blankets were called into service by many diners. We were seated at a long table, generously adorned with candles, potted ferns and beautiful Japanese illustrations. It was utterly beautiful and romantic.

Up above our heads, on a higher platform, Takashi and his team worked to prepare each course, using very limited cooking facilities (as a result of not wishing to damage the cave's internal atmosphere). We started with a glass of umesnu, or plum wine, followed by a variety of beautiful dishes featuring Takaszhi's skilful adept cooking. 
Stitch and Bear - Miyazaki - Tanabata night
The beautiful setting in Mitchelstown Cave

Sunday, July 3, 2016

[Review] Gaillot et Gray, Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8

Gaillot et Gray has opened in a former bookie's premises on Lower Clanbrassil Street, just a stones throw away from the hot newcomer restaurant Bastible, and next door to the craft beer pub 57 The Headline. Slowly, bit by bit, this area of Dublin is getting gussied up. In my opinion,t he City Council could also greatly help matters by installing some proper pedestrian traffic lights at the stupidly designed Leonard's Corner. 

This French pizzeria and bakery is the next evolution from the retro Citroen van in which husband and wife team Gilles Gaillot and Emma Gray started out. (It's also very handy that their surnames blend together rather well.) The interior is open and sparse, painted in the shade that Tom Doorley has recently christened "Hipster Slate". I like that description very much. It somehow captures the grim earnest determination that oft accompanies such venues. 

There's a big communal table, a scattering of smaller tables, barstools at shallow window shelves and an outdoor terrace. The room is really dominated by the kitchen space, at the heart of which sits the brick, wood-fired pizza oven that is used to churn out the Emmental-based pizzas. No mozzarella here. The kitchen also functions as a working bakery turning out brioche, loaves and pastries, and I spotted a stack of proofing baskets tucked neatly away for the next bake. 
The kitchen at Gaillot et Gray
The kitchen at Gaillot et Gray


Saturday, July 2, 2016

[Wine] July BBQ wines

It's July now, and we continue to BBQ at every opportunity. At a recent BBQ, I opened the following bottles of wine for Mr and Mrs H, to accompany our feast of cowboy steak, lamb and chicken skewers, along with various salads. The intention was to have both light and rich reds, along with a nice refreshing white. 

Yalumba Paradox Shiraz 2012
Marks & Spencer, reduced to clear approx €30 (I can't find the receipt)

This was my "rich" red and it didn't disappoint in any way. I've been steadily more and more impressed by the higher end reds produced by Yalumba. From the Barossa Valley, this wine is inky and velvety smooth. It has deliciously appealing spicy, peppery notes along with delicate dark fruit (think cherries), violets and fine tannins. I like to think of it as the elegant cousin of the more typical Barossa big reds.

Domaine des Corbillieres Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2014
The Corkscrew Warehouse €13.56

This wine hails from a small estate in Oisly, in the Touraine region of the famous Loire Valley. The Barbou family have the distinction of being the first to plant the Sauvignon grape in the region, and it took rather well to the ground. Although not officially organic, the wines are made with natural yeasts and this Sauvignon Blanc is a great crisp example. Lemon in colour, it's herbaceous with gooseberries  and pears. A fantastic summer wine. 

Quinta do Cardo Vinho Tinto 2014
The Corkscrew €15 (cannot find receipt)

I'm slowly becoming a big fan of Portuguese reds and this simple Vinho Tinto is a great introduction. I love the beautiful label but more importantly the contents are organic. It's made from a blend of three traditional grapes, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Whereas the Yalumba was dark and inky, this wine is light in texture and colour, showing as ruby in the glass. It has nice acidity, with dark fruit and a slight balsamic spiciness. A great bottle to have on your shelves. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

[Events] Hooked by Aldi in support of Foodcloud

Over the last few years, Aldi Ireland have established themselves as a regular attendee at Taste of Dublin, which they cleverly use to showcase their range of Irish ingredients. Two years ago I dined on a steak feast inside a wooden hut, while last year's meal was enjoyed in a space decorated by Peter Kelly, better known as Weddings by Franc.

This year, the theme was Irish seafood, hence the moniker Hooked by Aldi, and the venue was a fun beach-style hut in bright blue and white. But the real innovation this year came in the form of support for Foodcloud. Established by Iseult and Aoibheann, Foodcloud is a social enterprise that connects businesses (like Aldi) who have surplus food to local charities. In other words, rather than throwing out unwanted or unsold food, Foodcloud ensures that it does not go to waste, but is used instead to feed people who need it.

I genuinely cannot stand food waste, and I feel terrible when I have to bin uneaten lettuce, veggies or meat from our fridge. Not only do I feel bad at the thought of throwing out food, and by default, all the effort that went into growing it, but I also hate the idea of literally chucking money in the bin. I suppose that I'm finally starting to take after my mother in earnest. (I'll be stockpiling jamjars soon). So it's a no brainer that I think Foodcloud is an excellent initiative and one that's well worth supporting.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

[Review] EATily Pop-up, Parliament Street, Dublin 2

What does an award-winning chef do when faced with the challenge of developing a new restaurant bang in the middle of Dublin city centre? If you're Oliver Dunne, former holder of a Michelin star at Bon Appetit, you launch a very time-limited pop-up while thinking about the more permanent presence.

EATily, located at the former Fiorentina premises on the corner of Dame Street and Parliament Street, is the result of a collaboration between Dunne and chef Aaron Carroll, formerly of Casadelmar in Corsica and Dunne's own Bon Appetit. Dunne  has long been a proponent of Italian food, and one of the finest meals I've ever enjoyed was his celebration of La Pergola in 2013. With a name that's confusingly close to New York's "Eataly", the concept at EATily is simple. It's a fixed price menu for three courses, with cichetti (little bites), tea/coffee with petits fours and a bottle of house wine. Wine upgrades are available at an additional cost.
Pre-dinner Negroni cocktail at EATily
We enjoyed a brief catch-up with Graham Dunne, Oliver's brother and more than capable front-of-house-man, as we relaxed with two fine Negronis, from a short selection of Italian-inspired cocktails. The selection of cichetti (an Italian phrase for small plates or bites, originating from Venice) were a welcome warm-up. Crisp grissini with ricotta and pesto, glazed roast Chantenay carrots, hummus and finally olives. We decided to go with the bottle of Sicilian house white wine, which turned out to be a very enjoyable dry, minerally wine.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

[Review] New cocktail menu at MVP

The team at MVP, possibly Dublin's most original and modest cocktail bar, have developed a new menu for the summer months. This new menu lists some tempting new drinks, as well as retaining some MVP classics. In case you didn't know, MVP is home to Anna Walsh, the Irish winner of the World Class Cocktail Competition in 2015, so trust me, this bar is pretty damned good at making cocktails. 

Out of the drinks we tried, two stood out for me. One was the Heléna, a mix of Olmeca Altos tequila, apple kimchi and violet. Apple kimchi sounds quite daring, but the effect is elegant. Served in a salt-rimmed, vintage style glass, the combination of slightly sour and spicy, shrub-but-not-quite-a-shrub, along with a rich mouthfeel and deep colour really impressed me. The second winner was the Poitín Colada, made with coconut-washed Bán Poitín. This is a fun, but grown up Irish take on the classic pina colada, but it's so much more refined with the addition of clarified pineapple juice and PX sherry.
The Heléna


Saturday, June 11, 2016

[Wine] June BBQ wines

If you've been following me on my social media channels, you'll know that we've been doing a lot of BBQ'ing in the recent good weather. Having some good wine to drink alongside your freshly cooked food is obviously very important, so here are my recent top 3 wines. Cheers!

Trentenare IGP Paestum Fiano 2015
Purchased on holidays Italy, for approx €15

Fiano is a white grape variety grown widely in Southern Italy, and on our recent holiday on the Amalfi Coast, I enjoyed some very fine bottles of Fiano. From Cilento in the Campania region, Azienda Agricola San  Salvatore is a combined producer of wine and olive oil as well as a buffalo farm. Perhaps that explains the slogan on the bottle, "I've seen a buffalo through the grapevines and I've drank wine. I've seen a buffalo and it has seen me". This wine is well structured, with good body, yet it retains a lot of freshness, and the typical minerality of the region. A very lovely summer wine.

Terre da Vino Essenze Barolo 2009
Purchased in Marks & Spencer, reduced to clear, around €30

This wine caught my eye on a recent browsing of the wine shelves in Marks & Spencer, who are currently clearing out some of their top end reds. I don't remember the exact prices, but it had been reduced from over €30 to under. From the start to the very last drop, I thoroughly enjoyed this 100% Nebbiolo Barolo. It displayed as ruby with garnet tinge in the glass, with delicate notes of violets and vanilla, balanced with leather and spicy, dark fruits. It felt a little light in the mouth, making me think that there isn't much bottle life left. 

Cazas Novas Vinho Verde 2015
The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin €14.95

Typically fresh and bright, this vinho verde comes from a small holding, and displays less effervesence than the vinho verdes you may be used to from holidays in Portugal. Made from local grapes Avesso and Loureiro, it's lovely, fresh and crisp, with citrus and pear-like fruit.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

[Review] Heron & Grey, Blackrock, Co Dublin

Blackrock Market is not exactly the kind of place where you'd normally expect to find a fine dining restaurant, but I suppose that this modern world is all about inverting the norms.  Plus I'd imagine that the rent is considerably cheaper than in the middle of town. Heron and Grey, named after owners Andrew Heron and chef Damien Grey, has taken over the premises of the former Canteen, and following a brief refit early in the year, it's now open under its own vision. 

It's a small dining room, the kind that estate agents would term bijou, with the open kitchen located at the rear. Every inch of storage space is astutely used and absolutely nothing is hidden from sight. In order to keep the kitchen running smoothly, diners are synced together so that plates can be prepared at the same time. Waves of plates are spread out on the counters and dishes are assembled with care. Watching Damien and co as the food is plated makes me realise how much prep work is undertaken at Heron & Grey in order to ensure a smooth, continuous service. 

We dined first for lunch (three courses for €26) and following that we were more than sufficiently intrigued to return for dinner (five courses for €48). The ingredients used are always fresh and completely seasonal, with the menu changing every two weeks. I'm told that dishes are never repeated which means that every meal at Heron & Grey will be unique

We started with a wonderful plate of butternut squash flavoured with vanilla and accompanied by blobs of Pedro Ximenez vinegar. Textures and contrasts abounded on the plate. Next was a single plump raviolo of ox and octopus, which had an intriguing texture, dressed with crisp reindeer moss and juicy samphire. 
Butternut squash


Monday, May 30, 2016

[Travel] A quick weekend in Paris

Can you believe that until recently, I had never been to Paris? I had passed through Charles de Gaulle Airport several times, moving between one flight and the next, but I had never been in the city centre itself. So I must admit that I was quite excited when we booked a short weekend in Paris in March. 

As I was working in Amsterdam, I travelled via Thalys (high speed train) to Paris and it was a comfortable relaxing experience. I arrived at the Gare du Nord station, where I then caught a metro to our hotel on the Place de la République. The tall statue of Marianne (the personification of the French republican) at the centre of the square was still covered in tributes to the victims of the November 2015 Paris shootings and the grey, bleak wintery weather suited it well. 
Metro entrance near Place de la République


Saturday, May 14, 2016

[Review] Pickle Eating House and Bar, Camden Street, Dublin 2

Sometimes a new restaurant opens which challenges your perception of a certain cuisine, and highlights it in a way you've never experienced before. Indian food has been on an upward trend in Ireland, thanks to excellent cooking from restaurants such as the now-closed Jaipur, Kinara and Ananda. Sunil Ghai was the acclaimed chef behind the popular fine-dining Ananda and, along with Benny Jacob, he's opened the arguably best Indian restaurant in Dublin to date. 

Pickle, at the southern end of Camden Street, has a wonderful interior with beautiful tiled floor, solid wooden tables and a patchwork of bright Bollywood posters on the walls. It's not formal, but the fine quality of the fittings doesn't make it overly casual. The menu is mouthwatering with a wide selection, and it took a few visits before I felt that I had sampled enough dishes. What's clear here is that the food is undeniably exquisite, rich with flavours and spice. Whether it's a tandoor dish or a curry, every dish is far more than the sum of its parts and the best that it can be.

Highlights include the tawa machhi, or crispy pan-fried sea-bass coated in semolina, topped with crab chutney and a carrot and cauliflower pickle along with crunchy potato chips (€14). I adore tandoor lamb chops and the version at Pickle is sublime with juicy meat fading into charcoal bone, along with dashes of a mind-boggling but delicious strawberry green chilly chutney (€13). 


Saturday, April 16, 2016

[Opinion] My experience with WSET Level 2 Wine and Spirits

At the start of 2015 I had had been toying with the idea of taking formal wine classes for a while and had indeed already completed several casual wine tasting courses. I finally decided to bite the bullet and enrol for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Certificate in Wines and Spirits. There is a foundation Level 1, but it's entirely possible to go straight in at Level 2 if you already have a reasonably good knowledge of wine. 
There are several accredited teachers in Ireland, which you can find listed on the WSET website, but when I did my research, one name was consistently mentioned again and again. I therefore found myself in the very capable hands of Maureen O'Hara from Premier Wine Training. The classes took place at night, over the course of approximately 8 weeks, lasting 2 hours per class. I paid €440 which covered all classes, textbooks and study materials, a set of tasting glasses and the exam itself.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

[Review] Richmond, South Richmond Street, Dublin 2

Over the last few weeks, I've been trying to deal with the Sunday evening fear. I know I'm not alone here, with many workers feeling the same on Sunday evenings. In fact, I've given consideration to setting up a Glenroe-themed nightclub, where the theme music plays constantly and the tables are stacked with copybooks full of overdue homework. However, in my case, the Sunday fear is exacerbated by the fact that I am currently flying to Amsterdam at ridiculous o'clock every Monday morning, making it hard to sleep the night before.

My latest tactic to handle my insomnia is to go for a nice meal on Sunday evening, helped in no small part by the liberal application of a good bottle of wine. I'm hoping that by the time I return home from dinner, I'll be fit only for bed and a solid sleep before the alarm clock wakes me up ahead of the dawn chorus. Plus, this plan also gives me a chance to catch up on some of the new Dublin restaurants.

This Sunday, it was the turn of Richmond, a new local venue located in the old, iconic Gigs Place on Richmond Street. The Gigs Place, established in 1970, was apparently the ultimate Dublin greasy spoon, and I have to admit that I never crossed its doors. I could never figure out if there was an etiquette for entering or if it was some "exclusive" club. Now head chef Davy O'Byrne and owner manager (the veteran) Russell Wilde have restored and revitalised this piece of Dublin dining history. 

We chose from the superb value Early Bird menu where two courses costs €21.50 and three cost €25.00 A full dinner menu is also available with daily specials chalked over the kitchen pass. My risotto with wild mushroom and white truffle was superb, with little parmesan and sesame crackers for added crunch. A bowl of white bean and wild garlic soup, topped with shredded ham hock, was a nice seasonal touch.
Wild mushroom and white truffle risotto

Sunday, April 3, 2016

[Opinion] An ode to the Caesar salad and the humble anchovy

I've been a long term lover of the classic Casear salad. It's undeniably the king of salads, and eating a good Caesar salad is a pleasure like no other.  The combination of crisp Romaine lettuce, a creamy umami-packed dressing and crunchy croutons was a genius move on the part of whoever assembled the first Caesar salad. Its creation is generally attributed to Caesar Cardini, a Italian immigrant with restaurants in the US and Mexico. Legend has it that he was working in Tijuana (to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition) when he created the now eponymous salad. 

I would say that calling this dish a salad is an item of technicality. Yes it is lettuce-based but the creamy emulsion dressing is what makes the salad so delectable. Add in lashings of parmesan cheese and other optional additions, and the calorie count can increase dramatically. However, I'm choosing to still view it as a salad and all the benefits that come with eating salad.

So why am I writing about the Caesar salad? I recently ordered a version at an Amsterdam hotel which I found myself consuming with great enthusiasm.  I went so far as to run my finger around the inside of the bowl to catch all the remaining dressing. And it wasn't because I was starving. It was because it was packed with chunks of anchovies. Those lovely, salty, meaty little fish which pack more punch than a heavyweight boxer. Yes the lettuce was lovely and crisp, the croutons were crunchy, there was loads of parmesan and the addition of grilled chicken, bacon and hard-boiled egg was superb, but it was really all about the anchovies. 

Anchovies are delicious eaten straight from the tin or jar, and will add bucketloads of oomph (more technically known as unami) to any dish. They've been used for centuries as a source of potent flavour, and feature in many classic sauces such as Worcestershire sauce and Pater Peperium Gentleman's Relish. But for some reason, many people dislike the anchovy, probably because they've eaten the cheaper, fishier versions. Invest in some quality anchovies and you will see the difference. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that if you don't like anchovies, we may need to discuss the nature of our relationship. 
My homemade Chicken Caesar salad
Making a Caesar salad dressing can involve a fair amount of whisking as you need to emulsify the egg yolk and olive oil. If you've got biceps of iron, then work away, otherwise use a blender to help speed up the process. A personal tip is to use the leftover oil from the anchovies in the salad dressing for extra flavour. One of my favourite recipes is comes from Bon Appetit and is really easy to make quickly.

If you want to try anchovies in other recipes, try this recipe list from Huffington Post.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

[Review] Old Town, Capel Street, Dublin 1

It's been a while since I recommended a Chinese restaurant on the blog. I'm often asked on Twitter to point friends in the direction of the latest authentic Chinese restaurant that I've uncovered in my non-ending quest for Chinese food. Therefore, in the spirit of sharing, I bring you Old Town located on Capel Street. Several Chinese restaurants have flared brightly at this location in the past, only to die out, but Old Town appears to be doing well so far. 

The cuisine at Old Town is Sichuan-influenced, but it's not hardcore, making it very approachable. The menu is the usual book of delicious looking photos and the occasional oddball translation from the native Chinese. However, I've found the staff to be very friendly, and always willing to make a recommendation, so don't be afraid to put yourself into their hands. The interior has gotten a needed refresh since the last occupants with straightforward wooden furniture, a good lick of paint and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
Interior at Old Town


Sunday, March 13, 2016

[Review] Delahunt Cocktail Bar, Camden Street, Dublin 2

The abundance of classic Victorian and Georgian buildings all around Dublin means that there are many hidden upstairs gems tucked cosily out of sight. The team behind Delahunt restaurant on Camden Street have lavished love and care on their Victorian building which originally housed a "purveyors of groceries and provisions", and even garnered a mention in the classic novel Ulysses. 

Downstairs, a dark wooden bar runs the length of the dining room, with darkly muted walls and marble-topped tables. Take the narrow door next to the bar however, and you ascend a wooden staircase to the cosy cocktail bar. Two rooms have been opened up to create the bar, with fantastic marble fireplaces and a bay window overlooking the street below.
The interior at Delahunt cocktail bar


Saturday, February 27, 2016

[Review] The Copper Hen, Fenor, Co Waterford

Last year, it was announced that the Copper Hen in Fenor, Co Waterford had received a Michelin Bib Gourmand award. I turned to Himself, a Waterford native and asked where was Fenor exactly. It turned that it wasn't very far away from his hometown and I made a resolution to visit when next in Waterford. Fast forward a few months, and we finally got around to buying a new car to replace our much-loved 16 year old car. It was time for a road trip with our new wheels, and Sunday lunch duly was booked at the Copper Hen. 

Fenor is a typical small Irish village, dominated by the parish church with a very unusual and creative carved tree in the cemetery. The Copper Hen is located upstairs over the local pub, Mother McHugh's, and on this cold Sunday, all car spaces outside were already taken. A large fireplace, with a warm fire dominates the smaller dining room, with a larger room to the rear. It's an oddly bare space, which filled up steadily over lunchtime. Our table received plenty of their homemade brown bread (which could benefit from a little salt in the mix), which is available for purchase to take home. 

I chose the Spanish style croquettas with Kilmore crab meat, which arrived at the table precariously perched on a slate. One croquette made a determined escape off the slate into my lap, but I wasn't letting it get away. They turned out to be the epitome of croquettes (€6.95). Golden and perfectly crispy on the outside, they tore open to reveal a silky smooth potato interior. For himself and Mrs H, a beautiful plump prawn sat atop a salad of chopped fresh prawn and smoked salmon, lightly tossed in a lemon creme fraiche (€7.00). Ever the soup fan, Mr H's choice of spiced carrot and cumin soup disappeared quickly (€4.95).
Croquettas with Kilmore crab served with herb and garlic aioli 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

[Travel] A weekend in Amsterdam

There are some places in this world where life's journey keeps directing you. In my case, it's Amsterdam. At this stage, I've worked in Amsterdam for 3 different clients, and my current engagement will keep me there for the foreseeable future. It's a good thing that I like the city! I first lived in Amsterdam in 2010 and managed to get all of the usual tourist experiences done in that first year. Now that I'm back (yet again), my current focus is trying to find the latest and coolest spots. My self-imposed challenge on a recent weekend visit was to visit as many new spots as I could. 

Ironically, on a weekend of new discovery, I started with an old spot, the superb cocktail bar Tales & Spirits, located a few minutes away from Dam Square, down a little street, along with some red light booths. Inside, it's a very classy affair with dapper bartenders and a smart cocktail menu. Grab a seat at the bar and have some fun with the crew as they shake their way through the orders. 
The General Lee at Tales & Spirits

Sunday, February 14, 2016

[Review] Suesey Street, Dublin 2

I was a long-time fan of Brasserie Le Pont, located on Fitzwilliam place. I visited it many times for lunch and Sunday lunch. I loved the dining room space and always enjoyed my meals there, despite the strong pinstripe suit crowd. I must admit that I was surprised when I heard that it was closing, to make way for a new venue. It didn't seem like a venue that needed a makeover.

Anyway, Brasserie Le Pont has given way to Suesey Street, which was the original name for Leeson Street many moons ago. Apparently, the original Suesey Street also had a reputation as a location for finding ladies of the night, which is inspiration for the collection of cheeky artwork that adorns the walls of the dining area.

The bar has been completely overhauled and is now a flush with bronzey warmth, with plenty bar stools and comfortable chairs. There's a good cocktail menu with bar snacks also available for casual dining. I start with a Guinness and raspberry flip which is excellently made and deliciously creamy. Around the corner from the bar, the dining area opens up. Here, the changes are not as dramatic as the bar, but the space feels warmer and less stark than before. Outside, there's a covered terrace area, which will surely be a busy spot come warmer weather. 
Guinness and raspberry flip


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Help!! My Instagram account has disappeared

I was a late convert to Instagram, even diligently avoiding it for a long time, for some reason that I now cannot remember. But in early 2015 I created my account (joanne.cronin), and I started to upload my photos. 

As someone with in excess of 4,000 followers on Twitter, I obviously wanted to try to recreate that success on Instagram. Bit by bit, I found myself developing my own posting style for Instagram, and both my Following and Followers counts grew. I got selective in the accounts that I followed - if you posted too many selfies or inspirational messages, you were out. And I followed many new accounts from across the world with great imagery and stories. 

By the end of 2015, I had posted 487 photos, and was thoroughly enjoying myself. As you can see from my "Best nine" summary below, there were a lot of cocktail photos with tasty food coming a close second. My top-rated photo? A picture of one of the alleyway entrances into Cork's English Market. 
I found Instagram superb for quickly posting pictures of the moment. If I was having a nice cocktail, or saw something interesting, then I posted a quick photo. (Well, quick is a misnomer with Instagram. Editing the photo and adding your hashtags can take a few minutes!). And I took a lot of joy in scrolling back down through my timeline, reliving the memories behind my photos. 

I woke up on Saturday January 16th, and wanted to post a picture from the previous night. I opened my Instagram app and prepped the picture. But when I hit "Post", the app logged me out, prompting me to enter my log-in details. I tried, and I failed. I scratched my head and tried "Forgot your password" only to find that "That user does not exist". I tried logging in via Facebook to no avail and finally, when I visited my timeline page, I was greeted by "Sorry, this page isn't available".
The sickening feeling hit me. My Instagram account had been nuked. And I no longer had access to my pictures or memories. 

It also turns out that Instagram don't do customer service. To date, I've tweeted them, messaged them via Facebook and submitted two help requests via their Support section. To zero avail. Not a single acknowledgement from them about my missing account. 

I'm sure that the Terms & Conditions I accepted when I signed up protect Instagram in eventualities like this. But for me, there are memories missing. I am missing connections with people I followed. I feel quite bereft. And ultimately I feel ignored. Epic #fail #instagramfail

UPDATE 31-Aug-2016

Many readers have contacted me since I published this post as they have found themselves in the same situation. It seems that Instagram have a tendency to remove accounts, without any warning or communication to the impacted parties.

In my case, I contacted Instagram multiple times via webforms and via Twitter. I did not get one single response. I had just about resigned myself to losing the account and data forever, when a friend got in touch. He had a friend working in Facebook in Dublin, who may be able to look into my account. I gratefully accepted the offer, and lo, within a day or two, my Instagram account was back up and running.

I am so grateful to my friend, and friend of my friend. In the end, human kindness and goodwill won out. But there are no thanks due to Instagram whatsoever. So, if your account is deleted, it appears your best bet is to know someone working in the technical side of Facebook!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

[Review] Bastible, South Circular Road, Dublin 8

Early in 2015, I signed up for the Level 2 WSET qualification in wines and spirits. Many of the attendees on the course were already involved in the food & beverage industry, with only a few non-industry stragglers, like myself, taking part. One of the attendees was a young chef, Barry, with his wife and their story of a soon-to-be-opened restaurant.

Little did I realise that Barry was Barry FitzGerald, former head chef at  Dublin hotspot Etto and, prior to that, the Harwood Arms in London. And in due course, his restaurant Bastible did open, perched on the junction of Leonard's Corner. 

The interior is very modern masculine with dark green walls and an open kitchen located to the rear where Barry and the chefs work with smooth, calm efficiency. In fact, the whole affair is sleek and smooth, starting with the impeccable sourdough bread and delicious butter followed by two potato crisps topped with tartare and onion. I don't know if the chefs at Lock's and Bastible are sharing notes, but that's two amuse of crisp potato slices I've received in the past few months.
Little amuse of crisp potato with tartare


Saturday, January 2, 2016

The year that was 2015

It's time for a little recap on the year that was 2015. For me personally, it was a better year than 2014 which had left me exhausted and bruised. I took charge of myself in 2015 and made sure that I had a higher quality of life. It's such a simple lesson, but one that we are bad at remembering. We have to make time for happiness in our lives, which in turns helps us balance the stresses of life. 

Anyway, 2015 was the year that luxury dining returned to Dublin. At the start of the year, I dined in John Farrell's SMS Pop-Down, but by the end of the year, the space had been transformed into the super-luxe, red-velveted Luna. While this restaurant is charmingly named after John's young daughter, it's not a restaurant for kids, with whopping great steaks, fine wines and gins and a New York dining club vibe. 

2015 also saw rising restaurant prices in Dublin, indicating a gradual return to the boom times. This was probably mainly stimulated by rising rent costs, but the question has to be asked if some of the price increases can be attributed to good old-fashioned desire to make more money? I re-wrote my guide to the Top 10 set menus and Early Birds in Dublin, and I was struck by the decrease in availability and value for diners. 

Finally, I think 2015 was the year that pop ate itself for restaurants in Dublin. Gluttonous, belt-stretching brunches were everywhere and expensive (even over-priced) cocktails appeared in any self-respecting trendy restaurant. It's time for a return to simpler dining. 

I ventured to Belfast at the start and end of 2015, topping and tailing the year with two excellent meals in Ox and Deane's EIPIC respectively,  both of which earned Michelin stars this year. The cocktail scene is also booming in Belfast, where I particularly enjoyed the 5 star luxury of the cocktail bar of the Merchant Hotel and the speakeasy New York vibe in APOC.  I think Dublin could benefit from a truly luxurious and professional cocktail service in one of the 5 star hotels. Who will step up to the mark?

Speaking of cocktails, Irish bartenders performed highly on the world stage in 2015. Karim Medhi from Saba reached the semi-finals of the Bacardi Legacy World Championships while Anna Walsh from MVP competed at the Diageo World Class competition and claimed Best Bartender in the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards. It was sad to see the temporary closure of Upstairs @ Kinara Kitchen following their Best Restaurant Cocktail Bar win, but things are looking good for a re-opening early in 2016.

No-shows continued to haunt restaurants, particularly smaller venues. It was truly saddening at times to read about restaurants being 50% empty due to no-shows on confirmed reservations. This kind of shitehawk behaviour puts jobs and businesses at risk. Some smaller venues will lose relative fortunes because they simply trusted a customer to show when they said they would.

As this is a summary of 2015, I suppose I should hand out some awards! I'll keep the list short. My best fine dining was undoubtedly Amuse on Dublin's Dawson Street. This small venue produces exquisite Asian-French food and is just sublime. 777 continues to be my choice for best casual dining in Dublin. On the drinks front, it's a draw between Upstairs@Kinara Kitchen and MVP for my favourite cocktails. 

This year, I decided to fulfil a long held wish and I enrolled for the WSET Level 2 qualification in wines & spirits with Premier Wine Training. I was delighted when the results envelope arrived informing me that I had passed with distinction. I think this is the start of something special and I've started to add more wine reviews to the blog.

A huge smile was put on my face when I was invited to judge the Pitmaster Competition at the Big Grill BBQ Festival in Herbert Park. Off the back of this event, we've purchased a column smoker for our back yard and are getting acquainted with the finer arts of low and slow BBQ. 

My views on blogging and the blogging community have continued to evolve over the last year. I've been blogging for over 7 years now, and I've seen a lot of change. The strong Irish food blogger community that was fostered several years ago has somewhat faded, and it's been replaced by the rise of the lifestyle blogger. Either way, I've continued to post in my own style, writing the reviews that I want to write and crafting a blog in my own voice. Even so, I was disappointed not to make the Food & Drink shortlist at the Irish Blog Awards in 2015 and my requests for feedback went unanswered. 

Finally, 2015 was the year that I adopted Instagram (follow me here). Interestingly, Instagram has taken partially taken over from blogging, allowing me the freedom to quickly share images with my followers. While I think Snapchat might be a step too far for me, Instagram just works. 

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