Friday, September 21, 2018

Amuse Bouche


Tonight, after all the week in Crete had demanded of him… drinking the smallest amount of wine would knock him under one of the Czar’s tables. He hung on to a half-filled glass of Dafni for dear life. “What is it, Kapitan, you don’t like the wine? You’re not drinking.”
..
“Mr Deputy Chairman, the wine is excellent.”
“Then drink it. You travelled nearly four thousand miles to secure it, did you not? Do justice to this fine vintage.”

from The Road to Ithaca by Ben Pastor  (2014). Recommended.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

L’Atitude Scales New Altitude. Filling Me Softly With Her Food


L’Atitude Scales New Altitude
Filling Me Softly With Her Food
Stracciatella. Multo Bella.
No secret that Cork’s L’Atitude 51 is one of the best wine-bars around. That’s been confirmed by awards, both local and national. But did you know they have a lovely food offering too? Number One Union Quay is certainly a place to take it easy, easy drinking and also easy eating, sometimes easy listening as well.

Here you can go from aperitifs to small plates to large plates and have a lot of fun doing so. No shortage of variety here with a range of dishes that distinguishes L’Atitude from the mainstream. Who, for instance, is doing Toonsbridge Stracciatella?

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. There is a huge wine menu here, page after page of organic and natural wines, and that is what we looked at first. Many are available by the 125ml and 175ml glass, a 250ml carafe and by the bottle. Some, the more expensive ones, are available by bottle only! Since we were in, we were going to try a few so the glass was our vessel choice for the evening. 
Tapas Plate

And we started with the Crisp with Attitude Page, featuring wines that are lively, racy and mineral. CL made a very good pick: the Secateurs Chenin Blanc from the Badenhorst estate in South Africa while I enjoyed the Wines Direct import, the Paddy Borthwick Riesling from New Zealand. Sipped those as we tucked into a bowl of mixed olives. 

The menu here is “less formal”, encouraging you to share as the dishes arrive from the kitchen. Oh, they also do a Plat du Jour. You’ll see that on the blackboard. On the night of our visit it was Tagliatelle with a lamb ragu and they coupled that with a glass of wine, all for around fifteen euro (if I remember rightly). And they also do lunch daily.

And soon we were sharing another dish, a much bigger one; the Tapas, at €18.50, is one of the more expensive ones on the menu, but a very impressive platter indeed, well assembled and well presented. It contains Coppa, Jamon, Pecorino, Toonsbridge Mozzarella, Charred Aubergine, Artichokes, Roasted Red Pepper and Caponata was irresistible and easily and lazily dispatched.
Duck x 3.
At this point, the wines had changed. I was on to the orange wine (lots of skin contact and yet a good introduction to the style for beginners) from Sicily, the cloudy Rallo Baglio with a fantastic concentration of the flavours. CL meanwhile was on safer ground with the Madregale Rosso, one of the best house wines around these parts.

Now with the Tapas and the basket of bread finished we sipped the wines and waited for the next batch of food! And that’s where the eye-catching palate pleasing Stracciatella comes in. Even though the two dishes came together, there was a duel around this beauty. It is the creamy filling you’ll find in Burrata (another Toonsbridge cheese). It is soft and fresh, it has to be. Presented on a  bed of grilled aubergine and topped with Dukkah, it was temptation from the first bite, especially when spooned into the “pocket” breads that came with it.

The sharing continued with the Duck 3 Ways: Ummera Smoked Duck, Duck and Port Paté, and Potatoes sautéed in Duck Fat. Well, you know that Ummera’s Smoked Duck is a gem of southern cuisine yet the combination here somehow managed to put an extra shine on an already excellent product. Superb.


We were on to our final wines by now, both of us on the red. CL picked from the “Fruity with Attitude” section and came up trumps with a classic Pinot Noir by Regnaudot (Burgundy) while my final tipple was the Blaufrankisch by Austria’s Judith Beck, a winemaker that seems to be appearing more and more in this country. The plush Blaufrankisch, with generous fruit, is biodynamically produced and worth seeking out.

And L’Atitude itself, with its friendly service and informal style, is also worth seeking out either for wine or food or both!

1 Union Quay (corner opposite City Hall)
Cork
021 239019





Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Couple of Portuguese White Stars, including an Alvarinho Vinho Verde


Portuguese wines are on the rise. 

And not just the red ones. The whites too can be remarkable and we have two gems for you to try including a Vinho Verde - remember that little sparkler? I've noticed these excellent wines coming more and more onto the shelves over the past five or six years. I'm not the only one - check out the quotes below. Very good value a few years ago. That could be changing, but still good value. Buy now and try! 

Vinho Verde is one of Portugal’s most distinctive wines. Jancis Robinson. More here.

It's high time Portuguese wines were given the same respect we grant French, Spanish and Italian ones. The Guardian here.

Wines from Portugal have been enjoying impressive growth worldwide thanks to improvements in both the quality and range of wines over recent years. The Buyer Here

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde (DOC) 2015, 12.5%, €24.99 Bradley’s Cork; wineonline.ie

Did you drink Vinho Verde back in the day? It had a little bit of fizz and was low in alcohol. Then, when we were also drinking Blue Nun and Black Tower and dipping our tongues in hostile foreign languages, we thought Vinho Verde meant green wine; it means young wine. 

And there is no spritziness here, natural or induced, but its absence is no loss at all. This Morgadio da Torre is far from the simple sparkler of our experience. More than likely that earlier Vinho Verde wasn’t made from Alvarinho (Albarino in Spain) as this one is.  

Alvarinho, often compared to Riesling, is one of seven grapes permitted in the DO; they regard it as “the most noble” grape of the region and is usually that bit more expensive. Other grapes that may be used are Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura. 

This dry aromatic Morgadio is certainly a wine of distinction, very enjoyable with fish and seafood and also as an aperitif. Colour is a light straw, very clear. There are fairly intense tropical fruit aromas. Fruity, fresh, mineral, are the first sensations noted on the palate. The fruit is pure and persistent, vibrant notes of lime and citrus prominent, the aromas at play all the way through to the very dry finish. The fact that it was a very good year in the area helped and this is Very Highly Recommended.


Casa Ferreirinha “Papa Figos” Vinho Branco Douro (DOC) 2016, 12.5%, €18.99 winesonline.ie 

Lots of different grapes in most Portuguese blends and this is no exception with Rabigato (55%), Viosinho (15), Arinto/Pedernã (15), Códega (10), and Moscatel (5) all in the mix here.

It has a pale straw colour. Attractive aromas, yellow fruit and floral notes. That attractive tropical fruit again features on the palate and is persistent, good acidity too. And an excellent finish as well on this fresh and vibrant wine. Very Highly Recommended.

After fermentation, roughly 20% of the batch was matured in used French oak barrels for three months; the remaining 80% was kept in stainless steel tanks. The wine went through careful fining and filtering before bottling to preserve the fresh fruit character.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Taste of the Week. West Cork Garlic


Taste of the Week
West Cork Garlic
Bryn of West Cork Garlic in Bantry last Friday.

Probably more like Taste of the Year as the garlic I bought from Bryn Perrin in last Friday’s market in Bantry were bulbs for sowing now and eating from next summer on. Though I did also get some of his Roscoff onions and am very much looking forward to tasting these over the next few days.

But back to the garlic. Bryn, who took over the business from pioneers Axel & Marye Miret (who founded the company in 2010), is quite happy to share his expertise on the subject and will give you lots of advice on planting, growing and harvesting. 
Ready to plant

The first thing to know right now is don’t wait until the spring as most garlic is planted in late autumn and early winter, some varieties as early as September! We bought a few Lautrec and a few Grey Shallot garlics for planting and another one, the Chesnok ­(Hardneck). Already in the ground. Fingers crossed for summer 2019!

If you don’t have the chance to meet Bryn at the markets (he also does Skibbereen Saturdays), do by all means check out the website as they sell garlic bulbs for kitchen and medicinal purposes - and cloves for planting so you can grow your own - all available in handy packs, delivered straight to your door. And there is a page with loads of hints on how to grow your own. And much more, including recipes and garlic gadgets!

Bryn Perrin
Coolmountain West, 
Dunmanway, West Cork, Ireland
Tel 087 133 3751, Email bryn@westcorkgarlic.com



Monday, September 17, 2018

No 35 Kenmare. It’s A Good Number!

No 35 Kenmare
It’s A Good Number!
Charcuterie Plate!

When they say Farm to Fork in No. 35 Kenmare, they mean exactly that. Their free range pigs are reared just about a mile away. And they don't have to go too far for their fish either!

We were there on a damp Tuesday night recently and the place, spread over two floors, was packed. A terrific buzz there and terrific food too from Head Chef Tony Schwarz and his team in the kitchen. The team outfront were excellent too, helpful and chatty, and efficient to boot.
Treacle and walnut bread

Luckily we had a reservation and were soon seated upstairs (those stair steps are very narrow by the way). I was aware of the pig farm so was concentrating on that on the menu as we nibbled at the excellent Treacle and Walnut bread that came with a seaweed butter.

I spotted my starter without delay: a charcuterie plate of salami, chorizo and coppa along with various relishes and gherkins, pickled cucumber,  Granny’s jam, olives, celeriac with mustard, capers, peppers. It was packed with good things, substantial and totally delicious.
Pork mains

CL was a little on the jealous side but I was able to share a few bits and pieces! Her starter was the Dingle Gin Cured Salmon, Cucumber: Ketchup & Soused & Charred. Not as substantial maybe but another excellent appetiser.

Cider and pork is always a good match so I was enjoying a glass or two of the lovely Stonewell Medium Dry. And I needed another one as my mains arrived. They do a Pork dish of the day and I tucked into the Collar of Pork, with colourful Mooncoin Beetroot, the excellent smoked black pudding, all in a red wine jus. A super plateful, great flavours and textures, aromas too.

CL got a lovely piece of Halibut, well cooked and neatly presented, served with summer vegetables, a basil pesto and red pepper relish.

Have to admit though, we didn’t make it to the desserts this time! It was a wet night, the last Tuesday in August, and we were not expecting to find so many in the pubs. But most were packed and most had live music. We finished the evening enjoying the craic, sipping a craft beer or two (Brú Pale Ale and the Tom Crean family Expedition Red Ale). Kenmare Abú!

35 Main Street, Kenmare, Co Kerry.
Tel: +353 (64) 664 1559 | Email: info@no35kenmare.com



Eye-opening Boat Trip on Bantry Bay. Thanks to Diarmaid of the Fish Kitchen.

Eye-opening Boat Trip on Bantry Bay
Thanks to Diarmaid Murphy of the Fish Kitchen.



Last week we found ourselves in a boat in the middle of the Bantry Bay mussel farming area, very extensive, and could see the long lines where blue mussels are placed on ropes that remain suspended in the water. Once the industry was very labour intensive but Diarmuid told us that it is now very much mechanised. In any case, the results are great as we found later that evening in the Murphy’s Fish Kitchen.

If you want a guide to Bantry, land and sea, Diarmaid Murphy of the Fish Kitchen is your man. He has immense experience of the sea, including boats (he is cox for the local lifeboat) and fishing, and allied to that is a love and detailed knowledge of the history of the town and its magnificent bay and its surrounds. Next summer (2019), he plans to do guided trips on his six-passenger rib.
Windy, even inside the harbour wall.
We were delighted with our “preview”. It wasn't the best of days on the bay, far from the worst though, and we were in good hands as we headed out from the new marina that has made a huge difference to boating in the bay. 
From the hotel. The bay looked more benign an hour or so before the trip.
See the green fields of Whiddy and, beyond, the mountains of the Beara peninsula
Having left the Bantry pier and the marina behind - the ferry from Whiddy Island was coming in - we headed towards the left of the island taking a look to the mainland on our left. Diarmuid pointed out the aerodrome where private planes come and go, some from the continent. Nearby too is the Blue Cliff. Not blue during our trip but quite grey. The blue is noticeable when the sun shines.
Homeward bound - the Whiddy ferry

Plan was to do  full circle around Whiddy and get close to the liner over in Glengarriff. But, with the rib hopping off the incessant waves, discretion was the better part of valour so we turned and ran alongside the town side of the long island, meeting the ferry again on its return trip. We saw the local pub, the Bank House.
The Whiddy local

Of course, one of the major historical events in the bay came with the Wolfe Tone attempted invasion in 1796. Unsettled by this, the British ordered the construction of three forts on the island and these were pointed out to us in their hilltop locations.
Cruise liner Astoria in the bay
Over a hundred years later, the USA Navy set up a short-lived flying-boat base here during the great war and the planes were used to hunt German submarines. And in 22 October 1918, Walford A. Anderson (an US flier from Springfield, MO) was killed in a crash, the first ever air-crash fatality in Ireland according to our guide.

There was a much larger tragedy on Whiddy in January 1979, when the oil tanker Betelgeuse blew up at the offshore jetty for the oil terminal on the island. The explosion and resultant fire cost 50 lives.
Mussel farmer at work. Eagle Point in the distance
Soon we were at the other (eastern) corner of Whiddy, we could see across towards Glengarriff and the visiting cruise liner, the Astoria. Diarmuid thought we might get closer from this side but it was not to be as the waves were a little too big so we retreated in the general direction of Ballylickey.
There were plenty of mussel rows here also and we got a splendid view of the Eagle Point Caravan Park; it has a very impressive location indeed and well spaced pitches. No wonder it is a very popular place and locals mark the start of summer when the “Eagle-Pointers” arrive.
Bantry, with the Maritime Hotel on right.
In this area also, you’ll find Donemark (the fort of the ships). Often saw this name on signposts but didn’t realise the legends and history attached to it. Indeed, they say it is the first place that humans (the Milesians) landed in Ireland although there is also a story that a niece of Noah’s landed here much earlier!
Bantry House
Bantry Bay longboats are replicas of the captain’s landing vessel used by the French navy in the 1700s. A longboat from the Wolfe Tone attempt was found in the bay and eventually ended up in Bantry House. There have been international races featuring the longboats and their 13-person crews and again Diarmaid has been involved.
The Blue Cliff
Other points of interest included the very scenic Bantry Golf Club, the hill of Seskin, the various smaller islands, the ruin of the jetty wrecked in the 1979 explosion and more. I may well have missed out on some others as sometimes, with the wind, it was hard to hear each other and it was not a day to be taking notes and not the best of days for photos either. But the whole experience was brilliant, exhilarating for these two ancient land-lubbers.

Thanks a million to Diarmaid and we wish him well on his sight-seeing venture next summer and will let you have details when available.

Read all about our dinner at the Fish Kitchen here.
Reckon this guy would fancy a mussel
The Blue Harvest. The mussels farmed here are Blue Mussels.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Fish Kitchen’s Special. A Taste of West Cork Waters


The Fish Kitchen’s Special
A Taste of West Cork Waters

As we walk up the stairs to our Bantry restaurant, the multi-event A Taste of West Cork festival is in full swing, heading for its closing weekend. Many attractive food options around the towns and villages but knowing punters make their way to the Fish Kitchen and a packed house enjoys the best produce from the local shores and seas. The Kitchen crew are busy but not a bother as the delicious meal is served.


“Freshness, simplicity, quality” is what they promise here and that is exactly what we get. Excellent service too, a good choice of wines and craft beer and good company too at the long tables. We enjoy the chat with Esther and Joe from Cappoquin and Jim and Barbara from the town.


Diarmaid, who owns and runs the Fish Kitchen with his wife Ann-Maria, served us a simple Amuse Bouche, a sharing plate of Sheep’s Head periwinkles with garlic. Hard to get them out of the little shells but well worth the effort!

Next up was a trio of Smoked Salmon, Prawns and Oyster. Tasty stuff. Excellent salmon, amazing prawns from the bay outside and a superb Carlingford oyster. Quite a hat trick of flavours.

We were very happy with that and got even happier with the next round: Steamed Bantry Bay mussels with Stonewell Cider. We had been out on the bay earlier and had seen the lines and lines heavy in the water with rope-grown mussels. And here they were now on our plate, meatier and tastier than any I’ve tried in recent times.
Croquettes

Another course was on the way as the Salterio Albarino level in our bottle was falling and this was another handsome combination: Union Hall Smoked Pollack and crabmeat croquettes, served with a simple salad.


Now for the big one: herb crusted Castletownbere Hake with sun-dried tomato and Gubbeen chorizo pesto. Sometimes in Ireland we smother delicate fish with heavy sauces. Not here. The Hake was the star, the others there just to show it off to perfection. And, yes, it was perfect, as were all the courses.
Hake

And of course there was dessert. Here we had a choice and the Plum Crumble won hands down at our table; maybe the lavender infused pannacotta found takers at the other tables!

While this was a special dinner (we paid 45 euro a head) for the festival, you will get the freshest of fish, skilfully handled and simply presented at a fair price every day, lunch and dinner, at this town centre venue. And, if you are eating at home, then grab some fresh fish from the family market on the ground floor!
Crumble

New Street
Bantry 
Co.Cork
(027) 56651


* Diarmaid was our host on our earlier trip around the bay - check it out here. He has been doing it a bit over the past summer and intends to make it a permanent feature next year. A proud native of the area, he is a superb guide to the huge bay, its geography and amazing history. His sturdy rib will take six paying passengers so keep an eye out for that in 2019.



Friday, September 14, 2018

Amuse Bouche


-Do they want wine? said Jimmy Sr when he’d everything else in order.
-Yeah, said Darren.
-Black or blue?
-Blue.
Jimmy Sr ducked in under the hot plate and got out a bottle of Blue Nun.
-Do the business with tha’, he said to Darren, and he held out the bottle to him.
-I’d better get back for their sweets, said Darren.
Jimmy Sr turned to Bimbo.
-There, he said. - Suck the cork ou’ a tha’.

from The Van by Roddy Doyle (1991). Very Highly Recommended.