Friday, April 29, 2016

Amuse Bouche

You can’t believe how fertile the land is. You sprinkle seeds on the orange brown soil and within days shoots are pushing up. You only have to stretch your arms to pick ripe plums from the tree-lined boulevards. It is another Garden of Eden. For twenty five cents you can buy a hundred oranges. There’s a green fruit called aquacate that is creamy and smooth – three for just a nickel – and tastes delicious, with lemon juice, salt, and a kind of parsley called cilantro. There are: Purple mountains. Talking birds. Flowers growing wild everywhere. Mangoes. A fruit called papaya that grows to a meter in length, weighs up to three kilos, and tastes delicious with a hint of lime.

From The Price of Escape by David Unger.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Holy Smoke On The ‘Dyke. Check Relihan's Blow Out.

Holy Smoke On The ‘Dyke
Check Relihan's Blow Out.
Blow Out; included are Smoked Cob Wheels and Naked Slaw

All you hunter-gatherers can now converge on Holy Smoke in the Mardyke Complex, the new ground of John Relihan, an experienced master of the ancient art of cooking with fire and smoke (he was head chef at Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa BBQ restaurant in London). You want meat, head for the ‘Dyke.

Have any of you seen Cooked, a mini-series by Michael Pollan now on Netflix? He says that the BBQ is the "last idea of the ritual cooking of meat"; that the long and slow technique may well have come to America on the slave ships, was very much tied to the tobacco harvest in the south and that the term “pit boy” came from there. That series is worth a look. He calls commodity pig farming “a vision of hell”. On  a lighter note, you’ll see veteran songsmith James Taylor sing about his pig called Mona!

No vision of hell at the Mardyke though; just lots of exposed brick vaulted ceilings and bare lights hanging down. We got a chance to take a look, and a taste, earlier week, and must say I enjoyed every little morsel.


Low and Slow is the motto here and you'll see it in red letters around the room, a room by the way which is full "night after night". You’ll notice the buzz the minute you enter. Great place to go with a bunch of friends. Grab a beer as you check the menu.

It is meat all the way; well, there are a couple of options for the non-meat eater. The wood too is key. Back to Pollan again who explains that it is the burning wood gasses rather than the wood itself that give off the smoke that marries with the meat. You’ll notice different woods on the menu and that's because each wood has different flavour compounds. Split a length of cherry wood and you’ll smell cherry, according to Cooked.

You may have lots of individual plates here, of Pork, Beef, and Chicken. And Burgers too. Perhaps the best way to test is to order the large BBQ Blow Out (24.50). You’ll get Brisket Burnt Ends, Dry Rubbed Baby Back Ribs, Pit Smoked BBQ Chicken, and Pulled Pork. That’s what we did.
Head Chef John Relihan

Two sides are included, one from the Humble list, one from the Divine. We picked their Skin on Skinny Fries and the Divine Pit Smoked Burnt End Beans. With all the focus on the meat, I have to highlight those unexpectedly delicious beans. The full description is: Sweet smoky beans mixed with Brisket Burnt Ends cooked low and slow. Indeed, it looks as if those sides, both humble and divine, may be worth a closer inspection.

Now, with meat and beer (Howling Gale and Rebel Red from the taps) delivered, it was time to get the tools from the box on the table. Yes, all your cutlery needs are already there, along with a big roll of kitchen paper to tidy up the finger licking mess. And the Holy Water, of course.

It takes a while, even for two, to work through all that meat but well worth it. The pork was probably the highlight, the ribs a close second. Then again, that chicken half, chopped into four, was good too, particular the tasty thigh! Big cubes of smoky brisket were also much appreciated. Not to mention those beans! Would have been barbecue heaven had we been able to roll open that ceiling and let the sun shine in. But it was very enjoyable as it was. Hard to beat a packed restaurant with all that chat.

No shortage of beer!
 Prices are reasonable here. You can have a bowl of pulled pork for a tenner: pork shoulder cooked slow and low for 14 hours over oak, mixed with Holy Smoke BBQ sauce and served with naked slaw and cornbread. Spend two or three euro more and your choices multiply. Service is very friendly and very efficient too. Well worth a visit!

  • Chef Relihan has serious form when it comes to cooking with fire. He was head chef at Jamie Oliver's Barbecoa BBQ restaurant in London and trained with world renowned Pitmaster Adam Perry Lang. Read more about John and the people behind Holy Smoke here
  • Check the menu here
    On the door of the gents, a tame enough fellow,
    despite the ring on his nose.

    Holy Smoke
    Little Hanover Street, Cork
    Phone: (021) 427 3000
    email : holysmokecork@gmail.com 
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HolySmokeCork/ 
  • Twitter @holysmokecork



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wines Of The Marques de Caceres. For Food, And Afterwards!

Wines Of The Marques de Caceres.
For Food, And Afterwards!

In Jacques Restaurant on Wednesday evening, a Frenchman told us the story of the Spanish family that employs him, before we got down to tasting a series of their gorgeous wines. 


The Forner family had been involved in wine for decades before having to flee to France during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), having “lost everything”.


Eventually, they began making wine in Bordeaux before, many years later, finding their way back to Spain to begin a winery in Rioja. Forner are better known to us as Marques de Caceres and the Frenchman, Florent Thibaut, is their Export Sales Manager. Florent was introduced to the attendance in Jacques by Dave Buckley of Cassidy Wines.

Florent started us off with a gorgeous Verdejo, saying that in fairly recent times, Marques de Caceres had began to make white wines in Rueda and Rias Baixas. “This grape is local in Rueda, giving a dry but aromatic wine, very pleasant on its own or with food (fish, salad).” It certainly was vibrant and fresh in the mouth with a delightful bouquet.
Next up was another white, their Albarino from Rias Baixas in Galicia. Think he said Galicia means mother earth, and he mentioned that the name of the wine indicated that it came, possibly via the Santiago de Compostella route,  from the Rhine (-rino) and was brought by a  monk (of course!).
He highlighted its minerality and said it is a great match with seafood, especially oysters. Jacques, who know a thing or two about matching food and wine, came up with some excellent pairings and the first was their Salted Cod Croquettes, a good match with the two whites.


Florent had excellent English and well able to hold his own in the banter that broke out from time to time. On being asked about the contribution of the Riedel glass to the wine, he said: “The glass is to the wine like the dress is to the lady!” Another quote, not from Florent, came to mind: Rioja wines are voluptuous; they  are round and full and rich. They are not Audrey Hepburn; they are more Marilyn Monroe.
So now we were on to those voluptuous reds, all from Rioja, starting with a very highly rated Crianza, which is for restaurants. “It is one hundred per cent Tempranillo from older vineyards.. with typical pepper, spice, a great choice with charcuterie, chorizo.., very much a wine for food… very pleasant but a serious wine.” Indeed, Excellens is a wine with great character and was quite a hit in the room.
And speaking of chorizo! As the reds were being tasted, Jacques served up a tasty dish of Basmati Rice, chorizo, peppers and chilli. Oddly enough, the Reserva didn't go down as well as the Crianza! Maybe, it was because “the nose was less expressive”. Florent went on to say that the Crianza “was more full-bodied, more tannic...for food.. Matches well with lamb”. And on cue, Jacques had some delicious lamb chops on the table!
In time too for the Gran Reserva which, Dave Buckley, told us “is not made every year”, only when  the fruit is very very good. ”Florent enthused: “And this eight year wine is very good indeed, from older vineyards. Very gentle, with smooth tannins. See that fresh colour…. Very fruit-driven, dark fruits.. Blackcurrant...that pepper and spice (from the oak) is there too..balsamic. For food, and for relaxing afterwards.”

Speaking further on this Gran Reserva, Florent noted its complexity and elegance. “Wine doesn't always have to be easy… sometimes you have to travel towards the wine.. From Cork to Rioja!” Reckon he had a busful of volunteers at that stage!

  • Most Rioja reds will have spent some time in oak. Check out the various designations below:
The green label (cosecha) indicates less than one year in oak, less than one in bottle.
The red label (crianza) indicates 1 year in oak, 1 in bottle.
The burgundy (reserva) indicates 1 year in oak, 2 in bottle.
The royal blue (gran reserva) indicates 2 years in oak, three years in bottle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taste of the Week. Mega Munchy Muesli by The Foods of Athenry

Taste of the Week
Mega Munchy Muesli
by The Foods of Athenry
I have always enjoyed my breakfast when the Lawless family, the people behind the Foods of Athenry, are involved. So I was very much inclined to try their Mega Munchy Muesli when I saw it on the shelf in Bradley’s recently. At the back of my mind, there was a little hesitation though as sometimes muesli can be very very dry - unless you drown it with milk!

But no worries here. Just added a normal drop of milk and I had my Taste of the Week. They got this blend spot-on, a lovely mix of high-fibre gluten and wheat free jumbo oats with 40% added seeds, fruits and nuts - and nothing else. Aside from that drop of milk! Delicious.

I have also enjoyed their Strawberry and Vanilla Granola and their High Omega Very Berry Granola. Haven't had their Sunshine Porridge yet! So that’s on the list now. Variety is the spice of life

They make lots of gluten free products on the Lawless farm, including cakes and bars. Check them all out here. They are widely available in Ireland, in the UK and further afield. See stockists lists here.

Many Irish producers sell you a product and have very little info on the pack or online about how to use it. Again, The Foods of Athenry come up trumps here with a good recipe section.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Good Things Cafe. People Together.

Good Things Cafe
Good Food, Wine, Company
Orange dessert

When we think of international, we think of country: Ireland v Italy in football, New Zealand v Australia in rugby, and so on. In food though, it struck me during an “international” meal in Good Things Cafe, in its sparkling new Skibbereen location, that we should be thinking more in terms of the individuals.

The Colombian farmer who grows your coffee beans, the Irish farmer who raises your free range pigs, the Indian who produces your spices and rices, the organic grower who sends us delicious clean wines and so on. The world is becoming to some small degree a collection of like-minded individuals, a collection of local producers, working hand to hand across the world, and not depending on some giant distributor who’d prefer to have the same food “from Nigeria to Iceland”.*

Orange wine
The conversation though wasn't anywhere near as serious as that. Carmel Somers, the owner of Good Things, got us off to a good start. “One of our growers has just delivered some asparagus. We are serving it with Coolea Cheese and some balsamic. Would you like that?” There was instant international accord.

“This Coolea Cheese? Is that from here?” Italian winemaker Elena Pantaleoni asked me. I had just met the lady from the famous organic vineyard of La Stoppa and she was delighted to hear that Coolea was very local indeed. Among those at the table were Pascal Rossignol, the Frenchman (now well seasoned with Irishness) who runs Le Caveau, and Sally Barnes renowned for her Woodcock Smokery in Castletownsend.

Many tongues, one language
Left to right: Clare, Elena, Billy, Nico, Pascal, Sally, Colm.
Elena’s Trebbiano was already in our glasses and she told me that they also make a sparkling version, “for food”. It is sold mainly in the local area and is great in summer, served a little chilled.

The delicious asparagus was now at the table along with a Mezze plate along with La Stoppa Macchiona 2007. “It is made from the same grapes, Barbera and Bonarda, as the Trebbiano but has spent two years in big barrels. This is the current vintage, it is warm, more powerful, more fruity,” said Elena.
Spectacular seasonal salad
The dishes and the wines, all exquisite, continued to come. Pascal asked Eleana for the story behind the names. Trebbiano is a valley, Macchiona is a very small village, and Agento is the name of the founder of the vineyard, a man from Genoa. The Agento is an amazing wine and not just because of its bright orange colour. The colour, and the extra tannin, come from three months skin contact. "The first Agento was first produced in 2002 so we do not have a long experience of this wine,” said Elena and she recommended serving it at 15 degrees.

By now we were on to our main course. I was very much enjoying my Crab Tart, Salad leaves and a Soda Scone. And that was just one of the many tempting dishes on the menu. Pascal pointed out: “The Agento is very versatile at the table, a wine for sharing!” And Elena echoed that sentiment.

Carmel & Elena

Desserts, like other courses, are somewhat different here at this very highly recommended spot who make a “priority of sourcing locally”. Mine, and it was superb, was an Orange and Rhubarb Salad, with a Coconut and Pomegranate Praline. Finished off the Agento and then moved on to a delightful Malvasia Frizzante! Coffee by the Golden Bean set us up for a trip to sample the fresh Atlantic air at the Woodcock Smokery.

Sally's operation has been going since 1981. She pulled out some kippers, smoked with no dyes, no additives. But she wasn't very happy: “Not a great batch. Herrings can live up to twenty years but there is now a poor population due to intervention on the market by the EU a few decades ago.”

Sally and kippers

Sally, who travels quite a deal in her role in the Slow Food movement, specialises in products from slow-smoked, “fresh wild-caught fish devoid of any artificial additives or preservatives. We don’t use farmed fish; the fish we buy in is caught locally and from sustainable sources.”

She wasn't too happy with bureaucrats in general though she did acknowledge a big improvement in the bluefin tuna population. It’s been a tough enough battle for Sally over the years and no surprise that she and Elena (who also had her battle as detailed in the film Natural Resistance, shown in Cork last week) are friends. Individuals are key, locally and internationally, not countries, not big companies.

  • A quote from the film Natural Resistance. See trailer here

Sally's kit!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Meatball Place. Tasty Spot in Carey’s Lane

The Meatball Place
Tasty Spot in Carey’s Lane
Get the ball rolling. Superb starters
The Meatball Place, up and running in Carey’s Lane since November last, has a different kind of menu. Here you choose how your main dish is “constructed”.

It is easy and well worthwhile. This is how it works. Pick your meatball (choose from five), then you pick your sauce (from six) and then your side (from eight). No shortage of variety. For instance, on recent visit I had Chicken (Chorizo & Chive) meatballs, a Classic Tomato Sugo, and Buttered greens. CL had Fish (Salmon, Hake & herbs), Pesto Salsa Verde, with Rustic Garlic & Rosemary Potatoes. By the way, all the Meatball mains are just a tenner.

A selection of starters, Meat & Cheese Boards, cannelloni, desserts, teas & coffees, craft beers, draught beers, and wines, complete the choice available.
Fish Balls
Grainne Holland is the chef/proprietor here but you’re more likely to meet fellow proprietor and Front of House Tony Costello. Tony and the staff are very helpful and, if you're wondering which of the gorgeous sauces to have with your Pork Meatballs, then they'll help you out, no problem.

The menu is quite simple really and you may check it all out here.

We got the ball rolling, to use their own phrase, by sharing a plate of starters. The combo of Buffalo Chicken Wings and Chicken Blasts will cost you €12.00; all the prices here are very reasonable.
Chicken Balls. Gorgeous sauce.
The board comes with a little garden salad and the Spicy Blasts are basically Filo Pastry Chicken Rolls, delicious and tasty. The wings are served with a pot of Cashel Blue cheese and celery sticks and are as good as you’ll get. You may buy these separately as well; all starters are €6.50.

Then we were on to the Meatballs: Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish, and also a Yemeni style Balafel.

My chicken, detailed above, was spot on and a great match with the rich tomato sauce. Every little bit was finished off. And it was the same at the other side of the table with the Fish combination going down very well indeed. On the included side, a generous side, we had Buttered Greens and also Rustic Garlic & Rosemary Potatoes, all well cooked and all delicious.

Grainne serves up quite a variety here, aside from the Meatball combinations. You may have Meat and Cheese Boards, Soul Dishes that include a tempting Angus Beef Cannelloni. And do watch out for the specials. With a full bar licence, there’s no shortage of drinks to wash them down. I certainly enjoyed my bottle of Stag Rua from 9 White Deer in West Cork; their Stan Ban is also available. Good to see the local beers here. Indeed,  their produce is sourced locally.
The Meatball Place
8 Carey’s Lane, Cork
Mon-Sun 12.00pm - 10.00pm
(021) 239 0535
Twitter: @MeatballPlace
Wi-Fi available in restaurant.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Amuse Bouche

I suspect the name is best known nowadays, anyway, for the dish of raw beef slices, with a Dijon mustard sauce, which was devised in 1970 by Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice, to spare a customer gastric problems. He named it Beef Carpaccio, off the top of his head, because the look of the beef reminded him of Carpaccio’s characteristically red pigments.


from Ciao Carpaccio by Jan Morris (2014)