Friday, March 16, 2018

Amuse Bouche. Mimi Sheraton v Paul Bocuse

In 1977, the New York Times sent Mimi Sheraton, their restaurant critic, to France for a month where, among others, she lambasts the renowned Paul Bocuse.

Eventually she appears on a French talk show, masked by a veil… She tells Paul Bocuse that, in the interest of quality, he should perhaps start to spend some time in his restaurant’s kitchen. When the show is over and the cameras are turned off, the gourmet chef becomes violent. He tries to rip of Sheraton’s mask, she pushes him away, Bocuse stumbles and falls. Afterwards, Sheraton feels regret. That’s what she tells People magazine. Regret that she didn't slap him in the face.

from In the Restaurant (2016) by Christoph Ribbat. Very Highly Recommended.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Super Birthday Meal in Lovely SpitJack Room

Super Birthday Meal in Lovely SpitJack Room

Over a dozen of us descended on The SpitJack last weekend to celebrate a significant birthday (and also the 70th anniversary of Ireland's 1st ever Triple Crown win!). We were seated upstairs in one of the most delightful dining rooms in the city and, with the aid of a confident crew, both in the kitchen and front of house, enjoyed a delightful meal and a lovely evening.

 We worked off the regular dinner menu where there are many choices and while the group were studying their options, I decided on a couple of wines, my first time having wine here. The red was Leda Truffle Hunter Barbera D’Asti while the white was La Mariniere Muscadet Sevre et Maine. I'm getting back into Muscadet, after a bit of a lay-off, and enjoyed this creamy lees aged bottle. Indeed, the white was slightly more popular on the night. The fresh and fruity red though also went down well.
Lamb Shank

Starters include Chicken Croquettes, Chicken Liver Paté, French Onion Soup, Salmon Mille Feuilles, Beef Carpaccio and Beetroot Carpaccio. The most popular though was the House Salted Cod "Bunyols", (Catalan Style Cod Fritters, Flacked Salted Cod, Fried Crisp Exterior, Soft Pillow Centre, Lime Chantilly), also my choice as it happened. CL, the guest of honour, enjoyed her favourite Beetroot Carpaccio.

Great buzz at the table and indeed a great buzz in the restaurant as a whole. The place was packed, upstairs and downstairs, and as soon as a table became free it was filled again. Hard to beat good food, good friendly service and all at fair price in impressive surroundings.

Now for the main event. Nine main dishes were listed along with two specials.  I've enjoyed the Lamb Shank here before and not surprised that it was the most popular choice though the cod and the  chicken ran it close. The Lamb came braised and rotisserie roasted with Red Wine Glaze, Pearl Barley & Winter Vegetable Cassoulet, Crème Fraîche, Mint Oil, Braised Lamb & Brandy Jus. By now, the SpitJack newcomers in the group were well impressed and checking around to see what they’d order next time. 
Chicken mains

In the meantime, I was enjoyed my Monkfish special and sipping the Muscadet, the wine a long way in terms of quality from the 7 or 8 franc bottle that I used buy on early visits to France away back when! Another highlight at this stage were the side plates of Rotisserie Potatoes, enhanced by the juices dripping from the meat cuts above.

Not everyone stayed the course for dessert. Among those that did, the Vanilla Crème Brulée with Pecan Shortbread was the most popular. They serve it in a large-ish shallow dish so you get a large caramelised disc, very tasty as I confirmed once again! Coffees galore and soon we were ready for road. The night, after all, was still young, just like the evergreen guest of honour!

34 Washington Street
Cork City


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Food and Games at Barcadia. Retro Arcade with Bar and Kitchen

Food and Games at Barcadia
Retro Arcade with Bar and Kitchen
Will Sliney's mural with Pat and Colm (Pic: Brian Lougheed)

Food and games galore at the official launch last week of Barcadia, the stylish retro arcade space, with kitchen and bar, within the Mardyke complex. The brainchild of entertainers Colm Lougheed and Patrick Ahern, Barcadia joins the ranks of three other venues, Holy Smoke BBQ restaurant, Woolshed Baa and Grill, and Mardyke Bowl within the complex (built in the 1870s as a drinks warehouse).
Serious gaming. (Pic: Brian Lougheed)

There has been a three month run-in to the launch as the pair were operating Barcadia on a trial basis, checking the complex, tweaking the machines, and listening to the customer feedback before bringing out the trumpets last Thursday.

One of the first things that catches your attention as you enter is the large-scale Street Fighter mural drawn by Marvel artist Will Sliney, the background for many photos on launch night. Will is well-known by now around Cork, Ireland and the international comic book scene.

“Interestingly enough, back in the Mardyke (M2), we had many of the very same arcade machines which we have now re-imported and lovingly restored to their original state,” said Eddie Nicholson, MD of the Mardyke Entertainment Complex. Those who were customers in the late 90s might remember a different arcade on this same spot. Then the Woolshed was a jungle gym and Holy Smoke was a Q-Zar laser tag space.

Some of the arcade games that featured in the Mardyke are back and they are searching for others. In the meantime, get shooting with Point Blank, Time Crisis 2 and House of the Dead 4. “From the golden age of video games” come Pac Man, Defender, Tetris, Galaxian, Centipede, Asteroids and, of course, Space Invaders! Like to race? Then check out Daytona USA 2, Mario Kart GP 2, and Outrun SP 2. Lots of Fight games too.

Looking for a bit of exercise? Start with Pinball perhaps, then move up a gear to Fussball, Shuffleboard games and a bit of Basketball. Even Ping Pong.

And if you need to take it easy after all that, then try a table top game, like Buckaroo or Connect, Operation, Chutes and Ladders (St Patrick got rid of the snakes), Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo, Boggle and so many more.

As well as the gaming classics, Barcadia features a solid food menu (with Holy Smoke chef Decky Walsh leading the team). The focus is on homemade pizzas, themed burgers, Southern Fried Chicken (“with a subtle nod to the three fast food restaurant chains in the Grand Theft Auto universe”). Sweet treats too to keep those energy levels up. All were on offer on launch night and all (check out those battered onion rings and those mozzarella sticks too) were very enjoyable indeed. 
Chefs at Work! (Pic: Brian Lougheed)

There is a full bar there also, featuring some real good beer. I enjoyed a couple of pints of Franciscan Well Chieftain and noticed that Yellow Belly’s Kellerbier is guesting there at present. Cans include Brooklyn Brewery and Brewdog. There is quite a range of cocktails with appropriate titles such as Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Street Fighter and Super Mario. Cheers!

Barcadia is open till late every weekday from 4.30pm and from 12.00pm on the weekends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Taste of the Week. Tender Stem Broccoli, Dockland Style

Taste of the Week
Tender Stem Broccoli Dockland Style
Not often we make a restaurant dish our Taste of the Week but this moreish  “Bite” from the newly opened Dockland is a worthy exception. Very impressed when I bit into this one on a recent visit to Beth and Harold’s makeover of what was previously their Club Brasserie.

Starters here range from small bites, all around the fiver, all the way to bigger ones at eleven and thirteen euro. The full description for this one is Chargrilled Tender Stem Broccoli Caesar Salad, toasted hazelnut and Parmesan Crumble. Terrific tastes, fresh flavours and crunchy textures. A bite of delight, all for a fiver and Taste of the Week.

See full review of visit here.

City Quarter
Lapps Quay
T: 353 (0)21 427 3987

See full post on Dockland visit here

Monday, March 12, 2018

Food Photo Exhibition At City Library. Cork Food Policy Competition

Food Photo Exhibition At City Library
Cork Food Policy Competition

"Haddock Man" by John Dempsey
It is amazing that so many Irish people have very little idea as to where their food is coming from. Most of us city dwellers are barely a generation removed from the countryside, which for many of us is still just a short drive away. 

Yet I got a shock myself last year when a thirty something visited our garden; only then did she learn that peas grow in pods! Had she been born sixty years or so earlier, she’d have been sent to the corner shop for a bag of unshelled peas. Back home, she and her siblings would then get to "work" on shelling the sweet green peas.
Eleanor Attridge receives her prize from yours truly

Last week, over half-a-dozen or more magpies were making a massive racket on a bare tree in a school avenue but neither the mother nor the offspring walking underneath looked up. In the good old days, your mother or father would have plenty to say on the magpies - remember one for sorrow, two for joy.… 

So how did this disconnect with food and nature happen? Rather than looking for someone to blame (parents, educators, farmers, supermarkets), would it not be much better to concentrate on mending that “break”? 

There are quite a few people already doing so, including the Cork Food Policy Council who recently organised a photo competition where the categories were:
1- Food and Health - where does it come from?
2- Cork Food. What’s eating Cork and what’s Cork eating?
3- Community. What could a sustainable food system look like?

The categories were all well chosen to make the photographer think a little before pressing that shutter button and the winners of the inaugural Cork Food Policy Council’s Food Photo Competition were presented with their prizes at the Cork City Library in Grand Parade last Friday evening. You may see all 43 entries there, in the library foyer, until March 26th.

“A competition like this presents an opportunity to tell a different story about what we actually eat and where it really comes from,” Keelin Tobin, Coordinator of Cork Food Policy Council as she introduced the winners.

"Olive" by Annelies Verbiest
“This competition is an opportunity for photographers to showcase and celebrate the efforts being made towards a sustainable food system in Cork,” said Ellie Donovan of Green Space and Member of Cork Food Policy Council Steering Committee.

Annelies Verbiest won the ORSO sponsored prize for the Food and Health category. Her photo of Olive the hen was taken the day “Olive arrived in our garden”. “At 18 months, she was deemed too old for the industry as she had stopped providing an egg each day. She lived with us for a year, until she died. Her featherless body shows the true cost of cheap eggs in high production environments.”

The Cork Food category was the most popular one and the judges, who included professionals Giles Norman and Monika of Pepperazzi, picked two winners here. Beekeeper Eleanor Attridge’s honeycomb pic was one, “nature at its best, straight from the comb”. “It looked well and tasted better,” she said on the night.
Eileen Duggan receives her prize.

Frances Deasy’s photo of a grandmother and grandson gardening was the other winner. “Growing and eating my food is a pleasure, sharing with family a joy,” she said. Both Eleanor and Frances received a voucher from the English Market.

The Community Category prize (from O’Leary’s Camera World) was won by John Dempsey for his Haddock Man, a portrait of fish-monger William Martin at his stall in the English Market. Keen photographer John will enjoy spending that voucher.

Joleen Cronin's shot (left) of a fisherman landing his catch was the winner of the Giles Norman Selected Prize. The fisherman was pictured coming in after several days at sea, “the last fishing trip before Christmas.” The vessel, the Buddy M, arrived in Crosshaven at 3.00am on a wet and cold December morning.

The Monika Coghlan Pepperazzi Selected Prize went to Eileen Duggan for her shot of a bee, busy at work. “No bees, no honey. The bee was working very hard to gather nectar. Our bees are a very important part of our food chain, therefore we need to protect them.” 

Monika, “a great help throughout the competition”, also took the presentation photos  (some reproduced here) at the library. Other sponsors for the opening were Rocket Man and Green Space.

* Don’t forget to drop in to the library entrance where you’ll be able to see all the photos until March 26th.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Hundred of the Best from Le Caveau. Starting with Franciacorta and a Clonakilty Girl

A Hundred of the Best from Le Caveau
Starting with a Franciacorta and a Clonakilty Girl
Meeting Rhona at St Peter's last week

“We are a small vineyard, ten hectares in total, eight planted with Chardonnay, two with Pinot Noir,” said Rhona Cullinane of the 1701 vineyard in the Franciacorta region of Italy when I met her at the Le Caveau portfolio tasting in Cork’s old St Peter's Church last Thursday. So I hear you asking: Rhona Cullinane, from an Italian vineyard? Well, Rhona is from Clonakilty and went to Sienna to finish off third level education and fell in love with the country and now divides her time between the 1701 vineyard and London with plenty of opportunities to get back to Clon.

1701 is an unusual name for a winery . It comes from the year of the first vinification there by the Conti Bettoni Cazzago family; that was in the “brolo”, a four hectare vineyard framed by X1 century walls. In 2012, brother and sister Federico and Silvia Stefini took over the estate and the winery and named it 1701 in honour of that long-ago first vintage. Rhona works with the Stefinis and they were the first in the Franciacorta region to be awarded the coveted biodynamic Demeter certification in July 2016.

There are about 100 to 120 producers in the area and they are now “slowly focusing” on external markets, Rhona told me last week. “there is a regional ambition to move to organic and biodynamic”. 

Rhona was showing the 1701 Franciacorta Brut DOCG. It is a blend of Chardonnay (85%) and Pinot Noir (15%).  The summer heat of the vineyard is tempered by the breeze from the lake (Iseo) and the mountains to the north. “We choose to keep it on the lees for 30 months, well above the appellation minimum. It is made in the traditional manner, manually harvested, with the indigenous yeasts, and a secondary fermentation in the bottle but with zero dosage.
Ballymaloe sommelier Samuel (left) and Damiem of Clos de Caveau

St Peter's
It is a gorgeous sparkling wine, the palate full and generous, clean, fresh and elegant, apple notes, citrus too and that typical brioche note, beautifully balanced and a dry finish. Expect to pay in the mid 30s, considerably less than what you'd pay for the bigger names of the region; lovely wine, great value.

Jules, who is spending a few month in L’Atitude (Cork) improving his English, was keen to show me some of the wines he was familiar with from his home in the south west of France, beginning with the family’s impressive Chateau de Cedre héritage. “This is 95% Malbec, 5% Merlot,” he said. “Four of the five parcels are organic but the next vintage will be fully organic. It is started in cement tanks, matured in barrels.” 

It is medium to full bodied, gorgeous black fruits on the silky palate with a clean finish. Colour is a light ruby, it is easy-going, no shortage of drinkability. Another quality wine at a very good price (15.40).

The small Mirouze vineyard in Corbieres produces some excellent wines, including that Ciel du Sud that Jules showed. It is a lovely lively blend, 50% Grenache, 50% Carignan. It is raised in cement tanks and no sulphur is added. 
Margaret of Le Caveau and, right, Dave of Café Paradiso

The little vineyard is surrounded by garrigue. That means the vines are well away from the sprays of neighbours. On the other hand, wild boar enjoy the cover of the scrub and so the Mirouze family have to use an electric fence to deter them.
My cuvée!!

Domaine No Control is into wine (of course) and music. One of their Gamay is called Fusion, the other Rockaille Billy. I had spotted the Billy on the list early on and wasn't leaving until I had a taste of it. The domaine consists of just five hectares and Jules agreed that this was that bit different to Beaujolais Gamay. “Lovely, great drinkability”. Must get a few bottles of that for the table when I have guests!

from Oregon
The next chat I had was with Damiem and he was showing the Clos de Caveau Vacqueyras AC Carmin Brilliant. Vacqueyras village, under the shade of its large trees, stays cool when the vineyards all around are warm. 

And this is one cool wine, coming from a height of 200m, higher than most of its neighbours, and bearing the distinctive diagonal wraparound label designed by Karl Lagerfeld. It is a superb blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, natural yeast is used and nothing is added. Good structure and bite, lovely ripe tannins, excellent acidity and freshness.
Sustenance via L'Atitude 51

Then it was on to the Alsace table where there was a strong showing from Meyer-Fonné. Always find the Gentil wines from the Alsace very drinkable and the MF 2016 was typical. Later, I would come across a similar effort from Oregon’s Ovum Wines called Big Salt! 

The Meyer-Fonné Gewürztraminer 2015 Réserve was aromatic and rich. Hints of sweetness too in the Pinot Blanc but this was dry with  a minerally finish. Also excellent - it suited my palate well - was the 2015 Riesling while the 2013 Grand Cru didn't quite do it for me, almost always find it hard to tune out that whiff of petrol. 
Mayer-Fonné well represented on Le Caveau list

The 2016 Pinot Gris was much more to my liking and the winery points to this one as “the archetypical Pinot Gris for the table”. Will put that on my list. Indeed, I think I may just make a list of all the Meyer-Fonné wines and see how I get on.

I had been pointed towards the Kumpf et Meyer 2016 Riesling by Ballymaloe sommelier Samuel. And with good reason. From its fresh, fragrant and full nose through its complex palate to the long and savoury finish, this is worth a second longer look and so another that will make my ever lengthening shopping list!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Amuse Bouche

..what a strange privilege it was to be able to sit in this coffee shop among other people who did not wish me any harm and who would, more likely than not, be happy for me if they were to know that I was having a good day…. none of these people would begrudge me any of this and all would appreciate the expert way this sandwich was put together…how everything about it revealed a degree of attentiveness which went beyond mere experience and spoke something of a care and commitment which was gently humbling, so unexpected and baffling also to come across something so banal which filled me with a sense of how improbable life was and how this unlikely construct - a sandwich for Christ’s sake - could communicate such intimate grace…

from Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (2016). Recommended.

A Couple of Decanter Winners for you!

A Couple of Decanter Winners for you!

Les Closiers Lirac (AC) 2015, 14%, €15.00 Marks and Spencer.

On the Rhone, a town called Roquemaure,
Drank some Lirac in a noisy bar.
After lunch of Poulet l’Estragon,
On the river, I saw the Ragondin.

Lirac, on the right bank, is, since 1946, one of the 16 crus of the Rhone and Roquemaure is one of the towns in the appellation. Marks and Spencer winemaker Belinda Kleinig says this is “an opulent example” made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault and recommends trying it with steak and sausages. One thing that struck me while drinking it, not on the Rhone but here in Cork, was the reliability of Rhone wine.

Decanter are also impressed and made it a winner in last year’s awards saying it was exquisite. “Lirac is often overshadowed by better known rivals but is a source of outstanding value wines.”

This has a beautiful deep ruby colour. Aromas are also enticing, mainly black fruit with spice and herb notes. Not at all shy on the palate, generous, well balanced. Try this lovely Lirac with red meats and game and you may well become a fan as did Avignon popes John Paul XX11 and Clement V. Blessed be the winemakers. An excellent drop and Very Highly Recommended. Very good value too. ONE OF THE GOOD VALUE

And the Ragondin? A relatively recent import, a kind of a cross between a rat and an otter, from South America. The French don't have much regard for them; you can't eat them, though one lady told me that someone had made a passable paté.

La Fête du Baiser ("festival of the kiss") is a festival celebrated in Roquemaure on the Saturday after St. Valentine's Day. The town also claims to be the place where Hannibal and his army (including elephants) crossed the Rhone in 218BC.

Torbreck Marananga Dam - Roussane, Marsanne, Viognier - Barossa Valley, Australia, 2015, 14%, €22.00 Marks & Spencer

This is another of the Platinum winners from the most recent Decanter awards. The Mediterranean grapes each add to the excellent blend. The Roussane provides structure and finesse. The Marsanne gives palate texture and richness while the Viognier offers a pure floral lift and finishes the wine with refinement and elegance. It is certainly a winner and Very Highly Recommended.

You immediately note the bright and beautiful light gold colour. White fruits and floral notes mingle in the nose. It is rich and fruity (apricot, citrus), hints of honey too, flow across the palate, no shortage of finesse in this medium to full-bodied wine. And there is a persistent finish, the dry finalé still with pleasant echoes of the fruit.