Saturday, October 25, 2014

Amuse Bouche

Two gentlemen in top-hats were standing in front of us, looking into my face and laughing.
‘Do you eat oysters, lad? Do you really? Most remarkable. And how do you eat them?’
I remember a strong hand dragging me into the brightly-lit eating-house. Within a minute a crowd gathers round and watches me with curiosity and amusement. I am sitting at a table and eating something slimy, salty, smelling of damp and mould. I eat greedily, without chewing, without looking and without trying to discover what I am eating.

from Chekhov, The Early Stories 1883-88, chosen and translated by Patrick Mills and Harvey Pitcher.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Very Wine Weekend

A Very Wine Weekend
Reds to the Fore

Straccali Chianti Classico, Riserva 2004, 13.5%, €24.40 Karwig Wines

This ruby red gem is 90% Sangiovese with intense aromas. Easy drinking and Very Highly Recommended. Fruity for sure but very well balanced indeed, excellent matching acidity. Sip it on its own or with food (stews, pastas, poultry and fred meats are all recommended). A very generous wine, elegant and palate friendly with a long finish.

Nugan Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz 2012 (Australia), 14.5%, €19.99, SuperValu

This is a highly rated wine, made in Amarone style from partially dried grapes and has spent 12 months in French and US oak. Darkly coloured it has very inviting fruit aromas. No shortage of fruit on the palate, some spice too; rich, with good depth of flavour, and quite intense; it is full bodied, very well balanced and dry to extra dry; tannins are refined and it has a long finish. Very Highly Recommended.

Stellar Winery Merlot 2013, South Africa, 13.5%, €15.00 Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork

You immediately notice the healthy sheen on this ruby coloured wine and the nose has pretty simple direct fruit aromas. Medium bodied with lovely fruit flavours, soft and juicy and tannins have a slight grip. This is a really well balanced wine with a long dry finish. Highly Recommended.

Stellar, in the Western Cape. produce organic fair-trade wines with no added sulphites, vegan friendly too. The Indian Rubber ducks, featured on the front label, form “a highly efficient pest-control squad”. Pairing recommendations: pasta, lamb, beef.

Chateau Respide Medeville 2011, (Graves, France), 13.5%, €15.30 in Graves.

According to Hugh Johnson, this is one of the better producers in Graves for both red and white. The blend here is Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot, all hand-picked. A surprising nose here, hints of spice and vanilla, even traces of anise, and that lively red fruit is also prominent on the palate. It is quite complex with great depth of flavour and a long dry finish. Glad I bought more than one of these last June while visiting the local Maison des Vins. Not sure you can get this in Ireland but Very Highly Recommended if you do come across it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Club Brasserie. Good Food by the Lee

The Club Brasserie

Good Food by the Lee
I could have been anywhere in France, the trees, their autumn colours highlighted by illuminated by the streetlights, swaying gently in the breeze, distorted reflections in the river, couples walking arm in arm on the pavement, good food on the table inside. But no, I wasn’t eating in a bistro alongside the Midi-Canal. And not in a restaurant by the River Vienne in Chinon. No, I was happily ensconced at a table in Cork’s delightful Club Brasserie.

And that food? Well, let me tell you. French words and phrases abound throughout the regular menu: Toulouse sausage, Mushroom a la crème, Duck confit, fondue, béarnaise and more. And yes, the Gallic influence extends to the cooking, deliberately delightfully so, but most of the produce is local, suppliers include O’Connell’s (fish), Shellfish del a Mar, O’Flynn’s, Bresnan’s, and O’Connell’s (beef).

Let Beth and chef Harold speak for themselves: “Our inventive menu changes regularly based on what is available locally and the emphasis is on fresh and delicious takes on modern classics. In this age of often unnecessarily fussy food, The Club Brasserie offers high quality, unpretentious dishes that are both comforting and delicious.”

Having studied the menu pretty well, we had a look at the specials board and took no time at all to make up our minds. Indeed, we agreed on the first two courses. Doesn't always happen. Having made the choices, we also agreed on the wine. The Hugel name is good and this Alsace producer didn't let us down with a lovely refreshing Pinot Blanc (Cuvée les Amours), very agreeable and dry, and it was to go very well with the fish on the main course.

I think you can often judge a restaurant by the small things, even if you drop in for no more than a cup of coffee. Let’s take the mashed potato last evening. It was impeccable, a splendid base for the layers on top: spinach, salmon and plaice, vegetables, all perfectly cooked. Unpretentious maybe but top class too.

The full description was Baked plaice stuffed with salmon, with julienne of vegetables, potato gratin, lemon and chive beurre blanc, all for €18.50.

We had also been very satisfied with the starter, a well balanced mix of flavours and textures, with the cheese outstanding in the mix: Roasted Pear and Pancetta Salad with Cashel Blue cheese and a honey dressing (8.50). Not mentioned was a good scattering of toasted walnuts.

Just one dessert (two spoons!) and that was light and delightful, a meringue roulade lemon curd and passion fruit seeds. A little bit different and a good finish to a fine meal served with a smile and a chat.

To read the menus or make a reservation click here

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Granola by Clover Wholefoods

You never know what you'll come across when buying at the local farmers markets. That is as true in Saturday's Coal Quay Market as anywhere else. The point was underlined to me once again last Saturday when I bought this granola from Clover Wholefood, a relatively new stall here, run by Raedi Higgins. It is a gorgeous breakfast treat and Taste of the Week. They have lots of good things here. Pay a visit any Saturday morning and follow them on Twitter here.

#50BestTalks The future of American dining: US gastronomy in a global context...

The World's 50 Best Restaurants

Top chefs and restaurateurs including Mario Batali, April Bloomfield, Daniel Humm and Massimo Bottura debated the future of American dining at The World's 50 Best Restaurants' first ever #50BestTalks event in New York on Saturday 11th October 2014. Here they share some of their thoughts on America's gastronomic identity, the country's culinary history and changes in the dining scene. (Video by MoFilm)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scratch My Pork

Scratch My Pork

Two questions. What are pork scratchings? And who is Matthew Brownie?

Pork Scratchings have long been  associated with England. But similar products were made before England had even thought to use the pork skin as a snack. The Chicharrones originated in Mexico, from Spanish influence and are, Matthew tells me, the first signs of fried Pork Rind that we know as scratchings today. They come under a variety of names including Cracklings (US), Pork Crackle (Australia, New Zealand), Chicharrones (Latin America), Grattons (France) and Scrunchions (Canada).

Matthew Brownie has been a professional chef for over 20 years. Originally from New Zealand, he admits he “has conceded” to Skibbereen where he lives with his wife and two children. A roundabout route took Matthew to Dublin in 2008 where he continued to manage kitchens, consult in hospitality, create cooking classes and progress in the food arena before moving to West Cork.

Here his passion for food drove him in a new food direction, towards product development. Given an opportunity to find a gap in the Irish food market, it was obvious to Matthew that Irish Pork Scratchings would be his product. The opportunity came when he decided to go back to college in 2011 to study Advanced Culinary Arts  at Cork Institute of Technology where he achieved a distinction in BA Culinary Arts.

Achieving top marks for Scratch my Pork, he was asked to compete in the Cork County and City Enterprise Boards CIT Prize for Innovation and won the best business Plan award. “I am delighted for what I have achieved, and the product is already in over 100 outlets including Retail, Licenced and Off Licenced premises." He is also the Chef food writer for the Southern Star.

In April this year, Matthew formed The No Nonsense Food Company to  launch Scratch My Pork snacks. “This is a quality hand cooked natural meat savoury snack with unique dry rub marinades resulting in a crunchy, crispy, flavoursome, good value and nutritious snack,  produced in a dedicated nut and gluten free facility with my own catchy slogan and branding called ‘Scratch my Pork’.” He has released two flavours to begin with, Smokey Bacon & Cajun, with a traditional salted flavour to follow.

So now you know what Pork Scratchings are, why not go out and try some. Looks like Supervalu is a good place to start. Then why not try your local pub? I’m told they are very popular in Ma Murphy’s in Bantry. And of course if you want anything in the food or drink line in Cork, then head to Bradley’s in North Main Street! If you are a retailer, contact Matthew himself or his distributors C & R in Little Island.

Keep an eye on Matthew’s website here and also follow him on his Facebook page.
To find out more about Pork Rinds in general, why not do a YouTube search. Here’s one to start you off

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Square Table Launched

The Square Table Launched
Big Night for Coolea Sisters

Top left: Graham Neville (l) with Lucy and Mark of Ballyhoura Mushrooms.
Top right: Cheers! Martina and Yours Truly.

“I wish the two sisters all the best. They have shown great courage,” said Michelin Star chef Ross Lewis as he helped officially launch The Square Table restaurant in Blarney last night. The two sisters are Patricia and Martina Cronin, both originally from Coolea and now well experienced in the restaurant world. Patricia is front of house while Martina (who has worked with Ross) is the head chef.

Martina has also worked with Graham Neville, Head Chef at Restaurant Forty One, who also spoke at the opening. Graham is rather modest and it took Ross to step in and remind us all that Neville is the reigning Food and Wine Magazine Chef of the Year.

The two girls also spoke and their first priority was to say a big thank you to the people of Blarney for their support over the past few months. Martina said they simply wanted to present good well sourced Irish food and had big thanks for three mentors in particular: Kieran Scully (Bayview Hotel), Ross Lewis (Chapter One) and, of course Graham Neville.

Their suppliers too came in for praise as did their local staff (“absolutely fantastic”), all their friends, family, especially Mum and Dad.

Ross Lewis, from Cork himself, said he knows the Cronins well! “The heroes of today are those who employ people. I started in 1993 and I know that success will come.” But he warned that staying power was needed to deal with the special demands of being an employer, including PAYE, PRSI, banks, teaching employees.

“The complexities are enormous. It is a very daunting task. But I know the Cronins are determined. Martina has the doggedness of a lion. It is amazing and great to see people that we’ve worked with get out on their own”.

The sisters were hardly on their own last evening. There was a terrific turnout. Suppliers present included River Wines, Ballyhoura Mushrooms and Pat O'Connell. The media and blogger world was well represented by Joe McNamee, Jack Power, Caroline Hennessy, among others. And no shortage either of fellow restaurateurs, including Nash 19 and Jacques.

The family were naturally up in force from Coolea and customers were also among the attendance. And, after the speech, Matina was back in the kitchen sending out a stream of gorgeous little bites including Durcan’s Spiced Beef, Ardsallagh Goat Cheese, Liscannor Crab, Michael Twomey’s Wagyu Rib-eye, Ballyhoura Mushrooms, and Old Millbank Smoked Salmon.

On the sweet side there were Macaroons, Poached Blackberries, Chocolate Brownies and a Lemon Cream and Blueberry meringue, all gorgeous. And no shortage of wine to wash it all down.

Thanks for the invite ladies and the best of luck in Blarney!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Amuse Bouche

She drinks too much. Two aperitivos before dinner. A full bottle every night at our table. Afterwards, a night cap or two. Grappa for her, a kind of Italian poitín, and sometimes limoncello. When she drinks, she asks searching questions.’Why haven’t you found a woman, Charlie?’ Why hasn’t she found a man? Not men, but a man. ‘I don’t want to be a serial shagger,’ she says. ‘I want to settle down. It’s almost too late for kids. What happened to us all?’

from No Paradiso by William Wall