Friday, June 29, 2012

Ruby Red Stars of Northern Spain

Ruby Red Stars of Northern Spain
Three gems

For reviews of the white wines, please click here

Pittacum, Bierzo DO Spain, Mencía 2007, 14.5% abv, Importers: Classic Drinks.

This Pittacum, bottled in the spring of 2008, is the money-maker as some 180,000 bottles are filled. It is 100% Estate grown Mencía and is worth looking out for.

The fruit comes from 50 to 80 year old vines and it has a ruby red colour with a gorgeous aroma, plums and violets prominent. There is a hint of chocolate in among the velvety fruits on the palate and a terrific finish with vanilla showing. Highly recommended.
Click image to enlarge

Pittacum Aurea, Bierzo DO Spain, Mencía, 14% abv, Distributors: Classic Drinks.

This is even better, the fruit grown from very old vines in the heart of the DO. There is a complex intense nose, fruity and spicy. The flavours are lush: cherry, strawberry and plum.

It has spent at least 14 months in French oak, is silky and with a lengthy finish. You should really try and sample this special wine, which has limited production of just 15,000 bottles. Very highly recommended.

Quinta Sardonia, Castilla y Leon Spain, blend*, 15% abv, Distributors: Classic Drinks.

The very first sniff, and after that I tended to sniff before each sip, tells you there is a little magic in this bottle from Quinta Sardonia. The inviting aromas are both fruity and floral at the same time. Irresistible!

This is a concentrated and powerful wine, well rounded on the palate, where the fruits (cassis, cherry and plum) combine well and there are pepper notes and hints of vanilla from the sixteen months in oak.

This is undoubtedly one of the best ones I’ve tasted this year, beautifully integrated oak, tannins and acidity, with a full finish and a warm after-taste.

Beg or borrow or steal but do get your hands on one of those 44,000 bottles. Unlimited recommendation!

* Blend: 52% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 5% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec.

More: QUINTA SARDONIA is a member of the TERRAS GAUDAGroup and producer of high-end wines based on the principles of biodynamic agriculture

The philosophy of this Ribera del Duero winery, set up under the guidance of Peter Sisseck, who was involved in the project design together with renowned French enologist Jerôme Bougnaud, is to develop unique wines that express all the richness of the terroir and that can be identified with the parcel where each variety is grown.

Just got an update on prices and locations for the reds and whites available here. 

Abadia San Campo RRP €18.99 -€19.99


Caviar House, Dublin Airport

The Woodford Bar, Cork

The Mill wine Centre, Maynooth

Boqueria, Cork

Pinocchio Restaurant , Dublin 6

Terras Gauda O Rosal RRP €21.00 -€22.00


Farmgate Restaurant, Midleton

The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore

The Riverside Hotel, Killarney

Jacobs On the Mall, Cork

Pittacum Mencia RRP €17.99 - €18.99


Ananda Restaurant, Dublin 15

The Merrion Hotel, Dublin 2

The Hotel Europe, Killarney

Kenmare Bay Hotel, Kenmare

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sail Away with a Galway Hooker

Sail Away with a Galway Hooker
Galway Hooker, Irish Pale Ale, 4.3% abv, Hooker Brewery, Roscommon.

Thanks to a recent Twitter competition win, I’m getting the chance to sample some of the craft beers being distributed by Galvin Wines

First on the agenda was the Galway Hooker. This nicely judged balance of malted barley and malted wheat, with the other usual natural ingredients, gives a good rounded body and a fresh feeling in the mouth, smooth rather than sharp.

With its relatively full flavour, this is not just a summer thirst quencher but a beer for all seasons. So, do take the time to savour. Might even go well with a bit of “peasant” grub, something like bacon and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, mussels...

Maybe make up a full dedicated menu as they do in some of the “cidreries” in the Basque Country that I’ve just visited. Start off, say, with a couple of tasty sausages, followed by a big bowl of mussels, a fish course, meat course and dessert, all accompanied by the tasty Hooker!

I had something like that in Hendaye a few weeks back, a string of courses and as much cider as I wanted for about €32.00. If they can do that on the shores of Baie Chingoudy why not on Galway Bay? Maybe even on a hooker!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Electric. Cork boy, and eclectic

Spiced Beef Starter at Electric

Electric. Cork boy and eclectic.

Loved it on Monday night when I was able to take a couple of Australian friends to a local restaurant that was serving some very lovely local food. At the same time, the menu featured some exotic items (feta, Halloumi) and mozzarella (but of course that comes from Macroom nowadays). Head chef Kevin brings it all together at South Mall’s Electric.

Just look at the starter list. It includes Crubeens, Tom Durcan’s Spiced Beef, the Toonbridge Mozzarella and Daly’s Smoked Salmon. Must say we were all impressed with the Spiced Beef starter, the quality and the presentation. Served with piccalilli, it went down a treat.

As did the crubeens, though maybe not in a way your grandfather would have recognised. The meat has been extracted for you and is served in crisped balls with a piquillo pepper jam and pickled onions, really tasty!

The majority went for fish for the main course though CL choose the Saddle of Rabbit with baby potatoes, smoked bacon and tomato. Something different again – Electric never rest on their laurels – and a real winner as far as she was concerned.

JB enjoyed her Caramelised pork belly while I was very happy indeed with my Roasted Monkfish. Plates were cleaned to such an extent that no one had a mind for dessert.

Wines also delivered. The white was a Martin Codax Rias Baixas 2010 Albarino (Spain) while the red was Jean Claude Boisset Les Ursulines 2010 Pinot Noir (Burgundy, France). Not crowded but a decent crowd in and a lively atmosphere, for a Monday night, both in the restaurant and later in the comfortable bar.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Good Food Ireland pop-up; Dublin Gourmet Stroll

Experience GOOD FOOD IRELAND Pop up at Kildare Village Summer time Festival
For the second year the Good Food Ireland Pop-up will be at Kildare Village for the designer outlet shopping village’s Chic Summer Festival. The Good Food Ireland pop-up will showcase the very best of high quality, Irish-produced food with Irish ingredients. You will be able to dine around Ireland in one location by enjoying delicious food from Good Food Ireland-approved providers every weekend from 7th July to 19th August.
This is a rare opportunity to meet the people behind the food from the cheese maker to the chef, to the sausage maker to the restaurateur while enjoying at the same time the best of designer shopping. Dishes will range from Prime Hereford Steak Ciabatta, Artisan Sausages, and Warm Bacon Blaas as well as lots more sumptuous treats!
“The Good Food Ireland Pop Up is an amazing experience for Shoppers, the opportunity to meet the people behind the food from all around Ireland and enjoy their food while taking in the best of designer outlet shopping”, says Margaret Jeffares, Managing Director Good Food Ireland.
With such a selection to choose from, breakfast, lunch and dinner are all taken care of and these are not just tasters, they offer amazing value. For more information on the Good Food Ireland Pop Up visit


June 2012: This summer treat yourself to something special with a city break at the Five Star Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin. Dublin’s premier boutique hotel has created four luxurious packages, perfect for a stylish Summer city break in the heart of Dublin.

Foodies love to touch, they love to smell and most of all they love to taste! This tactile bunch will meet their match with Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin Head Chef, Matt Fuller. The Dublin Gourmet Stroll gives guests at the hotel the chance to walk through the city, under the close eye of Matt, who will ‘dish’ the dirt on the hidden tricks of the trade, ever wondered where Ireland’s top chefs go seeking inspiration? Matt is ready to lift the proverbial lid!

Once you have sampled the delights of Dublin’s burgeoning food scene, and learned of the best cheesemongers, sommeliers, & baristas in the area, the gastronomic adventure continues in Citron Restaurant at The Fitzwilliam Hotel, where Matt will talk you through a delicious three course meal with culinary highlights including;  Hand Dived Scallops with vanilla potatoes, passion fruit air & carrot saffron purée,  and a Pigeon & Foie Gras with creamy cep rice, apple, blackberry purée & artichoke.

Before you are enveloped in the cool crisp Egyptian cotton sheets of your Deluxe Executive Suite, enjoy a well- deserved Digestif in the hotel’s Inn on the Green bar.

The Dublin Gourmet Stroll package also includes a hearty breakfast on the day of departure,  car parking facilities, wireless internet access and all rates and service charges and costs €275 pps. Price available on request.  /  /

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bye Bye France and Spain for 2012!

Bonne nuit à la belle France 2012. And Spain too! 
My Hendaye base: appartment & pool
La Rioja day trip
Rabbit, from the traiteur
Marina at Hendaye

Really enjoyed my four weeks in the Basque Country this year. I was based in the French border town of Hendaye and that gave me the opportunity to make many trips into Spain. Hendaye is a major rail junction and the local tourist office sells bus trips to Basque towns both in France and in Spain.

One of those bus trips, to San Sebastian, fell through because of a driver error. But the Tourist Office really stepped in quickly and got us to San Sebastian by train. The bus company (Le Basque Bondissant) moved quickly as well by refunding the fare and then gave us a choice of a trip from their catalogue.

We had previously been looking at the Bilbao one (which included admission to the Guggenheim) and that was agreed with Sandrine in their St Jean du Luz office. So well done to Sandrine and indeed to each and everyone we met at the Hendaye Tourist office. Thank you all.

I think that any tourist arriving in any French town should make straight for the tourist office. You’ll be surprised at the amount of information available.

If you have a family, you’ll probably want to locate the nearest hypermarket, but family or not, you should also make the Traiteur a target. The traiteur, often the butcher, offers delicious prepared dishes, sometimes local and national classics. All you have to do is take them “home” and re-heat. And you’ll end up with a top notch meal for about a third of the restaurant price.

The local market is another great source of food and indeed some of the traiteurs turn up there as well. Normally, your accommodation provider will give you a list of market days but, if not, head to that tourist office.

So there you have it, my three tips for happy holidays in France: Tourist Office, Traiteur, and local market. Of course a little bit of advance research and a few words of the language will also help!

Good accommodation also helps. For the past few years, we have researched our own gites or apartments. This time we stayed at an apartment within a large villa right in the middle of Hendaye-Plage, minutes from the beach, the beautiful bay, the marina and the little ferry crossing to Spain, yards from the bus stop (free buses around town), and a few minutes also from the big train station.

Newly built, the apartment was top class with a state of the art kitchen and a lovely shared pool. In all, there were five apartments in the building but no problems arose because of that. No problems at all.

Happy holidays!

Tips for driving Bordeaux – Roscoff.

Raspberry tart on board Pont Aven

Seagulls follow Roscoff trawler out to sea

Pont Aven

Home, sweet home!
Tips for driving Bordeaux – Roscoff. On Coming Home

Friday/Saturday 22/23 June 2012

Drove close to 900 kilometres up through France on Friday without a bother. The initial road from Hendaye to Bordeaux is mainly motorway and not the best you’ll come across in France. It probably will be better soon as there are improvements underway, some over huge stretches.

The autoroute from Bordeaux to Nantes is different class. Just a brilliant 130 kph ride, with magnificent facilities over its 300 kilometres. Having negotiated the efficient Bordeaux Rocade (ring road), I felt I deserved a stop and made one a few miles up the road at the smashing Aire de Saugon. Very good facilities here, including hot food, but then that is true of most of the motorway stops in this section.

Foodies should make a special note of the Aire du Vendee, closer to Nantes, as they sell some delicious concoctions of the area. Well worth a stop.

You should be well stocked with petrol as you wind your way around Nantes, which is just as well, as the motorway (no longer an autoroute) between here and Rennes is poorly served with Aires, with just one petrol stop just outside of Nantes.

Mostly there are just places where you can pull in and stretch your legs. There is one to avoid very close to Rennes, with a “Hil” in the title, as it has one of those toilets with the hole in the ground and water on the floor, built especially for the ladies!

Back in early 80s, there was hardly a Cork driver on tour who didn’t get lost in Nantes. Roads have improved hugely since then but there is still at least one slightly dodgy spot on the return journey. That comes on the péripherique (ring road) after exit 38 and before exit 37 (which is the one you want for Rennes). After exit 38, keep to your left.

It is motorway all the way from Rennes to Roscoff. Again, the level of services alongside are not great, so you should make a note of the excellent Aire d’Armor et d’Argoat, a few miles out of Rennes, and top up your petrol if you are running low. Of course, you can always go off piste to one of the local villages or towns, but sometimes you may be up against the clock.

Brittany Ferries have introduced a new facility and I’m sure parents will be very happy with it. While the Pont Aven doesn’t sail until 9.15pm you can now board at 6.30 and get those hungry kids a feed and a deserved drink for yourself!

I did get myself a drink, a rather timid Beaujolais Villages in one of those small bottles. The food though, particularly the main course, slices of juicy bacon, was excellent and reasonably priced in the self service La Belle Angel.

Service is really excellent on board the Pont Aven, lots of friendly staff willing and able to help you find your cabin or your way around the big ship. Great to sail back into the familiar harbour even if it was cloaked in the familiar grey! Nice to be home.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Night of Music in France

Music in the French Streets! Why not here?
June 21st, Thursday
More pics here

We had a very agreeable surprise on our last night in France. While walking to local Chez Kake, we noticed quite a few stages set up and indeed by the time we reached the restaurant, music was already being played close by.

Checked and were told this is the French Fête de la Musique which has been going on since 1982 and which has spread to dozens of countries. Amateur and professional musicians are encouraged to perform in the streets. Many free concerts are organized, making all genres of music accessible to the public. More here
Guns leave their marks

There was a terrific buzz around the streets with adults and kids out checking the various bands. 

Irish gig in Hondaribbia
After an excellent meal, we checked out some nearby venues and, within less than 100 metres, found a terrific Cuban band, a band playing The Band’s music and another group doing songs by The Doors. Great stuff and not an ounce of trouble. Maybe we Irish could copy this one!

On one of our first days here, we had taken the short boat trip (€1.70) across the Bidasoa River to Hondarribia in Spain. Did the same on a low key last day as we wanted to see their unusual riverside airport.

That we did, and we also had a closer look at the luxurious Government parador in the town, to see the pock marks made by the cannon balls back in 16th century when it was a chateau.

This is quite a lovely town and its Calle Mayor was used in the opening shots of the 1973 film Papillon (starring Steve McQueen).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hockney at Bilbao's Guggenheim

Hockney at Bilbao's Guggenheim 
Tulips by Jeff Koons

The Puppy, by Jeff Koons.

 David Hockney: A Bigger Picture opened in Bilbao's Guggenheim last month and is scheduled to go on until September 30th. Some very impressive works here, some huge. Favourites would include Pearblossom Highway, the bright Yorkshire landscape series and the Grand Canyon works. There is so much of Hockney here, including video works, one would need to spend a week on this show alone. If you can't visit, the next best thing is to check it out on the museum's site.
The Guggen is featuring the work of important post WW2 artist Georg Baselitz who makes "whimsical nods to history" and uses a lot of name-dropping. All the paintings here, 16 large scale works in one room, are painted upside down. Okay for an occasional impact, say one or two at a time, but 16 together?

There is so much going on here, it is unreal. Found some rooms full of photographs. One thing that has disappointed me about the North of Spain is the amount of high rises here. Xavier Ribas highlighted them and the people who live there in his work while by contrast you have Cindy Sherman's lively portraits of younger Americans.

And so much more, including the large sculptural works of Richard Serra. Don't believe me? Just get on to that website and check it out. Fantastic.

And, of course, there is an Irish connection. The Spanish lady who sold us our tickets is married to a Dubliner and will holiday in East Cork this summer. Hope the weather improves for her, and for us.
More pics here

The Guggenheim (Bilbao) in Black & White

Star Lunch at Bilbao’s Nerua

Star Lunch at Bilbao’s Nerua
With Chef Aitor on the Nerua terrace.
20th June 2012, Wednesday
Didn’t expect to be getting a tour of the kitchen when I made an electronic booking for Bilbao’s Michelin starred restaurant Nerua earlier in the week but that’s exactly what happened within minutes of our arrival for lunch on Wednesday.

We were handed over to Chef Aitor who showed us their three work sections: Pastry, Meat/Fish, and one whole section for vegetables (which they regard as very important and source locally). We had a few nibbles before Aitor took us up to their exclusive terrace overlooking the Guggenheim in which the restaurant is located.

He explained how the “Guggen” has transformed the city, especially around here where it had been run down and ugly. Before it was an industrial city, now it is a tourist city, he explained. Could do with something transformative like this in Cork.

After that mini-tour, we were handed over to the waiting staff. No shortage here. Formal and so well coordinated, but friendly, even time for a laugh (most had good English), and the service overall was immaculate in a white room with subdued lighting and just one window, a big one, overlooking part of the museum and the Spider Mama. Lighting is discreet, behind hanging cream ceiling tiles. No art on the walls here. Only on the plates!

An Amuse Bouche that contained a little egg yolk, thin crisps and oil, was first up. CL’s starter was Baked White Onion, cod fish and pimiento verde (12). I had chosen the Anchovies, Bilbao style, with grilled onions (15). We were off and running, a very promising start.


Turbot, turnip, rosemary
 My main course was outstanding: Turbot with rosemary, pickled turnip (35). Perfection on the plate and on the palate. But I have to say, CL’s was something else, with a humble piece of pork elevated to a height I’ve never before tasted: Piece of Iberico Pork, with carrots and artichoke emulsion. Incredible, more than a match for the best of beef, the best of lamb.
Delicious pork

Potato, apple and lime

That pork was a highlight and then another came quickly in the shape of my dessert: Ashes of black olives, aromatic herbs and soft ice cream (12). A very unusual feel on the palate, quickly lifted by the liquorice in the herbs. The other dessert was a Millefeuillie of potato, apple and lime (11), also excellent.

There is quite an extensive wine list, with a strong local element, many at very reasonable prices. Our pick was a Rías Baixas Nora 2011 Albarino (26); we enjoyed it very much and lingered with it for a while after we had finished off the main meal and the little surprise that followed: a warmed chocolate boule with a cold centre and we were happy to oblige with the order to eat it with one bite!

You may see the full menu here  . The prices do not include vat of 8%. Total bill, including a bottle of water and the wine, came to €150.66.

Black Olive Ashes...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sipping on the dock of the bay

Sitting in the evening sun, watching the boats come and go. Hard to beat the calm ambience at Hendaye's Cabane du Pecheur, perhaps our favourite local restaurant over the past 4 weeks.
Add in a nicely chilled glass of Jurancon Sec and some great fish dishes and you'll see what keeps us coming back for more. Good friendly service also helps.
Last night's starter on the slate was quite substantial and very tasty and cost €8.50
Starter: Serrano, Chorizo and saucisson
Thon Rouge
 There is always at least one special (a "suggestion du moment"). I thoroughly enjoyed my red tuna (above), served with green peppers and jus de viande. It was cooked to perfection, moist and juicy and with great veg. And much the same could be said about CL's cod (below), served also with peppers and petit pois. Each cost €19.00.
Chabillaud (fresh cod)
The dessert was a repeat: Le Cafe Gourmand, consisting of an expresso, Gateau Basque and macaron. Details here.

Watch out for the next treat, a terrific lunch at Bilbao's Michelin starred Nerua, situated in the famous Guggenheim Museum.

Ballymaloe's Riesling Revolution: The Video.

Watch the video produced from the Riesling Revolution evening at Ballymaloe in Cork.
Please feel free to send it far and wide, let people know what a great, and unique, night we had. Click here to see the video. 

Billy Goat Beer and Paddle Surfing!

Basque beer, Paddle Surfing and Camino Town
June 19th, Tuesday

The rains came down today for a couple of hours around lunchtime but, by then, I was safely in the dry though not on the dry! 
My refuge was the craft brewery Akerbeltz. They were so busy brewing the stuff in their Ascain facility that they didn’t even notice us come in. Soon though we got a warm welcome, then enjoyed a couple of tastings and left with packs of their main three beers. All good.
By the time, we got back to Hendaye, the rain was pretty heavy and the Corniche Basque didn’t look at all pretty, though the surfers seemed to be enjoying it. But, within an hour, the sun was shining strongly, and we were on the beach and so too were the surfers, including several groups of learners. 

The day had started with a trip to the inland Basque town of Ainhoa, not entirely dissimilar from yesterday’s town of La Bastide-Clairence. Ainhoa, classified as one of France’s prettiest villages, was built in the Middle Ages to provide a stopover for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostella.
 There has been much re-building since but still the three basic elements of any Basque town – the town-hall, the pictured church and the fronton (where they play pelota) - remain.

An inscription on a house built in 1662 (the Spanish more or less destroyed the place in 1629) commemoratives the fact the money from relatives in America funded the restoration, not an unusual story apparently. The oldest parts of the church date from the 14th century and it too has the tiers of wooden galleries typical of Basque churches.

More pics here

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The West's A-Bake! Chef on West Cork island.


A brand new bread experience is about to burst onto the Irish culinary scene.  The Firehouse Bakery & Bread School opens its doors and fires up its ovens on today.  Perfectly situated on beautiful Heir island, off West Cork and run by TV chef and author, Patrick Ryan, The Firehouse will offer one day bread making courses designed to take the fear out of bread making and return the staple to its rightful place as King of the table.

Chef and baker Patrick, co-author of Bread Revolution and star of BBC2’s Big Bread Experiment will expertly guide baking lovers through the bread making journey, dispelling myths along the way.  “All too often I hear people tell me how terrified they are of making bread,” says Patrick.  “Our courses at The Firehouse will show bakers just how easy it is to make wholesome, delicious bread, savouries and sweet treats in the comfort of their own kitchens so they’ll never need to buy awful pre-sliced mass manufactured bread ever again.”

The one day courses at the Firehouse are very hands on – Patrick advises newcomers to roll up their sleeves and “prepare to get floured!”  By the end of the day bakers will have produced authentic soda bread in a wood fired clay oven, knocked back dough, created windowpane effects, seen yeasted loaves rise and tasted both savoury and sweat treats.  He may even share his secrets for the perfect sourdough!  All this with the beautiful Roaringwater Bay as a back drop.

So, whether you’re a novice or more experienced baker, courses at The Firehouse Bakery & Bread School will introduce you to artisan baking methods and crafts to ensure your split tins, cob loaves, pizzas, flat breads, focaccia and cinnamon swirls are perfect every time.

facebook: Firehouse Bakery

Twitter:  @firehousebread

Patrick has spent the last three years establishing the Thoughtful Bread Company as an award-winning bakery in the south west of England, near Bath.  He is now returning home, to his roots, so he can share his passion for good food and great bread.

·         Courses start at 10.30am and finish at 5.30pm
·         Courses cost E100 per person
·         Cost includes :
Ø  Return ferry to Heir Island
Ø  Full day hands on baking experience
Ø  Lunch with wine
Ø  An artisan bakers’ goodie bag to take home

Cyrano author’s villa and one of France’s prettiest villages

Cyrano author’s villa and one of France’s prettiest villages
 Always a pleasure to visit one of France’s prettiest villages. There are quite a few, but it is the Basque dimensions that distinguishes La Bastide-Clairence. It dates back to the Middle Ages and owes much of it current well-being to a determined mayor and the work of a dozen craftspeople, often the saviours of small places like this.
The centre has been recently renovated. We enjoyed our walk up and down through the typically Basque houses and a purchase or two from the artisans (macarons to die for!)  but it was the 14th century church (Notre-Dame) that really caught my eye, two features in particular: the three tiers of galleries within and the many graves sheltered by “lean-tos” on both sides of the length.  Almost an indoor grave!

Cambo les Bains is another pretty town, renowned in the 19th century for the health giving properties of its two thermal hot water springs and later for Arnaga, the house of Edmond Rostand, the author of Cyrano de Bergerac.
 Aside from the twenty or so preserved rooms of the villa, built in the Basque style one hundred years ago, and the relating of the privileged life-style lived therein (Sarah Bernhardt stayed there often), there are gardens front and rear.
 The front gardens are in the fascinating formal French style with flowers, water features and symmetry the order of the day. At the rear, it is the turn of the freestyle English garden, no boundaries, just space for the well heeled to lose himself in nature.
True nature, of course, was also at the other side of the road but who knows what ruffian you might come across there. Now it is that poacher who has turned gamekeeper as, since 1960, the estate is owned by the town, who turned it into the museum it is today. It was listed as a national monument in 1995. Well worth a visit. More pics here.
Front of villa and, just above, the rear.

Monday 18th June 2012. A dull day overall with temps around the 20 mark.