Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jacques. Toujours.


Jacques. Toujours.
Scallops

I can never quite understand the rush of press critics to new restaurants. Some of them are hardly open a wet week and are winning awards. No doubt quite a few are well founded and will last the pace. Like twenty years. Thirty years. Maybe like forty years that the renowned reliable Jacques is now approaching. 

We called there last week and, well, it is as good as ever, maybe even better. The food is top class as is the service. Jacques were one of the first to recognise and support local producers and you know quite a few of them, including craft drink beer brewers and gin distillers, and so on. Have to admit we were on the wine though, a delicious pair at that, a cracking Albarino and a gorgeous Muscadet (biodynamique).
Hake

The Barry sisters may be approaching that big anniversary but their menu is innovative, not the least bit old stuff. Sure you can have your steaks and black-puddings and so on but it is the way they vary the dishes, the differing accompaniments, that keep the customers coming back time after time.

For instance, in July, your hake  will come pan fried, with lemon butter, crispy capers, parsley, Ballycotton queens and greens. The other night, a cold one, we enjoyed Fresh Hake, Seaweed, Fennel, Lemon Butter, Crispy Capers, Buttered Cabbage and Beans, Champ (23.90). A superb dish. Variety is the spice of life.
East meets ouest

That was CL’s main dish and speaking of spice, she had Smoked Morrocan Quail,  Spiced Couscous, Apricot, Harissa (11.90) as a starter. Another brilliant combination, bang on up to date with the evolving local cuisine. Don't think you'd have got that here in the early 80s!

And that exciting mix that has come to our plates over the past twenty years or so was very much in evidence in my starter: Asian Miso Seafood Bisque, noodles, vegetables (9.50). An accomplished and warming dish with hints of Asia and the Med, expertly cooked and presented, perfect for the cold.

And that high standard was maintained with my main dish: Fresh West Cork Scallops, Winter Remoulade, Celeriac Puree, Crispy Pancetta, Potato Rosti and a Tomato Relish 26.90. Scallops and Pancetta are a terrific duo but all the other elements played a role too. I took my time with that one and absolutely enjoyed it.

Still room for dessert and this time we broke out and had one each, sharing of course! The Oranges, Mascarpone stuffed Medjool Dates, Almonds, Pomegranate (7.50) were excellent but the winner, on points, was their Tiramisu - The Classic (7.50).

So best of luck to all the new restaurants and cafes that have opened up in the last few months - there are some excellent ones around town - but every now and then it doesn't do any harm to blow the trumpet for the old reliables who have worked their way through recessions and booms and who still come up trumps.

23 Oliver Plunket Street
Cork
021-4277387



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Franciacorta, An Italian Gem. Best of Bubbles.


Franciacorta, An Italian Gem
Best of Bubbles. 


Alma Gran Cuvée Bellavista Brut Franciacorta (DOCG), 12.5%, €52.99, Wine Online.

From Franciacorta in Lombardy, to the south of Lake Iseo and to the west of the better-known Lake Garda, comes some of Italy’s finest sparkling wine and it’s not Prosecco. Franciacorta is made in the same way as champagne, with the second fermentation in the bottle, all the better for the character of the wine. 

For the past forty years, Vittorio and Francesca Moretti have been producing excellent Franciacorta at their Bellavista estate. Our bottle has a blend of 80% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir and 1% Pinot Blanc.

It has a light straw colour with green tints. There are intense fountains of long-lasting small bubbles, pin-point and tiny. You may well note in the aromas the biscuit characters that turn up in good champagne, white fruit notes too including peach and citrus, plus floral and vanilla hints. It is intense also on the palate, fine, silky, beautifully balanced and then a lip-smackingly dry finish. Definitely makes a very good impression from first acquaintance and Very Highly Recommended.

Better than most Prosecco and as good as many Champagnes, this lovely wine is a welcome aperitif. Remember though that those bubbles go to the head faster than normal wines, so do provide a few nibbles, eg toasted almonds or cheese bits.

Interestingly, the area was once well-known for metallurgy and firearms (including the Beretta handgun, made outside of Brescia). Now, besides sparkling wine, it has some great cheeses such as Taleggio, Gran Padano and Gorgonzola. Franciacorta is a relatively recent phenomenon. "In 1968, there was nothing here," Maurizio Zanella, the unofficial ambassador of the wine, is quoted as saying.



Bargain Bubbles
Gran Troya Cava Brut NV 11.5%, €12.00 SuperValu

At a recent wine dinner in Cork, Irish Times writer John Wilson declared that Cava is getting better and better, “different, distinctive”. Yet many of us have yet to discover the Spanish sparkler, made in the same way as Champagne. This bottle, bought at twelve euro just before Christmas, is quite a good introduction. Recommended!

Colour is a pale yellow and there is no shortage of tiny bubbles rising to the top and forming a ring around the perimeter of the glass. It is intense and fruity with a long dry finish. A classic Cava. The grapes used are the traditional Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada “from our own vineyards”. Chardonnay is allowed but not used in this case. Try with olives, grilled almonds.

Covides Viñedos y Bodegas are the leading wine co-op in Catalonia in terms of volume and make their Cava using the método tradicional (same as Champagne). That means a thorough selection to get the best fruit, a careful blending process, secondary fermentation and subsequent ageing in the cellars at Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, a small town not too far from Barcelona. 


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Taste of the Week. Skellig Milk Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

Taste of the Week
Skellig Milk Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

Wasn't expecting too much from this pack but, with Skellig Chocolates involved, I should have known better. It is a delightful delicious combination and our current Taste of the Week.

By the way, the chocolate is the main ingredient here at 83%, smothering the marshmallow at 17%. You bite in through the chocolate cover on the irregular sized treats and find the soft tasty marshmallow in the middle. It is quality all the way from the gorgeous chocolate to the soft yielding marshmallow, a terrific flavoursome packet. 

They go well together as I found out when I visited last year and enjoyed a hot chocolate in their cafe, a café with a splendid view out to the magic islands, the hot chocolate topped with a generous helping of marshmallow!



The Glen
Ballinskelligs
County Kerry

066 9479119

Monday, February 19, 2018

Outstanding Gourmet Night. Thanks to Barnabrow Chef Bowes


Outstanding Gourmet Night.
Thanks to Barnabrow Chef Bowes

Blood Orange and Burrata

The Barnabrow Gourmet Evening is becoming a must-have ticket. Head Chef Stuart Bowes, with the aid of sous chef Adrian Kaszynski and team,  put on a top class multi-course meal last Saturday evening, highlight following highlight, and each course well paired by Donie O’Brien of Eno Wines.


Stuart has been at the lovely 30 acre estate for the past six years. “It is a happy working relationship,” says owner Geraldine Kidd as she celebrates 21 years in business here. “One of friendship as well. Stuart is a very patient person with a passion for food and makes so much of his own stuff here. He and Adrian are a well-oiled machine.”

The big restaurant, with its church style windows, was packed for the occasion and, after a reception with Canapés and organic Cava, we were led to our seats and soon began with an amazing dish: Ballyhoura Wild Mushrooms, Ardsallagh Goats Cheese Polenta, Crispy Hens Egg, Pangrattato. Just a big “wow” all round and even better when sipping the Pa Road Pinot Noir from Marlborough. The owners are friends of Donie’s, friends worth keeping as this wine is an excellent rich, ripe and elegant. Fresh and enlivening and with woodland aromas, it certainly did the business with the mushrooms.
Crispy egg and mushrooms

A good standard had been set and would be maintained all through. Indeed, the next course was one of my favourites. The Lobster Agnolotti, White Cabbage, Cognac, was innovative and delightful, the soft texture of the pasta, the crunch of the cabbage, the flavour of the lobsters and the pairing with the Chatelain Sancerre all added up to a sensational experience. 

While Donie might rave about New Zealand Pinot Noir, when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc he cheers for the Loire. “This is Sauvignon Blanc at its best. Sauvignon is now produced all over the world but they never match the Loire.” The Chatelain, with is summer meadow aromas, its citrus fruit and mineral character, is a beauty.
Lobster Agnolotti, white cabbage

Time now for the big red and the Cuvée Raphael, Chateau Parenchere, Bordeaux 2013, was just the job with Roast Squab Pigeon, Smoked Potato, Celeriac Gratin, White Dandelion. This fifty fifty Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is “one of the classics” said Donie. Very concentrated, smooth, full-bodied, mellow and rich with autumnal red fruits and excellent with the game dish and its accompaniments. Another well thought out plate and yet another well-executed.
Pigeon

And there was yet another beauty on the way, this the Toonsbridge Burrata, Blood orange, Corinader Seed, Lavosh. The occasion gives Stuart the opportunity to get some “unusual ingredients” and the blood oranges were one example. He didn't have to go to Sicily for the Burrata. That was made in Toonsbridge just 24 hours earlier. The superb Lavosh was made right here in Barnabrow. What a fantastic combination, another of my favourite courses (truth to tell, I liked them all). 

Must say chocolate pairs well with me! And so I was delighted to see Hot Valrhona Chocolate Mousse, Blackberry, Vanilla Ice-cream, Pain d’Epices appear in front of me. The ice-cream was “hidden” under the warm chocolate and the contrast in flavour and texture and temperature was a pleasant ambush! Delighted with dessert.
Valrhona

At this stage too we were enjoying sipping our Chateau Caillou Grand Cru Classé Sauternes 2007. Grand Cru Classé means it is one of the very best, very sweet on its own but, with rich desserts, it displays amazing richness and power yet has acidity enough. Donie filled us in: “They practice low yield, so the fruit is concentrated; it is rich and powerful and the flavour lingers.” Enjoyed that too.

We weren't quite finished yet as the Petit Fours appeared, some chocolate truffles and old fashioned delightful jellies.  A lovely end to an evening of gourmet pleasure.

I was a guest at Geraldine Kidd’s Barnabrow which is a superb location for weddings (the majestic, medieval-style banqueting hall, with its gothic windows, sets a grand, yet relaxed tone), for corporate events, for celebrations of all kinds (birthday parties, christenings, naming ceremonies, and Christmas parties), rooms and holiday cottages too and, don't forget, for Sunday lunch. Check it all out here.

Menu

Cava & Canapés (Pares Balta Cava)

Ballyhoura Wild Mushrooms, Ardsallagh Goats Cheese Polenta, Crispy Hens Egg, Pangrattato
(Pa Road Pinot Noir, New Zealand 2014)

Lobster Agnolotti, White Cabbage, Cognac
(Chatelain Sancerre, Loire 2016)

Roast Squab Pigeon, Smoked Potato, Celeriac Gratin, White Dandelion
(Cuvée Raphael, Chateau Parenchere, Bordeaux 2013)

Toonsbridge Burrata, Blood orange, Corinader Seed, Lavosh

Hot Valrhona Chocolate Mousse, Blackerry, Vanilla ice-cream, Pain d’Epices

Bewley’s Coffee, Barry’s Tea, and Petit Fours.

Dessert wine was Chateau Caillou Sauternes 2007

Head Chef: Stuart Bowes. Sous Chef: Adrian Kaszynski. Wines: Donie O’Brien of Eno Wines.







Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hackney's Five Points Brewing Comes To Cork. From one marsh to another.

Hackney's Five Points Brewing Comes To Cork.
From one marsh to another.
From one marsh to another, Five Points beers should be a good fit in Cork. The independent brewery is based in the heart of Hackney (East London), situated in a Victorian Railway arch and takes its name from an adjacent five-way junction. The beers, as we found out at a very enjoyable tasting in the Abbot’s Ale House, a craft mecca, last week, are full of flavour and aroma; all are unfiltered and unpasteurised for a better taste.

Five Points, founded five years back, launched in Ireland on the first of the month and Accredited Beer Sommelier Francesca Slattery, Ireland Account Manager, was in Abbot’s to guide us through a very interesting tasting indeed.

We started with the Pale. “We spent six months developing this, we had to get it right. It should be our backbone.” It is right and, with 60% of the sales (total of 2.1 million pints!), it is indeed the backbone of Five Points. It is a fresh, modern and aromatic Pale Ale (4.4%); easy drinking and perfect for any occasion. Hops are Amarillo and Citra and it comes in cask, keg, bottle and can.

The next beer, XPA, was actually brewed for an occasion, a local music festival. Citra and the Australian Galaxy are the hops. Francesca (Chess for short!) said it was bitter upfront but with a sweeter finish, the Golden Naked Oats help give it a nice mouthfeel. At 4% ABV, it is extra drinkable too and proved so popular at the festival that it was kept on the list. Can and keg.


On then to a bottle - Five Points package in cask, keg, can and bottle - of Hook Island Red (6%). Anton of Abbot’s: “If red good, then rest of beers should be alright.” And it is good, surprising one or two with its quality. I reckon it would be even better with food. Chess: “Though red is not a big thing in the UK, I love this beer, the way the hops cut through the sweetness and the rye makes it spicy.”

Customers may like the rye but brewers don’t as it can clog up the system! Still Five Points loaded this with 20% rye. Six malts and three hops all added to the final result. Cask, keg and bottle.
Francesca finds a winner!

A well balanced, full bodied beer brewed with all-British barley and Golden Naked Oats, coupled with Willamette hops from the USA, is how they describe Brick Field Brown. With earthy aromas and flavours of Demerara and hazelnuts, “it’s a hug in a glass”. Hops is Willamette, it is 5.4% and sold in cask and keg.

“India Pale Ale,” said Chess, “is an English thing.” But it took the US to revive it and that spurred the UK to renew their interest. White Shield and Bengal Lancer were mentioned as being iconic IPAs but we were happy to settle for the delicious Five Points version at Abbot’s. It is quite perfect so much so that you hardly notice its 7.1 ABV. Available in keg, bottle and can.

Then we had a final treat, the very last of the Derailed Porter at 5.6%. Chocolate and caramel with sufficient bitterness, this old style porter is delicious but Chess teased by telling us that it was even better in cask!

And so the tutored tasting came to a close but the evening was only starting as we moved downstairs for some serious tasting. Say no more!
Thanks to Anton (far right) of Abbot's for the pics.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Amuse Bouche

The Kuwaiti contractor....extracted a meaty profit margin off each worker.. also dinned into them American lingo. When I asked one of the Indians for French fries, he snapped: “We have no French fries here, sir. Only freedom fries.”

The seating was as tribal as that in a high school cafeteria. The Iraqi support staffers kept to themselves. They loaded their lunch trays with enough calories for three meals. Between mouthfuls, they mocked their American bosses with impunity. So few Americans in the place spoke Arabic fluently that those that did could fit around one table, with room to spare.


From Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajir Chandrasekaran. (filmed as the Green Zone)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Good food. Good Wine. And Two Amigos. Equals A Fun Experience in the Maryborough

Good food. Good Wine. And Two Amigos.

Add Up To A Fun Experience in the Maryborough
Venison

The Maryborough Hotel held their first ever wine dinner this week and it was a resounding sold-out success. Stanley A. Moss, representing the Riojan winery Luis Cañas, set the tone early on, promising to “be fun, not geeky” and fellow presenter John Wilson, the Irish Times wine writer, had no problem in making it a double act. The duo went to successfully impart plenty of information on the various wines without tying us up in technical knots.

Towards the end, John described the experience as “one of the bargains of the century!”, referring to the brilliant wines and the excellent food, and that was the cue for a round of applause for the Maryborough’s outstanding chef Gemma Murphy, with thanks too of course to Luis Cañas from Rioja Alavesa.

We were warmly welcomed at a lovely reception. Cava was on offer, a drink that John Wilson says is getting better and better, “different, distinctive”. The same words could well be attached to the Kalak vodka, produced by Tipperary man Patrick Shelley, “a rare single malt Irish vodka, distilled four times in Skibbereen” and available at the reception in a lovely cocktail.
Cod
Verdejo is one of my favourites white wine grapes and so I was delighted to see the Val de Vid 2016 paired with Scallops, Mandarin salsa and Yuzu Foam. Stanley said this aromatic and flavourful wine comes from Rueda and the production, from old vineyards, is small. It is difficult to obtain in Ireland and only available in restaurants.

John remarked that he thinks of it as the “Spanish Sauvignon blanc, with citrus, green fruits and dry like a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc.” He remarked that there are some cheap Verdejos out there and advised paying “a bit more to get the quality”. Tasty, aromatic and satiny and it got us off to a great start at the table.

We were now on to Cod, compressed cucumber, radish, shimeji, wakame, dashi, matcha green tea. More Verdejo? No, the reds were introduced, a lightly oaked elegant Crianza 2014, fruity on the nose and palate with a lively acidity playing a key role. John Wilson said that Rioja wines come ready to drink because of the ageing and classification system.  The pairing, by the way, was quite a success.
Beef Cheek Ravioli

Third course was Foie Gras, Crispy Chicken skin, Hazelnut and miso caramel and this was matched with the Luis Cañas Reserva 2011. John pointed out the main grape in Rioja is Tempranillo, “the Spanish variety”. Stanley said they do their best to produce good fruit. Sometimes that means cutting back on the yield and less grapes means more expensive wine. “But usually you get what you pay for.”

There was a double step up in class with the Gran Reserva being by-passed as we were treated to the Cañas Reserva La Familia 2011, a good year here in Rioja. With its pleasant and complex nose, round palate with great structure and juicy tannins, it was a super match with the Assiette of Ballinwillin Venison, perhaps the highlight of the meal.

And it paired well too with the next course, Beef Cheek Ravioli, kohlrabi, cured egg yolk and spilt red wine jus, 
Chocolate
This Familia is 85% Tempranillo with only the best of the grapes being selected to “magnify the good side”. It is a superb wine, intense and complex on the nose, “milkier, creamier on the palate”, powerful with chocolate notes (which came in handy as the dessert was Chocolate Pave with Cherry).

At that stage, some more “sweets” appeared as well, as did a Black Twist Cocktail. Black Twist, invented by Conor Coughlan, is a blend of coffee and whiskey and you may read more about it here.  

All good things come to an end but I have the strong impression that the Maryborough will soon have another wine dinner. Watch this space!

* For more info on the wines check on Searsons.com


Food & Wine Event February 13th 2018 Tasting Menu 
Scallops, mandarin salsa, yuzu foam. 
Foie Gras, crispy chicken skin, hazelnut, miso caramel. 
Cod, compressed cucumber, radish, shimeji, wakame, dashi & matcha green tea oil. 
Assiette of Ballinwillin Venison Beef cheek ravioli, kohlrabi, cured egg yolk, spilt red wine jus. 
Beef Cheek Ravioli, kohlrabi, cured egg yolk and spilt red wine jus
Chocolate pave with cherry.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pheasant's Tears Wines. Flavours From Generations Past

Pheasant's Tears Wines
Flavours From Georgia's Past And Present.
By Levan Gokadze from Tbilisi, Georgia - Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56889960; Qvevri buried in the winery.

John Wurdeman, ex Virginia (US), and Gela Patalashvili are the men behind Pheasant’s Tears, a natural winery and vineyards in the far east of Georgia (where Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are among the neighbours). They could have taken the oak route, even the chemical route but, with guidance from the local bishop, they stuck with the local tradition, a vine and wine tradition that goes back hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.

Vegetables and herbs grow among the Georgian vines. In the wineries, many of them very basic, skin contact is employed extensively, but what makes Georgian winemaking different is their use of the qvevri, huge earthenware vats sunk into the ground and used for fermentation and storage. They are made from the local terracotta clay, survive in the ground for generations and have been awarded a place on the UN Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Other winemakers, even in Italy and France, are beginning to use them.
By Levan Totosashvili - https://www.flickr.com/photos/conversum/4066312418/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38658843
Qvevri above ground.

At the start of her book (below), Alice Feiring wonders about the future of the Georgian approach to wine production. Remarkable that is has survived “vicious invasions” and the “assault of Soviet industrialisation”.  But…“Could Georgians resist the onslaught of wine consultants….? Could they resist chemical salesmen….?”  

They have been stubborn in holding on to their methods in the past. Fingers crossed that they’ll be just as stubborn in the present and future as the get-rich flag is flown in their faces.

  • Info on Georgian wines is not all that easy to come by but I was helped by reading For Love of Wine by Alice Feiring, also the Le Caveau catalogue, and by listening to relevant podcasts on BBC Radio Four Food. 
  • A Youtube video on Georgian wine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoyI2bJrTnU, one of a few.

Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi Kakheti (Georgia) 2015, 14%, €27.40 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau.

This must-try wine is made in the historical province of Kakheti from Saperavi, the “hero” grape of Georgia. Hero because it survived decades (beginning in 1920) of Soviet centralisation, ironically under the Georgia born Stalin (who liked his wine!), a policy that aimed to eliminate most of the region’s hundreds of varieties, aiming to leave only a handful of the most productive ones.

But the Saperavi survived and eventually thrived again. Indeed, it has been planted in 25 Australian vineyards and the reports are good. By the way, be careful you don't spill this juice on your best white top. Unlike most red grapes, the pulp here is also red and so more liable to stain than normal.

The ancient grape has provided wine for many generations. Even during the worst of the Soviet times, householders kept growing it in the gardens, without chemicals, to make wine for the house. And nothing is wasted. The leftovers (the pomace) from the initial wine-making are distilled to make the Georgian Chacha, their fiery equivalent of Italy's Grappa.

Colour of our Saperavi is a deep purple. The aromas are of cherry, savoury notes too. On the palate it is fresh, full of vitality, cheerful blackcurrant flavours feature, tannins are pretty firm. While there is some little sweetness on the palate, the long finish is dry. Check your lips! It is a most satisfying wine, eminently drinkable and digestible and Very Highly Recommended. One can see why the Georgians allow three litres per guest at weddings and other excuses (readily found, apparently) for feasting! It is said that Georgians rarely eat; they feast.

This is quite magnificent with lamb, either roasted or stewed, Georgian-style, with aubergine.

Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito Kartli (Georgia) 2014, 13%, €27.25 Bradley’s Cork, Le Caveau

The fruit for this one comes from Mukhrani in Kartli. The Shavkapito grape is a rare Georgian variety, praised for its refreshing tones of violets and forest earth. If you were lucky enough to have been part of the Georgian royal circle in ancient times you would have seen the king reach out for a glass of Shavkapito on a regular basis.


Colour is a dark ruby and the legs are surprisingly slow to clear and you’ll note dark fruit among the aromas. A juicy fruity palate (plum, cherry) also features persistent grainy tannins and there is a velvety spicy finalé. Oak comes to mind but the wine has seen no wood only the inside of the qvevri. A natural with game and with lamb. Highly Recommended, perhaps Very Highly Recommended in a few years time when the tannins have calmed down a bit!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Taste of the Week. Gubbeen Marinated Pork Ribs

Taste of the Week
Gubbeen Marinated Pork Ribs



The Gubbeen stall at the Thursday Mahon Point Farmers Market is always worth a call. Recently, we got a wheel of their delicious cheese, an Irish classic. Fingal Ferguson’s smokehouse and charcuterie in general is always there in abundance and we spotted these ribs there, now our Taste of the Week.
We got enough for three, maybe four, for a tenner. And advice on how to cook them: low and slow, with a tray of water underneath to keep them moist during the process.

The Blog Chef followed the instructions, added a simple salad, and it proved to be a delicious flavoursome main course. Thank you Fingal and company!

And, of course, we had some of the cheese later on.


Gubbeen
Gubbeen House,
Schull, Co. Cork.
Ireland.
Cheese Telephone:
00 353 (0)28 28231
Smokehouse Telephone:
00 353 (0)28 27824

Monday, February 12, 2018

Excellent Dishes and Comfort All The Way at The Barn


Excellent Dishes and Comfort All The Way at The Barn
Lamb

Carpets and comfort all the way at the long-established Barn Restaurant, between Mayfield and Glanmire, when we visited at the weekend. Excellent service too and some pretty decent food as well in this spacious busy place, courteous and as efficient as ever despite a long running renovation that will mean a big expansion on an already large venue.

The renovation area though is neatly tucked away and you hardly notice, especially these dark evenings. You certainly don't notice it once you enter to a warm welcome. You are seated in a sizeable waiting area, given the menus (Early Bird, Set, and A La Carte) and you can also order a drink as you study the dishes on offer. A note on provenance is on the menu to the effect that all their beef, lamb and pork are Irish.
Pork

Soon our order was taken and we were shown to our table. An amuse bouche of smoked salmon (their own) and cream cheese was a nice way of beginning. The melon and fruit platter is a long-standing favourite here, also a favourite of CL’s. But she ignored it this time and instead “voted” for the Chicken Caesar salad with garlic croutons and shaved parmesan (€8.90). That got ten out of ten for a well balanced dish and the croutons were also excellent, not the hard type that could break a tooth!

Chicken Caesar Salad
And I was well pleased too with a similarly priced Serrano Ham, Olive and semi-sundried tomato salad with a basil honey dressing, a delicious mix of textures and flavours, another well balanced mix of sweetness and sharpness, also €8.90. Other starters included a Duck and Chicken Paté, The Barn’s Black Pudding with spiced chutney, BBQ marinated chicken wings, Potted Garlic Prawns.

Lots of steak and fish (including fish and chips) on the mains, also chicken and duck and they also offered two vegetarian options.

The lamb was my pick: Marinated Roast Rack of Irish Lamb with minted Kiwi Compote, sweet chilli drizzle and Cabernet Sauce (23.90). This was perfectly cooked as ordered and nicely presented, some delicious veg on the side. All the extras played a part, especially that sumptuous sauce.

CL meanwhile was also very happy with her Roast Fillet of Pork Steak (20.90); the roulade was stuffed with savoury mushroom and bacon, beetroot and apple chutney and truffle drizzle, even if there was no sign of the beetroot!  
Serrano

Plates were polished off and a fairly anonymous Malbec (6.50 a glass) also finished and we then turned our attention to the famous dessert trolley rolled, with some effort, over the plush carpet! Quite a choice here, all 7.50, and we enjoyed a Pavlova and a Marinated Fruit, each with a scoop of ice-cream. Nice finalé but the highlights came earlier.

* The renovation/extension works are on-going but the "old" area is still totally active, fifty or sixty in by the time we left, about 8.00pm. The new area, I was told, will take the pressure off the existing area. And there is a new patio with "the best views out over Glanmire”. When will it all be finished? Answers include “Your guess is as good as mine” and “They’re tipping away at it.” Hopefully, when it’s up and running, The Barn will look to improving their presence on social media!


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Olives beyond Tuscany. Buffalo Return To Toons Bridge

Olives beyond Tuscany. Mozzarella beyond Italy.

Toby Simmonds Tells Two Stories.
Nyons olives, via wikipedia
Toby Simmonds, telling us about The Real Olive Company and Toons Bridge Dairy, was the star of the show as the Munster Wine & Dine Circle launched it's 2018 programme at a packed L’Atitude last Thursday. 

The gathering may have been expecting a genteel tasting of his imported olives and his Toonsbridge Irish cheese; well they got that, and much more, with Toby pointing out the snobbishness surrounding olive oil, the very limited varieties available in the supermarkets (like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in wine and not too much else), the overuse of caustic soda (the Spanish Cure) in olives. And his cheese story is just as interesting.
Took this pic of a very old olive tree in the Charente in 2009

Toby came into a challenging scene when, with the aid of a three figure loan, he started off here in 1993. But since then farmers markets have taken off in a big way, the English Market stall has been and is a huge success for him and  partner Jenny Rose Clark (Jenny Rose also runs the Sandwich Stall in the market).

The snobbery comes across often at a market. “Is those olives from Tuscany?” When the answer is no, the potential customer walks away. Toby sees this as “missing the point” and something of an insult to all those communities around the Mediterranean who take their olives seriously and produce “good stuff”. 

And, as regards the limited choice now available in the supermarkets, he says that that diversity is everything. “Olives present a great story”. By way of illustration then showed a slide of himself and a 4,000 year old olive tree. “That same variety is growing as a five year old in the grove across the road.”

So then we got down to the business of tasting a string of his olives, starting with the Kalamata from the centre of Greece. As we moved on, he mentioned the overuse of caustic side in curing. “A little bit is fine. But too much takes the goodness out of the olives. It is happening all the time.” The green Picholine olives from France, though now grown all over the world, have a “little bit of caustic soda” in their cure, were among the samples we tasted.
Toby's Burrata

Others in the tasting were the Galega (my favourite on the night) from Portugal’s Alentejo, the very expensive Nyons variety from Provence, the dry and wrinkly Beldi (“will be even better in three years time”), and the little baby olives which Toby finds hard to sell outside of Cork where it is a firm favourite, not least with the kids.

Then we were on to the amazing Toons Bridge cheese story, a story that saw them “in crisis” just a few years after the original Buffalo/Mozzarella partnership ended in “divorce”. Flying in frozen buffalo milk from Italy wasn't a success but new cheesemaker Franco then turned up with a local solution and made it from cows milk.

A key factor in Mozzarella is the whey starter (“a bit like sourdough”); yesterday's whey is used as a starter the very next day.” The starter is essential for texture and flavour and the Mozzarella is the same as you get from Italy. 
Cheese plate by Toons Bridge at L'Atitude

So the Toons Bridge cheese story goes on and the good news is that they now have their own little herd of 22 young buffalo with another twenty on the way - you'll have to wait a while for this herd's cheese though. Currently, Mozzarella (from cows milk) is delivered fresh to their English Market stall on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Eat it at home as soon as you can, maybe even eat it on the bus on the way home! It is not meant to be kept!

The challenge presented by that crisis though has turned into an opportunity. With no fresh buffalo milk available to them anymore, Toons Bridge have creatively filled the gap by adding a string of gorgeous Italian style cheeses to their range.

One is Caciocavallo. This can age marvellously, turning the soft, rubbery paste so hard and flinty that it needs to be broken in shards. The flavours can be huge, as they harness all of the various raw milk bacteria to ripen the curd. This cheese was made by the ancient Greeks and they got it from the Babylonians. “It is one of the oldest in history.”
Olives trees. Took this shot from the spectacular fortified site of Les Baux in Provence

They also do Halloumi and Ricotta (try with Highbank Orchard Syrup). And then there’s the Pecorino Vincenzo.  Pecorino is the general name for sheep’s cheese in Italy. This pecorino is made in Toons Bridge by Vincenzo to a family recipe from his native Marche region.  

Vincenzo has a small flock of sheep and he make this gorgeous Pecorino right here. Another must try from this rural hub of creativity, imagination and passion and, every now and then, a little bit of well deserved luck!

Another of their cheeses is Scamorza which is a simple stretched curd cheese that is hung (you can see the mark of the string) for a short period of time to air dry. It is similar to mozzarella and melts well. It is sweet and delicate. They do both smoked and unsmoked versions and I must say I enjoy the smoked one (great when stuffing those big flat mushrooms) or, as Toby suggested at the tasting, “..it is great in a sandwich, like hanging out with gypsies”.
Cheeses, mainly Caciocavallo, in Toons Bridge

The enthusiasm is amazing. They are a long ways from finished here. More cheeses on the horizon. Keep a look out in the near future for the Toons Bridge Cardoon Cheese, featuring a flowering vegetable used in cheeses in Spain and Portugal. From the Med to Macroom, the links keep growing.

So big thanks to Toby for his amazing talk. Thanks to Andrew O’Dwyer of Market Place for supplying the Prosecco and to L’Atitude for the canapés.

Munster Wine & Dine Chair Eithne Barry filled us in on what is in store for the year. First event, on March 24th, is a Wine Trail (led by Colm McCan and with tastings!) around the historic streets of Cork, stopping at various places associated with wine, including the old bond. 

There will be some long distance tours during the summer, nearby producers too to visit, before the finalé, a tour and Sunday lunch in Longueville House, an incredible experience when we visited three years back. 

Lots to look forward to in the months head. So do join up (application form here)  and enjoy.