Saturday, July 20, 2019

Amuse Bouche

Battenberg by Henrycooksey

And she said, ‘…. And what about Battenberg?’ 
And I said, ‘I don’t know because I don’t know what Battenberg is.’
She said, “It’s a kind of cake. It has four pink and yellow squares in the middle and it has marzipan icing round the edge.’
And I said, ‘Is it a long cake with a square cross-section which is divided into equally-sized, alternatively coloured squares?’
And she said, ‘I think you could probably describe it like that.’

from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2003). Highly Recommended.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ballycotton's Pier 26. A Natural for Fish!

Ballycotton's Pier 26. A Natural for Fish!
These delicious Crab Claws came with Garlic Butter and Organic Leaves. I think I've have preferred it if the claws hadn't been released from the shell. But they had and I missed that little bit of a tussle! Better outcome though than last year in a West Cork dining room when they came entire and I was presented with a plastic hammer!

In Ballycotton's excellent Pier 26 restaurant, head chef Colin Hennessy can't write the menu (at least the fish part) until the boats come in at the pier below. Only then does he know what he has to work with and that is why you'll find most of the fish dishes on the Specials Board. There is a lovely bar alongside, even a handful of rooms, all now under the Pier 26 name.

We were there recently - be sure and book before you go - and enjoyed our meal from start to finish. Fish, of course dominated, at least until the desserts!

We started with a couple of aperitifs. I enjoyed my Kir as I looked out the large window in front of me towards the island and its lighthouse. If you are in the inner room, you'll miss that view. CL had her back to the water as she concentrated on her Pimm's (left).

Fresh Crab with pickled gooseberries and organic leaves. An unusual combination but another excellent starter.

Roast Fillet of Hake, summer greens and pickled fennel. Just perfect. By the way, you get some fabulous sides here as well including Buttered Mash, Skinny Fries,  Buttered Summer Greens, John Kennefick's British Queens, Truffle Aioli and Parmesan Fries...

John Dory is a favourite here. This winner is served with Purple Broccoli, Heritage tomatoes and the combination with that seafood bisque is hard to beat.

No fishy dessert, that I know of. This flower enhanced Pavlova with fresh strawberries, blackberries, poached apricots and Chantilly Cream (and a bit of rhubarb too) was a beauty while the Raspberry Soufflé with white chocolate ice cream (below) was just the ticket to finish off an excellent meal.

Next time I'm down, I may well try this Seafood Platter. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Two Highly Recommended Chardonnays from California's De Loach

Two Highly Recommended Chardonnays from California's De Loach

The Boisset family, with vineyards in Burgundy, have owned De Loach in California since 2003. Jean-Charles immediately noticed the similarities with Burgundy and the potential for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They dug up all the existing vineyards and replanted using biodynamic techniques and produced their first wines in 2010.

De Loach Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County 2015, 14.5%, €29.99 
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Ballinlough; Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown; Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants; Donnybrook Fair; Clontarf Wines; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Lilac Wines, Fairview; La Touche Wines, Greystones; The Wicklow Wine Co; Grapevine;

This judiciously oaked Chardonnay is well balanced with a round mouthfeel and a lively acidity. The fruit comes from the heart of the Russian valley and the juice was fermented in a combination of stainless steel tanks (40%) and French oak barrels (60%), of which 10% were new. The barrel fermented portion of wine was aged for nine months and achieved full malolactic conversion. 

It has a light straw colour with a pleasing mix of aromas (apple, peach and lime). That almost creamy mouthfeel, flavours (citrus led) plus a vibrant acidity combine to make this a really harmonious wine, all the way through to a long gratifying finish. Highly Recommended.

This Chardonnay pairs well with a variety of light dishes and effortlessly combines the two distinct styles of crisp refinement and rich elegance.

De Loach “Heritage Collection” Chardonnay California 2017, 13.5%, €19.99 
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Ballinlough; Searsons Wine Merchants, Monkstown; Mitchell & Son Wine Merchants;  Donnybrook Fair; Clontarf Wines; Baggot Street Wines; Red Island Wine, Skerries; Lilac Wines, Fairview; Blackrock Cellar; La Touche Wines 4U; The Wicklow Wine Co; Grapevine, Dalkey; Finian Sweeney;

Colour of this classy restrained Chardonnay is light to mid yellow. Honeydew melon is prominent in the bouquet. What follows is a beautiful melange of tropical flavours (with pineapple and mango in there). Rich, soft and harmonious, right to the lingering finalé. Easy drinking, delicious and Highly Recommended.

For the 'Heritage Collection' series, Russian River Valley grapes are combined with those from selected premier cool-climate growing regions in California, particularly the Central Coast, to produce an approachable, good value range. De Loach practises sustainable viticulture and minimally intrusive winemaking.

Indeed, they take great pride in their “tri-fold heritage, a family company with deep Burgundian roots, and stewards of the land that we have for future generations”.

An interesting note from the winery saying that the majority of the must was cool fermented in stainless-steel tanks at controlled temperatures, to retain the fresh fruit flavours in the finished wine. “The remaining fruit was barrel fermented, which produced a more richly textured wine. These wines were then blended together to produce a balanced, textured and fruit-forward wine.” By the way, there is two per cent Sauvignon Blanc in there too.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Clonakilty in 24 Hours. A July Excursion!

Clonakilty in 24 Hours.
A July Excursion!
Clonakilty Black Pudding and strawberries, delicious starter at the Emmet Hotel

Lunch on the beach at The Fish Basket
Mussels (left) and Fish Tacos on the lunch menu at The Fish Basket. Both polished off.

The sun is out as we arrive at Long Strand after the drive down from Cork city. The idea was to have lunch at the Fish Basket which has established itself in a wooden shack on the edge of the beach. But we are a little too early as lunch service doesn’t start until about 12.45am. So that gives us time to take a walk on the long and pleasant beach, taking in the splendid views of Galley Head.

When we get back, the Fish Basket crew, a friendly and efficient bunch, have turned the kitchen after a busy breakfast service and we check out the lunch menu. We went on to enjoy two delicious fish dishes, well cooked and neatly presented. There are a few dozen seats inside and as many outside. Great spot and Very Highly Recommended.

Scannell's, a Bar with a Back-Garden Buzz
Together again, in Scannell's

After lunch we headed back to a private visit to the industrial unit in Bandon where Philip O’Connor and his staff turn out those delicious Seymours Irish Biscuits. By the time we get back to Clonakilty, we agree that we deserve a drink and so we called to Scannell’s who we know, from previous visits, serve craft beer. 

Hardly anybody in the bar but the extensive beer-garden at the back is buzzing. It is the 4th of July and there are quite a few foreign accents and every French person in the area seems to be here. We get a seat at a bench (under the shade in our case) and enjoy some Blacks of Kinsale 1601 lager and also the Franciscan Well Chieftain Pale Ale.

The Friendly and Central Emmet Hotel

Fish for dinner
Our base for the night was the O’Keeffe family owned Emmet Hotel, situated in the Georgian square that also owes its name to the Irish patriot. Lots of Irish patriots honoured in the lovely flower bedecked West Cork town. There is a statue of Michael Collins in the square and nearby streets are named, Ashe, Wolfe Tone, and there are more. Indeed, you may visit the Michael Collins house right here in the square.

This is a small high-ceilinged hotel with 20 rooms, a lovely dining room, a garden room and a garden for barbecues and other events. Might be small but there’s a lot going on here. 

It was long been known as a supporter of local producers and this continues with the likes of Caherbeg Pork, Fresh Fish Deli, Irish Yogurts, Rosscarbery Recipes, ZT Fish Rosscarbery, Gloun Cross Dairy, Shannonvale Foods, Bushy’s Strawberries, Clonakilty Black-pudding, and Clona Dairy listed.
Pancakes with superb local bacon

We had our dinner and breakfast here, both very enjoyable. The Emmet is well worth checking out, a lovely friendly well-run spot right in the town centre.

After that breakfast, we strolled around the Friday Farmers Market, which now sets up in Emmet Square, before our visit to the nearby Clonakilty Distillery, the newest attraction in this lively town. And we had lunch in the distillery’s Whale’s Tail Bistro before a leisurely journey back to the city.

Also on this trip:
Clonakilty Distillery
Bandon's Seymour Biscuits

Monday, July 15, 2019

Seymour Amazing Shortbread Biscuits Travel The World

Seymour Amazing Shortbread Biscuits Travel The World
Philip and stalwart Theresa pack those shamrock shortbreads

“It can be tricky here this time of year with the humidity,” said Philip O’Connor as he greeted us at his Seymour Biscuits production facility in Bandon on a very warm 4th of July. The date is appropriate enough as the USA is one of the countries to which these delicious biscuits are exported. And the shortbread biscuits, in their distinctive shamrock shape, also find their way to the states and other countries as they are widely available in tourist frequented shops (including Dublin’s Temple Bar) and are the best seller.

Philip was working on his coating line when we arrived and we watched as the little discs were covered with chocolate. Not too long afterwards we were tasting the little beauties. Lots of butter here and combined with the chocolate it makes for a beautiful crunchy experience on the palate. And the good news is that Philip is strongly thinking of adding these to his regular products next year.

There is a little story too behind the butter. Philip’s family are farmers and their land is a few miles east of Bandon. Their milk is supplied to a local co-op and it is from here that Seymours buy their butter.

So how did a farmer’s son get involved in biscuit making? “I started working in the car industry, in marketing in Dublin. But, while in college, I always had a hankering to get involved in the food or drink industry, though on the market side.” 

The beginning was small. About 12 years ago, he began making biscuits in the family kitchen on one day a week and began to supplying locally. Then one year later, in 2008, this unit became available and “I jumped in.”

With all of the equipment having to be bought, it was a big gamble, more so as the financial crisis was unfolding. But he stuck it out and survived. Lots of changes over those few years including the demand for gluten free and zero sugar products. “Independent outlets are going off the scene much to my regret. There’s a lot of competition and it is hard to get shelf space. But I have diversified a bit and that helps keep the show on the road.”

Recently has introduced Cheese Sables and these terrific savoury biscuits, excellent as a snack, “are getting nice repeat orders”. So far, he has two versions, the original and one with garden herbs (I really enjoyed that a few weeks back). West Cork cheddar is used in both, so you don’t even have to have cheese in the house!

And he is looking at new lines for next year, maybe with lower sugar (perhaps replacing it with honey or natural sugar). He is doing more too with coffee shops and hotels, and exports are increasing.

And back to the coating line, or the “enrobing” line to give it its proper name. There are not that many of these around and his investment in it has enabled him open up a new opportunity, that of contract coating. Philip though is happy with his business model, “small and niche, high quality, lower sales maybe but with a better margin”.

You’re more than likely familiar with some of his current products. One of my favourites is the Dark Chocolate and Raspberry Bites. Then there are shortbread variations, the original Shamrock that we’ve mentioned, Shortbread Bites, Chocolate and Hazelnut, and the top of the range (usually seen round Christmas) absolutely delicious Social Circles.

And, thinking of presents for someone, home or abroad, take a look at the Spirit of Ireland Biscuit tin,  displaying the iconic Rock of Cashel on its cover, the tin features individually hand-cut round and shamrock shaped Irish butter shortbread biscuits set within a custom made cushion tray. This is a special Irish product to give and receive. No doubt the biscuits will quickly be devoured and the tin kept forever. You can get many of the Seymour products online at 

Seymours Fine Foods Ltd
2 Cloughmacsimon Business Park, Bandon, Co. Cork.

Land line: +353 21 733 1129
Mobile:       +353 86 330 9378

Also on this trip:
Clonakilty Distillery

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Clonakilty Distillery. A New West Cork Landmark.

Clonakilty Distillery. A New West Cork Landmark

The spanking new Clonakilty Distillery, so conveniently situated on the N71 (the main road from the city to West Cork), is well worth a visit as I found out on July 5th. It has its own car park (tour buses accommodated) but we just strolled in from the town - we had booked online a few days earlier. Like most distilleries, there are a number of tour options; basically, the more you pay, the better you taste!
Checking the lauter tun, Paddy (left) and Pedro

Our guide, Paddy Hodnett (the visitor centre supervisor), was in top form as he welcomed up and took us upstairs to begin in a room that displayed the town’s drinks heritage and much more. The display, reinforced from time to time by Paddy, told us of the great brewing companies, including Deasy’s. You need barley for beer (and whiskey) and the climate here, mild and damp, is ideal for the crop. And, uniquely, they had a special sea manure, a mix of seaweed and silt available through frequent clearing of the area’s sea access.

Anyone for Gin School?

Next we were on a mezzanine (railed!) that gave us a great view of the three large stills below. Photos taken, we headed on down to the base of the stills and were filled in on purposes of the various tanks around the place, all part of the process, and were told that Clonakilty use 50% malted and 50% unmalted. 

The distillery’s gin, Minke (named after the whale), is also made here in a much smaller set-up compared to the whiskey stills. Interestingly, two local botanicals  (Sea Pink and Rock Samphire), are used. No less than five separate distillations are required to ensure that the best is extracted from each botanical. Then all five are blended together. “It’s an expensive way to make it but the best way,” said Paddy. The process ensures that the likes of the Sea Pink (with its two week window) is at its freshest best and the use of fresh citrus (rather than dried) gives the Minke an edge as well.

While the gin is selling well you, and distiller Paul Corbett, will have to wait up to two and a half years for the whiskey. They are looking forward to seeing how their own Heritage Barley - the owners, the Scully family, have been farming in the area for hundreds of years - works out. In the meantime, they have finished off whiskey that was sourced elsewhere and we would taste some of those with Paddy guiding us through.
The big three

We started our threesome with the Single Batch, a light to medium bodied spirit finished in a refurbished wine cask. Then a definite step up as we enjoyed the same whiskey but this one finished in a Cognac cask. He kept the best until last. The 15 year old Single Malt was exquisite, rounded, smooth, not too many words needed (just lots of euro!). All the tasting was carried out in the bar, the Speakeasy.
My tasting

Just before, we had seen a film, showing the warehouse on the Scully family farm, out towards the spectacular Galley Head, “perfect to mature fine whiskey”. “We use Country Connections to source the best casks worldwide,” Paddy continued. “though the majority are Bourbon. So our whiskey gets the best possible start. There is minimum filtration…, our commitment to quality is ongoing.”

Clonakilty Distillery founders, the Scully family, have patiently farmed by this coastal land for eight successive generations. And their promise is to use that same patience and attention to detail in the distillery. We wish Helen and Michael all the best in this new venture.
West Cork Crab Salad

After the tour, we called to the shop and bought a bottle of the gin to try at home. By the way, they run a popular Gin School  here with the help of a row of mini-stills. It is a great group experience. So team-building or a stag or hen, why not book in and have loads of fun while making your own gin (you’ll also enjoy a Minke G&T) and then take home your own bottle.

The whale’s tail is a symbol of the distillery and is also the name of its bistro. We called there too - it was lunchtime. And here we found a non-alcoholic gin: the Seedlip Garden Gin with Fevertree Elderflower Tonic, a lovely aperitif.
Gin distillery

This is a large and comfortable restaurant serving lunch, dinner (including Early Bird) and Sunday lunch. It was a gorgeous day outside (they also have an outdoor area for dining) so I was thinking of something light and picked the delicious Cork Summer Crab Salad with mixed leaves, pickled cucumber, croutons and tomatoes. CL enjoyed her Cod Fishcake with pickled cucumber and aioli is typical. 

You’ll see local producers named on the menu and all their beef, chicken and fish is locally sourced. Of course, their own whiskey and gin is here, along with a good wine offering and, again, craft beer from the local brewery. Great to see that support for local. The more we pull together, the further we will go.

Clonakilty Distillery     
Fish cake starter in the Whale's Tail Bistro
The Waterfront
West Cork
51 37`17.21 N
8 53`10.37 W
T: +353 23 884 0635

Also on this trip:
Bandon's Seymour Biscuits

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Amuse Bouche

Falk felt the tension in his shoulders finally start to lift around the time Gretchen poured the third glass of red… He could feel muscles in his neck loosen. He took a mouthful of wine and enjoyed the sensation as his cluttered head gave way to a more pleasant type of fog.
The kitchen was now dark, the remains of the dinner cleared… A lamb stew. Her own, she’d said. Animal, not the recipe.

from The Dry by Jane Harper (2016). Highly Recommended