Sunday, August 18, 2019

Metropole Heritage Day Tour & Lunch


Metropole Heritage Day Tour & Lunch
This smart fellow
looks over the Lynch Suite


“The hotel was dry for the early decades,” concierge John Coleman (right) told our group as he took us on a Heritage Day tour of the Metropole Hotel, founded 122 years ago by the Musgrave family. The hotel quickly became known as The Met and the name endures. Guests around the turn of the century were mainly travelling salesmen.

What you may not have known, or may not remember, is that the ground floor of the building was given over to retail, with two shops on each side of the entrance. One of those, Hadji Bey, an Armenian that specialised in Turkish Delight, went on to become a Cork institution. Indeed, John told us The Met still serve the sweets,  now produced in Kildare rather than in Cork, to their guests.

The Met was also a great wedding venue, capable of handling up to seven weddings a day, wedding breakfasts in those days. I remember going there in the 1960s to a triple wedding featuring three sisters from the southside.

Afternoon tea?
John’s tour took us through some of the meeting rooms, all named after well-known writers. And there was a stop also at the Jack Lynch Suite to see the period detail, including an original radiator (still going strong). The current taoiseach has also stayed in this suite. Good views form the upper floors over the neighbours on MacCurtain Street. On the fourth floor we had a splendid views over the new Mary Elmes Bridge.

Pork
And John ensured we didn’t leave empty-handed as we were presented with a discounted offer on their classic afternoon tea and, after all those stairs (there was a lift too), we enjoyed their splendid homemade lemonade.

O'Flynn's Sausages
Last year, new owners (Trigon Group) spent millions on a refurbishment that included all the bedrooms, the new MET bar, restaurant and tea-room. Classy and comfortable is the result and do check out the snug too!

I had been checking the lunch menu here from time to time, thinking there was a nice bit of variety in the list and so, on Saturday, took the opportunity to try it out.
View over MacCurtain Street

Meeting rooms named
after famous writers
Just to give you an idea of the variety on offer, we could have had a Calamari Salad, a Classic Chicken Caesar Salad, a smoked Carrigaline Cheese, Fig and Onion  Tart (topped with crispy egg), the Mary Elmes Beef Brisket Burger and more.

All their beef is Irish and local producers such as Carrigaline above are supported. My pick was O’Flynn’s Pork and Sage Sausages with spicy roast red pepper and chickpea stew, crusty sourdough bread. 

The new Mary Elmes Bridge






Appropriately enough for Heritage Day I thought, as O’Flynn’s have been around long enough now to be considered part of the food heritage in these parts, a very enjoyable part indeed as Saturday’s lunch proved once again.

The Sticky Pulled Pork Sandwich with onions, toasted sourdough, fries, and a spicy slaw was CL’s choice and it too was excellent, full of flavour and the fries (which may not have been mentioned on the menu) were superb (I did steal a few).

Washed it all down with a glass of Murphy’s Stout, getting a little practice in for the upcoming Oyster Festival  that will be headquartered here in the Metropole but which will have events all over town and beyond from the 20th to the 22nd of September.

This Grand Old Dame of the Cork Victorian Quarter may well be 122 years old but she is still going strong, still able to teach the younger acts a hospitality trick or two. Well worth a visit!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Amuse Bouche


She had returned home…one afternoon to the smell of roast duck procured from Lai Chee Roast Chicken and Duck at the market. There was soup bubbling away… And fishcake, raw stuffed okra, silky tofu and straw mushrooms, all plated on the side, ready to be plunged into the boiling soup. Sweet tang yuan to round off the meal. Cutlery already in place. .. It had been years since they had shared a reunion dinner…. It took them a while to stop watching each other over the tops of their bowls and begin talking about their day.

from How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019). Very Highly Recommended.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Golf for sure at Tulfarris but Wine and Dine Scores Well Also


Golf for sure at Tulfarris but Wine and Dine Scores Well Also
Toons Bridge Fior di Latte Mozzarella

Attention of golf fans will be focused on Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort at the end of the month, when The PREM Group Irish Masters takes place there from the 28th to the 30th. The Sky Sports cameras will be present, filming the action on the spectacular golf course and no doubt taking in the lovely Wicklow countryside. With the package being screened in 138 countries, the event should prove to be a major boost for the hotel and its golf course and also for tourism in the area and indeed in the country.

The course and hotel are looking splendid as I found out on a recent visit, arranged to highlight the golf tournament. PREM have spent some six million here in recent years and the majority of it has gone into improving the hotel and surrounds. And it shows. It is already a popular place. When we arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, we walked into the bar for a cuppa and were amazed at the buzz there. By the way, they have their own Tulfarris ale and it’s a pretty tasty drop.
Breakfast view from the restaurant

Thinking about it afterwards, the Tulfarris hotel is quite a handy base, not just for golf (by the way admission is free for the tournament at the end of the month) but also for visiting attractions in the area. It is just about twenty minutes from Exit 12 on the motorway and we used it to visit the Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre and enjoyed the factory tour, the Museum of Style Icons, the shop (of course) and also a light lunch in the busy café, a stylish bright and airy place. 

The following morning, we called to Russborough House, just a few minutes away from Tulfarris, and did the full tour there. Finished up with a cuppa and pastry in the house café and, just over two hours later, were back in Cork.

Other places to visit with Tulfarris as a base, include Kildare Village, Punchestown Racecourse, the Wicklow Mountains (including the Sally Gap) and Glendalough. Of course, the Blessington lakes and the Poulaphouca reservoir are close by.

After all that mountain climbing, walking and shopping, you’ll need to refuel and Tulfarris will sort you out in the Lime Tree Restaurant which has great views over the golf course. Here, they promise a mix of world cuisine with the best of Irish. Indeed, Irish producers and suppliers are used as much as possible.

And I was able to check that out straight away with my starter: Toons Bridge Fior di Latte Mozzarella (Peas, mint, pea-shoots, Wicklow Rapeseed oil and crispy bread). Delicious. Meanwhile, CL was singing the praises of her Vine Ripened Tomato Terrine (Heritage tomatoes, basil emulsion, olives), quite different and also very tasty.
Elderflower semi-freddo

We were onto the wine now. Butterfly Ridge blends went down well. The Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon was vibrant, fruity and soft on the palate while the Riesling Gewürztraminer was a perfect match with the fish dishes on offer.

One was the Pan-roasted fillets of plaice with hazelnut, charred cauliflower and spinach, quite a delicious combination. Being in Wicklow, I couldn’t resist the local lamb served with courgette, goats cheese and elderflower. Another winner, especially with that red wine.
Wicklow lamb

Sleep well!
Would we have dessert? Of course! And they had some tempting ones of offer, including Eton Mess, Hazelnut mousse, Pannacotta. I choose the Baked Raspberry and White chocolate cheesecake while CL’s pick was the Elderflower semi-freddo (with gooseberries, oak crumb and elderflower jelly). Both were excellent but I think she may have picked the better one! 

Happy out with that, though we did have time enough for a few more chats, not all of them golf related, before the enjoyable evening came to a close!

We had a terrific ground floor room here, with lots of space and comfort (bed and armchairs), and everything we needed, including hair drier, iron, safe, coffee machine, large TV and faultless WiFi. The bathroom too was spacious, very well lit, separate bath and shower and excellent Elemis toiletries.

For more on The PREM Group Irish Masters, please check here.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Farmgate Café 25 Years On. Still Going Strong


Farmgate Café 25 Years On
Still Going Strong
Old Millbank salmon

When the Farmgate Café advertise for staff, they stress “it's a busy fast paced environment”. And it is. I saw for myself last Wednesday week (Aug 7th). No shortage of spaces when we arrived at 12.30pm but it was such a different story thirty minutes later. By then, the Dining Room was full and there was a queue for the Balcony, even a little queue to exit! Twenty five years after its founding, the English Market restaurant's food is as much in demand as ever.

We got a table in the glassed off Dining Room and were soon studying the menu and the specials on the board (which included plaice and corn beef). Service is friendly and efficient here and water was quickly delivered to the table along with some of their complimentary breads (delicious, as always) and Glenilen Butter.
Chicken Livers

Something on the lighter side was our target, so we passed on the mains of fish, the beef, the free-range chicken and the Irish Lamb Stew, all tempting and most sourced from the English Market below.

We could have nibbled on olives and on the addictive House Spiced Nuts (we had those during the Walk the Long Table stop here). In the end, I picked the Seared Chicken Livers with Marsala on sourdough toast (8.50). There was a well-dressed salad on the plate as well and it was a superb combination of flavour, texture, even colour.

You can get Irish beers here and European wines but I regularly go for their sparkling elderflower drink and we shared a carafe (4.50). There’s a great loyalty between the Farmgate and their suppliers so it was no surprise to see the Old Millbank Organic Irish Smoked Salmon (12.50) on the menu here and CL gave that a run and confirmed the offering was as good as ever.

One of the advantages of the smaller plates was that dessert could be accommodated!  There was a Pannacotta Special with strawberries up on the board but it was the regular Champagne and Elderflower Sorbet with West Cork Strawberries that tempted me. Must say I hit dessert jackpot with that one, so delicious I was half inclined to lift the bowl to my lips and drain the last drop of the melting sorbet!
Champion Sorbet!

Actually, there is a quite a long dessert menu here. Our other one was also cool and colourful: Lemon Tart and Raspberry Sorbet.  Did a bit of sharing there and that too was excellent but I still gave mine the nod as the best! Each cost  €5.90.

You may reserve a table in the Dining Room (table service) but not in the Balcony (counter service). The menu available in the Dining Room is mostly available too across the way and, in addition, you’ll be able to choose from soups, salads, toasted and open sandwiches, and a daily roast or two.

English Market
Princes Street
Cork
T12NC8Y
Ireland
local: 021 427 8134
international: 00 353 21 427 8134 
e: info@farmgatecork.ie (general enquiries)


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Classy Double in O'Brien's Summer Promotion


Classy Double in O'Brien's Summer Promotion
Must say I'm very happy with my picks from the O'Brien's summer promotion that runs right through to the end of August. This latest double highlights the quality available, especially the Amancaya (made even more attractive by the generous deduction). Check out my four earlier picks here.

Nicolas Catena and Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), vignerons since the 19th century, have combined their deep knowledge of Mendoza’s terroir and the art of winemaking to create Amancaya. This rich full-bodied red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon enhanced by the fruit of Argentinian Malbec. The Amancaya has been aged 12 months in French oak barrels (75% new oak).

The Catena family of Mendoza is correctly credited with helping to revive the industry there, according to Wines of South America. While attending university in Berkeley in the late 70s, Nicolás, Decanter’s Man of the year in 2009, learned much from Robert Mondavi. Bodegas Caro (1999) is a partnership with Domaines Barons de Rothschild and the operation focuses on classic red Bordeaux blends. Main label is Caro while Amancaya and Aruma are also highly regarded.

Colour is dark ruby, legs are slow to clear. Nose of rich dark fruits.Fruity, elegant, spicy, and persistent, one of good ones, more or less what you’d expect from the distinguished  families involved in its production. Ripe and rich with fine juicy tannins and that long finish, this is Very Highly Recommended.

The vineyard tell us that Amancaya is the native Indian word for a flower found high in the Andes mountains and is a fitting name for this floral and elegant wine. The traditional Malbec grape is masterfully blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and then aged 12 months in old oak barrels to give a European elegance. With expressive notes of red fruit, coffee and black pepper this is a complex and beautifully-balanced wine.



Colour is a bit more golden than your usual Chardonnay. Aromas of citrus and heady hints of blossom. The richness of this Highly Recommended wine continues to the palate and finish, yet this succulent drop, with its hint of muscat, is harmonious. Nothing jars from initial attack to fine minerally finalé. Importers O’Brien’s tell us it is a classic example of Saint-Véran with “an extra degree of richness and ripeness”.

Château-Fuissé is the benchmark estate of Pouilly-Fuissé. Currently managed by 5th generation winemaker Antoine Vincent, it combines traditional winemaking with carefully applied modern technology. The Saint-Veran vineyards of the Château-Fuissé are located in the north of the appellation and nearly touch the Pouilly-Fuissé zone. It is one of the few villages in Burgundy's Mâcon region that has the right to its own appellation. 

Pair with meaty fish, Pork Belly, Roast Chicken.

Check out my four earlier picks here.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Oakfield Park and Buffers Bistro. Superb Day Out for Adults and Kids Alike



Oakfield Park
 and Buffers Bistro.

Superb Day Out for Adults and Kids Alike
Longsleeper



“There are one hundred acres here. The train will take you through the lower fifty and you can walk the upper fifty.” 

So we were told as entered the fabulous Oakfield Park in Raphoe, County Donegal. The train will cost you an extra five euro so we added that on. Probably just as well as the 100 acres is packed with various attractions, parklands, woodlands, sculptures (of all shapes and sizes), a traditional walled garden, a kitchen garden and more, including a lovely bistro. The only part not open to the public is the 18th century Georgian house originally built for the Dean of Raphoe.

We pick up the mini-train at the station (where else?). And the station buildings look like the real thing, red brick dominant, even used in the front of the restaurant which is, appropriately, named Buffers. 

The train winds its way through the woods and the open spaces, getting close to most of the features in the lower fifty. The biggest one, the most eye-catching, is the Longsleeper, a sculpture by local artist Locky Morris and unveiled for the Spring 2015 re-opening of Oakfield Park, commissioned by park owners Sir Gerry and Lady Heather Robinson. The same artist created the imposing Polestar sculpture which you may see on one of roundabouts in Letterkenny 
Longsleeper 

Longsleeper is made from 17 tons of oak and appears to perform visual and structural acrobatics!  And that impression is certainly and dramatically enhanced as the little train winds its way around it. Oakfield Park is renowned for its narrow gauge train and some of the inspiration for the massive piece comes from the railway. Longsleeper may also be viewed from various distances between two rows of trees with Croaghan Hill, an ancient burial mound in the background.

Flower meadows, lakes and streams, as well as wild and wetland areas are entwined with over 4km of narrow gauge railway to give hours of pleasure.
Deer by Rupert Till

We treated ourselves to lunch in Buffers when we arrived back at the station. They support local here of course, Ballyholey Farm Shop, Donegal Rapeseed Oil, Kinnegar Brewery and McCarron’s Butchers among the suppliers. And much of the fruit and vegetables comes from the kitchen garden up by the big house.

I enjoyed my Toasted Sourdough Sandwich, Baked Ham, Cheddar, Caramelised Onions with Soup of the Day (8.50). The sourdough is nicely cut, not those big thick slabs you get in some places, and the soup is a full bowl by the way. Well pleased with that. The Goats Cheese Salad, flavoured with their own honey, Candied Hazelnuts and Pickled Slaw Salad (9.95) was another fine dish, full of flavour and both were well-priced. This is quite a large space and there is room to eat outside as well.

Next we crossed the road and entered the upper grounds with the big house on the hill dominating the view unless you go into the woods of course. More thoughtfully placed pieces of sculptures around here. The first big feature is the lake, planted with reeds and wild flowers. A gurgling fountain powerfully pushes white water a few feet above the surface and a Castle Folly provides stunning views towards the house above and also the lower grounds. There is also a boardwalk that takes you on a loop through the reeds and back to terra firma.

Make your way then up the hill and soon you’ll find the perfect parterre and next to it the beautiful walled garden with its ponds (colourful carp circling) and pillars. Last month, the gardens were at their summer best, full of colour. Took our time around here before making our way to the kitchen garden. This is a working garden, lots of fruit and vegetables here for the house itself of course and also for the restaurant below.

A leisurely walk, with detours here and there, took us back down to the car park and, with a final look along the avenue of trees to the Longsleeper we said goodbye to Oakfield and headed back towards Letterkenny. 

All in all, a superb visit to a very well equipped place. Lots to see and do for adults and kids, the train, the bistro and picnic tables, WCs of course, and no shortage of parking. Very Highly Recommended.

Oakfield Park, Raphoe, Co. Donegal

Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
 Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Something fishy going on in Donegal

Something Fishy on Donegal's Food Coast. Learning to Love the ‘Weed in Malin Caifé


Something Fishy on Donegal's Food Coast
Learning to Love the ‘Weed in Malin Caifé

At long last, Ireland seems to have realised the good things in our seas (and coasts) and chefs up and down the country are leading the way. Take these three very different places that I came across in a short visit to Donegal last month: Wild Strands Caifé in Malin, Fisk in Downings, and Johnny’s Ranch Truck in Ramelton. The first two may be described loosely as cutting edge while Johnny, committed to serving fresh, tasty local food, is no doubt more traditional.

Wild Strands Caifé
You’ll find the Wild Strands Caifé in the Community Centre at Malin. The distinguishing factor here is seaweed. I didn't see it when my dish arrived and asked the server. She explained they use it in the cooking, in the sauces and in the dressings. It was an element in my Fish (haddock on the day) with Abernethy Black Garlic Butter on a flatbread with a small side salad. 

Fish (haddock on the day) with Abernethy Black Garlic Butter on a flatbread with a small side salad


William McElhinney is the man leading the quiet revolution here and not just with the seaweed. Convinced that our ancestors used some kind of hot stone to make their bread, he is trying to replicate the method with a special oven. 

His Ineuran wood-fired oven is used to make beautiful and versatile flatbreads that are the base on which many of the dishes are served. Their Vegan Ineuran Flatbread are all cooked in the wood fired oven using local, seasonal or organic produce with the wonders of seaweed. Here, on the stone, he also cooks his local meats (from Boggs Butchers) “with our own seaweed spice mix along with Carraigín moss”.


We had a lovely chat with his enthusiastic daughter, Réaltín, and she  filled us in. Not alone that, we finished up with two of the loveliest cakes that we’ve ever tasted. Couldn't get over the amazing Coffee Cake and Carrot Cake as we devoured the slices before taking on the steps at Fanad Lighthouse a couple of hours later. 

Fisk
Mackerel Fillet with spicy tomato sauce

In Downings, you’ll see a blue sign with the word Fisk on it, but your eyes may well be drawn to the splendid view of Sheephaven Bay in the opposite direction. Take that in and then look towards Fisk and more than likely you’ll see lots of people around. “Will we ever get in here?” you ask. It takes a bit of persistence, we had to come back the following night.

Fisk is all about fish, is tiny and is hugely popular because of the innovative way in which the fish is cooked and presented. Cutting edge in a hole in the wall. Fisk (guessing it may be Swedish for fish) has room for about 15 people and takes no bookings. But they do start a waiting list each evening and you can pass the time in the adjoining Harbour Bar, another popular spot here.
Sardines with pickled veg




Fisk specials
The menu keeps changing and there’s always a specials board on the white wall. Also inside it is a bit higgledy piggledy with a few tables of various sizes, even a shelf on the wall where four guests on high stools may be accommodated. 

The place may not be the most comfortable but the fish is different class. Different fish too - you don’t often see sardines and mackerel offered in Irish restaurants. Certainly not sardines with pickled veg. Virtually all small plates here and some delicious wines to pair with them. No point in giving you their phone number so get in early and be prepared to wait a pleasant hour or so in the bar.

Johnny’s Ranch Truck
Johnny's Fish 'n Chips

You’ll have to wait a wee while too at Johnny’s Ranch Food Truck by the quayside in Ramelton. Johnny Patterson apologises for our very short delay: “Your order is cooked from scratch, no precook here.” He opens most evenings here and you could check his Facebook page to make sure or maybe ring in your order to 083 8399305.

What surprises first timers to this food truck is the long menu, not just fish but meat too from the butcher about fifty yards down the street. That butcher provides the meat for “Ulster’s Best Burger 2019”. There’s even a Lennonside Beef Stroganoff with rice or chips. The local meat finds it way into tasty baguettes and tacos and more.

And the Fish ’n Chips from Ulster’s Best Takeaway 2019 is the stuff of legends. For just €8.50, I got three large pieces of battered haddock and a big box of chips. Took the package over to a rickety quay-side seat and took my delicious time with that fresh fish and superb chips. Well worth seeking out of an evening, early or late!

Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
 Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Amuse Bouche


The drinks trolley rolls by, blithely smashing into the knees of the long-limbed. Compact and travel-sized, I have plenty of space, even in the cramped and ever-diminishing airline seats. I secure myself a bland Bloody Mary in a plastic cup, wondering for the dozenth time about the name of this precious, life-giving elixir - related to the gory bride we conjured in mirrors as girls.
I swirl the viscous tomato juice among the too many ice cubes and not nearly enough vodka, sipping through the tiny red straw…. I’m trying very hard to think about what I’m leaving and where I’m heading.

from Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach (2017). Very Highly Recommended.