Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cork International Hotel. You Lunch; Kids Play

Cork International Hotel
Relax. You Lunch. Kids Play

Nice and cool. Your Prawn Cocktail (left)  and more.

Take the kids to lunch and relax. Where? At the Cork International Hotel at the airport.

For the past three weeks, their buffet lunch has been up and running. Kids are catered for on the menu and, when they have wolfed down the food, they can move to the adjacent play room, a large and well equipped area, equipped with everything from soft toys to big screens for games. Parents can relax as the kids can leave the play-room* only through the dining area. It is an excellent set-up.

And the food? They say you eat with your eyes. And you are off to a great start here. Terrific displays of juices caught my eye and then too the serve-yourself Caesar salads, the fruit selection, and the display of breads. CL picked the Housemade chicken liver pate with onion conserve and crusty bread while I choose the Boston prawn cocktail with iceberg and marie rose.
Took those back to our table and enjoyed them. Quite a few family groups among the Sunday diners. It may be largely self-service but there is no shortage of staff here, all friendly and efficient, and they’re at hand if you want a drink from the bar or a top up of your water. Plenty of room between and on the tables and seating is comfortable.

The main event!
Well satisfied with the starters, we headed back for the mains. The chef was serving up traditional roasts (pork and beef last Sunday) and you could help yourself to a Baked Salmon Fillet or Roast Supreme of Chicken or a tempting Indian Style Lamb Curry and more. And, of course, lots of well cooked seasonal vegetables plus mashed potatoes. The chef too was offering roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, and various sauces (horseradish for the beef, apple for the pork and gravy of course!). Very happy with my beef and trimmings!

We had been tipped off about the dessert selection here and indeed had seen the colourful display on each visit to the spacious food area. Now we were choosing for real. Had to refrain from grabbing one of those fruit skewers as I passed the kiddies selection - not that anyone was counting - and we finally picked a slice of Lemon Meringue Pie and a Forest Berry Vanilla Cheesecake, both gorgeous with a cup of top quality coffee.

Go on! Take one. Or Two?
 After your meal why not move to the lounge. Sip an après digestif as you listen to the live piano music. Oh, don't forget to collect the kids afterwards!

Sample menu and contact details below.
Some of the kids' desserts.

Starter Selection
Housemade chicken liver pate with onion conserve and crusty bread
Boston prawn cocktail with iceberg and marie rose
Platter selection of cut melon with balsamic dressing and rocket
Classic Tossed Caesar salad with creamy Caesar dressing
Seasonal soup with selection of breads
From the Chef Station
Traditional Roast Beef with roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings
Roast Loin of Pork with roast gravy and apple
Vegetarian stir-fry – ala minute
Vegetarian pasta – ala minute
Baked Lemon Peppered Salmon fillet
Roasted supreme of chicken with mushroom tarragon sauce
Indian style Lamb curry with steamed basmati rice and poppadoms
Seasonal selection of buttered vegetables
Parsley Boiled Potatoes Perfect Mash
Kids Buffet
Chicken Goujons and fries
Sausage and mash
Macaroni Cheese
Chefs Dessert Buffet
Selection of Pies/Cakes/Sweets
Lemon Meringue Pie
Malteser Honeycomb Chocolate Tart
Forest Berry Vanilla Cheesecake
Kids Dessert Buffet
Fruit jelly
Fresh fruit skewers
Chocolate brownie cake

Juice Selection & Freshly Brewed Tea and Coffee*
*Alcoholic beverages are available for an additional cost

  • Play-room is a “work in progress”. Not quite fully equipped yet (they are awaiting their X-Box) but almost there.

Sunday Lunch
3 Course Gourmet Buffet Lunch
12:30 - 15:00
Pianist and Childrens play area
Prices: €25 adults and €15 for children
Reservations accepted for group of 10 or more
Tel: +353 21 454 9800 | E: info@corkinternationalhotel.com

Monday, September 29, 2014

Treasures of Fenn’s Quay

Treasures of Fenn’s Quay
Kate's Magic in the Kitchen

In a small kitchen, on the oldest terrace in Cork city, with much perspiration and no little inspiration, Head Chef Kate Lawlor works the magic for her many customers at No. 5 Fenn’s Quay. Both Kate and the building in which she operates are Cork treasures.

And what it is this exotic material that she turns to culinary gold? Nothing exotic at all, in fact. The produce comes from the local farms and seas, much of it via the familiar stalls of the nearby English and Coal Quay Markets. The magic has been acquired through years of hard work, watching and learning and doing, her long hours in the heat and steam often repetitive but sometimes brilliantly illuminated by a flash of inspiration.

There was quite a buzz there when we called in last week, happy customers by the sounds of it. The menu, quickly delivered to the table, and the Specials Blackboard on the wall, told us why, and soon we were reading our way through the offerings, the only problem being that if we choose one gem, another was to be remain untouched!

The 18th century terrace at Fenn's Quay pictured 1986.
The bookshop (far right)
is where the restaurant now stands.

There is a Fish Platter (to share) on the specials but we go for two of the regular starters. Eoin O'Mahony is one of our favourite butchers and is also a favourite at Fenn’s Quay and the  O’Mahony’s Pressed Ham Terrine, Pickled Quail Egg with Celery Salad & Lemon Aioli is a delight, every bit polished off.

The other starter is even better, perhaps the result of one of those magic moments. I absolutely enjoyed every morsel of the Chicken Liver Brûlée with Crozier Blue Cheese Ice Cream & Red Onion Compote. What a combination! It had beautiful textures and flavours, even the toasted bread was conveniently curled to hold the paté. All it lacked was a small spoon to take up the final drops of the Ice Cream.

Despite tempting chicken (O’Sullivan’s), O’Mahony’s feather blade with Ballyhoura mushrooms, and more, we both picked fish specials (from O’Connell’s) for mains.  CL loves her hake but, this being Fenn’s Quay, the dish was somewhat different: Roast Hake and Gubbeen Chorizo, chickpeas and seasonal vegetables in a mild spicy broth (15.95).

The Hake

This was a gorgeous dish and the spice, mild as stated, went well with the hake. And matched too with the wine we picked, the tingly multi-grape Claude Val blanc 2013 (Languedoc). Indeed, the wine was also suitable with my mains: Pan-fried Monkfish and potato rosti, braised leeks, celeriac and king oyster mushrooms in a delightful lemon butter sauce. I could have eaten any part of this on its own but put it all together as Kate did and it is top notch, all the ingredients (including that sauce) so well measured, so well matched.

And could she surprise us with dessert? Could she what? We went for the Mimi’s Cork Dry Gin and Tonic Dessert and the Vanilla Carrageen Moss with Seasonal Fruit. Where else would you get them? Beautiful. Terrific finalé to a very enjoyable meal.

Have to say before I finish that the service was excellent here. Our server was busy but still had time for a brief chat or two and a laugh or three. And she spotted that we were out of water before we had to ask for it. On the ball. Just like her hard-working chef-patron.

Desserts, Carrigeen Moss (left), Gin & Tonic.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Amuse Bouche

‘Don’t throw your talent away,’ she said, placing a hand over mine. The skin of the back of her hand was like lichen.
Michel saved me from further painful exploration of this line of thought by bringing two perfect soufflés to the table. He pierced them and inserted a spoonful of Armagnac with the skill of a surgeon.
‘Ooh, look. They can't stay up for long,’ said Irene, prodding hers with a fork so that it collapsed, ‘like the men in my life, dear, darling Michel.’

from White Lightning by Justin Cartwright

Friday, September 26, 2014

Little Listrac Delivers

Little Listrac Delivers
Excellent Wines from Margins of the Medoc

Listrac is one of the smallest appellations in the Medoc and its wines have often been dismissed as “rustic”. But, in recent years, according to the prestigious World Atlas of Wine, its reputation (and that of its neighbouring village Moulis) has risen. Better winemaking and the planting of more Merlot has led to an increase in reputation and, going by the three wines below, the adjective “rustic” may be consigned to the past.

Chateau Saransot-Dupré, Listrac Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2009.

Saransot-Dupre have long been among the frontrunners in Listrac. They also make a very stylish white. This medium bodied red, their main wine, is produced only from the property’s old vines. The vineyard is planted mainly with Merlot and, contrary to the Medoc practice, Cabernet Franc is more planted here than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aromas are invitingly fruity. Superb flavours on the palate, fleshy with some spice, tannins present but barely noticeable; the abv is 14.5% but this lovely dry wine is well balanced with a lengthy finish.

Lestage, improving the Listrac image

Chateau Lestage, Listrac Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2008, 13%.
Sixty five per cent Merlot accounts for the fruitiness here; the balance of the blend is 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot. Again it is the first wine of the estate and has spent 18 months in oak barrels (one third of which are replaced each year).

Color is dark red and aromas are of the darker fruits (plum prominent for me). Far from the robust style once associated with Listrac this tends to the slender side but with a supple fruity element, mainly blackberry; softened tannins and no shortage of flavour or freshness, well balanced and with a decent finish.

Chateau Veyrin, Listrac Medoc Selection Chateau 2010, 14%.

Merlot is again the main grape here and its companions are Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Colour is purple and it has an inviting nose of red fruits (Including cherry). On the palate is is ample and so well balanced, and a wee bit spicy with some vanilla notes. All add up to quite a rich wine with a persistent finish.

  • Very happy with my little haul from Listrac, all bought at Le Relais de Listrac where we also dined. There is a large shop in the middle of the village where many local producers sell their wines and you might well get them cheaper there but they were closing for lunch as we arrived. To read more on that little day trip (from our base at Arcachon) click here.

    • I’d have no hesitation about buying Listrac wines again. In Ireland, a quick search on Wine-searcher reveals that you may be able to get them at Mitchell & Sons, From Vineyards Direct Ireland, Bubble Brothers and Greenacres.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Veal Osso Bucco
from O'Mahony Butchers, English Market
I always keep an eye on what O'Mahony Butchers in the English Market are selling. So when I spotted they had veal shins from a Macroom farm, we made a beeline for the Grand Parade entrance and came away with Taste of the Week.

No shortage of recipes to work on and we settled on Pat Whelan's suggestion in his book An Irish Butcher Shop, regularly consulted in this house. Pat's recipe is for beef shin but it worked just as well with the veal. Cooked long and slow,  we enjoyed a beautiful flavoursome dish. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dipping into Bordeaux and its 6000 chateaux. The easy way!

Dipping into Bordeaux and its 6000 chateaux.
The easy way!

In Bordeaux last June, while I was searching in vain for a particular local wine, a wine-shop proprietor said to me, by way of excuse for not having it in stock: “You know there six thousand castles in Bordeaux”. That is a lot of wine, hard to get around to all those chateaux.

But you don’t don’t even have to go to Bordeaux at the moment as the Supervalu French wine sale kicks off this week. Most areas of the France are covered and there are quite a few wines on sale. While Bordeaux often gets a bad press because of “gambling” at the higher end, it is hard to go wrong with a regular wine from the area. The sale starts tomorrow (Thursday September 25th) and goes on until October 10th.
No need to go to Bordeaux!

Chateau Haut Bertinerie, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, 2011, 13.5%. (12.00, down from 15.99)

A blend of sixty per cent Merlot and forty per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, this has dark fruits (plums mainly) and traces of spice on the nose. It is good and fruity, smooth and elegant, tannins barely noticeable. It is an excellent well balanced wine, with second glass appeal.

This is a rather special wine for the chateau, a “terroir cuvée” produced from a selection of their oldest vines, the fruit hand-picked and sorted. Lots of TLC too in the wine-making which includes 12 months in new French casks. I reckon all the effort pays off. Very Highly Recommended.


Les Hauts de Gros Caillou, Saint-Emilion 2011, 13% (14.00, down from 27.99)
A different blend here: Merlot (65%) and Cabernet Franc (35). This beautiful dark red wine has an inviting nose of ripe red fruit. It is rather soft and lush on the palate, flavours of dark fruits, some spice too; tannins present but nothing approaching severe.

This is a well made wine, typical of the area, and very highly recommended. Pair with red meats and cheeses. Label also recommends turkey but I'm not too sure. Depends on the sauce, I suppose. Then again, if you like red wine with your turkey, go for it.

Michel Lynch Barrel Select Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux 2012, 12% (10.00, down from 19.99)

Bordeaux whites are generally taken as being a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon but that is not always the case and indeed the area is making some terrific wine with one hundred per cent Sauvignon, as is the case here.

In the glass it is pale gold and stunningly bright and has aromas of citrus, pineapple and blossom. On the palate it is fresh and fruity (maybe without the rush of flavour you’d get from a Marlborough SB), with an almost creamy mouthfeel and a persistent finish. In terms of Sauvignon Blanc, this is well up the rankings and highly recommended.

* Getting the correct serving temperature is quite important - I’ve had a few hiccups recently. There are some good guidelines here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Asian Street Food in Cork City

Asian Street Food in Cork City
Enjoy Eddie's Asian Experience

Red Duck Curry

Asian Street Food hit the streets (well, one street!) of Cork City last Friday night when Aroi opened its doors in Carey’s Lane. Aroi means delicious or tasty and has had a successful six months in Limerick and now Chef Eddie Ong Chok Fong has brought the Asian experience to the heart of Cork.

If you like dishes like Pad Thai Noodles, Red Duck Curry, Som Tam Salad and Pandan Chicken, all served, street food style and perfect for sharing, then make a date at 6-7 Carey’s Lane (021) 427 2388.

The ethos in Aroi (pronounced Aroy) is to serve market fresh, locally sourced ingredients. “Our healthy cuisine avoids the obscure chemicals and additives so common in our food today. Aroi sources authentic herbs and spices and we do not use M.S.G. in any of our preparation.”

Yellow Fish Curry

Sounds good and tastes pretty good too as we found out on opening night when we called to sample. I absolutely enjoyed my Red Duck Curry (with peas, aubergines, baby corn, long beans, lime leaves and cherry tomatoes). Where else would you get it? The duck perfectly cooked and those lovely crisp vegetables.

CL went for the Yellow Fish Curry (with cod, salmon, smoked haddock, calamari, prawns, cherry tomatoes, baby corn and beans). Another bowlful of spicy deliciousness. By the way, the very spicy dishes are marked with an “s” but if in doubt ask the very helpful staff

No starters here. Just pick your mains. All curries and stir-fries are served with rice and mains cost a tenner, aside from a couple of rice dishes that come in at nine euro.

Some side dishes
If you want to add to the mains, then there are a bunch of sides dishes, most of them costing a fiver. We loved the Pandan Chicken, the Satay Gai (chicken skewer with peanut sauce), and the Thai calamari. But there are many more, including Chicken Wings and a Crispy Lotus Salad and each with its own sauce.

Lots of choices too when it comes to mains: Noodle Soups, Wok Noodle dishes, Salads, Rice Dishes, Grilled Dishes. Check them all out on the website here.

How about a drink? No shortage. We enjoyed Singha and Tiger beer and they also have Chang. Three choices each of red and white wine, most at a fiver a glass. Plenty of soft drinks also, plus teas and coffees.

Chef Eddie: Drop by some time

Valerie O’Connor, who does the PR for Aroi, says chef Eddie has enjoyed extensive attention from the food media since the setting up of Aroi in Limerick. “Hailing from Malaysia and cooking street food in Thailand since his schooldays, former Michelin star chef Eddie was nominated in the Best Chef in Munster category as well as best casual dining and best ethnic food at the prestigious Food and Wine Magazine Restaurant of the Year awards this summer. He has received glowing reviews from the country’s toughest food critics and been featured in the top food publications across the country.”

“It is not just the authentic Asian food, made with fresh herbs from his native Malaysia and Thailand, but the terrific value that customers can enjoy. With no dish above the €10 mark, groups can indulge in mains with as many side dishes that their appetite can manage, rounded off with delicious home-made gelato and coffees. Noodles dishes are created using rice noodles which are naturally gluten free, and everything is made with an abundance of fresh vegetables and are low in fat yet full of good things. With Asian beers and wines to match your feast, Aroi is sure to excite the discerning palates of Cork food lovers.”

“Drop by some time,” the smiling chef said as we made our exit. We will.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sparkling and Still on Skype. Wine Geese on the World Wide Web.

Sparkling and Still on Skype.
Wine Geese on the World Wide Web.
Dermot Sugrue, at home in Wiston, talks to the tasters in Cork
A Decanter Gold Medal winner was among the wines featured at a novel international tasting based at L’Atitude 51 (Cork) last Friday as part of the nationwide Culture Night. The work of three of the younger generation of Ireland's Wine Geese was celebrated with the winemakers talking about their vineyards (in Sussex, South Africa and New Zealand), telling us all in L’Atitude about their various wines as we sipped them in Cork and watched the winemakers on Skype (big screen, bien sur).

Beverly Mathews, Colm McCann and Maurice O'Mahony, who organised the 2013 series of Wine Geese visits, were behind this venture, the first public internet wine-tasting in Ireland, and the speakers on the other side of Skype were Dermot Sugrue (Wiston Estates, Sussex), Marion Smith (Elgin Ridge, South Africa) and Fleur McCree (Little Beauty, New Zealand).

Dermot, a Limerick man, had wanted to be a winemaker since he was 16 but it was some thirteen years later before he started a Viticulture and Winemaking Course in England's Plumpton College. His progress was astonishingly rapid thereafter, much like the English sparkling wine industry, and his Wiston wines are regular award winners.

Wiston Estate vineyards are on pure chalk soil, just like in Champagne… This gives finesse, aging potential and a certain Je ne sais quoi. They are showing so beautiful, though still so young. And are in the top restaurants in the UK."

We tasted two. First up was the Blanc de Blancs NV. This has been voted the best in England. “It has a sense of richness that belies its youth. It is one hundred per cent Chardonnay, mostly 2011 plus reserve from 2010 and has spent 18 months on its lees.”

He described the Rosé 2011 as “a freak of nature”. The year was unbelievably warm, a poor Spring but a great Summer that extended into September eventually yielding very ripe grapes. “An accidental Rosé, our most successful wine, still very young and so exuberant early on.

“That exuberance is now fading and it is maturing into a sour cherry type. From over one hundred English sparkling wines, this Rosé has won one of just Decanter three golds.” It may be a freak of nature but Dermot hopes to replicate it in 2014. This year has been similar in many respects to 2011 and fingers are crossed for the harvest next month.

Marion, in the vineyard
Next stop was Elgin Ridge in South Africa and here we met Marion Smith (right) from Ballyjamesduff - her cousins still run the family farm there. The farming goes on at Elgin Ridge and Marian is the largest breeder of Dexter cattle (the native Irish breed) in the Western Cape. Sheep “mow” the grass between the vines. Elgin Ridge is organic.

The Dexters
But there were no vines there when Marion and her husband Brian arrived about eight years back. The farm had lain idle for some time and that made it easier to go organic. “We are living the dream and have wonderful workers here.” 

As she spoke the vineyard behind rapidly fell into total darkness. “I miss the long bright evenings sitting out in Ireland”, she said and invited anyone visiting in the area to drop in and see them. Be sure and take a look at the website. It is a gorgeous place, so many animals.

We tasted their 282 Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard is 282 metres above sea level and the vines benefit from the cool afternoon breeze and the proximity of the ocean. It is a different style of Sauvignon Blanc with a beautiful freshness.

Fleur McCree, whose ancestors (the Cox family) hail from Passage West, is a serious winemaker but is always game for a laugh. We were thanking her for getting up early in Marlborough until she pulled the curtain behind her and showed us the Tower Bridge in London. Fleur spends much of her time on the road selling her gorgeous Little Beauty wines.

Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc but this time we were tasting Little Beauty’s Pinot Gris. “We have a tiny strip of Pinot Gris. ..The bad weather doesn't get to the East Coast … We have huge sunshine hours and not much rain… Hot by day, cold by night is good for Pinot Gris.”

"It is a prolific grower, too much so, too much fruit is no good! You must discipline the variety, quite hard - cut the bunches by hand! It is also thick-skinned and that stops the sunshine getting through. So open up the canopy to aid ripening. The fruit is hand harvested and it is gentle handling all the way after that".

“The aromas are herbaceous, stone fruits (peaches, nectarines). It is almost creamy, hints of mild spice. Notice that textured element when you lick your lips and inside your mouth. It is an interesting wine from a sensation perspective, oily and concentrated. It is better served not so cold as it then expresses itself better, not so shy. It is a very popular variety, very approachable.” It sure is. One of the best of its kind as far as I am concerned!

“What would you pair it with?”, somebody queried.
“With your cornflakes,” came the rapid reply. “One of your five a day!”.  She did go on to say Asian, particularly Asian with nuts, peanut Satay is her own favourite. She also recommended Pork belly with chilli and garlic etc or maybe pork roast with apricots.

And then she pulled that curtain, bringing this innovative long distance tasting to an end.