Saturday, November 29, 2014

Amuse Bouche

We had a light stretch and then returned to the hotel for a lunch of chicken or steak, fish and some beans. For some reason there was always plenty of toast. No bread, no rolls allowed, just stacks of toast. You could have 300,000 pieces of toast, but no bread. I never did work that out.

Liverpool’s Phil Neal quoted in Match of My Life (editor: Ben Lyttleton)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Elbow Lane Brew & Smoke House. Best of goods in small parcels.

Elbow Lane Brew & Smoke House

Best of goods in small parcels

Best of goods in small parcels. An old Irish saying beloved of mothers.

And like many old sayings, there is some truth in it. Take the Elbow Lane Brew and Smoke House in Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. The brewery here is so small, they call it nano rather than micro and the restaurant area, which can accommodate 25, is one of the smallest if not the smallest in the city. But you certainly get good stuff here.

Got the tour from Gerry O’Sullivan (you'll know him from the Castle Cafe) yesterday morning and you can see he enjoys his work here (he is also a home-brewer!). But then you realise that all the crew you meet here are on the same level of enthusiasm. Take a look at the top right of the menu and you’ll read: We’re really round of the beers that we make here. This is not marketing speak. It is true!

Perhaps, that enthusiasm has rubbed off from their beer guru Cuilan of White Gypsy. Elbow Lane folk are loud in their praise of the help and advice give by the pioneering Templemore brewery, especially Cuilán and Jamie.

The new Cork brewery is divided into two floors. The brewing and fermentation takes place downstairs while the conditioning takes place above. To save space, Gerry explained that they have an initial multi-purpose tank replacing the mash tun and lauter tun that you see in bigger breweries. Everything starts here and then the spent grain is neatly removed in its perforated container by a small hoist and no need for anyone to pop into the vessel with a shovel!

Gerry explained that hops can be added at different stages to the wort but with different effects. In general, hops added early in the boil will contribute more bitterness, but at the expense of flavor and aroma. Hops added at the end will have a more pronounced flavor and aroma, but will not contribute significantly to the bitterness of the beer.
Gerry, Conrad and brewer Russell
Hygiene is all important and is given the highest priority here. And Elbow Lane have also invested in temperature control, a key element in helping the brewer. Patience is also required, especially with lager. A German style lager can take up to six weeks while an Ale or Stout will be ready in 12 to 14 days.

There is a set of conditioning tanks upstairs - again you’ll see much bigger ones in other craft breweries. They are also known as Bright Beer Tanks. But the beer goes in cloudy. “All our beers here are unfiltered,” Gerry tells me. “They are naturally cloudy.”

The Cascade hop is one of the most popular and indeed, Gerry tells me there could well be a shortage of this particular type in the near future. They use it sparingly here, in pellet form. All the Elbow Lane beers are relatively lightly hopped, mainly because of food matching considerations. You don't want an over-hopped beer destroying the food flavours.

Indeed, the new brewery owes it existence to the food produced in the restaurants, Elbow Lane itself and big brother Market Lane next door, nearby ORSO and the Castle Cafe in Blackrock Castle. Owner Conrad Howard says they wouldn't have started a standalone “retail brewery”. But this one fits really well with the company's four food outlets, each with its own style. The Brewery has kegging and bottling facilities but that is to distribute the beers to ORSO and Blackrock. Market Lane is piped into the system!

And what kind of food do they do downstairs in the Elbow Lane Smokehouse? Well, very popular stuff by the looks of it. You'll find it difficult to get a seat after 7.00pm. Head chef Stephen Keogh is the man in charge and his pride and joy is the wood grill imported from the US.

Virtually everything you get on your plate here has been through the in-house smoker, the smoke coming from apple wood. Oak is used under the grill and here the T-Bones, the duck and fish (last Thursday night it was Sea Bream), is finished off.

And it really is going down very well. “There is a great feedback from all age groups”, says a delighted Gerry. “What’s your favourite?”, I asked. “Oh give me a T-Bone with that smoked Béarnaise butter and I’ll be a happy puppy!”

Sounds very good indeed. Pity it was early in the morning when we met! Must go back and try the cooking, the ribs are also highly rated. And it is a very different menu.  Even the desserts! Where else would you get Passion Curd, eucalyptus and tamarind jelly?

At present, there are some five beers in the Elbow Lane range: Elbow Lager, Wisdom Ale, Liberty Porter, Angel Stout and Jawbone Pale Ale. Check them out here. Oh yes, you may also drink wine here, even tea and coffee!

Elbow Lane
4 Oliver Plunkett Street
021 239 0479.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bake, Knit and Sew

Bake, Knit and Sew
A Book by Evin O'Keeffe
In the middle of the last century, I associated knitting with tea. Regularly, the woman of the house was slipping stitches while sipping Barry’s, the cuppa as integral to the operation as a sturdy pair of needles.

Not overly surprised then to see instructions to make a tea-cosy included in the new Bake, Knit and Sew book by local blogger Evin O’Keeffe. The book, a collection of recipes and knitting and sewing projects, has just been published after 12 months hard work by Evin.

The Honeycomb Tea Cosy, a colourful piece of work, has its own little story. Evin recalls that,  as a child, she discovered her dresser had become home to a colony of bees. “I hated to disrupt them so I just didn’t open that drawer. Eventually, my parents learned of my winged roommates and insisted we move the occupied drawer outside so the bees could find a new home. My love of bees remained -- because not one stung me, I thought we were friends.”

The Tea Cosy is your September project and is matched with her tempting Orange and Honey Loaf Cake. “This cake recipe is adapted from my great-grandmother’s pound cake recipe. It is a perennial favorite with my family and a quick bake to make if you’re having friends over for tea or hosting a casual tea-themed party. It is a cake that impresses in spite of being sublimely simple to make.”

With a project for each month of the year, Evin will keep you busy throughout 2015. And if your have a friend who sews or bakes or both, then the book is an ideal present. And if not the book, why not one of the knit and sew projects as a gift? Knitters have always been givers, to friends and family, big and small.

It seems too as if knitters still like their cuppa, though maybe nowadays that cuppa could just as well be a local coffee (from Maher's, Badger & Dodo or the Golden Bean), maybe a green tea though it seems that Barry’s traditional is still quite a favourite. Then again, I think I'd fancy a wee drop of Beaumes de Venise with a slice of that Orange and Honey. Now where are my #9s?

Bake, Knit and Sew is available here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Miena's Irish Handmade Nougat

I was poking around in Bradleys, North Main Street, Cork, the other day and came up with this beauty, Miena's Handmade Nougat. Bought some Roasted Almond flavour and it's our Taste of the Week. Great to see that it is made in County Wicklow and the good news continues as Miena makes a number of other flavours, including Hazelnut and Chocolate, Almond and Cranberry, and also Almond and Pistachio. Must try them as well. The website seems to be down at the moment but the nougat is fairly widely available, including at Foxford Woollen Mills, Ardkeen Food Store and Avoca.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our Treat From Lettercollum Cookbook

Our Treat From Lettercollum Cookbook
First of many!

Delighted to meet author Karen Austin at her book-signing in Waterstones last Saturday. Editor (and publisher) Roz Crowley was meeting and greeting and doing the introducing. Karen was hoping the new book, the Lettercollum Cookbook, would get people back into the kitchen and cooking for themselves, especially now that there is so much much great produce available in Ireland.

I did my best to assure Karen that her book, packed with easy to follow recipes, would not be left to gather dust on the shelf in our house and I told it would be dog-eared before long, all the while nibbling her much sought after chocolate and hazelnut cake. No point in putting that promise on the long finger - indeed, I already had my ingredients on the bag!

A few hours later, we began our first project, her Beetroot, Caramelised Goat’s Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Salad. Got a couple of rounds of the creamy St Tola cheese at On The Pig's Back while the beets came from Sandra and Joe Burns’ farm stall at Mahon Point farmers market.

Karen says: "If you are lucky enough to be able to get your hands on some golden beets or striped chioggia beets as well as the regular type, your salad will be all the more beautiful". Well, our beets weren’t quite as colourful as those in the photo* in the book but were delicious.

Just as we suspected, this turned out to be a gorgeous dish, a perfect combination of beets, honey, seeds, and cheese and the dressing was also outstanding. Well worth trying on your own. Now what will we do next?

* The fantastic photos in the book, widely available in bookshops nationwide and in the UK (including Waterstones and Bradley's), are by Arna Run Runarsdottir. Great too that it is printed in Ireland by KPS Colour Print.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Farmgate Café. A Market Star

The Farmgate Café
A Market Star
I was in the Farmgate Café in the English Market for lunch on Saturday, found the whole experience fabulous, and was thinking of a few lines for this blog post. And then, on Twitter on Sunday, I find Mr Gill of the Sunday Times had been in, dishing out stars by the constellation. Pity he couldn't have waited another week!

The twenty year old Cork classic, on the mezzanine above the market, is a magnet for tourists and there were quite a few there on Saturday. But it is also very much appreciated by locals as well and rightly so.

It may be too easy to say that the tourists come for the local dishes. But, in truth, it is all local. Some of suppliers (oysters, the traditional tripe and drisheen, Cork’s own spiced beef) are just downstairs while many others are found within the county bounds. Local, fresh and fair!

The fair refers to the price. I got a fantastic cod dish on Saturday, priced in the mid teens. It would cost up to ten euro more in the city by night and, in a Paris bistro a week earlier, an over-cooked version (though with a gorgeous “piperade” sauce) cost €19.80.

Local. And loyal too. Quite a few suppliers have been with the Farmgate since it was set up in 1994* by Kay Harte (who still puts in a shift here, though nowadays you are more likely to see daughter Rebecca working the mezzanine, all the while keeping an eye on both the dining room and the balcony). And the loyalty is not just between restaurateur and suppliers but also between the Hartes and their customers.
Lucky customers indeed, enjoying top class produce, handled and cooked well and presented well by a friendly and efficient staff. And always that buzz. A little bit different here though as much of the sound is coming from the multi-cultural market stalls downstairs.

Our Saturday call was on the spur of the moment  and we did have to wait a few minutes for a table. That few minutes was put to good use, studying the menu. My starter was the Chowder. This was the real thing: fish galore with a few crunchy slices of veg and greens mixed in. One of the best I’ve had.

CL picked the Market Charcuterie Plate, also available as a main dish. The starter portion though was large with spiced beef and salami prominent and even more prominent was a large slice of country terrine (pork, black-pudding, bacon, chickpea ….) and all served with a spot-on matching chutney.

Before I go any further, I just have to say that the breads were delicious. They always are. So much so that you have to discipline yourself. Some lovely craft beers and ciders are also available and a small selection of European wines. My glass though was filled with a terrific Wild Elderflower drink from the Connolly family in County Laois.

And then it was on to the main course. They have various dishes of the day - catch, tart and meat - and sometimes more than one in each category. Some tempting offers on Saturday but we both went for the Cod, served with a caper and sun-dried tomato butter. Five out of five for everything here (by the way, I have yet to see the AA Gill review!), the produce, the cooking, the presentation.
The main dish included a superb stack of gratin potato and the root vegetables in the side dish, carrot and parsnip, with outstanding colour and texture, were a temptation in  themselves. The cod may well have been a good-looking dish but that didn't save it from the usual fate at the Farmgate, meaning not a scrap was left.

Not a scrap of room either for dessert but time and inclination for a cup of excellent coffee and a relaxing few minutes before heading downstairs to On the Pig’s Back  to buy some St Tola for the evening’s Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot Salad from Karen Austin’s recipe in her recently published Lettercollum Cookbook. All local, fresh and fair. All top class.

The Farmgate in Midleton, the big sister restaurant, was founded by Kay’s sister Margot in 1984.

The Farmgate Cafe, English Market, Cork.
021) 427 8134
Open: 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Sundays.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Amuse Bouche

When le dessert finally arrives, it looks like an innocent upsidedown chocolate cupcake, accompanied by a small cloud of freshly whipped cream. But when my spoon breaks the surface, the chocolate centre flows like dark lava onto the whiteness of the plate. The last ounce of stress strains from my body. I feel my spine soften in the chair. The menu says Moelleux au Chocolat “Kitu.”
“‘Kitu’ is a pun,” says Gwendal, with his best Humphrey Bogart squint. “It means ‘which kills.’”
I have discovered the French version of “Death by Chocolate”.

from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Super Steak at Electric Supper Club

Electric Supper Club
It is a high table with high backless stools. It can accommodate eight, more. Take a seat, lean in and chat. This table is made for conviviality. For drinking. For eating. And there are a bunch of these tables in the bar at Electric, all eminently suitable for their newly introduced Supper Club, three excellent courses for just twenty euro.

Wednesdays and Thursdays are try-out days at present and once Christmas is over, expect to see the Club operate every night. Eight of us gathered there last Wednesday to try it out. And each and every one enjoyed the get together, the chat, the drink and above all the food.

Electric is self-billed as the Theatre of Life, a billing well justified. This theatre has three stages, the bar, the restaurant and the fish-bar. Like any theatre, the sets change. And so it it is here on the Mall. More renovations are imminent and that lovely room that houses the Fish Bar will become even more important in the Electric Show. No lack of imagination from the directors here!

So okay, back to Wednesday night and our three acts. Starter was a Mixed Leaf Salad with Butternut Squash, Blue Cheese and House dressing. There are no choices here so how would the blue Cheese go down? Very well indeed at our table and the staff tell me that this is the constant reply. Just one little variation to the starter. In order to add a little crunch, it now includes some sliced almonds.

For now the main course is Chargrilled 8 ounce Irish feather blade steak, twice cooked Chips, Asian Slaw, and Electric Steak Sauce.  This is quite outstanding. The steak, marinated in cider, is incredibly tender (no bother to older teeth!), unbelievably flavoursome. The Slaw provides a healthy crunch, the chips an irresistible if less healthy munch. And that steak sauce is superb. I think they should start selling it on the street, at the markets.

The Chocolate Mousse may not have quite received the unanimous approval of the other courses - some people just don't like chocolate - but, for me, it was a sweet finalé to a lovely meal. Most of our gang were on the gorgeous Montepulciano, the house red, but with a bar at hand, you have a huge choice of libations.

The Supper Club idea has been “borrowed” from Electric’s Dublin off-shoot, Sober Lane D4. Looks like a winner, no matter the location!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Organico Cooks the Books!

Organico Cooks the Books!

Frank Krawczyk has been in touch with an invitation:

Come and join us for a bite to eat and a glass of wine on "Good, Clean and Fair" Terre Mardre Day in the newly and beautifully extended Organico Cafe.

Date and time: 10th December from 5pm to 8pm.

A celebration of 3 great books and short talks by the authors: Giana Ferguson, Karen Austin and Sally McKenna.

A convivial, casual supper in Organico Cafe using inspiration from each book.

€20 members/€25 for non members, including a glass of Organic wine from Mary Pawle,
(Wine will also be available to purchase on the night, by the glass, bottle or even case for Christmas).

To avoid disappointment; advanced booking essential via email to, or call Organico Cafe on 027 55905 

Payment on the night but no credit card facilities available.

Why not join us now at 

Membership only €12 for under 30's

Taste of the Week. Ballyhoura Mushrooms Cep Oil

Taste of the Week
Ballyhoura Mushrooms Cep Oil

Ballyhoura Mushrooms are by now fairly well known around the country. But did you know that Mark and Lucy also make some lovely Mushroom Speciality Foods, including a range of soups, marinated mushrooms, pate, pesto, porcini dust, oils, shiitake bacon and mushroom ketchup. Their Cep Oil is basically Extra Virgin Olive Oil infused with wild Irish Cep mushrooms and it is our Taste of the Week. Use it to provide a flavour uplift in pasta dishes, soups, dips or marinades. Wonderful with poached or fried eggs.  Get some at Mahon Point Farmers Market today or at other Midleton or the Coal Quay on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Silencio. Chile's Best Cabernet Sauvignon

Silencio. Chile's Best Cabernet Sauvignon
It could well be a Silencio Night in some Irish homes this Christmas. But not too many. Silencio is the new premium Cabernet Sauvignon from Cono Sur and only nine barrells were produced. It won’t be that easy to get your hands on one of the bottles and Irish distributors Findlaters are likely to be under pressure!

The new wine, and it is superb, was launched at an lunch in Dublin on Monday. Cono Sur MD and winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was at the Trinity City Hotel, joined by some of the crew from the Paris Bloggers Final, including yours truly. Great to meet some of the other Irish contestants, Jeni Pim and Melanie May.

Adolfo was delighted that Chile has just reached the Number One country position in Ireland. “Ireland is important to us. We are one of the leaders of organic wine production and the biggest producer of Pinot Noir in the world.”

They certainly make some gorgeous Pinot Noir, including the iconic Ocio, and this 2010 Silencio is fast heading in that lofty direction. “It spent 26 months in new French oak barrels and a further two years aging in the bottle. It comes from the Alto Maipo area in the Maipo valley. This valley is a great area for Cabernet Sauvignon and the Alto is even better. We have deliberately chosen a less arrogant name as we let the wine do the speaking.”

It has already been declared by the top Chilean wine magazine as the “best Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile”. Matthieu Tiche, their Export Manager and one of the friends we made in Paris, is very excited about the aging potential of this wine. He sees it as having a potential of ten years and declared it  “a sleeping beauty!”.

“It has an intense ruby red colour and delicious aromas of red fruits, berries, and cassis, with well integrated oak. The palate has great balance and concentration with smooth seductive tannins and a long finish.”

Maybe you will be lucky enough to get a bottle or two of Silencio for Christmas. But, if not, Cono Sur has some other red gems in its portfolio. I have to admit that the Ocio Pinot Noir has captured my palate. If it must be Cabernet Sauvignon for you - the cook here, another veteran of the Bloggers Final, is a Cab Sauv fan -  then check out the 20 Barrels Limited Edition or maybe the Single Vineyard Block 18, both also from the Maipo.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch with Cono Sur and Findlaters at the Trinity City Hotel. The opening Classic Caesar Salad was matched with the Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (a beautiful aromatic wine from the Casablanca valley). The Silencio was paired with Roast Sirloin of Beef. The assiette of homemade desserts was accompanied by the Single Vineyard Riesling. The Riesling, with impressive freshness and minerality, comes from the Bio Bio valley which is at about the same latitude as the middle of New Zealand’s South Island.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Amuse Bouche

But now it’s all about ass. You got the last six of them and you’re pretty pleased with yourself about that. That fatty protuberance of rich skin, each one containing fatty nubbins of flavourful, buttery meat divided by a thin layer of cartilage - it’s the single best piece of meat and flesh on the chicken. And, of course, there’s only one of them per animal, so supply is limited. The man fighting a losing battle with verticality across from you…- he’s looking at your chicken asses and he’s angry. You don’t know what he is griping about to the chef - who’s heard it all before - but you suspect that he’s complaining that the lone gaijin in the room got the last piece of ass. You buy him a sake.

from Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Seine-sational Night on the River. Cono Sur Blogger Competition Finalé

Seine-sational Night on the River

Cono Sur Blogger Competition Finalé

It is midnight in Paris. We are moored on the left bank and the boat is rocking. No! The boat is moored on the left bank and we are rocking.

Finland’s Johanna Koskiranta has just been announced as the winner of the Cono Sur 2014 Blogger Recipe Competition but the celebrations, led by team Cono Sur, are for everyone, the Chileans, the Finns, the Swedish, the Irish, the English, the French, and more, including at least at least one American.

The private boat trip on the Seine was a surprise. We started more or less at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, cruised under the bridges of Paris, the illuminated buildings adding to the magic. A lovely meal and Cono Sur wines enhanced the pleasure. The focus was very much on three reds this evening: the 20 Barrels Syrah and the 20 Barrels Cabernet Sauvignon and, perhaps my favourite, the Ocio Pinot Noir.

The day had started with a cook-off in L’Atelier Beaubourg (close to the Pompidou) with Clare and myself representing Ireland, Anna for Sweden and Johanna for Finland. Some gentle bubbles to ease us into it - loved that Cono Sur rosé - and, with lots of friendly chats going on, there was no pressure.

Our Irish dish, being plated up.
Includes Truly Irish Rashers and
the magical Irish Shellfish Butter by IASC 

Well, maybe a little when the dishes were presented to the judges: Adolfo Hurtado (MD and winemaker at Cono Sur), Jo Mansell (UK) and Christopher Carpentier, the top Chilean Chef (he is the main man on their Masterchef). Christopher too was enjoying the day, helping the various contestants (he helped us get the scallops out of their shells), and then he laid on a lovely lunch dish (duck, pasta and some of that “lovely Irish bacon”, Truly Irish rashers from our supply!).

You may see details of the three dishes here.

Our first international cap!
We left the cookery school about three o’clock and headed back to the hotel. Quite often in France, we end up at a Brocante event. And there was one on close to the hotel, a huge one, stretching all the way up to the Bastille and back down at the other side of the water (Pt. de Plaisance de Paris Arsenal). But we didn't have the car this time so didn't go browsing for bargains.

Instead we strolled up to the nearby Bastille, now a huge roundabout. And then took a walk in the beautiful Place des Vosges. There are some fascinating art galleries in the covered archway around the old square, amazing work inside. Then onto the Marais before coming back to Bastille via Rue St Antoine, a street full of food: restaurants, takeaways, fruit shops, cheese shops, wine shops, full of people, colours and aromas, a lively place as dusk and drizzle descended together.

Chef Chris concentrates as a contestant gives a summary of the dish.
We also had some free time after arriving on Thursday and used that to take a walk along the left bank, stopping at the riverside book stalls, before ending up at magnificent Notre Dame.

Later, we went out to dinner but the restaurant we had picked wasn't opening until 8.00pm. We were hungry, so settled on the nearby all day Tarmac. We had a very enjoyable meal here. I tucked into the Escargots from Burgundy and a Lamb Tagine, lots of fruit with the lamb, while CL had goats cheese with sun-dried tomato and then Cod with a gorgeous piperade sauce.

Back then to the hotel and a glass of St Emilion, relaxing ahead of the busy Friday. It was a busy enough time on the Friday but very enjoyable, all relaxed and informal throughout. If you want to party, get the Chileans to organise it! And do enter the Cono Sur Bloggers Competition next year!

More Paris pics below.

The birdmen of Notre Dame
L'Escargot at Tarmac
Notre Dame detail

Notre Dame under grey clouds

A wee bit of friendly pressure in the kitchen
Dinner at Tarmac, superb Tagine on right.
Evening in Place des Vosges
rue St Antoine. A cheese shop.
Fun and food on board. Chef Chris with winner Johanna
More frolics.

Arriving in Cork, Sat afternoon.