Monday, August 31, 2015

First Rate Lunch At Bramley Lodge

First Rate Lunch At Bramley Lodge

It was a pleasure to re-visit Bramley Lodge, by Cobh cross, last week and indulge in a super lunch.

Let us begin with my mains: Shin of Beef, honey glazed star anise carrots, celeriac and horseradish mash (12.95). This dish was a soft explosion of flavours. The beef had been cooked for 16 hours and was completely delicious, every little bit tender. And those carrots, shiny and succulent, enhanced the beef as did the mash. Not to mention that rich red wine jus!
Yes - it is a poached on top of the hake.
The other mains was Pan-fried Hake, colcannon mash, poached egg, mussel veloute (14.95).  CL, quite an expert on hake at this stage, was delighted with this one, saying it was possibly the best cooked hake she has had in quite a while. The flesh was pristine, the asparagus a class accompaniment. And the egg? Well, if you were ever there you may well have seen the combination in Scotts of London where David Devereaux, the recently installed head chef at Bramley, once worked. All this for under 15 euro. Not bad!

No shortage of choice here for your main course. We could have had Burger, Thai Green Curry, Steak Sandwich, Fish and Chips, Ham Hock, and Dover Sole (on the bone). Prices range from 12.95 to 19.95 (for the sole). They also have a sandwich menu and a special list for juniors. Good choice and good value.
 And service is excellent here. Friendly and informal, yet on the ball and helpful, humorous too with an excellent knowledge of the menu. I sipped a glass of Franciscan Well’s Red Ale as we studied the menu. For starters, we could have had soup, chowder, mussels, goats cheese, and calamari.

My pick was their award-winning Chicken Liver Paté with crostini, Cumberland sauce and salad. No surprises here - just a super starter. CL went for the Fish Cakes with Mango Salad and crispy capers, another excellent combination of flavour and texture.

And dessert. Well, we had the Strawberry Mille Feuille (above). One word: Humongus!

By the way, Bramley is open for evening meals on Fridays and Saturdays. Indeed they are open seven days a week from 8.00am, so you may have breakfast in this highly recommended restaurant as well. Check the opening times here.

And, while you’re there, be sure and check out the food store which includes lots of local and regional produce along with with some of the resturant meals, packed and ready to re-heat in your own kitchen!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

You Can't Hurry Sloe Gin. St Patrick’s Distillery

You Can't Hurry Sloe Gin
St Patrick’s Distillery
You can’t hurry Sloe Gin. That’s what Cyril Walsh and Barry Fitzgerald of Cork's St Patrick’s Distillery told me last week.  The sloes and the gin do their thing together for about three months. No sugar is added. They like to retain the natural tartness of the sloes, though they temper it with “just a drop of honey”.

Another infusion is their Elderflower Gin, the process here taking about a month. Both infusions are post distillation and are done with the gin at 96.4% to make “the extraction more complete” and it is “cut” after that.

The Sloe and Honey is Cyril’s favourite and he loves it with ginger ale. Barry goes for the Classic and takes it as a G & T. The other gin - they make four - is the Extra Dry. All, by the way, are the full 40% abv.

And when Barry, or his colleagues, makes that G & T, the tonic will be the German made 28 Drinks. It is a low sugar mixer, comes in a can and comes highly recommended by the Douglas Distillery team.
Cyril (left) and Barry
The gins and their St Patrick's Vodka are made with potato alcohol, are charcoal filtered and hand bottled. The alcohol is “a full strength spirit, straight and crystal clear, with an aroma and taste profile that is unique”. By the way, each bottle of vodka takes about 250 potatoes!

The whiskey is bought in at present but that will change over the next few years. The bought in whiskey, already quite a good product having been matured for more than three years in first fill bourbon barrels, is blended with a 21 year old malt whiskey. Cyril says the blend of the young and the very old (very expensive too!), plus the fact that it has been raised in US oak, produces the perfect balance, and make it extra special.

Indeed, the whiskey has been the stand-out success so far. “We are up against the big boys, up against Jameson, so we can’t go to the market with the same type of whiskey. We can't be the same and we don't want to be the same. People have been very willing to try the whiskey and are impressed by its smoothness and that longer finish”. Barry has been impressed with the way the Sloe and Honey Gin has been received, "Maybe because of the long tradition in Ireland of making Sloe gin at home”.

St Patrick's may be new but not all their kit is!
This old Vitamin Stamper, from the 1950s, was
 spotted in the UK and adapted by Cyril to
cork their bottles of spirits.
The team travels to exhibitions all over the country. Check out their products and be sure to sample their cocktails. Indeed, you’ll find some cocktail recipes, including the Crafty Cobbler, on their site here.

If you can't hurry Sloe Gin, you can't hurry a distillery either. Tom Keightley (Managing Director) and Cyril (General Manager) are the pioneers of St Patrick’s and Barry has joined them as Brand Manager. They are just about six months in operation. The Potato alcohol is being bought in at present but they have their own stills now and expect them to be operational in the near future.

They do their own bottling here in Douglas, by hand. Soon, they be contracting out that part of the operation, mainly because of increasing volumes of sales. Aside from the general market, the products are selling well in Dublin and Cork Airports.

St Patrick’s won't be stopping at the airports. They have confirmed their first export order and that goes off to Germany next October and, as a follow-up, the team will attend the ProWein, the International Trade Fair for Wine and Spirits next March. Could well be a Happy St Patrick’s Day for the Cork company.

St Patrick’s Distillery
Unit 105
St Patrick’s Woolen Mills,
Tel: 021 4918791
Facebook: St Patrick’s Distillery
Twitter: @StDistillery

You might have spotted this at St Patrick's tastings, the
most recent at the weekend in the RDS. A piece of a
whiskey barrel is heated, the glass is filled with smoke,
and you add in your whiskey for a drink with a difference!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Amuse Bouche

They were two of the most cheerfully vulgar creatures I have ever had the luck to meet, but they knew a great deal about food and wine. They analysed and admired each plateful and shrieked with delight over each fancy culinary trick: sprinklings of golden caviar, oysters suspended in sea water en gelée, baskets woven out of rare herbs containing mouthfuls of cheese coated in slivers of white truffle. …. and they sniffed and slurped their wine like cocker spaniels.

from Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy (2015)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kildorrery’s Thatch and Thyme

Kildorrery’s Thatch and Thyme
Fisherman's Stew
Aside from the traffic rushing through the crossroads (to Mitchelstown, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville and Kilmallock), the main street in Kildorrery village is quiet, not a pedestrian in sight.

That was the scene last Tuesday lunchtime. Where was everyone? Enjoying the food at Thatch and Thyme by the looks of it. The 12 month old restaurant was packed. And soon we would see why.

Joanne McEldowney’s cooking is top class. She uses mainly local produce. It is tidily presented and service is with a smile. Based in a well kept thatched community building, the restaurant is open Monday to Saturday 8.30am to 5.00pm, so you can have your breakfast here as well.
Occasionally, they open for evening meals but these are usually private parties. The room has a vintage feel and can seat about 30. In addition, if the sun shines, the outdoor courtyard area will take another 25. By the way, there are some great views, over half of Munster, from the village itself.

Back to the grub. They have quite a selection of baps, wraps and open sandwiches (from €6.50 to 8.50). And no shortage of main courses either, though there was some disappointment at our table that their famous ribs weren't available on the day!

The lamb though was available and it was impeccable, simple and honestly prepared, really tender and beautifully cooked as were the vegetables on the side. It was Roast Leg of Slaney Valley lamb, with mint oil, red currant juice, those seasonal vegetables and mashed potato (12.50).
Chowder (top)
and Rhubarb

CL went for the colourful and flavourful Fisherman's Stew: Cod, Calamari, Salmon, Mackerel, Crab, Mussels and Prawns, cooked in a rich tomato and white wine sauce and served with baby potatoes and wilted greens (13.50). 

I had started with a flavour of the sea. The creamy seafood chowder (fish and molluscs) was delicious as was CL’s Soup of the Day. Both, by the way, were available in small and large sizes.
The choice of dessert was unanimous as the rhubarb for the tasty crumble came from a nearby hill (another great view up there) and was grown organically by Mick Cotter who tipped us off about this lovely friendly restaurant in a gorgeous area of North Cork.
Find Thatch and Thyme on Facebook 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chile. Copa America Campeones in Red

Chile. Copa America Campeones in Red.
A High-scoring Quartet

La Poda Corta El Grano Carménère 2013 (Curico Valley, Chile), 13%, €13.85 Le Caveau

Colour is a bright and healthy medium red. Ripe fruit aromas. Deliciously smooth on the palate, subtle fruit, smooth tannins, some slight spice, long and pleasant finish.
You don't come across this grape every day and this expression by Denis Duveau (who sold up his vineyard in the Loire in 1991 and headed off to South America) is something else, the wine pleasant and easily digestible. And Very Highly Recommended.

Like Duveau, this grape originally came from France (Bordeaux) before losing its way and even its identity in unruly Chilean vineyards. Was it Cabernet or was it Merlot? Only in relatively recent times, the late 90s, has it been recognized for what it is. Now it is the signature red grape of Chile which produces the vast majority of Carménère wines available today. Carménère may have had a tough life but has rebounded well and the wines are not lacking in personality.

Aresti Special Release Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2012 (Colchagua Valley, Chile), 13.5%, €12.99 SuperValu

Fruity aromas (red fruits) and hints of vanilla greet you. There are complex flavours on the palate, some spice too, tannins a minor player, and the finish is excellent. A pretty sophisticated Cabernet Sauvignon and Very Highly Recommended.

Aresti is a leading winery in Chile, also a leader in the move to organic. Winemaker Jon Usabiaga is highly respected and is a regular visitor to Ireland.

Emiliana Organic Eco Balance Cabernet Sauvignon (Valle del Rapel, Chile) 2013, 13.5%, €12.95 Bradley’s Offlicence

This ruby red is a beauty. There is something about organic, its sheer freshness and, as Pascal of Le Caveau often says, “digestibility”. The winemakers themselves say they “have created a collection of quality wines for relaxed everyday enjoyment, integrity, sustainability, and an earth friendly focus inspires all we can do.”

The nose is complex, red and darker fruits, vanilla, a little drift of pepper. There is an intense flow of flavour, smooth, with quite fine tannins, a lighter experience than the Aresti, this is a superb wine with a velvety and persistent finish. Again, Very Highly Recommended.

Luis Philipe Edwards Family Selection Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2012 (Leyda Valley, Vhile), 14%, €9.99 O’Donovan’s Off Licence

Red Fruit aromas here, hints too of vanilla. Tannins are soft and you have quite intense fruit characters here - it has spent time in French oak “to considerably increase complexity and texture”. The mature fruit flavours are nicely balanced by the refreshing acidity and there is a lingering finish.

Thanks to cool ocean breezes, the grapes ripen slowly and freshness is retained. A Highly Recommended wine and good value also.

The company, founded in 1976, has expanded hugely in recent years and, according to the Wines of South America “claims to be the largest family-owner wine company in Chile”. And their website proclaims that in 2014, they were “the most awarded winery in Chile” with no less than 130 international medals to their credit.

* Speaking of champions, perhaps the best red wine that I've tasted from Chile is Cono Sur's Ocio Pinot Noir. But it will cost you, more than double the price of any of the above! And I usually try to keep my recommendations between ten and twenty five euro.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Porterhouse Hop It Up. Taste of the Week

Porterhouse Hop It Up
Taste of the Week

The Porterhouse brewers have come up with a cool winner in their new Double Hopped Pale Ale which they've called Hopped the F**K.

The spin says “.....double hopped extreme pale ale”. “So hoppy it will poke your eye out” is another line I've been reading.

It was launched in Dublin last Wednesday and I tasted it last Friday in Porterhouse Cork and the only way extreme comes into the equation is that it is extremely good. And don't worry about your eyesight, the double hops and double alcohol have been handled very well and the beer is beautifully balanced. The attractive aromas and even more attractive flavours are all under control, no rough edges, all smooth and clean and a pleasure to sip. And the finish rolls on and on, a better finish than many wines, class in a glass. Very Highly Recommended.

I used the highly regarded and well established Brewdog Punk Ale (it also uses multiple hops) as a “control” here and the new Hopped to F**K beat it out of sight. I had started with the Porterhouse and, perhaps, the gulf between the two might not have seemed as large had I began with the Punk.

A variety of hops has been used.  Belma and Bravo, for a clean bitter character, Cascade and Centennial to add aroma, Simcoe and Citra to generate a hefty hop nose and aromatic character. With notes of mandarin, orange and citrus with some tropical fruits, Hopped the F**K is 8.5% ABV and deceptive in its strength, a firm fist in a velvet glove.

James Brown Brews Chocolate Orange Stout, 5% abv, Bradley’s of North Main Street.
Very pleasant stout, chocolate for sure and the characters morphs towards caramel at the dry finish. Maybe you'll find the orange - I didn’t. Excellent stout though, especially for a first try. It tends more towards the traditional than the label’s “off the wall”. Already a medal winner and recommended.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Excellent Evening Meals at Café Gusto. Small Place. Big Heart.

Excellent Evening Meals at Café Gusto

Small Place. Big Heart.
 Last Friday evening, I was down town about the six o'clock mark and in the mood for a lightish bite, didn't need a full dinner. Where would I go? Lots of choice I suppose but I was coming down Washington Street and realised that Café Gusto is open late on Friday and Saturday evening. Just the job, I thought. And so it proved.

We were one of the first in for the evening but the friendly place was full as we left. It is a small enough space but they produce some terrific food here. Credit too to co-owner Marianne, not just for the consistently high standards, but for her interaction with visitors. On Friday, for example, she was helping a trio of French tourists with tips about Heritage Day.
We shared a small bowl of marinated Sicilian Olives as we waited for our main dishes. We could also have enjoyed their Cicchetti (Italian style tapas), Almonds (Roasted, salt and paprika) or a Tortilla Espanol.

They also have an “international” line-up of Mezze plates to share (or not!) And lots of regular hot dishes. If you haven't been before, do try the Italian Meatballs. With the autumn coming in, you'll also be tempted by a couple of warming stews.

And there are always a few specials on offer and we did chose ours from the board. There was an excellent choice last Friday including Hanger Steak with chorizo, Prawns a la Plancha, Harissa Chicken Skewers, Tuna Steak and Pomegranate.

My pick was the Lamb Cutlet with hummus and Gorgonzola. This ten euro dish (most of the dishes are less than that) also came with salad and a crispy flatbread. A tasty combination of flavours and textures and very enjoyable indeed.

And the other dish, Aubergine and Manchego Bruschetta (7.50), also drew the plaudits.  And we washed it all down with a piccolo (9.50) of a rich Merlot/Corvina by Gran Passione from the Veneto region of Italy.

So that was us all fed and happy. No dessert but I might have had changed my mind about that had I spotted the Portuguese custard tart earlier rather than seeing it on the website while writing this.

Café Gusto
phone +353 21 4254 446
twitter@cafegusto facebook /cafegusto
Mon, Tues, Wed & Thurs. 7:45am—5:00pm Fri & Sat. 7.45am—10:00pm Closed on Sunday
Please note we do not take table reservations – our customers are seated on a first-come, first-served basis

Staples Making His Mark at Hayfield Manor

Staples Making His Mark at Hayfield
Superb Lunch at Perrott's
Even on a dull day, Perrott’s Bistro in the Hayfield Manor is an impressive room. And, to further brighten up the place, there is excellent food available here, both day and night. And indeed, the room is perhaps even more impressive after dark.

Scottish chef Mark Staples brought considerable experience to the Hayfield when he was appointed Executive Chef there late last year. Prior to that he had spent 16 years in Dublin's Merrion and noticed the trend towards artisan food and meets that demand at Perrotts by using quite a few local producers including Skeaghanore Duck, Bluebell Falls Goats Cheese, Rosscarbery Black Pudding and Toonsbridge Mozzarella. (To read more on Mark's career, click here).

 It was a pretty dull day when we arrived last week but it brightened up with a warm welcome. Service was superb all through. And we got a super wine tip that saw us both enjoy the excellent te Pā Sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, a fine example of the type, full of flavour and with a long rolling finish.

It's been awhile since I enjoyed a Prawn cocktail as much as my starter: Tiger Prawn and Freshwater Prawn Cocktail with pickled Cucumber. The prawns were delicious and the pickled cucumber (seedless, skinless) was a nice touch, not just visually.

You see goats cheese a lot on local menus. And why not? We’ve got some terrific producers. CL’s starter was Grilled Bluebell Falls Goats Cheese with Oat and Almond Crust, Rocket Leaves and White Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. A few different touches here, that crust and those strawberries included, enhanced the excellent cheese from North Cork.

My mains was the Bertram Salter Free Range Chicken with Rosscarbery Black Pudding, Ham Hock and Chicken Croquette, Champ Mash, Pea Purée and Tarragon jus. I hadn't come across this particular producer before; Bertram is based in County Carlow and the product is top class and was cooked to perfection here. All the other elements played a part, especially that outstanding Croquette.
 CL loves her hake and enjoyed this Pan-seared Union Hall Hake fillet with Celeriac and Thyme Purée, Roasted Baby Onions, Salt Baked Kohlrabi, Caper Beurre Noisette. It was of course that little bit different. She particularly enjoyed the Kohlrabi and the potato crisps were both decorative and tasty!

And the little touches that make all the difference continued into the desserts. Desserts can often be very similar from one restaurant to another and are the one course I'd often happily leave behind. But no danger of that here.

CL’s was the Baked Glenilen Yogurt, Cinnamon Crumble, Strawberry and Mint Salsa with champagne sorbet while I picked the Alunga Milk Chocolate Parfait, Sea Buckthorn, Caramelized cashews, and Brown Bread ice cream. Rene Redzepi of Noma brought the attention of his fellow chefs to Sea Buckthorn and the foraged berries make a lovely syrup (may be used in yogurts and smoothies). As I say, desserts with a difference for the guests at Perrott’s.

Mark and his team. To read more on Mark, click here

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ballymaloe Garden Festival. 22-23 August 2015

Ballymaloe Garden Festival

22-23 August 2015
For sale
No shortage of food at the packed Ballymaloe Garden festival. You can spend as long as you like here and, in between, fuel up with tasty stuff from the likes of Green Saffron, Lolo, Loving Salads, Rostellan Chocolate and Golden Bean Coffee. Oh, yes and you can take away some fantastic vegetables from the GIY stall.

And if you’re thinking about the future, well then why not get some of the multi-seed packs from Brown Envelope Seeds. That stall is in the grainstore and the big eye-catcher here is the colourful creations by IncrEdible Flowers of Ballincollig.

Walled garden
Lots of craft stalls here too but it was two soap stalls that caught my eye. Stocked up with lovely handcrafted soaps by Bend in the Barrow. Then I got even more from Burren based Airmid (the Celtic goddess of healing herbs). They cure their soaps for 4-6 weeks to ensure a long lasting quality bar. Also got myself a shaving soap and brush from Airmid - back to the old ways!
Browse through the many plant and flower stalls, most with unusual items. Take a walk through the Ballymaloe walled garden. And no shortage of advice either at the stands. For professional insights why not drop in and listen to one of the many talks. Met Fiann O’Nuallain there today. He’s an enthusiastic advocate of gardening for health and will tell you in great detail how to grow and use your plants, including herbs. Full list of speakers here.

The fiver admission covers entry to all talks. Lots of parking there too. Don’t forget to bring your shopping bags. You will be filling them!
From seed to root

Amuse Bouche

Emily orders the best of tea, butter and flour from the general store in Mitchelstown and trades the eggs to get us prime cuts of beef from the abattoir beyond the mill. Our fruit trees and bushes overflow in late summer, thanks to the warm, inland climate, and this will keep her busy with jam-making all through the autumn, more goods in her intricate system of bartering for the best produce from the neighbouring farm. I have grown pleasantly stout under Emily's new regime of spending and trading and sometimes see myself unexpectedly in shop windows: a prosperous, well-dressed woman nearly sixty, so far removed from the restless girl I still believe myself to be.

from The Diary of Mary Travers by Eibhear Walshe (2014)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Stalls at Midleton Farmers Market. Getting Better all the time

New Stalls at Midleton Farmers Market
Getting Better all the time
Gorgeous Chanterelles from Ballyhoura Mushrooms at last Saturday's Market

Midleton Farmers Market, the original farmers market, was founded fifteen ago by Darina Allen and local farmers and has gone from strength to strength. Hard to get a stall there now but there were some newcomers last Saturday when I visited.

Space is limited but vacancies occur from time to time, particularly when a successful producer (Cobh’s Just Food, for example) outgrows the stall.

So now you may buy BBQ Jerk Chicken from Le Kiosk, vegetarian from Buddha Bites, coffee from Doppio, also doughnuts and ice cream from another stall. Check out the list of stallholders here, even if it is a little out of date!
Loving Salads, just one corner of their huge selection
Originals such as Woodside Farm, Frank Hedderman, and Ballymaloe are still very active here, side by side with more recent arrivals such as Jason Carroll’s Loving Salads and the Lobster Man. The Lobster Man has live lobsters and crabs, and sometimes brings a giant example. Do watch out for him. And watch out too for Jason who is due to open a cafe in Academy Street.

By the way, Hederman and Arbutus Breads are in the running for the Irish Times Best Market Stall. Best of luck folks.
Like all farmers markets, the atmosphere here is relaxed. Do your shopping, have a chat with stall-holders such as Barry Tyner (he sells fantastic patés) and Deirdre (she'll tell you all about the Arbutus range). Jane from Ardsallagh Goat Cheese always has something interesting to chat about, especially in the food line. Indeed, what you find is all the producers have time to talk to their customers and are very enthusiastic about the market in general and keen to spread the word.

Then take a break, have a cup of coffee and listen to the music. It is a terrific way to spend a Saturday morning and you’ll have excellent produce in your bags and enough of it to keep you going over the weekend.

Other local markets on Saturday include Douglas, Coal Quay, Skibbereen, Bandon and Crosshaven. See countrywide list, compiled by Bord Bia, here .
Newcomers (above and below)

Midleton celebrated its 15th anniversary last May and here’s what stall holder Ballymaloe Cookery School wrote then:  It has been an outlet not only for the many artisan producers of the area, but also for high profile food producers that have had stalls at Midleton Farmers Market, including Clodagh McKenna, Darina Allen, Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Masaalchi and Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smokehouse. The market has also been featured in many TV shows, including the Ear to the Ground, Nationwide (Irish TV series), Rick Stein's Ireland and @Clodagh's Food Trails which has seen by viewers across the States and Australia as well as the UK and mainland Europe, helping position Ireland, and indeed Cork, as a major food destination.