Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Vodka but Witch One? Gotta be the Kalak.

Vodka but Witch One?
Gotta be the Kalak.

Have you not met the Kalak? If you have, you are already under the spell of Ireland's new Premium Vodka.

Kalak is a phonetic spelling of “An Cailleach”, the Irish Celtic Goddess and queen of winter. Kalak was the closest thing the Celts had to mother nature. Her staff, featured on the bottle, controlled the weather. Maybe Jean Byrne should get her hands on that staff.

So, myths aside, what have we got? Kalak Vodka is crafted from Irish malted barley and pure mountain water and is distilled four times (in West Cork). “Vodka with the cobwebs blown off,” says Patrick Shelley, the Tipperary man behind the project. He told me he wanted a vodka that he could drink neat. The palate is rich, almost creamy and, yes, you can certainly drink it neat.
I tried it that way at the recent tasting at the Port of Cork, part of the Sounds from a Safe Harbour Festival, where Bertha’s Revenge Gin and Hyde Whiskey also attracted attention. To get a bit more out of the vodka, to make the most of the smoothness and depth, try it in a tumbler with a large ice cube, a curl of thinly cut lemon zest and a wee stick of cinnamon (pictured above). Now bow to the Queen of Winter, the Kalak.
Witch's Brew (right) and Black Betty

Maybe here I should bow to the knowledge of Ian Wisniewski, one of the UK’s  “foremost spirits experts”: “Kalak is a great example of a vodka that offers both elegance and range, with a sophisticated, complex character that reveals various details as it evolves on the palate. Kalak also has a great production story that begins with Irish malted barley, which is in itself significant as barley is rarely used to distill vodka.” See Ian’s full tasting notes below.

Kalak is a vodka with substance…The mouthfeel is remarkable. So soft it’s ethereal. Pure flavours wafting over the tastebuds,” says David Havelin, well known to many of you as @LiquidIrish on Twitter.
 Patrick has funded the entire product / brand development and launch from personal funds. “I was not a vodka drinker until recently, as I found vodka in general to be odourless and tasteless. I wanted to create a vodka that ‘I’ could enjoy, one with taste, character and depth as well as purity and smoothness. If nothing else, I have at least found a vodka I can enjoy with Kalak!” And, may I add, so have I.

Kalak Vodka is available in the Celtic Whiskey Shop, Dublin, and in Bradley’s, Cork,  RSP : 44€. For other stockists, please visit

Twitter : @kalakvodka
Contact : Patrick Shelley
Email :
Tel : +33 619 60 17 78

Kalak was awarded Silver medal in the IWSC (International Wine & Spirits Challenge) in 2015.

Kalak was selected as one of the 100 hottest new international brands by Cocktail Spirits Paris in June 2015.

Patrick (right) with Joachim Lama at Port of Cork tasting.

Tasting Notes
Kalak Vodka 40%vol.
Ian Wisniewski – Leading International Spirits Expert, Author & Journalist

Freshly baked croissants with deeper underlying grain notes emerging, together with hints of vanilla and fruity freshness.

Elegant texture, character gradually opens up with light sweetness and rich croissant, biscuity notes, sweetness increases accompanied by a hint of vanilla and deeper grain notes; continues to evolve with ripe fruit richness, hints of underlying dryness, dark chocolate and creaminess. All these notes continue to grow, adding range and body while remaining poised.

Light dryness slowly builds, then subtle sweetness, creaminess and slight biscuity notes emerge, with the sweetness gradually increasing and balancing the dryness.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ortus Café & Brasserie. Bandon’s New Arrival

Ortus Café & Brasserie
Bandon’s New Arrival
Ortus has spiced up the dining scene in Bandon since its arrival on St Patrick’s Quay earlier this year. They started in February and were fully into their stride by April.

Though there is quite a bit on Tripadvisor, I hadn't heard anything about it until a week ago. I was in Bandon for the Frank Krawczyk event at the weekend and, afterwards, strolled over to Patrick's Quay for dinner.
Pork belly
Pretty good menu there, fish from Baltimore, beef from a local butcher, and it took us a few minutes to study it. First up, we got a basket of tasty bread along with some even tastier hummus. And then came a delightful amuse bouche of foccacia bread topped with cheese and vegetables.

Soon our starters were served, looking well, all at the right temperature. One was the Crunchy Goats Cheese with aubergine, and paprika relish, mixed leaves and balsamic dressing (8.25), the other Pulled Pork with Gubbeen fritters and a garlic mayo (7.75). Both were excellent and each had a little touch of spice that seems to feature, in a rather pleasant way, across the menu.
Pork starter

Amuse Bouche
Now we were really looking forward to the main courses and we would not be disappointed. My pick was the Crispy Lamb cutlets that came with a mildly spicy Ras el Hanout and a delicious confit of Mediterranean vegetables, a lively flavoured dish with a great mix of textures and flavours, the vegetables playing quite a role here,  adding hugely to the pleasure of eating this one (18.50).

Our other main course was Slow roasted spicy pork belly with tomatoes and roast potatoes, also some mashed potatoes on the side (18.50). The pork was beautifully cooked, so tender and tasty, and the spice brought it to a different level.

So you add all those up and you get a terrific meal, served with a calm courtesy. If you add them up in a different way, you see they come to €53.00. But because they all qualified for the Early Bird Menu (up to 7.00pm on the Saturday night), we paid only €35.00 for the two courses. So there you are, good food and good value at Ortus.

Ortus Café & Bistro
1 St Patrick’s Quay
Co. Cork
Phone: 087 7214726

Taste of the Week

Taste of the Week
Skyr from Iceland
Skyr is the new yogurt like dairy product from Iceland. Except that they don't call it yogurt and, while new to Ireland, it has a history of over a 1,000 years in Iceland.

I’ve been enjoying some samples over the past few days. It has a creamy velvety texture and the flavours are enhanced by the addition of strawberry, blueberry and vanilla. It comes in a 170g pot with a fold-out spoon in the lid so you can enjoy it on the go.

Skyr (pronounced skeer) is billed as Iceland’s secret to healthy living and you may read all about the benefits here. Here too you’ll find the full story and also some recipes.

It is made by a large dairy co-op from skimmed milk and they use “the Original Icelandic Skyr Cultures” and it is widely available in Dunnes Stores outlets up and down the country.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Great Autumn Double from IWFS

An Evening in Valtellina
Lunch in Longueville

The Munster branch of the International Wine & Food Society have had a great year so far but they are not resting on their laurels. Busy secretary Beverley Mathews has been in touch with the updates: 

Thursday October 22nd (please note change in date) "An Evening in Valtellina" -The Farmgate, English Market, hosted by Mirko Fondrini. A 3-course dinner based on specialities from Mirko's home region in the North of Italy famous for its great food and wine. 

Time: 7pm 
Price €40 for Members / €45 for non-members  -includes welcome drink on arrival and 3-course meal with a glass of wine.  

This promises to be an exceptional evening . It's always a real treat to dine in the Farmgate, but especially in the evening when it's really atmospheric.  
RSVP by Oct 8th 

Sunday November 8thHarvest Lunch in Longueville House. We will join William and Aisling O'Callaghan for a tour to see the orchards, presses and stills where they make their fantastic cider and brandy. After the tour and tasting, we will head to the house for a special harvest lunch. William and Aisling are great hosts, so this will be a really special day out. A bus will be laid on from Cork City so people can enjoy the cider and brandy. Buses leave Cork City Hall at 11am. Price for bus and tour, tasting and lunch €65 (€73 non-members). (please note change in price) 
RSVP by Oct 23rd               

A lot of people have already signed up for these events, but if you haven't yet and you'd like to attend one or both events, please send me an email.

Please pass this on to anyone else you think might be interested.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

My place of belonging is West Cork. Frank Krawczyk

My place of belonging is West Cork

Frank Krawczyk
I see myself primarily as a human being and my place of belonging is West Cork. These are the only two labels I’ll admit to. But I am proud of my Polish and other cultural influences.

So said Frank Krawczyk as he told us his family's amazing story in URRU, Bandon, last Saturday evening in a round-the-table discussion hosted by Ruth Healy and guided by Dianne Curtin. The event was one in the Art of Living Series, itself part of the local Engage Arts Festival.

That story ranged from the second world war in Poland, the gulag and the Katyn forest in Russia, prison and refugee camps, Kazakhstan, India, Uganda, London, Franco’s Spain, West Cork’s Baltimore and Schull and even Tankardstown House where Frank’s son Robbie is now head chef and carrying on the charcuterie trade that made his father a living.

Poland was right in the middle of the conflict as WW2 raged back and forth across Europe. Its citizens were pawns, many lives taken, many disrupted forever. Frank’s immediate relations were caught up in the mayhem and he never got to meet many of them, including his father’s parents.The Soviet Union was particularly harsh on Poland and no less than 15,000 Polish officers were murdered in the Katyn atrocities.

On April 13th, 1940, the NKVD (secret police), turned up at the family apartment and gave them 30 minutes to pack. They were herded into cattle trucks and taken to Kazakhstan. Two years later, the West persuaded the Russians to release the Poles who would be recruited to fight against the Germans, now the common enemy. The released men were sent to Palestine and trained there. Many fought, and many died, in Monte Casino.
His father was released and made his own way, with great difficulty to the Caspian Sea, and from there to transit camps in Persia (Iran). At that stage, the British were dispersing refugees to the Commonwealth countries and his mother (she hadn't met his father, yet) ended up in India, close to Kerala, along with 15,000 others. She even got to meet Gandhi and wrote about it.

His father, who had been badly treated in the Gulag, had been fairly well educated and also ended up in India, getting work at the Polish consulate from 1943-45. But the new Polish government, a communist one, dispensed with his services and he too was sent to the refugee camp where he met his future wife.

After Indian independence, the refugees were relocated to many countries. By then, Frank's father was working in camp administration and made sure that both he and his future wife would end up together. And they did both get to Uganda, to a camp near Kampala. Here, they married and here both Frank and his sister were born.

But, by 1951, the family was on the move, this time to England where Frank would be educated. Up to then, he had spoken only Polish and had no English when starting school. The food at home was very much Polish. His memories from that time including: free range chickens, beehives, foraging for mushrooms and wild strawberries. His Russian grandmother influenced his culinary awareness, as did Polish and neighbouring cuisines.

He went on to work in London where he would meet his own wife Ann. After his introduction to the hippy movement in the 60s, he dropped out and headed off to, of all places, Franco’s Spain. He tried to get home but needed the assistance of the British consulate. Ann, from Cork, had made her own way to Paris where she too joined the hippy “movement”.

Six months after the Spanish escapade, Frank heard a knock on his door. The young visitors said they had come for the party. Frank said there is no party here. “There is now,” said the hippies. In return, Frank was invited to the next party, in Hampstead, and it was here that he met Ann.

She brought him home and introduced him to West Cork. “It was winter time,” he recalled, “but even so I decided to move to Ireland and it happened two years later in 1974”. A year earlier (1973), they were married in Baltimore and spent the honeymoon on Sherkin Island.

When Frank started living in West Cork, he had nothing but a self sufficiency book (by John Seymour). He was leaving “a good enough job” behind but “never had a great grá of urban living. I preferred the woods and foraging.”

Some years later, he had his “beginnings in food production”. Not with charcuterie but by making a soft fresh cheese (Polish style but from a Scottish recipe based on buttermilk). It was quite a success and won a 1st prize in the RDS in 1990.

But then he took a business course. It proved to be a bad move. “You were encouraged to take steps you weren’t ready was not a success … lost the house to the bank...led to a severe depression for two years.”
Gradually he got back and used to occasionally fill in for his sons who were working as kitchen porters in a local restaurant. The chef patron though was in the habit of drinking too much and often Frank had to do the cooking, learning a lot in the process. Lots of compliments were coming his way but, when he asked for a raise, the boss told him where to go!

Next step was to start his own supper club. And that was such a success that they still get requests to stage it again. It was here too that son Robbie “got a liking” for cooking (even if his 3rd level education took a completely different track). But later he raised the money for the Ballymaloe course and it was that that put the younger Krawczyk on his way.

And it was while doing the supper club that Frank decided to revisit salamis, based on the Polish style of his childhood memories. But, having mastered the technique, he gradually came to the intention, and then the practice, that it was “better to do something from the region rather than replicate from somewhere else”.

He was so successful that he was soon recognised by Euro Toques. “I just happened to be the one that opened the door for Irish charcuterie, similar to what Veronica Steele did for cheese.”

It was with the supper club and the charcuterie that Frank had his battle with the food bureaucracy though he smilingly admitted to being as “much an architect of the battle as the system”. I am a firm believer in the “economics of enough”, that is making enough to live on and no more. He doesn't want to make a fortune but rules are made for the big producers, not for the small but, of course, they are still applied to the small.

Frank is no longer producing his own charcuterie. Son Robbie is now doing it at Tankardstown. And Frank is obviously and rightly proud of that. But, he stressed, “he is not copying, he is doing his own thing.” Frank participated in the launch of Slow Food West Cork, about ten years ago, and is still very much involved.

The many Polish people coming to Ireland, over the past fifteen years or so, have given Frank opportunities to use Polish, “my first language”. “There is a lot I can give to that community. I value my Polish education.”

And there is no doubt that West Cork and the Irish food scene generally values Frank.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Amuse Bouche

In France…, there is a correct way to approach the cheese. Round ones, like chèvre or Saint-Felicien, are cut from the center like tiny pieces of pie. A triangular wedge of Brie or bleu must be cut from the side, into ever thinning slivers, and a large rectangular slab of Comté or Cantal should be approached from the inside edge, working towards the hardened croûte until it is roughly the length of your knife blade, in which case it should be sliced from the side. The idea is never to leave any diner with just the mouldy crust. And, of course, to avoid, if at all possible, taking the last piece.

from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (2010)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Aroi. Happy Birthday Boy! Plus Tips on Cooking Asian.

Aroi. Happy Birthday Boy!
Plus Tips on Cooking Asian.
Duck rolls
Aroi are celebrating twelve successful months serving Asian Street Food in Carey’s Lane. They have quite an extensive menu there. If you are not familiar with some of the Asian words, the staff will help you out and will also point out the spicy dishes (even these are marked with an “S” on the card). All mains cost a tenner and the sides a fiver or less.

I have eaten there a few times, enjoying mostly the duck dishes. This time I picked something different, the Pad Se-lew which consists of  Pork strips, Thai green vegetables, egg, keoteow, Thai soya sauce and is from the Wok Noodles section. I very much enjoyed the pork, cut into slivers the size of a small finger, and the amazing crispness of the green vegetables.
Chicken skewers
The other main dish we picked was Khao Pad, tomatoes, broccoli, Thai pepper, onion, egg, and chicken (or beef) and this came under the Rice heading. This too, with the chicken, was a winner, full of flavours. By the way, they have two sauces on the table for you, one a hot chilli sauce, the other a soya.

The main dishes are quite substantial and quite a few people settle for that, great value at a tenner. But we usually get a side or two, a fiver each, as well. On one occasion we ordered three but that was too much!
Pad Se-lew
The two we shared the other night were Porpia Bpet tod: duck rolls, sweet chilli, pickled chilli and cucumber and Satay Gai: -  chicken skewers with peanut sauce. Those duck rolls - I’ve had them here before - are simply outstanding, quite spicy with the chilli. The chicken skewers are a much calmer dish but delicious.

Aroi has a short wine list but we ordered a couple of Asian beers: a Bottle of Chang and one of Tiger. Lots of soft drinks on the menu too including refreshing palate cleansers like ‘white tea with lemon and ginger’.

Khao Pad, with Chicken
We spoke with Vincent Richard, Manager of Aroi Cork: “Our healthy cuisine avoids the obscure chemicals and additives so common in our food today. We do not use M.S.G. in any of our preparation, and our focus is on market fresh local produce, that is naturally low in fat.   You can single-handedly battle the winter sniffles with our spicy beef noodle soup - it heals you from the inside out.  Our fresh and healthy approach, along with the phenomenal value of dining at Aroi, is what sets us apart from others.”

But it is not just the food Aroi had to get right, after all they had being doing that in Limerick for several months before opening in Cork. He emphasised that getting the right staff and giving them the right training is also key. And Aroi have passed on some tips if you’d like to try Asian at home.
~ Tips on cooking Asian food ~
·         Always cut, wash and prepare ingredients in advance of cooking.
·         Use a wok when steaming vegetables for a stir fry – the curved edge allows for varied cooking temperatures which is beneficial when cooking meat and vegetables together.
·         Ensure you have other necessary utensils for Asian cooking like a steamer, sharp knifes (for cutting ingredients), tongs and a pestle and mortar (for grinding spices).
·         Use chop sticks only with rice bowls as they don’t work well when eating from a plate.
·         Rice cookers are the quickest way to cook rice and can be used in microwaves.
·         Use natural flavour enhancers like mushrooms, herbs and spices which do not contain monosodium glutamate (MSG).
·         Always use fresh vegetables.
·         Choose dark soy sauce over a lighter colour as it is low in salt.
·         Use fresh ingredients like ginger or garlic for delicious taste and strong smells. Garlic has many health benefits too as it is rich in vitamins and low in calories.
·         Use different mixes of meat and vegetables to create optimum flavours. Asians like to use the ying and yang method in their cooking – They balance flavours by using both hot (ying) ingredients and cooler (yang) ingredients. An example of this would be having a hot sauce over plain chicken pieces.

  • We were guests of the restaurant, as part of its birthday celebrations

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Swing Low, Sweet Cherry. Sweet Captivating Italian

Swing Low, Sweet Cherry

Sweet Captivating Italian

QA Velenosi Visciole NV, 13.5%, 50cl, €18.95 Karwig Wines

I was introduced to this beauty by Betty Karwig a few weeks back but it didn't get serious until the other night when I sipped it for the very first time.

When I got close, there were sensual aromas, intense and rich. Then the deep ruby red passed my lips and all heaven broke loose, a gentle riot of sweet fruit flavours, captivating cherries, full bodied, fresh and so well balanced. I just sipped and sipped this intriguing stranger, new to Karwig’s and new to me too. Very Highly Recommended, by the way.

So where did this perfectly formed dessert wine come from. I’ll let the winery explain:
The basic ingredient for this cherry wine is an ancient variety of wild cherry, namely “visciola” (Prunus cerasus), which has a deep red colour and sour taste. Based on the traditional recipe, sour cherries are harvested when ripe, during the first weeks of July, and left to soak in sugar, partly whole and partly smashed; thus fermentation starts and slowly brings the juice to a delicate and aromatic syrup. This product is then decanted for a few days and finally filtered. The result is a syrup with a high sugar concentration, which is added to the wine starting a second fermentation. So wine and syrup are blended together. Fermentation is stopped when 14% alcohol by volume is achieved, with a residual sugar which makes this product more enjoyable.

They recommend pairing it with petit fours with bitter chocolate. It can also be drunk as a wine for meditation or as a digestive at the end of a meal, they say. 

But I've been working hard on your behalf and have come up with these matches, tried and tested:
with Almond and Raspberry financiers (not the kind you'll find in a bank!);
even better with the dark chocolate made by Allison of Clonakilty Chocolate;
and also with Crozier Blue cheese.
Will let you know if I find anymore, but my bottle is nearly finished!