Thursday, March 31, 2016

Hook & Ladder Delivers Satisfaction

Hook & Ladder Delivers Satisfaction
Tuna galore!

So, you’ve just visited the Hunt Museum or done a rake of shopping and are looking for a good lunch in the middle of Limerick City. Well, you could do worse than call to Hook & Ladder in Sarsfield Street.

Quite a menu here, featuring some fantastic produce from around Munster, including Gubbeen, Arbutus Bread, St Tola, Rigney's Farm and M & D Bakery Waterford and more.

The building is also a shop, selling home accessories (lamps, for instance), and there is a busy cookery school here with a great variety of classes. The formula proved successful in Waterford and has spread to Limerick with two other outlets in the city.


The cafe was quite busy when we called for lunch recently but it has lots of space, both on the ground floor and in the basement. So we were soon seated and checking out the menu. With a dinner booked for later on, I gave the starters a skip.

Went through the list of sandwiches, burgers, quiches, even a curry, before settling on one of the salads: Salad Nicoise (Ortiz tuna, semi sun dried tomatoes, olives, boiled egg, romaine rocket & red wine vinegarette). It was a quite a large one, with a very generous amount of tuna on the plate. Enjoyed it all though, every little tasty bit.

We had a discussion before dessert. Very necessary as they have about a  dozen listed - they bake here every day. We could have had anything from a Blueberry and Poppy Seed Muffin to a Chocolate Fudge Cake and Chocolate Ganache. Our choice was closer to the top end, a gorgeous Strawberry and White Chocolate Meringue Roulade that we shared and enjoyed with a couple of cups of decent coffee.


Enjoyed our break at this friendly cafe with its many decorations including a large olive tree in the middle of the floor and an arrangement of upside down flower-pots on the ceiling. All in all, a good place for food (they also do breakfast here) and Highly Recommended.

See also:
Two Days in Limerick City

Holiday break in County Limerick
Buzz at the Coqbull
Limerick's Locke Bar
Sage Cafe

7 Sarsfield Street


Tel: 061 413778

Twitter: Twitter @hookandladder2


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Laurent Miquel. Blending Tradition And Innovation

Laurent Miquel
Blending Tradition And Innovation
Near the ancient village of Lagrasse, 30 kilometres south east of Carcassonne and south of the A61 (Autoroute de Deux Mers), you will find Les Auzines, a vineyard owned by Laurent Miquel and his Irish wife Neasa.   Les Auzines, in the Corbieres appellation and organically farmed since the 1990s, is the place where Laurent’s family “will share its passion of the vines to future generations”.

The hill-top fort at Ensérune, not too far from Miquel's Beziers vineyard,
 was occupied continuously, including by the Romans,
 from the 6th century BC to the beginning of the first century AD.
The Miquels are best known, to date, for their Cazal Viel vineyard, not too far from Beziers and in the Saint Chinian appellation. This superb terroir was first planted by Roman warriors during the construction of Via Domitia, the ancient road that ran along the south through Narbonne.

Laurent and Neasa, a Dubliner, got married in 2007 after a long courtship (11 years!). Before and since, she has been busy on the marketing side and has opened up new avenues for the excellent wines of the two estates.  I certainly enjoyed the three below and there are others available.

Via Domitia, preserved  in Narbonne centre

Laurent Miquel Albarino 2014 (Vin de France, Lagrasse), 13%, €15.00, Dunnes Stores

I didn't mention Spain in the preamble but the limestone soils coupled with a uniquely cool microclimate and access to water makes Les Azines the perfect place for this audacious Albarino project by the innovative Laurent.

According to Laurent, this is a “repatriation”: Albarino was first brought to the Galicia region of Spain by the French monks from Cluny along the fabled route of Santiago de Compostela many centuries ago.

Forget the history for a moment and let us taste this light and bright gold wine with its aromas of citrus fruit and floral notes too. Crisp and dry and lively, terrific minerality, no shortage of refreshing fruit with a good long finish. A great match for seafood. This elegant wine is Very Highly Recommended and one to watch for the future!

Laurent Miquel Père et Fils Chardonnay Viognier 2014 (IGP Pays d’Oc), 13%, €12.00 Dunnes Stores

This blend has the colour of bright honey with very pleasant peach-y aromas, some floral notes too. There are fresh fruit flavours with a lively refreshing mouthfeel and this very agreeable wine has quite a finish as well. This is a gorgeous blend of Chardonnay (65%) and Viognier (35%). 

The Miquels are regarded as leading growers of Viognier and, though it is in the minority in the bottle, it plays quite a role. Impressed and Very Highly Recommended. This wine is ideal for pre-dinner drinks, salads, all types of seafood or poultry dishes.

Laurent Miquel Père et Fils Syrah 2014 (IGP Pays d’Oc), 13%, €9.00, Dunnes Stores

Syrah is another of the grapes that the Miquel family specialises in and this is  a good example. Colour is purple and there are aromas of rich dark red fruits, spices notes too. It is smooth, fruity and spicy on the palate, fine tannins, excellent balance plus a persistent finalé. Well made (cool nights and long sunny days help), well priced and Highly Recommended. A natural for your rack of lamb!

All pics (c) Billy Lyons

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Two Enjoyable Days in Limerick. Culture, Cuisine

Two Enjoyable Days in Limerick
Culture, Cuisine
Drove into Limerick city on a Spring Wednesday with King John’s Castle as the main target! But, it being close to lunchtime when we arrived, Hook and Ladder in Sarsfield Street was our first call. It was busy, busy. But very good. Enjoyed a lively Salad Nicoise there and shared a scrumptious Strawberry and White Chocolate Meringue Roulade.

Finished off with a cup of Earl Grey and headed for the Castle. It is a great visit. Lot of info, presented in all kinds of ways and then of course there is the building itself - you can even get down underneath it. And the views from the top are magnificent. Lots of history here and you may check it all out on the website.
Salad at Hook & Ladder
Food is never far from my mind so I was surprised to read that it was the Normans who introduced the rabbit to the Irish diet and also spinach, fallow deer, frog and maybe even hedgehog!

Poachers were around then too, as you might expect. And so the Corporation controlled the highly profitable fisheries, including the salmon fishery at Corbally which was guarded by a watchtower to prevent illegal fishing.
Beer with Coqbull burger
Salmon or no salmon, the citizens of medieval Limerick ate well from the locality. Wild mushrooms, wild garlic, pork, bacon, beef, barley butter, eggs, cabbage, herring, hake, cod, eels and ling all featured. And it was washed down with ale. And with wine in the wealthier households.

For instance, one board records a master carpenter being paid 9 pence a day, enough to buy him six bottles of French wine. They don't say if the six came from the top shelf or the bottom!
Clarion Hotel
Drove up along the city then to the striking modern building, the Clarion Hotel on Steamboat Quay, and checked in, having parked in a nearby high-rise car park. There are great views of the mighty River Shannon (Ireland's longest river) from many parts of this well-equipped hotel.

Food again took us into town in the evening. But the first call was for a drink, a great draught of Trouble Brewing’s Sabotage India Pale Ale. After that and a friendly chat in the Cornstore we strolled down the street (Thomas Street) to the lively Coqbull where the Bull (and the Chicken too) reign in burger heaven. My bun contained the Supreme Bull, slathered in Cashel Blue cheese, and all washed down with the Dark Arts Porter, another gem from the Trouble Brewing folk. The other drink we enjoyed was the Session Ale by Black’s of Kinsale.
In City Gallery of Art
No inclination for dessert here so back to the hotel bar which shares the space with their Kudo’s restaurant. We settled back into the comfortable seats with a couple of very familiar beers: Rebel Red Ale and Chieftan Pale Ale, both by Cork’s Franciscan Well Brewery and both on draught. Cheers until tomorrow!
People's Park
Day Two
Excellent choices at breakfast in the Clarion’s Synergie Restaurant this morning, the views over the river a bonus. Some lovely fruits on offer, including juicy melon. No big fry today for me, though the hot buffet was popular. Finished off with a cuppa and a couple of croissants.

First stop today was the Limerick City Gallery of Art in Pery Square and indeed inside the railings of the People’s Park. There were a couple of exhibitions winding down here but the big problem for this gallery is lack of space for its permanent collection. About 200 paintings, some of them highly rated, are squeezed, edge to edge, onto the available walls. You can't see the wood for the trees.
You may pick-up a photocopied list on the way in and use it as a guide. Evie Hone’s A Walk in the Woods at Marley, William Orpen’s Man of the West, and some works by Marie Jellett caught my eye and I also liked the series of industrial landscapes, including one of the local Dock Road (where the Clarion now is), by Dieter Blodau. And, for a food connection, see the fruit photo. There is also an exhibit of butter and briquette (bog butter?).

After a walk in and around the park, it was time for lunch and so we headed to the nearby Sage in Catherine Street. Very friendly service, efficient too, though it got a bit stretched as lunchtime peaked. The food was excellent here and I very much enjoyed my fish plate: steamed salmon and prawns and a selection of salads. We enjoyed a couple of cups of their excellent coffee.
Hunt, by night
Soon we were back on the street and heading down to the old custom house on Rutland Street where the Hunt Museum is situated. This is a private museum so, unlike the City Gallery, there is an entrance fee. But they usually have one free exhibition on and the current one is about 1916 and local involvement.

Quite a lot of letters and memorabilia highlighting the efforts for Ireland of John Daly, long before 1916, and of his nephew Edward who was one of the men shot immediately after the rising. John, who was Mayor of Limerick (he was dubbed the Fenian Mayor) and who had a bakery in the city, died a few months later.
Three floors lie at the heart of the main museum. We followed the suggested course and started in the First Floor which examines the development of decorative arts. Quite a few wine jugs on display, also a drinking horn, a huge salt cellar, a Japanese sweetmeat dish, an 18th spirit barrell along with punch and soup ladles. High art too and you’ll see a few Roderic O’Connell works, including his sturdy Breton Woman. Here, too you'll find the Midleton Mace.

Up then to the second floor which houses the archaeological collection, and more. Lots of stuff from ancient Greece and Rome, including a 1st century wine strainer and a 2nd century wine cup. And, more up to date is an Irish Drinking Vessel, made from wood and dated 16/17th century. Here too you’ll find other interesting objects including the Mary Queen of Scots Cross.
Wine-time at the Clarion
Down next, via the impressive 18th century stairs, to view the Religious Art collection on the ground floor. A coin here is reputed to be one of the “30 pieces of silver”. The Limerick diocese has some noteworthy pieces in the display, including a very impressive mitre and crosier. And on the way out you'll pass three large cartoons for stained glass by Evie Hone (who we met earlier in the day).

Anyone for coffee? Well, the museum can sort you out here too as they have a lovely cafe with views out to the water of the Shannon.  So if you want a light lunch or a cup of coffee (quite good too), go no further.
Rowers at sunset on the Shannon
We enjoyed our coffee and headed back towards the Clarion, walking up the banks of the Shannon, part of the way on boardwalk, with lots of seats too if the sun is out and you want a rest or maybe just a stop to enjoy the view which might include a large flock of pigeons on the eye out for people with bread, the many swans just as eager.

We thought we deserved a glass of wine by the time we reached the Clarion. We had a chat with the friendly bar staff and settled on a glass each of Freixenet Mia Tempranillo (Spain) and a Finca Florencia Malbec (Argentina) and enjoyed them.
Craft beers in the Locke
Dinner that evening was down at the Locke Bar but before we headed out, we spotted quite a lot of rowing activity on the Shannon and the sun about to go down. It wasn't the most dramatic sunset you’ll ever see but the silhouetted boats made a pretty picture.

It was quite enough as we headed down the main streets (O’Connell and Patrick) to Georges Quay where the Locke Bar is situated on the riverbank. On opening the door we were struck by the buzz and the crowd;  a friendly server soon welcomed us and found us a table in the restaurant where we enjoyed some decent bar food.

And more wine, of course, a couple of enjoyably flavoured Artisan’s Blend Sauvignon Blanc Semillon from Australia. There was even wine in my gorgeous starter: Dingle Bay crab claws, chardonnay cream and garlic bread. The bar, which also has a large floor upstairs, can feed hundreds and the numbers were rising as we left. In the summer time, the seats by the banks will be full too and many boats will be tied up down on the river.

Day 3: We were back down that way again in the morning for a quick look at Limerick's famous Milk Market. Saturday is the main day here for food, so we were a day early. A little early for most as it turned out. It was supposed to be a ten o'clock start and, with a Bank Holiday weekend ahead, perhaps the traders were getting into the mood and there was virtually nothing of note happening when we had to leave about the 10.30 mark. Another time.

And another time also for Limerick itself, after two very enjoyable days there. There was even a laugh in the toilets. No Mna or Fir for the Coqbull; they go with Standing and Sitting. In the Gents at the Locke Bar, they have a metal shield along the base of the pissoir to prevent you spraying your own shoes! I christened that the Parapee.

For more on Limerick, check out the Tourist Office.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Taste of the Week. Glenilen Mango & Passionfruit Cheesecake

Taste of the Week

Glenilen Mango & Passionfruit Cheesecake
No major discovery this week as many of you will have come across this gem before. The Glenilen Farm Mango & Passionfruit Cheesecake is a winner and is our latest Taste of the Week. Not alone is it delicious, it is also convenient! Forgot something for dessert? Well this is your gorgeous creamy solution.

The subtle flavour of the mango and the more intense passionfruit work so well together with the creamy topping. They had been using the fruits in their popular yogurts and just thought it would be a great idea to make a cheesecake. They were spot on and “it's proved very popular”.

And like many Glenilen products - you may check them all out here - the secret is not so much the exotic ingredients but the rich creamy milk from the beautiful green green grass of their West Cork farm. Reckon there’s more than one Taste of the Week in Drimoleague. Indeed, I think we’ve featured one or two in the past, including their fabulous butter.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Amuse Bouche. Bank Holiday special

------------ our friend Joyce began to open his oysters, which he made us eat au naturel, without bread or potatoes...... and we were obliged to wash them down with native Potcheen, less adulterated with water than we would have wished.
Nor did this suffice; Martin deemed himself a cook, and set about dressing scallops for our entertainment. He opened them, called for butter – and such butter! It was added to the fish, which were fried in the shell. And we were actually obliged to eat of this ragout, until I saw my companion’s face utterly discomposed by the extremity of his distress.
From Tom Robinson’s Connemara, A Little Gaelic Kingdom.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Amuse Bouche

As they left, she bribed the barman to part with a full bottle of Booth’s gin.
On the road back.., he asked, “What’s so special? One gin is much the same as another.”
“No, it’s not. You just take a sniff.”
She uncorked the bottle and wafted it under his nose as he drove.
“See? It’s sort of flowery and oily at the same time. Reminds me of home. God knows why. It’s as though they’d mingled summer and autumn - summer scents and autumn drizzle. A bit of England in a bottle.”

from A Lily of the Field by John Lawton

Thursday, March 24, 2016

On a Dublin Hill – Easter 1916

On a Dublin Hill – Easter 1916

It was springtime in the mountains,
Walking free, blowing wild
Over lovers in the heather.
And a linnet sang on thistles
To a melody of kisses.
The sun was rising, rising
On the day of resurrection.
And a thorn tree was swaying
Keeping sunray from their eyes.

Then a sound like thunder
Shook the gladness from the day.
Sleepily, the lovers rose
From the shelter where they lay.
They strained their ears to hear
The breaking of the sky.
And in the streets of Dublin
Young men had choose to die.

A seagull from the sky came down,
Quick-dropping from the sun.
His weak twitching wings were blooded.

A rising had begun.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

O’Brien’s March Offers. April's on the way...

O’Brien’s March Offers
April's on the way...

O’Brien’s, who have branches nationwide, have regular offers, including one that features dozens of wines with reduced prices for each month. I bought a few of the March bottles and two are featured below. Time is running out! But if you’re too late for March, then you’re in time for April.

Kreydenweiss Kritt Pinot Blanc 2014 (Alsace AOC), 12%, €17.95 (March offer 15.95) O’Brien’s
The initial contacts are promising, including the attractive front label. Color is a bright light gold and the aromas of white fruit are inviting. “A delicate fruity wine” it says on the label and I wouldn't argue too much with that. Delicate, yes, but with a very pleasant presence on the palate, an excellent balance of white fruit flavours, acidity and minerality, and a persistent finish.

This aromatic and dry wine is Highly Recommended. And not just by me. Parker has called it the best value wine in Alsace and our own John Wilson has termed it “captivating”.

Kritt is the vineyard name and it is a stony place. The wine, which features Pinot Blanc on the front label, has a quantity of Pinot Auxerrois blended in according to the back label.

Bethany G6 Semillon 2010 (Barossa, Australia), 12.5%, €18.45 (16.50) O’Brien’s

I do like Semillon on its own and have found some good examples from Bordeaux and from the Hunter Valley in Australia. This though is from the Barossa, where six generations of the Schrapel family have farmed on the same land, hence the G6 title of a series that also includes Riesling, Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz Cabernet, and Cabernet Merlot.

Colour here is light gold with the aromas featuring grapefruit and I detected a little diesel there too which reminded me of a very sociable woman that I met at the Blarney St Patrick's Day Parade who was in her element as the vintage tractors rolled slowly by: “I love diesel!”. Indeed, my tasting partner asked me if we were tasting Riesling.

This Bethany is rather full on the palate, a great balance of fruit (citrus) and a crisp acidity. It has been sparingly oaked to enhance complexity and bottled early “to retain fresh fruit characteristics”. Recommended

Monday, March 21, 2016

Taste of the Week. Kilmichael Goats Cheese

Taste of the Week
Kilmichael Goats Cheese

It comes in simple packaging. Just a round label on top and a wrap of cellophane. But there is a little beauty inside and it is our Taste of the Week. Kilmichael Soft Goats Cheese is made in Terelton, near Macroom, by Brian and Ann Bond. I came across this one in the Fresh from West Cork Cabinet in Bradley’s, North Main Street, Cork, but you will find it in quite a few Farmers Markets as well.

The cheese is made from raw milk, from their mixed herd. It is soft and creamy, as you might imagine, but full of flavour too. And yet the balance of flavour is such that a beginner to goats cheese won't be put off and still there’s enough there to keep you more then happy if you indulge in these cheeses regularly.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Fish’s Special At Electric Bar. Is é an t-íasc is fearr

Fish’s Special At Electric Bar

Is é an t-íasc is fearr

Haddock Koftas
Early on a Friday evening, Electric is the place to be. Take last Friday for example. Around six o’clock, the main restaurant upstairs is full and the bar, with live music, is also busy though not full, not yet!

One of my favourite parts of the South Mall restaurant is The Fish Bar. We were among the first in - well it was about five!  We made our mind up quickly and went for all the specials. The meal was quite superb, not a weak link to be detected, not that we were looking for them, we were too busy enjoying our delicious platefuls.

Sipped an aromatic flavourful Tio Pepe Fino Sherry and took in the views up and down the south channel of the River Lee as we waited while the chef opposite prepared our opening courses.
Bisque with amazing Rouille croutons
Service, mainly provided by smiling “sociable” young people, is always excellent here, always time for a wee chat and a bit of local humour.

Soon we made our start.  Mine was the Langoustine Bisque (€7.00), good and warm and packed full of flavour. And with an unexpected highlight on the side: toasted Rouille croutons. No shortage of garlic on this delightful spread and such a brilliant match with that supple soup.

Meanwhile, CL was silently (there were a few oohs and aahs!) enjoying her Haddock Koftas with grilled pita bread and lemon aioli (€10.00). I managed to “steal” a bite or two and could see that she too was on a winner.
As she was on her main course: the Prawn scampi with lime, chilli and panko crumb, remoulade sauce (€14.00). A lovely light crumb with the prawns cooked to a tantalising tee. Absolutely top class - we shared these last two dishes.

Mine was Pan-roasted Turbot fillets, parmesan and herb crust, rocket pesto (€15.00). Haven't enjoyed this delicious fish as much since I had it in Nerua in Bilbao, a top 100 restaurant worldwide. The Electric effort was positively exquisite, all the elements, not least that delicious complementary crust.

If you don't see anything on the Specials - though I'm sure you will - you’ll have some terrific choices too on the regular menu including non fish dishes such as Hoisin Beef. You could start, for instance, with some oysters and there are a couple of Fish Platters for sharing. then there is Seared Sashimi Tuna, Pil Pil Prawns, and so on.
Some decent bottles of wine, and glasses of course, available too, including Tin Pot Hut’s Pinot Gris and Paddy Borthwick Paper Road Pinot Noir, a handy New Zealand double! And there is a bar downstairs, so you’ll be spoiled for choice if you want beer, bottle or draught; my favourite here would be the local Chieftain IPA by Franciscan Well. Lots of other drinks too including Kir Royales and Mimosas.

All in all, it's a great spot and Very Highly Recommended!

41 South Mall, Cork, Ireland
[T] +353 21 4222 990