Saturday, July 30, 2016

Amuse Bouche

A few hours later, Lucy and I were ensconced inside Sean’s Presidential suit. There were lots of shrimps, bottles of champagne, laughs from the throat, laughs from the gut. Tom Jones, a Welshman to Sean Connery’s Scotsman, serenaded the room from enormous stereo speakers with “What’s New Pussycat?”
Eventually Sean took a seat on the couch between us so we could all study the dinner menu. The shrimp scampi and the vichyssoise, he said, were both a must. Sean poured us more champagne, which it was possibly a mistake to accept, as I was almost drunk already. Lucy, I could tell, was flirting with him…

From Boys in the Trees, a memoir by Carly Simon (2015). 
No Recommendation

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Millstreet Country Park. The Best of Venison. So Much More

Millstreet Country Park
The Best of Venison. So Much More
Mont des Arts. Looking down and (below) looking up
as the water flows down the steps

Sat down for lunch in the café at Millstreet Country Park the other day. After all it was time for a break after a couple of hours walking through part of this amazing place, full of surprises, its gardens, water features, walks and bike rides, lakes and ponds, bogs and mountains. And Red Irish deer, of course.

The menu is short as you’d expect. But no shortage of food or drink (everything from water to wine). I spotted Venison in a sandwich and ordered it immediately. It was absolutely delicious, amazingly tender. Our server mentioned something about the owner's recipe and strict instructions but she wasn't revealing any secrets!
Delicious venison

We had started with a hearty bowl of soup (4.50) - it wasn't the warmest day of the week! And our other dish was a Sweet Chilli Chicken (chicken, chilli mayo, onion, tomato and mixed leaves). Another excellent dish for just €5.50. My MCP Special consisted of the venison, relish (superb), cheese and onion, leaves and slaw and came to €6.00. Oh by the way, the venison, butchered by Finn’s in Mitchelstown, is on sale here.
Circus Fountain
Nibbles is the name of the cafe and it is newly built, very comfortable and well equipped to deliver a relaxed dining experience serving hearty soups, gourmet sandwiches, selection of cakes and treats, speciality coffees, teas and hot chocolates. Much of the produce comes from the farm, their tunnel and gardens along with some from the wild (all part of the Foraging Trail). There is also a bistro here, open for the major events and available too for private functions. Both have terrific views over the park and nearby mountains.

The park is between Millstreet and Macroom and we could have taken the main roads but instead went cross-country, via Blarney, Tower and Rylane. From Rylane we headed for Aubane and it was here, just two hundred metres before the turn-off for the park, that we came across two plaques, one at either side of the narrow hilly road.

This little road was part of the famous Butter Road where farmers from as far away as Castleisland brought their containers of butter to the Butter Exchange in Cork City’s Shandon for much of the 18th and 19th centuries when Cork was regarded as the Butter Capital of the world. Here in Aubane there is a flat rock, known as the Kerryman’s table, and here the weary travellers rested.
Fairy Trail
The plaque at the other side also commemorates the Butter Road and its contractor John Murphy of Castleisland. This was unveiled in 1998 by the chairman of Dairygold and the butter used in Nibbles is by Dairygold of course! This is their area - the Kerrymen were only passing through. Read more about this particular butter road here.
Gardens galore
Aside from the food, the Park is a marvellus place to visit, great too if you have kids. The youngsters will enjoy the space, the bikes, the water (they have nets and rubber ducks for them), the large shuffleboard area, the Fairy Trail and more. It is popular for school tours and camps.

For the adults, in the Leisure Zone, there are gardens galore including a Sensory, Rose, Bee, Music and the Tertiary Garden. In the Active Zone, you’ll find the Wetlands, a Stone Circle, an Obstacle Course and much more. And in the Wilderness Zone, there are Picnic Areas, the Blanket Bog and the Hedge School Site and that’s just a fraction.
The highlights around the Visitor Centre are perhaps the two water features, the lovely Circus Fountain and the amazing Mont Des Arts. The latter, constructed in 2009, is a replica of the original Mont des Arts built in the central square in Brussels for the Universal Exposition of 1910.

And, of course, you have to see the red deer. In summer, the population peaks at about 250. By the way, the deer farm here is organic. Venison is processed by John Finn in Mitchelstown and the burgers are made by Jerry Pat O’Leary, a craft butcher in Millstreet. Check the latest venison prices here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

La Stoppa’s Elena Pantaleoni. I wish my wines to live for many years

La Stoppa’s Elena Pantaleoni
I wish my wines to live for many years

Elena Pantaleoni is part of the “Triple A” movement; you’ll see the sign on some of her wines. What's it all about? Mostly, it is against the standardisation of wines, the dumbing down, the loss of variety, of personality, of terroir, of local grapes, of character. Agriculturists, Artisans, Artists.

Essentially, it is Elena and her equivalents in Italy, in France, in Spain, in Portugal, wherever, who are up against Big Food, Big Drink. It is for nature. Natural Resistance is a film in which Elena had a leading part. And it is not just wine. The monopolising influences are everywhere, in all sectors. So wake up, get up, get out and support your local food and drink producer. Otherwise, some boring day in the future, breakfast will be Tablet 1, lunch Tablet 2, dinner Tablet 3; interchangeable. And your wine will be white or red. No variety.

Triple 'A': AGRICULTURISTS Only who cultivates directly the vineyard can build a fair relationship between man and grapevine, and obtain healthy and mature grapes through exclusively natural agronomical interventions. ARTISANS Artisanal methods and capabilities are required to carry out a viticultural and oenological productive process that does not modify the original structure of the grapes and of the wine. ARTISTS Solely the “artistic” sensibility of a producer, respectful of his own work and his own ideas, can give life to a great wine in which the characteristics of territory and vine are exalted.

Read, a little, more on the subject here.

La Stoppa Trebbiolo 2013 (Emilia rosso IGT), 13%, €19.95 Le Caveau

This certified organic natural red is a blend of Barbera (60%) and Bonarda (40%) and thereby hangs a tale.

For twenty years, La Stoppa estate had been growing mainly international grapes but, in 1996, Elena Pantaleoni and winemaker Giulio Armani decided to concentrate on the Italian grapes Barbera and Bonarda.

Elena: “I wish my wines to live for many years; so that when selected, they can be enjoyed for their colour, their taste and their bouquet.”

Colour here is a vibrant medium red. Aromas are fresh and  rather complex and include red and darker berries, vanilla hints, spice too. On the palate, it is light, fruity, simple, some spice too, a very refreshing acidity, lively, lovely and juicy; good on its own or with food. A wine for all seasons and Very Highly Recommended.

I met Elena for the first time at a recent lunch in Good Things in Skibbereen and she told me that they also make a frizzante version of the Trebbiolo, an everyday wine that, helped by its pleasant acidity, goes well with the local cuisine. The name Trebbiolo, she told us, comes from a local river valley.
Elena (1st left, 1st row) at lunch in Good Things, Skibbereen.

La Stoppa Malvasia Dolce Frizzante, Emilia (IGT) 2015, 7%, €18.95 Le Caveau.

And that same valley produces the fruit, the Malvasia di Candia, for this unusual moderately sweet bubbly wine. Unusual to me anyhow. Single fermentation is via the Charmat method (also used in Prosecco). Note that the ABV is just 7%.

Note too the beautiful golden colour. Not that many bubbles. It is frizzante, not spumante! Easy drinking (not a hint of cloying), moderately sweet, honey and fruity and a good finish. This lightly sparkling beauty is a must try, perhaps with a nougat by Miena, maybe with some poached/grilled fruit such as peaches. Recommended.

La Stoppa Ageno, Emilia (IGT) bianco 2011, 13.5%, €31.95 Le Caveau

The Malvasia pops up here again and is indeed the major component in the blend for this rather amazing orange wine. Ortrugo and Trebbiano, both white grapes, also contribute. The wine is called after the founder of La Stoppa Estate, a man from Genoa. It is produced using an old traditional winemaking method, where the grapes are macerated on their skins (indigenous yeast, no added sulphur) for up to a month, or more, to create an orange wine. It is rich in colour, tannic and complex.

That colour is quite amazing. In addition to the maceration, it also helps that Ortrugo tends to orange in any case. The aromas are complex. For a second or two, I thought I was on a cider as I detected an autumnal orchard mustiness.

For all the intense colour and complex aromas and initial sweetness, this rich and elegant wine is definitely dry with a tannic finish (you notice it as your lips dry!). Made in the traditional manner, aged for a year in large barrels and two years in bottle, it is unique and Very Highly Recommended.
"The first Ageno was first produced in 2002 so we do not have a long experience of this wine,” said Elena in Skibbereen and she recommended serving it at 15 degrees.

That unique quality is exactly what Elena wants for this wine, for all her wines. She spends a lot of time on the road selling her wines. She knows La Stoppa will makes its mark and succeed if it has a strong identity. She and winemaker Giulio have certainly achieved that with this trio.


Taste of the Week. Pear & Vanilla Jam

Taste of the Week
Pear & Vanilla Jam

The Big Red Kitchen are the producers of our current Taste of the Week: Pear and Vanilla Jam. This is their own description: The subtle flavour of the pear is lifted by the Madagascan vanilla in this sweet preserve. Pairs wonderfully with almond scones, or on the side of your cheeseboard. It is spot on; reckon Nicola writes as well as she cooks!

And she cooks a lot in that Big Red Kitchen in County Meath. You’ll find award-winning homemade jams, jellies, marmalades, curds, chutneys and dessert sauces in her portfolio. Check it out here.

And another thing I like about the Big Red Kitchen is that they publish recipes and ideas on their website. I had been thinking of using the Pear & Vanilla on ice-cream and that’s confirmed but Nicola also suggests using it with cheese.

Reckon there’ll be more than one Taste of the Week from County Meath (which, by coincidence, I’ll be visiting next week! Looking forward to it.

The Big Red Kitchen
Cara Tí, Stamullen, Co Meath, Ireland.
Tel: 01-6978092
Mob: 086-1508462
Twitter: @BigRedKitchenIE   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Farmgate. Ireland on a Plate

The Farmgate
Ireland on a Plate
Tripe & onions, and Drisheen
Right in the heart of Cork City is the Farmgate Café. Here, the world meets Cork food, fresh from the nearby seas, local fields and from the English Market downstairs.

As we mingled with customers coming and going last week, we could hear the out of town accents but the loyal locals too were there in force. The Farmgate has managed for more than twenty years to cater for the tastes of both the jet-setter and the native. And managed it all so well that it would be hard to pick a better interface for the diners from near and far.

 Of course, you often hear this advice when heading off on holidays: Eat where the locals eat. Presumably our visitors have heard that too and know that they won't get much more local than the Farmgate.

With that in mind, I started with a very local dish: tripe and onions, and drisheen (€5.50). You may also have it as a main course. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten it here before though I’ve had tripe in various forms, usually abroad, over the years. Indeed, when I leaned my head towards the plate, I thought I got a whiff like that of the French Andouillette (chitterlings) and I’ve read since that they sometimes use tripe in the preparation.

The whole plaice to herself!
But the taste and flavours, of both the tripe and drisheen, are quite delicate and rather delicious. You do need the onions for both texture and flavour and the trick is not to overuse them. The balance was perfect here.

CL meantime, a veteran of tripe and drisheen and responsible for bringing lots of it to relatives in the UK, keeping it fresh overnight in the sink of their cabin on the old Innisfallen, was enjoying her Toonsbridge ricotta and tomato compôte on toasted sourdough (7.00).

Cured fish, with that delicious herring in the bowl in the foreground
 Her mains, fish of the day, was brilliant. A whole plaice, with a stack of gratin potato and a side of peas and cabbage, looked well and tasted even better. I was a little jealous when I saw it appear.

But my own mains was another gem: A Cured Fish plate with organic green leaves (14.00). Highlight here was the little bowl of Mustard Marinated Herring, one of the series of lovely herring products by Silver Darlings and widely available.

Quite a tempting list of desserts and I was tending towards the organic yogurt with Ceapach Choinn honey and nuts but opted for a coffee in the end. Not just any old coffee. The Bicerin coffee was a bit special, and is native to Turin. Mirco, a native of North East Italy, was serving us at the time. It wasn’t quite the layered Turin version in a glass but I enjoyed my cuppa made up of a double espresso and a shot of chocolate and cream.

While I sipped, I took in the women around the place. No, not the diners, but the huge hanging posters advertising a series of events taking place in the Farmgate this year, in collaboration with UCC scholars, poets and writers, commemorating the unsung women of 1916 under the general title of “Women of the South: Radicals and Revolutionaries .

With that, and the Farmgate’s long-standing Poetry Wall , and the food of course, you’ll know where you are. And all, from near and far, are welcome to come and enjoy the taste of this place called Ireland.

English Market
Princes Street
Email: (general enquiries)
Twitter: @farmgatecafe

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Amuse Bouche

Alfred, meanwhile, busied himself in the vegetable garden. … Here, among his asparagus and runner beans, his buckets and hoes, and wearing lederhosen and a loose shirt, Alfred whiled away his mornings, digging the dirt and watering his vegetables…. Alfred also built himself an enormous greenhouse which he named his ‘orangerie’, a reference to the ornate construction dominating the royal palace gardens of Sanssouci, Potsdam, a few kilometres to the south.

from The House by the Lake by Thomas Harding (2015) Very Highly Recommended!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Leisurely Lunch In Greene’s. Local, and High Class

Leisurely Lunch In Greene’s
Local and High Class

When I read that Greene’s Restaurant were offering lunch every day of the week (from 12.30pm), there was no stopping me. Off we headed to 48 MacCurtain Street and soon we were seated at a comfortable table with a great view of the waterfall just outside the window. Soon though we were concentrating on the menu rather then the view, €21.50 for two courses, €24.50 for three.

To begin, we could have had Goats Cheese, beetroot, walnut and raisin. Or Soup of the Day with a garnish. CL though went for a classic here: Pork Belly, black pudding, apple, celeriac, cider and crackling popcorn.  We met chef Bryan McCarthy on the street later and he said they’ll never be allowed to take this off the menu. We could see why.
Pork Belly
I enjoyed another dish that’s going well there: Mackerel, crab, seaweed, squid ink, nasturtium and radish. What a combination of textures, colours, and flavours. A delicious starter.

Speaking of classics, McCarthy’s well-known feather blade was also on the menu, along with a Risotto featuring Ballyhoura Mushrooms and Coolea.  They used the best of local produce here. And use it very well indeed.

Mackerel & Crab
My pick was the fish of the day: Hake, sea vegetables, chorizo. Fabulous fish! CL was equally delighted with her Market Chicken, carrot puree, pancetta, sugar pea, egg yolk emulsion and beetroot. And that puree was her delicious sauce.

We could also have had sides, including Mashed potatoes, root vegetables, triple cooked fries and baby potatoes. But, having spotted a favourite dessert, we made a strategic decision to avoid the tempting sides!
And that dish? Well no other than Bushy’s Strawberries fresh from the farm in Rosscarbery. The fruit is top notch but they are enhanced no end by the extras that the Greene's kitchen adds, including milk, elderflower, gorse and yogurt. And the presentation is eye-catching. So you appreciate the display, for a second or two, three at most, and then you tuck into the seasonal sensation!

Well that was the three great courses and then we finished off with a couple of well-made expressos. By the way, there was a lovely little amuse bouche at the start as well. Lunch is quite a big deal here. Very Highly Recommended.

Greene’s Restaurant
48 MacCurtain Street, Cork
Phone: 021 455 2279
Web (includes sample menus):

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

O’Brien’s July Sale. Three to Consider

O’Brien’s July Sale
Three to Consider

The monthly sales at O’Brien’s are always worth a look. I’m afraid I was a little late getting to Douglas this time. But the bottles I wanted were still there and here are three of them, from a great selection of close to one hundred! Check them out here.

Tons de Duorum, Douro (DOC) 2014, 13.5%, €15.45 (11.95 in July sale) O’Brien’s

The name is inspired by the bright colours that result from the reflections of the sun on the Douro creating different tones in the vineyard. Local grapes Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz are used; they are hand-harvested and the wine goes on to spend six months in oak.

Intense dark and red fruit aromas greet you from this ruby to violet coloured wine and the legs are slow enough to clear. No shortage of ripe fruit flavours on the elegant palate, refreshing with a little spice there too, fine tannins and a lovely soft finish. Another good value wine from the Douro and Highly Recommended.
Brocard La Boissoneuse, Chablis (AOC) 2013, 12.5%, €24.95 (22.95 in July sale) O’Brien’s

You really don't have to wait to get this light gold wine into your glass to appreciate the gorgeous aromas. The white fruits and some floral hints emerge from the bottle the minute you extract the cork.

The cork has a wax coating. A bit of a nuisance I thought - until I looked up this You Tube demo. Suitably instructed, I warmed the top of the wax with the palm of my hand and then extracted the cork as normal, the wax top breaking off cleanly as the cork emerged.

There is true harmony on the palate, those white fruit flavours (apple, citrus) and a charge of bracing minerality giving a superbly clean combination and a long and very satisfying finish.

The winery has respect for its ancient soils and notes the cycles of the sun and the moon, all with the aim of bringing the Chardonnay grapes to “perfect harmony”. Their organic principles have been rewarded with this Very Highly Recommended Wine. Two euros off may not be a great draw. Definitely you’ll get bigger bargains in the sale but few better wines than this. O’Brien’s themselves say it “leaves some of the best Premier Crus in its wake... a revelation”. "Not your typical Chablis," says Nicolas, the Douglas manager. But a very good one.
Bethany Creek Shiraz, Barossa 2011, 13.5%, €19.95 (€12.95 in July sale) O’Brien’s

The grapes for this excellent wine come, as is not uncommon in Australia, from their own and a number of neighbouring vineyards. Vintage commenced on 4 March at Bethany Wines, later than usual and a full month later than in 2010; the cooler temperatures resulting in slow, even ripening of the fruit and good flavour development. So, no harm done! On the contrary.

Colour is purple and there are fruity aromas, some spice too. Those red cherry characters follow through to the palate, fruity and spicy with fine tannins, a soft mouthfeel, an elegant wine that has “gained from two years careful oak maturation”. This approachable well-balanced wine is Highly Recommended. So get in quick as stocks, at this bargain price, may not last until the end of the month!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Taste of the Week. From Arbutus Bread

Taste of the Week

From Arbutus Bread

While buying my favourite Medieval sourdough loaf, not the best looking babe in the bakery, from Arbutus Bread at Douglas Market last Saturday, I spotted a knobbly knuckly cake. “What’s that?”

The young assistant quickly replied: “It is made with croissant dough, apple, cinnamon and sultanas.” “Okay. I’ll have one.” And that delicious one is our Taste of the Week.

It costs €4.50 but we got quite a few slices out of it. It is delicious on its own and we found two ways to enhance it.  The first is to serve it with custard or vanilla sauce (as they call it in Vienna, according to Rick Stein on one of his long weekends). This gives you an really high class bread pudding. You can add butter if you like!

And the second is to match it with a rosé. This is the time of the year for the pink. And one of the best is a long standing favourite at Karwig Wines, the Domaine Houchart Côte de Provence (2015). I tried that pairing at Monday’s BBQ and it worked a treat.