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Monday, September 2, 2019
Ali's Kitchen. Variety. Fresh. Local. Seasonal.
No Need to Luca Further.
French Toast here at Ali’s Kitchen in the heart of Cork City is something of a moveable feast, but one well worth following. It might come with strawberries, with peaches, with dates, with blueberries, with blackberries and pears or, as was the case last Friday, with Apple Compote. To the compote, they added Vanilla Mascarpone and crumble and that added up to quite a dish for eleven euro. That was CL’s excellent choice from the Brunch Menu (it runs until 2.00pm). The variations on the theme, and it’s not confined to the French Toast, underlines that what you get here is fresh and seasonal.
I confirmed its excellence, cutting off a corner to have with my Macchiato, that exquisite little cuppa one of the best of its kind I’ve come across.
And speaking of “best of its kind” I have to mention front-of-house Luca who gave us his exclusive attention. Indeed, he seemed to give his exclusive attention to everyone. He greeted you on the way in and said goodbye on the way out and checked on the table in between.
If he were a centre-half - maybe he is, for all I know - nothing would get past him! But he "tackles" in the most delightful chatty way. The only time he frowned was when a departing customer responded with “merci” to Luca’s “ciao”. “He thinks I’m a Frenchman”, he moaned in mock horror!
At Ali’s, they celebrate brunch every day. “You’ll get Poachies galore and hollandaise heaven! Classic dishes like Eggs Benedict & Potato Hash to Waffles, Fritters and French Toast”. While at the weekend, “Bubbles & Mimosas at the weekend makes our Brunch extra special”.
The variations and specials are prominently displayed on a board and here I strayed from the Brunch to the Lunch column and put my eye on the open Fish Sandwich (9.50): O’Connell’s smoked mackerel, roast tomato, salsa verde, leaves and caper, all on slices of toasted sourdough. It was the perfect combination, all the extras combining so harmoniously with the generous amount of mackerel.
Very happy indeed with that one, another superb dish. I had intended trying out Ali’s famous cinnamon buns but, after the fish and the corner of the French Toast, had to postpone that pleasure. Ciao Luca and grazie for that excellent macchiato.
Ali’s opens early every weekday (except Monday when they are closed) and serves breakfast/brunch. Again the menu is small but varies from day to day and she promises something for everyone, including Eggs Benny and Harissa Eggs plus specials, their own granola even (if you’re in before noon). And, as we’ve seen from our visit, she and her team deliver big-time!
Rory Gallagher Place,
Thursday, June 6, 2019
Meet the Cronin Sisters, the Champions of Local.
At The Square Table in Blarney.
The Cronin sisters at Blarney’s Square Table are pure Cork. When they have something to say, and they often do, it is straight up. Just like the produce they use. Honest to goodness top class stuff, raised and grown locally. They’re not shy about emphasising where their meat, their fish, their veg, comes from. They are rightly proud of it and have a long list at the back of the menu so that you can look for yourself.
So call out to Blarney, to the champions of local. Study that menu and order and then you’ll have all the proof you want on your plate. Because, the twins, Martina and Tricia, are also well capable of handling all that beautiful produce and of serving well cooked and well presented dishes that wouldn’t be out of place in a top restaurant. What am I saying? This is a top restaurant, right on the edge of the village green in Blarney.
And this dinner of champions won’t cost you the earth. Especially if you go for the Early Bird which is available on Wednesday and Thursday 6pm to 9pm, Friday and Saturday 6pm to 7pm. 2-courses €26.75, 3-courses €31.
I took my own advice last Thursday and called to the Square Table which is looking very well following its renovation and small expansion early in the year. We got a great welcome as always and were soon studying the menus plus the specials. The local Old Butter Road Food Trails Festival kicked off in earnest the previous weekend but, because of the reliance on local produce, the area around Blarney is always well represented on the Square Table menu.
Kanturk’s Jack McCarthy is a member of the Old Butter Roads and you’ll see his name on the menu. As it happened we gave the Early Bird a trial spin and CL’s starter was a delicious McCarthy’s Black Pudding and Puff Pastry Roll, with house piccalilli and apple purée. Perfect.
The Crispy Egg with Ballyhoura Mushrooms and Hollandaise is also a regular on the menu and I was very happy to renew acquaintance with it. The Early Bird was off to a flier and the standard stayed high right to the finalé.
My main course was O’Connell’s pan-fried hake, buttered leeks, celeriac purée, pickled Ballyhoura Mushrooms. It was exquisite, perfection on a plate, as we’ve come to expect here, their high standards never seem to drop, amazing consistency meal after meal.
|West Cork Chicken|
I just kept saying perfection to myself and CL was also humming across the table as she enjoyed her West Cork Chicken, Cauliflower purée, Wild Garlic, Coolea cheese. And another thing I keep saying is to keep an eye on the small things in a restaurant as they can tell you a lot. Take the sides here, for instance: mashed potato, carrot and kale, sweet potato and turnip purée. They too were top notch, you could have had a lovely dish with just those on their own!
Time then for dessert; again we decided to share. The Crumble of the Evening (caramelised apple and rhubarb) with Featherbed Farmhouse Vanilla ice-cream was our pick. The crumble topping was light and lightly applied while everything underneath was full of soft and softer textures and delicious flavours with a touch of sweetness. Another Square Table meal made with skill and delivered with a smile. Why wouldn’t we come again!
Read all the detailed Square Table menus here
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
James Whelan opens 8th Butcher’s Shop
Son Pat keeps his feet on the ground.
I met Pat Whelan at the original James Whelan shop in Clonmel in November 2011. He took time out to have chat about that shop and also a new one in Avoca in Monkstown (Dublin) to which he was applying the finishing touches. Now he has eight in total. Progress has been amazing.
I met Pat again at Dunnes Stores Bishopstown Court last Friday. He was there to play a role in the weekend celebration of the extensive renovations of the popular supermarket, a weekend to highlight the newcomers to the store including Whelan’s, Sheridan’s Cheese, ABC Bread, O’Connell Fishmongers, Baxter and Greens and Café Sol.
Again, the Tipperary man took time out for a chat. I reminded him about our first meeting and how he enjoyed going out to the marts and farms to meet the producers. Has the expansion put a stop to that?
I was glad to get the answer that it hadn’t, an answer that I had more or less expected from a man who stays in touch with the grassroots, staying connected to the source. He goes out weekly and told me that only the Tuesday before he had bought about 40 cattle in the Fermoy Mart but what I hadn’t expected was that his 80 year father, after whom the shops are named, was on the road with him. Respect to both!
|Dunnes Kiwi chef Matthew Brownie was promising the Irish an All Black grilling ahead of the big game.|
He was just joking, of course!
But some things have of course changed and not just over the last seven years. Pat was (still is) a regular visitor to the English Market in the good old days. Then he felt it “was alive” when he walked through. It certainly was in your face. The food scene began to change back in 60s and 70s. It became “sanitised”, the connection with its source fragmenting, we agreed, me thinking of sliced pan and supermarkets as being among the agents of change.
People like Pat, and luckily there are quite a few of them, kept the flame alive. “Good food is an investment in your future,” he says. “Great to see the youngsters coming into it, great to see them make the connection and great to see it done right. We owe it to ourselves and to the planet to really reconnect with nature.”
“Training is important,” he emphasised in answer to my query about Whelan’s Butcher Academy. Indeed, the good work of the academy has been recognised by a counterpart in South West France. “They want to do an Erasmus exchange with us where our trainees can swap experience with their French counterparts. It’s great for us to be recognised like that and great too for the apprentices.”
The eight Whelan butcher shops are in Clonmel, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, The Swan Centre Rathmines, Dunnes Stores Blanchardstown Centre, Pavilions Shopping Centre, Swords, Avoca in Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue as well as Dunnes Stores Bishopstown Court. Pat is very happy about the link-up (now 30 months old) with Dunnes seeing them as a family company that “is all about the customer, the Better Value is not just a slogan, and they are very warmly regarded in Cork".
And it looks as if the Whelan shop is warmly regarded as well. “We’ve had a great welcome from our fellow debutants, Pat O’Connell’s and Sheila of ABC”. Whelan will have in-house competition from Dunne’s own butchers. He knows that his produce is top class and may cost a little more. A customer may like a treat at the weekend and something good but less pricey on a Monday. “Retail is all about choice,” he says and is quite happy with that.
Earlier Donnacha, the manager of Whelan's Bishopstown shop, showed me some of that choice. The Tralee native has worked for two and half years for Pat in Dublin and jumped at that chance to get back nearer home. “We started off four weeks ago and it took off straightaway, so far so good. Now we’re setting up for Christmas.”
The shop has a beautiful lay-out and lighting. It is well manned with expert help at hand as you choose between the different meats and the different cuts.
A lot of the weekend focus was on “the big reveal”, the collaboration between Pat Whelan and Peter Hannan which has resulted in the amazing Himalayan Salt Aged Beef, now on sale exclusively in Whelan’s eight shops and at their online shop.
Hannan has constructed a Salt Chamber made of rock salt bricks from the Himalayas and here the beef spends over 35 days and the final result is exceptional quality with a truly unique flavour. More details here.
“We got a great welcome to Cork,” said Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's as we chatted in front of their very impressive stall. And I use the word stall deliberately as it does resemble a market display. A big stall, mind you. Space to display the many cheeses - lots of Cork produce there too - and all the little bits and pieces (crackers, relishes for example) that go with them.
‘We have more Cork cheese here - in Galway we would have more from Galway - and find the customers very enthusiastic. Great to be in Dunnes too, as they are part of the Cork heritage.”
“We started as a small cheese stand, and this weekend, we are celebrating the opening of the Cork Bishopstown Court location with many local producers that we are proud to call our friends. We feel so lucky to work with many quality Irish producers and are thrilled to share their amazing work all under one roof in Dunnes.”
Like Pat, Kevin emphasised the importance of training. Sheridan’s have brought some of their more experienced people from their other shops to Cork for the time being, passing on that experience, all for the benefit of the customer.
Didn’t see Pat O’Connell himself but got lots of fish there, some frozen, some fresh, and some smoked (including Goatsbridge trout produced by my friend Mag Kirwan in Kilkenny). Must go back and try that red mullet!
Also met some regulars on the food scene: Padraig O’Farrell was showing his Carrigaline cheeses at Sheridan’s and Aoife was doing a Kinsale Bay tasting nearby while Dunne’s Kiwi chef Matthew was threatening to grill the Irish at the rugby! Could have spent the day there but time caught up with me.
- You may see a YouTube clip of Peter Hannan’s salt chamber here.
- And see Hannan cook those amazing steaks here.
Monday, July 30, 2018
Taste of the Week
Kay O’Connell’s Wild Sea Trout
Nosing around the English Market last Friday and spotted a hand-written* sign up on the O’Connell Fish Stall drawing attention to their Wild Sea Trout. Brought a couple of fillets home and the Official Blog Chef turned them into our Taste of the Week.
This noble trout, full of flavour, is worth every cent. Pan-fried, skin side first. Peas and spinach from the garden were recruited. Potatoes were diced, garlic and herb added, and cooked in a very high oven before the other veg were added and tossed with the potatoes.
So there you, no great fuss but a fantastic Taste of the Week.
* He’ll probably type them when he opens in Bishopstown!
K O’Connell Fish Merchants
Sunday, July 8, 2018
At The Square Table, Sisters From The West Make The Best of Local
We are in a small restaurant in Blarney. Behind me, the front of house person is explaining the dishes to a table of visitors. The info is precise, full of detail and confidently given with clarity, enthusiasm and no little humour.
This is Tricia Cronin in action. Tricia and her twin sister Chef Martina (left) are the team, a formidable straight-talking duo, at The Square Table - the 35 seater sits on the village’s ancient square - and they serve up lots of good things here. And another good thing - they don’t do bullshit! What you see is what you get.
After a formative spell in Cork with Dubliner Ciaran Scully, teacher and chef, Martina headed for the capital where her culinary education continued under top chefs Ross Lewis and Graham Neville. One of the things she learned along the way and which she and Tricia implement at the Square Table is to use local as much a possible. “This way we meet and got to know the local producers.”
At the launch of a local festival earlier this year I heard Tricia declare: “I enjoy engaging with the customers on local produce and local producers. But you do need to know your stuff. There’s a lot of homework to be done, especially with new dishes.” Here’s a woman, a pair of them, who talk the talk and walk the walk.
|black pudding, apple purée|
We’ve walked in to try the Early Bird, available from 6-9pm Wednesday & Thursday; 6-7pm on Friday & Saturday: 2-courses €25.50, 3-courses €29.50. By the way, this is no skinny early bird - you’ll get good quality and quantity here! The Cronin sisters grew up in the country and food was a key part of the hard-working daily life.
So let us take a look at the menu for this particular Wednesday evening. We are in the middle of a heatwave, so the soup is relegated to the also rans! Record temperatures or no, I rarely turn down the chance to eat Ballyhoura mushrooms so I go for the Crispy Egg and Ballyhoura Mushrooms with Hollandaise. Yumami!
Cleaned the plate as did OBC (the official blog chef) whose pick was the Jack McCarthy’s Black Pudding and Puff Pastry Roll, house piccalilli, and apple purée. An excellent combination and a generous helping of the purée to help it on its delicious way.
And that generosity is also exemplified when we are served three gorgeous side dishes with our mains: carrot and kale, a potato mash, and a delightful turnip and mustard dish (that drew compliments galore from the tourist table behind).
I had noticed my mains on their Twitter feed: West Cork roast chicken, buttered leeks, cauliflower purée and Coolea Cheese (from the sisters’ home area). Cooked to perfection, served at the perfect temperature and well presented, a delight to dispatch. The best of Irish given an accomplished touch of the continental.
And OBC, a bit of a Hake connoisseur, was also well satisfied with O’Connell’s Pan-fried hake, pea purée, McCarthy’s crispy bacon and organic sugar snaps. Great colour, great flavours and texture. And then those sides!
They offered us a choice of three tempting desserts but we were rather full.
And where do the Cronins get their good things? Well if you go there, and you should, just ask and Tricia will tell you. You can also look it up on the back page of the menu, a long back page but here’s a sample of suppliers: Hegarty’s of Whitechurch for cheese (six other suppliers), Tom O’Brien also Whitechurch for eggs, Kilbrack and Anna Belle farms for vegetables and salads, meat from Michael Twomey (their mother’s butcher) and more, smoked salmon from Old Mill Bank and crab from Liscannor, and further afield there’s yogurts from Velvet Cloud and ice-cream from Featherbed Farm. A tasty journey through the best of Ireland’s producers.
5, The Square,
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Clayton’s Globe Goes Local
English Market a Tasty Source
As most of you know, there’s a new name on the Clayton Hotel in Lapp’s Quay. But do you know there is also a new focus on its renamed Globe Restaurant. That focus is local and much of the produce, including my flavourful Tom Durcan steak, is coming from the English Market.
The lunch menu is also very much a local one but we were there to sample the evening menu. As we studied the lists, we noticed they had a few craft beers on bottle and picked a familiar favourite, the Cotton Ball’s Indian Summer. Service was excellent throughout, very friendly. And that wasn't just us, as we spotted some great interaction with nearby tables, including one American group.
The menu highlights the English Market connection, especially with Tom Durcan (for beef), Kay O’Connell’s (for seafood), the Chicken Inn and On the Pig's Back (for cheese).
There was an Asian restaurant here before the Clayton took over and as it happened I picked an Asian starter: Spring Rolls (Vegetable spring rolls, pickled cucumber, soy and chilli dipping sauce). Very tasty indeed and just the right size as I knew a steak was to follow!
Meanwhile CL was enjoying her local and lovely Ardsallagh goats cheese in a roasted walnut crust, petit salad with sun blushed tomatoes and pomegranate.
You may check out the other starters, and indeed mains, online here.
My main event, cooked to perfection, was Chargrilled Irish ribeye, served with French fries (jacket potato was also an option), garnish salad, and no less than three sauces: garlic butter, pepper and whiskey sauces. The steak was full of flavour and delicious.
CL went for the Pan fried medallions of monkfish, served with a creamy lemon and basil risotto, finished with sun blushed tomatoes and fresh pesto. Again the fish was cooked to perfection and the risotto (quite a lot of it on the plate!) was also a delight, full of different yet complementary flavours.
After all that, we were close to full so agreed to share the dessert, a Classic Eton Mess (Fresh meringue pieces, soft berry fruits and freshly whipped dairy cream). Strawberries topped the big glass and quite a few were buried underneath as well. Very sweet,” said our server, encouragingly. And he was spot-on. Quite a finish to an impressive meal in a comfortable setting.
There are quite a few dining options in the Clayton, including what looks like a power-packed Vitality Breakfast, anytime from 6.30am! Lunch in the Globe starts at noon but all day you can enjoy a tea or coffee and some delicious pastry in the Red Bean Roastery in the Atrium. And if have a have an afternoon free and someone to spend it with, then Afternoon Tea is available, also in the Atrium. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Fenn’s Quay's Special
From breakfast ’til late at night Fenn’s Quay will feed you, and feed you well. Lots of menus here, including a set lunch and an Early Bird. That Early Bird is, unusually, available on Saturdays up to 6.30.
It is good value and has quite a few dishes from the A La Carte. As it happened, it was the A La Carte that we concentrated on last weekend. We noticed some dishes that are almost fixtures here, such as the O’Mahony's Feather-blade and the same O'Mahony’s Collar of Bacon.
|Beetroot cured salmon|
But there is no shortage of variety in Fenn’s Quay, once you factor in a packed specials board. And, conveniently, they also include a written list of the specials as well as the traditional blackboard.
We tend to make good use of the specials and we did so here as well, though neither of the starters featured on the board.
CL choose Cork Dry Gin and Beetroot cured salmon with buttermilk dillisk and cucumber pickle (€10.00), a very well judged combination, very tasty indeed.
|Braised lentils and beef tongue with pickled quail egg|
I was delighted with my Braised lentils and beef tongue with pickled quail egg (€10.00). The broth or jus - I used some of their well-made bread to mop it up - was full of the flavours from the tongue and the lentils and the quail was the first of my Easter eggs. Happy out!
We had been tempted by one of special starters, a Fish Platter with O’Connell’s smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, fish croquette and beer battered cod.
We would though have O’Connell's cod on the double as we agreed on the mains, the Fish of the Day special (19.00). Details are: Cod, spinach, cod skin and cod purée, served with roasted cauliflower florets and peas. All added up to an exquisite dish, the fish as fresh as could be and cooked perfectly and that cauliflower was excellent.
The dessert special was another winner: Bewley's Pannacotta with dark chocolate and brandy mousse (€6.50); had an idea this was going to be delicious (and it was!) and so we left the popular Mimi’s Cork Dry Gin and Tonic Dessert behind!
They have a short but well judged list of wines here, some available by the glass and most, if not all, by the carafe and bottle. And also they had a couple of specials on the board. Unusually, they also have a list of craft beers, Blacks and Mountain Man among them, but I went for a regular favourite the Stonewell Medium Cry Cider (€6.50). Food and presentation was top notch, service too and so it was a happy if overdue return to No. 5 Fenn’s Quay. Very Highly Recommended.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
El Vino. Top Tapas.
And Much More.
|Monkfish & Serrano|
It was cold outside but that was soon forgotten as we joined the diners in the packed downstairs section of the El Vino restaurant at the Elysian in Cork last weekend. Mentioned the Elysian there as they also operate an El Vino in Douglas.
Great buzz downstairs. We were offered a table upstairs too but went with the happy noises. Upstairs would soon fill too. We were quickly seated and studying the menus. Lots of tapas here and they also double as starters but you may, of course, stick with tapas for the evening. We may well do that another time but some dishes on the mains section caught our eye.
You come across these Roast Piquillo Peppers a lot in the Basque country and they were CL’s pick. Hers were stuffed with Goats Cheese, Chorizo, Bread Crumbs & Herbs, Rocket Salad & Toasted Almonds (7.95). We did share, of course, and it was another perfect dish. And I'm sure there are quite a few more on that extensive list. Check it out here.
Time then for the main event, fish for me, chicken for her. Steak, Pork Belly, Hake and salads were also on the menu. CL’s Pan Fried Chicken Breast was stuffed with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Basil, and came with Mediterranean Vegetables, Ratatouille, Tomato & Pesto (17.95). The chicken was top drawer, delicious and moist and the Ratatouille was excellent in its own right as well as being a great match for the poultry.
Pan Fried Monkfish Wrapped in Serrano Ham, Crushed Baby Potatoes, Chargrilled Courgettes, Samphire & Romesco (nut and red pepper based) Sauce (25.95) was my pick, quite an epic dish, beautifully cooked (the ham spot on, moist and tender) and so well presented, probably the best dish of its type in a long time.
CL got those Crushed Baby Potatoes as well and we also got an included side dish of vegetables (including broccoli, carrot and sugar snap), again perfectly cooked. If the kitchen takes care of the minor things, then there’s a great chance that the bigger dishes will be good as well and that was certainly the case here.
|Chicken & Ratatouille|
We were each nearing the limit at this stage but couldn't resist sharing a dessert, the El Vino Baked Alaska (6.50). Glad we did as it provided a sweet end to a lovely evening.
Good too to see they they support local and include Brian St Ledger Fruit & Veg, Tom Durcan, The Chicken Inn, Kay O’Connell Fish, The Real Olive, Clona Dairy and Ardsallagh Cheese, among their suppliers. Very Highly Recommended.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Bringing the Market together.
In 24 Days in 24 Ways, Smokehouse Sauce is bringing the English Market together. Together on a plate, that is.
Smokehouse Sauce, fast emerging as a favourite across Munster, is the guest trader for six weeks at the start-up stall in Cork’s English Market. Emma Kelly of Smokehouse: “The English Market is iconic, a quality place to shop for quality. Traders here know their growers and suppliers. There is an honesty here, now so important as people become more aware of the importance of sourcing.”
So the mission for Smokehouse is 24 Ways in 24 Days. That means changing the dish daily and Chef Stephen of Elbow Lane is the man putting it all together on the plate. The sauce was the brainchild of owner Conrad Howard and his daughter and has been perfected in the Elbow Lane kitchen. It is available across Munster Stores of Supervalu, in the Food Academy section, and also from independent butchers.
“It’s amazing to be here in the old heart of the city, to be collaborating with the English Market, promoting it and the traders,” enthuses Emma. A recent dish, the Ploughman’s Sandwich, with sauce of course, involved no less than four traders. Brown spelt bread from Hassett’s, Cheddar cheese from the Roughty Foodie, ham from the Chicken Inn, and salad from Superfruit, lunch for just four euro!
Before that, they featured Smoked Pork Empanadas, the pork supplied by Ken and Helen of the Meat Centre who have been trading here for 37 years. The package also included an apple and courgette salad and smokehouse sauce (of course!).
|Tom Durcan's Spiced Beef, Hassett's Rye Bread,|
Sauerkraut and Coolea Cheese from
On The Pig's Back
And the versatility of the sauce was again underlined with On The Pig's Back goats cheese bon bons, with pearl barley, pea sprout and beetroot leaf salad and Smokehouse Sauce dressing. Day Three was an interesting one: Ham hock and scallion terrine (using meat from Bresnan's Butchers), with Smokehouse Sauce and homemade red cabbage slaw. And it’s not just meat. Cod from Kay O’Connell’s was used in delicious frittatas and enhanced with the sauce.
“There is a hard-to-match quality here in the market. We want to highlight that and support local at the same time, by combining traditional meats with modern flavours. The sauce itself is tomato based and may be used as a dip, a relish and as a marinade. It is extremely versatile. Use it with grilled, roast or cold meats, fish, cheese and vegetables.”
|Aoife and Chris at the Smokehouse stall|
So what is today’s dish? Check it out on their Facebook page by all means but do call in and try it out! And you must see their lively video celebrating the sauce and its arrival in the Market. Here's the link
For more on the Smokehouse Sauce, including recipes and stockists, check the website here.