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The Sultan Cafe: Cuisine of North Africa on a Cork Quay
Stopped in off Penrose Quay on a bitingly cold March night walked through the portals of The Sultan and landed on the balmy coast of North Africa, a warm welcome and a treasure trove of exotic dishes available to us at Taoufik Hammami's restaurant. On the way in, we pass theShisha Lounge, which doubles as reception and waiting area, complete with traditional pipes and a display of herbs and aromatic spices that are used in the cooking.
Under a tent-like ceiling, with long lengths of colourful material hanging loosely overhead, African music playing, the cuisine of that long coast, particularly those of Morocco and the Lebanon, are detailed on the extensive menu. Dishes such as Kaftas, Shish, Kofta, Kebab, Cous Cous, Shawarma, Salads, Baba Ghanoush, and Falafel all feature. Spices are used but more to impart flavour than heat.
It takes us a while to make up our minds. I’m looking at everything, the hummus, the vine leafs, the falafel, the sharing Mezzes, the Tabbouleh. In the end though I pick the Fattoush: mixed green salad, tomato, cucumber, parsley, onion, sumac, with pomegranate and oil dressing and cracked bread (7.95). Packed full of flavour and an amazing dressing, took a while to get through it.
We would find out that dishes here are very generous indeed. CL picked the Moussaka (a vegetable version), aubergines cooked with chickpeas, tomatoes, mixed peppers and spices, served with pitta bread. Again a generous mix of flavours and textures for 6.95.
The Morrocan selection on the mains is based mainly on tagine variations. Authentic Moroccan tagine (16.95) is a slow-cooked stew like dish, served in a traditional Moroccan clay pot, served with a choice of rice, couscous or bread. CL picked the couscous and the bubbling stew did come in the clay dish and was terrific, the couscous (a very generous helping again) served in another dish alongside. She had a choice of beef or lamb and picked the latter. It was cooked on the bone, Generous and delicious too. Lots of pieces of sweet fruit mixed in here, even a spud in the stew!
Meanwhile, I was happily making my way through a Lebanese dish. I had quite a few to choose from: Kafta Lahem (lamb mince), Taouk (chicken breast) and Dawood Basha (spiced meat balls) to choose from. I settled for the Mixed Meat Shawarma (14.95), pieces of chicken and lamb marinated in a lightly spiced garlic and onion mix, grilled on skewers and served with mixed salad, garlic sauce, pitta bread and a choice of rice or chips (rice for me!). Tender, tasty, slightly spiced and overall delicious.
Baklava features strongly on the desserts and do watch out for the Almond finger baklava soaked in honey and topped up with Pistachio. If you can’t manage it at the end of eh meal, don't worry they’ll wrap it up for you and you can enjoy it later on at home. And if want more sometime, don't forget they have a shop in McCurtain Street (near the Met) where they also sell Turkish Delight! And you’ll more than likely see a Sultan stall at various markets and festivals.
Percheron Shiraz Mourvèdre, Western Cape (South Africa) 2014, 14.5%, €11.95 Le Caveau
The Percheron horse owes his place on the label to the fact that these draft horses (now a rare breed), once worked the land here; the ancient vines, another national treasure, survive also.
This medium red comes with dark fruit aromas, some savoury notes too. It is warm and rich, spice, vanilla notes too, savoury elements also, tannins more or less fine, and a long and warm finish. Well balanced, well made, great value and Highly Recommended.
The producers recommend matching it with smoked meat, red meat and cheeses. I found it superb with the Macroom Buffalo burgers from Eoin O’Mahony in the English Market, Cork.
Chateau Ksara Reserve du Couvent, Bekaa Valley (Lebanon) 2013, 13.5%, €19.75 Karwig Wines
A dark ruby red is the colour here; it is a little lighter at the rim. There are intense aromas. Delicious fruit too on the complex palate, a drift of pepper also, and fine tannins. Superb balance of fruit and wood and those dark fruits stay with you through the persistent finish. Very Highly Recommended.
Though the old cellars, situated underground in the limestone bedrock, most probably date from Roman times, the winery was founded by the Jesuits in 1857. Must have been some nuns there too - there usually were - as couvent is French for convent. The estate is no longer in Jesuit hands but the French influence is strong. Next parish by the way is unhappy Syria. Amazingly, Ksara produces some 3 million bottles per annum.
It is a blend, 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Red meat and small game are the suggested matches for this delicious and complex wine.
Chateau Ksara, Reserve du Couvent 2011, Vallee de la Bekaa (Lebanon), 13.5%, €19.15 Karwig Wines
Hard for me to believe that there is just 30 per cent Cabernet Franc in this gorgeous wine. The red grape of the Loire dominates here and I wouldn't have been surprised to see its contribution at about 70%. But no. The blend is 40% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Cabernet Franc.
The winery was founded by Jesuits in 1857. Must have been some nuns there too - there usually were - as Couvent is the French for convent. The estate is no longer in Jesuit hands.
The wine has a beautiful mix of fruity aromas and the colour is a deep ruby. On the palate it is rich and delicious, the refreshing input of Cab Franc obvious methinks, there are hints of the wood (and of the French influence!); it is fine and full flavoured with a lasting finish. Can't help thinking though that I got into this 2011 a bit too soon as it seems there is more to come from it. Still, it is even now an excellent wine and Very Highly Recommended.
Taoufik, the Chef/Owner at The Sultan, the Lebanese restaurant at Penrose Wharf, told us our starter would take about twenty minutes to cook - “everything is prepared fresh” - but that he had some Lebanese tea to warm us up while we waited. It was sweet but gorgeous and we sipped to our heart's content. At the end of the meal, he treated us to his Arab coffee (containing cardamom, apples and more and sweetened with rose water).
He has a great selection of Mezzes to share and we opted for number two, including Baba Ghanoush, Potato Haro (Spicy Potato), Fatayer Spinach, Fatoush Salad, Hummus, Falafel and more, served with pickles olives, tahina sauce and Lebanese bread. It was quite a plateful - maybe too much if you are going for one of his superb specialities afterwards - but it does serve as a terrific introduction to the type of food you may expect in this comfortable place.
Enjoyed it very much and then I tucked into my main course, the Dawood Basha: Charcoal Lamb meatballs, cooked in a terrific lively tomato sauce and served with a delicious Lebanese rice.
CL loved their version of moussaka, lighter and more flavoursome than the usual Greek version and consisting of aubergines cooked with tomato, onions, sweet pepper and minced lamb and served with that fabulous rice. They also do a vegetarian moussaka. Overall, there is a massive choice here and they also do takeaway.
We were too full for dessert but our host kindly treated us to some Lebanese coffee. The coffee was poured from a special pot and then topped up with a little rosewater. Good, but the tea was better! And before we left, we got some of his big selection of baklava. He has quite a lot made with an eye to the Christmas market.
A little rosewater in your coffee?
Overall the dishes are overflowing with flavours, flavours that we locals don't come across everyday, and they are enhanced by the herbs and spices (but nothing too extreme, they don't use chilli, for instance). If you want a change, then do try the Sultan. You'll be assured of a sweet welcome from Taoufik and his staff.
There is a little piece of
the Levant on Penrose Wharf, right opposite the bridge, and here you can have
Kafta, Shish, Kebab, Couscous, Shawarma, Moutabal, Falafel and more meals from
that area of the Mediterranean.
This Lebanese restaurant,
called The Sultan, has been open for about five months, with one entrance on
the quay and another at the rear but do be aware that the car park in the
complex closes early in the evening. In any event, there is a surprise if you enter
by the quay as right in front of you is a Shisha Lounge complete with pipes and there too
is a display of spices and herbs that they used in the cooking.
The spices, by the way, are
not that hot. “Think of our spices as flavours. They are not very hot, we do
not use chilli, for example.” Indeed, if you really want to find out more about
Lebanese cooking, The Sultan runs cookery courses every Sunday. They also do
takeaway and are to be seen at food festivals (they sold out in Midleton last
But we were there to eat in the
very well appointed alcohol free restaurant. It is clean and bright and well lit
with very comfortable tables and seating (including high backed leather
chairs).And if you want help with the menu, it is readily available from the
very courteous staff.
We worked our way through the
pages of the menu and they pointed out to us that we could take the Early Bird
which gave us two courses for just €16.95 and that saved us a few euro. We were
indeed early and so too were quite a few others and the place was more or less
full by about seven on last Saturday night.
CL’s starter was the Moutabal
which is Smoked Aubergine mixed with Tahini Sauce, Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
and served with Lebanese bread. My Baba Ghanoush (Spicy Aubergines), a paste of
smoked aubergines mixed with fresh pepper, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and
olive oil and again served with Lebanese bread. Two really palatable dishes, full
of light and delightful flavours, and much more substantial that I thought at first sight.
Very happy also with my main
dish called Lamb Shish (13.90). This was grilled lamb cubes marinated in lemon
juice and mixed spices, served with mixed salad, parsley, onions, tahini sauce
on top and Lebanese bread. Some terrific flavours again, nothing very spicy,
and that thin bread was a perfect foil.
The other mains was Chicken
Kafta (12.90). This consisted of grilled minced chicken, sweet peppers, garlic
and special spices and was served with mixed salad, garlic sauce on top and, of
course, Lebanese Bread. This surprisingly was probably an even bigger dish than
the lamb. Lots of it there. I took a few spoonfuls of the chicken mix and it
was really satisfying and very much enhanced by the blend of peppers, garlic and
spices, again overflowing with flavour, but nothing even approaching extreme.
And before we left, we had a surprise
when a small plate of their Baklava was delivered to the table, the layers of filo
pastry are filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. That sure left
a sweet impression as we left the Sultan.
Sami Ghosn wasn't taking much credit
for the splendid set of wines he shared with a packed Star Anise at last night’s Wine Dinner, part of the 10th
anniversary celebrations of the excellent Bridge Street restaurant.
Sami, Chairman and General
Manager of the Massaya Company, based in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley,
said it was easy to make wine there. The local conditions, no rain from April
to September, but still moisture in the soil from the snow melt in the nearby mountains,
the same mountains that hold back the rain clouds, plus the blue sky luminosity
(a major factor in promoting growth) and the soil itself, lead to grapes of outstanding
quality. He maintained that ninety per cent of the work is done for the
Still Massaya does have some work
to do and does it well in this surprisingly small country, some 200 kilometres
by 50. They can wait for the proper time to pick, citing this as a major difference
between his wine and “supermarket wines” which are produced to a schedule. But,
in Massaya, everything, including the picking for example, is done “at the
optimum time”, the schedule being laid down by nature.
Our first bottle was the Massaya
Blanc, a blend of Clairette, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the indigenous
Obeidi. This was fresh, elegant and well balanced, almost velvety on the
Then it was reds all the way. First came the Classic
Red, a blend of Cinsault (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. “This is very approachable”,
he said. “The door opener to the Bekaa. Cinsault is the Southern Rhone grape
and we have French partners working with us. It has good fruit and spice and is
very versatile.” Just to underline that latter point, we enjoyed it with the monkfish
The Silver Red was another Rhone
type, a bit more serious, maybe not as versatile. “But more classic. Goes well
with lamb, which we have to-night”.
We finished with the Gold
Reserve Red, a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah. This
is the top one. He advised dressing up for this serious bottle. “It has spent two
years maturing in new French oak casks and will keep maturing nicely. It may
need decanting and is to be enjoyed with red meat, chocolate and maybe a big
It has 14.5% abv. “You are not
supposed to sense the alcohol. ..if you do..it is unbalanced.” No danger of
that with this full-bodied gem. Tasting notes on all the wines are here.
The excellent wines proved a challenge
to Star Anise but one they welcomed and met by providing a brilliant matching
meal. Each course was top notch, almost impossible to pick one over the other
but, if pressed, I’d go for the Monkfish and the exquisite Madeleines. But I
really wouldn’t want to miss any of them. Well done to Virginie and her team
and a big congrats to Conor and Virginie on their ten years in business. Long
may they continue!
Gazpacho with Celery Cress and Goat’s Cheese crostini
Scallop tartare with Shaved Fennel, Chilli and Orange
Monkfish, wrapped in Prosciutto, with Romesco Sauce, Courgette, and Toasted
Canon of Lamb with Tabbouleh, Sweet Potato Puree & Pomegranate Yoghurt
Time to say Happy Birthday or Joyeux anniversaire to Star Anise, one of the better restaurants in the city. Next month, Virginie and Conor celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bridge Street venue and will do so in some style. And so can you.
Conor has just told me they plan to hold a wine dinner as part of the celebrations: “Can't believe it has been ten years in May. We are delighted to have Sami Ghosn all the way from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon coming to talk about his Winery Massaya Wines on Wednesday the 16th of next month.”
“I have been chasing him for over 2 years to come and do an event with me so I must say I'm delighted. He's a wonderful speaker and really great craic, so I reckon it should be a great night.”
The format for the night will be a 5 course dinner with matching wines and a sparkling wine reception for €65.
The wines we will be showing on the night are all from Massaya :