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Critics’ choice – Etto, Merrion Row

Etto Merrion Row Review

If you’re anything like me you have a bucket list of restaurants you want to go to, but end up always going to the same ones because you know what you’re getting. Well last week, I ticked off one of my listees – Etto on Merrion Row. Etto has won countless awards – Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, Restaurant of the Year, and Best Casual Dining Experience in Ireland to name but a few. In addition, it is frequently the winner of food critics choice if they had to pay for dinner themselves, so I reckoned it must be pretty good. Indeed on the day we were there, cooking goddess, Nigella Lawson had visited and given her stamp of approval.

The restaurant itself is pretty small and decorated simply with the front part of the room filled with plain tables and chairs, while to the rear a bar and counter had additional stool seating. Due to the limited seating, it gets booked out pretty quickly and we had to wait a week before we could get a table at our desired time of 6.15 to avail of the pre-theatre menu of 3 courses for €29. Upon our arrival, our friendly waiter handed us a today dated menu – a positive sign that their menu was seasonal and based on what was fresh at that time, although I spotted a few of their regulars which I’d seen on their website sample menu.

For starters, we ordered the Dexter beef tartare, artichoke and blue radish and mussels, spring onions, nduja and sweetcorn. Himself found the beef tartare, which was served with Levain sourdough was the most unusual looking tartare he’d ever seen, but nonetheless, on a taste level hit top scores. My mussels were beautiful spicy, and a welcome deviation from the usual mariniere style that I always make at home.
Our main courses were also delight with himself having the grilled hake and I having the sucking pig. At this juncture, I will say that you absolutely need to order some additional side dishes or you will be hungry. We ordered the hashed potatoes with Lyonnaise onions, and the chargrilled sprout tops which were sprinkled with toasted almonds and mustard dressing. Each dish came in €4.50, so the idea of a three course dinner for €29 is a bit of a misnomer. The hake was beautifully cooked and served with white beans, cockles and celeriac puree in a cider infused broth. My pork belly (please, no jokes) had a beautifully crisp crackling and was soooo tasty, and came with apple, baby turnip, and morcilla (black pudding). The sides of potatoes and sprouts were top rate. Hey, I’m no sprouts fan but served this way, I’m a convert.

For dessert, I had the prunes poached in red wine and accompanied by vanilla mascarpone. This seems to be a staple of their menu and for good reason. It was absolutely delicious. Himself had the bitter chocolate pot which was served with amareno cherries and a hazelnut biscuit. The dense mousse, served in an espresso cup, was beautifully rich but I could have easily eaten a portion twice the size, although he was happy with the quantity. We weren’t drinking on this particular occassion, but they have a great wine selection and even have Prosecco on tap. I’d highly recommend Etto, and for the quality of the cooking and ingredients, the pre-theatre menu is great value. Just make sure to order sides!

Etto Dublin Review

Photo credits: Top photo – Finnegan Menton. Potatoes & Prunes Photos – @nigellalawson Instagram

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Where to Get Your Portuguese Tart Fix in Dublin

PasteisDeNata

If, like me, you’ve been to Portugal, you will have no doubt come back with more than a tan. Yes, we’re talking about a craving for custardy gorgeousness – Pastéis de Nata. What’s that you say? Pastéis de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry dusted with cinnamon and available on every street corner in Lisbon and every other Portugese town. They’re also made in Brazil and other countries with significant Portuguese immigrant populations.  Given the large Brazilian population in Dublin, it’s no wonder they’re popping up everywhere. If you’re feeling all domestic goddessy, you can whip some up yourself courtesy of this Paul Hollywood Portugues Tart recipe. Alternatively, if you lack the baking motivation, but still got the craving, here’s were you can get your fix:

BUTLERS CAFES
Excluding the airport, there are 15 cafes around town, so you’re never far from one. At €2.20, they’re more expensive than what you’ll pay in Portugal, but they’re a good compromise, although they’re a tad too sweet, the custard is a bit too tense, and the pastry isn’t flaky enough, but A for effort.

DUNNES STORES
Yup, such is the popularity of these beauties, even Dunnes has got in on the act. The cheapest in town at 1 euro each or 4 for €3. They’re not as good as the Butler’s ones, (or could it just be a false perception that the Butler’s ones should be better?), and still suffer the same issue of being too sweet, too dense, and not flaky enough, but warmed up slightly, you’ll wolf down a few of these babies nonetheless.

BIJOU DELI
Situated in Rathgar Village, Bijou Deli offers up a whole heap of great pastries, and also some lovely Pastéis de Nata. Costing €2, these rank #2 in terms of the flakiness of the pastry and give a nice crunch but again fail somewhat on the custard being too dense and much too sweet. A very worthy effort, though.

THE BAKERY BY THE CUPCAKE BLOKE
Newly opened in Rialto village, you’ll know the Cupcake Bloke from his weekly stand on Coppinger Row. It is not by accident that I’ve left this one ’till last, it being the best on show. I had tried a couple of times to get my mitts on these, but sadly they were always sold out whenever I got there. But a quick phone call and I secured the last six (best to play it safe) All the elements are there – flaky pastry, creamy custard, and not too sweet, and perhaps even a slightly lemony hint.

UPDATE: AVOCA, SUFFOLK STREET
The new winner! After many of you contacted me to suggest I try out one of these babies, I finally got my hands on one, and they didn’t disappoint. Definitely the winner in terms of the crunchiness and flakiness of the pastry. The custard is good and with the added bonus of a strawberry and blueberry on top. Buy one in the restaurant upstairs and they’ll serve it with a side portion of cream (not authentic, but they love a bit of cream in Avcoa!). A tiny bit smaller than the others tested (I think), and priced fairly at €1.95.

If you know of anywhere else in Dublin, just let me know. I see it as one of my life’s purposes to taste each and every one 🙂 De nada, as they say.

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Best Vietnamese Coffee in Dublin

Vietnamese Coffee

This year, I was absolutely blessed to spend a couple of weeks in Southern and Central Vietnam. We had toyed with the idea of going to Bali, but a friend of mine advised me I’d probably be disappointed and end up like a mad woman when I saw the amount of plastic litter there (Litter is my absolute bugbear y’see). So as we like to combine cultural enrichment with stuffing our faces, Vietnam it was to be.

Like pretty much all holidays I go on, I vowed to adopt various aspects of what I had seen and eaten and integrate it into my newly-enriched view of life on return to normal life. After about a week of putting ginger and lemongrass in absolutely everything, the novelty wore off. However, my newly-found love of Vietnamese Iced Coffee (cà phê sữa đá if you want to be all multilingual) did not wane.  If you have a drip filter at home, you can make it as you would a normal filter coffee then pour the hot coffee into a glass full of ice cubes containing 2-3 tablespoons of condensed milk. And there you have it!

Alternatively, if you want to hit the streets, there are a number of places in this fair city where you can indulge. Vice coffee, The Good Food Store, Jolins, Bun Cha all have decent offerings, but for me, the clear winner is TwoFiftySquare in Rathmines. They roast their own coffee in the back of the cafe and have won the Irish Times Award for best coffee, so you know you’re getting good stuff here. Try them out, both Vietnamese Coffee and Two Fifty Square. You won’t be disappointed by either.

Best Vietnamese Coffee in Dublin

Top photo credit: The Journal by Intrepid Travel.

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My Thai in the Suburbs

Thai has to be one of everyone’s favourite International cusines. Indeed, a recent poll by Taste of Dublin found that it was the favourite foreign food of 35% of the Irish population, nipping on the heels of the nation’s favourite, Italian which came in at 37%. Its popularity is evident by the growth of the Camile and Diep takeway chains, as well as the ever growing number of Thai restaurants popping all over the place, albeit varying wildly in their authenticity.

I was recently invited to the new kid on the block, Narra Thai Restaurant, to try out their menu in their newly opened restaurant in Stillorgan, South County Dublin. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by our host and restaurant co-owner Maggie, who took us to our seats. Since it was on the extremely nippy side outdoors, himself ordered a tea to aid brain-function during the menu decision making process. He was speedily given what the owner referred to as a Tea Bomb, a sea urchin looking flower which opens out when hot water is poured over it. Apparently, it’s not easy to get here in Ireland, and he absolutely loved it, being the fussy little tea fecker that he is. To begin with, we both had soups for starters (remember the whole nippy/Baltic weather previously referred to). Himself, had the Pho Thak Seafood Soup and I went for the Chicken Tom Yum Goong. Mine was deliciously spicy with the chicken pieces perfectly tender, not the chewy lumps, that you can sometimes get. My other half declared himself the winner of the starters round (we are sooo competitive) with his fragrant soup with its plentiful portions of prawns, mussels and squid. He was particularly impressed by the knife skills displayed on the calamari (aren’t men funny ‘aul creatures?).

Narra Thai Restaurant, Dublin

And so to the mains, himself went for the Ped Ma-Kham ( that’s Duck With Tamarind Sauce to you, matey) upon recommendation from the lovely owner, Maggie. The generous portion of locally-sourced crispy duck was served on top of crispy noodles and dressed with tamarind sauce and coriander and a portion of steamed jasmine rice. Those very impressive knife skills were on show again with the beautifully carved potato and carrots which decorated the plate. I went for the Prawn Massaman curry which was the perfect follow up to the zingy soup starter and was beautifully mild with its creamy coconut base with potatoes and peanuts and generous amount of juicy prawns. (Is there anything worse than having to play find-the-prawn? Not here, there were loads of ’em). Should we have wished to take up the hotness level, Maggie brought us a bowl of sliced chillies in fish sauce and lime juice. Being absolutely full, but still with an ever-open dessert pocket, we shared the home baked warm coconut tart served with vanilla ice cream which was wonderfully chewy (that’s a very good thing in this case).

End verdict: This was perhaps the best Thai Food I’ve had in Dublin. The food was lovingly prepared by the Thai-born chef and the attention to detail was excellent, coupled with friendly and attentive service. While I was invited on this occasion (yay!), my review was in no way influenced by that, and I wouldn’t (and won’t) hesitate to pay the next time. Give it a go, methinks you’ll likey (a lot!)

Narra Thai and Asian Restaurant, 2 Lower Kilmacud Road, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin
Tel: 01 2108440
Website: http://www.narracuisine.ie

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Nothing Beats a Good Pokē

Klaw Poke, Dublin

Never visit a restaurant on its opening day, that’s just not playing fair. Despite months of planning, there will invariably be hiccups, late deliveries, staff shortages, missing toilet rolls – you get the picture. However, on this occasion, I didn’t really have a choice. I had been madly curious about the fab Mr. Sabongi’s latest offering (he of Rock Lobster, Klaw notoriety), and my other half was leaving the country for a while and knew he would just love it. So on a sunny Friday early evening in May (you might remember the one), we took ourselves to the posh end of Capel Street (which end’s that you say? Well, you be the judge :-)) Klaw Poke is the new arrival in question, whose menu is focussed around pokē  (pronounced “poh-kay”, but where’s the innuendo fun in that), or Hawaiian Sushi which is a cross between Japanese sushi and Peruvian ceviche and made up of pieces of raw tuna, salmon and other seafood marinated in soy sauce, seaweed and sesame and served on a base of rice or quinoa with greens such as kimchi and avocado to bump up the health value.

Klaw Poke, Capel Street

The restaurant is small and can host about 24 bums on seats, with some at the long bar overlooking the kitchen, watching the magic happen. The decor has a fresh holiday feel with a long chalkboard which would line the wall with its menu was a work in progress on the evening in question. The menus were also still at the printers, and so our super-friendly waiter listed out the options available. Being crap at retention, I could only remember the first and last items he mentioned. Thankfully, himself is less of a goldfish on the memory front, so we ordered the Salmon with Siraracha Aioli & Yellowfin Tuna & House Ponzu. The speedily served result was an explosion of a freshness. Delicately marinated fish in a perfectly paired sauce, rice, chillis, avocado, delicious kimchi (which I’m normally not a fan of), picked cucumber, and radishes created a dish which was perfect marriage of healthy eating and sublime taste. Would I be full afterwards? Maybe not. Satisfied? Definitely. Prices vary according to the fish chosen, and you can choose your toppings and sauce, so you can customise your dish to suit your tastes, or just trust the experts and try one of their signature bowls

Since that first evening, I understand that there have been a number of additions to the menu such as lobster rolls, chowder, and crab on toast. And indeed, they have also played around with their Pokē recipes which is really the beauty of this dish, which will undoubtedly be shooting up in menus all over the place, – the permutations are endless! Unfortunately, I have not been back yet, simply due to the location being a bit out of my way, but I look forward to making the trek very soon, and I recommend you do too.

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Cooking up a Treat in Camden Kitchen

Camden Kitchen, Dublin

I know, I know. It’s been absolutely ages since I’ve written anything. While one of the positives of being self-employed is that you can work whenever you want, the reality is that you pretty much work all the time available to you. And when you’re not working, you’re thinking about the work you should be doing, which leaves poor ‘ole Brekkie at Tiffany’s a tad neglected. Anyhoo, onwards and upwards, or just off Camden Street in this particular case.

I’ve been curious about Camden Kitchen for ages. It’s actually been around since 2010, so I’m ever so slightly late to the party. The cosy little neighbourhood eatery (oh how Irish Times Lifestyle of me) is situated on Grantham Street, just off the main thoroughfare of Camden Street which houses the foodie delights of Delahunt, Pickle, and Tesco Express. Having received a most welcome 50 yoyos from the Mammy for my recent marital anniversary, I thought what better than to seize the opportunity and avail of a Living Social voucher for a three-course meal at CK for two people for a mere €49. And so it came to be last night…

The restaurant is small, situated over two floors, and was completely full on this particular rainy Friday evening. The atmosphere is warm and unpretentious with antiquities and flowers decorating the dining area. Given the smallness of the restaurant, the tables are positioned very close together. Question: when sitting down at a table on those occasions, what is the correct ettiquette? Does one position one’s arse to one’s own table, or towards the neighouring guests? Arses aside, we were well within earshot of our neighbour’s conversation, and let’s just say they won’t be celebrating any anniversary together in the near future!

And so on to the food, himself ordered the wild Wicklow pigeon with lentils, and not wanting to order the same, I selected the chicken liver parfait with sourdough toast. The parfait was beautifully smooth with the accompanying plum chutney adding a delicious sweet contrast. The pigeon and lentils were cooked and seasoned on point. An absolute a revelation and showed the chef’s true understanding of how to enhance this ‘game of the poor’ in the subtle way it deserves. Himself is extremely particular i.e. fussy fecker when it comes to preparing food from the wild. Game always needs a subtle hint of sweetness combined with some nutty aroma and this chef knows that!

Starters, Camden Kitchen

For the main course, I decided to continue my poultry experience and had the Salt Marsh duck breast served with barley and cabbage, confit beetroots, and butternut & orange puree. This was seriously gorgeous! The duck was cooked medium rare with the puree bringing sumptuous sweetness to the dish. And as for the beetroot – brilliant. I initially had reservations about the beetroot being included at all, but man they were good! I ordered a side portion of sauteed potatoes as I was wary of the barley. Again, my doubts were thoroughly unwarranted as the barley was indeed a very welcome surprise.  Himself had the wild Irish hake and bisque risotto and cockles which was perfectly executed and did not disappoint. The risotto was al dente, the hake as flaky and with a crispy skin, exactly as it should be. The chef earned serious kudos from himself for both his dishes which he said were cooked perfectly and packed with flavour.

To finish off, we both ordered the bread & butter pudding. I would’ve been more than happy with any of the four other dessert choices, but in fairness who can resist a bit of b&b pud! For the purpose of review, I would’ve liked one of us to have tried something else, but as himself was in Joey Tribiani mode and wasn’t going to share his, I was not going to miss out. The pudding was beautifully light, made with Brioche and served with almond ice-cream and krokant. My only slight complaint was the lack of sultanas (I only had two), but I am perhaps a tad over-fond of the humble sultana.

Main Course, Camden Kitchen

Camden Kitchen is a great little gem (only slightly) off the beaten track. The service was excellent, with friendly and attentive staff. If you can get hold of the living social voucher, snap it up. If you don’t, still go. You’ll be delighted you did.

Camden Kitchen
Grantham Street
Dublin 8
http://camdenkitchen.ie/
Tel: (01) 476 0125