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IN MEMORIAM Clarissa Dickson Wright

 

RIP Clarissa Dickson Wright. Or, to bestow her full name, Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson-Wright (yes, honestly). Girl, you’ll be missed. Hope you got your desired last meal – wing rib of beef with the bone in.

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I thought it would be fitting to reprint the interview I did with Clarissa back in 2003. It took place in her bedroom at the Four Seasons, Dublin. She was in her dressing gown. I was very nervous.

Most people, the ones who only saw the Fat Ladies programme, never realised what a stunner Clarissa was in youth. I recall meeting her in London back in the late Sixties. She was, of course, propping up a bar or maybe it was propping her up. Whatever, she had the room’s attention.

 

INTERVIEW WITH CLARISSA DICKSON-WRIGHT from 2003

First published in Food & Wine Magazine

 

It’s not every day you get to interview one of the world’s top six biking icons. Who was also voted one of ‘1000 people nastier than Mick Hucknall’. I asked Clarissa Dickson Wright “Are you missing your Fat Lady friend?” “It sounds awful to say ‘no’ but because we were only together for filming I don’t really think she’s gone. I’m quite certain Jennifer’s sat up there with her bike propped up against a cloud, chain-smoking cigarettes while teaching the heavenly choirs how to sing jazz.”

Was it true that Clarissa was the youngest woman ever to qualify for the Bar? “I think I still am. My father wouldn’t pay for me to go to Oxford unless I read medicine which I didn’t want to so I stayed at home and read law at University College. Largely because I hated my father and my father hated lawyers.

“I’d never cooked anything until I was 21. We always had servants and we had this wonderful cook who was illiterate and had no desire to learn to read at all. My mother was deeply embarrassed that cook couldn’t read. But she had the most amazing memory. If you wanted cook to learn a new recipe you read it to her and if it was terribly complicated you read it to her twice. She and my mother had a great working relationship and because my father was very prominent in the medical world we entertained a good deal. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen because I loved food. When I was 21 my father went off his head and left home and my mother said ‘Now we can have some really jolly parties but there’s no one to cook.’ I said ‘Well I expect I can cook’ and I could. It’s a natural talent – like some people can sing or paint.”
I was beginning to enjoy myself. This was one witty, funny, interesting lady, fat or otherwise. Something she said struck a chord for I myself gave up the legal profession. “So…” I ventured. “What was the bridge between law and cooking on TV?”
“My life only makes sense if you know I’m an alcoholic.” (Clarissa is very upfront about her drinking.) “Well I was a very public drunk wasn’t I? Nobody says ‘Good heavens, Clarissa, you weren’t an alcoholic!’ Everyone says ‘Dear God, I thought you were dead!’ if they haven’t seen me for a bit.

“My mother died and left me an obscene amount of money. I went round the world to sort out her affairs and, it was an extraordinary thing, all ambition left me. But I fell into cooking by accident. I was visiting a friend who was cooking on a charter yacht in the West Indies. Her father died back in England and she asked me to take over. When I eventually got back to London I found I’d inherited, as a bad debt, a drinking club in St James’s. What my infinitely respectable mother was doing lending money to this old girl with a drinking club I’ve never managed to find out. I saw myself as one of the last drinking club queens of London, sitting on my bar stool, swinging my legs, with people buying me drinks until I fell off. I was thirty, not quite a society beauty but not bad looking and I must say, quite sought after. Because I don’t like things that don’t work and because there was nowhere to eat in the area I changed the hours, gave group membership to Christie’s and The Economist and started serving food between twelve and six. I didn’t actually need to make money at first, I was still rich. But then the looks went, the money went, the lovers stopped coming and it just became a hard grind. Eventually it all got too much of an effort and … I got sober.

Her life seems a series of jump cuts. “How did you get the role in ‘Fat Ladies’?”, “I owe it all to the cardoon. Do you know what a cardoon is?” “An edible thistle,” I ventured. Clarissa claps her hands, in schoolgirl fashion. “Hooray, well done, so few people do. It’s a barely edible thistle. I had this mad obsession. I decided I owed it to the British nation to restore it to the cardoon. Pat Llewellyn was making Sophie Grigson’s Eat Your Greens at the time and somebody said “Have you seen Clarissa’s cardoons?” They were grown by an admirer in a field in Chapel St Leonard, near Skegness. Do you know Skegness?” I knew the town only from ancient railway posters proclaiming ‘Skegness is So Bracing’ and from ribald postcards mailed from Butlins by racy aunts. “Exactly. Pat arrived and demanded ‘Thrill me with your cardoons.’ I must have done because she said. ‘Ooh you’re really good at this television lark, we must do something else.’ Much later she met Jennifer over lunch and watched her ride off on her motorbike. Pat had what she described as ‘a vision,’ which she’d sold to the BBC. I’d only met Jennifer Patterson once, at a lunch party in Tuscany. I think the BBC thought we’d fight, thought that was the dynamic. But the minute they put us together it was us against the rest. There was this hooligan element. Do you remember the episode where we changed places? We were doing about five miles an hour then I accelerated away and whooped ‘Look, we’re doing the ton already!’ Of course we weren’t but the BBC felt they had to delete the line. I don’t think Triumph ever forgave us. Here was their new superbike, a more powerful version of the one Marlon Brando rode in The Wild Ones and we borrowed it and went cooking.”

I’d read an American review of Two Fat Ladies describing it as ‘heavy on humour and calories’. Was that the reason for its success?
“I think it was. You know sales of butter and cream went up 19% during the series and the pundits attributed it almost entirely to us.”

“And you advocated lard?”
“Lard and beef dripping are the two fats that you can actually heat so high that you seal the food through immediately. The best fish and chips to my mind is the kind that’s cooked in beef dripping.”

Whatever upsetting dieticians and cardiac surgeons, Clarissa has been the focus of much hostility (viz. the ‘nastier than Mick Hucknall’ web poll) over her high profile ‘Face of the Countryside’ role, in particular for her support of foxhunting. “I’m number three on the antis’ death list. I have all my post checked by Special Branch. In the early days of Clarissa and The Countryman one of the antis got hold of a copy of the BBC schedules. So this well orchestrated chorus of protestors rang up while the programme was on, screaming about all this terrible cruelty to animals. They didn’t realise the North Lonsdale Foxhounds episode had been put back. On screen, I was actually in The Scilly Isles cooking a lobster!”

Hates? “BBC humour. In one episode we were fly-fishing one of the best beats on the Tamar. They wanted me to come down the river in a pedalo, waving a minnow shouting ‘Yoo-hoo, look what I’ve caught. How silly.”

Thirty years a fisherman myself, I have qualms about killing things I don’t eat. “Why don’t we eat foxes?” I demanded. “Foxes kill things that we eat, that’s why we kill foxes. We don’t eat them because carnivores aren’t good to eat. With the possible exception of man – although man’s an omnivore. When I was ten I saw a picture in National Geographic of a native chief holding up a fork. In the article he laments ‘Nothing tastes as good now they don’t allow us to eat ‘long pig’.” Our eyes met and I had an alarming mental picture of being roasted on a spit, pan beneath to catch the dripping. I changed the subject. “Does success bring its own problems?” “Yes. There’s nowhere in the world where I can go without being recognised. It’s a good job I have no secret vices any more.”

Last meal on earth? “The day they hang me I shall have a wing rib of beef – with the bone in. “

Two Fat Ladies was the most successful cookery programme ever, capturing 70 million viewers, dubbed into 14 languages and subtitled into another eleven, including Inuit. If Pat Llewellyn (who also discovered Jamie Oliver) is reading this article I have a deadly idea for her next culinary extravaganza. Provisional working title is: ‘The Fat Lady and The Bald Geezer’. I’d be happy to sit in the sidecar.

 

FOR A’ THAT – A review of The Big Burns Supper, Dumfries Jan 24th – 26th 2014

Last weekend I attended the Big Burns Supper 2014, a festival held annually in the pleasant town of Dumfries to celebrate Scotland’s national poet.

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According to a Scots poet of a later generation, Edwin Muir, the charm of Robert Burns is that he can be all things to all men. Burns represents, he claimed, “to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious”. The sub-text  is, whatever you want your own personal Burns to be, he will be.

The appeal of Burns to the Scots and to their considerable diaspora is easy to understand. He wrote not in highfalutin English but in Scots, for the Scots. He was not afraid to sprinkle his prose and verse with dialect words and phrases. Much of the stuff he wrote has populist appeal, as witness his masterly reworking of a limping old ballad that’s now sung around the world at the turn of the year and been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M and Kenny G, to name but a handful of those who’ve tried their hand at ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

On the flight to Scotland, I allowed myself to speculate as to how the Scots should package Burns to widen the appeal, particularly non-Caledonians. Easy, I decided. Here we have a guy who was anti-authoritarian, even seditious. A convivial soul who liked nothing better than hanging around with his pals and downing a few scoops. A graffiti artist, too. Better yet, he looked like the young Elvis, wrote like Shakespeare and put it about like Sven Goran-Ericksen The Swedish Love Machine. Someone should make the movie. But please… spare us Mel Gibson.

At which point we touched down in Glasgow. Half an hour later I had a pristine, ten miles on the clock Arnold Clark-supplied Opel Astra under me and we were winging our way down the M74, destination Dumfries where the 2014 Big Burns Supper festival was to kick off on the morrow. Having time to spare I got off the motorway north of Moffat and drove past enthralling scenery to show Ann, my wife, the Devil’s Beef Tub, a deep, dramatic, swirling hole in the hills. Thereafter, we retraced our steps before meandering down the scenic A702, stopping for lunch in the well-kept town of Thornhill, birthplace of mega-talented and drop-dead-gorgeous Scottish singer, Emily Smith.

In Dumfries, a place I have only happy memories of, there is a camera obscura, a device that’s a precursor of photography. When the weather permits, it shows you a panoramic image of the town on the inner wall of the building. The custodian was, I remember, always at pains to point out the swans on the River Nith; also The Crichton – “Yin’s the biggest lunatic asylum in Scotland”. I was amused but awed to find that this was the location of our hotel for this trip. On arrival, I found the shadows of the past had been vanquished and that the extensive grounds now host the Royal Infirmary, a business park, two college campuses and The Aston, a fine hotel housing a Marco Pierre White restaurant where we dined with Rosemary and Andrea from the organising team of the Big Burns Supper, who outlined the concept to me.

The festival, first held in the town in 2012, aims to celebrate, via a programme of concerts, comedy, cabaret and community participation, the poet’s life and work. Burns, who died at 37 spent but the last four years of his life here, yet produced fully a quarter of his output during that period. A spiegeltent, a large travelling show tent, constructed in wood and canvas and decorated with mirrors and stained glass, had been erected in the town centre and this was to be the core venue for the festival’s programme. There would be a procession through the town lit by 1,000 lantern. 5,000 individual Burns suppers – haggis, neaps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) would be served up over the course of the event.

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After dinner, we wasted no times in getting into the festival spirit, perhaps literally, by attending an event titled ‘Whisky for Dafties’, an introduction to the delights of Scottish single malt, hosted in robust fashion by comedian/whiskey fanatic Alan Anderson.

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Afterwards we repaired to The Globe, Dumfries’ oldest pub and Burns’ local where an impromptu music session was underway in the compact ‘Snug’ and a more formal one in ‘The Room’. We opted for informality. The Globe’s manager Jane Brown, herself a devotee of the poet (and President of the worldwide Robert Burns Society) kindly showed us the upstairs bedroom where our hero enjoyed assignations with the Globe’s blonde barmaid Anna Park. Burns’ other amusement while at his favourite ‘howff’ was to inscribe poems on the windows with a diamond-tipped pen. Some of these poems may still be seen.

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Next day we visited Ellisland Farm, Burns’ first home in the region, a few miles outside Dumfries, where curator Les Byers, impressive custodian of the poet’s lore and legend gave us more inside track. Dumfries, he advised, was in those days a prosperous, bustling town, more important even than Glasgow as the hub of the lucrative trade in tobacco, a commodity imported through the nearby port of Carsethorn wherefrom, in 1851 alone, more than 21,000 people emigrated to Canada, The States, Australia and New Zealand.

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After taking leave of Les, we headed for the sea ourselves, seizing the opportunity of a break in the wet weather to walk on the beach at Rockcliffe and ramble up and over to Kippford via the Jubilee Path, something I’d done many times before.

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Later we attended Le Haggis, an event that fully justified its billing as as “the sexiest show in the festival”, a ninety minute extravaganza involving music, song, cabaret and an amazing display of dexterity, fitness and physique by a pair of burlesque acrobats. In the interim, the band, fronted by a fabulous girl singer (who sings, as I was informed, in the local community choir) brought real meaning to ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, a song more frequently maladroitly performed either as a turgid dirge or as a jolly knees-up. Another performance that nearly had the tent crashing down on us was a vibrant rendition, by a lassie garbed in a leather basque and ‘sussies’ of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘In These Shoes’.

We attended the lantern procession, a truly amazing sight. More than 30 local groups and organisations took part in the parade, accompanied by several floats and huge puppets. Kudos to the Manchester (another town dear to my heart) Samba School whose rhythmic momentum, aided by a brace of pipe bands, drove the whole thing along. Afterwards, we ducked the late night Roller Disco “I’m not comfortable without my own skates, hehe.” “Yeah, right”, says my wife.

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Highlight of the next day was, for me, the live performance in the Spiegeltent, of Dick Gaughan, a master interpreter of both traditional and contemporary songs and a guitar genius, whom I first met when I was co-hosting a folk club in England back when Burns was a lad (well, not quite). A dish of the obligatory haggis and its customary trappings fortified us for pints, first in The Ship, my own ‘local’ back in the days when my acquaintanceship with Dumfries was more regular than it is today. The pints there are as honest as ever and the denizens still play dominoes, altogether another proper pub holding back the tide of muzak and expensive swill. Later, in the packed-to-the-rafters Globe we dissected the event with other festival attendees and learned of myriad delights we’d missed. At the end of the evening a girl we met in the street offered to walk us to the taxi rank to ensure we did not get lost, where else on earth would you get that sort of courtesy these days? Truly, Doonhamers (the inhabitants of Dumfries – I’ll explain another time) are salt of the earth.

The festival’s organisers deserve huge credit for The Big Burns Supper. I feel sure it’s an event that will, year on year, grow in stature, appealing not only to the Burns anorak, the patriot and the emigré, but to the wider body of people out there, of every race and creed, who enjoy song, dance, theatre, literature, merrymaking, the craic and just having a great time. Me, I intend coming back – for a’ that.

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INFORMATION

Homecoming Scotland 2014  In 2014, Scotland will welcome the world as we take to the global stage and celebrate our nation through a year-long series of exciting events. Complementing the Ryder Cup and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Homecoming Scotland will be a celebration of the country’s rich culture, natural beauty, active adventures and creative heritage. For more information go to: www.visitscotland.com 

Accommodation  I stayed at Aston Hotel, Dumfries www.astonhotels.co.uk/dumfries

Activities  

Big Burns Supper http://2014.bigburnssupper.com/

Ellisland Farm, Dumfries www.ellislandfarm.co.uk

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura The Observatory, Rotchell Road Dumfries DG2 7SW www.dumfriesmuseum.com

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Recipes for Burns Night

Complete Works of Robert Burns  www.robertburns.org/works/ 

3FE – NEW ROASTER UP AND RUNNING

I spent an interesting morning watching 3FEs new commercial Probat roaster, now up and running in a secret location in Dublin Docklands. I was taken there, blindfolded, by 3FE’s Colin Harmon.

Looking at the beast, which kicks out god knows how many Kg, it struck me as incredible how similar both hardware and techniques were to my own efforts with the 500g capacity Huky 500. Strange, too, to think we both get our beans via Steve Leighton’s ‘Hasbean’ in the UK with whom I’be been dealing for close on 10 years.

Comparing the two machines there are many similarities. Both have:

rotating drum

entry funnel

heat source

bean tester

gauges – 1 digital (bean mass) 1 analogue (ambient)

extraction flap

fan for cooling the beans.

Factor in a stop watch, a chart* and a pen and there you have it!

Like mine, 3FE’s  roaster is all manual and very ‘hands-on’ as Pete, 3FE’s roasting supremo, testified.In neither case can you walk away and smoke a ciggie (I don’t), pour a drink (I have been known to) or make a phone call otherwise things tend to go pear-shaped. Only difference being, if I cock up a roast it’s a minor disappointment. If Pete does it, it’s a commercial tragedy.

At the end of the morning Pete gave me a quantity of the ‘greens’ he was roasting – in return for extracting a promise to to supply a sample after I’ve roasted them. Phew! The hard work begins here.

For the anoraks among you, the beans are 3FE Costa Rica Farami Di Dota Yellow Honey Cattura, promising “a big hit of milk chocolate that quickly turns into a stewed fruit and honey-like mouthfeel that just goes on and on.” The aftertaste promises “hints of cherry with a super clean finish”. Looking forward.

These  beans are available from 3FE’s café outlet at 32 Lower Grand Canal Street, Dublin 2.Probat 1Huky Monster

My roasting chart

* This chart is the Mk3 version. I’m now on Mk4

 

A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD

Wine Importer: “How come you’re charging €30 for my base budget bottle of Southern France red?”

Dublin Restaurateur: “Because we can”.

I’ve heard all the arguments. “We can’t charge what the food costs us to make so we have to jack the price of wine up to compensate” is a common theme. Yeah, right.

Amazing, too. How the recently imposed €1 extra tax on a bottle of wine get’s transposed to €3 when it gets to the customer.

As an ex-restaurateur my heart goes out to the guys who are struggling to keep body and soul together while providing value for money sustenance. But some people are really taking the piss.

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: RASAM

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One of the most curious culinary literary happenings of the past year has been the publication (as an e-book) of a collection of recipes under the title of Indian Restaurant (BIR) Style Meals. BIR stands for ‘British Indian Restaurant’. Originally Dan Toombs, the author, had intended to focus on ‘authentic’ Indian recipes but changed tack shortly after starting a blog, The Curry Guy, when he became inundated with demands for help with creating chicken korma, rogan josh, etc., tasting just like the ones from the local Indian restaurant or takeaway. The book’s methodology commences with the creation of a large batch of curry sauce as a base for the various dishes and indeed this is the method favoured by the majority of such restaurants.

In Ireland, as in Britain, the term ‘curry’ has come to mean any dish from the sub-continent. Most etymologists agree that the word stems from the Tamil, ‘kari’, meaning ‘a spicy sauce’ or from ‘karai’, the traditional cooking dish. However, ‘curry’, spelt ‘cury’, simply meaning ‘cookery’ was common parlance in Britain in medieval times. After the Crusades, spices such as aniseed, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cumin and cardamom became common in the kitchens of the better off.

London’s first Indian restaurant has strong Irish connections. A colourful character, Dean Mahomet blew into Cork in 1784 at the behest of his patron Godfrey Evan Baker, a prominent member of the Protestant ascendancy whom he had worked for in India. Mahomet became a person of substance as well as a scholar. In 17?? he eloped with and married a teenage student, Jane Daly. Around 1807, Dean Mahomet moved his family to London.

Two years later he founded The Hindostanee Coffee House, near Portman Square, W1. Today a Green Plaque marks the spot. Like many other nominal coffeehouses of the day coffee did not feature. Instead, Dean Mahomet created a restaurant, but one with a difference. Uniquely for London, the Hindostanee Coffee House provided what he and Jane intended their European patrons to recognise as exotic Indian cuisine and ambience, offering a range of meat and vegetable dishes with Indian spices. In addition, he constructed bamboo sofas and chairs on which diners would recline and adorned the walls with scenes of Indian life. Despite an initial enthusiastic reception the restaurant failed and in 1812 Dean Mahomet had to petition for bankruptcy.
Ireland’s first Indian restaurant, The India Restaurant and Tea Rooms, opened in O’Connell, then Sackville, Street near The Gresham, offering  ‘real Indian curries’ served by ‘native waiters in costume’. Sadly, it only lasted a few months. It was a good many years before Indian cuisine would re-establish itself, based  on the concept of flock wallpaper, late night opening and a signature dish, chicken tikka masala, invented in Birmingham. Most of the Indian dining on offer in the capital was of this ilk when I came to live in Dublin in 1987. From the 1990s onwards certain restaurants started to offer a dining experience contrasting starkly with the hitherto mediocrity. The ‘movement’, if it can be called such, based its appeal on authenticity, involving a concentration on freshness and flavour rather than slavish recreation of  commonplace dishes. Some looked back, exploring regional cooking; others explored a wider horizon, marrying the tradition to modern techniques  to create an Indian haute cuisine. Among these seekers of excellence I would instance Asheesh Dewan’s Jaipur group, plus Kinara, Clontarf and Rasam where I dined last Saturday.
Located above the Eagle House pub in Sandycove, Rasam’s dining room is opulent, cosseting, exuding warmth and style. There is not a flocked wall in sight and the artefacts bear no relationship with kitsch. Proprietor Niseeth Tak is an absolute gentleman and a natural meeter, greeter and organiser. Sibella and I were there with two friends from England, Viv and Bread Man, omnivores both. Seated, we all climbed into crisp popadoms and a range of accompanying chutneys. More were proffered and accepted. There were no less than nine ‘appetisers’ on the menu, the choosing of which was taking rather a time. Accordingly I did a pre-emptive strike and summoned two ‘Rasam platters’ to share, each of which contained a selection of five regional dishes. Every one had its admirer. Sibs favoured the singular palak patta – crispy baby spinach leaves with a honey and yoghurt dressing. Bread Man plumped for the semolina crusted squid, served with home-made tomato chutney; Viv, the chicken tikka (not ‘masala’) which she loved. Eclipsing all these, in my opinion, was the pork chatpata, described as ‘street food’, julienned strips of pork fillet, marinated with mango powder, red chilli and vinegar then ‘toss fried’ with bell peppers and onions, a vibrant combination. A larger portion would have served me nicely as a main course.
I had eaten the lal mas, another dish from Rasthejan, involving boneless, slow-cooked leg of lamb in a dark, rich sauce, on several previous occasions, so I left it to Viv. Both she and Sibella, who traded some for her chicken dish, raved about the rampant flavours. Bread Man and I chose Rasam’s current signature dish, the Lucknow dum pukht gosht, a bowl of soft and succulent lamb smothered in a lavish creamy sauce, with restrained but distinctive spicing – here is the key to this metier of cooking. The bowl was sealed with an edible, chapati-like ‘lid’. As a side, we took a portion of chick peas in a chilli-spiked sauce, a reminder, amid our meat-fest, that much of the essence of Indian cooking lies in doing imaginative things with vegetables.
In truth, we did not need dessert and Sibs said so. Still, I insisted on kulfi, that rich-but-granular Indian ice cream and was rewarded with a large plateful of which everyone partook. Pairing wine with Indian food is challenging. The task was facilitated by the girls not drinking red and Viv expressing a distaste for chardonnay, ah well, she’s young enough to see the light. The carte holds several interesting options, including a Sicilian grillo that had both the viscosity and the acidity to cope at a reasonable €26. All-in-all the four of us spent, €146.50 for food, service and atmosphere that would stand up and be counted in any genre of restaurant.
Rasam 18/19 Glasthule Road, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin Tel: 01 230 0600
Food ****
Wine ***1/2
Service ****1/2
Ambience ****1/2
Value ****
Overall ****

 

DINE IN DUBLIN 2013 – 21st – 27th October

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Dublin’s food festival, Dine in Dublin, is once again bringing a feast of cultural delights to the city this October for a fantastic 9th season. From Monday, 21st to Sunday, 27th October, the festival will see top restaurants throughout Dublin city centre get involved with giveaways, special events and of course, great value offers on meals in a wide range of the city’s best eateries. 

Throughout the week, Dublin city centre’s electric atmosphere will be highlighted and with a broad selection of well-known chefs and restaurants on board, Dine in Dublin showcases the best the city has to offer. The week-long festival will feature a unique mix of demonstrations, competitions, prosecco evenings, wine-tastings and interactive experiences including a Pop-Up theatre performance in L’Gueuleton on Wednesday 23rd, featuring Susan Boyle presenting short extracts from her play “A Wine Goose Chase”;  live performances from Direct Approach and The Bounty Hunters in the Hard Rock Café for Pinktober – raising awareness and funds for breast cancer; a Witches and Warlocks party in TGI Friday, perfect for keeping the kids entertained around Halloween; a cocktail masterclass in Saba; and a mini Oktoberfest in The Church, featuring performances from Irish bands including Republic of Loose.

 Dine in Dublin deals throughout the week will tempt your taste buds and ensure you are making the most of the city’s temptations with offers including three courses plus tea or coffee for €30 in Brasserie Sixty6 (including a €10 voucher for Fade Street Social, Rustic Stone or Brasserie Sixty6); a 5 course tasting menu for €39.95 at Bang (valued at €69.95); and a Tapas and Wine Fest in Salamanca including a platter of their favourite tapas, served with a glass of house wine and a selected dessert for only €25.

 

DUBLIN SOMMELIER IN WORLD’S TOP EIGHT

 Julie Dupouy, Director of Wines at Donnybrook, Dublin delicatessen and restaurant  Donnybrook Fair recently became the first sommelier representing Ireland to reach the semi-finals of the European Sommelier Championship, held, this year in Sanremo, Italy. 

Julie Dupouy

The Championship, in which experts from the various European countries take part in a series of blind tasting, wine and food pairings and theoretical knowledge, has been running since 1988 and is widely regarded as Europe’s definitive sommelier contest. Julie, who joined Donnybrook Fair this year, competed under the critical scrutiny of a Technical Commission made up of the world’s top three sommeliers plus a Master of Wine.  Her record-breaking performance lifted her to 8th place in the European rankings.

Joe Doyle, owner of Donnybrook Fair said “The intensity of this competition can not be overstated. We are very lucky to be working with someone of Julie’s calibre. Qualifying for the semi-finals of such a prestigious event was an outstanding achievement. Everyone at Donnybrook Fair is thrilled.”

 

PEAR SHAPED! When a roast goes wrong

Introduced a new element into the roasting equation today, a newly-designed roasting log and a stop watch – purpose being to help me control the roast and get repeatable optimum results – YEAH, RIGHT!

 

Scan 5

Obsessed with clocking everything, I ballsed-up. Couldn’t get the ‘Fall’ temp down anywhere near 100 C; Dehydration stage only lasted 3 minutes and roast romped up to 1st crack quicker than you could say “Burundi Ngozi Mugamera washed” by which time I was a bag of nerves and let it go well past 2nd crack for a near Naples roast, of which I’m not terribly fond.

Nothing to do but pour myself a large Hennessy Fine de Cognac and switch on the telly.

Next one will be better.

RESTAURANT REVIEW – The Vintage Kitchen

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A couple of years ago I paid what had become a rare visit to Mulligan’s in Poolbeg Street, an old haunt I patronised regularly back in the nineties when I had my café/restaurant nearby. As I came through the door the man behind the counter called out to his cohorts in the other bar, “Lads, the chef’s in.”  I’ll admit to a grin of satisfaction on realising that when these guys spoke of “the chef” they weren’t referring to Kevin Thornton or Ross Lewis – they meant me.  I was the man who used to feed these guys on a daily basis. Doorstep sandwiches, groaning with Irish artisan cheese and home-cooked ham. Coffee, a quantum leap over anything else in town at the time and what was acclaimed as  “Dublin’s best onion soup”. It was Mulligan’s where I celebrated, cheque nestling in the pocket of my whites, the night I sold Café Sax, thinking, “Glad I’ve done it, glad I’m not doing it any longer” (writing about food is so much easier than providing it).

The other night I exited the Dart station, crossed the road at the traffic lights and trudged up Tara Street, the same journey I made every day for three-and-a half years. There are no traces of my place now save for the shutter, still painted in the French navy I’d specified all those years ago. Nor of the bookies next door, nor the cut-price toyshop. We walked past and around the corner, our destination a new or at least recently-opened restaurant snuggling up against Mulligans. Now, there is a new chef on the block. 

 The Vintage Kitchen is the brainchild of Sean Drugan who has relinquished control of Seagrass at Portobello though he still retains, as he told me later that night, a stake in the business. The room is tight and plain, with a semi-open kitchen intruding into what might otherwise be dining space. Decor amounts to a few shelves whereon are displayed old toys, glassware, china and ornaments, everything looks as though it was acquired by trawling Aungier Street’s charity shops. If you fancy any of this bric-a-brac it’s okay to put in an offer, apparently. Tables are small and packed together and the first piece of advice I’d give for anyone thinking of dining at The Vintage Kitchen is ‘love thy neighbour’ because you’ll almost certainly become tangled up in conversation at some point during the evening. The Vintage Kitchen does have, however, two important USPs. One is ‘bring your own wine’, a policy Sean found worked successfully at Seagrass. The other, curiouser by far, is ‘bring your own vinyl’. As I traded my vinyl for CDs, years ago this was not an option. Well, I do have one, left behind by a visiting folkie friend. I found it an a cupboard the other day. Just how long would fellow diners endure ‘A Fine Hunting Day – Songs of The Holm Valley Beagles’ before they fecked me out the door is an interesting speculation. Anyhow, here is my second caveat: ‘it helps if you like The Beatles’ – you’ll be hearing plenty of them as almost everyone who dines there, it seems, can find a copy of Rubber Sole, Revolver or Sgt. Pepper’s.

 The cuisine is is best described as ‘robust’ and portions as ‘exceedingly generous’. My starter, a game pie with a puff pastry crust, from the ‘specials’ selection would have fed two. The meat, mostly venison I’d say, was tender and the sauce rich and fulfilling. Rixi judged the Wicklow wild duck liver crème a cut above the average. It came accompanied by a plentiful supply of good toasted bread and a splodge of home made plum jam. 

 For my main I had the ‘Slaney river slow roasted lamb shank, root vegetables & honey purée, roasted baby carrots, liqourish (sic) gravy & baby potatoes’ a pretty comprehensive comfort fest and a good match for the impactful bottle of Rioja Reserva 2009 we’d brought with us. The lamb fell away from the bone at the first prod of a fork. Rixi went for the poussin, nicely garnished with two purées one, I think, sweet potato, the other beetroot which impressed her so much she asked chef Sean for the recipe afterwards. Good mash (did I detect a hint of parmesan?) came in a small copper pan. I made a memo to myself to source a set. Dessert? Just about and only because I am a sucker for baked cheesecake of any kind. The VC’s limoncello version, served with good vanilla ice cream, bolstered my faith.

 One characteristic common to Sean Drugan’s enterprises is, he always seems to find good people to interface to the customer and thereby enhance the dining experience. The girl and the guy out front on this occasion fully maintained the tradition. In a packed restaurant, with not much space to maneouvre, they kept a keen eye out helping ensure everyone’s meal was correctly paced. As good a performance as I’ve experienced this year. They also managed to vanish the ‘Fab-but- too-frequent Four’, at least temporarily, in favour of Ricky Lee Jones which is why  I’ve upped their marks from 4 to 4-and-a half. By this time we were on conversational terms with the nice people at the next table, one of whom identified me as ‘Ernie Welly’. Fame of a sort, I suppose.

 All the food we’d had came to €59.60, a steal. I’d recommend the place highly. It would be very easy to channel The Vintage Kitchen as one of those restaurants that has hit the zeitgeist running. BYO and €30 for 3 courses, what’s not to love in this time of enforced austerity? But that would be unsound and unfair. The truth is that here is a very good restaurant hiding behind the veil of kitsch, cuteness and cut-price. The culinary skill, the righteousness of the ingredients, the attention to detail are easy to spot. Dining here, as opposed to more glitzy establishments all you sacrifice is the right to be alone and the capacity to impart a confidence without it hitting the streets before you’ve finished dessert. A small price to pay, I reckon. One last thing – if you want a table, take my advice which is ‘ring early, ring often’. As we paid the bill I told the proprietor I’d tried five times to secure a booking. “So has my mother,” he quipped. I’m still not sure if he was joking.

 The Vintage Kitchen, 7 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 679 8705

 

Food ****

Wine n/a (BYOB)

 Service ****½

 Ambience ****

 Value *****

 Overall ****

 

 

 

 

 

NEW CUP, NEW BLEND

ERN_0018 nicecup

 

Presently salivating over the prospect of drinking a lovely espresso from my new cup and saucer, which Ann brought back from Nice as a prezzie.

Must also mention my new fave blend, a 300 gram roast in The Huky Monster, comprising: 200g El Salvador Finca Argentina Fincona 2 Tablon Bourbon Natural + 50g Costa Rica Herbazu Honey Roasted + 50g Burundi Ngozi Mugomera Washed.

Roasted to somewhere between City and Full City (lifted at 225C), beans dark brown but positively no shine. All ‘greens’ from www.hasbean.co.uk.

Right, that’s the nerdy bits over, what does it taste like? Well, I developed this blend to get me the ultimate ‘flat white’. The main constituent, the Finca Argentina was described by Hasbean’s Steve Leighton as ‘black forest gâteau’ and that’s not a bad description. I fancy I roast a tad darker than he does which means I’ve swapped some (but not all) of the black cherry and forest fruit notes for an accentuation of the rich chocolate and caramel character. The Herbazzu, on its own quite acidic, balances the blend with a trace of lemon and lime zest, plus a further layer of dark chocolate. The Burundi, quite a big bruiser as a solo espresso, adds vanillin tannin and a touch of woodsmoke, the latter a bit like the effect of peat on malt whisky. The whole makes a complex and, I think, enchanting brew.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been drinking it as espresso. Here the toffee and chocolate are sllghtly more muted, with the red wine notes (Grenache-ish?) pushed to the fore. Decent kit.

Ernie Whalley on food, wine & Irish restaurants