WELL DONE! New ale from Cork brewery

A great night was had at the Oliver Plunkett pub in Cork City to celebrate the launch of the ‘Franciscan Well Jameson-Aged Pale Ale’ – phew, a name that’s almost as big a mouthful as the beer itself!


The new brew is a collaboration between Franciscan Well’s founder Shane Long and fellow Corkman Dave Quinn, Master of Whiskey Science at the Jameson Distillery, who, after a successful joint venture with a Jameson-aged stout, decided the time was ripe for another project, this time an experiment with the effect of second fill bourbon casks from the Jameson distillery as a component in a pale ale breed by Franciscan Well.


The press release on the event introduced me to the term ‘back’ apparently used to describe a small measure of a drink, alcoholic or mineral, accompanying another drink. Traditionally, people would order a whiskey with a water ‘back’, a soda back or a beer back. Spirits have been accompanied alongside beer since the 1400s and the new beer aims to continue this tradition by creating a natural pairing.

This is what, in the old Manchester days, we would have called ‘a chaser’. In those days there were upwards of a dozen brewers in the region – the ‘National Beer Grid’  with its associated lack of choice hadn’t reached the region (others, like East Anglia,  awash with the awful Watney’s keg beers, were already submerged). It was our custom, on our regular pub crawls (sighs nostalgically for the stamina of youth) to accompany the last pint of the night with a Scots malt whisky chaser and, being of questing minds, we determinedly sought out the best combinations – for the record Glenmorangie with Boddingtons’ bitter; the soft, ethereally fragrant Glen Scotia with Robinsons; Glendronach with Draught Bass were, if I remember rightly, our top three picks.

In like vein, the Franciscan Well’s biscuit, malt, caramel and citrus notes, enhanced by spikes of orange zest and coriander combined beautifully with the Jameson. The ale is certainly very more-ish and only the 6% ABV prevented it from being ‘a session’ beer. For this we turned, late in the night to the Franciscan Well ‘Chieftain’ which I praised so lavishly after I made the discovery at the Fleadh Cheol in Sligo a few weeks ago.

The evening was further enhanced by some good pub grub, a band, plus an impressive display of barrel dismantling and reassembly by Jameson’s Master Cooper, Ger Buckley.

The beer is rated ‘experimental and exclusive’ so at the moment it’s only available across Cork’s Whiskey Way bars (Canty’s, Counihan’s, Electric, Le Chateau, SoHo Bar, The Mutton Lane Inn, The Oliver Plunkett, The Oval, The Roundy and The Woodford) in 330ml bottles for an RRP of €6. 


Brewing Beer back in the 1960s

The other day, clearing out my office/studio to bring some sort of order out of utter chaos and also make room to store (yet more) kitchen equipment, I came across an old green diary for the year 1970. Within its pages I found some formulas for making home-brew, including my ‘Kingfisher XB Bitter’*,  my first brew, hastily formulated after sampling my mate Ben’s God-awful homebrew, made in the bath using a Boots the Chemists kit and decanted into quart cider flagons. That was back in the summer of ’69.

Craft brewing friends will, I’m sure, laugh in derision, maybe even sneer but, hey, this was radical stuff back in the day…

As Michael Caine nearly said “Not many people did that”.

Below is verbatim, from the diary.


5 gallons

7 lb crushed pale malt

2 lb flaked barley

1 lb crystal malt

1 lb glucose sugar


1 tsp Irish moss

2 oz East Kent Goldings hops

1 oz Fuggles hops

1 tbsp ‘Burton crystals’

1 tbsp salt

2 oz Brewers yeast

‘Copper finings’ (amount unspecified)


From memory ‘Burton crystals’, sold by home-brew shops were for ‘hardening’ the water, or at any rate adjusting the Ph. Burton-on-Trent was the hub of the British brewing industry at the time, renowned for its bitters and India Pale Ales. The flaked barley was in there to ensure better head retention. The Brewers yeast, I remember,was obtained from a mate in the flats who was an accountant at Watneys. Later, when I moved to Berkshire I used packets of dried yeast, usually of the ‘Dark Munchener’ variety and obtained from a home-brew shop in Kingston-on-Thames.

A note tells me I had calculated the alcohol content at 5.7% ABV or “5.2 if measured by drop”. I’m sure these figures must be a tad inaccurate. Another note reminds me to buy a bag for holding the grains while mashing.


I made the first mash in a catering tea urn I borrowed from my mother who previously used it for a “nixer”, selling tea and biscuits to members of The Halle Orchestra on their morning breaks. The urn later made an honourable reappearance dispensing free tea, along with free meat pies donated by a friend who had a catering business, to the striking miners at Orgreave colliery back in the time of Thatcher.


A later note shows that by 1975 I had a purpose-designed ‘Electrim’ fermenting bin/boiler, also a pressurised keg for storing and dispensing from ‘draught’.


The process was initiated because we were spending too much on beer. We would drink, with friends, at The White Hart in Hampton village, probably 3-4 nights a week. At closing time we would buy at least a couple of 4 pint tins (McEwan’s) to consume  at home over a music session or a game of chess. Eventually the four of us decided we would still go down the pub because that’s what we liked doing but we would brew our own beer for consumption at home, cutting out the expense of the tins. The quest was to brew something that tasted “a bit like Marston’s ‘Pedigree”, our preferred ‘tipple du jour.’


In the diary there is a note that (excluding the cost of electricity) the beer cost just over 7p a pint to make!

* Named for the block of flats, Kingfisher Court, East Molesley, Surrey, where i was living at the time.

Beer today…

Scraggybank ipa etc

When you want a beer there is little else will do. Especially after two bouts of wine judging in Italy in quick succession. On my return to Dublin I paid a visit to the excellent Drink Store in Stoneybatter and purchased half a dozen bottles for drinking casually in the garden or for consuming with the earthy grub  I tend to eat when herself (who is more predisposed towards delicate fare) is away down the country visiting rellies.

First ones tasted were:

Früh, Kölsch.

This is a light-ish beer (4.7% abv) emanating from Cologne where kölsch has enjoyed a protected status since  1997. Though many think it to be a lager, it is not, being top-fermented (though it is cold-conditioned afterwards). An attractive straw-gold in colour, the Früh Kölsch is balanced and appealing, with a distinct, though not over-aggressive hoppyness.  On the palate, it is initially dry and zippy before it mellows to evince honey and, surprisingly, white grape undertones. Enjoyable and certainly food-friendly.

Kinnegar Scraggy Bay India Pale Ale

5.3% abc, unfiltered, naturally-carbonated (pour carefully) from a Donegal company I’d not come across before, Scraggy Bay, once I’d stopped thinking of it in Father Ted terms, proved to be a civilised drink, one I’d call a ‘session beer’ where I’d be happy to quaff a few.  The term India Pale Ale or IPA has become so over-used by craft brewers it is now devoid of all meaning.  This one had that ‘orange peel and coriander’ vibe that I find in many examples of the genre but not to excess. In other words it stopped short of ‘marmalade’.

Founders Brewing ‘Curmudgeon’

Given the name, I should probably adopt this beer. It’s from Quebec, comes in a 335 ml bottle and racks up a powerful 9.8% abv. Molasses and oak ageing (for how long I don’t know) are the keys to its brooding intensity. At first swally it reminded me of one of those dark Münchner beers turbocharged to hell – high lift cams and fat tyres too, but thankfully, no spoiler or go-fast stripes. Curmudgeon wore its alcohol well and the lick of malty sweetness in no way detracted from what was a very well constructed and quite dry beer. A sipper, rather than a quaffer. I spent the rest of the evening debating what food you could team it with but could only come up with the banal ‘chocolate’. Maybe mature cheddar or 24-month Coolea. I’ll try.

My favourite beer glass (shown in the picture) was my father’s. A golf relic, though whether a prize or a gift from Mrs and Mrs Captain I’ll never know, it holds 500 ml if you pour carefully.

Wine Goggles – my personal wine tasting notes App – update on progress

The quest for the best wine tasting notes app goes on. I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to be a beta tester on the new, improved version of Wine Notes. In the interim I  thought I’d have a crack at designing my own app for the purpose and so Wine Goggles, now in V2.4, is the result.

winegog 1

Screen shot of Wine Goggles data entry form running on an iPad Mini 2 Retina

Wine Goggles is  based on the popular database HanDbase which – although there’s a massive learning curve as it’s very full-featured, plus  the originator’s support system is, frankly, worse than useless – pays off if you persevere, particularly as there is a long list of very generous users who have made their own database apps (for infinite purposes) freely available to anyone purchasing HanDbase, currently priced around a tenner, plus a fiver for the bolt-on goodie, Form Designer.

Wine Goggles has built on the experience of a couple of these guys, main difference being, it’s aimed at the heavy-duty wine taster, rather than the enthusiast who tastes a small number of wines with the aim of adding a few to his cellar.

The new version of Wine Goggles works on my Macs, desk and laptop; the iPad and the iPhone. It was principally designed for the iPad mini, which I consider the best balance between size, portability, readability and ease of use by podgy fingers.

Information it stores includes: Classification of Tasting; Date; Name of Wine; Vintage; Appellation (for France only at the minute); Region; Country; Cépage; ABV%; Price; Appearance; Bouquet; Mouthfeel; Palate; Finish; Comments; Score/Award and Stockists – this last is important to me as in Ireland we have easily 100 independent wine outlets and typing their names into copy is a considerable chores for me. Others may not find this important. The default scoring system is the 20 point system (in half point grades) which is the one Martin and I use in our Sunday Times tastings. Wouldn’t be difficult to re-vamp as 100 pointer.

To aid input, Wine Goggles makes maximum use of pop-up lists and most info may be added with no more than a finger dab or two.  Compared to most of these apps it is very fast to use. Also, most of the pop-ups are user editable so you can add your own personal aromas or flavours – “dad’s  3-year old squash shoes” or “fruity and full-bodied”, no problem.

It has other useful facilities, not least the ability to e-mail a wine’s record. Plus a comprehensive “search” feature. And you can also take a snap of the bottle label from within the program.

Not bad for a beginner, methinks. I doubt Wine Goggles will ever see the light of day as a commercial proposition as there are so many apps of this kind already in existence – my move to Palo Alto is on hold! Nevertheless I do think it matches any wine tasting app around for speed of use and outdoes most of them for comprehensiveness.

Wish list? Yes, it’s a bit of an ugly duckling. I’d love Wine Goggles to have a more sexy, tactile feel like Wine Notes with its pretty graphics and novel features, like the sliders that allow you to capture a wine’s colour. But, given that I’m already at the outer limit of my technical universe, it ain’t gonna happen.

Here are some more screen shots:-

winegog 2 winegog 3 winegog 4




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.


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.



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.

devorgilla 1

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.

Whisky 1

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.

Session 1

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.

Ellisland 1

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.

Rockliffe 1

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.

Spiegel 1

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.

Dick Gaughan 1

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.



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


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


Recipes for Burns Night

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


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



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


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

dine in dublin 1


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.


Ernie Whalley on food, wine & Irish restaurants