Category Archives: Homepage Featured

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





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 ****



Vie de Chateaux

It was my birthday and I was lost in wildest Naas, looking in vain for a restaurant I’d hardly heard of. I only came across it earlier that day trawling the web. The rain was bucketing down. I sat at the wheel, morosely pondering whether our expedition, given the conditions, was serendipitous or just plain stupid. Meanwhile, Sibella was out on the forecourt, under her brolly, talking to a pleasant-looking lady in a Range Rover. The latter came to the driver’s window, which I was loath to wind down but did. “Follow me,” she said, adding as an afterthought, “It’s the best restaurant in Naas.”

 Now some may think that but faint praise. Kildare’s county town hardly ranks among the world’s culinary must-do destinations, does it? Lyons, San Sebastian, Sydney, Naas, Copenhagen, spot the odd one out. I would be lying if I said I held out any high hopes for a birthday lunch at Vie de Châteaux. Vie de Châteaux? Shouldn’t it be ‘Vie de Château’ or  ‘Vie des Châteaux’? The grammatical blip would have raised the hackles of my old  pedant of a French teacher, the man who, on hearing “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” didn’t recognise the source of the quotation, instead exclaiming “What a perfect use of the jussive subjunctive!”

 Anyhow, be that as it may, a couple of right turns later we pulled up outside what appeared, through the aqueous curtain, to be a rather stylish restaurant in a pleasantly pastoral location just a short stroll from the Grand Canal. The only picture of the interior I could find on the web really didn’t do the place justice, something I pointed out to the proprietor after we’d eaten. Pastel walls, backdrop to some respectable art, comfortable seating in an unaggressive shade of brown and grey and plenty of light combined to set us at our ease.

Vie de Châteaux, as you’d expect from the name, is a French restaurant. Owned, run, managed, cheffed and staffed by les français -Frank Amand, formerly manager of the excellent La Mère Zou in Dublin is the owner; David Thomas, the manager, is from Brittany – “between Nantes and Châteaubriant” – and Sebastien, the chef, hails form Paris. 

 If you exclude those establishments under the patronage of famous named chefs, French restaurants re-created in alien countries largely divide into two types. There are those who simulate trucker’s dinner stops; the sort that flank France’s major trunk roads, source of so many disappointments for tourists. Tough  thin-cut steak with frites, or maman’s unspeakable chicken casserole are the eternal dishes du jour in such places. The other kind is the restaurant staffed by sneering, dicky-bowed waiters porting menus the size of family bibles, where the chef has a Brobdingnagian hand with cream. “Dining French” is all too frequently one’s worst gastro-dream brought to life.

Vie de Châteaux bucks the trend. The lunch menu comprised everything from tartines, in effect open sandwiches, to a full a la carte. The tartine of grilled scallops and wild mushrooms struck us as enticing and excellent value for €9. Another €2 got you the bargain deal of the tartine of your choice plus soupe du jour. We were tempted but not swayed as Birthday Boy had set his heart on a pig-out.


Vie de Châteaux wooed us early with a bowl of astonishingly good bread. I summoned up more of it to mop up my starter. Now I am partial to mussels, they would rank high on my list of favourite edibles. At the same time I get a tad weary of the treatment dished out to these magnificent molluscs in restaurants. “Cook them in wine. Pile them high (in a distressed enamel pan). Flood with the cooking liquid and (often) a swirl of cream” seems, throughout Ireland, to be the bog standard chef’s instruction to his commis. A great dish, but all too commonplace. Here I was jolted out of my ennui. An unusual vessel arrived at table, a cast iron, stylised bas-relief of a bunch of grapes in which every hollow was flooded with a tomato, garlic and olive oil ‘fondue‘ into which tiny, delicate, shelled mussels had been dropped, before baking. It impressed as much for its simplicity and purity of thought as for its rampant flavour. Sibella, in contrast, went for the most complex-sounding dish on the menu, the summer salad with smoked duck magret, green asparagus, soft egg, melon, pine nuts and a balsamic dressing. This too was a triumph despite the profusion of ingredients.


Chateaubriand, according to my First English Edition of The Larousse Gastronomique, was created by the chef Montmireil for his employer, author and diplomat Vicomte François-René de Châteaubriant. The dish was on Vie de Châteaux’s specials board. I had to have it, figuring that a man hailing from near the the Loire Atlantique town of Chateaubriant, in the Vicomte’s fief, would know a good one. David confirmed this and kept his promise. What arrived was a hunk of tasty tenderloin, cooked precisely rare and accompanied by crisp frites. The béarnaise, shame, was not available but the proffered green pepper sauce, piquant and lively, proved a good substitute. I was feeling smug until I glanced across the table and saw Sib’s glistening halibut. Immediately I wanted that too and had to be restrained (by Sibs) from ordering a fish course. Shameful greed but Birthday Boy didn’t care.

 The revels continued through dessert. When juxtaposed Sibella’s raspberry vacherin with spiky swirls of red coulis on a silver-hued plate and my own eccentric-shaped glass coupe of strawberries with coconut ice-cream speared with a vertiginous shard of praline looked like culinary sci-fi creations.

 Mention  must be made of the wine list, an eclectic selection of mainly French wines, with a good deal of thinking outside the box by someone who knows his stuff and possesses a well-honed palate. Many of the wines are available as ‘drivers’ glasses’, large glasses, 50cl carafes and bottles. There were two very credible house wines, a Cote de Duras sauvignon and a  Minervois. As Sibs was driving the reds had it for a change and I enjoyed the lion’s share of a very civilised Crozes Hermitage. Following which, there was a small hiccup over the meaning of ‘double shot espresso macchiato’, soon sorted by the efficient and delightful girl in charge of our table.

Verdict: an astonishingly good restaurant I can only describe as ‘French without tears’. The lady in the Rangey had called it correctly and, if she’s reading this, heartfelt thanks. I had a great birthday lunch at Vie de Châteaux, do get there.

 Vie de Châteaux, The Harbour, Naas , Co Kildare. Tel: 045 888 478


Food ****

Wine ****

Service ****½

Ambience ****

Value **** 

Overall ****

RESTAURANT REVIEW – The Tannery, Dungarvan

tannery ext
Until the other weekend I hadn’t been in Dungarvan for twenty years and only then for a lunch stop at a pub I somehow remembered was called Merry’s. Today the town hosts the West Waterford Food Festival, as I was soon to find out, a 72-hour bacchanal revered by food fanatics, especially those  possessing a cast iron constitution.
I had spent the previous evening assembling a portfolio of local knowledge. Dungarvan’s most famous citizen is the late Ernest Walton, the physicist who worked successfully with John Cockcroft on a project called (erroneously) ‘splitting the atom’. Oddly enough, Cockroft was born and educated in Todmorden, the West Yorkshire hill town where my elder daughter resides. Poet laureate Sir John Betjeman wrote a poem,‘The Irish Unionists’s Farewell to Greta Hellstrom’ in which every other stanza concludes with the phrase ‘Dungarvan in the rain’. It’s a very bad poem. Seemingly inaccurate, too, for when I arrived in late afternoon the sun was splitting the stones. 
Dungarvan is a pleasant place. Spruce and chirpy, with a palpable civic pride. It passed all my tests for provincial towns, chief of which are “Does the optician’s window exhibit a pair of glasses I’d actually wear?”  and “Are there at least two pubs where the staff don’t do Trappist monk impressions and where physical assault  by some nutjob is not a given?” The barman at The Moorings patiently outlined the full range of Dungarvan Brewing Co’s beers then gave me a heads-up on the one they’d got ‘on special’ for the weekend, Helvick Gold. My friend and dining companion Blanche Fleur duly arrived, whereupon the talk immediately turned to food, or to be more precise, chefs. Blanche Fleur, who has eaten the food of some of  of the world’s most revered, began by eulogising Paul Flynn, at whose restaurant, The Tannery, we were to dine that night. This would be my first visit though I’d enjoyed Paul’s cooking during his brief stint at La Stampa in Dublin and at a couple of Cookbook Club events. I’ve also cooked recipes from his enjoyable cookbook/autobiography ‘An Irish Adventure with Food’ which we made ‘Cookbook of the Year’ when I was editing Food & Wine. 
At the restaurant, we were welcomed by Maíre, Paul’s wife, who is to aspects of décor and organisation what Paul is to the food. I was unprepared for the clean-limbed minimalistic elegance of the Tannery’s dining space, with its high vaulted ceiling. Pale colours, pristine white table linen and subtle lighting which charmed while putting no distractions between diner and food, very heaven for a plate-focussed person like me.
Blanche Fleur commandeered the squid and mussel soup almost before I’d read the opening line of the menu. I riposted with the raviolo of osso bucco which came with bacon, Little Gem lettuce and what used to be called ‘garden’ peas – maybe they were because The Tannery has a large vegetable garden off an adjacent street complete with a polytunnel capacious enough to hold a small festival. The raviolo was a thing of wonder, the veal moist and succulent, the pasta surrounding it, ethereal. As I knew would be the case it didn’t really matter who’d chosen what as forks and spoons clashing would be the music of the meal as we robbed each other’s plates and bowls. In my picaresque around Ireland’s restaurants I frequently encounter a dish superficially akin to the squid and mussel soup in which the broths fall into three categories : (1) some kind of quasi-Thai treatment  (2) curry soup – generally the least successful, with throat-clutching raw spices (3) a liberal quantity of cheap wine, sometimes laced with an oil-slick of cream. Paul Flynn’s version was simple and honest, just a well-fettled broth, enhanced with spring vegetables and the head-spinning kiss of wild garlic. “For the table” – Blanche’s phrase – we took the Helvic crab crème brûlée, pickled cucumber and melba toast, Paul’s ‘signature dish’, though from the many occasions I’ve seen it (unacknowledged) on restaurant menus, you’d imagine it a celtic classic since Brian Boru was a lad. The ‘trick’ is to use only the best crab meat and get the proportion of crab-to-crème correct, others please copy – and credit.  
In training for the anticipated meat orgy of the following night (we had booked again to eat Paul’s interpretation of ‘nose to tail’ chef Fergus Henderson’s repertoire) I ordered the beef short ribs. These redefined ‘melt in the mouth’, melting somewhere between lips and palate but I’m still not quite sure where. I also relished  the salsify chips, the wild sorrel and the delicate lobster cream that further heightened the overall succulence. Blanche had the quail and foie gras pie, another clever Flynn original, very much in the French mode but given an Irish country twist by the inclusion of a sharply piquant apple jelly. Paul has spoken recently about simplifying his cooking; maybe a red herring because the craft skills and inspiration are still there in bucket loads.
My passion fruit soufflé and sorbet with ginger custard was subject to a compulsory fifteen minute delay but was well worth the wait. The more so because it gave me time to dig into Blanche’s artisan cheese plate, one of the best around. My companion declined coffee. I took two espressos to ensure I kept awake for the subsequent late night postmortem in Downey’s pub.
We initially partnered dinner with a Givry which, though good wine, wilted in facing the onslaught of rich flavours. A switch to a lovely Morellino di Scansano  Poggio Argentiera Gianpaolo 2011, brought more pleasure. Omitting the false start on the wine, all we’d had worked out at a touch under €150. Amid this excess of gourmet piggery I should state that there are cheaper options, starting with a 3-course €30 dinner with some inviting items on the carte.
The Tannery is a superb restaurant, operating on the night with Swiss watch precision for a full house. Plaudits to the young, mainly local, waiting staff. Paul Flynn is, in my opinion, one of the handful of Irish chefs who would be celebrated were he working in any city in the world. He proved his worth in London at a young age and we are indeed fortunate that he chose to leave Nico Ladenis’ empire and return to Ireland. Dungarvan got lucky too, with Paul and Maíre establishing an outstanding destination restaurant in his home town. I’m sure the existence of the Tannery is a major factor in the civic pride I spoke of in an earlier paragraph. Move over Ernie Walton.
The Tannery Restaurant, Town House and Cookery School, 10 Quay Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford Tel: 058 45420
Food *****
Wine ****
Service ****
Ambience ****½
OVERALL ****1/2


THE WINE BUNCH Tasting – Rioja Week 1 (August 2013)

Rioja W1 ERN_0055
Rioja was first touted in the early 1970’s, introduced to us  by wine writers of the time, chiefly English, as an affordable Bordeaux alternative, writes Ernie Whalley. Few if any of these patrician gents bothered to mention that the key grape was tempranillo, not Bordeaux’s usual suspects. Of course there is a link, in that the Rioja vines escaped the late 19th century phylloxera epidemic. The devastation further north opened up the French market for Rioja and also brought both French capital and French winemakers to the region. Rioja is the most internationally recognised of all Spanish wines. The boom years of the 1980s and beyond were not an unmitigated blessing. As demand expanded, quality wavered and a run of poor vintages did nothing to help. Rioja is over it now. There are now two styles, one modern, more ‘international’, stemming from around 1970 when Marques de Cáceres started to experiment with new French oak; the other classical, whose proponents traditionally used second or third fill American oak casks, giving the wine long maturation in barrel. This week we taste crianza wines, in both styles. Here are our top four picks from the dozen we sampled.
La Hoja Crianza 2010
EW: Doing the job; clean, well put together plum and brambly fruit with a decent bit of character. Excellent value for money.
MM: Seems more like a reserva than a crianza with its rich plummy fruit, backed by tannin, oak and good length.
Vinasperi Crianza 2009
EW: A good example of the modern style of Rioja. Elegant nose, oak quite prominent, leading smoothly into a wealth of black fruit. Firm tannins resolving nicely.
MM: Plenty to like in this modern Rioja with its smooth, rich plumy feel and fine texture.
Vina Hermosa Crianza 2009; Dalys, Boyle, Co Roscommon;, Tralee, Co Kerry.
EW: Quite old-fashioned and isn’t it good that the traditional regional style is still out there.  Huge drinkability and charm from soft fruit, with nutty overtones.
MM: An intriguing cross of old and new styles with vibrant fruit but an oaky softness too. Great balance and drinkability
Rondan Crianza 2008 
EW: Nice old-fashioned style. Subtle hints of coconut and vanilla from the American oak floating on top of ripe-but-not stewed plum and cherry fruit, tapering to a long finish.
MM: A classic old-fashioned style but that’s no bad thing as there is plenty of soft berry and plum fruit, overlaid by coconut  and vanilla.


My beloved Hottop roaster, sadly, has just packed up after 11 years great service. At a conservative estimate, that is something like approaching 1200 roasts.

After much deliberation – and even more trepidation – I’ve decided to acquire one of these beauties – hand made in Taiwan. Nothing programmable about this beastie, it’s the total hands-on experience and, moreover, it’s gas powered. So fierce smoke and the odd explosion over Sandymount will not be due to climate change!

Scared but exited.





Forkncork GTi (now with alloy wheels, go-fast stripes, scatter cushions AND furry dice) won the Great Big Irish Foodie Quiz for the second year running. Team members Ernie Whalley, Tim Magee and Leslie Williams were set to defend their title when, in the morning of the quiz, fourth member Corinna Hardgrave dropped out, laid low by a vile virus, suspected of being  introduced into the Dublin suburb of Terenure by a competitor seeking to nobble us. If so, the plot failed. The recruitment of Aoife Carrigy as substitute proved inspired and Forkcork GTi demolished the opposition for the second year running.

This year’s victory  was harder won. We edged ahead of Team Fallon & Byrne after a tie-break – a one-on-one confrontation in which  Leslie Williams, nominated  after much deliberation (you can imagine!) uttered the correct answer, at breakneck speed to the question “Which province of France does sel de Guérande come from?”

Huge plaudits to Aine Maguire who organised the event, which raised €6,000 for Down Syndrome Ireland.