NEW CUP, NEW BLEND

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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.

THE WINE BUNCH – Bumper tasting – Mart ‘n’ Me do Southern Rhône

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SOUTHERN RHONE REDS Week One

 Part of the purpose of commissioning this tasting was to try and assess whether the various cru and village wines could hack it when put up against the big boys from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, writes Ernie Whalley. The answer proved to be ‘yes, they can’ but au fond the best Châteauneufs retained that extra edge with greater complexity, power and purpose. At around the €40 mark they seem expensive but if you compare them to equivalently priced wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux  they punch well above their weight. Red Châteauneuf tends to be big, beefy and not for the faint of heart. In a year when the grapes ripen to permit maximum extraction the alcohol levels can be fatiguing. In dry years the tannins can sometimes overwhelm. Grenache is the key grape, with the modern tendency being to up the percentage of Syrah is the blend in order to round out the wine. In matching terms, Châteauneuf-du-Pape works best with robust food – beef, game, duck and rustic casseroles spring to mind immediately. 14 tasted, here are our top picks.

 Domaine La Roubine Vacqueras 2010 €21 www.quintessentialwines.ie and independents nationwide. SILVER

 EW: A characterful big mulberry and plum fruited wine, with an intriguing lick of black pepper at the back end (cinsault in the blend?). Concentrated but not jammy. 
 
MM: Quite Châteauneuf-du-Pape like with rich, plum, prune and liquorice but also lively perfume and savoury notes.
 
17.5/20 
 
La Cote Sauvage 2009 Cairanne around €17.99, selected independents. SILVER
 
EW: Smartly-made populist wine from the ‘most likely to be upgraded’ village, with enjoyable toast, liquorice, tobacco and black tea notes in among the dense plum and blackberry fruit. Huge drinkability. 
 
MM: Very more-ish with great drinkability as its plum and red berry fruit is yet never heavy, tannins are soft and it has a refreshing finish.
 
17.5/20
 
Chateau de Vaudieu Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2010 €40.99  World Wide Wines, The Parting Glass, Fallon & Byrne, thewineshop.ie, Wine Well Off Licence GOLD
 
EW: Power and subtlety, broad-shouldered as Paul O’Connell but with the dancing feet of a classy out-half. The pot-pourri nose, with violets and sandalwood in there, is almost worth the price of the bottle. 
 
MM: A bit of an elephant in a tutu. It has complex perfumed nose showing violets and finesse and elegant acid but in between it’s intense, epic even with rich plummy, pruney fruit.
 
18.5/20 
 
Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 €45 The Parting Glass, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow; Callans, Louth; selected independents SILVER
 
EW: Intense, weighty, serious, brooding wine that maintains your interest down to the last drop in the glass. Serious kit from a fine producer.
 
MM: A classic of the appellation with a complex array of soft rich fruit including plum, prune and raisin
 
18/20
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SOUTHERN RHONE REDS Week Two

“Why buy Rhône”, I’m often asked, writes Ernie Whalley. Okay, here we go. First off you get great bang for your buck. The Southern Rhone is the region of France’s most user friendly reds and they are available for easy money. To get equivalent quality from Bordeaux, you’d be paying at least a fiver more. Better yet, because of the southerly latitude the grapes are rarely underripe, even in a modest year. The result is rich, rounded wine, taylor-made for drinking in a cooler climate like ours. The stoney soil and moderate rainfall keeps yields relatively low, giving a further boost to quality. Some Côtes du Rhône is made using the carbonic maceration process (akin to Beaujolais). This produces jolly, fresh-tasting uncomplicated wines made, mostly for immediate drinking. However, there are in the region, many producers with aspirations and the four wines we’ve chosen from our 16 tasted would certainly not suffer from being kept for 3-4 years. Not that this will happen, of course, given the Irish predilection for drinking wines within hours of getting them home!

 Domaine Goisbault 2010 Approach Trade  €15.50 Dalys, Gorey, Co Wexford; The Kingdom, Tralee, Co Kerry; Nectar Wines, Sandyford, Co Dublin; Next Door Myles Creek, Kilkee, Co Clare. SILVER

EW: Supple, quite complex, with a hint of white pepper on the nose. Pluperfect fruit/acid balance distinguished this organic, extremely appealing wine.
 
MM: Fascinating and very different complex organic wine, intriguingly perfumed with peppery notes, dark fruits and fresh acidity. Lovely.
 
17.5/20
 
Les Deux Cols 2012 Cuvée d’Alizé €14.50 www.winestore.iewww.donnybrookfair.ie, D4; www.jusdevine.ie, Portmarnock, Co Dublin. BRONZE
 
EW: Lovely ripe, soft, rounded, predominantly grenache fruit makes this wine a pleasure to drink. A lot of class for the money.
 
MM: More concentration than you’ve a right to expect for this level with plenty of soft scented rich dark berry and plum fruit.
 
16/20
 
Domaine Didier Charavin Lou Paris 2011  €15.65 www.winesdirect.ie SILVER
 
EW: A strong syrah component makes this grippy, dramatic,impactful seem more Northern than Southern Rhône. Lashings of plum and dark berry fruit and considerable complexity.
 
MM: Almost Crôzes-Hermitage like as the syrah in this comes through strongly with pepper and bacon notes plus soft black fruit.
 
17/20
 
Château Mont Redon 2011 €16.50 Mortons D6; Savages, Swords, Co Dublin; Fresh stores;  D-Six Off-Licence, D6; Whelans, Wexford Street, D8 BRONZE
 
EW: Entry level wine from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate of repute. Rich plum, berry and figgy fruit makes for enjoyable drinking.
 
MM: A mini-me from a famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate with rich slightly raisiny fruit and good length.
 
16/20 

 Read Martin Moran and Ernie Whalley every week in The Sunday Times IRL ‘Sunday’ Magazine

DUBLIN BUTCHER WINS AWARD AT GREAT TASTE 2013

Butcher Michael Byrne of Sandymount, Dublin 4 has been feted at The Great Taste Awards for his  innovative new sausages, ‘Argentinian Chorizo’ & ‘Pork with Tomato Basil & Red Wine’.

To create the winning sausages Michael and his colleagues developed the flavours through countless tastings and refinements over the last few months to develop a winning taste and texture that. In-store tastings are planned to allow customers to sample the winners – only two of a number of varieties the company has developed.

Out of almost 10,000 products entered into Great Taste 2013 just 125 have been awarded 3-star.  All 3-star products were re-judged by a panel including Masterchef judge and restaurant critic Charles Campion, food buyers from Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Whole Food Markets and Michelin-starred chef Russell Brown. In total more than 12 judges will have tasted and commented on each product. Judges are presented with, for example, a piece of cheese, a slice of pie or a small dish of chutney, with no wrappings, jars or marks – and they taste, confer and re-taste before making the decision on whether a product should be a 1-, 2- or 3-star winner. Hence, taste is the only criterion, branding and packaging play no part.

Michael, who is my local butcher,was kind enough to supply me with samples of the prizewinners for tasting. The 2-star accoladed ‘Argentian Chorizo’ has intriguing flavours and a perfect texture, with enough chilli in the blend to enliven the sausage without causing the diner to demand a fire extinguisher! The ‘Argentinian Chorizo’ & ‘Pork with Tomato Basil & Red Wine’ that took a 1-star award. While I had slight reservations about texture – the sausage was not completely integrated and the components separated as soon as I put the fork in – there was no doubting the excellence of the flavour.

 

Altogether a great result for this innovative Dublin craft butcher.  

 

RESTAURANT REVIEW – Vie de Chateaux

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 ****

DUBLIN WINE & FIZZ FEST – DUNDRUM Oct 19th/20th

 

The inaugural Dublin Wine & Fizz Fest 2013 will take place on Saturday and Sunday, 19th/20th October in the Pembroke District, Dundrum.

Speaking at the launch of the event, Ruth Deveney, festival organiser and owner of Deveney’s of Dundrum Off-Licence, said: “With wine so readily available in every supermarket and garage across the country, a lot consumers are guided by familiar labels and brands that can afford to advertise – not quality and value for money. We’ve noticed a significant increase in wine drinkers visiting our shop, keen to know more about the wines they are purchasing. Help and guidance is rarely on hand at multiples and in garages. Therefore, in response to consumer demand, we decided to launch an event to give wine drinkers and lovers a taste for what’s available and how they can make informed purchases. The festival is not all about wine however – there will be a selection of artisan foods and some great live music too.” 

The Dublin Wine & Fizz Fest 2013 is also designed to provide a platform for small, family-owned wineries to promote their offerings. Over 500 wines will be available to sample, from single-estate Amarones, to aged Verdejos and Blanc de Blanc Champagnes, as well as a variety of Ports and dessert wines.

Mouth-watering tapas will be served by Porterhouse Dundrum and a range of carefully selected cheeses will also be available to match each wine choice. Live music will add to the atmosphere throughout the two-day event and some of Dublin’s up-and-coming artists will display their latest pieces within the venue.  

 Tickets for The Dublin Wine & Fizz Fest 2013 are priced at €15, or two for €25, which includes a free Riedel wine glass on arrival. Tickets for the event are available through Deveney’s of Dundrum, with a limited number available on the door, for both days.

 

You can follow all the action on Twitter @WineFizzFest

THE WINE BUNCH TASTING – Picpoul de Pinet (Sept. 2013)

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After years in the vinous equivalent of the broom cupboard, picpoul de pinet has finally made it to the dining room sideboard. This crisp, refreshing white wine from Languedoc is starting to appear on more and more restaurant menus, particularly touted as an accompaniment to fish. At the same time, those who are partial to a glass of white at home are coming to appreciate picpoul as a pleasant alternative to the likes of sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Notable for an initial rakish acidity (the name can be translated as ‘lip stinger’) the wine mellows in the mouth, rounding out and revealing bright, fresh flavours of apple, pear, yellow plums and other stone fruit. I find the pear element handy when it comes to assessing quality; the better versions taste of fresh fruit and not of peardrops. An engaging summer sipper, picpoul comes into its own when teamed with oysters, mussels, whitebait and crab – think of it as ‘Southern Muscadet’ and you won’t be far out.

 
Felines de Jourdan 2012 €12.75 www.winesdirect.ie BRONZE
 
EW: apples and pears and a touch of lemon and lime – all you’d expect from picpoul. Energising minerality and a pleasing, classy presence.
 
MM: A classic of the style with a light chalky mineral note mixed with pears, apple, and citrus fruit.
 
15.5/20
 
Domaine Combe Rouge 2012 €11.99
Egans, Drogheda, Co Louth and other independents  BRONZE
 
EW: Lots of crisp apple fruit and a livening tinge of pink grapefruit. Great fruit/acid balance from this sound wine from a very savvy co-operative.
 
MM: Perfect for the end of summer with a refreshing mix of tangy grapefruit, pear, red apple and grapefruit.
 
16/20
 
Villemarin Blanc de Blanc 2012 www.mitchellandson.com €13.49 SILVER
 
EW: Intriguing herbal hints (oregano?) on the nose. A melange of pear, apple, stonefruit, and grapefruit makes for quite a complex and very enjoyable wine. 
 
MM: A slightly riper style with good concentration and attractive peach notes alongside the expected red apple and pear, with a fresh lemony finish.
 
17/20
 
 
EW: With apple, pear and white peach flavours, this wine is sound rather than profound with a weight and depth of flavours distinguishing it from many of the others we tasted.
 
MM: A very more-ish mix. A fruit salad combining nectarine, Williams pear and red apple. Good length too.
 
16/20

RESTAURANT REVIEW – Cleaver East by Oliver Dunne

Come tooled up, could be like a re-make of Gangs of New York. I’m the guy who gave a bad rap to Bon Appetit, remember.”

 

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I was tense. I’d read the latest episode of Cleavergate, Lucinda O’Sullivan’s well-publicised riposte to Oliver Dunne’s broadside and sensed there could be trouble. That night, I struggled with some difficulty into The Clarence. The gimp wasn’t down to my bad knee, more the eleven inches of Japanese carbon steel strapped to my thigh. I noted approvingly that Imelda was wearing her nine inch stilettos, just the job for giving an antsy chef a poke in the eye should the occasion demand. Despite my disguise (monocle/trilby/false mustache) cover was blown from minute one. “In what name was the booking made?”, enquired the receptionist. “Pronsias Fortescue-Smythe” I replied, glibly. “Ah, hello, Ernie,” said the maître d’ following hard on her heels.

In the event, the circumspection, the weaponry, proved unnecessary. We had a perfectly pleasant evening, towards the conclusion of which Oliver Dunne, the culinary scene’s Roy Keane, emerged from the kitchen for a chat. He seemed in good form. I gently chided him for having the crass temerity to ignore the old adage “one shouldn’t pick a fight with a guy who can afford to buy a barrel of ink”. Oliver seemed largely unrepentant. “So what. We’re flying,” he confided.

The mellow, high-vaulted, church-like dining room at The Clarence (which I’ve always loved)  has been transformed by the introduction of an island cocktail bar. It looks mystifyingly incongruous, like a whale beached in The Strawberry Beds, but does add an air of good-timey informality hitherto absent. I will endorse Lucinda’s criticism that the tables-for-two are too small, also too close together to impart confidences to your dining companion. Noise levels, in a two-thirds full room, registered an ear-bruising 96 on my meter, hampering conversation and rendering the muzak inaudible.

 Anyhow, here’s the word according to The Wol on Cleaver East’s cuisine. Reviews have ranged from Lucinda’s mild put-down to John McKenna’s multiple Meg Ryan moment, the majority, at least according to Oliver, “Amazing”.  As you’ll probably suspect, the truth lies somewhere in between. 

 The format, a whole menu’s worth of tasting-and-sharing plates seems initially novel, until you consider the Chinese custom of dim sum which originated in Canton, probably in the 17th century. You can break it down into four sections: one, a dim sum or ración (Basque tapas equivalent in a larger-than-tapas portion) experience like the lobster dumpling, more about which anon; two, half-sized main courses of which the rare breed belly pork and the crispy lamb shoulder are exemplars; three, a section called ‘Twisted Classics’, reworked old favourites; and four, desserts. The menu, commendably, included a 14 item list of allergens, including lupin. Anaphylaxites may be reassured by the absence of the toxic flower from any dish.

A word on timing: you are allowed, nominally at least, one hour and forty-five minutes to order, eat up and depart. You are charged per dish and there seems to be no lower limit on the number of dishes you consume. If you want to go through the card and linger over your meal, I’d suggest you eat late as at, say, 10.30pm the likelihood of someone coming in and demanding your table has got to be lessened.

 The sharing notion hit the buffers early on when Imelda and I simultaneously decided we wanted our own portion of lobster dumpling. Were I to nit-pick I’d say the pasta dumpling was slightly too-thick. However, the lobster concealed within was replete with flavour and the broth in which the dumplings were immersed, simply sensational. A thin, sensitively constructed sour/sweet liquid, with a rampant lemongrass zing over silky coconut milk had us punching the air and, furthermore, caused us to censure the Americans at the next table for leaving theirs in the bowl. Tiny Chinese mushrooms and micro bak choi leaves added further taste and textural treats.

 The next dish to arrive at table was the St.Tola goat cheese parfait, with ‘heirloom beets’ and a walnut parfait, as perfect a combination of texture and flavour as you could imagine. I reckon St.Tola gets better year-on-year. We had ordered the belly pork and the lamb, both of which received an unqualified thumbs-up. The first came with a solid apple and ginger purée, neutralising the fat nicely; the second with baby turnips and a rosemary aioli that balanced perfectly the richness of the righteously selected meat. Two fine traditional-themed dishes, perfectly cooked and prettily presented.

 We dipped our toes hesitatingly into the sea of ‘Twisted Classics’, selecting the fish and chips from a list that included scotch egg (apparently it’s a fish dish – shame, a vegan scotch egg would have been really elegant), paella and beef curry. We both concluded that our classic had been tortured rather than twisted. The fish was unadorned – where was the novel take on crisp batter we were hoping for? The ‘chips’ were three diminutive flaccid batons of courgette, viagrafied by a condom of panko-style breadcrumbs, an attempt at innovation that missed its mark. Dressing up a courgette as a ‘chip’ is, in my opinion, on a par with selecting Lily Savage to play in the Lions’ front row.

 After this blip, the joy recommenced. The Dexter beef carpaccio with a well-balanced rocket pesto and large discs of wonderful aged parmesan received a unanimous round of applause, with the slight quibble that that this dish should, for heightened effect, have come to table before the lamb and pork.

 At least two of my fellow critics have praised Cleaver East’s panna cotta, one going so far as to suggest that “the strawberry and cream panna cotta is going to be the most-talked-about dish of the city in 2013.” Well, afraid my voice won’t be added to the cacophony. The panna had the texture and some of the flavour of condensed milk. The strawberries were bereft of flavour, which not even the vibrant coulis could disguise. The honeycomb brittle,on the other hand, was an inspired touch. Anyhow, unwilling to let the meal end on a low note, we completed the circle with a third bowl of the lobster dumplings, about which we enthused as much as we had about our first. This time, we shared.

 What’s left to say? The wine list is a work in progress, requiring more input at base level. Once could eat economically at Cleaver East but if you have to spend over €30 to get merchantable wine it takes the gloss off. The espresso was surprisingly good. Service, at our table and others, was attentive and informative all night. The average cost of a tasting plate was just under €10. Two dishes per person would make a satisfying light lunch; three, a meal; four, a night out. 

 My take is, Cleaver East by Oliver Dunne, to give it its full title, is a restaurant with two fine chefs (the other is Rory Carville, ex-Locks) working hard to create a niche for their new love child. The cooking is highly skilled and, in parts, adventurous. There’s the odd wonky idea, which I’d forgive on the axiom of ‘nothing venture, nothing gain’. Cleaver East is not ‘significant’ or ‘important’ as other critics have claimed nor is it in any way mind-blowing, calm down lads. It’s just a good restaurant that enhances the Dublin dining scene by way of providing a different way to eat.

 

Cleaver East, East Essex  Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 531 3500

 Food: ****

Wine ***

Service ****

Ambience ***

Value ****

Overall ****

This is an extended version of my review published in The Sunday Times (IRL) on 15th September 2013.

Read Ernie Whalley’s reviews every Sunday in ‘Sunday’ Magazine in The Sunday Times (IRL)

THE WINE BUNCH TASTING – Rioja Week 2 (August 2013)

Rioja W2
Our second Rioja tasting provided an opportunity to sample 12 reservas – aged for at least three years, with at least one year spent in oak, writes Ernie Whalley. Originally French oak barrels were exclusively employed but economics eventually dictated that American oak staves were imported and fashioned into casks in Spanish cooperages. Latterly, many producers have gone back to using French oak, or a mix of French and American. Long aging before release became a tradition – the Marques de Murrieta bodega only released its 1942 Gran Reserva in 1983! Nowadays wines are made for earlier drinking although  “ We age the wine so you don’t need to” is still a USP. Most of you will have spent €24 on a bottle of wine – in a restaurant and I bet the wine was no great shakes. I’d urge you to consider, even if as a once-off treat, buying one of these beauties. Martin and I concurred that no red from Bordeaux or Burgundy at equivalent price would come close. 

 

Lindes de Remelluri 2009 €21.95 Next Door@Myles Creek, KIlkee, Co Clare; MacGuinness, Dundalk, Co Louth. GOLD
 
EW: A great balancing act, a carefully trod line between modern and classical styles. Cutting barrel aging to 12 months has helped produce a graceful satisfying wine with abundant fruit. Nuances of spice, figs, plums and blackberries.
 
MM: Very classy drop with attractive black fruit, plum and fig with subtle oak use. Satisfyingly rich yet fresh palate that makes it all too easy to drink.
 
18.5/20
 
Ijalba Reserva 2007 19.95 www.quintessentialwines.ie, Drogheda, Co Louth  and nationwide SILVER
 
EW: Rounded, soft single estate grown fruit; cherries, soft plums raisins and a touch of blackcurrant with subtle ‘garrigue’ wild herbal notes coming in right at the back end. Well-developed, stylish wine. Organic.
 
MM: Spain’s answer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape with its rich soft slight raisiny style with no single fruit character dominating. Striking label.
 
17/20
 
Remelluri Reserva 2008 www.64wine.ie, Glasthule, Co Dublin;, www.redmondsofranelagh.ie, D6; Black Pig, D4; ; www.dalysdrinks.com, Boyle, Co Roscommon; McCambridges, Galway; www.. Wicklowwineco.ie;  Next Door@Myles Creek, KIlkee, Co Clare; SILVER
 
EW: Old fashioned, classical kit from Rioja’s oldest estate. Oak and fruit perfectly integrated. Fantastic persistence, goes on and on. Save the second half of the bottle for when the others have gone home and savour in your favourite chair.
 
MM: Not flashy or obvious but quietly delicious as it sails serenely across the palate offering a satisfying richness and terrific persistence.
 
18/20 
 
Marques de Murrieta Reserva 2007 Finca Ygay, around €24  Vintry, Rathgar D6;  www.obrienswine.ie, nationwide; www.redmondsofranelagh.com, D6 GOLD
 
EW: Massively rich wine, regal in its power and majesty. Lots of concentration and kaleidoscopic nuances of aroma and flavour but everything perfectly integrated. Seems strange to talk of a €24 wine as ‘outstanding value for money’ but here it is.
 
MM: Hits the bulls eye with its great richness and persistence and all sorts of nuance of flavour including plum, raisin, coconut, vanilla and liquorice. Fantastic value compared to French classics.
 
19/20 

 

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

 

CRYSTAL BALL – some thoughts on the future of journalism

I floated this topic on my Facebook page earlier today. It got a number of responses, some agreeing, some contrary. I think it’s worth putting up here as my take on the way things are going with The 4th Estate and those who try to scrape a living writing for it. I really hope I’m wrong.

DEATH OF J 

“In less than 10 years there will be only 2 types of journalist. Bloggers who will write for free or freebies; Staffers, whose duties will be to find bloggers. Those bloggers who can generate loads of ‘likes’ will get the junkets, the prestige trips; newbie bloggers, recent journalism graduates or those who can’t ‘hike the likes’ will be condemned to writing about bottling lines, dehydrated soups and The Tone Deaf Baked Bean Salesman of the Year Award. These guys will receive no remuneration other than the accreditation and (maybe) the return fare.

Subbing, along with tense, syntax and other embellishments will be a thing of the past.”

 

A Facebook friend, Oisin Davis of Damson Diner, countered with: “If that is going to be the case, then the bloggers will need to demand proper fees for writing and the staff writers will have to get more clever about where they get their next pieces from. I remember days prior to email and blogs when I would promote music shows. At the end of each gig, I would fax out a press release to a load of staffers that I knew were always looking for stories. In each one, I’d wax lyrical about how amazing the gig was, how it sold out and how wild the audience were etc. 9 out of 10 times the writer would simply regurgitate, word for word what I had written. I’d always get a kick out of that, knowing darn well that they were never in attendance themselves. I also remember thinking how disingenuous that was and how that surely could not go on forever. Well a lot of staffers don’t have it so easy any more and we can thank bloggers, in some part anyway, for that.”

 

I can see where he is coming from. There is still a deal of sloppy journalism about, with much cutting-and-pasting of press releases and some poor writing. This has been brought about in parts by the changing in staffing of newspapers and magazines. For example, years ago newspapers used to staff for the peaks. The logic was: “If, simultaneously, we have a factory fire in Glasnevin, a flood in Templeogue, a lottery winner in the Liberties and a mad axeman running amok in Ballsbridge, how many journalists and photographers do we need to cover these stories?” Nowadays it’s “How quickly can one guy and his digital Nikon compact get round” or “Hang about, we’ll get the skinny on the web”. The same publications now staff for the troughs.

 

This was my riposte: “Oisin, there is no such thing as a ‘proper fee’ any more. Rates are shrinking year on year. It is now virtually impossible for anyone to make a full-time living as a freelance journalist and the few I know who do are knocking themselves into the ground. Freelancers are soft targets too, when the time for editorial budget cuts comes round.

In the press, more and more news comes via agencies; more and more news and features are syndicated. It’s hard enough to earn a crust, even without bloggers getting in on the act.

Bloggers are a different kettle of fish. For them writing is a hobby or, at best, a secondary income. There are no qualifications for blogging other than the ability to put up a WordPress page. There is no requirement to become an expert in your desired specialisation and no need to be able to write to deadlines. All you need to blog is an opinion and a keyboard. After that we are in ‘Stream of Consciousness Land’.

I would go as far as saying that when it comes to imparting information in an interesting manner bloggers (with a few, very few, honourable exceptions) are utterly inept.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the PR industry (I won’t grace it with the term ‘profession’) who also have pretty low standards, suddenly discovered bloggers. More and more of them now appear at every bunfight. For the PR mob it’s probably enough to see ‘Yesterday I went to the Clonagloomy bubblegum yoghurt launch; I tasted some and it was lovely” on a dozen blogs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a blog a proper critique of a product and of course there won’t be because the invitations will cease and the bloggers know it. And, in their wake, will come more bloggers, ready and willing to write for a free trip and to see their names in print.”

 

Ernie Whalley on food, wine & Irish restaurants