Tag Archives: duck

Bloom Brasserie

Maybe the (richly deserved) success of Chapter One and Pearl Brasserie at this year’s Food & Wine Restaurant of the Year Awards will finally give the kick-arse to the absurd notion, common among Dubliners of a certain age and standing, that it’s uncool to eat in basements. I do hope so. There are some chefs, like Michel Bras or Juan Mari Arzak to name but two, for whose cooking I’d descend half way to Australia.

We didn’t need to go quite that far last Friday. The fair Bunting and I arranged to meet, at my suggestion, in The Waterloo which, years ago, when I was working around the corner on Herbert Place I found a convivial watering hole, a decent, old school traddy pub. Now, to my chagrin, I found the placed changed and changed bloody utterly. It’s now ‘a cafe bar’ for godssakes, with all the glib pretensions the term implies. We fled without stopping for a drink.

Bloom Brasserie, our dining destination, is located in a basement just across the road. The premises used to house one of the branches of Ouzo which now seems to be doing the biz in Dalkey. Was it a wine bar before that? Anyhow, no matter, the room has been really nicely tricked up, with muted colours and atmospheric lighting. There’s a small bar at the foot of the stairs and it’s here that we were greeted. Never ones to hang about when there’s food in the offing, Bunting and I elected to go straight away to table.

She’s been out on reviews with me before and knows the score – we choose different things, I get first pick, reserve the right to try some of whatever she’s eating and we do our damndest to consume 3 courses apiece. I’ll admit that sometimes we burst in the attempt and end up sharing a dessert. It’s my credo that Herald readers are entitled to a comprehensive review and I have no time for the picky salad-and-a-skinny latte dining companions that certain other reviewers seem to have as bosom buddies. Of my gustatory chums, Bunting is A-list. No sooner had we sat down than she was requisitioning the carpaccio of beef. I nobbled the foie gras. The carpaccio looked glorious on the white plate, a ring of beautifully-seasoned discs of Angus beef, crowned with a vibrant, crisp green salad. The only false note was struck by the heavily-truffle laced dressing; the beef was perfectly capable of speaking for itself and would have been better served by a simple anointment of good extra virgin. The foie gras, on its tranche of toast made from good bread, was pristine.

I clapped when I saw wing of ray on the menu. I can never understand why this excellent fish is not more popular; it’s delicate, succulent and easy to eat, once you get the hang of scraping the flesh off the cartilage, turning the fish over and repeating the operation. I would never pass ray up in favour of the omnipresent farmed sea bass, that’s for sure. The accompaniment, a fluffy scallion mash was perfect, although I did steal a few of Bunting’s potatoes which were fried in duck fat for an extra yum factor. The lady’s magret of duck was an absolute picture and tasted as good as it looked. I have to say, minor quibble, that my ray was slightly over-seasoned which always tells me that either the chef is young (‘season, taste and season again’ was the mantra at chef school a few years ago) or smoked sixty fags a day. I hoped it was the former and so it proved.

Our divergence when it came to mains led to some difficulty when it came to choosing a bottle of wine. After a conversation with the caring maitresse d’, an American girl who gave us samples from two bottles already opened for ‘by the glass’ diners, we picked a red that would stand up to the duck yet not overwhelm my ray. Despite what the message on my mobile says I have no problems drinking red wine with fish providing it’s not too bold or too dour. The Domaine Cros Minervois we chose from the fair-sized winelist, which contained a number of interesting off-piste offerings, was a compromise, but a pretty satisfactory one.

Next, we shared a cheese plate. The proximity of Bloom to cheese wholesaler Matthews, had provided an assortment of French cheeses, all in peak of condition, from which we chose a Morbier (me), an Epoisse (her) and (jointly) a soft goat cheese. Noting our keen interest they brought us two goat cheeses, one demure, the other full-frontal. These we followed with dessert, a chocolate fondant served with fresh raspberries, a raspberry coulis and an appropriately delicate milk sorbet. The fondant was outstanding. I hope other diners were not put off by our roars of applause. Picture-perfect espresso rounded things off nicely.

All-in-all a super evening and, at €123. 60 for all we had, fine value for money. Special plaudits to the caring staff and to chef Pól O’hEannraich,(ex-Dax) who took on board our trivial criticisms with aplomb.

The damage:  €123.60 for all the above

Rating ****

Verdict: Bloom could well prove to be the pick of Dublin’s ‘bistrocracy’ when the smoke of modish fashion clears.


‘Zen’ is one of those words we’ve all heard but nobody seems to know what it means. A bit like ‘zeitgeist’ or ‘drisheen’. We usually find it coupled with Buddhism. Zen, that is, not drisheen. What the difference is between zen Buddhism and plain, unvarnished, bog standard Buddhism I have simply no idea.

Wikipedia (slogan: ‘Never Wrong for Long’) is not much help, telling you that zen “emphasises experiential wisdom – particularly as realised in the form of meditation known as ‘zazen’ – in the attainment of awakening, often simply called the path of enlightenment”. (Any the wiser? Me neither.)

Next, I turned to a book called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by one Robert Pirsig. It’s been on my shelf for years, unread. Published in 1974, it sold over 4 million copies in twenty-seven languages, most widely read philosophy book ever. ‘Zen and…’ was initially rejected by 121 publishers and, after ploughing through the first forty pages, I came to the conclusion that the 122nd must have been a real soft touch.

The book describes a 17-day motorcycle journey across the USA by the author and his son, joined for the first nine days by two friends. The trip is punctuated by numerous philosophical discussions, which the author calls ‘chatauquas’, on riveting topics like epistemology and ethical emotivism. (Still with me? Oh, do keep up!)

By now you are entitled to ask “Where is all this leading?” At this point I should reveal that, last Monday night, I ate in a restaurant called ‘Zen’; a Chinese located in a bijou redundant church in Rathmines. Via the above pseudo-philosophical rambling I was simply trying to establish whether the pithy three-letter word had any possible connection with some of the worst food I have eaten in the past five years.

To give Zen the Restaurant its due, the welcome is warm and the room, lovely although the ‘world’s longest railway carriage seat’ that splits the dining area into two takes a bit of getting used to. Throughout the meal I kept peering beyond the great divide, trying to ascertain whether diners on the far side were eating from a different, nicer menu.

Zen, like many, has created a recession-ready USP – “Eat-in food at take-away prices”. The deal holds good Monday-through-Thursday. It was only afterwards, perusing the menu out front, I realised that what the proposition actually offers is “Eat-in from the take-away menu at take-away prices”. There is a difference.

Certain dishes were excluded from the menu we were presented with at table. There was some overlap, however, enabling me to make a true value-for-money appraisal. If I had paid the full €18.50 for the ‘crispy king prawns’ I’d have been mightily pissed off. The (mere) seven crispy prawns were not crispy. They had shrunk, too. ‘Flaccid queen prawns’ would have been a more accurate description. They tasted of absolute zilch, merely emphasising the revolting gloop they came bathed in.

For starters Bangles and I had spare ribs, barbecued as if to an order of ‘well-done to cremated’, accompanied by a small dish of an unspecified icky-sweet commercial jar-sauce; also, what we dubbed ‘the creatures from the black lagoon’, four gristle-filled dumplings, ponderous as elphants’ testicles, swimming in a swamp of soy sauce. The pastry skin, coagulated and adhesive, could have been pressed into service as an emergency tyre. Mains were no better. I am a bit of a duck tifoso and get quite misty eyed at the thought of a brawny Chinese chef in London, Manchester, Hong Kong or indeed, in the Imperial in Exchequer Street, taking a cleaver to a moist, springy, succulent honey-basted roasted Silver Hill’s finest and whopping it on a plate. The Zen version was but a cartoon of the real thing, vapid, warmed-over. The sauce surrounding the ‘beef in hot bean sauce’ was not hot in either sense of the word. As Bangles observed, taste-wise it was the identical twin of the viscous gum that enveloped the prawns. The beef, cut into shreds, had been tenderised to the texture of liver; only with less flavour or, more accurately, none.

The wine list was as dull as by now you’d imagine. Our modest Anjou Chenin Blanc at €23 (a 2004, they mustn’t sell much of it) had, in the words of wicked old Churchill, “much to be modest about”. The final tally came to €70.50. Had we paid the full menu price I’d suspect it would be up somewhere near €110 and very poor value indeed.

The sheer bloody-minded laziness of the average Chinese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. Let’s fling it back at the cooks. Canton, Sichuan, Fukien, Hunan, whatever province, these are all simple cuisines. As the French and Italians know, peasant cooking only works if the ingredients are pristine and the cooking precise. At the same time, why aren’t the younger generation of Chinese chefs more inventive? Why aren’t they, like their Indian counterparts, rolling back the frontiers, trying novel combinations that bring a touch of pizazz to table? Why, for sweet Jesus’ sake, aren’t they even making their own sauces? Or is it not arrogance or laziness but contempt? Do they despise the Irish diner because we want every bloody thing ‘crispy’ or ‘barbecued’ or ‘sweet-and-sour’ with prawn crackers and egg fried rice? Do we just get the Chinese food we deserve?

The damage: €70.50, ex-service, for 2 starters, 3 mains plus rice, bottle of house wine.

Verdict: Nice people, nice place, awful food. Robert Persig deemed the concept of quality to be undefinable. But then he never ate here.

Rating: **


Zen, 89 Upper Rathmines Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6, Tel: 01 497 9428

Moules Mariniere, Roast Duck with Pomegranate Sauce


Lord knows what I would have spent if we’d gone out to a restaurant so tonight I want to see in the New Year with a glass of my all-time favourite fizz, Taittinger Comte de Rose (e150) and apologise to the bank manager later! Alternatives? Ruinart (e47.50) showed up well in FOOD & WINE Magazine’s recent tasting. Dunnes Stores have an excellent Lanvin at e20 that punches well above its weight. I’d be happy to drink South Africa’s Graham Beck and I really rate Jacobs Creek’s Rose Sparkling
Foodwise, we’ll kick off with…

Moules Mariniere

2 kg mussels
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
15g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaves
150 ml cider
120ml cream
handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Lightly scrub the mussels (reserve an old nail brush for this purpose) under plenty of cold, running water. Discard any open ones that won’t close when lightly tapped. Pull out any ‘beard’ protruding from between the shells. Give the mussels another short rinse to remove any little pieces of shell. Soften the garlic and scallions in the butter and oil in a large pan big enough to take all the mussels. Add the mussels, cider and the bouquet garni, turn up the heat, then cover and steam them until they open (approx 4 minutes), shaking the pan from time to time. Shake the pan every now and then. Remove the bouquet garni, stir in the cream and chopped parsley and remove from the heat.
Spoon into large warmed soup bowls and serve with slices of crusty baguette.

Wine: Alsace Riesling please. Hugel, Trimbach, Dopf & Irion, all good names and offering unparalleled value for money. My personal choice – any from Zind Humbrecht whose wines, while deft and serious, announce their arrival with a flourish of trumpets.

Roast duck with a pomegranate sauce
1 large duck
ground sea salt and Chinese 5 spice, mixed together
for the sauce
375 ml red wine
375 ml light stock
3 tbsp pomegranate syrup (Asian stores and good delis)
1 clove star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
honey to adjust sweetness

Buy the duck a couple of days before and let it hang in a cold, draughty place, like an outhouse or garden shed until needed. Preheat the oven to 240C. Rub the duck skin with the sea salt and five spice mix and place on a trivet in a deep roasting tin. Roast until crisp and cooked through, approx one and a half hours.
To make the sauce, put the wine, stock, pomegranate syrup, anise, cinnamon and coriander in a pan and boil to reduce by half. Stir in honey to achieve the desired sweetness.
Joint the duck and slice the breast. Serve with the sauce, roast potatoes or plain mash and these Brussels sprouts and chestnuts.

Sprouts and Chestnuts

300g compact, tight Brussels sprouts, washed and pared
150 chestnuts
1 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter
freshly ground black pepper
A French recipe that’s become a Christmas and New Year favourite with me. Prepare the chestnuts earlier in the day. Make a cross in the skin of each one with the point of a sharp knife and parboil in a pan, just until the skins open up. Peel when still hot – under running cold water with your bare hands is easiest, or using an old tea towel to diffuse the heat. Steam or boil the sprouts just until ‘cooked but firm’ and drain. Heat the oil and butter in a pan and fry the sprouts and crumbled chestnuts briefly, shaking the pan to coat them. Season with black pepper before serving.

Wine: A big warm red – maybe a Crozes Hermitage or a muscular Aussie Shiraz. Even better, a classy Tuscan stunner like Banfi Rosso di Montalcino. Budget choice –

Panna Cotta

A Piedmontese recipe I have a weakness for. The name simply means ‘cooked cream’ in Italian. And it’s not for the figure conscious! Make it the day before and serve with seasonal fruit chopped into small dice.

3 leaves gelatine
320ml full fat milk
1 vanilla pod
320ml double cream
80g caster sugar

Put the gelatine leaves in the milk to soften. Meanwhile, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and reserve. Place the empty vanilla pod into a pan with the cream and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the sugar, vanilla seeds and then the milk and gelatine. Stir until the sugar and gelatine are dissolved.
Leave to cool for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to spread the seeds throughout the mixture. You can assist the process by placing the bowl in a pan of ice. Transfer to 4 glass or metal moulds (darioles, the ones that look like mini pudding basins, are perfect) and refrigerate at least overnight or for 6-8 hours. When serving remove from the fridge, run a flexible knife between mould and panna cotta, turn over and tap sharply to release. Serve on a large plain plate, surrounded by the seasonal fruit.
All recipes serve 4

This dessert doesn’t really suit wine so save yourself for a good Cognac or Armagnac or your favourite liqueur with coffee!

Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year

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Hoi-Sin Five Spice Duck

6 duck breasts
2 tsp five spice powder
1 tbsp shredded fresh ginger
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 jar Sharwood’s Hoi-Sin sauce
1 x 250g pack medium egg noodles
1/2 cucumber – halved lengthways, remove the seeds and slice diagonally
100g asparagus – cut in half diagonally
Salt to taste
A few drops roasted sesame oil to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
200g beansprouts
4 spring onions – shredded
White pepper, light soy sauce and roasted sesame oil to season

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Puncture the duck skin with a fork and rub the five spice into the duck skin. Mix together half the ginger, light soy sauce and rice wine, spoon over the duck and leave to marinate for 30 minutes. (For best results, marinate overnight.)
Place the duck in an ovenproof dish, cover tightly with foil. Roast for 45 minutes. Turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F/gas 6, remove the duck from the dish and coat the duck with hoi-sin sauce. Return to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes to glaze. Meanwhile, cook the noodles as directed on the back of the pack, drain and cool under cold running water. Plunge the cucumber and asparagus into boiling water for 2 minutes, drain well and season with salt and a little sesame oil, keep warm. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or deep sided frying pan, stir-fry the spring onions and remaining ginger for 1 minute, add the noodles, continue stir frying for 2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for a further minute. Season with light soy sauce, white pepper and sesame oil.
Arrange the noodles on an individual serving dish, scatter the vegetables around the outside and top with the duck. This dish makes a delicious centrepiece for a celebration meal.

Recipe courtesy of Chung Yin

Duck Breast With Brulee Of Brie And Baby Spinach

One of the recipes I devised to make the best of some excellent French poultry products given me by Sopexa for trial

2 duck breasts
6 x 30cm circles cut from a brie or similar soft cheese
granulated sugar
1packet baby spinach (or rocket) leaves
2 tbsp sherry vinegar

A superb combination – the sugar comats the acidity of the cheese before the vinaigrette kicks in for a sweet-sour flavour. The toffee-like crunchy texture of the caramel adds a further dimension.
Preheat the oven to 225°C/450°F/gas 7. Get a frying pan very hot over a high heat and place the duck breasts, skin side down. Fry for 3 minutes then turn. Fry for another three minutes. Place in a dish in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove, allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly on the diagonal. On top of the circles of cheese (on this occasion I used the excellent Dunbarra from Tipperary) layer about 5mm of granulated sugar. Caramelise with a blowtorch or briefly under a very hot grill. Combine the sherry vinegar
with the pan juices to make a flavoursome vinaigrette and dress the spinach. Place a circle of cheese in the centre of a large plate, surround with the leaves and arrange slices of duck breast as shown.

Roast duck with citrus sauce

Got a gift of a French barbary duck. Now I’m not a fan of the barbary kind, I much prefer Aylesbury (big white, fluffy, yellow-wellied Donald) or Gressingham – that is if I can’t get teal or mallard but this one was delicious.
I’m not mad about pink duck either, unless it’s a pan-fried breast. I’d much rather roast until the skin is crisp but the interior still moist and succulent.
The cliche accompaniment to duck is orange sauce but those old-timers really knew what they were doing – it works! This one works even better IMO.

1 duck
sea salt
juice of half a grapefruit, a whole orange and a lime
2 scallions, chopped fine
1 small nugget of fresh ginger, chopped fine
small knob of butter
1 tsp plain flour
small glass of brandy
approx 1 tbsp palm sugar or honey

Preheat the oven to 240 deg. C
Make sure the skin of the duck is dry (I usually sear it quickly with a blow torch). Grind sea salt in a pestle and mortar and rub into the skin. Roast the duck on a trivet over a roasting tiin in the oven, (saving the fat for subsequently roasting or frying potatoes). I have a rotary spit on my oven so I’d normally roast the duck on that. Roasting time approzx 1hr 15 mins depending on the weight of the duck.
Fry the knob of butter and the flour together, along with the scallions and ginger, until the flour is absorbed and turns to a light brown. Add a little of the duck fat and stir to absorb. Deglaze with the brandy and add the citrus juice. Simmer for 5 minutes, then strain. Return to heat, adjust for preferred sweetness with the palm sugar and boil to reduce by half.
I serve the duck with roasted mixed vegetables and a bubble and squeak made by pan-frying sliced savoy cabbage in oil and butter, then adding seasoned mashed potatoes. Spread the mixture out to cover the pan, then after a couple of minutes scrape the bottom and stir in the browned bits and repeat.
Only delicious!