Tag Archives: fish

BOOK REVIEW – Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook by Martin Shanahan

Ah, fish, the great Irish paradox.

We live on an island surrounded by fish but, by and large, we shun them unless they come battered or breadcrumbed.  This is because (or so the theory goes) we were forced to eat it on Fridays we don’t really like fish and don’t eat it now we don’t have to. Killarney Restaurateur Paul Treyvaud told me that, of almost 100 covers on Good Friday this year, he only sold a dozen fish main courses. We have some of the best fishing grounds in the world but our fishing fleets are depleted and it’s harder than ever to earn a living as a fisherman.  Bily Joel’s poignant ‘Downeaster Alexa’ might as well have been written for Burtonport or Duncannon as for New England’s Outer Lands. Other nations, however, do recognize the excellence of the fish that abound in Irish waters and will joyfully take the cream of the catch. Dublin, our capital, a city on a bay, doesn’t have a fish restaurant worth the name. I could go on.

The most frequent truism you hear about fish is that we love to eat it but we don’t like to cook it. Fish is commonly perceived as fiddly and difficult. Smelly too, in its raw state.  Hence, we will eat bass, sea bream, salmon, lemon sole etc in restaurants, as long as it comes to table filleted but we won’t buy it from a fishmonger and cook it at home. These are of course ‘truisms that aren’t necessarily true’.

Martin Shanahan’s new book, a companion to his two successful TV series, aims to change this culinary aversion. Fish, he says, is “nature’s fast food”. You can cook a piece of fish as fast as you can cook a sausage and if you can cook a sausage, you can cook fish, that’s his proposition and the recipes in the book go a long way to proving it. Martin, for those who don’t live in Ireland, is the proprietor of Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, Co Cork, a successful enterprise now in its Mark III version that majors on giving diners fresh fish without the fear factor, skinless,  boneless and wholly enjoyable. If you haven’t eaten there, that’s your misfortune, you really should make the effort. Martin is a crusader on behalf of the less popular species – ray, gurnard and haddock to mention but three.

The recipes are tasty but, by and large, uncomplicated. Plain but not too plain, with a fair bit of fusion and ethnic-influence. From fisherman’s pie to salmon with hollandaise sauce; squid with chorizo to potato, leek and mussel soup; avocado with prawns to Thai-style pollock fishcakes, there’s nothing here that the modest home cook couldn’t manage with ease and that’s the great strength of this book. No other fish cookbook I’ve seen demystifies so efficiently. Buy this book and your most difficult challenge will be finding a decent fishmonger.

Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook is published by Estragon Press, John and Sally McKenna’s imprimatur and although soft-covered and plainly produced it doesn’t have that low-budget feel that many publishers seem to think de rigueur for non- ‘A List’ Irish authors. Typesetting and layout have come on in leaps and bounds since Estragon’s early ventures. The book gains considerably from the sensitive photography of Kevin O’Farrell too.

Fish has undeniably lagged behind meat in its appeal to cookbook writers. Had we had Martin’s book twenty-odd  years ago it might have had the equivalent impact of, say, Alistair Little’s ‘Keep it Simple’ which for me was a signpost on the road to Damascus. But, better late than never, as they say. Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook deserves a wide audience and the news that, at time of writing, it has climbed to 9th place in the Irish Best Seller List is heartening indeed.  Hopefully, further onwards and upwards.

Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook is published by Estragon Press, price €20

Footnote: The ‘big one’, the Fish Cookbook for the Really Keen Cook is still out there. Maybe some chef will take up the challenge and write the blockbuster that will do for fish what Dennis Cotter’s ‘Paradiso’ series did to enhance the status of vegetables.

 

 

Thanks for the SLOW FISH – Genoa May 27th – 30th 2011

Slow Fish 2011, the sustainable fish event, will take place  in Genoa (Italy) from May 27 to 30.

This biennial international event dedicated to the world of fish and marine ecosystems has now reached its fifth edition. Debates, meetings, workshops and tastings will focus on issues linked to sustainable fishing and responsible seafood consumption.

A couple of days at Slow Fish, followed by a journey southward down the Ligurian coast would make a very agreeable holiday. Something I found out back in 2007.

Genoa is a historical port city in northern Italy, the capital of the Region of Liguria. As a tourist attraction Genoa is less feted than cities such as Rome, Florence or Venice. Nevertheless, it holds much of interest for the tourist with its multitude of hidden architectural gems in the narrow, winding alleys and its excellent cuisine (notably seafood). The city hosts one of  Europe’s biggest aquariums. The old port has been restored and the new one is brim-full of yachts, cruise ships and commercial vessels. It was, of course, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.

With pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses, historic churches, elegant seaside villas, and surprisingly good boutique shopping, Genoa is a must see if you want to experience the “quintessential” The city makes a good base from which to sally forth to explore the Italian Riviera, particularly the fishing village-cum-seaside resort Camogli, Santa Margerita Ligure (for my money one of the world’s most under-rated resorts) and, playground of the wealthy, Portofino or to walk the Cinque Terre (tip: take the train to the farthest village, Riomaggiore and walk South-North. That way you can finish by cooling off, plunging into the sea at Monterosso al Mare.)

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Slow Fish is organized by the Liguria Regional Authority and Slow Food, with the support of the Carige Foundation, the Province of Genoa, the Genoa Chamber of Commerce and the City of Genoa. One section of Slow Fish is dedicated to the international campaigns, launched by Slow Food after Slow Fish 2009.

The campaigns aim to inform consumers, promoting good, clean and fair fish and creating connections between all those working to make fishing and fish consumption sustainable. The theme of Slow Fish 2011 is ‘Small-scale fishers: a threatened species’ The 2009 salon was dedicated to fish species. This year, the spotlight turns on the people of the sea. Displays will reflect artisan fishing as it used to be, outlining the skills and hardships fisher folk incurred and contrasting it with small-scale fishing as it is now, how it has modernized, how it relates to the world and how it has suffered from globalisation.

Foodies will enjoy The Market exhibition area which offers a rich display of fresh and preserved fish, oils, spices, salt, seaweed and other related products. All the exhibitors, Italian and international, have committed to not using artificial preservatives and flavors and will not sell bluefin tuna, swordfish, shark and salmon, species at risk of extinction. The Slow Food Presidia of the Sea can also be found in the Market, offering concrete examples of how fishing communities can live in harmony with the ecosystem, preserving the marine fauna and adding value to their work by selling high-quality fresh fish and processed products. The two experiences organized in the Slow Food Education area, designed for the public and schoolchildren, offer both a look at the sea and its people and fishing techniques and rhythms from the fishermen’s perspective and also suggestions on how to select the best fish, read food labels and prepare delicious seafood at home. Chefs play a central role in consumer education, and so for the first time the Alliance Osteria will find a home at Slow Fish. Here, around 20 chefs from the Italian and international network will be preparing dishes based on Slow Food Presidia. The event will also see the return of the Water Workshops, opportunities for analysis and debate around key issues, and cooking demonstrations from chefs in the Theatre of Taste. Not to mention the Osterias of the Sea, Street Food and ‘Fishwiches’, where visitors can sample gastronomic specialties from around Italy, all paired with excellent wines from the Enoteca.

The Slow Fish website, http://www.slowfish.it reveals what’s new for the 2011 symposium, with information on bookable events and all the tastings, conferences and meetings in the program.

If you’d like to know more about sustainable fishing the BIM webiste http://www.bim.ie is a good place to start.

RECIPE – Hake and scallops with a red pepper and fennel purée and grilled aubergines

 

Last night, herself brought home glistening fresh hake and “some scallops, for a treat”. Four whacking great kings, as it happened. Treat indeed.

Foraging in the fridge for potential accompaniments I came across a bulb of fennel, complete with fronds that looked like it could do with eating up. From the fruit bowl, a pristine red pepper winked at me. Improvisation, something I do a lot of, became the buzzword. I chopped both into small pieces, added a teaspoon of fennel seeds to get more oomph – a good tip, this – and boiled them in a light stock. Then, out with the stick blender, whizz them into a purée and back on a low heat. Taste. Add a little salt, must have been a very light stock. More blending, needs to be smoother. Taste again. Hmmm… not quite there. “Cooking on my feet”, I added a tiny splash of Cognac and a slight swirl of cream. Oh yes, joy.

While this was going on I was fettling aubergines on the ridged griddle. I always cut them on the bias into slices, looks pretty and, after experimenting, I’m convinced it gives a nicer texture and better flavour. Got the griddle raging hot. Put the slices on and sprinkled some cumin and some truffle salt on the topside, gave them a minute or so then drizzled a little olive oil over. When the underneath showed dark brown char-lines (3-4 mins) I turned them over and anointed the slices with more cumin, salt and oil. Turn them back and forth a couple of times, you can get a nice lattice effect with the charring if you want. As soon as they were cooked through I put the slices into a low oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile the matchstick chips were pirouetting nicely in the Actifry (see review http://forkncork.com/on-test-tefal-actifry/ here), aided and abetted by a tablespoon of goose fat.

The hake was lightly floured and then pan-fried 2-3 mins per side. The griddle sorted the scallops a treat, lovely caramelisation, two minutes tops. Re-heated the purée, brought it altogether and plated up.

What’s that? Oh yes, there are peas in the piccy. Yes, petit pois (frozen) with a heap of chopped garden mint, a little butter and a grind of black pepper. Because I thought the palette would be improved by a touch of green and surprise, surprise, I didn’t have any ‘samfer’ to hand.

 

This repast was accompanied a treat by Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling 2008, a Clare Valley superstar and one of my favourite wines.

 

4 hake fillets

4 king scallops

flour, pepper and salt to dust hake

oil for frying (olive, sunflower, corn, rapeseed to choice)

 

1 large aubergine cut on the bias into 20mm slices

truffle or sea salt

powdered cumin

extra virgin olive oil for the purée (which can be made in advance)

 

1 large bulb fennel, finely chopped

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds

dash of cognac

1 tbsp single cream

2 cupfuls water or light stock

 

Something green!

Serves 4. Instructions in the text above.

HAKE WITH A DUKKA CRUST

Dukka is an Egyptian spice blend comprising toasted nuts and seeds, the combination of which varies depending on the cook. The ingredients are ground together until the texture is that of a coarse powder.

I first encountered dukka, not in Egypt, but in the Willunga farmer’s market in MacLaren Vale, South Australia during Tasting Australia 2005. Dukka seems to have insinuated itself into the Aussie food culture and sharing a crusty loaf of fresh bread, dipped in extra virgin olive oil, then in dukka, over a bottle or two of good wine is as good a way of whiling away an afternoon as I know.

The hake recipe was an experiment that worked, at least for me and my lunch guests. I served it with a butternut squash risotto and a green salad of French beans, mangetout, garden peas, red onion and rocket in an olive oil and tarragon vinegar dressing – an adaptation of a recipe I found in Yolam Ottolengi’s superb book ‘Plenty’.

In Australia it’s easy to buy dukka but I haven’t found it in Dublin. My recipe is still ‘work in progress’. This the best so far.

For the dukka

2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts

2 tablespoons macadamia or brazil nuts

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Small pinch ground dried chillis (optional)

Small pinch ground cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 200 degs. C. Arrange nuts and sunflower seeds in a single layer on a baking tray. Roast for 10 minutes and remove. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, roast sesame, cumin and coriander seeds, stirring often, for 7-8 minutes or until sesame seeds are golden brown. Allow cool. Pulse all dukka ingredients in a food processor or an electric coffee/spice grinder until finely ground – but do not grind to a paste. Apparently dukka can be refrigerated in an airtight container for a couple of weeks but in my opinion, it is best made and used fresh.

For the hake

4 fillets hake, skinned

Small glass of dry white wine

Small knob of butter

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon

Preheat the oven to 200 degs. C. Arrange the hake fillets, side by side, in a flat dish. Pour the wine around the fillets, making sure that the tops of the fillets are well above the level of the liquid. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the fillets, plus a few flakes of butter. Add a squeeze of lemon. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. If necessary, pour off some of the liquid. Crust the fillets with the dukka and return to oven for a further 10 minutes.

Other white fish, cod, haddock, monkfish, pollock etc would work just as well. If using flatfish, keep the liquid level low. If the top of the fish is soaked in the liquid the dukka crust will go soggy.

Restaurant Review – Wolfe's Irish Artisan Bistro

With a significant birthday to celebrate I decamped to Brittany for two weeks in August, renting a house and gathering my nearest and dearest together to ensure the occasion did not go unmarked (we’re woeful at sending cards and giving presents). In the evenings we took turns to cook. On the last night I fettled a Thai green curry, one of the best I’ve ever cooked. Not, I hasten to add, because of my culinary skills. Simply because the prime ingredients – langoustines, scallops and a huge monkfish tail that glistened like diamonds in a mountain stream – were the finest you’d see anywhere. A joy to buy and a joy to cook with.

In Ireland we have a problem with seafood. We love to eat it. But we rarely cook it at home because it’s (wrongly) perceived as fiddly, even difficult. At the same time, for a nation surrounded by sea, there are remarkably few reliable seafood restaurants.

I found Wolfe’s Irish Artisan Bistro after a quick trawl through the forums on my website www.forkncork.com. It’s on Capel Street, roughly half way between Jack Nealon’s and McNeills if you are travelling by pub and easy to miss as Bangles and I walked past it twice. Telephoning in advance, I had taken the receptionist’s offer of “a nice table upstairs, by the window.” On arrival we were initially disappointed as the ground floor room seemed busy-buzzy whereas upstairs we were the only diners. The room was decently tricked out, though, and the chairs comfortable. As Bangles and I had a deal of catching up to do we soon forgot about the lack of company. Someone has good taste in music. Tom Waits and Nick Cave, damped down as not to impede conversation, entertained us.

I noted with approval that there was a fifteen euro bottle of wine on the carte, not a bad one either. We went medium upscale, taking the always reliable Willunga 100 viognier at €27.Most expensive wine on the list was €34. Bangles nabbed the chicken terrine, following up with the rack of free range pork, my initial fancy until an urge to continue the shellfish-fest I’d started in Douarnenez surfaced. The starter was total ‘me’ – four plump scallops, quickly caramelised and finished with girolle mushrooms, a little cream and a scattering of summer truffles. Bangles’ coarse terrine was tasty yet delicate, served with a rivulet of carrot purée kept the right side of bland with a touch of citrus and garnished with spicy carrot cress, nice touch. I was initially dismayed by the absence of bread, needed for mopping up the delicious residue of the scallops and cream. A call to the personable Czech waiter remedied this but really it shouldn’t have been necessary – it would cost little to provide a basket of bread and should have been put on the table when we arrived.

The pork, an emperor-sized chunk with the crackling on it, came topped with crispy morsels which, the chef informed us later, proved to be slivers of pig’s ear, (don’t shudder, they were delicate and delicious) and robust mustard mash. Though the pork was a gastro-treat in itself, it could have done with some spicy chutney, maybe a little Hungarian style red cabbage or even plain apple sauce to point up and enhance the flavour. My Irish lobster, a monster, did full justice to the cold sea around our shores, a submarine gymnasium where these kings of crustaceans develop muscle tone, and hence texture and taste. It was cooked to perfection, springy but not tough. Lobster is filling food so I didn’t eat too many of the excellent, properly crisp chunky chips. I thought the price of the dish, €38, even given the size, was a trifle expensive. There’s a glut of lobster at the minute and the price per kilo has dropped considerably. Many restaurants are using Nova Scotia lobster (of only average quality), enabling them put it on the menu for under €30. Were I in charge of The Artisan I’d maybe dispense with the chips or just add a few for garnish and keep the price down to around €32.

We shared a passion fruit panna cotta which Bangles thought on the tart side (she has a sweet tooth). For me, the taste was fine. I enjoyed the sharp tang of the fruit, heaped on the top, complementing the mellow cream heavily laced with what I detected was good vanilla.I lost a mark or two for texture. The perfect panna cotta is, to borrow from Paul Simon, one that slip-slides away. This was ’hearty eating’.

Open three weeks, Wolfe’s Irish Artisan is not yet the finished article though it shows much promise. Suppliers, all of excellent repute, are listed on the menu; cooking, by young chef Peter Fisher, is extremely sound; prices are reasonable, extremely so if you shy away from plutocratic items like lobster and scallops. There’s a 3-course pre-theatre for €30. Service-wise, we initially felt somewhat neglected. On the night the bulk of the business was downstairs and in such circumstances there’s a need for real awareness if the restaurant has to keep in touch with diners aloft; this initiative was lacking until we brought the waiter up sharp, after which his head would appear round the doorway at regular intervals. All-in-all it’s certainly a contender for ‘best place to eat north of the Liffey if you can’t get into Chapter One’. The Artisan (full name’s a bit of a mouthful) is a plain, unvarnished bistro, so don’t expect things too fiddly-farty, it’s a ‘what you see is what you get’ sort of gaff. None the worse for that.

Wolfe’s Irish Artisan Bistro, 153 Capel Street, Dublin 1 Tel: (01) 874 9570

RATING

Food ****

Wine ***

Service **

Ambience **

Volume 1 bell

Overall ***

Originally published in The Dubliner, FREE with the Evening Herald on Thursdays

1014

At first she was smiling, eyes half closed. Then a discreet smirk of pleasure lit her face like she was indulging in a happy dream. Appreciative noises modulated to a crescendo, “mm mm, mm..” somehow segued into “Yes, yes, yes!”. Screams of ecstasy followed, quintessential passion, all inhibition fled. Oh my God, I thought, she’s having a Meg Ryan moment. But she’s not faking it!

 

Mind you, the crab claws were bloody good. They couldn’t have been fresher if the crustaceans had crawled down the coast road and given themselves up. The Not Quite Blonde was out to relish every last morsel. My ballotine of beef, good as it was, seemed mundane by comparison, close but no G-spot.

 

Restaurant Ten-Fourteen – or is it 1014? – stands on the seafront at Clontarf, near the upmarket Indian restaurant, Kinara. But for the lack of a Gitanes cloud you could be back in a Paris bistro in the heyday of Les Halles. The mosaic floor and the brass lamps with their clustered globes also put me in mind of the temperance bar in Douglas, Isle of Man, where my father and his boozing cronies used to gather on holiday Sunday evenings, forced to drink pints of sarsaparilla and dandelion-and-burdock by the vagaries of the local licensing laws. ‘Retro’ and ‘comfy’ are the best words I can find to describe the ambience.

 

In the open-to-view kitchen a chef of reassuring girth, was sweating away, accompanied by a couple of acolytes. Given that the place was packed it seemed like a hard station. My immediate thought was that these guys were working their tripes off, manpower pruned to a minimum so the business could be kept lean, fit and profitable through these indigent times.

 

The restaurant has an interesting raison d’etre. It’s owned by CASA – the Caring & Sharing Association, a voluntary organisation, established in 1981, whose goal is to develop friendships and social outlets for people with disabilities through a variety of activities comprising regular social events, holidays, respite breaks, and pilgrimages. Originally CASA had intended to run a coffee shop at these premises; after some discussion plans were up-scaled and a bistro, majoring on local and fresh produce, replaced the original concept.

 

While The Not Quite Blonde was endeavouring to extract the last shards of flesh from the crab claws without damaging the heel of her shoe, I studied the wine list. It was of the genus ‘sensible’ – not over-long; sourced from one reliable supplier and capable of providing a kaleidoscope of decent drinking from around the vino-sphere. From it I selected an interesting Semillon/Sauvignon blend from the Bordeaux hinterland, made by two lovely girls and their crabby papa, all of whom I’d met. The wonderful thing about being involved with wine is it allows you to make these connections; drink wisely and there’s a memory in every glass.

 

I had first crack at the mains and plucked the whole lemon sole with lobster off the blackboard ‘specials’. The fish was large and meatier than lemon soles are normally wont to be. It came with three generous chunks of lobster, springy and succulent. The chips, unfortunately, were hiding under the sole, so I couldn’t tell whether they were properly crisp or not, a minor blemish. I surveyed The Not Quite Blonde with interest as her eyes flitted between carte and blackboard. A probationer on my roster of reviewing guests, she surprised me by taking the daube of beef, causing me to mark her up a couple of notches. The daube came, not in the traditional marmite but as a presentation on a plate, along with a chunk of absolutely superb medium-rare fillet steak. Take a bow, mister butcher, whoever you are. The main event was fettled from beef cheek, sixteen hours’ simmering producing ‘died and gone to heaven’ flavours akin to those of the crab claws, putting TNQB on course for a second orgasm.

 

The Not Quite Blonde, herself a chef and I came to the conclusion that 1014 (named for the date of the Battle of Clontarf) is one serious restaurant. Service was swift and friendly without being smarmy, just what I needed being still traumatised after my Moroccan ‘Carry on Up the Casbah’ episode a fortnight ago.

 

I enjoyed my fruit salad, replete with tangy berries and accompanied by as good a home made ice cream – pistachio flavoured – as you’ll get. Meanwhile, my companion was detumescing over the sticky toffee pudding, which didn’t quite meet her stringent expectations. She’s an expert at this dessert apparently and proclaimed that 1014’s was, compared to her own, a mere STP lite. A few dates, apricots or figs in the middle wouldn’t have gone amiss, she opined.

 

Two fit and proper espressos later we were rolling home in a taxi. As I dropped The Not Quite Blonde off at her place she enquired not “How was it for you?” but “Well, did I pass the test?” “Darling,” I said, searching for the word, “You were… er… climactic.”

 

Verdict: Fine sensitive cooking, first class ingredients, decent wines, warm welcome

 

Rating ****

 

Restaurant 1014, 324 Clontarf Rd, Dublin 3 Tel: 01 805 4877

 

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.

Seapoint

Three years ago Sibella and I were in Italy, dining in a restaurant that purported to have more class than the ones we normally frequent on holiday. We had been lured there by the enticing and affordable table d’hote menu displayed in the window.

Once inside, we were handed the a la carte menu. Our request for the table d’hote was immediately met by a stare halfway between bemused and hostile. We stuck to our guns and were rewarded by the maitre d’ peeling the menu of our hearts’ desire from the glass. Clearly, we were not meant to eat from this carte. He laid down a stringent set of conditions – there was to be no variation, we had to chose three courses from A, B, or C, with no mixing’n’matching. The restaurant’s choice of wine to accompany the dishes was likewise set in stone.

I plumped for menu C, as it contained the magic words ‘sucking pig’.

By the time the dish arrived I was in a high old state of salivation. I stuck the fork in, tasted a morsel and frowned. My tastebuds told me that this was not sucking pig. I hailed the maitre d’ and enquired in friendly fashion “Is this the sucking pig?” He replied in the affirmative. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He turned on his heels and went into the kitchen, returning a moment later to proclaim “Chef says it is a young pig, speciality of the region.”

I recommenced eating. Another mouthful and I was utterly convinced that this was not sucking pig. I summoned the maitre d’ once more. “Any chance we could have a word in private, please?” We stepped outside. “Are you sure this is sucking pig, I asked, firmer this time. “Chef says it is young pig, speciality of the region,” came the pat reply. “Well, Chef is a lying bastard and so are you. This is not sucking pig, is it?” “Chef says….” I cut him short. “This is not sucking pig is it? This is f*cking fish.” “Yes,” he admitted, “It’s fish.” He had the grace to blush.

In my time as a restaurant reviewer and dedicated diner I’ve had some heinous deceptions practised on me. I’ve been palmed off with chicken as guinea fowl; farmed salmon as wild; pork fillet as rose veal. But swordfish masquerading as sucking pig is surely the emperor of all gastro-scams.

I hadn’t eaten swordfish since; that is, until last Bank Holiday Monday when I had dinner at Seapoint. Monkstown’s Crescent used to be a hotbed of decent dining but latterly it’s been pretty mundane. Still, one lives in hope and I’d heard good things about Seapoint from people whose opinions I’d respect. We arrived at the tail end of early bird time, the place was packed and the kitchen clearly under pressure. There wasn’t much of a meet’n’greet and though we were invited to sit at the bar until the earlier couple had vacated our table, no one asked us would we like a drink. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put wet coats and, indeed, no one available to take them so we draped them over spare bar stools when we went to table.

A strategic bowl of rather good bread kept us occupied while the kitchen struggled to get back on terms. Then the starters arrived and from there on in it was all smiles. Sibs took the tian of crab tian, with a celeriac remoulade and a tangy pickled cucumber dressing, beautifully fresh and nicely presented. I went for a big bowl of mussels, having spied the one that went to the adjacent table, steamed Thai-style with coconut, chilli and coriander. We both took fish for mains: she, the pan fried honey and mustard monkfish, ingeniously teamed with spicy spaghetti fritters and a lemon and ginger jus; me, the grilled swordfish, quite a substantial chunk, came accompanied by baked fennel and garlic, a spicy tomato salsa and a lemon olive oil dressing. I was somewhat relieved to find the swordfish wasn’t sucking pig! It also came with chips, good ones too.

The wine list, like the cooking, is eclectic. Unlike the cooking, it’s slightly hit-and-miss. €48 for the less than whelming Pierro LTC sauv/sem really is not on. We shared a bottle of Senorio de Cruces, an Albarino, from Rias Baixas, Spain, crisp and decent, with enough weight to counter the glitzed-up fish dishes.

Sibella picked the winning dessert, a truly excellent lime and ginger crème brulee, served with balsamic and strawberry ice-cream. I opted for the selection of organic Tickety-Moo ice-cream of which I’d heard good things. In truth it was a disappointment, seeming a tad deficient in flavour. This was but a small blemish. Overall, we liked Seapoint for the ambience, adventurous cooking and truly excellent service.

The damage: €111.30, ex-service, for 2 x starters/mains/desserts, 1 coffee, bottle of wine

Verdict: Good to find a restaurant that does fish well.

Rating ****

Seapoint Restaurant, 4 The Crescent, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, 01 6638480

Ray Wings with a spiced beurre noisette

Cooked this for a dinner party in my own rather different take on ‘surf’n’turf’ – the other half was veal sweetbreads coated in sage flour, shallow fried in olive oil and coated at the last minute with a Madeira glaze.

2 large wings of ray, each cut in half

500 ml court bouillon (light stock from onions, celery, carrots, sprig of thyme, seasoning)

for the spiced beurre noisette

1 tsp Sichuan peppers

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped very fine

juice of a lime

1 tsp flour

60g butter

3 tbsp of the court bouillon in which the ray has been cooked

Pre-heat oven to 180 degs C.

Grind the seeds and the ginger in a pestle and mortar. Bring the court bouillon to the boil. Place the ray wings carefully in the pan and cook for 12-15 minutes. Remove and keep warm in oven.

Put just a spot of olive oil in a small pan and fry the spices for a couple of minutes. Add the  flour and a tsp of the butter and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until the ingredients amalgamate and the mixture changes colour to a light brown. Add the stock and the lime juice and cook for another minute. Reserve. Whisk in the rest of the butter just before serving and cook only until the butter turns brown. Plate up the ray and spoon some of the butter over each portion.

Note: You sometimes see ‘skate or ray with black butter’ . This is a misnomer; it’s a plain beurre noisette. It should be brown, not black. Butter cooked to black tastes horrible.

Ouzos

ouzo Surf’n’turf, like many such vaguely vulgar conceits, originated in the USA. It’s believed that the first sighting was at the restaurant in the Seattle ‘Space Needle’ at the 1962 World’s Fair. American food authors Jane and Michael Stern in their ‘Encyclopaedia of Bad Taste’ decreed that the seafood and steak combo epitomizes culinary kitsch. The Sterns say the whole point of the dish is to allow a diner to maximise hedonistic extravagance by permitting him (and yes it is, restaurateurs tell me, largely ‘a boy thing’) to order the two most expensive items on the menu at one and the same time. The surf’n’turf fanatic, they reckon, is motivated not by any concern for taste or food aesthetics, but by a desire to put on a holy show of wealth.

 

Although I consider myself as big an aesthete as any when it comes to culinary matters I too have my vulgar side. Sometimes I poach scallops, lightly, in champagne just for the hell of it. So I made no apologies last night in Ouzos of Dalkey when I bagged the surf’n’turf before Sibella could put her order in.

 

In fairness, acquiring the surf’n’turf here did not involve massive financial outlay. It was on their menu as part of a €24.95 two-courser, grandiosely entitled ‘The Great Crab and Lobster Feast’, available Monday though Saturday from 4-7pm. As you’d expect at this price the surf content was not lobster, it was crab claws which, at least, were fresh, not frozen. The turf element was a char-grilled 10oz sirloin, to which I’ll return later. Lobster did feature large on the menu though: in the chowder; with flakes of crab in the creamy sauce that cuddled the steamed fresh mussels; in the wowser of a lobster and crab claw salad that Sibs picked for her main; and on its own, awaiting selection from the tank in the front window ready to be boiled or char-grilled. For this there was a supplement of €3 per 100g. Given that your average lobster would weigh in at around 700g this would add €21 to your dinner bill, probably still fair value.

 

If my ‘Shellfish Galore’ (Is there a half-baked gnome somewhere locked up in a garret, doomed to spend his days dreaming up naff titles for dishes?) was hugely satisfying, Sibella’s chowder, replete with lumps of lobster, crab claws and prime fish, was sensational. The liquid in the bowl, creamy and nicely seasoned, was without trace of flour or cornstarch. And, lest we forget, a commendation for the excellent bread, three varieties.

 

Sibs had the draw on me with the main course as well. The lobster chunks and the crab claws, this time pan-fried in a lime butter, made a reappearance, accompanied by respectable mixed salad leaves, avocado, buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, the whole bathed in a dressing that leaned to the side of olive oil rather than vinegar. It looked good and tasted better.

 

Brought to table, the surf’n’turf seemed promising, a 10oz slab or sirloin with half a dozen of the aforementioned crab claws perched atop and a dessert spoon’s worth of crisp fried onion rings. A little salad for garnish and a side of chips. There was a choice of accompaniments from wild mushroom sauce, peppercorn sauce and garlic butter. Alas the mushroom sauce, by the time it arrived at table, bore an unappetizing emulsified skin. The chips were soggy and sweet. The latter quality may not, it seems, be the fault of the restaurant. My food writing cohort, Ross Golden Bannon, ventured yesterday that sweet spuds are a phenomenon attributable to climate change. I know the return of blight is but I’m not sure I entirely believe him when it comes to sweetness. I’ve cooked, served and eaten chips made from 5 or 6 varieties in recent months, from waxy Pipers to flour ball Wonders and never once felt as much as a twinge of gingivitis.

 But the biggest let-down was the steak. It bore the criss-cross marks of char-grilling (or do they paint the stripes on?). Personally, I like my steak slapped down hard on a red-hot pan. But that wasn’t the source of my quibble. Even cooked precisely as requested – “the rare side of medium rare”, the generous 10oz sirloin was bereft of any flavour. Under-hung? Maybe. Or was it perchance striploin, sirloin’s more pricey but bland, boring cousin? Strange, usually it’s the surfing side of the equation that lets this dish down.

 The not overly lengthy wine list appears to be from a single source but in all honesty they’ve chosen well. We picked out a Viognier from Southern France, fair value at €24 and the apricot and walnut vibe, nicely restrained, supported all the fishy elements a treat.

 Portions are generous, making it hard to face dessert. In the end we opted for some “Home-made, but not on the premises” ice cream. Flavours were vibrant, especially the strawberry, but the ice cream was not particularly well textured. Abundant ice-crystals are usually a mark of insufficient churning.

 There’s plenty to like about Ouzos. It’s an honest sort of place where they work hard to give value and keep customers happy. Service was friendly and efficient; a tad over-effusive, for a crabby critic who’d had a hard day, but perhaps easy familiarity is what a neighbourhood restaurant is all about.

 The damage: €82.90 ex-service for 2 starters, 2 mains, 3 scoops ice cream, 1 coffee, bottle of wine.

 Verdict: Bright, clean, cheerful restaurant offering good fresh fish and shellfish at reasonable prices. Only order the steak if your tastebuds have gone walkabout. If there has to be background music it’s good to get ‘Astral Weeks’.

 

Rating ***1/2

 

Ouzos, 22 Castle St., Dalkey, Co Dublin Te:01 285 1980