Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Restaurant Review: My Thai Restaurant, The Beacon Hotel, Sandyford, Dublin 18

Dining in My Thai Restaurant in The Beacon Hotel in Sandyford is like opening a rather plain looking gift box and discovering all sorts of wonderful delights inside.

Located on the edge of Sandyford Business District in South Dublin, The Beacon has a rather unprepossessing appearance from the outside but once you enter through the doors, you feel like you have been transported to a different world.

The sumptuous décor makes good use of ambient lighting and reflective surfaces to create a feeling of spaciousness and the look is incredibly appealing. Gauzy floor-to-ceiling curtains divide the reception and bar areas into distinct sections without sacrificing the feeling of space. The overall feeling is one of welcoming comfort.
Chicken Satay
Thai food has become increasingly popular in recent years, probably as a result of increased travel abroad and a desire to try out new cuisines. The best Thai food manages to balance sweet, sour, hot and salty flavours perfectly so that none dominates but all work in harmony together. This can be hard to achieve and requires a deft hand and a true understanding of the ingredients involved. As a huge fan of the flavours of Thai food, I was keen to visit My Thai Restaurant in The Beacon as I had heard some very good reports about the food there.
I had arranged to meet Eric, a friend who lived in Thailand for a few years and knows the food of the country well. While we waited for our table to be ready we decided to have a pre-dinner drink at The Beacon’s Crystal Bar. The beautiful and dramatic looking bar specialises in cocktails and as I have always thought that they pair particularly well with Thai food, we both decided to partake. Unsure about what to order and keen to try something new, we asked our bartender, a very talented mixologist, for a recommendation and we were delighted with the Sandy Sling that she made for us. Containing Opihr Spiced Gin, Crème de Mure – a blackberry flavoured liqueur, fresh lime juice and mint, this was a heady cocktail that was not too sweet.
Duck Spring Rolls
Once seated at our table within a large, comfortable booth, we examined the menu. Divided into easy to navigate sections it included many familiar dishes but also a nice selection of more unusual offerings, including some street food options.
Satay dishes are ubiquitous in Asian restaurants but it is hard to make them memorable. It is important that the meat is marinated for as long as possible before being threaded onto bamboo sticks prior to being grilled. Here the Chicken Satay (€8.00) included tender strips of perfectly cooked chicken were presented in a spicy, aromatic sauce which had lots of texture. All too often, satay sauces are over-processed and more like a gloopy purée, but this one was lovely with enough heat to set the taste buds tingling. I especially loved the inclusion of turmeric which imparted an underlying earthiness to the flavour of the sauce.
Tom Yaam Soup
Eric’s Duck Spring Rolls (€7.00) were equally good and included generous chunks of duck meat. Served with a plum sauce, the spring rolls were extremely well made and wonderfully crispy. There really is nothing more disappointing than a flaccid and greasy spring roll but these were perfect.
We had decided to order a Thai Warm Beef Salad (€9.00) and a bowl of Tom Yaam Soup with Chicken (€8.00) to share between us before our main courses arrived. Whilst both these dishes looked innocent enough, they each had a spicy heat that developed as you ate them. I particularly liked the salad which due to the inclusion of fragrant lemongrass and sharp lemon juice had a refreshing effect on the palate. Similarly, the soup was light to eat, but was packed full of flavours that sat together in a coherent fashion. Both dishes danced on the palate.
Beef Salad
It is said that you can tell how good a Thai restaurant is by the quality of the Pad Thai it serves, so it was inevitable that I was going to choose it for my main course in My Thai. From my first taste, I knew that this version was first-rate. The noodles had been flawlessly cooked so that they didn’t clump together and still retained some ‘bite’ and both the chicken and prawns that were used were juicy to eat. Due to the inclusion of the sweet palm sugar, sour tamarind and hot chillies, Pad Thai is a dish that is all about the careful balancing of different flavours and this was accomplished here. The Pad Thai was garnished with chopped roasted peanuts, fresh coriander and beansprouts which added freshness and textural contrast.
Daging Masak Mareh
For his main course, Eric decided on the Daging Masak Mareh (€20) which he chose from the Street Food Section of the menu. Here diced beef had been slowly cooked in a sauce made from tomato paste, chilli, ginger and spring onion to create a multifaceted dish that was delicious. Another fabulous dish, I loved the way the aromatic heat of the ginger gave way to the spiciness of the chilli. Served with boiled rice, this was so comforting yet interesting to eat and I would highly recommend it.
Although our appetites were well satisfied at this stage, we decided to share a dessert and thoroughly enjoyed the Beacon Key Lime Pie (€7.00). Although not made on the premises, this was a delicious dessert and a lovely end to our meal.
To accompany our meal we drank a bottle of Eco Pinot Noir Organic from Chile (€33) which was light enough to enjoy with spicy food but with its nose of dark cherry fruits was a good pairing with the spices of the food.
Key Lime Pie
My meal was delicious and I think that Chef San and the team at The Beacon are serving quality Thai food in the My Thai Restaurant. A real effort has been made to replicate the authentic flavours of Thai food and this is to be applauded. The menu contains all the familiar dishes that you would expect to see but there are also some pleasant surprises along the way. Service on the night we dined was exemplary and made our meal all the more enjoyable.
My Thai Restaurant
The Beacon
Beacon Court
Sandyford Business District
Dublin 18
Telephone: 01-6437064
This Review first appeared in TheTaste.ie
Pad Thai

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Restaurant Review: Fenn's Quay, Sheare's Street, Cork

I have a real soft spot for Cork and love visiting the city and county whenever I can. Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to do this as often as I would like so I try to pack in as much as I can when I am there. This inevitably includes dining in previously unvisited restaurants. Top of my list on a recent whistle stop tour of the Rebel County was Fenn’s Quay Restaurant which is headed up by talented Chef/Proprietor Kate Lawlor.

The restaurant is conveniently located in the heart of the city; not far from the Courthouse and Cork’s main shopping areas. As I arrived I was greeted warmly and shown to my table in the simply decorated but nonetheless comfortable dining room. Colourful paintings by Debbie Chapman provide attractive bursts of colour on the walls and add to the overall welcoming feel of the restaurant which was busy on the Saturday evening that I dined there.
Bread Selection
The menu, jauntily named Cork on a Fork @ Fenn’s Quay, includes a good selection of dishes with broad appeal, many of which are coeliac friendly. Where possible, ingredients have been sourced locally from the nearby English Market and from food producers in Cork. This is not a menu that is overly influenced by current food fads or fashions but instead confidently promotes foods that have the nostalgia factor.
A no-nonsense selection of bread was first to arrive and included a moist Brown Soda and a particularly tasty White Bread. The latter was sliced thickly and reminded me of a far superior version of the mass-produced batch loaf I used to love when I was a child. Generously spread with salty butter both the breads were delicious.
Spiced Beef Croquettes
Although intrigued by the Chicken Liver Brûlée with Crozier Blue Cheese Ice-Cream, I decided to go for the starter of Spiced Beef Croquettes with Celeriac Remoulade (€9.00). Spiced Beef is synonymous with Christmas in Cork and is something that I am rather partial to at any time of the year. Fenn’s Quay sources the salt beef from local craft butcher Tom Durcan and uses it in shredded form to make these moreish bread-crumbed and deep-fried croquettes. This was a filling starter, packed full of flavoursome and succulent meat and was comforting to eat. The accompanying celeriac remoulade was a successful pairing and had enough piquancy to cut through the overall richness of the dish.
Spiced Walnuts
In the mood for spoiling myself, I also ordered the Spiced Walnuts & Yoghurt Dip (€3.00). I’m a huge fan of walnuts and think that they are much underused so it was wonderful to see them showcased here. Walnuts can easily go rancid if stored for too long but these were perfect. I loved how the slightly sweet but hot spices mitigated the underlying tannic flavour of the nuts whilst the cooling properties of the yoghurt dip lessened their fiery heat. This was a simple but clever idea that was well executed.
As soon as I saw that O’Mahony’s Collar of Bacon with Savoy Cabbage, Parsnip Purée & Spiced Walnuts (€17.00) was offered as a main course on the menu, I knew that I would have to choose it. Many an Irish family was reared on bacon and cabbage and as it is a dish rarely seen on restaurant menus I felt compelled to order it. I was dying to see how it would be presented and was not disappointed when it arrived. At first glance this appeared to be a ‘rustic’ dish but it was far more nuanced than that would suggest. Presented in a large bowl with shredded savoy cabbage, peas and chunks of swede along with some parsnip purée, I loved the tenderness of the melt-in-the-mouth meat. As it sat on its serving plate, the meat released some of the juices from the cooking water/stock it had been prepared in which created a faintly salty broth that took on some of the spicy flavour of the nuts that the dish had been garnished with. Each mouthful was a joy to eat. To accompany it, I also ordered a side of Smoked Gubbeen Mash (€3.50). If nothing else persuades you to get yourself down to Fenn’s Quay, this potato dish should do so because it was sinfully good and with its smoked flavour it provided a further flavour dimension when eaten with the bacon and cabbage.
Collar of Bacon
Although my appetite was well sated at this stage, I decided that it would be remiss of me not to sample at least one of the desserts and I was thrilled with my choice of Mimi’s Cork Dry Gin & Tonic Dessert (€6.00) I am not quite sure who Mimi is, but this was a lovely interpretation of a classic G&T in dessert form. Made up of a gin jelly topped with a layer of lemon curd and a tonic sorbet, I enjoyed the quirkiness of the dessert.  The previous courses had been filling but this was a light and refreshing way to end the meal.
Gubbeen Mash
I also decided to try some of the Fenn’s Quay Luxury Dark Chocolates (€4.00) which were fabulous ganache truffles that were rich and appropriately indulgent. Each bite made me feel as if I was doing something a little forbidden and naughty as they were so incredibly delicious. Despite my best attempts I was only able to eat one immediately after my meal so my waitress packed the others up for me to bring when leaving.
Throughout my meal, service was friendly and attentive without being stifling which can make one feel very self-conscious especially when dining alone as I happened to be. Sometimes, you almost feel as if the staff pay you extra attention because they feel sorry for you. This was not the case here; service was perfectly pitched and complemented the general ambience of Fenn’s Quay.
Mimi's Cork Dry Gin & Tonic
There was something so honest and unpretentious about the food in Fenn’s Quay which I found irresistible. This is food that proudly displays its Irish heritage and celebrates the quality and variety of ingredients available in this country and specifically in Cork. For me, this was Irish soul-food; food that nourishes and pleases and makes you feel that all is right with the world.
Fenn’s Quay Restaurant
No. 5 Fenn’s Quay
Sheare’s Street
Telephone: 021-4279527
This review first appeared in TheTaste.ie
Chocolate Truffles

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Review: Afternoon Tea in Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr, County Cork

It has been a mission of mine over the past year to seek out the best places in Ireland to have afternoon tea. With this in mind, I recently decided to take a short break at Castlemartyr Resort and was delighted to discover that afternoon tea is available there. Needless to say, I immediately booked myself a table and was looking forward to trying it out during my visit.
The 5 star hotel and resort is set in beautiful grounds just outside the bustling village with which it shares its name. Located within driving distance of Cork City and many of the county’s sights and attractions, Castlemartyr is the perfect place to stay in if you want some relaxing time-out in a luxurious and sophisticated setting.
Pimm's Cocktail
The hotel consists of the original 18th century manor house and a modern wing which contains the bedrooms. It has been thoughtfully restored so that the older buildings blend seamlessly with the newer architecture and is tastefully decorated throughout. Adjacent to the hotel are the ruins of the ancient castle dating from 1210 which add to the resort’s overall feeling of historical grandeur.
Named after the wife of one of Castlemartyr’s previous owners, Lady Fitzgerald’s Afternoon Tea is served in the Bell Tower Restaurant which has all the understated elegance of the finest period dining rooms. It is immediately apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into all aspects of the afternoon tea. Everything, from the design of the menu to the choice of teas, cocktails and food offered and the table settings, has been carefully considered to ensure that guests have the best experience possible. Top wedding/event planner Peter Kelly, AKA ‘Franc’ was enlisted by management to advise on the re-launch of the afternoon tea in 2014 and he has helped create something that is truly memorable.
Selection of Sandwiches
To kick off, I decided to order a Pimm’s Classic Cocktail which I happily sipped on whilst I decided which tea to choose.  Made in a highball glass with Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, lemonade, mint, orange and garnished with fresh cucumber, this is a wonderfully aromatic and refreshing drink. Although usually associated with summer, it was a lovely curtain-opener for my afternoon tea.
A good selection of loose leaf teas is available. Supplied by Ronnefeldt, the choice includes Irish Afternoon Tea, Darjeeling Summertime, Superior Gyokuro Green Tea, Smoked China and the intriguingly entitled Light & Late. Separately, Barry’s Classic Blend loose leaf tea which hails from Cork is also available but in the end I plumped for a pot of Castlemartyr Assam which has been specially blended for Castlemartyr. With its deep amber colour and strong complex flavours this is a tea that is full of character and it stood up well to both the sweet and savoury elements of the afternoon tea.
Poached Salmon Sandwich
To start with a Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries & Honeycomb was served. Presented in a small glass cup, this was an absolutely beautiful dish to look at. Panna cottas can be tricky to get right, but this one was perfect and had a fabulous silky texture. Topped with a thin layer of strawberry consommé, diced strawberries and garnished with basil cress and honeycomb, this was a dish that despite its delicacy packed a real flavour punch.
Scone, Jam & Clotted Cream
I love the moment during afternoon tea when the cake stand arrives laden with bite-sized sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries and was delighted with the range of goodies presented to me. Too often sandwiches are an afterthought with more effort put into the presentation and flavour profiles of the pastries. The sandwiches here were innovative interpretations of traditional offerings. Chicken, Rocket & Wholegrain Mustard on Soft Wholegrain Bread was very enjoyable and generously filled with small chunks of moist chicken. I also loved the classic Cucumber & Cream Cheese Sandwich served on white bread but my favourite was the Baked Brioche Roll with Egg Mayonnaise & Sun-Dried Tomato. The well-made brioche roll was rich but still managed to feel light to eat. It was perfect with its creamy egg mayonnaise filling. The final sandwich - Poached Salmon with Herb-Infused Mayonnaise, Boiled Quail’s Egg & Trout Caviar on a Squid Ink Bread was visually spectacular and although the ingredients used might not be to all tastes, I loved it. The squid ink bread with its subtle taste of the sea really enhanced the flavour of the poached salmon to create a sandwich that was unusual yet somehow very Irish.
Next up was the ‘Baker’s Tier’ which included Homemade Scone with Clotted Cream and Homemade Strawberry Prosecco Jam. The scones had been made with the required light touch and were lovely to eat liberally spread with clotted cream and the intensely flavoured strawberry jam. I loved the fact that they were delivered slightly warm to the table. This is the best way to eat scones and was a nice touch. A flavoursome Banana Bread Finger was simple but well executed as was the Lemon & Poppyseed Finger. Both of these were made with a light sponge cake base and tasted wonderful nibbled on between sips of tea.

The final tier of the cake-stand, a selection of treats prepared by the pastry chef, was based around the theme of raspberries and included a Raspberry Macaron, a White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Purée & Chocolate Waffle Cone and a Chocolate Ganache Tart topped with Raspberry Mousse and a solitary fresh raspberry. It is impossible to pick which was my favourite as they were all exquisite and really demonstrated how versatile raspberries can be. Also included on the plate was the most delightful Crème Brûlée Swiss Roll which so successful captured the essence of that classic dessert. I loved the caramelized outside layer and could have eaten slice after slice of it.
Crème Brulee Swiss Roll
The afternoon tea in Castlemartyr is enchanting and you really feel like you are being pampered from within. At €29 per person (my Pimm’s Cocktail was an additional €11), I think that it is well-priced for what you get and it is definitely one of the best afternoon teas that I have had. I really felt like I was royalty for a couple of hours and loved everything about it. A Children’s Afternoon Tea is also available at €15 and includes sandwiches, a personalised chocolate chip cookie, sweet treats and Hot Chocolate or a Milk Shake.
Castlemartyr Resort
County Cork
Telephone: 021-4219000
This review first appeared in TheTaste.ie

Raspberry Tart


Friday, 4 December 2015

Restaurant Review: Thyme Restaurant, Athlone, County Westmeath

I think that there is a lot of exciting food being cooked and served in Irish restaurants at the moment. I find it particularly encouraging that this is not something that is confined to city restaurants but that good food can be found in many places around the country.
My first introduction to Athlone in County Westmeath was as a child travelling by car from Dublin to Galway on a family holiday. This was before the town bypass was built and I remember being stuck for over an hour in traffic, trying to make our way over the bridge that crossed the River Shannon. Later on as a 17 year-old sitting the Leaving Certificate, Athlone held a certain significance as it was the location from where the Department of Education posted results to students who had sat the exams. Little did I think that I would eventually end up living in the town before getting married and moving to neighbouring Roscommon.
Living relatively near to Athlone, I have dined in Thyme a number of times and have always enjoyed eating there. The restaurant is located in the heart of the town on Strand Street, just a few yards from the banks of the River Shannon. It was opened in 2007 by Chef John Coffey and his wife Tara with the aim of highlighting the wonderful produce available in the midlands. The restaurant is popular with locals and it is not hard to see why as the food is top-notch.
Two menus are offered; an À La Carte and also a Value Menu which offers 2 courses for €24.95 or 3 courses for €29.95. In truth both are practically the same with a couple of extra choice for starters and mains on the À La Carte. The menus contain a nice selection of interesting dishes, many of which are coeliac adaptable.
Pork Cheek
As is the norm, breads were the first to arrive and included a Brown Soda Bread with Walnuts, a Herb Bread and a couple of slices of a rather good White Bread. All were well-made and enjoyable to eat.
Simon, my dining companion for the evening, decided to go for the Value Menu and was delighted with his Crispy Slow-Cooked Horan’s Pork Cheek, Pickled Apple Purée, Lough Boora Kohlrabi Remoulade & Hazelnut starter. Beautifully presented, the pork cheek had been used to make a croquette that was wonderfully crispy on the outside. The meat inside was soft and moist. The accompanying apple purée and the kohlrabi remoulade complimented it perfectly. The addition of toasted hazelnuts added another layer of flavour and texture whilst some matchsticks of fresh apple cut through the overall richness of the dish.
Wild Pigeon
My starter, ordered from the À La Carte menu, was equally delicious. Although initially tempted by the Pan-fried Mackerel, Quince, Yoghurt, Celery, Toasted Sunflower seeds (€8.95), I instead decided on the Pan-Roasted Breast of Wild Irish Wood Pigeon, Red Cabbage, Parsnip and Pickled Plum (€9.90). From the moment it arrived, I knew that I had made a good choice. John Coffey has a real eye for presentation and this was a real painting on a plate. The wood pigeon was beautifully cooked, well-rested and consequently beautifully tender to eat. I loved the slight crunch and gentle astringency of the red cabbage garnish whilst the pickled plum purée was an inspired pairing. I loved every mouthful.
Shin of Beef
Simon’s main course of Slow-Cooked Gillivan’s Shin of Beef, Horseradish Creamed Potatoes, Cavolo Nero, Carrot and Parsnip, Crispy Shallot was a hearty dish and like his starter showcased a cheaper cut of meat to best effect. Slowly cooked until soft and tender, it yielded easily against the gentlest of pressure applied by the fork. Cavolo Nero or ‘Italian Kale’ is a type of loose leaf cabbage with a rich iron flavour. Gently sautéed in some butter, it was a lovely accompaniment to the shin of beef. I also loved the horseradish potatoes and the textural contrast of the crispy shallots. A deep, rich beef gravy completed the dish and brought everything together.
My Irish Rose Veal Loin, Smoked Gubbeen Cheese Sauce, Spatzle with Pigs on the Green Pancetta, Cauliflower, Grilled Tomato, Veal Vinaigrette was complex and full of rich autumnal flavours. I was thrilled to see that spatzle – a type of German pasta or tiny dumpling had been included. Here the spatzle took on the flavour of the pancetta it had been cooked with and together they worked to intensify the sweet flavour of the veal. For me, the cauliflower, although delicious, was unnecessary. I thought that this was an unusual, innovative dish, albeit quite sizeable and I enjoyed it tremendously.
A surprise pre-dessert of Mango Parfait, Mango Purée, Pineapple & Coconut managed to be light and rich at the same time. Full of beautifully balanced flavours, we felt as if we had been transported to a tropical paradise! Parfaits can be difficult to get right but this one possessed a fabulous velvety texture and we couldn’t get enough of it.
To finish we decided to share a Vanilla Panna Cotta, Poached Pears, Stem Ginger Ice-Cream, Crispy Ginger Biscuits. If this was the last thing that I ever ate, I would die a happy woman. It was superb. Every element had been executed perfectly so that each retained its character yet worked so well with the others. I loved the toasted marshmallow which decorated the plate and the combination of poached pears with the stem ginger ice-cream was heavenly. What a way to finish a meal!
Mango Parfait
There was so much to like about the food in Thyme. John Coffey’s cooking is assured and as member of Euro Toques – The European community of chefs and cooks, his commitment to using quality produce in season sourced from local suppliers is evident on every plate of food served. Service throughout the meal was friendly and attentive. As we ventured out into the cold and windy night, we left knowing that we would definitely return again soon.
A glass of house red and a large bottle of sparkling water brought the bill for our meal to just under €75 which included a tip.
Thyme Restaurant
Strand Street
County Westmeath
Telephone: 0906-478850
This review first appeared in TheTaste.ie
Vanilla Panna Cotta