Category: Restaurant Review

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar

G.D. Vajra Dinner at Ely Wine Bar With Giuseppe Vaira

Last month my wife and I were invited to a wine dinner at Ely Wine Bar, my favourite venue in Dublin and one which I often mention on Frankly Wines and on Twitter.  It was jointly hosted with importers Liberty Wines and the wines were presented by third generation family member Giuseppe Vaira.

Magical food was prepared by Ryan Stringer and this team, with Ely Wine Director Ian Brosnan the man with the bottles.

Just to whet your appetite here is the menu:

Menu 2

 

Background to G.D. Vajra

The owner and winemaker is Aldo Vaira who established the firm in 1972, naming it after his father Giuseppe Domenico.  The family had been growing grapes since the 1920s but made the jump to producing wine.  Since then they have gradually expanded their holdings in the area around Barolo to 60 hectares.

Winemaking is traditional, in that the grapes are not left on the vine until very ripe and oak is used judiciously, but there is no overt woodiness and no faults, just fruit that speaks for itself and its birthplace.

Aperitif: 

G.D. Vajra “Pétracine” Langhe Riesling 2012 (12.5%, 3.8 g/L RS)

Vajra Riesling

Italian Riesling?  Unexpected or downright unusual, but the proof of the pudding is on the palate. Lemon and lime with perhaps a touch of stone fruit on the nose.  Very zesty, with lemon and apple flavours.  It does fall off a little after the amazing attack, but then mellows out for a very long finish.  There’s a tiny touch of sweetness in there, but it definitely falls into the “dry” category.  Would compare well to many Alsace Rieslings (which is high praise from me!)

Crispy pig tail, black pudding, caramelised onion, carrot & pine shoot oil

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The pig tail was tasty but it was the combination of the black pudding, the caramelised onion and carrot which ruled the dish.  Beautifully presented  it was appealing to both the eye and the palate. It also worked well with the crisp wines accompanying it.

G.D. Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba DOCG 2015 (13.0% – available by the glass at Ely Place)

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Dolcetto is often looked down upon, especially by outsiders, but it’s what the locals often choose to drink themselves.  Although the name alludes to sweetness, it’s nearly always a dry red wine with some tannin and moderate acidity as a frame for red cherry and red berry fruit.  Fabulous aromas of violets mean you will be nosing the glass for an age before tasting – though once you have tasted you will want more!

G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba DOC 2013 (13.5%)

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Unlike wines made under the Barbera d’Asti DOC regulations (which allow up to 15% of other local grapes, this Barbera d’Alba is a 100% varietal.  (Also see the new Nizza DOCG within Asti which is always 100% Barbera.)  This is a more powerful wine than the Dolcetto, blended from the fruit of six different vineyards.  The key notes for me were chocolate, berries and earthiness – a great match with the starter!

Organic Burren lamb belly, potato, samphire & lamb jus

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Occasionally ordering lamb belly can lead to a disappointingly greasy result. This dish offered anything but, with tender rolled pink lamb belly. The samphire (a first for us) added saltiness to both the potatoes and the lamb and really brought balance to the plate. The jus was sweeter than expected and would have been enjoyed more if there was a little more on the plate, because it was that good.

G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely Place)

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The Albe is Vajra’s entry level Barolo with grapes sourced from several vineyards.  The nose is predominantly red fruit and floral, with pine resin / eucalyptus in the background – definitely fruits of the forest!  Although it spent several years in barrel before release, it’s not at all woody;  tannins are present but not overbearing.  For such a relatively young wine, this is a minor miracle (from my limited experience of quality Barolo!)

G.D. Vajra “Ravera” Barolo DOCG 2011 (14.5% – available at Ely CHQ)

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Ravera is a “Cru” or designated vineyard in the south west of Barolo, with a free-draining mix of clay and loose sand.  Although vines were first planted in 2001, the wines were labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo until 2008.  After 3 weeks of fermentation, the wine spent 42 months in Slavonian (Croatian) oak barrels.

The star of the show!  A full on black fruit experience on both the nose and palate – lovely juicy blueberries and blackberries, with a mineral edginess.  So well put together – rich yet delicate; poised…once the wine touches your lips you can’t wait for it to sate your taste buds.

Considering the young age of the wine and time spent in barrel this is a remarkably approachable wine already.  It seems Vajra have mastered the art of complex wines that don’t need a decade and a half to be ready!

Custard & rhubarb tart, poached rhubarb, lemon meringue
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The rhubarb and custard tart was smooth in texture and had plenty of zing.  The delicious, slightly chewy meringue added texture and the coulis of rhubarb cut through any over-sweetness.  Dessert offered texture and tang and was a winner.

G.D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2015 (5.5%, 143 g/L RS)

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Sometimes the icing on the cake can be a little bit too much – but not in this case!  Moscato d’Asti is naturally sparkling from the CO2 produced by the fermentation process.  This is stopped early – by bringing the temperature down to stop the yeast from functioning – so that only some of the sugar has turned to alcohol.  Sort of like the opposite to Holsten Pils, if you remember those Griff Rhys-Jones adverts.  The result is an avalanche of fruit – apricot, peach, mango, pear, passionfruit… it just goes on and on.  The dessert it accompanied was an inspired choice, as the acidity in the rhubarb and the Moscato were a match then the sweetness of the meringue was equalled by the residual sugar in the wine.

 

Thanks to my wife Jess who wrote the food sections above!

Great food, great wine, great company – this was an evening to remember!

 

New Trafford

vineyard

New Trafford: De Trafford & Sijnn Winemaker’s Dinner @ Stanley’s, Dublin

Last month I had the pleasure to attend a fantastic Winemaker’s dinner at Stanley’s Restaurant in Dublin. Regular readers may remember a previous dinner event I attended there with Yves Cuilleron and his wines.  On this occasion it was the wines of David Trafford, co-hosted by importer/distributor Dr Eilis Cryan, the lady behind Kinnegar Wines of Galway.

David was originally an architect – with a few clues in the names and designs of his wines – but felt compelled to make wine in such an amazing land as Stellenbosch.  Many years later, he set up Sijnn in a hamlet down near the coast.

This tasting featured wines from both wineries, plus a starter from another Kinnegar producer:

Aperitif
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011
Thelema Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blancs 2011

For those not familiar with the term, Méthode Cap Classique (or MCC for short) is a traditional-method sparkling wine from South Africa.  Thelema are much better known for their excellent still wines, particularly their reds, but this is a serious effort.

As the Blanc de Blancs name suggests this is 100% Chardonnay.  Fulfilling the same requirements as vintage Champagne, it was (second) bottle fermented and left on the lees for three years.  It was disgorged in Sept/Oct 2014 and given an “extra-brut” dosage of 3.2 g/l.

It’s a lovely fresh, citrus style, perfect as an aperitif at this time in its life.  With a few more years it should mellow out so that more mature fruit develop and the acidity softens a little to let the bready characters from time on the lees show through.

Amuse Bouche

Crab and radish amuse bouche
Crab and radish amuse bouche

One of the things that great chefs can do is challenge your preconceptions.  The amuse bouche had radish which I don’t particularly care for, but with crab it was just heavenly.

Marinated scallops, cucumber, bergamot, fois gras butter

Marinated scallops starter
Marinated scallops starter

I love scallops, but I’m no fan of cucumber – I’ll pick it out of salads and send back a G&T that someone has stupidly infected with cucumber.  However, I have now become a convert of cucumber and mint soup – it was served in a mini tea cup on the side and was just divine!

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012 & Sijnn White 2012

De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
De Trafford Chenin Blanc 2012
Sijnn White 2012
Sijnn White 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chenin Blanc is a versatile grape, capable of playing several different roles, though always with its trademark high acidity.  Personally, I prefer it when it has either (1) a bit of oak, (2) a bit of age or (3) a bit of sugar; without these it can be too simple or too harsh for my taste.

David Trafford has been making Chenin for twenty years.  As with all his wines only wild yeast is used for his De Trafford Chenin, and then around 15% is matured in new oak barrels.  Bingo!  The oak adds a bit of roundness and texture, but it’s not an overtly oaky wine – it’s still fresh.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked by adding a dash of sulphur and the low cellar temperature.

The Sijnn White is also Chenin based, but as well as 20% oak maturation, it also has another trick up its sleeve: Viognier!  Around 16% of the blend is Viognier which gives stunning aromatics and a tempting texture.  I now have to add a fourth type of Chenin to my list!

Guinea fowl, green asparagus, black bacon, carbonara jus

Guinea fowl main course
Guinea fowl main course

There were no weird surprises here as I’m a fan of guinea fowl.  It was tasty and succulent, with lots of additional interesting flavours from the accompaniments. Asparagus and green beans provided a contrast against the richness of the meat.

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010 & Sijnn 2010

De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
De Trafford Elevation 393 2010
Sijnn Red 2010
Sijnn Red 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many attendees I expect this was the main (vinous) event of the evening.

Elevation is De Trafford’s flagship red.  As the 2010 is such an approachable, ripe style it has been released ahead of the 2009 which needs more time to mellow out.  This is partially due to the blend of the 2010 which was a third each of Cab Sauv, Merlot and Shiraz – there is usually a higher proportion of Cabernet in the blend which makes it a little more austere.

Although definitely fruity, the Elevation had more of a savoury aspect than many Australian Cabernet blends, for example.  South Africa really does straddle the boundaries of Old and New World.

The Sijnn Red was an altogether different blend, mainly a cross between the Rhône and the Douro: Syrah 41%; Touriga Nacional 27%; Mourvèdre 18%; Trincadeira 10%; Cabernet Sauvignon 4%.  And funnily enough, both of these influences were apparent in the finished blend – the spice, blackberry and blueberry of the Rhône were joined by the plum and prune of the Douro.  It’s quite a big wine, but totally delicious.

A fantastic wine geek fact that David gave us was that Mourvèdre needs more vine age than most other varieties before it begins producing quality fruit in reasonable quantities.

Rooibos tea custard tart, guava sorbet

Rooibos tea custard tart dessert
Rooibos tea custard tart dessert

This was so tasty that I barely managed to take a snap before wolfing it down!  You may recognise rooibos as a South African speciality – it’s a herbal tea, though often taken with milk and sugar down there.

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

De Trafford Straw Wine 2006
De Trafford Straw Wine 2006

This might be something of a mystery for many – a straw wine?  The name is a translation of Vin de Paille – pronounced “van de pie” – which is the French term for this style of dessert wine.

It starts as 100% Chenin Blanc grapes, picked at normal ripeness.  The grapes are then dried outside on mats for three weeks, partially in the shade and partially in the sun.  The must takes a whole year to ferment, followed by two years maturation in 225L barriques (60% French and 40% American).

The finished product has a high 230 g/L of residual sugar, but with a streak of Chenin acidity it remains balanced and far from cloying.

Thanks to David, Eilis, Morgan, Stephen, Patrick and all the staff at Stanley’s for a wonderful evening!

Stanley, Andrew and Yves

Stanley, Andrew and Yves

Stanley's of St. Andrew's Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)
Stanley’s of St. Andrew’s Street (Photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy)

In February I was delighted to accept an invitation to an exciting wine and food event at Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar on St Andrew’s Street in Dublin.  The wines were from Northern Rhône star Yves Cuilleron, which gives us a full house of names.

The wines were selected by Wine Director Morgan Vanderkamer and introduced by Yves himself.  As one of the few other French speakers I was given the honour of occasional interpreter.  The amazing menu was put together by proprietor & Head Chef Stephen McArdle (nickname Stanley!) who takes inspiration from French cuisine in particular.

Cave Yves Cuilleron

Yves Cuilleron
Yves Cuilleron at home

Yves elucidates the history behind his family vineyards on his website but, en bref, he took over the family vineyards when his uncle retired in 1987 – he surprised his relatives by throwing himself into the family business.  He has constantly innovated and invested since then, building a new cellar then later a new winery, and expanding his vineyards across most of the northern Rhône’s appellations.

Stone and earthworks
Stone and earthwork terrace to help stop soil erosion

For around ten years, Cuilleron wines have been brought into Ireland by Le Caveau.

Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar

Stanley’s has a wine bar on the ground floor, with a well-curated and interesting list by the bottle and by the glass.  Where else could you try a mini-flight of skin contact orange wines?

Stanley's Wine Bar
Stanley’s Wine Bar with super-quick barman

Upstairs is the main dining room – light and airy during the day but feeling more sophisticated in the evening.  The top floor has also been made available as a private dining room (no photos yet, it’s that new!)

Light feature
Light feature

The faux-military portraits are great talking points.

Portraits
Portraits – isn’t that….

So now we’ve set the scene and done a bit of a guided tour, down to business with the food and wine!

Canapés

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2012

Yves Cuilleron Marsanne
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne

This is a simple wine made to be drunk young, but is very approachable.  I was lucky enough (by virtue of my linguistics) to be able to taste the single bottle of 2012 available. There’s fresh peach and a hint of honey with a touch of breadiness from time on the lees.

Amuse Bouche
Yves Cuilleron Marsanne IGP Collines Rhodaniennes 2013

For his IGP wines, Yves tries to bring out the characteristics of the grape, which of course can be stated on the label for IGP wines but not for AOP wines.  Marsanne is often partnered with Roussanne in the northern Rhône but here it shines on its own.

Wild Irish rabbit, foie gras parfait, carrot, pistachio, pain d’epices
Yves Cuilleron AOP Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012
Yves Cuilleron Cornas “Le Village” 2012

Cornas is a mono-cépage wine, i.e. it’s a 100% varietal under AOP regulations – and that variety is Syrah. Until relatively recently, Cornas wines were often rough round the edges, euphemistically termed “rustic”.  They needed time in the bottle to soften up, and you just had to hope that there was enough fruit left by then.

Yves’s Cornas is modern, clean and fruity, without being “manufactured”.  There’s power here but it’s from intensity of flavour rather than high alcohol.  Black cherry, blackberry and plum combine with tobacco and spice – the latter particularly hitting it off with the gingerbread.

When it comes to foodstuffs, some people can be funny buggers.  Unfortunately, I’m one of them – and rabbit is never on the menu in my house.  Out of respect for my hosts and fellow dinners I tried the dish – and was astounded!  I’ve been missing out on delicious things like this for years!  Bunny owners better put some good latches on your hutches!

Venison loin, cauliflower, apricot, truffle potato purée
Yves Cuilleron AOP Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009
Yves Cuilleron Côte Rôtie “Madinières” 2009

Up to 20% Viognier is permitted in the red wines of this appellation, as long as the grapes are cofermented, though in practice it is rarely that high.  Traditionally Côte Rôtie is split between the Côte Brune in the north with dark, iron-rich schist and the Côte Blonde in the south with pale granite and schist soil.  Yves is more a believer in the importance of each vineyard’s aspect, i.e. which direction it faces.

2009 was a very good, warm vintage across much of France, including the northern Rhône.  This comes through in power, warmth and fruit – venturing more into the red fruit part of the spectrum than the Cornas.  There’s also both floral and savoury notes on the nose – sounds like quite a contradiction, but lovel – and an amazing match with the rich venison!

Extra mature Cashel blue, walnut toast, celery, salted caramel
Yves Cuilleron AOC Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Moelleux “Ayguets” 2007

This is a sweet, Late Harvest style with some botrytis (noble rot).  The semi-dessicated grapes are hand-picked with several sorting stages from mid-October to mid-November, then pressed and left to settle.

It has around 100 g/L of residual sugar, but is soft and soothing without being cloying.  A simple rule of thumb for dessert wines is, does the acidity balance the sugar?  And in this case, undoubtedly yes!

As regular readers will know I’m far from a cheese fan myself, but I was told the Cashel Blue was lovely and went well with the Condrieu.  I can attest, however, that the latter was lovely with the salted caramel.

Mascarpone, white chocolate, pear
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “La Petite Côte” 2013

Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013
Yves Cuilleron Condrieu “la Petite Côte” 2013

This is the sort of wonderfully rich wine that a novice taster might think was sweet – it isn’t, but shows apparent sweetness due to abundant fruit and a slight oiliness in the mouth. It’s dry but not Sahara dry.

It was something of a bold selection – moving back to a dry wine to accompany dessert – but it worked because the dessert wasn’t super sweet, with acidity from the pear, and the honeyed notes from the wine.

Many thanks to Patrick, Stephen, Morgan and Yves for a fantastic evening!

Restaurant Review: Mourne Seafood bar, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin

Mourne Seafood Bar Exterior
Mourne Seafood Bar Exterior

Originally in Belfast, Mourne Seafood Bar also has venues in Dundrum (the other Dundrum, not the one in south Dublin) and at Grand Canal Dock close to the Liffey.  Considering the size, importance and location of Dublin there are very few seafood restaurants here, so this is a welcome addition.

Mourne also has an excellent wine list, with plenty of red wines which might surprise some.  My review will concentrate on the liquids and then my friend Jayne will give an account of her visit.

A Wino’s View

Mourne Seafood Bar interior, looking over Grand Canal Dock
Mourne Seafood Bar interior, looking over Grand Canal Dock

I’m not very adventurous when it comes to seafood – fish and chips will do me just fine most of the time.  As it happens Mourne do the best fish and chips that I’ve tasted in any restaurant in Dublin, and the portions are fantastic, so I tend to stick to what I know and like.

On a recent visit I did venture slightly off piste and tried the Chowder (excellent) and the Moules Provençales (excellent and filling).  If you like seafood you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

So now I will move onto some of the wines I’ve tried and loved:

Sartarelli Verdicchio Spumante, Marche, Italy

Sartarelli Verdicchio Spumante Brut NV
Sartarelli Verdicchio Spumante Brut NV

In the April edition of TheTaste.ie I reviewed the still Verdicchio from this producer as it was poured at the Ely BIG Tasting in March, and it was a winner.  By happenstance the still wine was only there by accident, it was this Spumante which was supposed to be shown.

Not to miss out I tried it at Mourne and was very impressed.  It’s a proper wine, with plenty of zippy acidity and citrus flavour to serve as an aperitif, with seafood (makes sense!) or on its own.

La Piuma “Terre di Chieti” Pecorino, Marche, Italy

La Piuma “Terre di Chieti” Pecorino, Marche
La Piuma “Terre di Chieti” Pecorino, Marche

As a renowned cheese hater I was obviously wary of something with “Pecorino” on the label, but the beauty of wines-by-the-glass means you don’t have to take a chance on a whole bottle.  There’s flowers, soft stone fruit and racy acidity, plus a little more texture and interest than you get from everyday Italian whites.

I would be interested to see how this ages.  Take the plunge and try this wine!

Soalheiro “Allo”Alvarinho & Loureiro, Vinho Regional Minho, Portugal

 Alvarinho/Loureiro
Quinta de Soalheiro Vinho Regional Minho Allo

To be clear: this is nothing to do with Michelle from the Resistance, Réné or the Fallen Madonna with the…erm…you know whats.

This is a delicious white wine from the Vinho Verde area of northern Portugal, close to the border with Galicia.  The main difference from the Vinho Verde DOC and Minho VR is that the latter may contain non indigenous grapes – often Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.

This bottle is a blend of two local varieties, Alvarinho (better known as Albariño in Rias Baixas and Loureiro, and for my palate it knocks spots off many more expensive wines. This does well with seafood but has enough fruity characters to be quaffed on its own.

The same crowd do a fantastic sparkling Alvarinho which I reviewed here

Domaine Octavie, Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine, France

Domaine Octavie Sauvignon de Touraine
Domaine Octavie Sauvignon de Touraine

Touraine is a reliable, easy-drinking and food-friendly wine from the area around the city of Tours in the Loire Valley.  It comes in red, rosé and white versions and can be made from a dozen permitted grapes.  Helpfully, those made from Sauvignon Blanc usually display it on the front label, still quite unusual for French wines.

Although reliable, Sauvignon de Touraine can be a bit sharp and acidic at times.  This, however, has a depth of flavour rarely encountered in the area – it could easily pass for a more expensive neighbour from Sancerre.  It’s possibly the best Touraine I’ve ever tasted.

Verdict

Taste The Sea
Taste The Sea

Food 8/10

Wine 8/10

Service 8/10

 

Given my lack of adventure with seafood, I was delighted when my Twitter friend Jayne agreed to contribute to this post after she had visited Mourne earlier in the year!

A Foodie’s View

Jayne loves shoes...and wine....and seafood!
Jayne loves shoes…and wine….and seafood!

Well, well, well.  On a rugby weekend to Dublin I had the most fantastic find of Mourne Seafood.  Set by the waterside, the setting was almost as perfect as the food.  Being a self confessed seafood and wine junkie, Mourne Seafood did not disappoint!  The only challenge was what to choose from the delights on offer.

Pil Pil Prawns
Pil Pil Prawns

Starting with the Pil Pil prawns with smoked paprika, chilli and garlic, they tasted as good as they looked and warmed me up as it sleeted outside.

Irish Scallops Linguine
Irish Scallops Linguine

After washing it down with a fresh Sauvignon Blanc, I enjoyed the delectable seared Irish scallops linguine. Cooked to perfection.

I could see all the diners thoroughly enjoying the food and atmosphere as I left to watch Ireland unashamedly beat England.  If you’re looking for a meal for 2 or group get together Mourne Seafood is a great choice.

Restaurant and Hotel Review: Belleek Castle, Co. Mayo

Belleek Castle
Belleek Castle

At end of November I was invited to attend a French fine food and wine evening at Belleek castle near Ballina in County Mayo. As this is a considerable trip from Dublin (by Irish standards) I was lucky that my wife Jess was able to come with me and we quickly made childcare arrangements.

Disclosure: the cost of food, wine and accommodation was covered by our friends at nightoutireland.com.  Opinions are all our own!

The Castle

Main Entrance to Belleek Castle
Main Entrance to Belleek Castle

Located within its own wood near the town of Ballina (pronounced Bally-nah if you weren’t sure), Belleek castle is a magnificent stately home-cum-castle. Since being restored it has been run as a boutique hotel – and by boutique I really mean that – it only has 11 rooms of which one is taken by the owner and his better half.

The Main Hall and Stairs at Belleek Castle
The Main Hall and Stairs at Belleek Castle

Every effort has been made to modernise without affecting the old world romantic style of the original castle. On our arrival in cool weather we were greeted with a roaring fire in the front hall, bedecked with beautiful tapestries, suits of armour and stunning wooden antiques.

Accommodation

Our “superior room” was furnished with a huge four poster bed and overlooked the beautiful gardens to the front of the castle.  It was large, warm and comfortable with original window shutters and heavy damask curtains to help you sleep in the morning. The en-suite bathroom had twin sinks which certainly helps domestic harmony.  Fancier toiletries and big fluffy towels would be more in keeping with the high standard on the rooms, but those are minor concerns.

The Armada Bar

We went to the bar before dinner and had a wonderful conversation with the barman who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.  The “Armada Bar” is a recreation of the Captain’s Ward Room from a galleon of the “Spanish Armada”.  It was constructed from salvaged timber from the galleons of the ill fated “Castile Squadron” wrecked on the Atlantic Coast of Co. Mayo four centuries ago.

Belleek Castle Armada Bar
Belleek Castle Armada Bar

We even managed to snap a picture of the Belleek ghost!

Ghost in the Armada Bar
Ghost in the Armada Bar

Oh yes, the drinks were pretty good too!

The Tween-Decks

Looking down into Tween-Decks at Belleek Castle
Looking down into Tween-Decks at Belleek Castle

Dinner was served in the “Tween-Decks”, a split level dining room also constructed with salvaged Spanish timber.  It really made the meal an occasion.

Dining

The amazing kitchen team at Belleek
The amazing kitchen team at Belleek

Head Chef Stephen Lenahan is supported by committed and skilled staff.  The team have received praise from critic Georgina Campbell, we have won the “Just Ask” Restaurant of the Year 2014 Award, and the prestigious 2 AA Rosettes award from the AA (given to the top 4% of hotel restaurants in Ireland and England). Also, our Restaurant have been awarded “Best Hotel Restaurant Connaugh 2014” and Daniel Mayr has been awarded “Best Restaurant Manager Connaught 2014” by the Restaurant Association Ireland (R.A.I.) at the “Food Oscars” in Dublin.

The Tasting Menu

Tasting Menu
Tasting Menu

The main event was of course the six course tasting menu with matching wines.  The kitchen accommodated my wife’s fish allergy and my hatred of cheese with absolutely no fuss.

A quick overview:
Starters: on a black slate place: cooked oyster in the shell, cured wild sea bass, milkshot flavoured with oyster infusion
OR:
Steamed lamb served on a savoury dumpling and a grated pear salad

Oyster and Sea Bass Starter

Fish Course: Surf on turf – a clever play on this dish. Black pudding wrapping an oyster truffle and a Beef truffle wrapped in lobster – beautifully presented and very balanced seasoning. amazing flavours showing excellent technique without sacrificing the food.

Soup Course: Beetroot soup with horseradish ice cream – I’m not a fan of horseradish and my wife isn’t a fan of beetroot but we both wanted to lick the dish clean!

Beetroot Soup with Horseradish Icecream

Main course: 2 dishes:
Quail crinette and seared breast served with a minature poached egg in a nest. The combination of the 2 different cuts of quail added another level to the dish the nest melted in your mouth it also had fresh brushsprout leaves for colour.

Connacht Venison, confit of shank. This was served in a high sided bowl and was surrounded by an intense broth with loin tartare. Our one quibble about this was the high sided dish made it harder to eat. You were presented with a knife but a spoon was more useful in reality.

Connacht Venison
Connacht Venison

Cheese Course: Cream of goats chees with caramalised nuts, cranberries and a cheese crisp – wonderful mixture of tastes and textures (thankfully I was given a delicious alternative)

Dessert: vanilla foam and pannacotta tea soaked prunes and pear and crumble. lovely balanced pudding and not too heavy after the prior dishes. A perfect final note to an food opera.

Vanilla foam and Pannacotta tea soaked prunes, Pear and crumble
Vanilla foam and Pannacotta tea soaked prunes, Pear and crumble

Wines

The wines were sourced by Blakes Fine Wines of Derrylin, and introduced by JohnnyDonnelly of the associated Café Merlot of Enniskillen.

For aperitif in the bar we were treated to a few glasses of Prosecco.  Everyday Prosecco isn’t a big favourite of mine, but this was bottle fermented, so closer to Champagne and Cava than regular tank-method Prosecco.

The main event was a series of mature Southern Rhône wines from Blakes’ own cellars.

The only thing that fell short of perfection was that some of the courses weren’t an absolute perfect match with the wine – and focusing on a single producer makes this incredibly difficult.

Château Pesquié Quintessence Blanc 2005
Still amazingly fresh, though maturing…so much texture! Brilliant match for the plumped up oyster and scallop.

Château Pesquié Prestige Rouge 2005
Soft and supple, fruity and spicy, with a dash of cracked pepper. Shows a little oak influence on the finish. I’d enjoy this now rather than laying down for any longer.

Château Pesquié Les Terraces Rouge 2005
I wonder if the name means that this comes from more southerly facing terraces – because it shows more intensity and power than the Prestige. There’s still fruit there, it’s just a bigger wine overall – without being overbearing.

Château Pesquié Artemia 2004
Absolutely fabulous! Served from magnum, this was still young. It’s a big wine, but not shouty or overblown.  Something as well-flavoured as venison needed a wine like this to stand up to it.  One of the best wines I tasted in 2014.

Clos du Portrail, Graves Supérieures 2005
A little sweeter than I would have expected from a Graves Supérieures (which is no bad thing!) and nicely developed. It’s definitely more of a late harvest style than botrytis character.

Overall

Food 10/10

Wine 9/10

Service 10/10

The important question is, would we go and stay again? With the caveat that we’d probably stay for more than one night, the answer is a resounding YES!

Restaurant Review: FXB Crow St, Dublin

Now I like fine food,  just as I like fine wine, but sometimes I just want something a bit more straightforward, basic… gourmand rather than gourmet. And being a carnivorous male of the species that means a big eff-off steak!  Vegetarians should look away now…

Francis Xavier Buckley opened a butcher’s in Dublin in 1930, and the group still maintains FX Buckley butchers along with five steakhouses and pubs.  They pride themselves on the quality of their meat which they source directly and dry-age wherever possible.  For my birthday we chose to visit their Steakhouse on Crow Street in Temple Bar in the heart of Dublin.

We were shown to our table shortly after arrival; but the cramped layout of the place was such that several other diners had to brush past the back of both our chairs to and from their table – quite irritating to be honest!

As the menus are available to browse online I already had a good idea what my food order was going to be, so I glanced at the specials board and checked out the wine list.  The Amaretto Sour cocktail caught my eye as I love almond and amaretto flavours – and it was delicious.

However, when we gave our food orders the waiter almost walked away without asking what wine or other drinks we would like with our meal – what sort of place is this?  The wine by the glass selection was fairly limited, but at least it appeared appropriate to the food being served.  My wife Jess chose Argentinian Malbec (we have both converted from anti- to pro-Malbec!) and I selected a slightly more modest Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon.

The starters:

As an admitted carnivore I chose Baby Back Pork Ribs, done in a sweet barbecue sauce.  Thankfully the sweetness of the Amaretto Sour could handle the sauce as my red wine tasted quite bitter with the ribs.

Jess chose Castlintownbere  Mussels – despite having some sort of fish and seafood allergy she seems able to tolerate mussels (and when I say “tolerate” I mean “devour with relish”).

The mains:

So what does a steak fan order on his birthday?  A 22oz Bone-in Rib-Eye, that’s what!

22oz

It was amazingly tender and succulent, even better than I’d hoped!  And finally the Chilean Cabernet came into its own, a good match for a perfectly medium-rare steak.

My wife is not as greedy as me so she ordered the 10oz 28 day Dry-aged Rib eye, and again it was juicy and flavoursome.  She did the taste test against mine (which had the bone in) and narrowly preferred it, but both were excellent.  The Malbec was still going well, as you’d expect of a big red wine made in a beef-producing country like Argentina.

Desserts:

After a suitable pause we moved onto the sweet stuff.  There didn’t appear to be any dessert wine so I finished my red wine and just drank water with the Double Chocolate Tart.  This was fairly, but not overly, sweet and mainly dark chocolate – I find milk chocolate too sickly and don’t even ask me about white “chocolate”.

Jess chose her perennial favourite – Créme Brûlée.  This was a success and had a satisfyingly crunchy sugar layer on top.

Once our spoons were down we paid the bill and left – it didn’t seem a venue to linger over coffee.

Verdict:

Great steaks but poor layout and lacking in atmosphere.  Not ideal if you are a wine lover.

Food      7/10

Wine     5/10

Service  6/10

http://crow-st.fxbuckley.ie/

Restaurant Review: Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Dublin

My wife Jess wanted a surprise meal for her birthday treat, somewhere we hadn’t been to before, so I thought we’d try the enfant terrible’s Dublin eatery on Dawson Street.

I mentioned that it was my wife’s birthday on the online booking form and was promised a good seat on the email reply.  And so it was…after negotiating the narrow route through the other diners crammed in to the main room we were delighted to have a corner table so we were both able to take in the atmosphere without turning round.  Included among the black and white framed celebrity photographs circling the restaurant was Jack Lukeman, a firm favourite of both of us.

The starters:

I went for Cocktail of Fresh Dublin Bay Prawns, Rose Marie Sauce – quite a retro choice, served in a martini glass, and nice enough but not special.  The wine recommended to match was Kim Crawford Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – enough acidity to balance the prawns but enough exuberance to cope with the Rose-Marie sauce.

Jess chose Parfait Of Foie Gras en Gelée, au raisin sec – and this was possibly the standout dish of the whole meal.  I selected a medium-sweet Jurançon to go with it as a change from the standard Sauternes (and Vendange Tardive Gewurztraminer can also be fantastic as we found out in Alsace last year).

The mains:

The central part of the menu is the choice of one of three different steaks – 10oz ribeye, 10oz sirloin or 8oz fillet – with seven different garnishes.  Every steak lover should find a favourite there!  Our waitress – the fantastic Justine from Sydney – let us know that the cuisson is Irish not French, so I went for medium-rare rather than à pointRibeye Au Poivre Noir, Raisin Sec, à l’Armagnac was my selection, and the recommended match was Cape Mentelle Margaret River Cabernet Merlot 2011.  Cabernet Merlot blends are a classic match for steak, particularly from the Médoc in Bordeaux, but the sweetness of the raisins needed something with more fruit from the new world – and it was a perfect combination.  So good, in fact, that I had a second glass.

Still from the grill but as a change from steak, my wife chose Grilled Entrecôte of Veal, sauce béarnaise, hand cut chips.  Both the waitress and I suggested the Kim Crawford Spitfire Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 as its relative lightness would be better suited to veal.

Desserts:

After a pause we decided that we did have room for something sweet after all.  Of course I had to choose my favourite – Sticky Toffee Pudding and Jess chose hersCréme Brûlée.  To accompany dessert I fancied a dessert wine.  I asked how many “baskets” the Tokaji was rated at (the literal translation of the Hungarian “Puttonyos” which refers to the number of baskets of sweet, botrytised Azsu grapes tipped into the fermentation vessel).  The waitress didn’t know as it wasn’t stated on the menu, but she brought over another member of staff who was actually from Hungary and so could explain about the wine.  He even brought a taste over for me to try – result!

Verdict:

Food      8/10

Wine     9/10

Service 9/10

http://www.marcopierrewhite.ie/Default.aspx