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27 March 2009

Banyan, Tramore, County Waterford

Eugene Long is doing the good thing at Banyan, in Tramore, County Waterford.
Eamon Barrett feels the glam and relishes the grub.

It's Saturday night. We're in Tramore. The restaurant is full of people dressed up and having a great time and the atmosphere is absolutely alive. Who could have thought that lightning could strike the former Coast building again but here we are, having a ball of a time, recession or no recession.
The layout has changed a bit: there's a new and lovely bar, cushioned with studded green velvet, a row of white leather high stools in front. The room still has that glamour feeling - huge lampshades and quirky mirrors, modern art and nice lighting. Of course all of this is lovely but it's the food that remains in the memory.
Crab tart for two of the group was perhaps just a tad heavy on the wholegrain mustard but otherwise delicious; Beetroot and Ardsallagh goats cheese salad was perfect and my own bruschetta with mushroom punched way above its weight. Mains were faultless all round: Ravioli of salmon and langoustines, Confit duck with red cabbage, Panfried organic chicken with chorizo - all were highly praised. Veg were kept pleasingly simple, just some pan fried root vegetables in honey. Service throughout was calm, efficient and very friendly - no mean acchievement in a restaurant that was full to the door.
Desserts just elicited further praise from our happy group - an apple and berry crumble with cinnamon ice cream, orange and passionfruit cake and a sticky toffee and chocolate pudding were all just exactly what we wanted - a real pudding hit at the end of a really satisfying meal.
Prices are very reasonable with starters ranging from €7.95 to €10.75 and mains from €19.50 to €25.50. Mucht credit is due to Eugene Long, his partner Sinead Frisby and the front of house team they have assembled in creating such a stylish restaurant that delivers on all fronts: great welcome, great food and great service.

Banyan, Upper Branch Road, Tramore, Co. Waterford. 051 - 330707

25 March 2009

Food & Our Planet: The Irish Times Earth Hour

A piece written for The Irish Times Earth Hour supplement.
Earth Hour is at 8.30pm on March 28th: switch off your lights for 60minutes, and see

The fascinating thing about those people who think and write about the crucial, and much-stressed, interplay between our food and our planet, is that they’re a pretty upbeat bunch. Yes, they all agree, the problems are enormous. And they exist in every sphere.
Our cows are destroying the environment with their methane emissions. Our marine environment is acutely stressed due to the depredations of over-fishing. Our rivers and lakes are polluted, and our fields are dosed with chemicals.
The food we produce makes animals miserable and enslaved, and then makes us obese, prone to coronary illness and diabetes. It is a grim menu, and it is a grim global menu. And yet, the cooks and writers who muzzle on these matters couldn’t be chirpier.
Here’s how the great Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley and America’s most celebrated cook, sees how we can fix the problem in her latest book, The Art of Simple Food:
“Eat locally and sustainably. Eat seasonally. Shop at farmers’ markets. Plant a garden. Conserve, compost and recycle. Cook simply, engaging all your senses. Cook together. Eat together. Remember food is precious.”
Well, that doesn’t seem like too much hassle, does it? Waters seems to be saying that you need only eat locally produced and sold food, which you have cooked with your family, and all will be hunky dory.
The anthropologist, Susan Allport, in her brilliant book The Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Foraging and Love draws this conclusion:
“We are not doomed to carry on as we have been, as members of a less intelligent, less flexible, less sharing species would be. Just as humans can figure out how not to overeat even when food is abundant, so we may be able to discover how not to overuse the world’s resources, how to satisfy our essential appetites for food, sex and love in a healthier way”.
That seems even better than Alice Waters: learn how to share what we have been given and you fall in love, eat well, and have great sex.
Just last year, Michael Pollan, probably the most important commentator on global food matters just now, boiled all of this outrageous optimism down into one little haiku:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”
So, that’s it? That’s it?! Seven words to save the planet, improve our food and our environment, and make us feel better and healthier!
Actually, Mr Pollan is hopelessly verbose in comparison to the latest American pressure group, who want Barack Obama to plant the south lawn of The White House with vegetable gardens.
Their slogan? “Eat the view.”
Mind you, they wouldn’t have to say that here. Our President, Mary McAleese, is a keen cook – she did a Ballymaloe School course with Darina Allen – and grows vegetables and keeps chickens in the Aras.
Michael Pollan’s Septet Solution may be concise, but his words open like a Pandora’s Box, spilling solutions everywhichway.
To eat food means that you eat natural, unprocessed foods, and not foodstuffs.
Unprocessed foods have to be cooked, and when we cook we share, we dine together, and we know exactly what we are eating.
The not too much bit is equally important. The developed world consumes too much of the world’s resources in every sphere, from fossil fuels to transfats. Consuming less solves our obesity epidemic, and leaves more to go around. “Good. Clean. Fair.” is how the international Slow Food movement sums up this bit.
Mainly plants? That might be okay for vegetarians, but don’t we need the proteins from meat? And don’t we make a lot of money exporting all those cows that graze in all our fields?
Yes, we do have a lot of cows, and we have based our agriculture on meat production, which has skewed our diet away from plant foods and led us to consume too much animal protein.
But part of the solution to solving the stress between our food, our agriculture, and our planet is to change. And why shouldn’t we in Ireland not just play our part, but lead the way.
After all, if our President is several steps ahead of their President when it comes to food, why can’t we have a best-practice agriculture that signs up to Pollan’s Septet Solution?
The time for seeking ways to lessen the environmental stresses on our beleaguered planet caused by our food and agriculture practices is now. And we have a very good historical reason to be a world-leader in this field.
Just over 150 years ago, so not too long past living memory and within the span of folk memory, this country suffered a devastating famine. Back then, we reckoned the lumper potato would feed all and sundry, so we put all our eggs in the one basket. When the basket collapsed, due to environmental reasons, so did our society.
Does this seem familiar? If so, it’s maybe because we have just done the same thing all over again. This time, we put all our money, our hopes and our futures in a basket called “Property”. And you know what has happened to that basket.
When a problem is very, very big, it is best solved by looking for small, tiny solutions, and searching for lots and lots of them. Those little solutions begin with us, with how we shop and eat, and how we feed our families and ourselves.
If you are doing your bit by changing all your light bulbs and insulating your house, well done. But if you are not adverting to what is in your shopping basket and on your dinner table, then you are overlooking one of the most obvious ways in which you can lessen the environmental stresses caused by our food practices.
Like many of my favourite writers, I am both incurably optimistic about the planet, and given to seeing solutions in miniature haikus. My own is: “Cooking is magic”.
When you cook, you take local, seasonal, clean, healthy, tasty, simple ingredients, and in cooking them you create the magic of a meal. You shop and source carefully, because you want the best for those who will eat with you. You don’t choose foods that have traveled thousands of miles, because they no flavour and no goodness left in them. You don’t want foods that have used fossil fuels in their production, or which have been doused unnecessarily in chemicals that your body doesn’t like or need.
You want the food to be produced sustainably, because you remember that old Irish expression uttered when the first of the new season’s potatoes were cooked and shared: Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís”: “May we be alive at this time again”.

Tony Soprano Syndrome: Want Not, Waste Not
Whe Joanna Blythman revealed in her book “Bad Food Britain” that up to 40% of the food purchased in the U.K. was thrown away uneaten, she showed that the problem of food waste was far greater than many had believed.
Controlling food waste is just one of the many ways in which our domestic food economies can be improved radically, and simply. We might call the problem the Tony Soprano Syndrome: I have a very large fridge in my kitchen and I am going to fill it full of food.
Suffering from Tony Soprano Syndrome means you buy too much to begin with. Then as soon as the product hits its sell-by date, you bin it without ever taking it out of its plastic wrapping. Organic matter that could be composted then gets mixed up with non-organic matter in landfill sites, creating a pollution problem.
So, to avoid Soprano Syndrome, don’t buy what you don’t need, and don’t be seduced by BOGOFFs into buying what you will never be able to eat. And keep an informed eye on sell-by dates: a sell-by date on a cheese, for example, is utter nonsense, because a cheese that is at its sell-by date isn’t “off”, it’s simply mature.

23 March 2009

Tapas at Mint, Dublin

Dylan McGrath is offering great value with his early evening tapas menus at Mint, in Ranelagh, Dublin 6.
Leslie Williams seeks out the spirit of the age.

The budget early evening Tapas at Mint (Tues., Wed., Thur. 5.30pm - 7.00pm) costs €55 per person including 2 glasses of wine to match your menu. There are two menu options so this is a perfect couples night out that will allow for lots of food passing back and forth across the table. Portions are perfectly formed and there is lots of high quality bread for mopping up sauces so there is no possibility of leaving without feeling stuffed. I advise sticking with the plain breads as the others (olive, red pepper etc.) had a little too much oil in them for my taste.

The meal began with a red pepper jelly with avocado mousse and cod brandade; and a foie gras mousse served with potato puree. C's red pepper jelly was sweet and intensely flavoured, and my foie mousse was delicate and the potato flavours mingled better than you would think possible.

Next were a rich pumpkin soup and Parmesan cassonade for herself, and a perfect langoustine cassonade with apple and celeriac elements adding sweet and savoury flavours for contrast.

Scallop with celeriac and truffle puree and a (light as duck down) duck consomme with smoked bacon - as delicious as it sounds but made more so by the fact that as with the earlier courses the sauce flavours seemed like essences more than flavours. John Dory with blood orange, poached grapes and carmelised chicory was an interesting combination - the john dory a little over-cooked but the flavours zinging out and wrapping themselves around the mouth. Dotted around this dish we found tiny emeralds of coriander caviar - sequin sized globules of essence of coriander so intense in themselves that they almost blotted from my mind which course they came with - what reminded me was how well they worked against the blood orange.

A white Douro (Carm) and Sauvignon de Touraine were both in harmony with these early courses - great to see a delicious Portuguese white wine given a chance to shine with such quality food.

Lamb with courgette, bell pepper and Parmesan - tasting more subtle than it sounds, the little I was given to taste lingered long. A glass of Irancy (Burgundy) matched well - mostly because it was a delicious wine. My braised pigs cheeks, deep fried whisper-delicate bits of deep fried ear, pumpkin gnocci and bits of turnip were a delight. The Morgon served with it was a little sweet (as that wine should be), but there was enough going on with the pig bits to compensate.

A €15 supplement for a fine selection of cheeses to share - spanking fresh St. Maure de Touraine, creamy Bleu de Gex, nutty Comte, all in good condition and served with top quality preserves. A decadent glass of muscat Rivesaltes (for €11) and an intense Coonawarra cab from Balnaves - a little sweet and over extracted but still delicious - €14.

Dessert of coconut brulee, roasted pinapple, pineapple sorbet was about as pineapply as you could get with a nice contrast for the coconut. Raspberries with almond milk (subtle delicate almond milky flavour) was also very fine. Magnificent canapes as always - more than generous and well worth the 13 euro supplement - especially as we were given some extra home made apple and space dust lollypops to take home to the 8 year old - who generously gifted one to his teacher the next day (far more welcome than a mere apple).

A bill of €189 including service charge was excellent value for a meal of this quality and invention. Staff were charming and playful (e.g. making me guess my wine - of course I got it wrong!) and I wanted to go back the next day.

Mint Restaurat, 47 Ranelagh village, Dublin 6. ph: 01-497 86 55.

The News...

Kevin Thornton is opening up in Belfast, in the new Menu by Kevin Thornton, in the Fitzwilliam Hotel. What Mr Thornton will be hoping to achieve will be even a little bit of the success of the runaway Made In Belfast. You have to book a month in advance to get a weekend table at this funky Restolounge, where bric-a-brac meets bricolage, and with some ace cooking from chef Gerry O'Kane, formerly a Rankin empire cook. Shabby chic is the order of the day, chips come in an enamel mug, burgers on wooden boards, the cutlery is flimsy and rather blunt, and no one minds a bit.

The brilliant Jennifer and Francois Conradie of Skibbereen's superb Over The Moon have introduced new menus, including an early dinner menu where you get 2 courses for €25 – a real West Cork bargain. This Thursday, the 26th, sees their Taste of Morocco night, and Thursday April 30th is A Taste of France, with 4 courses for €40, more amazing value. We are great admirers of Mr Conradie's cooking, which has both discipline and panache.

It's the year for anniversaries: 20 years of us writing guide books, 25 years of the brilliant Scally's supermarket in Clonakilty, West Cork. Twenty years of L'Ecrivain. Twenty years of Paul Rankin cooking in Belfast.
And twenty years of the brilliant Carol and Kevin working in Chameleon in Fownes Street in Temple Bar. In fact, the first five years were when Carol ran The Cellary, with The Chameleon following in 1994. May sees the anniversary, so congrats for their perseverance and endurance, and their inspiration.

We have written about the brilliance of the wines sourced from the Rhone Valley by Simon Tyrrell of Sallins, but if you want a chance to see, hear and taste for yourselves, then an upcoming tasting class at the Lyons Village in County Kildare with 3 Rhone superstars – Stéphane Montez, Stéphane Ogier and Christophe Bonnefond – will give you a chance to see how these guys have become the celebrated winemakers they are.
The wines to be tasted include Domaine de Monteillet's Condrieu and the stunning St Joseph; Viognier, Syrah and Cote-Rotie from the Ogiers, and 4 Cote-Roties from Christophe and Patrick Bonnefond. €45 euro gets you an introduction to the guys and their wines, and a supper dish. You'd be crazy to miss this. Book with the Village on 01 630 3500

Tyrrell & Company,
Main Street, Sallins, Naas, Co. Kildare, Tel: +353 45 853 944

13 March 2009


Fleet Foxes (SubPop)
Thanks to Eamon Barrett for the introduction to Seattle's hairest troubadors, who fuse The Band and Neil Young and Brian Wilson in one sublime American cocktail.

John Coltrane – Interstellar Space (Impulse!)
Late, late Coltrane, with just Rashid Ali on the drums, and the sound of hand bells announcing and ending each massive piece of torrential blowing.

Portishead - Third (Island)
Justly compared to Massive Attack's mighty “Mezzanine”. This is adult muisc.

The Very Best of Burt Bacharach (Rhino)
For every Tom Jones track amongst the 75 songs on these 3 (very cheap) cds, there is a Dionne, a Dusty, an Elvis, and...

Aretha Franklin: Lady Soul/I Never Loved A Man (Atlantic)
The Queen of Soul, at her finest. The First lady of them all.

The Book of Atheist Spirituality – André Comte-Sponville (Bantam Press)
Truly elegant, especially the third and final section which is a blast of wisdom fused with ecstacy, and most un-French.

Susan Allport, The Primal Feast (Backinprint)
Not just a great food text, but a great feminist food text.

Ken Robinson The Element (Allen Lane)
Rather annoying and self-conscious in parts, but also blessed with some great insights.

Neven's Food from the Sun (Harper Collins)
Great grub on every page.

12 March 2009

The Irish Times Health Plus: 6s and 3s

The Anglo-Irish Body

Our bodies are like banks. If you keep everything in balance in a bank – loans; deposits; liquidity; cash flow – then the bank trades happily, makes a profit and performs its important role in society.
Let things get out of balance in the bank, however – vast loans on speculative property deals; slack auditing by auditors and directors; directors loans that don’t even appear on the annual report – and the bank quickly becomes toxic. Push it too far, and the bank dies, because the balance sheet is way out of kilter.
So, let’s look at the Balance Sheet of our bodies, shall we? We shall need to look very closely, because balance is one of those things we tend to take for granted in the Western world. And yet balance is the very key to having healthy diets and healthy bodies.
In his new book, “The Element”, Ken Robinson describes the research of the anthropologist Kathryn Lynn Guerts, when she described the standard five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing – to the Anlo Ewe people of Ghana. But what about the other one, the main one?, they asked. What about the sense of balance?
When we think of balance, we tend to see it as something that we can lose temporarily if we have a very bad cold, or as a quality that some folk – Roger Federer comes to mind – personify at its peak of athleticism.
But what if I was to tell you that the chances are that your diet – your carefully monitored, well-thought-through, conscientious diet – is way, way out of balance, and that this lack of balance could be a toxic threat to your body, your health and your well-being.
The balance I am talking about is the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s in your diet.
Yes, of course you know all about omega-3s. You need only look at something simple and popular such as BIM’s little flier, “Fish for Men”, to get the message: omega-3s in oil-rich fish reduce triglycerides that can block the arteries around your heart. They stop your blood becoming too sticky, reducing the risk of blood clots.
Oh, and they make you smarter, because fats like DHA and EPA boost your concentration and memory, and help you think faster.
It’s true: fish is brain food. Your mother always said it, and your mother was dead right.
She probably hadn’t done research into the fact that the fats that we need in our brains – and our brains are almost 60% fat – are only available via the food we eat.
And she was telling you that fish is brain food even before they first discovered the importance of omega-3s back in the 1980’s. Mother was right, so aren’t you glad you ate up that nice mackerel.
So, if you follow BIM’s advice, and eat fish twice a week, then you will be Einstein, right? Sadly, it isn’t that simple. You may have lots of those good omega-3’s on your Balance Sheet – your deposits, let’s say – but there is a debit waiting on the other side of the page.
As Nick Fisher and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall point out in “The River Cottage Fish Book”, the balance of omega-3’s to omega-6s during the critical period of man’s evolution was a healthy 1:1.
And today? “In the modern Western diet, the average ratio now stands at somewhere between 15:1 to 25:1 in favour of omega-6”.
Because these omegas compete for space in your cells and for attention from your enzymes, having too much omega-6 is as bad as having too little omega-3.
The omega-6s are getting into your system via processed foods, seed oils, and from meats where the animals have been fed on grain.
Looks like the balance sheet of your health is suggesting that you have an Anglo-Irish Body.
The researcher Joseph Hibbeln has written that “The increases in world (omega-6) consumption over the past century may be considered a very large uncontrolled experiment that may have contributed to increased societal burdens of aggression, depression and cardiovascular mortality”.
Aggression, depression and heart attack: just how you might feel today if you hold Irish bank shares.
So, how do you get the balance back into your life? If the omega-6s undo the good work of the omega-3s, what to do? How can those omega-6 debits be lowered, and the omega-3 credits increased?
Eat green leaves. Eat fish. Eat meat from animals that have grazed on pasture, and cut back on the animal meat that has been fed on grain rather than grass. Grass–fed red meat is good; grain-fed white meat has those omega-6s in abundance.
Eat butter, because good Irish butter is coming from the milk of grazing animals, and therefore you get the goodness of all that green grass coming through, and you don’t get a bunch of trans-fats as you do with “spreads”. Give the kids lots of good milk.
In a couple of words: Think Green.
Green grass, firing those omega-3s into your body via milk, eggs, butter and red meat.
Green leaves, packed full of goodness.
Green plants – specifically algae – from which fish build up those good omega-3s for you.
Of course, as Kermit the Frog’s old song says, ‘It’s not easy being green”. But your body’s balance sheet needs those greenbacks, now.

More on the Omega-3 cookbook to come.

In A Nutshell, in a nutshell

Eamon Barrett admires the chutzph and energy of the New Ross star.

Philp and Patsy Rogers' lovely In A Nutshell cafe and health food store is well extablished in New Ross as a beacon of all things good and wholesome - not to mention the super food served in the cafe. Faced with the same difficulties that the economic environment is having on every restaurant in the country Patsy's plan of action is no surprise - she's out in the fields with the farmers, sourcing her ingredients direct from the grower, saving herself money and ensuring that she continues to have access to the very best produce while protecting her bottom line. Her daily menu now includes dishes designed to suit these more stringent times: Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash and Tomato soup with bread and house pâté €8.95 or Soup of Your choice with Potted fresh and smoked salmon, a green salad and a brown scone for €9.95 are sure to keep any further crunch to your credit at bay. Other dishes are more illustrative of the scope of Patsy's abilities in the kitchen: Trofie Liguiri tossed in organic olive oil with basil pesto and garlic topped with smoked chicken, chorizo, sun dried tomato and olives is typical of the flavoursome and ambitious cookery that the cafe puts out. Desserts continue the high quality: bread and butter pudding was soft and delicious. Good coffees, lovely staff and the place is just spotless. Out front there's a cornucopia of choice from the shop - smoothies, health food, spices, fresh sandwiches, chocolate, cakes. This is a great place.

In A Nutshell
8 South Street, New Ross, Co. Wexford, Ireland. t: 051 422 777

05 March 2009

The Dublin Burger Gig, in full...

Leslie Williams reports on the resurrection in Dublin of the hamburger from its fast-food peril.

Gourmet Burgers are the latest thing in Dublin - since 2007 they have been opening wherever they can find a space.

All these restaurants have remarkably similar menus and prices (Burgers €9-11, fries €4). Don’t expect much of a wine list or starters or desserts beyond ice-cream and chocolate cake.

First some ground rules: a Burger should be meat, seasoning and nothing else; it should crumble slightly and taste of top quality beef.

Chips should be crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre. I generally prefer them skinny but I discovered that thicker chips work better with a burger; possibly because there is less need for a contrast of textures as you must have with Steak Frites.

Bread should be toasted or at least warm and crusty, onions should be cooked (but sadly everyone ignores this rule), lettuce or salad should be spanking fresh and dressings should be well flavoured.

Our quest began on a Sunday evening with a disastrous visit to Joburger in Rathmines.

The policy when you enter Joburger is to stand meekly beside the other diners (the restaurant is tiny) and wait until the staff feel they are ready – if it’s your first visit you learn this the hard way.

C did the standing bit but recklessly tried to speak before she had been spoken to. Having been ignored twice, the third member of staff barked “just wait there until your guests arrive”. I arrived moments later and found a clearly distressed wife and we waited a further 5 minutes as more staff pushed past and carefully ignored us and the empty table in front of us.

Finally we were approached and I asked why my wife was distressed and still standing and I was told “the owner told her to stay where she was.” Sad to say this developed into a tense argument about politeness, decency and common courtesy which I could see I would not win, so we turned and left.

Luckily (for our nerves) we decided instead to go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) on South Anne Street (01 6728559 ) where we were greeted with a welcoming smile and friendly staff who proceeded to fuss over us as if they had witnessed our experience in Joburger (I suspect they treat all customers this well).

GBK is a UK chain founded by some New Zealanders who missed the posh burger joints of their homeland. There are 50 in the UK and 5 franchised versions in the Republic (the master franchise is owned by the founder of Abrakebabra) – Naas, Swords, Temple Bar, Liffey Valley and South Anne St.

GBK’s menu is straightforward: salads, beef, chicken or veggie burgers. The creativity is in the toppings for the burgers (a little too creative in places – Kiwiburger is beef, beetroot, egg, pineapple and cheese salad).

For a starter we had “The Sharer” – Cajun chicken pieces with sour cream and GBK Homeslaw - excellent chicken but oddly sweetened coleslaw and dip.

The 2 boys had plain burgers and the grown ups had a Cajun Burger and a Garlic Mayo Burger. For drinks we had 2 top quality Chocolate shakes, a very good Strawberry shake and a so-so glass of Chilean Cab-Merlot.

High quality flavours in the (organic) meat, the sesame seed bun, the mayo and the fillings but the problem in GBK is the sweet relish which they put on everything (even on the “plain burger”).

This sweet slightly synthetic relish pervaded each burger, overpowering the smoky Cajun Sauce and the garlic mayo burger tasted more of relish than garlic or mayo.

Chips were golden and chunky but with a good crispy exterior from first to last with good garlic mayo for dipping. Two extra bowls of fries arrived late when we were almost finished and when we protested we couldn’t eat them, not only were we not charged for them but they gave us the boys 2 shakes for free as extra compensation.

Marks out of 10 – Meat: 8, Bun: 7, Fries: 8, Shakes: 8, Service: 10
Overall Burger Experience: 6.5 (that damn relish ruined it)

Joburger, 137 Rathmines Road, D6.01 4913731
There was no way herself was going back to Joburger but I felt it was my professional duty to return and to block the last experience from my mind.

Myself and the boy arrived on a damp Monday evening and were greeted with a small smile and seated within 30 seconds. The restaurant was fuller than on our previous visit but clearly they were in a better mood. I was determined to be too.

We were handed a Whizzer and Chips and a Roy of the Rovers Annual which we happily read for a few minutes before realizing the menu was on the inside cover (doh!). This is a very neat idea and I had great fun reading Billy’s Boots and laughing at the hairstyles of Bryan Robson and Graham Souness c.1983 while the boy read the adventures of Fusspot, Shiner and Superdad.

The atmosphere in Joburger is relentlessly right-on with communal bench seats, graffiti and cartoons on the walls (RIP Cows), organic everything, burgers named after townships in South Africa, DJ’s and bring your own demo nights etc. I like most of this in theory but they tried too hard and our DJ only played God-awful New Romantic - as bad now as it was in 1982.

The menu allows for Beef, Lamb or Chicken with a creative (and not outlandish) choice of toppings to mix and match (another excellent idea).

Good news is that our burgers were 8 inches tall with a large thick patty, generous slices of tomato and lots of excellent rocket and salad etc. The bun is partly wholemeal bread and although initially tasty the texture becomes a little wearing half-way through the burger.

The Orlando (harissa, garlic mayo and rocket) topping on a lamb burger tasted good initially but it was the rocket and lamb I was enjoying as the sauce tasted like mildly spiced ketchup; pleasant but terribly bland. The very definition of harissa is a hot chilli sauce ranging between very hot and tearing off strips of skin.

Both the lamb and beef burgers were very dense (rubbery was the boy’s word) and tasted as though they had been bound with egg or breadcrumbs. The Joburger website claims their patties are “lean, Irish organic meat and a pinch of salt and pepper” and thus “remain moist” - well moist they certainly were not, as they stayed completely solid from first to last bite. We left a third of our meal and still felt as though we had eaten a brick each.

Now to the “bush fries”. Dear oh dear; these are not chips or fries but small potatoes cut into 8mm rings and placed unpeeled in (I’m guessing) warm oil until they are soft. These were the soggiest, sorriest excuse for “fries” I have ever experienced – oven chips would have been better.

The garlic mayo dip was pristine white in colour and did not taste of either mayo or garlic – I’m really not sure what it was.

Drinks were over-priced (organic) English lemonade and juices at over 4 euro each – what’s wrong with TK? (see below). To be fair they had good beers and a reasonable wine list.

Our waitress was friendly but I noticed an older man standing by my table who was trying in vain to catch the attention of a member of staff who all walked blithely by ignoring his tentative hand gestures. He was there for a full ten minutes before she deigned to talk to him: “are you not waiting for someone? Oh, you’re on your own…” – thankfully the “poor you” part of the sentence remained unspoken.

We did try to order a dessert but we were curtly told “we have none!” - “really, no ice cream or anything on the menu?” says I; “No. Nothing.” says he. The crowd of people waiting to be seated may have been another reason but I am sure I am being cynical.

In truth the meal was probably not as terrible as it sounds as I did enjoy the first half of the burger (hunger makes good sauce after all), but I will not be back.

Marks out of 10 – Meat: 5, Bun: 6, Fries: 0, Service: 3.
Overall Burger Experience: 4

REAL Gourmet Burger, Sweepstakes Centre, Ballsbridge, D4, 01 6670040.
(also in Dun Laoghaire)

Real is the closest the Gourmet Burger concept comes to a proper restaurant; a large space, a full range of desserts, daily specials and some non-burger options.

Large burgers with good quality crumbly meat and toppings that taste of what they say on the menu. The St. Kevin tasted of the brie and had a large smoky rasher; and the Holy Moly chilli infused burger with Swiss cheese and jalapenos had slices of chilli pepper in the meat and my lips did tingle. The bun was the only failing, resembling a thick piece of toast more than a bun.

Fries – both thick cut and skinny - were perfectly crispy and topped with rosemary salt. None were left behind. Ditto the onion rings – thin rings of deep fried oniony goodness.

As there was a small wine list I felt I should indulge – St. Clair New Zealand Pinot Noir for 30 euro. Sadly this was not a good choice as the wine was luke-warm and required immersion in iced water to come down to requisite 14o and even then it just did not have the body or fruit to cope with the burger.

Espressos were bitter and tasted unpleasantly of peanuts but otherwise this was a pleasurable lunch.

Marks out of 10 – Meat: 7, Bun: 4, Fries: 8.5, Onion Rings: 9, Service: 7.
Overall Burger Experience: 7.5

Gourmet Burger Co., 97 Ranelagh Road, D6. 01-4977821
GBC is a small restaurant in Ranelagh but with ambition (check the website for franchising options). The concept is the same as the others but I thought I detected a little more attention to detail - the organic meat is sourced from the Good Herdsman in Tipperary, the Kobe Beef Burger (€39.35) is from O’Tooles in Terenure and so on.

Burgers were tall with very good beef flavour and texture that oozed juices as you bit in. My chilli burger was sadly not even vaguely hot but at least it was juicy and flavourful.

Fries here are gaining a reputation and they were indeed fantastically crispy and flavourful – thick as your little finger on the top of the bowl but with lots of thin and crispy ones near the bottom to suit both prejudices. Garlic mayo tasted of both garlic and mayo.

Excellent posh French limonade artisinal and Sprite came in well chilled bottles. A sticky rich chocolate cake with good quality ice cream finished a good meal.

Marks out of 10 – Meat: 9, Bun: 6, Fries: 9, Service: 7.
Overall Burger Experience: 8

BóBós, 22 Wexford St, D2, 01-400 5750
I saved the best ‘til last. BóBós is not fancy (think Irish Diner) but is exactly as a burger joint should be – top quality well-prepared generous food, unpretentious ambience, relaxed and friendly staff that seemed to care we were happy, and lots of charming quirks.

Quirks include a tub of Saxa salt on every table (for atmosphere as much as utility), turf holding up the counter, cow murals and cow-hide covers on the stools, blue rimmed enamel bowls for chips and dips, food cooked in front of you, Brunches, Choc Ices and Ice Bergers, Coke floats and TK red lemonade by the pint glass (why oh why did nobody think of this before!).

BóBós is everything Joburger is trying so desperately hard to be. Joburger does manage a modicum of ersatz cool but BóBós just is cool in a very Irish way – nostalgic but knowing.

My only criticism first – the skinny chips were not crispy enough. Thankfully the thick cut chips were perfect – crispy, a generous portion, and good quality garlic mayo.

Burgers were my favourite of all those tried –top quality meat (sourced from O’Tooles), in a loose patty that crumbled a bit with strong beefy and juicy flavours.

The toppings tasted of what they were supposed to – the Cashel Blue cheese was generous, the chilli had chilli in it, the mature cheese tasted mature. The buns were toasted and crusty, the mushy peas were mushy, the chocolate shake was extra chocolaty, the very berry juice was very berry flavoured – mostly raspberry.

Oreo Cookies with Ice Cream and chocolate sauce in a tall glass would have fed 4 (and it nearly did until the boy discovered the effect of whacking knuckles with a long spoon).

This is the only restaurant that the boy and the dad have asked “when are we going back?”

Marks out of 10 – Meat: 9, Bun: 8, Thick Cut Fries: 9 (skinny: 6), Service: 9.
Overall Burger Experience: 9

In Conclusion…
The Gourmet Burger joint is a pleasurable dining experience without being exciting. Do not go to these restaurants on a first date or for an anniversary but do bring your nieces and nephews or drop in for a casual bite or pre-theatre / post-pub snack.

03 March 2009

Café Noir, Limerick

Valerie O'Connor admires Pat O'Sullivan's smart, smart Café Noir

Cafe Noir, Limerick

After one year in business, Cafe Noir (owned by Pat O’Sullivan of Moll D’Arby’s) in Limerick is enjoying a thriving trade. Packed daily with lunching ladies, the staples of salads and quiches are flying out of the fridges. Pat has employed his talented pastry chef to make rustic breads – white, baguette, cheese 'n onion and an array of pretty pastries – to keep tums full and happy. There is no kitchen to speak of but a miracle style oven that cooks everything in five minutes. You can have steak and Guinness pie, good and tasty with deep red wine flavours; cheesy eggy quiche, or the most amazing lamb and pork sausage rolls from legendary butcher James McGeough.
Salads are bespoke, anything you want goes in to a big bowl and gets dressed and plated, it’s simple and it works. Soups are the speciall of the day or a French onion version, topped with puff pastry, again from the oven. Desserts are cheesecake, coffee cake and a sweet, sweet lemon meringue pie. Its a simple formula and doesn’t disappoint. You can buy the bread to take home, and a selection of locally made chutneys and juices.
Café Noir is a good looking bird, all black with a billowing canopy and tasteful outside space with lots of tables on the pavement. Pat has decorated this, his baby, in faded greens with tiles and blackboards, French style. Piaf or Bruni play quietly to the customers who simply love this place. He has put a lot into the courtyard which is nicely decked and canopied and is overlooked by a pretty church.
Robert Street
061 411 222
Valerie O’Connor

The People The Country Needs: Michael O'Callaghan

On the one side you have the behemoths of the GM industry. Monsanto et al, with their bevy of PR lackeys and their colossal corporate and dollar clout.
And, on the oher side, you have Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland.
Goliath and David isn't in it.
But Mr O'Callaghan is doughty, determined, and direct. He fights the good fight against the evils of GM from the moral high ground, the high ground that says this technology has nothing whatsoever to do with food, and everything to do with corporate greed. Day after day he collates the call and response of this GM battle and sends it out to folk like us who lap it up and who rely on it to stay informed.
And, every so often, he sends something really funny, like this:

Or something smart and witty and eye-opening, like this:

The GM-free Ireland Network is a precious thing, and you should give it your support. When you read something like Kerry Trueman's piece, as noted above, you understand the divisive forces in American agri-business, and you realise the moral vacuum in which these people work.
Michael O'Callaghan works in the real, moral world. Join him there, and save agriculture and farming for our children.