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WINTER 18 /19
TRIPLE DISTILLED. DOUBLE CHARRED. WHY? TASTE, THATâ€™S WHY.
Making food. Brewing coﬀee. Breakfast until 11.30am. Lunch from 12pm (Mon-Fri) Saturday brunch all day (10am - 4pm) Coﬀee and cake throughout Middle Eastern inﬂuence always
9a Abbey Street Lwr + 23c Dawson Street tang.ie
CREDITS Editor | Eric Davidson Features | Caitriona Devery Photography | George Voronov Design | Annie Moriarty
A FOOD AND DRINK CUT BY DISTRICT MAGAZINE Irish food is evolving. The Celtic Tiger days of jammers, yet mediocre, restaurants are gone. The need to be inventive in the lean times has gifted us a host of risk-takers, inspired by travels abroad and a new sense of pride in Irish and Dublin food. People who celebrate what we have on our own doorstep. Every month we dedicate a few pages of our Dublin GUIDE publication to the best food and drink in the city. However, we came to the conclusion that this wasn’t enough. We wanted to create a regular publication dedicated entirely to the capital’s culinary luminaries, with our customary focus on quality design and photography. The food scene in Dublin is buzzing and we want to bring our cultural and visual slant to the table. This is CHAR and every quarter we’ll be examining what’s feeding our city.
— Eric Davidson, Editor of District Magazine.
01 / Starter culture 04 / Forest Avenue 08 / Cocktails 10 / Beast 12 / Cooking with fire 16 / Clanbrassil House 20 / Seafood 24 / Burgers 28 / Opium 32 / Vietnamese 36 / Lil Portie 40 / Legal Eagle
Harry Colley CHAR â€” ISSUE ONE
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OFTEN associated with alcohol, fermentation is a chemical process integral to the production of many foods. It is one of humanity’s most ancient techniques and is used to keep food edible for longer. However, nutritional longevity is not the only benefit. There’s a real buzz about fermentation across a variety of food communities, from health food circles and those keen on sustainability and avoiding waste, to chefs and cooks of all types who are intrigued by the unique flavours that arise from the process. Fermentation is basically the process of turning sugar to alcohol using yeast, but it can also occur using lactic or acetic acid bacteria, mould or the wonderfully named SCOBY (Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast). Common foods to ferment include milk (making yogurt and kefir), tea (kombucha), soybean (tempeh, soy sauce), cabbage (sauerkraut, kimchi) and other vegetables. It’s a live, active, bacterial process giving fermented goods a distinctive tang, fizz or sour taste as the food hovers between fresh and rotten. In Dublin, chefs at the Fumbally were one of the first players in the fermentation game, operating a bit like a starter culture in the city; many ex-Fumballers moved on to ferment elsewhere. They use lots of fermentation on their menu and they run a pickling workshop every month in their Fumbally Stables space. I chatted to Fumbally chef and ‘With Relish’ podcast host Harry Colley, whose interest in
fermentation was sparked by the Nordic Food movement and the significant impact of kimchi on Korean culture. Harry taught himself about fermentation and experimented with the techniques of Sandor Katz. He used many of these in the pop-up he had a few years back with fellow chef Cúán Greene (now working at Noma). What attracts Harry to the process is the ability “to be purposefully able to manipulate food, without heat, just with time and salt” allowing you to “make more of what’s around you”. He often cooks with lacto-fermentation techniques which use salt, or a salt solution, to ferment produce. The Fumbally also have live sourdough cultures, milk and water kefir grains, and kombucha SCOBY to keep them busy. Its ‘liveliness’ means that fermentation is different to other kinds of cooking processes. You’re working with active cultures so there can be a bit of uncertainty. The sourdough, SCOBY and kefir grains require some maintenance and feeding, almost like a bacterial pet – so while these are all things you can teach yourself to do at home, are you ready for the commitment? Harry explains the challenges. “I’m not into baking or pastry at all. That requires you to measure and be precise. But when you bake you don’t really know that it’s worked ‘til you’ve eaten it. There’s a certain amount of that in fermentation as well. You can invest loads of time and care in these things and at the end... Meh.... That can be disheartening. You’ve got to push through that.” In terms of health benefits, the buzz in recent years has been about true probiotic
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foods — the top shelf or class A’s of the fermentation repertoire with extensive claims made for their healing properties both physical and psychological. Probiotics bring a range of benefits to digestion, and as it’s a healthy gut flora it can be anticancerous, anti-inflammatory and help with all kinds of immune and nervous system issues. Harry sees these health benefits as “kind of a happy coincidence”, but at the same time he gets the unique properties of probiotics. “I often think of fermentation as this kind of pre-digestion. It’s digestion outside the body, breaking down and making things bioavailable.” Can kefir, kimchi and kombucha restore a gracious harmony to our insides? Like many new food trends, claims for health benefits can be overblown [I’m looking at you, Hemsley sisters]. I asked Harry if the health lifestyle hype around fermentation bothered him. He says, “I think that’s fine. It’s just the way it goes”. “Anything that you hand over to marketers they’re going to ruin in a way, or present an image of the kind of people that should be fermenting.” There’s a strong DIY aspect to fermenting, you kind of have to figure it out by experimentation and get in with your local starter culture dealer to score your SCOBY or your kefir grains. It’s a little bit clandestine. Like any scene, proprietorial elements can creep in. In many ways it’s a strong and supportive community but as with any slightly esoteric knowledge, some people are more generous than others. Harry says, “The internet
is full of really nice people but there are also some people who maybe aren’t that happy to share their knowledge”. He thinks the wholesome earth mother associations can lead people to take fermentation a bit too seriously. “There’s a lifestyle around it and I think that can be prohibitive. There’s a smugness. I’m not really into that.” If you want to try, don’t let the mystification or the moralising put you off. It’s true, water kefir is tricky enough to manage, and sourdough is also pretty needy. But I can attest to the resilience of milk kefir, as my wellneglected grains continue to multiply in spite of pretty poor parenting skills on my part. Finally, while Harry takes a more easy-going approach than some, he does say fermenting requires a bit of self-sufficiency. “If you are someone who relies very much on recipes and if you aren’t able to stray from that, it might not be the best thing for you yet.” So why not grow your own? Lacto-fermentation requires not much more than a jar and some salt and starter cultures, which can be tracked down fairly easily on the black market. Trust us; your gut will thank you. And hey, if the prospect of doing it yourself gives you the heebie jeebies, drop into Fumbally for a sample of the good stuff. headstuff.org/with-relish thefumbally.ie
Forest Avenue HAD enough of stereotypical touristy Irish fare? Eaten your weight in Irish stew? If you’re a tourist in town for the weekend and looking for amazing local food, book yourself a table at Forest Avenue.
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Forest Avenue is a contemporary Dublin restaurant serving food with hospitable, charming aplomb. It is owned by Corkonian chef John Wyer and his New Yorker wife Sandy and showcases an individual and confident style of cooking that is its own version of 'Irish' but not in any way confined by the label. It won’t lack appeal to locals either, this place buzzes with diners from Wednesday to Saturday. Both three-course and tastings menus are available for lunch and dinner with and a meticulous, stylish execution. John’s respect for raw materials comes through in spades, as does his commitment to elegant presentation. We were wowed by a snack of two dainty round potato doughnuts, sitting on a deep, rich mushroom puree. Soft inside with a slightly sweet crispy exterior, a titillating dot of red sherry reduction standing in for jam and a tiny triangle of crispy chicken skin perched on top. Equally delicious were the agnolotti of parmesan and cauliflower; perfect parcels filled with a savoury essence. The food here feels very generous; there’s a lot of care taken. Yet even though intricate, magical processes have been applied to the pure ingredients, nothing is overdone: there’s a masterful simplicity at work. I spoke to John about his passion for ingredients, his style of cooking, and his thoughts on Irish food today. Ingredients are clearly a huge passion of yours, where does that passion come from? I’ve been obsessed with ingredients since I first started cooking. I was always like that, even as a teenager. My mother was the same. My fridge was always full of wonderful ingredients. She grew up on a farm. I think that was just the norm for her, to go out the back and pick your carrots and cabbage. A very
simple approach. When I started in this trade I was focusing on learning the fundamentals of the craft and then trying to understand where things were coming from. When I came to Dublin it was a case of trying to get to know the farmers and the vegetable growers and trying to find out who was on top of their game when it came to producers of raw materials. How important are those relationships with your farmers and producers? Our veg grower is the most important person in this operation. That’s a lady called Jenny McNally from Lusk, North Co. Dublin. I’ve known her for about seven or eight years now. She’s been expanding her farm for the last number of years, finally to a point where she can now sustain this restaurant with vegetables. The thing about Jenny is that she’s trying new things all the time. These cabbages for instance, she was going to throw away because they were really small, and she wasn’t happy with them. I was like, they’re amazing, little baby January King cabbages. Do you start with vegetables? Vegetables never let me down. I’ve always loved them. I love the varieties, colours, textures. The scope for veg is amazing. Vegetables change all the time, they reflect the season more. You can get duck or lamb or beef all year round. But in order for you to express the season for me you have to do that through veg. I want the food to reflect where we are. I want it to say we’re in a specific season, time of a season even.
It’s important for me to have the relationship with the veg grower, to have an understanding of the love that she puts into her product. The fact that I know the grower, for a long time, I know her family, that has a feel good factor for me. We have a very clear and defined food chain, a very simple food system. It’s coming from farm in Lusk and the next day it’s on the plate here. What are your favourite ingredients? I love humble ingredients, like turnip, swede, potatoes, onions… You don’t see a lot of extravagance on my menu. Those are the things that float my boat. To take a humble swede and turn it into something spectacular. For the customer to say, how did you do that to a parsnip? For customers to experience something different, or to experience excellence through something that’s generally considered mundane, is great for us, and a great challenge for us. How has coming out of the recession affected the restaurant business? The Celtic Tiger years were great for business, but were they great for food? I just caught the end of the Celtic Tiger. It was a time when restaurants all over the city were packed, seven nights a week. It was a very healthy time in one way, turning over very good money. But people weren’t being challenged. There wasn’t the discerning customer there is now. I just don’t feel that people cared that much about where they were going. That led to a complacency amongst the restauranteurs and the customers. Nobody was striving for excellence because they weren’t being pushed to strive for excellence. It was a time in Irish gastronomy when everything became quite bland. I didn’t see anything that was reflective
of a modern Dublin or a modern Ireland. As soon as the recession kicked in, everything just fell off the map. Those lean years, do you think a lot of the restaurants doing well today were dreamed up during that time? Yes, everybody had to go back to the drawing board. Reflect on what they were doing and where they wanted to go. They had to change their model, change their approach. It gave people a kick in the arse to say we need to be better. There’s nothing more humbling than that. It takes a lot of introspection and honesty to stand there and say 'I don’t think we’re good enough. We need to get better.' That’s a great thing. I think it’s something that restaurateurs and chefs and craftspeople should ask themselves all the time. Does the label of ‘Irish food’ make sense for your food and the Forest Avenue menu? There’s certainly an element of Irishness about what we do. I don’t like to pigeonhole things into French, Irish, Nordic, whatever, but I think when you come into this restaurant there’s certainly an Irish feel. That’s very important to me. I also wanted the feel to be reflective of the owners. I’m from Cork, my wife is from New York, and when you come in here, there’s definitely a sense of that. I never wanted to say that we do Irish food specifically, but I did want it to have a modern Irish feel about it. To be a progressive, urban Dublin restaurant. A restaurant that really fits in Dublin but at the same time you could put it in London, or Sydney. A world class restaurant.
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There’s a lot of talk about creating or defining ‘Irish food’. We’re a small country, does an overly traditional approach to Irish food make sense? I am always rooted in the classics, I look towards the European repertoire. Combinations that to me work and excite me. I think there’s nothing wrong with that, as an Irish person, to be looking towards our European neighbours. Sometimes I think we’re too preoccupied with talking about the establishment of Irish food. Why not involve European food in that as well? People talk about things like indigenous Irish ingredients, that seaweed and oysters have to be Irish now. Where did that come from? I didn’t grow up eating seaweed and oysters. Nobody did. So why is that quintessentially Irish now? If you look at the Nordic model, the landscape of their larder is probably bigger than the size of Europe. They’re using ingredients from all over Scandinavia and they’re calling it hyper-local or Nordic. But if I use a French mushroom then I’m shot down. People are shutting down the European model, but I believe in Europe and using those influences. There’s a massive melting pot of amazing gastronomic culture. forestavenuerestaurant.ie
10 cocktail spots to try in Dublin
HERE’S our layman’s guide to boozing your way around the city. In no particular order…
Yamamori Tengu, Great Strand Street Attached to a Japanese restaurant, like its sister Izakaya on George Street, as you’d expect the cocktails here are luxurious, delicate and many include sake. The bar is dark and atmospheric with a range of lovely light Japanese beers. I recommend the tangy-sour Nama Lychee [if we’re calling cocktails after the National Asset Management Agency, does that mean the boom is back?]. yamamori.ie Drop Dead Twice, Francis Street This is a novel concept in Dublin, a BYO cocktail bar. You book in for a sitting and bring your own naggin or shoulder of booze. The bartender leads guests through options before mixing up drinks. Vodka could lead to a White Chocolate Espresso Martini, and a popular outlet for gin is the Raspberry and Balsamic Martini. dropdeadtwice.com Hang Dai, Lower Camden Street Hang Dai always did boozy brilliance downstairs in the restaurant-come-late bar but now they’ve opened up their super luxe Gold Bar with a smoking terrace upstairs, so it’s going to be even more A. They confidently play with adult flavours like smoky mezcal, marzipan-scented amaro and the finest vermouth. hangdaichinese.com
The Yarn, Lower Liffey Street The Yarn do pizza and booze. Very well. They are strong on slightly savoury, herbal ingredients like tarragon and orange bitters. The choice is curated and carefully done. Their gin, vermouth and Campari Negroni is sharp and strong. If your tooth is sweet try the passion fruit, pineapple, rum, vanilla vodka and whites options. Pop! theyarnpizza.com Delahunt, Lower Camden Street Entering the Delahunt cocktail bar [upstairs to the main restaurant] is like finding platform 9 ¾. It’s a super stylish, mid-century modernist drawing-room with a bay window looking out to the mayhem below. Cocktails by bar manager Martin Holec are intelligent, creative and unusual. Try the Little Bird with Tequila, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse and marmalade flavours. delahunt.ie Zozimus, Anne's Lane Zozimus is a busy spot just off Grafton Street with a team of bar dynamos powering through large orders of attractive and appealing cocktails. They have a large menu with the usual suspects and a curious selection of their own inventions. Their Marshmallow Ramos contains their homemade pink marshmallow infused Ketel One vodka with Baileys and white chocolate tastes. zozimusbar.ie
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Capitol, Aungier Street You probably won’t find cheaper cocktails in Dublin than this buzzing bar. Capitol do Happy Hour on Thursdays and Fridays and it’s always heaving, with lots of uncomplicated, sweet and fruity flavoured drinks. This is the perfect place for pre-payday Porn Star Martinis, and their fruity Mojitos will get the minty party started. capitol.ie Peruke & Periwig, Dawson Street This is a decadent Victorian-feel, threestorey establishment, perfect for lounging and eating. It gets a mixed crowd and can feel a little contrived, but their cocktail menu is thoughtful and fun: themed by music genres like pop, soul, blues, rock ’n’ roll and so on. Lots of sweet and rich, creamy options. Try the Pretty Fly for a Mai Tai for the name alone. peruke.ie
Drury Buildings, Drury Street Expect a stylishbar with a great derelict(e) “could be New York” smoking garden out the back. Serious cocktails with classic and signature options which are strong on herbal and aromatic flavours. Friendly bar staff. The Salt Caramel Martini comes highly recommended. drurybuildings.com The Liquor Rooms The speakeasy-style cocktail bar is now common-place in Dublin city, but when pockets started getting a little looser it was The Liquor Rooms who were instrumental in starting that wave of decadent boozers. The surroundings are lush and their best cocktails are the wellcrafted versions of the classics. theliquorrooms.com
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WINGS, burgers, goujons and the most morish garlic mayo you’ll try in the capital. After a few pints you’ll be making a beeline for this newly-opened take away down the quays. What might surprise you (even after finishing your well-earned meal) is that the entirety of what you’ve scoffed is meat and dairy free. Gav and Ais have built a highly successful plant-based food brand that has blazed a trail at the markets and festival circuits over the last five years, but the time has come for a bricks and mortar vegan haven in the city. This is Beast, in the words of co-founder Gav Pedley. What is Beast? "Beast isn’t a restaurant, it’s kind of a diner but it’s not really a diner either. It’s me and Ais having a dinner party, it’s us doing what we like doing. It’s having a kind of social expression and a little bit of art as well."
The Food? "We go for comfort food and it’s very dinerinspired because that’s the type of food that gives you genuine pleasure, it’s a bit naughty, it’s not your health food stuff. It doesn’t comment on you in any way. If you walk into a restaurant and get a traditional vegan option, more than likely people are going to think healthy and vegan at the same time and that makes a comment about the person eating it by the person cooking it. That’s not what we do. We cook the food that we want." Must try? "The bacon has always been the biggest winner, it’s the thing we introduce people to first." @beasteatery
All up in my grill
COOKING with fire is a symbolic and elemental way of preparing food. Fire is part of human evolution and was the first form of cooking; cooking is what distinguishes humans from other animals. Food author Michael Pollan makes the point that, “When we learned to cook is when we became truly human”. He thinks our fascination with fire is some kind of evolutionary instinct: fire is a sign you’re going to be fed. Watching fire can set off excitement centres in your hungry brain. Think of it as kind of fire-based genetic memory Pavlovian reaction. There’s certainly a very primal, raw satisfaction to eating something you’ve just seen grilled right in front of your nose on a live flame. Exposing food to high temperatures produces a particular chemical reaction called the Maillard effect. It’s a chemical reaction of amino acids and sugars which activates loads of delicious flavour compounds and may explain why people go gaga for barbecue. Barbecue purists say that only charcoal or wood-based fire cooking is the real deal, but I’ve included a few places that use gas because they too do fun stuff with fire. I spoke to chef Ian Marconi, caterer and popper-upper extraordinaire, operating under the name Jackrabbit. He uses live wood and charcoal in his cooking and learned his trade at legendary London restaurant Moro where, he says, “everything was done either on a Turkish style charcoal grill or in a wood burning oven”.
“I looked like a coal man and had no hair on my arms or face for years, but I loved it.” He emphasises the instinctive and variable nature of fire cooking. “You have to get a real feel for how everything works when you’re dealing with something without a dial, timers, temperature gauges. There’s no comparison to the natural, smoky, charred lack of uniformity in the end result when using fire compared to using electrical equipment." A part of the world very much associated with fire cooking is the American South: North and South Carolina, Memphis, Texas and other areas. The international craze for these Southern US subcultures has been raging in Ireland for a few years now, but it’s not the only gig in town. Fowl Play has Portuguese and Filipino influences. Mongolian and Korean barbecues do their thing and we have our own Irish tradition too. I have money on some culinary hipster opening a fulacht fiadh restaurant in Dublin 8 any day now. Walking around Meatopia and The Big Grill this summer it struck me that the aesthetic of the 21st century barbecue festival is a post-apocolyptic, smoke-filled carnival. A Mad Max meat orgy. The scale of the cooking and the equipment is big and industrial. There are hacksaws, chains and hooks. There are recognisable animal parts strung up everywhere, and whole pigs and cows on spits. It’s a shameless carnivorous celebration, and not for the squeamish. A barbecue festival is not where you want to take that nice vegan you just met on Tinder. I chatted to Ivan Garbino, the head chef and pitmaster in Fowl Play at the Square Ball,
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one of Dublin’s most dedicated barbecue eating spots. It’s owned and run by two of The Big Grill founders and barbecue nuts Andy Noonan of Baste and Trev O’Shea of Bodytonic. Ivan is originally from the Philippines and moved to Ireland when he was 10. He says that cooking with fire was “a natural thing to do in the do” in his home country. “It was cheaper to cook with charcoal. The delivery guy would come every week. We had gas and electricity too, but we had an outdoor kitchen and clay pots to cook with charcoal in. You’d just fire it up when you need it." Ivan studied at DIT Cathal Brugha Street and worked as a dessert chef in Bang Café for a while, but quit when the recession hit, but he still loved cooking and travels kept him interested in food. A chance conversation about smokers and barbecuing at Electric Picnic with Andy Noonan led to him getting involved with The Big Grill. One thing led to another and when Fowl Play opened a few years ago he became the sous chef in its small kitchen. Now he’s head chef and keen to continue the pub’s passion for fire-fuelled grub. Fowl Play takes inspiration from many places. They use cherry wood as fuel, as it’s delicate enough for poultry. Their smoker, for slower cooking, is from Texas. Ivan says he uses it for, “the toughest parts of the animal, which would be the most delicious”. The other piece of kit in their kitchen is the rotisserie from Portugal. Cooking with fire requires a particular temperament and Ivan agrees with Ian Marconi, “cooking with fire takes a lot of patience, and a lot of management. You can’t just turn on the knob. You have to manage it, to use your sense, how it feels. But I don’t mind cooking meat for ten hours, there’s pleasure in managing the fire. It’s therapeutic”. Ivan Garbino
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Here are four more Dublin restaurants where you can get your grill fill… Bison Bar - Wellington Quay Bison Bar was one of the first spots in Dublin to delve into the genuine American barbecue experience. They even sent their head chef Oliver Byrne to Memphis to learn the art of smoking and grilling! bisonbar.ie His Food - Moore Street Mall His Food is down the stairs and into the basement of Moore Street Mall, a bazaar-like maze of small food units that is full of unexpectedness. It serves a range of incredible Balkan cuisine. Mongolian BBQ - Temple Bar The Mongolian barbecue is a simple concept, but really fun. There’s a buffet where you choose a selection of meat, seafood and/or vegetables, herbs, spices and sauces. You then hand a bowl of your selection over to the chefs and they theatrically cook your food in front of you. mongolianbbq.ie Hailan - Capel Street Hailan is a Chinese and Korean restaurant that does a roaring trade. It obviously doesn’t have the same smoky feel as cooking with charcoal or wood, but the attraction is watching the food cook right in front of your eyes. Never mind the charcoal purists, gas is grand. hailan.ie
No Wallflowers THE food at Clanbrassil House showcases serious skills while retaining an unfussy integrity. It’s one of a newish gang of modern Irish restaurants in the city making inventive, real food with respect for suppliers and the environment, all while using seasonal, Irish ingredients. I’m thinking also of Clanbrassil’s sister restaurant Bastible, plus Delahunt, Forest and Marcy, Lock’s, Craft, the Legal Eagle. And there are more.
There’s something easy about these places, even those that lean towards fine dining. They are relaxed in their hospitality, non-purist in their styles and assuredly on-point when it comes to the cooking itself. They’re just getting on with it. The pleasure of enjoying food as you like it, rather than eating to show off how sophisticated you are, seems to be back on the menu in Dublin.
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Gráinne O’Keefe is the head chef at Clanbrassil House, a small, neat and modern restaurant owned by Bastible’s Barry Fitzgerald and Claire-Marie Thomas. The menu is simple and the mains are based around the restaurant’s unique, charcoal grill. We were wowed by the perfect snack — spherical ham croquettes, crispy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside. Elsewhere on the menu there are pitch perfect pairings, like delicate crab meat topped with Gubbeen guanciale, a melt-in-the-mouth, thin, fatty, pork cheek.
The grill adds real depth to the mains; the pork chop special was juicy and charred and I could happily eat the hash brown chips every day. Our dessert, chocolate mousse with honeycomb and marmalade ice-cream, looked a bit ordinary but my friend and I almost fought over it. The food here is honest and direct with no faffing about.
I chatted to Gráinne about how she cooks and her thoughts on food. Did you always want to be a chef? I didn’t know what foie gras was until I went to college. But when I was younger I remember I used to watch cooking shows at home. I remember when I was watching chefs on TV thinking, ‘I want to do that. I want to learn how to do that’. I have three older brothers and an older sister and I used to try and cook for them when I was younger. I did my Leaving Cert and I actually did quite well in school, but I didn’t do the CAO. I said I’m going to get into culinary school in DIT. That was a two-year course, but I knew if I didn’t do that course I just would have gone to work in a kitchen somewhere.
in books. A lot of chefs are self-taught anyway, a lot of good chefs. It’s different now. Is it a tough gig? You have to have the right attitude. When you’re starting out at that age, when you’re young, you’re still going out with your mates who are not chefs. They’re out weekends. You have to realise that it’s going to be no weekends off; you’re going to be working until 1am. I think for the first year or so you get that shock that this is what your life is going to be from now on if you continue in this career. And then, you know, you start to make friends who are mostly chefs, you start going out Monday nights. It sounds a bit like a cult! Does it attract a certain type of personality?
What about food influences? When I was younger I used to go down to my grandparents a lot, they live on a farm in Leitrim. My nan would always cook dinner at the same time every day. That was the best food I had ever eaten. Looking back now, I know that’s because everything that they cooked was fresh. It was from around them, it was local. The milk was from the cows up the road. The beef and the cheese, everything was local. There was one shop in the village. You couldn’t get anything in it. They had their own well. I suppose I never really thought about why the food tasted so good until I was older. I didn’t eat in a proper restaurant until I went to college. I literally knew nothing. I didn’t know any chefs. I think it’s a lot different nowadays. I think people who go into cooking now, by the time they are 17 they have a world of experience at their fingertips, on the internet,
Every good chef I know seems to share similar qualities. Extremely driven, always quite intelligent, but also chefs just seem to have, not all, but some, a different humour than you would get with other people. If I’m outside my work, with my family, you’d almost be stopping yourself from saying things. Anywhere else it sounds ridiculous. In the kitchen it’s totally normal. There is a sense of camaraderie. Everyone who works in a kitchen is little bit weird. How would you describe your style of cooking? My style is simple and focused on seasonal cooking, as local as we can. What’s unique about here is the charcoal grill. We base the menu around what’s in season, what works, what we like, what tastes good.
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"Everyone who works in a kitchen is a little bit weird.” Gráinne O’Keefe
What does food mean to you? I think since I’ve been 17, all I’ve really done is cook food, learn about food. If I was to go into detail about it, I’d be more likely to talk about farmers, producers and the way it’s produced, what you get in the supermarket, why it’s the prices that it is compared to in a butchers. When you think, you think of the farmers – even my grandad – working 365 days a year. Even at Christmas time the cows need to be fed. When you look at a carrot and you go into one of the big brands they are selling them for three cent each. I would just look at that and think, ‘The farmer spent however many months growing that, put however much water into the soil and they probably made minus profit on that carrot’. I’m always conscious of where it comes from, where it’s grown. clanbrassilhouse.com
ALTHOUGH we are surrounded by water in Ireland we don’t feel the love for our fish as deeply as other countries with the riches that accompany vast coastlines. Historically, fish was something the Catholic Church said you should eat on a Friday, but only really as a substitute for meat, so Friday’s fish had penitential rather than indulgent associations. When I was growing up in the 80s my dad would roam the local Offaly rivers and brooks catching brown and rainbow trout. The treatment it got was a very thorough frying and if he was feeling exotic, a bit of lemon juice. It was simple and delicious, though as kids we took it for granted. Even though it was coming from a few hundred metres away, preparing fish felt alien, something we were a little unsure of. Maybe the feeling that cooking fish was scary led Ireland to embrace processed fish products; orange fish fingers and the rather more sophisticated Donegal Catch breaded frozen fish pieces that fulfilled every family’s Friday obligation. But our appetite for fish is resurging. Niall Sabongi is a chef who runs a sustainable seafood wholesales. He also owns Klaw and Klaw Poké, two casual dining spots in Dublin, and the bright and bustling Seafood Café where we met, as well as running a sustainable seafood wholesale company. He wants to change our attitudes towards fish. I asked him why he thinks we haven’t always taken advantage of the seas and oceans around us. He points to the famine of the 1840s. Exploitation of our seas by the British was one thing, but the loss of generations of fish-related technical skill and knowledge, through death and emigration, was far more detrimental to the industry.
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found ourselves as a nation. We travel more, we eat away more; we’re more open to the idea.”
“From very early stages the British had fleets all around the coasts and we weren’t allowed to fish them. Fishing nets were one of the first things that were sold, to buy meagre food to feed families. Everyone that had a boat during the famine left on the boat. With that kind of brain drain, we lost a lot of our knowledge of the sea.” Niall’s approach to changing minds is practical, and convincing. The Seafood Café offerings are full of flavor; cheeky, with a lot of personality and a lack of fuss. I asked Niall where he saw his restaurants on the spectrum from casual to fine dining and he said, “Oh, casual. To the point of neglect”, laughing. Totally untrue; you’ll be well looked after, just in an familiar and informal way. Fundamental to how Niall works. “I worked in Michelin restaurants and I love all that. It’s such dedication, it’s brilliant. But seafood, I’ve always just loved grabbing a few oysters and a beer. In Ireland you could never do that, it was always the white tablecloths and the brown bread and butter and the waiter and the wine list. It was always very expensive and very posh. By taking the posh out of it, all the frills away, by using kitchen towels - it makes it more accessible and open and more Irish.” Back to Dublin’s Seafood Café and the crab was just in, being prepared behind the counter in front of us. We ate the white, pure, almost fluffy crab meat in a taco. There was a salmon one too and most interestingly, a taco with raw gurnard, soft, delicate and ceviche like. We also noshed some saltfish croquettes, hot and fluffy fried potato balls, crispy on the outside with a hint of tangy sumac. Everything we ate was exploding with fresh flavours.
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Niall points to the dried white fish, used in the croquettes, hanging above like you might, more traditionally, see in Spain or Portugal. The Irish version, as old as the hills, is called washboard and is made with ling. Niall thinks it has a lot to answer for, despite the unappetising name. Washboard came into existence to align with the teachings of the Catholic Church. People needed to eat fish every Friday but were too poor to afford fresh produce hence the salted, dried variety. “It would be caught and salted in Galway and then transported by horse and cart in the lashing rain to Leitrim,” Niall tells me. “By the time it got to Leitrim it would be stinking and rotten and soggy and horrible... That’s why I think people wince their noses up at fish. If you go to France or Spain or Italy... They like the smell, they breathe it in. It’s a learned habit.” Niall is confident that those cultural legacies are changing and Ireland will fall in love with the fruits of the sea again. “We’ve found ourselves as a nation. We travel more, we eat away more; we’re more open to the idea. I think people are finally beginning to realise that we are actually an island nation. We have this bounty around us.” At the same time there are challenges, like EU quota restrictions and the big one, sustainability. Niall reckons we need to be more responsive to what the sea provides and not get fixated on particular species. He says, “All fish is sustainable, the problem is we only eat one thing. So when they said don’t eat cod, everyone ate haddock. Then, don’t eat haddock, so everyone eats hake. In Ireland what we need to do is eat different fish. Try megrim, try Irish squid, try red mullet.”
He wants to improve quality in choice for the consumer. “Historically a lot of our shellfish gets exported and we import about the same percentage. The appetite is there, we just need to start asking for it. It’s about asking your fishmonger for razor clams or abalone, or cockles or whelks.” Niall is passionate about Irish food beyond his special interest in the sea. His enthusiasm is totally infectious, probably why Fáilte Ireland enrolled him as a Food Champion. He reckons Irish food needs a bit of a reboot, brand-wise and promotes the #thisisirishfood hashtag on social media. He describes his food as “not traditional Irish but what is traditional Irish? We’re a very young society in terms of independence. You rediscover yourself again and again and our food culture is part of that”. This culture has perhaps been historically underdeveloped. Yet chefs, producers and everyday cooks are driving an appreciation of the simplicity of the food chain here in Ireland. Our small scale means that ingredients come as directly as possible from the land or sea. Niall says, “People are amazed in the rest of Europe, when we talk to other producers. Our provenance and how close we are to the source, it’s so simple. People are amazed by this but to us it’s second nature”. Prepare to eat more oysters. klaw.ie
WHEN speaking metaphysically, what is a burger? Its recipe elements are so rudimentary that the very definition becomes elastic and multifarious. Yet, somehow it still retains an essential burgerness: we all recognise a burger when we see one. Constant is some kind of [usually round] patty - classically beef, but other meats, beans, vegetables [often a sad, flat mushroom]. Once upon a time, toppings were limited to tomato, cheese and lettuce. Maybe a pickle if you were feeling fancy. But now, avocado, aioli, pineapple! Like much in life, the world of burgers is more confusing than it was when I was a child. Once upon a time, toppings were limited to tomato, cheese and lettuce. Maybe a pickle if you were feeling fancy. But now, avocado, aioli, pineapple! Like much in life, the world of burgers is more confusing than it was when I was a child. Now people take sexy Instagram snaps of their obscenely loaded burgers, oozing cheese and sauce and everyone drools. But who cares? We’re all going to get old and die. In the meantime however, here are some special places in Dublin pushing proper patties. Wowburger Wowburger's menu is easy to navigate, with simple burger options and Five Guys-style customisable free extras and unlimited fizzy pop. The vibe and décor is old-school, American dinerlike. Expect sweet buns, sharp pickles and juicy burgers, beats a Mighty Mac [though I still heart a Mighty Mac]. Their moreish garlic butter fries are an indulgent indulgence. wowburger.ie
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Generator Hostel Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the construction of their Beefeater dish and its cult following is justified. Lovely buns, moreish Hereford beef and simple toppings contrive to make their burger more than the sum of its parts. generatorhostels.com Bunsen Bunsen were one of the first purveyors of the sleazy burger in Dublin. It’s casual but still sit-down and sparse inside. Their dirty burgers are the iconic Instagram #foodporn. Their menu is simple stuff: four burger choices and fries three ways [handcut, shoestring or sweet potato], but you can rely on it to hit the spot. bunsen.ie Bobo’s Bobo’s have been in the game a while and their menu is more extensive than the more purist spots. Their repertoire of toppings is vast and unruly, including things like pineapple and onion rings, which sometimes makes for a very tall and difficult to eat mouthful. That’s not a criticism, I like tall food. bobos.ie
Captain Americas A Dublin family institution, in years gone by you'd be forgiven for thinking this was only a place for birthday parties and celebrations. Now they boast a new and improved range of burgers to compete with the newer establishments that have popped up in the city over the last 5 years. The new bacon and cheese burger is going to be very popular with Dubliners for years to come. Added bonus is that all their fries are hand cut in the restaurant for that extra crunch. They’re something of an OG of burgers in the capital, and long may that continue. captainamericas.com Broughgammon Farm If you’re looking for something a little different Co. Antrim’s Broughgammon Farm weekly bring their tasty offerings to the Temple Bar Sunday market. Billy Burgers is the stall you’re looking for. They serve up goat meat which is succulent, tasty and bit more flavoursome than chicken and beef and they add unusual toppings like their hand-pickled cucumbers, tzatziki, and sweet chili. It’s my goat-to burger. Sorry. broughgammon.com
Bujo’s Bujo’s is a little out of town in seaside Sandymount, but worth a scoot. Much thought has been put into the provenance and quality of the ingredients and extras [amazing cheese, bacon, craft beer and cider], unsurprising as the menu has been dreamed up by Grainne O’Keeffe, head chef at the inventive Clanbrassil House. bujo.ie Happy Food Chances are if you’re vegetarian you’ll have stopped reading about 500 words ago. Nevertheless, if you made it this far, I do have a strong vegetarian recommendation. Happy Food’s snug little café has made its mission the provision of indulgent faux-junk food that is full of plant-based good stuff. happyfood.ie Stella Diner Another one for the herbivores among us, while Stella Diner in Rathmines do good beef burgers, it’s their grilled halloumi offering that you need to make the trip south of the city for. Plus, you can leg it next door after to catch a film. stelladiner.ie Bison This BBQ joint on Wellington Quay may be known for its ribs and other smoked deliciousness cooked low 'n' slow, but their chicken thigh burger is the business. Their chefs have been trained in Texas and and they also have a top notch whiskey bar. Try the sour with Bulleit Bourbon for an immersive 'yeehaw' experience. bisonbar.ie
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Introducing the Press Up Gift Card
1 Card, 46 Experiences
available in venue or online at WWW.pressup.ie
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
IN the 1800â€™s British merchants did a roaring trade in smuggling opium, a highly addictive poppy derivative, into China. The Chinese government were naturally unhappy with the steady stripping of Chinese silver alongside mass addiction and this led to two wars and prohibition. But the habit was hard to kick. When Chinese migrants left China in the 19th century they brought pipe-smoking opium dens with them to England, the US and elsewhere. These dens became emblems of underworldly iniquity, romanticised as exotic sites.
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It’s safe to say Opium on Wexford Street is not full of people smoking mind-bending pipes, although it does have an attractive smoking garden. It’s a blend of minimalist opulence with a relaxed, loungey vibe and a panAsian inspired menu that looks to Thailand, Vietnam and Japan for inspiration. It’s busy, particularly at the weekend, but manages to stay comfortable and chill. The décor has a contemporary Japanese feel with bold graphic art on the walls, dark wooden floors, luxurious leather booths and pretty orange patterned lanterns dotted above the long bar at the back. We started with cocktails from their Asian-inspired list, which caters to different palates whether you’re looking for delicate and fruity or strong and serious. The Mango Bang Bang is Tanqueray gin with lightly tannic Gunpowder and mango tea, sweetened with mango and lychee syrup. The Paloma Sling has a tequila buzz with bitter notes from Aperol and San Pellegrino grapefruit soda sweetened up with agave syrup. Both were refreshing but complex; sweetly fruity but not overly so. Nothing like tequila on a Wednesday. The best thing about food like that of Opium is how it manages to be light but also satisfying. The flavours are zingy, varying from subtle to punchy. There are a diverse section of starters and small plates, which I love as I am incredibly indecisive. The menu gives you the options of snacking with some cocktails or going for a more traditional starter-main course configuration. If you’re not drinking cocktails there are light Asian beers and a compact but varied wine list. Manager Mario recommends the Riesling or the Pinot Noir as the most traditional wine-matches for this type of food. We went for some light and sparkling prosecco.
If you’re a dumpling fan [who isn’t?], there are two types of dumplings on the menu. The first type are handmade gyoza with shrimp and snow pea, pork and ginger, or mushroom and smoked garlic. These come with a very addictive black vinegar, soy and sesame dip. The second is more of a boat-pusher; scallop and prawn. The sweet and delicate seafood parcels come in a clean but rich consommé. The broth has all the big South East Asian flavours - ginger, lemongrass, kafir lime and chili. The ‘hirata buns’ or bao are top notch, we tried the Thai Po’Boy; the soft, pillowy buns filled with crunchy fried soft shell crab, tangy green papaya remoulade and salad. There’s also a char siu BBQ pork number. For mains there are dishes from across Asia: curries, soups, stir-fries, noodle dishes and salads from Thailand, Malaysia, China and Vietnam. There are a range of spice levels available if you want to feel the heat. Mario says the curries are particularly popular and you can see why. The duck red curry, pimped with extra chili, was wintry, warming and flavoursome, the coconut milk adding a soft sweetness that offsets the chili kick. There are lots of delicious additions including cute little pea aubergines, bamboo shoots, lychees and pineapple. The twice-cooked suckling pork belly was also a winner, caramelised and sticky on the outside, rich and tasty flavours with chili, garlic, scallions and bean sprouts on the inside. We tried the morning glory for some nutritious greenery on the side; a delicious Chinese spinach-like vegetable that comes with sesame and chili. Desserts are tropical and rich, like the white chocolate and mango chocolate cheesecake. Think a creamy caramel taste offset by tangy roast pineapple and passion fruit, with a ginger nut base. Or try the apple
and rhubarb puffs with five-spice, cinnamon ice-cream and butterscotch. They do a great-value early-bird Sun–Wed 5–7.30pm. It’s 21.95 euro for two course and 24.95 euro for three of any of the à la carte dishes. It’s a fusion-style menu which pays respect to the origins of dishes without being slavish and it changes at least twice a year to reflect the seasons. Like the décor, the menu shows huge attention to detail. There’s obviously been a big effort to source Asian ingredients rather than substitute. The salads are great in hot weather but the curries and spicy dishes work particularly well in our frigid, wintry months. The menu is very amenable to gluten free and vegetarian/vegan needs as rice noodles and tofu can be subbed in. Asian food is light on dairy, but all dishes can be made dairy free. Opium has multiple floors, nooks and crannies with something for everyone especially at the weekend. The restaurant is quite separate to the club upstairs, but at the back there’s a sweet ‘Botanic Garden’ where you can smoke and have a drink. The restaurant is the perfect place for after work drinks and eats. It’s hopping on Fridays and Saturdays too. Wexford and Camden Street can be hectic, but the soothing tunes, luscious cocktails and food at Opium will transport you to the other side of the world. opium.ie
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Vietnamese, please "SO have you spent a summer in Vietnam as well?" Barry Wallace asks me when I pop into his new spot Pang on Kevin street. I actually haven’t, but he tells me it seems like every second customer has, and they want to revisit the vibrant food they found there. Vietnamese cuisine certainly seems to be having a moment in Dublin with both traditional and ‘Vietnam-inspired’ spots popping up around the city. It’s fresh, healthy and perfect for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets, so you can see why it is booming.
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Vietnamese recipes aim to achieve a balance of five fundamental tastes. These tastes correspond to five philosophical and emotional elements that are based on Chinese yin and yang. They are sweet, sour, salty, bitter and hot and they are the building blocks of Vietnamese cooking. The flavours of Vietnamese food also reflect native traditions and colonial influences: Vietnam has been occupied by China, Japan, India and most notably in food terms, by France. The French annexed Vietnam for less than a hundred years, but there are culinary traces; techniques and ingredients that have been worked into the local landscape. The most famous Vietnamese dish is probably the fragrant pho, a rich French-style beef broth [traditionally] with rice noodles and handfuls of crunchy bean sprouts, fresh coriander and basil, with thin slices of hot red chilies on top. Another French-Vietnamese mash-up is the banh mi; crusty French-style bread, traditionally featuring cold-cuts of meat and pâté fillings, with slicked pickles, fresh herbs and spicy mayonnaise. It’s an intercontinental belter of a sandwich. Note to the Brits, who were here for 800 years and couldn’t even manage to leave behind one decent snack. The most significant food-related heritage out of that whole business is the potato, and we all know how that turned out. Pho Viet on Parnell Street was the first Vietnamese restaurant in Dublin. Owner Tri Nguyen came over in 1979 on a boat, not long after the Vietnam War ended. I spoke to daughter Kim, who thinks there were under two hundred Vietnamese in Ireland then, but there are a few thousand now. Her dad had worked as a chef in Hong Kong. In 2012 he
and his wife Tuyet, who’d arrived to Ireland in 1990, opened Pho Viet on an auspicious date – 12/12/12. She says that as time has passed Irish people have become more familiar with the food, “We get a lot of customers saying they visited Vietnam”. There are regional differences to Vietnamese food. Kim tells me, “My family are from Saigon in the south so the flavours are lighter”. Pho is their most popular dish. It takes a long time to prepare, “sometimes my parents are here until 5 or 6 in the morning”. That is dedication. They have two different broths, one for meat-eaters and one for vegetarians and they’ve noticed lots more vegetarians and vegans in the city in recent years. The chefs in Pho Viet are from Vietnam and the food they cook is traditional with a few small exceptions. “Both my parents are Vietnamese,” Kim says. “They want to bring our culture into Ireland. We import all the ingredients to make dishes in the traditional way. We get a lot of reviews saying this is really traditional Vietnamese food.” Kim’s parents want people to learn more about Vietnamese food and they want Ireland and Vietnam to become countries better acquainted. “It’s the same in Vietnam, not a lot of people know where Ireland is.” I suggest she opens an Irish restaurant in Vietnam as our intercultural ambassador. “I wish! That might be too complicated.”
Complication is absent from the menu at Pang, which is Vietnamese-inspired but a confident and modern interpretation. Owner Barry Wallace used to work in fashion. The recession led him to set up a food stall at markets, leading to the successful and casual in Brussels. He now works as a restaurant consultant, coming up with ideas for new restaurants and sometimes setting them up himself. Pang represents a modern remix of Vietnamese food. There are hopes to open more in other locations in Ireland and the North. He is, “obsessed with food”. Barry continues, “I like creating new brands, new recipes. I love that creative process of making something unique”. There’s certainly an eye for design and the visual. The rice paper rolls are stuffed full of fresh ingredients. Options are pho spiced chicken, prawn and fennel, tofu and courgette, all with fresh herbs and noodles visible through the translucent exterior. They come with different flavour bomb dips like orange soy and peanut hoisin. They are super pretty and born to be grammed. They’re also healthy. Barry loved the rolls he had in Vietnam but says, “I thought there was a gap in the market for a healthier version”. The aim is to build up a whole combinatory range of these rolls with different dips, all of which can be made into salad bowls. Like lots on the menu, the pho here is vegan, infused with star-anise. It’s particularly light, fragrant and super fresh. They do a version with chicken and both are topped with loads of fresh herbs, lime, chili, sriracha and hoisin.
In case you’re worried that this might be a little bit too #fitfam for you, fear not. There’s certainly healthy food on the menu here, but it’s not food that will leave you hungry. Pang is also one of the few places in Dublin where you can get a proper banh mi and it is tasty as. Barry sourced a Polish baker who is making the right kind of bread, a light baguette with a crust that shatters as you bite it. There are a range of fillings all loaded with traditional in-house pickles, spicy mayo, fresh herbs and crispy onions. They do lemongrass chicken, beef brisket or tofu, and my favourite the mortadella and corned beef with pâté. There are cures for gout these days anyway. Where Pho Viet is traditional, Pang is a more loose representation. I ask Barry where he stands on authenticity. “There are certain things I won’t bend the rules on, like the bread. Banh mi bread is really hard to source in Ireland. It’s not something that artisanal bread-makers are making. If we sell out of our Banh mi bread, I’m not running off to Dunnes or Tesco. The pickled carrots and daikon are all traditional Vietnamese. Where I would bend the rules is with a main ingredient. You might have a bun cha salad bowl but with jerk chicken. The flavour profiles work together.” So whether you like things old school or experimental, you won’t be short of tasty Vietnamese eats in Dublin these days. phoviet.ie & lovepang.ie
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Some other Vietnamese hotspots in the city… Aobaba, Capel Street Aobaba was jammed when I visited. The banh cuon [rice paper rolls filled with minced pork and black mushroom] are such a weird but good texture combination, especially with the addictive crispy onions. The pho is colourful, steaming, rich and zingy and you can order small or large bowls. They have top notch pancake and banh mi too. Have the bubble tea for more mouthfeel experiments. Jolin's Vietnamese Coffee House, Portobello A café-like spot on Clanbrassil Street, Jolin is family run and features an accessible pan-Asian menu with some key Vietnamese additions, including a rich, nourishing pho [both pho bo – beef and pho ga – chicken], delicious summer rolls [rice-paper rolls] with a fresh and spicy dip. Try the spicy Vietnamese chicken salad and a potent Vietnamese coffee for after. Vietnom, Stoneybatter The punderfully-named Vietnom started out as a stall at Electric Picnic. Founders Milly Murphy and Alex Gurnee set up shop in The Glimmerman in Stoneybatter, Thursday to Sunday. They, like Pang, are a modern reinterpretation of Vietnamese food, taking the flavours as inspiration but creating sustainable, vegetarian Irish versions. The menu is fusion, but often includes banh mi and the greats. Bun Cha, Moore Street This is Vietnamese on Moore Street, inspired by street food from Hanoi. Bun Cha is grilled pork and rice noodles, I guess a Vietnamese equivalent to our meat and two veg. They do a range of noodle soups including an oxtail pho and spicy bun bo hue, and a wonton version which looks swish.
Lil Portie comes home NICK Reynolds must have a thing for cities by the sea. He grew up in Dublin in Sandymount, spent six years living in Argentina’s main port Buenos Aires, and is now back in Dublin drawing on his Jamaican granny’s hometown of Port Antonio as inspiration for his Caribbean food project Lil Portie. He muses that we’re all “drawn to places that have echoes of the places we’ve been before”. Perhaps there’s an alluring openness about cities on the coast, an energy that comes from a connection with the world beyond. As Nick puts it, living in a port city “is like having three walls”.
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Lil Portie started in March, when Nick was settling back into Dublin life after some tumultuous professional experiences abroad. He started doing cosy pop ups in places like TwoFifty Square in Rathmines and Camden Bites and Brews, Nick taking over the kitchen to do Facebook-promoted food evenings with set menus featuring “zesty and spicy flavours from West Indian kitchens and cooking styles from the Caribbean coasts”. I sampled some of the delicious flavours at the Camden Street location, and was wowed by a style of cooking that is hard to find in the capital. The menu we had included sublime jerk ribs and chicken wings, jerk being a style of cooking native to Jamaica where meat is rubbed with a blend of spices that usually includes allspice and scotch bonnet peppers. We had plantain, a ubiquitous starchy vegetable used in many different ways in the Caribbean, saltfish fritters were savoury fried bites that we devoured in seconds and the sides showed up in the form of classic rice and peas, some golden jerk corn and an amazing lime pepper slaw. These are flavours of sunshine and white beaches, a superb fit for the summer we’d just had, but ones that would also warm your heart on these cold winter nights. Nick was born in Ireland, but his maternal grandmother, who lives in London, was born in Jamaica. His Irish father met his mother in London, but sadly she passed away when Nick was 10. He has a close relationship with his grandmother who, through her own kitchen, inspired his love of Caribbean cooking.
“She cooks the same food, every time I get there: rice and peas, coleslaw, jerk chicken.” Before his move to Buenos Aires, Nick took a holiday to Jamaica and after three days had his mind set on a relocation. He loved cooking when he was younger, but it was his time spent in the Argentinian capital that laid the groundwork for Lil Portie. He divided his years there between cooking, running pop ups and organising events. He says the city is “very much a place for creatives”. “Outside Buenos Aires there aren’t too many Spanish speaking big cities. Buenos Aires has 15 million people. Education is free. You have this huge mix of young people from all over Latin America.” There’s a strong connection between Ireland and Argentina. Eamon Bulfin, the man who raised the Irish flag over the GPO on Easter Monday, 1916, was born there. Similarly in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, Nick says when you start reading the history you realise “the effect the Irish have had on that part of the world.” The lilting accent of Jamaica, Nick says, “is like a Cork accent, because they came from Cork and Waterford and Wexford”.
“Like being tied to a chair, no, more like a radiator, and having everything slowly fall apart.” Crazy hours, unstable workmates and general chaos led to the implosion of the members’ club. Nick says, “It got to a stage where I was consuming my own soul. I was sleeping 20 hours a week”. Having had his dream life, seeing the situation spiral out of control was a real shock. “I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing in my life, my events company had been really successful, I was running this mansion, had my own apartment in Buenos Aires.” As the members’ club fell apart, the physical and mental toll was too high. Nick made the decision to back out and move home to Dublin but he looks back on the experience positively,“I know how far I can truly fall. I know it’s not too far and I can get back up again”. The plans for Lil Portie came together soon after Nick returned. He has always taken inspiration from his granny’s recipes, her hot sauce is legendary, and shows me a typical Jamaican home cookbook he borrowed from her.
Nick’s early forays into professional cooking in Buenos Aires involved English or Irish style roast dinners with soul and jazz music on Sunday evenings. It took off in a big way. He and a friend did that for about two years and then an opportunity arose to get involved with a luxurious members’ club opening in a huge mansion in the city. Nick was to look after the kitchen. Unfortunately what started as a dream, ended with a “very slow crash and burn”.
“She loves food, I mean all Jamaicans do, all West Indies. Anytime I’d leave her house I’d be leaving with four or five litres of hot sauce. I’d bring it to Argentina, to Ireland. It’s really good for using as a base. I’ll use it to cook up a mother sauce.”Nick has deliberately kept his style open, broadly channelling Caribbean, West Indies and Jamaican cooking. He’s not afraid to take inspiration from other countries, particularly Latin American and happily experiments with Irish ingredients.
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Jamaican and West Indies food embodies a history of migration and with each wave of immigration new spices, ingredients and styles of cooking come in. There are indigenous influences, Irish, French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Chinese, each bringing their own twists. I ponder if our Irish history of, until recently at least, predominantly outward migration, makes our food a little dull. Nick’s sanguine response is, “You’re not going to find something exotic that you have every day”. Speaking of migration, Nick tells me about a recent ancestry test he took and its interesting results. “I came back a mix of Irish, Nigerian, Sierra Leonean, Kenyan, Spanish, Italian, Latvian and Indian. When I started putting it all together, what’s the easiest story I can tell? Everything is an echo of what came before.” It’s an interpretive view of culture that nothing is really fixed and there’s always a pre-history. Nick points out that one of the most ‘Irish’ dishes, fish and chips, came over with the Italians in the 1950s. He’s interested in bringing in foods from West Africa, Colombia and other Latin American countries. One of his favourite ingredients is okra, and he recalls to me a fascinating story he heard -“It came over with slaves, they hid seeds in their ears”, although he can’t confirm.
“Everything is an echo of what came before.”
Following the success of Lil Portie popup, Nick has negotiated a more permanent arrangement with TwoFifty Square. A fully functioning restaurant is set to open three nights a week. lilportie.com
60 seconds with Elaine Murphy of The Legal Eagle, talking about their nostalgiafuelled Seriously Seventies lunch.
The Legal Eagle is still relatively new to the Dublin restaurant scene, but has already garnered a loyal following and won awards, what makes the restaurant so special? It is special... We love it! I think it's got a feel that nowhere else in Dublin has, a kind of timeless elegance and a menu that just doesn't exist anywhere else. That proper pubby pieand-pudding-and-roast-and-oysters-and-eelsand-pickled-eggs style menu, it just doesn't exist here in Ireland. The added bonus of an exceptional (and now, internationally awardwinning) wine list and 20 craft beers on tap really makes it stand out from the crowd. When you walk in, it seems to hug youâ€Ś
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In an age of bottomless brunches, the Seriously Seventies lunch is a unique take on dining, what inspired it? Oh, don't talk to me about bottomless brunch, I am so sick of the latest brunch menu! Of course, Eggs Benny have their place (in fact our waffles Benny in The Woollen Mills is one of my favourite brunch dishes in Dublin) but somehow, A, it's all been done and B, it just didn't feel right for The Eagle. When we realised that all our aspirations were for a throwback to more glamorous dining days, of fancy lunch with seafood in aspic and asparagus mousse, we realised what we were longing for was a long Sunday lunch from the 70s! There are some quintessential 70s classics on the menu with prawn cocktails, kievs, fondue and Wibbly Wobbly Wonders all featuring — how important was it to give these a contemporary twist? The 70s notwithstanding, nobody would want to eat that much mayo and gelatine and iceberg so we knew we had to bring it a little more up to date with some old techniques and some new produce. Hence the sea lettuce on the prawn cocktail and the Blacktairs Mountain lamb (albeit with Hasselback spuds and green beans almondine!) What sort of crowd has this attracted so far? All sorts. Real foodies love it. Young and old people on dates and assignations. Young people bringing mammy and daddy and granny out. It's so accessible, but also really exciting for food obsessives, which is a difficult thing to achieve!
What dishes do people need to try? Old-School ‘Egg Mayo’ Duck egg, house-made salad cream and celery. The Legal Eagle Prawn Cocktail Dublin Bay prawns, Marie Rose, sea-ice lettuce, tomato, avocado and samphire. Lamb kidney Vol-au-vent With house-made mustard and brandy cream. Breaded Wicklow ‘Brie’ & Cranberry Wicklow Baun cheese, Legal pickles and cranberry. Blackstairs Mountain Lamb Wellington With green beans almondine, Dauphinoise and lamb juices. Slipper of Bacon Pigs on the Green slipper of ham, Savoy cabbage, organic Irish spuds and parsley sauce. Cheese Fondue Three Irish cheese fondue, vegetable filo rolls, Waldorf salad. Oh, and that Wibbly Wobbly Wonder ice cream? Please! The Seriously Seventies Lunch is served every Saturday until 16:30pm and every Sunday until 21:30pm The Legal Eagle 1-2 Chancery Place, Inns Quay, Dublin 1 thelegaleagle.ie
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Gargle & grub for discerning Dubliners