The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co.Waterford

Cliff House 1

“I think we tip the guy who carried our bags….wait, where did he go?” So started our Saturday at The Cliff House. One of the side effects of graduating in a recession is a 20s of arrested development. Internships, temporary jobs, study, temporary homes, student houses with mice as unadvertised housemates and a general inability to be a proper grown-up. My generation seem to suffer a serious case of impostor syndrome when it comes to adulthood.Which is inconvenient when you find yourself in a place as distinctly grown up and sophisticated as this.

Bedroom

As someone who only recently made the leap from Hostelworld to Airbnb, staying in a luxury boutique hotel is a bit of a change of pace. I’m not entirely accustomed to places where they trust you with slippers and a bathrobe. But there were joint birthdays to be celebrated, one of them a big one (fortunately not mine, not quite yet) and a grown up weekend was in order.The Cliff House hotel is also home to a Michelin starred restaurant, which was the main draw for the stay. Martijn Kajuiter was previously head chef of my favourite Amsterdam restaurant, De Kas and I was dying to see what was on offer in Ardmore. He recently released a beautiful but stunningly intimidating cookbook with lists of ingredients coming close to 100 and diagrams to explain how to plate the food. It really is don’t try this at home stuff.
We started off with a walk around the eponymous cliff, conveniently located just beside the hotel, and followed it up with an outdoor jacuzzi overlooking the sea. The other draw for the hotel is the amazing view. Every room in the hotel looks out over Ardmore Bay with floor to ceiling windows. We rounded off with a drink on the hotel terrace, which also overlooks the seaweed baths, leading the two ladies below us to have a less than private spa experience.
Cliff Walk

We booked a late dinner to take full advantage of the hotel, and may have had a bit of (Lidl) champagne which does not contribute to the best of recollections of the meal. I also used my cameraphone so the photos are fairly pants. The amuse bouche bore quite a resemblance to that in The Greenhouse, featuring a beetroot macaron with goats cheese, beetroot marshmallows covered in tiny bacon fragments and an asparagus panna cotta. The highlight, odd as it sounds, was an amazing baby potato baked in clay topped with a delicate mayonnaise.  This was followed by a scallop starter, with three huge  scallops pan fried with seaweed and served with “textures of celeriac” and a spinach jelly. This was accompanied with a ceviche of scallop with Dutch salad (more of a mayonnaise then a salad)  and Irish herring caviar.

Cliff House

 

My main was a delicious stuffed rose veal with sweetbreads and bluefoot mushrooms. This was followed by an interesting carrot sorbet. It has to be noted here that the portions are far more substantial than you’d expect for a Michelin restaurant, and we were both very full by the time it came to dessert. I opted for what turned out to be an incredibly generous cheeseboard, complete with six Dutch, French and Irish cheeses, dehydrated grapes, all manner of lovely homemade crackers, and a really fresh tangy salad. Himself went for an incredible berry and white chocolate panna cotta. This was absolutely Michelin worthy cooking, exciting, different, but with just enough touch of comfort to feel really luxurious.

Cliff Restaurant

All this was washed down with some very unusual but lovely wine pairings served by an exceptionally young but very knowleadgable sommelier. Our dishes were served with wines from Greece and Morocco, along with some more traditional regions. Saturday being a busy night, we were seated in the private dining room, which I have to say did not have the same appeal as the main room, and I’d definitely request that going back. The next day, we were seated there with the Sunday papers for a gorgeous breakfast of fresh pastries, fruit salad and a traditional Irish fry-up which helped prepare us for the journey back to reality.

The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co Waterford

 

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Etto, Dublin

Etto

I have recently returned to legal studies, and in my lectures, we’re told to summarise our point at the start of giving advice to a client. This seems like a good idea for writing in general so to start I will simply say this: Etto is serving some of the best food I have tried in Dublin.

Walking home along Merrion Row on Wednesday evening, I noticed a bustling new restaurant a few doors down from Bang and The Unicorn. An hour later, I saw a an update on Facebook from Coppinger Row for Etto’s opening night. A family dinner was in the formative planning stages for the following evening, and I steered it in the direction of Etto after a look at the unusual menu.

Etto is run by Simon and his partner, Liz, have recently returned from London, and it shows in the innovative food and lovely interior design. The space is small but carefully thought out with a wine bar area at the back and restaurant at the front with distressed vintage tables, and white walls. The Borough Market favourite of Nduja features in dishes on both the lunch and dinner menu. Good quality ingredients are used in simple but unusual ways throughout with nods to Italian, Dutch and Scandinavian influences. Between four people we managed to sample quite a lot of the menu. There wasn’t a single dud among the dishes we tried.

Etto (1)

I went for ricotta gnudi with brown butter and sage, creamed kale with pancetta and chestnuts. At the last minute a smoked eel and pork belly croquette was added out of sheer curiosity. The ricotta were light in texture and rich in flavour, perfectly accompanied by the brown butter and fried sage leaves. The croquette consisted of lightly bound cubes of pork belly and tasted pleasantly smoked without an overwhelming taste of eel (i’m not the biggest fan of eel) . The perennial health food favourite,kale, was turned into a rich and nourishing dish with crispy chunks of pancetta and slices of chestnut.

I also had a taste of my families choices of chicken liver, prune and lardo terrine, veal and pork meatballs, steak tartare, triple cured salmon, mozzarella with grilled pears and walnuts, crispy potatoes with pecorino and aioli. They were all absolutely outstanding, especially the meatballs which were beautifully juicy with little chunks of meat rather than completely minced. Although the dishes look small, they are very filling. I finished off with a generous slice of gorgeous Coolea cheese served at the perfect temperature along with a slice of quince jelly. It was so good, my cheese hating brother actually asked for a second taste.

Etto2

Simon came and explained the great wine list to us. Along with lots of unusual wines, Etto has excellent house wines and prosecco on tap! The wine is stored in a special cask which keeps it ready to drink for sixty days. Fingers crossed some Dublin bars follow suit, wine on tap is just a fantastic idea. We went for two Spanish red wines, a Garnacha called ‘Plic, Plic, Plic’ and the unusual ‘Gaba de Xil’. Everyone working there was friendly and enthusiastic, and although we had one ordering glitch, it was swiftly remedied.

The bill came to €163 for four people for a really exceptional meal. If you try one place in Dublin, this is the place to try.

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2

http://www.etto.ie/

Morito, London

Morito

When I first went to London, suitcase and CV in hand in 2011, the first place I went was Clerkenwell. I knew exactly two things about Clerkenwell. It was where my cousin lived and so it contained the air mattress I would be sleeping on for my job hunt, and it was where Moro was. My first week there, I went to Moro with said cousin, armed with my parent’s credit card. I knew whatever job I found probably wouldn’t be able to fund regular visits, but next to it they had recently opened its smaller and cheaper tapas offshoot, Morito. When I went through the doors, it was love at first sight. I loved the buzzy, colourful, miniscule industrial space. I loved the eclectic style of the waitresses, the elegant carafes the wine was served in and most of all, I loved the menu. The menu made it feel like home.

Morito Chickpeas

Back in Ireland, Moro and Casa Moro had been prized members of the family cookbook collection for years. My mum regularly made their tabbouleh, and my dad was a dab hand at all kinds of mezzes and tapas gleaned from their pages. London was my third home in three years, and a pretty scary change from the quiet canals of Leiden. When I saw a menu I could practically recite, I knew London was going to work out. I ended up living around the corner from Morito in a building I am almost certain will be condemned and demolished in the not too distant future, a crumbling place drunkenly careening sideways into the building next to it. I made the London calculation of bad flat, good area, and Morito became a regular haunt. I think almost every visitor I had was brought there (in part as apology for not warning them my house was filled with black mold), and my housemates and I needed few excuses to go.

Morito Spiced Lamb

I can’t really call this a review. I have been to Morito so many times, and I am probably blind to its faults. Objectively, it is one of the most uncomfortable places to eat, it has four tables bundled in on top of each other with wooden stools, and bar space. The service can be slightly inattentive, though always friendly. Some of the tapas are miniscule compared to the price (I’m looking at you, berenjenas con miel). But it’s the only place in London I returned to time and time again, and when I go back to London I have a list of two things I have to do: see my friends, and go to Morito.

london 059_phixr

There is pretty much nothing I can’t recommend on the menu, but here are some of my favourites: croquettas con jamon, any form of patata they serve (mojo, alinada or brava), the tortilla, the bread with the perfectly blended harissa, beetroot borani, anything they make with chickpeas, chicarrones de cadiz,spiced  lamb with aubergine, tabbouleh, any time they have langoustines, and the crab and Jerez montadito. The portions seem small when they first appear, but with a basket of bread to share, I usually find three tapas ample if one of them is a potato dish. The house wine demonstrates someone who takes pride in their wine list. I have never have a bad meal there, and hopefully nor will any of my readers.

Morito Bar

Morito

Exmouth Market

EC1R 4QE

Everything you always wanted to know about deep fried testicles, but were afraid to ask

May2013 083_phixr

I’m not going to lie, I thought of many alternate titles for this post. The runner up was Never Mind the B*llocks. Please be warned now there will be a fair bit of innuendo before this post is done. On my recent weekend in Copenhagen I had the chance to try that rarest of delicacy, the Prairie oyster, otherwise known as deep fried bull’s balls. I am not necessarily the most adventurous of eaters. I have under extreme duress tried eating a bird brain once, using the beak and skull as a spoon, but that was definitely a bad decision. It resembled nothing so strongly as having a really bad cold.

To put the deep fried testicles decision in context, I first have to explain the unusual set of circumstances building up to this. It was sunny. In Denmark. I mean really sunny. 25C and not a cloud in the sky. The kind of day when the world is your bar, at least in any Northern European city. In Copenhagen, every park and canal was lined with people enjoying beers and glasses of wine in reckless disregard for the unappealing combination that is a hangover and sunburn. We had joined in the festive spirit, and spent the hour before dinner enjoying white wine from plastic cups in the sunshine. When we got to the restaurant, BROR, we were perhaps ever so slightly tipsy. Bror has recently been opened by two graduates from the school of Noma, and features a similar style of New Nordic Cuisine. Where bull’s balls come into this, I do not know, but there they were, nestled on the menu below catfish cheeks and radishes with hazelnut cream. As soon as he laid eyes on this, my companion got the glimmer in his eye that says ‘I know a challenge when I see one’, and soon he was ordering away as I giggled like the convent schoolgirl I once was behind my menu.

When they arrived, they were laid out on a vintage plate, surprisingly flat and strangely small. They were adorned only with a light coating of breadcrumbs and sea salt, and looked for all the world like a miniature wiener schnitzel. I selflessly allowed my companion to dig in while closely monitoring his facial expressions for any indication of pain or disgust. When he had managed to swallow the first bite with relatively little discomfort, I felt it my duty to give them a shot. I sliced a piece from the edge for maximum breadcrumb to testicle ratio.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting in hindsight. They were very very soft, with a texture something like sweetbreads, and a light grey colour. I think I expected something more chewy, like a piece of gristle. For data collection purposes, I took a second mouthful, and realised they tasted like fish. This could be a link between breadcrumbs and fish buried deep in my subconscious. It could also be that they use the same deep fryer for their octopus dish. Or it could just be that they taste like fish. Whatever it was, once you had realised it, that was all you could taste.

When our waitress reappeared, I asked approximately how many smutty jokes she heard per day. With a slightly weary look, she said more than you can imagine, and reeled off a ‘best of’ selection from the kitchen. Behind us, I could hear the next table ordering the same.

I am sure there is some kind of inside story as to how these have come to appear on the menu. Maybe someone lost a bet. Maybe they realised it would be a good gimmick for a new restaurant. Maybe they just wanted to prove once and for all that deep frying makes everything better. I would not be rushing to order deep fried balls if I ever saw them on a menu again. But for now, the bird brain continues to occupy the space in memory reserved for ‘Most disgusting thing I have ever eaten’.

Restaurant BROR

Skt. Peders Stræde 24A
1453 København K
+45 3217 5999

Parmesan and Mustard Mash

The key to perfect mashed potato is lots and lots of butter. This is why mash tastes so much better in restaurants. Just try not to think about it too much, it is worth it.  Apparently a lot of chefs claim it is a bad idea to mash potatoes using a hand held blender,that it results in a mealy texture. I have never found this to be the case, whenever I use them the potatoes have a lovely smooth consistency.These are a nice accompaniment to Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, along with some mixed leaves with Secret Salad Dressing. Serves 4-5 as a side dish.

Ingredients

  • 1kg waxy type potatoes, e.g. yukon gold.
  • 170g butter
  • Approx 100ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons of cream
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 large handful of grated parmesan

Method

  • Boil the potatoes in approximately 80% water, 20% milk until soft, but not mushy and disintegrated (be careful, check with a fork frequently to see the consistency).
  • Drain.
  • Add the butter, olive oil, cream and remaining milk.
  • Mash using a hand held blender if you have it, or a fork or masher.
  • Add the parmesan and mustard.
  • Season and serve warm.