Getting a pizza at Pizzeria Da Michele, Naples

Da Michele is the Neapolitan institution. Year after year it tops the lists for best pizza in Naples. When I mentioned it to my boyfriend’s Neapolitan housemate, a wistful look of deep longing came over his face, as he explained that this was his favourite place. It was the place that gave the ‘Eat’ to ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and photos of Julia Roberts have pride of place throughout the restaurant. Founded in the 19th Century, they officially sell only two types of pizza; Marinara, with tomato sauce, garlic, oil and oregano, and Margherita, with tomato sauce, fior di latte mozzarella and fresh basil. There is in fact a secret third option, a pizza bianco with mozzarella and oregano, which we saw making the rounds with locals while we were there. The medium sized pizzas are ample, and set you back €4.50.

Every visitor to Naples knows that it is the home of pizza, which is probably why Neapolitans are the people the Mediterranean paradox forgot, but it is anything but a simple fast food. The real Neapolitan pizzerias are members of an organisation, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, which has a stringent set of rules 11 pages long which its members must abide by. This dictates the proportion of yeast in the dough, the type, the method of stretching and rising the dough, and the 90 second maximum a pizza can stay in the wood burning stove.

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Da Michele is an intimidating place to visit as a tourist, so here is the story with getting a pizza there. It will always be busy. The first time we passed it, by accident, on a side street between the train station and the Centro Storico, it was 2pm, prime lunchtime, and there was a crowd of 30 or 40 people standing outside. The next time, at 5pm, there were just three or four others. You go into the restaurant, and you will be given a numbered ticket by the project manager of the whole operation. This is not the number of your order, this is an indication of when they will start to think about your order. You go back swiftly to the crowd sprawled across the street outside. The project manager eventually calls your number in Italian and English, you go in, and either take a seat, or ask for a takeaway. You marvel at how cool the room is, despite the giant ball of fire in an open oven facing the door.

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There is a team assembling the pizzas, lifting ladles of sauce from buckets, ripping chunks of mozzarella by hand, and pulling basil leaves from a bunch larger than their heads on the counter. The pizzas are very quick to cook, just over a minute each in the wood fired oven, expertly turned and watched by an older man whose one job is to get them in and out of the oven. If he is feeling generous, he lets one of the other young men take a go, which he inevitably takes over halfway through. While he waits, he drinks espresso from plastic cups delivered from a nearby cafe by a teenage boy, and throws folded up pieces of paper at the pizza prep chefs. Occasionally he does a dance. Despite how quickly they cook, the restaurant is deceptively big, so unless you get a takeaway, you can be waiting about half an hour for your order. Even if, as the man beside us did, you sit, napkin tucked into your shirt, knife and fork in hand, shouting at the waiters as they go by, and muttering to yourself darkly when they ignore you. They sell beer,water and soft drinks at €2 a pop, and once your order is taken and your drink arrives, you will be left to your own devices. Try to order a second drink at your peril.

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Pick the Margherita, because pizza without cheese is just not right. Neapolitan pizzas are crisp and slightly charred on the edges, but completely soggy in the middle, where the oil, excess whey from the cheese, and liquid tomato pool. This is Trump’s spiritual home, each diner is provided with a knife and fork. I am not a pizza fan, so I was curious to see how good it can be. This was absolutely perfect. The crust is light and bubbly and ever so slightly sour, the tomato sauce fresh and mild, but the fior di latte mozzarella steals the show. It is rich, and creamy, and still tastes fresh and holds a bit of bite because of how briefly it is melted. There is an option to pay extra get double mozzarella on your pizza,but this seems to be a tourist tax, as the three doubles we saw all had the same as a regular pizza. As soon as you finish your pizza, go to the till by the door, pay and leave immediately, because you know how long the people outside have been waiting, and this is not a place where lingerers are likely to be treated kindly. Feel sad that pizza can’t always be like this as you wander away.

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Hotel de Goudfazant, Amsterdam

imageI had almost given up on casual dining in Amsterdam. While its fine dining scene is as good as any, I have had many mediocre and overpriced meals in Amsterdam’s mid ranged spots. Despite being cutting edge for design and culture, it lacks behind a bit in the culinary scene. It’s currently reaching peak dirty burger, with doughnuts, fermentation and nose to tail likely to make landfall next year. To avoid disappointment, I tend to go back to old favourites like Worst Wijn Cafe and De Kas time and again. Now, Hotel de Goudfazant can be added to that select list.

imageI had heard lots of good things about it, but its location in an industrial estate in deepest darkest Amsterdam Noord, a ferry ride away from the main part of the city, was off-putting. I’ve read five or six travel articles screaming the virtues of Noord in as many months, so I finally summoned up the added energy to brave the five minute free ferry journey from behind Centraal Station (I know, I’m a trailblazer). Hotel de Goudfazant is located in an old car factory, on a quay facing the city, about 20 minutes walk through 1960s housing blocks and deserted industrial estates. It’s not actually a hotel, but is named after a line in a Jacques Brel song.  There is a lot going on in Noord at the moment, but Hotel De Goudfazant is still off the beaten track, a few kilometres in the opposite direction from the hubs at A’Dam tower and the NDSM Wharf. You’d never find it if you didn’t know it was there, but when we arrived late on a Friday night, it was heaving with people.

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On offer is very reasonably priced French inspired menus, with three courses coming in at 31.50. While nothing on the menu is going to come as a surprise, with starters such as terrine, a charuterie plate, and fish soup, each course we tried was perfectly executed and made with outstanding ingredients. I started with the classic beetroot and goats cheese starter, with whole roasted beetroot complimented with slices of candied beetroot, piped goats cheese, thin slices of crisped sourdough and a base sauce of caramelised onion and orange. Himself picked out a perfect chicken liver and pistachio terrine, which was chunky, slightly falling apart to the touch and served with relish and cornichons.

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Every single table around us had a roasted poussin on it, so I had my order set only to discover that it was sold out and instead, I panic ordered Angus beef with polenta dauphinoise. I have a pretty high standard for beef, coming from Ireland, and there was no price supplement for the order, so I did not expect anything outstanding. Fortunately, I was wrong.  The beef came in thick, tender, pink slabs with a rich jus. It had an incredible flavour, and was probably the best steak I have had in a restaurant. Polenta dauphinoise was in fact deep fried balls of cheesy polenta, and the dish was finished with a slice of braised chicory because somewhere in Amsterdam there has to be a rule that everything comes with chicory. The lamb with broad beans and and aubergine was an equally lovely cut of meat. We finished off with an orange blossom parfait, and an excellent cheese board of French cheeses, including a French gouda gris.

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I have no idea how they can afford to offer a menu like this at a price like this, but they are certainly not cutting costs on the quality or provenance of their ingredients. They also had a reasonably priced wine list, with some lovely natural wines. The staff are friendly, professional and knowledgable, happy to talk you through the wine list and the menu in English or Dutch. This is the best value dining I have found in Amsterdam, and combined with the great view and lively space, it is well worth the detour.

Hotel de Goudfazant, Aambeeldstraat 10H, 1021 KB, Amsterdam 

 

 

Heron and Grey, Dublin

imageHaving a view of a fortune tellers stall from your seat is not usually an auspicious start to an evening of fine dining. However, despite a visit from Michelin within a few months of opening, Heron and Grey is definitely not your average fine dining establishment. Following in the footsteps of Canteen and Fish Shop,they are located in Canteen’s old spot in Blackrock Market in deepest, darkest South Dublin . They serve a five course (really nine courses) explicitly seasonal set dinner menu for 48 euro a head, with a shorter two or three course lunch menu. What is particularly unusual is that they have managed to do this without, on the evening I visit, any meat, and with only one fish course. While this is business as usual for me, for my parents and brother, it’s a bit of a change. This innovative (for Irish palates) approach could be because head chef Damien Grey hails from Australia. Front of house is provided by Andrew Heron (hence the name), who does a great line in friendly banter combined with an encyclopaedic wine knowledge.

imageI had looked at the menu in advance, which follows the ever popular list three ingredients with no description format, and honestly, there was not a single thing on it which I would have picked out myself given the opportunity. So it was doubly impressive that this was one of the best meals I have had in years. One of the great things about Heron and Grey is the size. The kitchen was literally five feet from our table, so any query we had about the meal or how a dish was prepared was happily answered by the chefs as we worked our way through the meal. We started off with freshly cooked bread and whipped pine needle butter. I’m not sure pine needles and butter needed to be introduced, but it was certainly an interesting flavour. We then moved on to the first dish, burnt goats cheese with tempura courgette flower,  lemon gel, chipotle mayonnaise, and a black garlic puree. The overall effect was rich, but cut through with the lemon gel for balance. Impressively, the chipotle did not dominate the more subtle flavours of the goats cheese and courgette flower. It was my parents first introduction to chipotle, having been immune to the burrito wars of the past few years in Dublin, and it’s safe to say they were converts. Our next course was a tasty cauliflower cheese dish in a glass bowl, with pickled shallot, and blow torched on top to finish. This was the only one of the four cheese involving courses which my cheese fearing brother couldn’t manage, and we battled for his portion. image

Next up was a dish of black Russian tomatoes with salted cherries, wasabi creme fraiche, wasabi snow and a tomato consomme gel. Gels and snow feature heavily here. Following this was a delicate plate with fennel cured diced corvina with fish roe, yuzu curd, crisped skin and a squid ink rice cracker which was a particular favourite, even for a fish sceptic like myself. I had no idea Ireland even had corvina, a fish more typically found in Pacific waters, nor had I ever seen it on a menu here, but apparently it was freshly caught off the south coast. The strong marine flavours from the squid ink, roe and corvina were balanced perfectly with the creamy yuzu curd to make a light but satisfying dish. This was followed (I know, it really was 9 courses) with a palate cleansing puree of pear and liquorice with a chardonnay vinegar reduction to add a little bite. Our next course was a comforting portion of aged rice risotto with olive oil and parmesan, and a garnish of pickled enoki mushrooms and crisped quinoa, grains and fennel seeds. We were then provided with a cheese course consisting of a dab of soft Crozier Blue cheese on a homemade lavash bread with red currant.image

We switched from our Albarino and Syrah at this point to the impressive dessert wine list complete with Muscat, Sauternes, a red dessert wine, tawny port and Pedro Ximenez. Even with so many courses, and varying appetites in the group, we left comfortably full, which is an impressive achievement that many tasting menus cannot claim.  Our final two courses were a coconut creme with pineapple marinaded with rum and spices with a coconut snow, and a final secret dessert of chocolate mousse, praline crisp and a chocolate which we were told they had made once for a particular diner, and had been so popular they decided to serve every night. This sums up the whole experience really. Heron and Grey is a warm, generous kind of a place, without a hint of pretension despite all the gels, snows and Michelin worthy cooking.

Heron and Grey 

Blackrock Market, 19a Main Street, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.

Ph: 01 212 3676/ 087 608 3140

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A Brief Guide to Alsace, France

IMG_0632Alsace is an odd region. Tossed between France and Germany for a few hundred years, it’s a little bit of both and neither. It’s mainly known for its wine, choucroute, and as the spiritual home of the great Parisian brasseries, established by Alsatian refugees in the Nineteenth Century. Despite its traumatic history, the region has a chain of dozens of perfectly preserved medieval villages and towns, stretched at intervals of a few kilometres along the 180km Route Des Vins between Strasbourg and Colmar. We used Colmar as our base for exploring the biggest cluster of villages which ring around the city over three days. Alsace can be more than a little bit twee at times, but when you are walking around the empty streets of a perfectly preserved medieval village like Bergheim or sitting in a vineyard watching storks swoop among the vines, it feels like stepping back into another age. It’s also a dream come true for anyone who is really interested in wine.

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I have to say that Alsace was not the culinary destination I had hoped for.I have read a lot about the amazing Alsatian food culture but didn’t see much evidence of it. In Colmar, we struggled to find a restaurant that served anything other than overpriced choucroute and tarte flambé. There is only so much sauerkraut a person can take, and I had expected a mix of traditional and more innovative spots, but didn’t find them. A lot of our meals ended up being in our apartment and comprised of local Munster cheese, terrines and rilletes bought from local shops together with baguettes. This is pretty much my dream meal, and handy for the budget, but not what serious foodies might be looking for on holidays.

IMG_0659Colmar is not your typical city break kind of city, it is quiet with no cafe/bar culture of note. Despite both France and Germany being known for this, it seems to have bypassed Alsace. Except for a few dodgy looking clubs and Irish pubs, Colmar is deserted after dinnertime. There is a strange reluctance about local wine. Restaurants rarely tell you anything more about the wine they serve than the grape variety, and we found one wine bar in the whole city.

This is maybe because Alsace seems to have a very casual relationship to wine. In all my travelling in France, Italy and Spain, I have never seen a place where wine is so much a part of the fabric of the region. Everyone makes it. Really, truly everyone. We passed through villages where every second house was selling its own bottles of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. All of the land, from small gardens, to the hillsides and fields between villages, is covered in vines. Any notion you have of wine tasting as an elite activity will be put to rest pretty quickly when you taste a glass of cremant given to you by a man in mud covered wellies, which you enjoy with a view of his tractor. Wine making is very traditional here, with most winemakers being the same family operation that has been around for hundreds of years, and outsiders frowned upon. With all that in mind, here are a few of the things we picked up from our trip:

Food:

Restaurant Edel, Eguisheim

This was the meal of the trip. Foie gras tarte flambé. It was everything I never knew I wanted. The restaurant is attached to a butchers shop on one of the main squares in Eguisheim with a view of a church spire with nesting storks who periodically swoop over the square. There is a large terrace to sit and enjoy the food with a glass of local wine. Tarte flambé is an Alsatian pizza dish made with creme fraiche, onions and lardons of bacon that is served absolutely everywhere. Here it was served with chunks of pan fried foie gras, many many many pieces of foie gras, far more than should be possible for the price of 14 euros. It should have been too much, and for lesser mortals, it might be. But for me, it was perfection. Himself had an equally excellent pie of duck confit, foie gras and cepes (also 14 euros) which could also be bought to bring home from the butcher shop. We genuinely contemplated cycling out across the fields from Colmar to Eguisheim again that night to go again, before discovering it only opens during the day, and was closed the following two days.

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Wine Bar Un des Sens, Colmar

This was the one wine bar we found in Colmar, located up a dark windy cobbled road that was completely deserted. They have lots of Alsatian wines by the glass and bottle, and a selection of small plates for around 10 euro to go alongside. You have to order something small to eat to order wine, it seems to be a licensing requirement. We ordered a charcuterie plate and a vegetarian plate, and two glasses of white wine from Eguisheim. It’s a cosy, friendly kind of place to while away an evening and try some great local wines.

Le Comptoir de Georges

Another restaurant attached to a butchers shop, we almost didn’t go in due to the deeply tacky decor, as exemplified by the white glitter stag who presided over our meal from a window ledge. They serve a reasonably priced selection of local specialties with a few bistro classics thrown in to the mix. While my rabbit leg with mustard was fairly average, the steak tartare with frites that himself ordered was perfect. It was served as a generous helping of freshly chopped, grassy beef topped with an egg yolk, and surrounded by baby gem leaves filled with chopped cornichons, capers and shallots, so you could mix it up exactly how you wanted. There is a canal side terrace that was too cold when we visited, but would be perfect in summer if you want to escape the watchful gaze of the nine plaster of paris wild boar who adorn the main dining room.

Wine Tasting

Almost every village we went to had dozens of winemakers offering wine tasting. This can be literally in a shed next to someones house, or a proper bar. Usually you wander in to an empty room and wait for someone to realise you are there. With one notable exception in Eguisheim, you won’t be charged for tasting 2-3 types of wine, but etiquette dictates that you should buy a bottle at the end. The average price for a bottle of Riesling or Pinot Blanc is usually about 7 euro, with late harvest (Vendange Tardive) Riesling and Gewurtztraminer going up to the mid twenties and beyond. Edelzwicker, a random blend of leftover grapes usually used by Alsatians for cooking with, is best avoided.

The best wine tasting experience we had was at Achille Thirion, in the cave on the edge of Orschwiller (they also have a shop in the centre of Saint Hippolyte). We spent almost an hour there being guided through the entirety of their wine list by a lovely sommelier from Quebec, who gave us an amazing overview of how wine-making in Alsace works, the subtle differences between the grapes at different elevations and the harvests. We ended up leaving with about ten bottles to bring home with us. Another lovely one to visit is Bruno Sorg, a slightly pricier (although still very reasonable) cave in a sixteenth century courtyard in Equisheim, that had a wonderful Gewurtztraminer. Domaine Hueber et Fils, on the Rue de Colmar between Beblenheim and Riquewihr, offered some lovely pinot noir, to the soundtrack of some truly awful house music and a snoring Alsatian dog.

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Villages to visit

The villages are usually only two or three kilometres apart, and it can be  difficult to distinguish between them. Our favourites from the trip were largely the predictable tourist ones like Eguisheim, Kayserberg and Riquewihr. If you are in high season I imagine they are swarmed with other visitors, so quieter villages could be worth exploring. Bergheim is a  medieval walled town near Ribeauville with some interesting looking restaurants (they were all closed when we visited), and a ring of kitchen gardens below the walls. Mittelbergheim seemed more like a hilltop village in Provence, with a long street of peaches and cream coloured house. It also appeared to have the highest concentration of wine producers of any village. Barr had a lovely feel of faded grandeur, although it was a complete ghost town when we visited on a Saturday afternoon, with a single bakery providing the only sign of life while its restaurants and shops remained closed.

Cycling

The Route Des Vins has an accompanying cycle path with good signposting, that goes along smaller roads and lanes off the main route. Most of the villages are mainly at the  base of the foothills, so the cycle routes are quite easy for beginners to manage, with very gentle slopes and a lot of flat stretches. Cycling also means you can actually drink some of the wine you are tasting, without resorting to the inelegant spit bucket discretely placed on the side of the bar. Eguisheim is a completely flat 7km cycle from Colmar, but we also made it as far as Riquewihr, which was a little more challenging at 25 km with a steep final ascent. We rented city bikes from Velodocteurs at Colmar train station for €8 per day.

Things to avoid

Visiting between October-April – We went in March and it very much felt off season. We went through entire towns where every restaurant, cafe and shop was closed, on a Saturday afternoon. While it was evocative to walk through deserted villages, it was also annoying if you wanted to actually see and do anything in particular. The tourist towns like Kayserberg and Ribeauville were still busy but a lot of smaller villages were just completely closed down.While I think it probably gets very busy in summer, there would definitely be more to see and do in April/May or September/October than off season.

Sundays and Mondays – Everything but the most touristy of tourist shops shuts. Restaurants, shops, supermarkets, museums, towns. Everything. The only exception to this is specially designated tourist towns like Eguisheim and Ribeauville.

Obernai – I do not understand how this town is listed in all the guides, it was charmless and filled with tacky souvenir shops, with none of the beauty of places like Riquewihr or Eguisheim.

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Tuscany Part Two: Chianti and San Gimignano

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Travelling Around Tuscany

One of the many reasons I picked Tuscany for a week long visit, was how easy it was to get around by public transport, at least from the major cities. We managed a week long round trip involving Florence, several Chianti towns, Certaldo, Siena and Lucca, all through buses and trains, and ended up spending around 60 euro on transport the whole week.

On our third day in Florence, following a tip from the Guardian we took a bus from central station for a few euro, and an hour later found ourselves in Panzano, in the heart of the Chianti countryside. The route took us through the most postcard perfect Tuscan landscape (after about 20 minutes going through some dreary Florentine suburbs) and brought us back through Greve, the epicenter of the Tuscan wine and food scene. It was the perfect day trip to allow us to actually get to try some of the wine, and not have to worry about spitting it out, or windy country roads.

Getting from town to town once outside the cities was tougher, and to get from our second base of Certaldo to San Gimignano by public transport would have taken over an hour and a half, involving two connections, despite being only 12km. So instead, we cycled. It was entirely uphill on the way out, and there were tears (mine), blood (mine) and a monstrous amount of sweat (both of us) involved, but now that I can blank out that bit, and the memory of shrieking every time I saw a dead snake on the road, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

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Panzano

Panzano is the tiniest of tiny villages, which can be entirely circumnavigated in about five minutes, which makes the amount of people at Dario Cecchini’s trio of restaurants, the target of our visit, even more impressive. Cecchini is a celebrity butcher (yes, there is such a thing) and a graduate from the Michael O’Leary school of PR. In the BSE crisis in 2001 he held a funeral for the Bistecca di Fiorentina, the region’s signature dish, and his butcher shop still displays its tombstone on the outer wall. He was holding court in the butchers shop when we arrived, to a soundtrack of 80s hair metal, with his staff handing out glasses of red wine and crostini topped with flavoured pork fat.

We made our way upstairs to his packed budget endeavour, Mac Dario (one of three meat themed restaurants he has on site). Getting a burger in Tuscany seems like a weird thing to do, but it’s raved about all over food websites and blogs so that was what we went for. The region around Florence prides itself on its beef, though it’s maybe harder to impress an Irish person on that front than most. €10 buys you sage roasted potatoes, a rosemary breadcrumb coated burger, and homemade mustard and ketchup, all of which were lovely, if not perhaps quite living up to the hype. There was a €20 set menu that looked more interesting, but way beyond our appetite. The budget restaurant is based exclusively outside on a terrace, with a slightly less than scenic view over a car park before the hills appeared in the distance. After ordering and devouring our food, we noticed plenty of more savvy customers ordering bits and pieces from the €20 menu, like plates of steak tartar, and Tuscany tuna (a raw pork dish). If I were to go back, this is definitely what I would do, or go to one of the more upscale restaurants on the site. At the end of the day, a burger is a burger, and Tuscany has a lot more to offer than that.

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Greve

Greve is the base camp for exploring Chianti, a small surprisingly modern town filled with wine shops, centered around the lovely and more authentic looking Piazza Matteoti. After a lap of the town we settled on Antica Macelleria Falorni, which claims to be the oldest butcher shop in Italy, and which is still run by its founding family. This was not the old fashioned wood-panelled butchers that you imagine every Tuscan village has, but rather a modern, well-oiled and very clearly tourist aimed machine. Set over three shop fronts in the square it featured a butchers shop, restaurant, cheese room, and wine tasting machines. To buy food you ordered from the counter and waited with a ticket for your meal, to buy wine you bought credit on a card, which could then be used to fill a glass from the different machines that allow you to try tastes, half or full glasses of local wines. There was an extensive butchers shop with lots of different cuts and pieces of cured meat, vacuum packed and ready to go in your suitcase. We ordered a plate of different local pecorino cheeses, and set about tasting the different wines. This was not what I pictured when I ventured into the countryside, and I’m sure the naked commercialism and tourist driven outlook of the place might put a few people off, but for me it was a lovely place to spend an afternoon sampling wine and local specialties.

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San Gimignano

San Gimignano is the most touristy of the touristy Tuscan hill towns, with crowd pullers such as not one, but two medieval torture museums. That being said, even on a sunny Saturday, after that vicious uphill cycle, it was impressive. It’s not a town for eating on a budget, and every restaurant was pretty crowded, so we wandered around before settling on a pretty average cheese and boar prosciutto sandwich from one of the many delis with a stuffed wild boar outside. A word to the wise, most bread in Tuscany is pretty bad, at least the standard bread that gets left on your table, or used to make most sandwiches. It is dry, sliced country loaf style bread, entirely devoid of salt and much flavour. Cordelia would never have said “I love you as much as meat loves salt” if she had tried this monstrous bread. To make up for this, for dessert, we managed to avoid the massive queue for Dondoli gelato on the Piazza Cisterna, the world champion gelateria for several recent years. There are a wealth of flavours on offer, and te staff move so quickly you don’t get to read them all before deciding, so we ended wildly gesturing at three different types to try. The guy in front of us ordered just vanilla gelato, and I am still disappointed in him two months on. We tried a combination of orange, mascarpone, amaretti biscuits and something else called Michele, and a mixture of marsella wine and nuts (I think, it’s been a while). While I have to go on record as saying it was not as good as Talento Gelato in Arbour Hill, it did make me understand the obsessive love of gelato that tourists in Italy espouse on their return.

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Tuscany Part One: Florence

imageAlthough I visited Florence a fair bit as a child and teenager, when our parents used to load us into the car and drive us from Dublin to Tuscany every few years, this was my first proper adult visit. Sadly, my favourite childhood restaurant, which used to serve a groaning table of antipasti to locals each day has become rubbish and touristy in recent years, but we still found a lot of great places to try.There is nothing new or dramatic in this list, they’re all well known spots. But since Florence is one of the most written about destinations on earth, we were unlikely to hit on a completely undiscovered gem in just three days.

L’Brindellone

When Yotam Ottolenghi instagrams a meal in Florence, and it’s in a dirt cheap trattoria that’s a three minute walk from your apartment, you have to go. Those are the food blogger rules. Although I didn’t see this place in guide books, it features heavily in blogs and reviews.  It’s a proper local place, with local prices and framed Fiorentina jerseys and a photo of Roberto Benigni as the only nods to interior design. The menu is short, with antipasti formed of a combination of crostini, cured meats and coccoli (deep fried pizza dough balls), three or four pastas, meat dishes, and grilled dishes. We were presented with a litre of the house Chianti when we sat down, in lieu of a wine list. That’s how I discovered red wine still gives me migraines, but no regrets. We started off with a plate of liver crostini, parma ham, coccoli and stracchino cheese, all utterly tasty. I followed with a truffle taglierini and fried zuccini flowers, while himself had a stewed beef dish and beans in a tomato sauce. My pasta was rich and delicate at the same time, the zucchini flowers perfectly crisp and not too heavily battered, but the beans were definitely the highlight. I have no clue how they got such depth of flavour into the sauce, but I suspect it involves copious amounts of pork fat. Every one around us was having the Florentine T-Bone steak, which didn’t appeal to me personally, but did look rather wonderful. The entire meal, which was definitely the culinary highlight of the trip, came to €50 in total, including wine, for the two of us. You need to book ahead by phone. We did it a week in advance, and amazed our hostess who had never had this success. That said, they serve quite late and we definitely saw people come in from the street around 9.30-10 and be seated right away.

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Signorvino

A little googling tells me this is a chain in Italy, as I could have surmised from the on-trend industrial decor and hipster waiter outfits. That said, it is a chain which allows you to sit on a balcony with the best view of the Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi and Medici corridor, and sip organic prosecco and munch on fat green olives for around €5. They don’t mark up the off-licence price of the wine (you can also buy it to go), which is pretty extraordinary in this location, in a city like Florence.

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Mercato Centrale and Casa Del Vino

The Mercato Centrale consists of two parts, the traditional downstairs where you can buy groceries, along with tripe sandwiches (we didn’t brave them), wine, coffee and a few different small restaurants which closes at 2pm, and the upstairs which hosts a relatively new food court serving different meals until 10pm. We loved wandering around the downstairs, picking up bites of foccacia and cannoli to nibble on, before buying ridiculously cheap dried porcini mushrooms to bring home, and marvelling at the many different types of offal on display in the butchers. The upstairs left me a little cold. There was lots on offer, but it all seemed about 20% more expensive than anywhere else, and conspicuously aimed at tourists.

imageSo instead of the food court, we wandered a few doors down the street, to Casa Del Vino, which felt more like the real thing. A wine bar that opens at 9:30am and closes at 3:30pm, this was crowded with actual Italians, from older men sharing bottles of wine around and having the chat, to business people in suits grabbing a sandwich and a quick glass. There is no formal menu inside (the one outside didn’t seem to reflect anything people were eating), but they have a good selection of wine, and you can order a sandwich made up on the spot from ingredients on the counter for a few euro, which everyone in there had in their hands as they drank. Pecorino and salsa verde laden with anchovy and garlic seemed to be a favourite. Two glasses of very good wine, and two sandwiches came to €15. As were about to leave, one of the older locals had to reach over our heads to pluck a bottle of the shelf to buy and share around, and gave us a glass as an apology. He was the terrifying image of Phil Leotardo from the Sopranos, and remonstrated with me for drinking white wine. He also may have said something pretty racist, but I’m hoping we just misheard it in all the noise.

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Le Volpi e L’Uve

This was a great little wine bar two minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio in the Oltrano, with a small but delicious menu of crostini and other bites, and a very reasonably priced wine list (most glasses were €4). Best of all, it had an attentive and knowledgeable waitress, who kept an eye on tables, and made sure people who were standing longest got first dibs when one became free. It has a small area inside, and a bigger terrace outside on a quiet square, next to an empty restaurant which showed a livefeed of its very bored chef playing on his smartphone for about an hour. We ordered a plate of crostini with N’duja and pecorino, and were guided away from our wine choices by the waitress,who led us away from more expensive options when they didn’t suit the food, and tipped us off on some unusual regional wines, all of which I have now forgotten. Unusually and a little bit blasphemously for Florence, they also serve French wine.image

Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina

So, wine bars in Florence all close at ridiculously early hours (usually between about 4pm and 9pm), with this enoteca being the one exception. They have a little deck looking out over the Pitti Palace, which is not the most beautiful building, but still a pretty dramatic backdrop for a glass. I know very little about wine, but himself was in awe of the list, which included multiple Brunellos, as well as a number of different vintage Chiantis from the 70s and 80s for around the €10 per glass mark. Glasses of regular pleb wine for people who don’t really understand it started at around €6. If they don’t bring the bottle out to show you, you’re one of those people. Welcome to the club.

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Osteria Santo Spirito

It seems to me in Italian cities, there is always just one square where everyone drinks until the early hours each night, and nowhere else. In Venice, it’s Campo Santa Margherita, and in Florence it’s Santo Spirito. A tall, elegant and slightly shabby tree filled square in the Oltrarno, it’s lined with bars, none of which are spectacular. Each night we passed through it was overrun with gangs of people bringing their own wine and beer (there is a late night shop around the corner on Via Sant’Agostino), sitting on every conceivable surface and having the banter. In the corner, we had dinner at Osteria Santo Spirito, which serves huge portions of tasty pasta dishes for €10 (as well as all the usual second courses, antipasti etc). The highight was the gratin of gnocchi with truffle oil, which had more cream and cheese then a human should consume in a life time. It will haunt my dreams for some time to come. The fact that someone has written an entire Intelligent Life article in praise of the dish shows I’m clearly not the only one.image

 I Due Fratellini

A standard in every guide book, I have very little to say about it but that I agree with what everyone says, it’s great food at a great price. They serve €3 sandwiches and tiny glasses of €1 wine from a hole in the wall near the Piazza della Signoria, and everyone stands on the street wolfing both down. I had goats cheese with fennel salami, and highly recommend it.image

A Weekend in Berlin

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This post is a well overdue round up of a long weekend in Berlin in May. This was my second visit, and the city felt very different from my first in 2008. More polished I suppose, with a bit of the edge gone. Discovering one of the most memorable bars from my first visit, a converted former social club for the stasi complete with 1960s decor, had been demolished to make way for luxury apartments was probably part of that. We had a lot of great recommendations from family and friends who have made Berlin their home, so there were few mis-steps over the weekend. Except the currywurst, which is best avoided.

Henne 

I had visited this tourist favourite on my first time in Berlin, and was drawn to go back for reasons I couldn’t quite understand. It is in every guide book, and the kind of place I usually avoid. It’s decorated in a dark, heavy traditional style complete with tartan tableclothes and steins of beer. It serves one main dish, a roasted half chicken for €8 together with side dishes of potato salad, cabbage, currywurst or sausage. We ordered a half chicken and potato salad each, washed down with lots of Bavarian lager. I had remembered the chicken being good, but I had forgotten how good. It looks on the outside like a confit, but inside the meat is perfectly cooked and moist. This is not a place to go if you don’t like crispy chicken skin. Honestly, this is probably not the blog for you if you don’t like it either. It was so rich and decadent, it felt a little bit wrong to eat in public, the sort of thing that should be consumed in a private booth hidden behind a velvet curtain, away from the gaze of strangers. The potato salad probably came from one of those large industrial buckets, but I didn’t care, it was sweet and tangy and perfect with the chicken. I would go back here in a heartbeat.

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Akroum Snack

Basically a  hole in the wall that you would miss in the blink of an eye, Akroum Snack is one of a long line of Middle Eastern (largely Turkish) restaurants along Sonnennallee. They have one table outside and a few in the dark interior behind the take away window. It was early and on a tip from my brother, we ordered a portion of Fatteh to share for €5. I hate the expression “hug in a bowl” but that’s what this was. Soft, plump, perfectly cooked chickpeas, topped with thick slightly tart garlicky yoghurt, deep fried pieces of pita bread, olive oil, lemon juice and pine nuts, served together with pickles, chopped tomato, onion and flatbread. This is the kind of food you get up for. I can’t explain what makes it so good, it’s more simple than I usually like, but it was so much better than the sum of its parts. I would eat this for breakfast every day if I could.

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Gel Gör Inegöl Köfteci

We ate a lot of Turkish food on this trip, but Gel Gor was by far the best. This was another recommendation from my brother who had been raving about this place for years after once seeing one of the staff hand picking leaves from a large bunch of mint in there at 4am. It is a Turkish take-away with a few seats specialising in köfte that is open 24 hours a day. It was worth the hype. We both had köfte sandwiches. The bread was light and crisp, like a banh mi baguette, topped with rich meatballs with just enough fat to make them tender, fresh herbs and salad leaves, a light yoghurt sauce and a swipe of spicey ajvar for contrast. It felt clean and fresh and surprisingly wholesome.

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Lokal

I had been warned that high end restaurants in Berlin tend to disappoint. While not quite the fanciest place I’ve ever visited, Lokal was at least triple the budget for every other meal we had (because you have to do something a bit fancy for your 30th). It’s located in a Scandi style whitewashed ground floor space in the heart of Mitte. The menu features lots of offal and lots of vegetables, very simply done. We started out with tiny fried sweetbreads with different spring vegetables, and a very bland veal tartare paired with a sparkling Riesling. I went with a vegetarian main, featuring every conceivable type of beetroot served every conceivable way with asparagus and pearl barley and a natural Gewurztraminer. It felt wholesome without being sickeningly virtuous. The vegetables were simply prepared to let their natural flavours sing. Also, the portion sizes were very hefty. We finished off by sharing a generous cheese plate with lots of fresh bread. It was a pleasant place to visit, with lovely service, and a bright space that was perfect for people watching. I’d definitely go back.

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Cafe Einstein

Cafe Einstein is a Berlin institution, with two branches, including one located in a neo-renaissance villa on the tree lined Kurfürstenstraße near the Embassy district. Stolpersteine commemorating the  Jewish owners of the villa on the pavement outside were a sobering reminder of its tragic history. These are scattered throughout many countries in Europe to mark the homes of those who died in the Holocaust. The interior of the villa looked like a set from cabaret, with a perfectly intact 1920s decor. It was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Allied bombing raids.More than anywhere I’ve been before, Berlin is a city that has had, and continues to have a reckoning with its past, which is difficult to escape wherever you go.

This was another recommendation from my brother, who maintains that Einstein’s has the best club sandwich in the world.Although not really a fan of the idea of club sandwiches, I had to give it a shot. Since it was my first proper club, I can’t really say if it was the best, but it was very tasty. There is nothing fancy about it, just bog standard toasted white bread, fresh chicken breast, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and lots of mayo, but it was deeply satisfying and a great meal to welcome me to my thirties (yes, I had a club sandwich for breakfast that day). 

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Neue Heimat

We had many plans for our Sunday, only one of which came to fruition – a trip to Neuheimat. A Sunday street food market in the heart of Freidrichshain, it was surprisingly commercial for the most hipster area in Berlin. It was well organised with bouncers, entrance fees and bag searches, all things I wouldn’t have associated with the relaxed atmosphere inside. Set in a series of old warehouses near the railway line, with courtyards in between, bands played live music and the best of Berlin street food was on offer. We ended up spending  the afternoon there chatting, idling around, people watching and snacking when the mood took us. We had some organic Spatzle from Bavaria, tacos from Neta and some decent Gewurtztraminer from a wine bar inside. There was also a great craft beer festival on that weekend, so we got to sample beers from Lithuania, Norway, Poland and Berlin itself. It was the sort of place I could see myself revisiting a lot if I lived there for a relaxed way to ease through the Sunday fear.

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The Bars:

Becketts Kopf

When I visited this bar back in 2008, I was absolutely blown away by it. It’s the original speakeasy kind of bar that is copied all over Europe now (look for the picture of Samuel Beckett in the window to find it). I’d never tried a cocktail like it, Dublin just didn’t offer them in those days. I could never go back to a €5 tequila sunrise in Capitol Bar again. Revisiting, the prices had gone up steeply to €12 a cocktail. They were great cocktails, but I think I’d hyped the place up in my head in a way it could never live up to. If you’re a cocktail aficionado, this should definitely be on your list.

Freischwimmer 

The Freischwimmer felt like stepping into another place and time. Located down a dark wooded laneway, on the edge of a canal, in a historic wooden boathouse, it felt a million miles away from the bustle of the city. It looked like the kind of place the Hardy Boys would have used as a base for an adventure. The drinks were standard, but it was a beautiful calm place to sit and watch the water. The bar on the opposite bank had a more hedonistic vibe going, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Not Only Riesling

Conveniently located about a minute from our apartment on Bergmannstrasse, this lovely bright and friendly wine bar specialised in German wines (as the name might suggest) with bits and pieces of charcuterie, cheese and olives on offer. A great place for an aperitif and a snack

Prater Garten

It was cold and grey when we decided in typical Northern European fashion that we were going to have a beer outside, because that’s what you do in May. The fact that it started drizzling after we sat down didn’t deter us. Prater biergarten is a giant, historic beer garden off one of the main streets in Prenzlauerberg. It has  hundreds yellow painted benches and tables surrounded by chestnut trees and floodlights for evening. It felt like a uniquely German place to visit. You can buy different types of beer, and traditional snacks like pretzels and currywurst from the stands on the edge of the garden.

Talento Gelato – The Best Gelato in Dublin

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My corner of Dublin 7 is a mix of the traditional and the new. We have an independent publisher and bookshop, which backs onto a working stable. You can get a cheese toastie and pint of Guinness in Frank Ryans, or clams with sherry vinaigrette and a glass of Txacoli at Fish Shop next door. In April, one neighbour had a notice up in their front window with the local mass timetable. Two doors down, there was a poster urging people to vote yes in the same sex marriage referendum. Sorrento, the chip shop on Arbour Hill, is the perfect mix of traditional and new. It has the same 1970s tiled decor of my grandparents kitchen, and serves traditional chipper fare, with whirly burgers and battered sausages advertised on star shaped neon cardboard handwritten signs. hey also sell the best ice-cream you will ever eat.

I’m not a big ice-cream/gelato fan normally, I find it a bit bland. I’m the type to buy Ben and Jerry’s and then fish out all the non-ice cream bits with a spoon and leave the rest in a puddle in the bowl. My first time trying Talento Gelato was after a few pints in Mulligans, when himself decided on a midnight snack. I have to admit I was sceptical about the sign advertising freshly made gelato. Cristiano, the maker of the gelato was working behind the counter, and apologetically answered our request for pistachio ice cream by explaining the good pistachios were not in season yet, and instead he could only offer buffalo milk and Sicilian blood orange ice cream. Himself bought a large portion for €4. I spent the rest of the walk home trying to wrestle the spoon out of his hand. The gelato was something else altogether, rich and light and full of flavour. If I hadn’t been told it was buffalo milk, I would have spent days trying to figure out what the rich,tangy taste of the gelato base was.

The next time we stopped by the gelato on offer was pistachio, rosewater and saffron made with tender pistachios the size of pinenuts. It was delicate and perfumed, exactly the kind of thing to end a meal with. When we asked him about the gelato he was making, Cristiano explained that growing up in Romania he had never even heard of it, but from the day he first tried it, he was hooked.  He studied to make gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna and has been making it in Dublin using traditional methods for the past year.  He showed us the ingredients he used, including different varieties of vanilla pod and chocolate from Madagascar and Tahiti which he used to flavour his gelato. It was impossible not to be impressed with his passion for what he did. I should add he did not know I had a food blog when he talked us through all this, he was just happy to explain his craft to anyone with a bit of interest.  Talento di Gelato ice-cream is also on sale at the Temple Bar Food Market. Cristiano is planning to set up his own gelateria in the next year, and to run gelato making classes.Until then, it’s worth a trip to Arbour Hill just to get a taste of the best gelato in Dublin.

3 Days in Belgium

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I love the idea of relaxing holidays. Sun, books, lying around, wine. Then I go on holidays, and do stupid things like travel from Dublin to Leiden via Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp in 3 days. Then I wonder why I’m exhausted when I come home.

Brussels

Brussels was a favourite day trip of mine when I lived in Holland. It has a feel of both Utrecht and Paris, but with an atmosphere that is entirely its own. We stayed in a beautiful Belle Epoque apartment with a garden in St.Gilles (complete with cat) and basically managed to explore the whole city in a day and a half, from the Grand Place, to frites at Maison Antoine, to the flea market at Jeu du Balles, but these places were the highlights:

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Le Wine Bar Sablon de Marolles

This was the first place we tried in Brussels, and it was a tough act to follow. There wasn’t one particular thing that made it special, it was a combination of all the different factors. A cosy wine bar lit by candles, an extensive menu with food as good as it sounded, great wine, friendly and attentive staff, it all came together.  Our waiter went through the whole menu in English and recommended wine pairings for each dish, steering us away from more expensive options if he didn’t think they were suitable. We shared a beautiful charcuterie plate, complete with homemade rillettes and ham and parsley terrine, some roasted bone marrow with Parmesan, and burrata with roasted vegetables. Each dish was wonderful, with great ingredients simply prepared . We had lovely glasses of Roussane and Grenache to match alongside. We were even more pleasantly surprised when the bill came in at around 40 each, despite several glasses of wine each.

Nordzee – Mer du Nord

Recommended by pretty much everyone I spoke to, Nordzee-Mer du Nord is a corner fish shop with a counter where you can order freshly cooked fish and glasses of wine for a small price to eat standing up at tables on the square. It’s very busy and there’s no formal queuing system, so you edge your way towards the counter and make mildly intrusive eye contact with the efficient staff until they take your order, pay, and then wait for your name to echo across the square about 5-1o minutes later. We had an amazing crab burger with watercress, a tomato glaze and tartar sauce, and some decent, if a little bland calamari together with two glasses of French Sauvignon Blanc for €16. There is also a cute little tapas stall on a nearby corner doing much the same thing, to slightly lesser crowds. The area around it is the fish market, and so stuffed to the gills with fish restaurants (sorry, the pun was there just waiting to happen) and nice old fashioned corner bars. The same square is also home to the Cremerie de Linkebeeke, a renowned cheese shop.

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Mort Subite

This is both my favourite Brussels bar and beer.  I love any bar that looks like it hasn’t changed in 100 years, and luckily Brussels has plenty of these. Mort Subite has a great Belle Epoque interior, and slightly pricey (by Brussels standards) Belgian beer, including its eponymous brand. The staff are diligent in their attempts to ignore you, but speedy if you finally catch them. Locals all seemed to shout and wave their arms, but my Irish mortification at putting people to any trouble wouldn’t allow that. Their Faro beer there is my new favourite, a light slightly bitter brown beer with a caramel aftertaste.They serve bar snacks like cheese with celery salt, and sandwiches as well.

 Bia Mara

This place was a great tip from the guys over at GastroGays, a casual Irish-owned fish and chips place near the Grand Place. Each day they serve a selection of fried fresh fish, lovely mayonnaise and  chips all for around €10. We arrived at 10pm and it was still packed. We ended up at a shared table beside an Irish couple, who went for the classic trick of talking about the other diners in broken Irish, assuming that we couldn’t understand them. The service was a bit forgetful, but the fish and chips were great. I tried Skrei, a Norwegian cod that seems to be particularly popular in Brussels, with lemon and fennel panko, and basil and lemon mayonnaise. This is a place I’d definitely make a regular spot if I was a local.

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Bruges & Ghent

On Saturday we went for a double day trip of Bruges and Ghent. Pro tip: just pick one, this was exhausting. Bruges was predictably crammed with tourists, and a bit the less for it. It is spectacularly beautiful, but maybe best to be visited on a weekday or off season. You can wander off the beaten track into quieter areas pretty quickly, but all of the most scenic spots like the Rozenhoedkaai and the Begijnhof were absolutely filled with hordes taking selfies so you spend your time trying to duck and weave out of family photos. It’s also very pricey to eat, so we ended up having a lunch of frites from the carts near the cathedral. Ghent was very quiet by comparison, but we were pretty wrecked when we got there, so we only wandered for an hour, got a drink in the entertainingly eccentric De Dulle Griet and headed back for the train. It’s a lovely spot, with a mix of  medieval centre and slightly more industrial hinterland that still feels very welcoming.

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Antwerp

Again we only spent a few hours in Antwerp, as part of the three train and one bus marathon trip that brought us from Brussels back to Leiden, and as always, I wish I’d had more time there. Antwerp is a fascinating city, with a lovely old medieval centre combined with incredibly forward design shops. If I won the lottery, I would come here to shop a lot. There are lots of little squares in the heart of the city, replete with terraced bars to enjoy the sunshine. Even on Easter Sunday, nearly the whole town was open, so we wandered around and browsed before settling for a burger lunch at Dansing Chocolaa boho type bar near the river.

A Whirlwind Tour of Galway

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When I asked friends from Galway for tips on what to do, I got a laundry list of restaurants, cafes and pubs. “There aren’t really any ‘sights’ in Galway, it’s more a place to eat and drink and wander” I was told. So that’s what we did.We also went for a brutally cold swim in the ocean at Salthill, but mainly we ate and drank our way around town for 24 hours. For a small city, it’s punching well above its weight in culinary terms. We didn’t get to try everywhere I wanted (the universally recommended Kai for example was closed for the bank holiday) but managed a good whistlestop tour of the main highlights:

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Sheridans

Sheridans is a small chain of cheesemongers with a branch in Dublin, and strong presence on the farmers market circuit around Ireland. In Galway, they have added to that with a lovely wine bar above their shop. It’s a welcoming space with large communal tables, high ceilings and big old sash windows looking out at St.Nicholas’ church. They have a number of bottles open at any given time, but they’ll also open any for you that you ask if you want to try a glass, for between €6-8. You can also buy bottles to take away, as plenty of people were doing while we sat there. We went with staff recommendations and got a fruity Malbec and delicate Insolia. To help wash them down, we went with a very ample “small” cheese plate for €10 featuring Irish cheeses like Ardrahan and Gubbeen together with Mimolette, Manchego Tetilla and an unusual blue whose name I’ve forgotten. There was such a lovely relaxed atmosphere, it’s the kind of place you’d stay all evening in if you could.

Cava Bodega

Cava Bodega is one of three restaurants owned by JP McMahon, who brought Galway its first Michelin star with Aniar. As that was a little outside the budget, Cava seemed a great alternative, a lively casual place serving an extensive range of tapas. It seems to be pretty popular with Galway’s glamorous twenty-something women, immediately leaving me feeling underdressed. The staff were friendly, if slightly overworked but it was a nice place to sit and soak up the atmosphere. The menu is huge, literally 50 or so dishes, and we picked a little randomly, ending up with way too much food from 5 tapas shared between two. A highlight was the local mussels with almonds and garlic, and the pork neck with morcilla, migas and piquillo peppers. With some cava, and a very nice carafe of Verdejo, the bill came to just 40 each for more food than we could finish.

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Neachtains

It feels like everyone in Galway stops by Neachtains at some point in the day. After an evening drink there, we were recognising most of the people we passed on the street the next day. An old fashioned pub that still has the counter it used to sell groceries, they have a warren of rooms and snugs, some with fireplaces. There is also a large outside area spilling onto Quay Street for optimum people watching. The Guinness is good, and they have a selection of craft beers and whiskeys too. It feels like the kind of place where secrets are shared over late night drinks, unless you bring the Russian secret service, they will not give away any gossip apparently (yes, someone has really done that).

The Crane

A tip from our B&B, a proper local pub with great pints of Guinness and traditional music upstairs. A regular did try to sneakily take a photo of the boyfriend, hopefully because he mistook him for someone famous or wanted to get the same hairstyle in the barbers, and not for some kind of weird shrine.

Ard Bia

Walking into Ard Bia is like stepping into a little community. The staff are friendly and chatty with everyone, the little rooms are decorated with artwork and fresh flowers, and they were even giving out forms to register to vote in the upcoming referenda on same-sex marriage and presidential age.  The menu is a mix of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Irish styles. Again, the food was excellent, there really were no dud meals on this trip. They offered brunch/lunch on the afternoon we were visiting (they also do dinner). Opting for something a bit more substantial to sustain me for the train journey home, I had a delicious pulled spiced beef with flatbread, carrot slaw, yoghurt and paprika wedges, while himself had hake in a saffroney broth with boiled baby potatoes. They have a great small craft beer list, from which I chose a honey beer I have never seen before in my too extensive time in craft beer pubs. They do take bookings, but we just turned up and didn’t have long to wait. A must visit place!

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The Stop B&B

My only previous Galway B&B experience was in a house where the hostess nearly fainted upon the discovery that she had harboured an unmarried couple under her roof (despite separate bedrooms) and promised to pray for our souls. With that in mind, I wasn’t too eager to go back to B&Bs, but when I saw The Stop B&B on the top 100 places to stay in Ireland list, we had to try it. Recently opened, it’s a short walk from the city centre in a 1930s house with gorgeous decor and lovely hosts. When we arrived, Russell the owner presented us with a hand-drawn map of their favourite shops, restaurants and bars. Our room had a simple and elegant style with nice artwork, design magazines and little details like a vase of elegant branches. The living room was stocked with more books and magazines, homemade cookies and tea and coffee. This is the kind of place you’d stay just to hang out in. In the morning, we were given a choice of breakfasts, with a buffet involving homemade bread, muesli, cheese, apple compote, and a fry up to go alongside. They even make their own ketchup, and drizzled the fry with wild garlic oil. They also agreed to allow us to check out late, and mind our bags for the afternoon. I really hope this is the way B&Bs are going.