Friday Food Things, Part III: of magazines, portion sizes, and tahini cookies

Good Food magazine

075This month, Good Food magazine launches its new look, and the May issue’s dazzling front cover showcases beautiful eclairs dressed in spring-bright shades of icing. There’s also a 16-page Nigella collection (though I doubt it will be anything new for me as I actually already own all of her cookbooks). As a further bonus, if you buy the magazine from Sainsbury’s, you will receive a Lakeland duo-colour icing kit, which will enable you to pipe two different colours at once and comes with 6 nozzles, 8 disposable icing pages amd a coupling set. This is an extra exclusive to Sainsbury’s so it’s worth holding out on your purchase to get it from there.

 

Portion control

This postcard from the Imperial War Museum is affixed to my kitchen cupboards
This postcard from the Imperial War Museum is affixed to my kitchen cupboards

When I decided to reassess my diet and work towards losing the weight I’d progressively gained over the course of work and, especially, my part-time MA, the first thing I took in hand was portion sizes. For the first time in my life, really, I started paying attention to the portions of a recipe and limiting myself to a single share; no longer would I consume half a recipe of something which said ‘serves four’. At first it was difficult and I was very hungry, but it’s become much easier. I feel like I now have a much more intuitive grasp of how much I should be eating of any given food. These – I hesitate to call them insights, but I suppose they are – meant I read this Guardian article on portions with interest. The article is written by Bee Wilson, who is a fabulous writer, and thanks to my avid and greedy reading of her books, a lot of the information wasn’t new to me, but I still enjoyed it and it’s a very useful summary of what has happened to portion sizes in the last 50 years (they’ve gotten bigger). Jay Rayner, Gizzi Erskine and Tamal Ray’s contributions on how they approach portion control were engaging, too; of the three I’m most sympathetic to Gizzi’s approach but none of the three experiences overlaps exactly with how I approach food.

Cleaving

078I’ve been reading Julie Powell’s Cleaving. I remember when Julie Powell was a huge deal in the food blogging community, though I was never an avid reader of her Julie and Julia blog back in the day (I was a Chocolate and Zucchini girl). I did read Julie and Julia when it came out and found it riveting; she’s a compelling writer and I missed Tube stops reading this (which resulted in missing a train to my station and having to trek back in the dark). Cleaving was not such a success, partly I think because it’s about adultery, which I am, I realised, not really comfortable with, but more importantly, I think the central conceit of the book – that butchery, adultery and the ties of love and obsession are interconnected – does not work. I could have bought the elaborate metaphor in a work of fiction, where suspension of disbelief in these things is essential, but not in autobiography. It stretched my credulity to imagine that, as Powell sliced pork or beef, that the elaborate thoughts and memories of her marriage and obsession with her lover came as perfectly to mind as she portrays.

Salted tahini chocolate chunk cookies, via My Name is Yeh

050I have baked two batches of the salted tahini chocolate chunk cookies I found via Molly Yeh’s beautiful and considered blog; to my surprise my boyfriend adored them too. I thought that perhaps the tahini would put him off, because he doesn’t tend to like nut butters, but he is as obsessed with them as I am. They are utterly delicious: crumbly, salty, absolutely packed with chocolate.

My observations: the recipe states that you must not skip the step of resting the cookie dough overnight in the freezer. The first time I made these, I chilled the dough for about half an hour. The cookies baked up crisp, crumbly and short, which is how I like them actually. For the second batch, I rested the dough overnight in the fridge and only then scooped the dough out onto the baking tray to bake. My fridge is tiny and I don’t have a freezer, so this is how it has to be. The rested batch is indeed softer, slightly doughier and cakier, though not in an undercooked way. My boyfriend prefers them this texture; I like them crunchier, as per the first time, without resting.

The recipe has salted in the title but I thought 1 teaspoon of Maldon salt flakes a little too much. Three-quarters of a teaspoon, as per the second batch, is much better. The recipe also supposedly makes 12 but I find this inconceivable, since I made at least 18 large cookies using a pretty sizeable cookie scoop. If making 12 I can only imagine they would be unreasonably large.

Finally, cup measurements are annoying. If you want to make them the metric measurements (I weighed as I went) are as follows (I haven’t included the full list of ingredients, just the ones that benefit from being weighed out rather than measured in cups):

  • 113g butter
  • 140g tahini
  • 120g sugar (I did reduce this from the original recipe, which calls for a whole cup; I measured out three quarters of a cup because I thought the ratio of one cup sugar to just over a cup of flour to be excessive)
  • 190g flour
  • 260g dark chocolate chunks (I didn’t use the Valrhona feves; I just used Sainsbury’s dark chocolate, cut up into squares to retain the spirit of very large chunks of molten chocolate striated through the dough)

 

Baking challenge: mocha-caramel millefeuille

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week eight (the final) of series two: layered millefeuille.

Layers of puff pastry, mocha patisserie cream, drizzled caramel, hazelnut praline
Layers of puff pastry, mocha patisserie cream, drizzled caramel, hazelnut praline

Sometimes, if you want to impress your friends and sicken your enemies (a phrase I have unashamedly stolen from Marian Keyes, FYI), you need to put the time and effort in. Making millefeuille is one of those things: it will delight the eye, bring joy to the palate, and inspire awe in your guests. But, because millefeuille is not a single recipe but a set of deliciously-assembled components, it does take work. Fortunately for you, and your dinner party guests, pretty much every component can be made in advance and put together before serving. This is why plated desserts are such a staple of restaurant kitchens: it’s no more effort, after all the baking, than putting together a few Lego blocks. But in the home, all the baking is done by one person, and that person is you.

Hazelnut praline, ready for crushing
Hazelnut praline, ready for crushing

Component number one is the rough puff or full puff pastry. How time-consuming and difficult you will find this process depends entirely on how often you make regular pastry. Although I had some mishaps (detailed in the head notes to the recipe), on the whole this was straightforward.

Component number two is the creme patissiere. I decided I definitely wanted my creme patissiere filling to be coffee, because I love coffee in dessert and it is just not featured enough, in my view. The feedback from my friends was that the liked that the coffee flavour was quite gentle and not too strong – so if you want it stronger you should increase the coffee extract to taste or perhaps infuse the cream with coffee grounds (straining before use) or add dissolved instant coffee.

Component three was the caramel, for drizzling, and number four was some

Hazelnut praline, crushed. The ground up, caramel glazed nuts add textural contrast to the plated dessert
Hazelnut praline, crushed. The ground up, caramel glazed nuts add textural contrast to the plated dessert

hazelnut praline, crushed into powder, for textural contrast and smokey, nutty depth. Someone brought some raspberries to my party (where I served this dessert) so later that evening I dotted each millefeuille with them in the spirit of pure opportunism. And actually I think it really lifted everything, introducing a slightly sharp note and a splodge of colour that lifted the beige, brown and buff elements of cooked pastry, drizzled caramel and mocha creme patissiere.

When it comes to making caramel, I have a secret: I very rarely use recipes or even measurements anymore. Usually I throw a fistful of sugar into a pan, cook it until amber, and then pour in glugs of cream until it’s the consistency I want. I finish it off with salt and butter to taste. This happy state of throwing caution to the wind comes after many years of carefully following recipes, swirling my pan of measured-out ingredients and reading the instructions as I went. I mention this simply because I think making caramel is a bit of a stressful endeavour for a lot of people, but do it enough and it can really come to feel quite natural. As with anything, the impression of ease, fluidity and instinct is simply the result of many years of practice. I decanted it into a plastic squeezy bottle but you can drizzle (or splatter) the caramel over using a spoon or piping bag as you prefer.

Overhead shot
Overhead shot

I hasten to add that sometimes my sugar does burn and occasionally the whole thing seizes up to a grainy paste – but this is usually when I have decided to leave the kitchen to watch TV or something. Don’t abandon your caramel!

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Friday Food Things, Part II: Skyr, BBC Radio 4, Olia Hercules, and Bee Wilson

Listening to…BBC Radio 4 Food Programme

IMG_1891I’ve been eating so much skyr recently that my Instagram feed could be sponsored by the Icelandic Skyr Promotion Board, should such a thing exist. I just really love the taste of it: the sharp lactic tang makes it resemble neither yoghurt nor cheese but brings to mind sour cream. However, I discovered that the brand I’ve been buying, Arla, is not actually Icelandic, as I assumed, but Danish. So much for supporting the Icelandic cottage industry (I’m now trying an Icelandic brand, simply called Icelandic Skyr).

I found this out when listening to the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme, more specifically when catching up to its episode ‘Ferment’ (which features, as a guest speaker, the fabulous Olia Hercules, my current cookery crush, if I can say something so gauche). It was mentioned in the programme that authentic Icelandic skyr is hard to find, and I was compelled to look up what I had been eating.

Since then I’ve been greedily catching uIMG_1896p on the Food Programme and found myself utterly fascinated by such things as the history of pizza and gulping down an interview with the lovely Bee Wilson about her equally fabulous book First Bite. If you love food and for some reason haven’t yet listened to the Food Programme, I highly recommend you do – the full archive is available which is fantastic.

Octopus Books / Foyle’s / delicious. magazine Cookbook Confidential

I treated myself to an issue of delicious. magazine at the

The beautiful 'Mamushka', by Olia Hercules
The beautiful ‘Mamushka’, by Olia Hercules

beginning of April and found out about a series of collaborative talks between Foyle’s, publisher Octopus Books and delicious. magazine which will feature a range of food writers, cooks and chefs, who will discuss their recent books or speak to a specific theme. Although I’ve signed up to all but one (only because I’m already busy that night), I’m particularly looking forward to How to Break into the Food Business, featuring aforementioned culinary crush Olia Hercules as a speaker, and An Evening with Diana Henry. The talks are £12 and include a glass of wine and, according to my magazine, a copy of delicious.

 

Currently reading…

IMG_1898Following on from First Bite, I’m now reading Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork, a history of cooking and eating implements and tools. Her writing has an extraordinary power to spark of my imagination; it’s vivid and blends beautifully the academic, analytical and anecdotal/personal.

I’ve also recently discovered Amelia Morris’ blog Bon Appetempt and am ploughing through the archives. The combination of recipes and frank, often funny, but equally often poignant reflections on life, ambition, motherhood, family and writing are irresistible to me.

 

 

London Bites: a meal at Mestizo

Mestizo
Hampstead Road, NW1

Enchiladas de mole
Enchiladas de mole

A friend and I recently visited Mestizo for some post-work, pre-shopping (book shopping) refuelling. We are dedicated Wahaca afficionados, so I thought this authentic Mexican restaurant would suit us both. The restaurant is based near Euston, and feels a little remote, like a punctuation mark floating in the middle of a page, though this of course makes it all the easier to secure a table.

Inside, the decor is slightly Aztec-themed, as opposed, I guess, to Tex-Mex sombreros. The service system is interesting: once sat down, I was given a double-ended cuboid, one side red, one green. When in need of service, it’s flipped to the green side; when otherwise okay, you keep it flipped to the red side. My verdict on the service overall is that it was friendly enough, but not always attentive or careful: I had to ask for water a few times before it arrived, food took quite a while to come, and it was whisked away with a touch of haste, with bites remaining on the plate. The tables are also quite close together, which I doubt makes the life of the serving staff easy, and it can feel quite closed in and rushed at busy times.

I’m sorry to say I was disappointed by the food. It may shatter my foodie credentials to prefer a chain to an authentic restaurant, but the food at Wahaca is consistently fresh and bright, full of appetising texture and distinctive flavour – red onion, lime, chilli (there’s a reason I mentioned it as a food favourite in my video recently). The food at Mestizo was comparatively one-note.

233
Cheese empanadas

For my starter, I ordered the cheese empanadas (from the Antojitos section of the menu). I’ve made my own empanadas and eaten them at catered events at work, so was looking forward to the contrast of crisp pastry shell and oozing, salty interior. I received a plate of four pale, somewhat undercooked-looking empanadas. They were deep-fried, and probably at too low a heat: the exterior was soggy with oil and unpleasantly greasy. The cheese interior was utterly bland: the cheese used was white and stringy but lacked even the taste of salt. I only found the empanadas edible when slathered with the tomato sauce and sour cream (or possibly crema) they came with, and the addition of coriander pinched from my friend’s dish. Even with these additions they were largely flavourless, but it served to cover the oiliness. The thing about deep-fried food is that it must be utterly delicious to be worth eating, and as I picked at the empanadas, all I could think of was that they were a waste of calories. Not good.

Arrachera tacosFor her starter, my friend had the arrachera tacos, spiced beef strips marinated in beer which came with soft tortillas and fixings – tomato sauce, chopped white onion, coriander – to assemble your tacos. The beef was, in contrast to my dish, very strongly flavoured with spices, though with a slightly metallic aftertaste (the beer, I guess) which I found somewhat unpleasant. The texture of the beef was disappointing: the strips were stringy and tough, requiring considerable chewing to get through, and I don’t think it was right for a taco.

For my main, I had the enchiladas de mole, because I wanted to try this signature, iconic Mexican poultry dish. The two enchiladas arrived with a little rice and black bean stew. The black beans were lovely: tender and richly spiced with deep, rich flavour. The enchiladas were slathered with the dark mole sauce. I knew, of course, that mole includes dark chocolate amongst other ingredients (over 40, according to Mestizo’s menu), but I wasn’t expecting the sauce to taste so assertively, and sweetly, of chocolate. The predominant spice note was cumin, and this didn’t translate well with the chicken: it was so sweet that the dish was almost a dessert in which some chicken had been tumbled. It was a strangely claggy, heavy eating experience. The flavours of the 40 different ingredients didn’t harmonise well, and the result was murky and overwhelmed my palate. For my taste, the dish was crying out for some bright, citrussy flavour to uplift it – lime juice and a sprinkle of coriander would not have gone amiss.

237My friend had the enchiladas cancun, which was admittedly livelier, with a tomato sauce, and uplifted by the garnish of pickled red onion and a few slices of avocado. However, we both agreed that it was still flatter than the flavours we were used to at Wahaca, and again the sauce was a little sweet for my taste.

By this point we were done and agreed to seek pastures greener for dessert.

Verdict: If you’re seeking Mexican or even Latin food in the capital, you could do better than Mestizo. It might not seem credibly edgy to visit a chain but Wahaca is a stalwart which I go to again and again for good reason: the food is reliably fresh and zingy. If you aren’t particularly seeking out Mexican food and want something a bit more indie, I’d highly recommend the Peruvian restaurant Ceviche in Soho which, in addition to vibrant plates of its eponymous fish dish, serves up a pretty perfect pisco sour.

 

Sometimes, I make lunch: ad hoc tuna and pasta salad

Sometimes, I make my boyfriend a packed lunch.

084

I make myself a packed lunch to take to work almost every day of the week. On most days, I have soup: minestrone, spicy tomato, browned butter and spinach (that one is amazing). I work in a tall, cold, imposing building whose silhouette dominates the landscape (no, it’s not the Gherkin). I have worked there for almost five years, having moved fairly seamlessly from my last exam at university to its Portland Stone embrace. Time, and a little bit of seniority that I have accumulated, have made me feel comfortable enough to microwave my soup in its lockable plastic mug and sip contentedly at my desk, building up warmth from within. At their desks, my colleagues in turn munch on salad (one colleague has a convenient stash of salt, pepper and basil-infused olive oil behind her desk, which she douses over goat’s cheese and leaves) and porridge.

My boyfriend, however, has in this time moved between several jobs. The kitchens he has described have varied: one had a microwave so crusted with layers of unwashed food that he refused to warm up a lunch in this biohazard. In other workplaces, he has had limited space for lunch, sitting chock-a-block with colleagues. In short: he has never felt entirely comfortable with bringing in something as sloppy, slurpy, and potentially messy as soup. However, I often draw the line at making something else on a Sunday night, and he doesn’t expect me to.

A few nights ago, however, there was a confluence of enough stuff in the fridge that I offered to make him a tuna pasta salad for his lunch. He likes tinned tuna and I don’t; if he eats a commercially prepared tuna sandwich I am guaranteed to rear back in horror. So obviously this was an act of great and noble sacrifice on my part.

The handfuls that I used to make up his packed lunch were as follows. Most of a pack of tiny pasta stars, a handful of which, and no more, had been tossed into a minestrone soup. The green tops of a bunch of spring onions, which for some reason I had had only used the white bulbs of. One and a half Little Gem lettuces. Half a tiny red onion. The better part of a jar of Veganaise I had bought in an experimental spirit (so yes, I used vegan mayonnaise to make a fish-based dish. Ho hum). A stalk or two of celery, because celery always has to be purchased in bunches, even though recipes will call for a mere stick, and as a consequence it wilts languidly at the bottom of the vegetable crisper. To this, just add the contents of a tin of tuna and one of sweetcorn (drained).

The point of this post is not so much the tuna pasta salad (although I have included the recipe for my version below – it was very well-received and can serve as the blueprint for your own fridge foraging). You can find hundreds of recipes on the internet, and most of them will be based on a classic combination of tuna, sweetcorn, mayonnaise and spring onions. The point is that the substance of meals can be found outside the pages of food magazines, fancy cookbooks and even the perfect world of cookery on the World Wide Web (there are some blogs which make me sick with envy, so perfect are the photos, so inviting the perfectly curated tablescapes of frothy white tablecloth, rustic branches and goblets of watery green glass). I love cooking from the shelves of cookbooks in my home, but it is equally important to be able to pull dinner and lunch together from disparate ingredients if you want to avoid filling the compost bin. You can call such dihes inspiration, or pragmatism…or just a great way to save the £3.00 a day you would otherwise spend on a Meal Deal.

Continue reading “Sometimes, I make lunch: ad hoc tuna and pasta salad”

Friday, Food and Frivolity: Stuff I read this week

By Poyraz 72 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Poyraz 72 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I love The Guardian’s long reads. Where much of the newspaper has gone astray, publishing human interest stories in the guise of investigative journalism, these are properly lengthy articles with enough space for nuance. This week, I read (more than once) The Sugar Conspiracy by Ian Leslie, an account of how nutrition scientists began promoting the idea that fat, rather than sugar, was leading to problems like heart disease, and how this orthodoxy is rapidly reversing. As any article on sugar must do, it references Dr Robert Lustig, but also sketches a profile of John Yudkin, a British professor of nutrition who warned of the dangers of sugar from the 1960s onwards, and throughout his career (he died in 1995). Yudkin’s story is the unexpected emotional core of the piece: a man who stood by his convictions and scientific understanding, but whose reputation was horribly smeared by those pushing the line about fat’s dangers. It’s a fascinating piece which is about the politics of scientific research, the ownership of knowledge and the savagery of a community turning on ‘outsiders’ questioning its authority as much as it is simply about the dangers of excessive sugar consumption.

I enjoy the New York Times’ food and style pieces; they are reliably well-written.

By Brian Minkoff-London Pixels [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Nigella Lawson. By Brian Minkoff-London Pixels [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
However, I was bemused by the article The Daughters of Nigella. Ostensibly about the leading lights of the British clean/healthy eating movement – the inevitable Ella Woodward, Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley, Amelia Freer and even Anna Jones – Marisa Meltzer makes an odd reference to these women as Nigella Lawson’s logical successors. I’m not convinced by this: Nigella’s approach, throughout all of her books (I own each title), is to maximise pleasure and enjoyment and minimise fuss. She readily confesses to being impatient in the kitchen and greedy. The Hemsley sisters, to take one example, require that you ‘activate’ grains overnight before cooking them. The clean eating approach to food, regardless of whether you think of it as the single most important and beneficial lifestyle choice you will make or a potentially dangerous fad which possibly borders in an eating disorder (both attitudes are out there), is very considered, rather than Nigella’s more spontaneous and, dare I say it, joyful approach to food.

I have recently discovered the Grub Street Diet series. Basically a bunch of semi-famous to famous people, both foodie and ‘standard’ celebrities, talk about what they eat in a week. Stuff like this is basically nectar and ambrosia to me. I enjoyed Kristen Bell’s submission, although the comments were very sneery about her diet, calling it boring and holier-than-thou. I suppose I find it interesting because 90% of the time by food choices are pretty similar (sue me). I liked Ike* Barinholtz’s entry very much too – and it’s thanks to Grub Street that I know the name of ‘the guy who plays Morgan on The Mindy Project‘.

*insert your own Eisenhower reference here

Eating Dublin: The Larder, Wuff, Avoca, Green19 and Le Petit Parisien

Over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, I visited Dublin with my boyfriend. I’ve wanted to go to Ireland for a long time – I’m fairly sure this longing was based on reading Marita Conlon-McKenna’s ‘Wildflower Girl’ over and over as a child. This, and the commemoration of the centenary of the Easter Rising, made a trip irresistible to the historian in me. My interest is not just in the past, but in its use, commemoration, and sanctification by the state, popular culture, media, and corporations. Events are remembered (and, equally crucially, forgotten) and reworked all the time, and how we use the past says more about our own concerns, fears and hopes as a society than it does about the events themselves.

Dublin collage
Scenes from Dublin, Easter Sunday, 2016 (most images from outside Trinity College)

In addition to observing and (seeking to) understand the significance of the Easter Rising in Ireland’s national story – as someone with an interest in the First World War I’ve only ever really understood the Rising within a wartime, rather than a national, context – we also ate plenty of food at various Dublin establishments. The city was packed out and we didn’t manage to get to all the places on my list, but from a culinary perspective the trip was a great success.

If you’re interested in knowing more about history and its use in society – that is, outside of academic settings – then you absolutely must read Ludmilla Jordanova’s ‘History in Practice’. If, however, you’d like to know more about the food I tried in Dublin, then please stay and read on here!

Breakfast

Wuff
Benburb Street

Wuff's full Irish breakfast (sans baked beans)
Wuff’s full Irish breakfast (sans baked beans)

After watching the commemoration ceremony and laying of the wreaths in central Dublin (on screens just outside the beautiful Trinity College), we were both absolutely starving, but the centre of Dublin was utterly rammed. I suggested we make our way to Slice, which had come recommended by a forum I frequent and had the advantage of being a little bit further out (so further from the crowds). But as we made our way there, we came across Wuff and, well, with a name like that, how could we not decide to go there? As soon as we entered, a table for two cleared, and within minutes of sitting down it started pouring with rain outside. Just meant to be, I reckon.

Bow-wow
Bow-wow

The ambience is not unlike slightly more hipster-ish, trendy brunch places in London: lots of wood and repurposed tin cans holding cutlery, although there were also, appropriately, lots of bright paintings of dogs dotted around the room.

 

Starving and somewhat cold, we both went for the full Irish (we really needed something warm!), although I forewent the serving of baked beans. On the plate: a couple of pieces of toast and two pats of butter; well-cooked bacon, a nice mix of crispy and softer pieces; a fried egg; black and white pudding (which I think is what makes this truly distinctive from the full English); and a gloriously cooked sausage, golden and appetising. And baked beans, should you want them. A traditional cooked breakfast is093 of course not the most exciting of food but it was executed well and the individual elements were delicious. The egg had a nicely runny yolk, which I like; the discs of pudding were scrumptious and it was a revelation to me. I had always thought I wasn’t fond of black pudding, but I realise now I just don’t like it in the incarnation of Belgian bloedpens, which is heavy and fatty. The black and white puddings were more like haggis, meaty, salty and crumbly with oatmeal. The standout, though, was the sausage: densely meaty (always a good sign), with good, porky flavour and pleasantly studded with leeks. My only real surprise was that we had white 094farmhouse bread instead of soda bread. The tea, an Irish breakfast blend, was also good: Irish breakfast tea blends are more weighted towards stronger, malty Assam tea than English breakfast, which includes a higher proportion of Ceylon and Kenyan tea. The Irish blend results in a stronger cup, which suits me to the ground.

Obviously, as I only had the one meal there I can’t comment broadly, but it was very good, and there are plenty of modish options if you’d like – lots of elegant women were ordering platefuls of the Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, which sounds like the lighter option if you ignore the generous puddles of buttery hollandaise poured around the English muffins. They looked great.

Verdict: Definitely worth a visit

Avoca
Suffolk Street

Great scone and truly excellent jam
Great scone and truly excellent jam

Avoca was another recommendation and when we arrived, shortly before it opened, there was a small queue forming outside. The cafe, which is situated above a gleaming shop of edited homewares, clothes, and books, became packed within minutes of it opening, so I’d recommend joining the pre-opening queue. Avoca, with its clean wood lines, on-trend rows of baked goods and jugs of cucumber and mint water, is clearly the place to be, and it’s also a place to be seen.

The breakfast menu is a typically brunchy mix of classics (the full Irish, pancakes) and trend-led superfood-y stuff – power porridge, green juice. Incidentally, the printed menu we received was not exactly the same as the one online. I ordered a fruit scone, which appears on the online menu (and the scones were visible in baskets), but didn’t appear in print. My boyfriend hesitated over the power porridge before, somewhat shamefacedly, going for his second full Irish in two days.

A more modern take on Irish breakfast: see the rocket
A more modern take on Irish breakfast: see the rocket

His verdict on the Avoca full Irish, though, was that it was ‘nice’ but not particularly striking. The sausages didn’t appear as good as the one we had at Wuff and he confirmed this was the case (even though they are advertised as coming with leeks, as the Wuff sausages did). The Avoca cooked breakfast came with bacon and sauteed mushrooms, a pile of rocket salad, scrambled eggs (you could replace it with a poached or fried egg though) and a bit of tomato: lacking the black or white pudding, it didn’t seem particularly different to an English breakfast, and, given the pile of rocket, was definitely a modernised version.

My scone came with cream, jam and butter, which was heaps of fun. The size of a fist or two, it was beautifully light and with an exceptionally fluffy interior, which made me wonder if it had been made with cream. The rocky, slightly sweet crust provided a textural contrast to the delicate interior without being tooth-breakingly hard. The scone was studded with raspberries but I would have preferred a more generous handful. The raspberry jam the scone was served with was exceptional, though: so sharp and really perfectly preserving the acidic bite of the fresh fruit, tempered by just enough sweetness.

Verdict: The scone was lovely, the cooked breakfast only so-so. Instead of breakfast, pop in for a cup of tea and cake – baked goods are clearly where this place shines.

Tea

Le Petit Parisien
Dame Street

Perfectly lovely but not quite worth the hassle
Perfectly lovely but not quite worth the hassle

I was in a fairly grumpy mood when we popped into this tiny, centrally-located cafe, mostly from sheer hunger. Although going to a Parisien-themed cafe seemed a bit of a waste of an opportunity to seek out a more locally-flavoured option, quite a few of our listed alternatives were actually closed on the bank holiday. I perked up, however, at the sight of the croque monsieur, a weakness of mine, which I ordered along with a pecan tart. David ordered a lemon tart.

Service here was broadly friendly but erratic, and somewhat slow. A French couple sitting near us left, slightly huffily, without ordering, because they had not been served since their arrival (they did say to a passing waitress that they had to go to the airport soon but this did not result in speeded-up service). The pecan and lemon tarts arrived. I waited for the croque monsieur, and reminded the waitress I’d ordered it. 126I waited some more. It never arrived and I ate my pecan tart, which was excellent: crumbly, sandy pastry, gooey-sweet caramel filling with enough burnt sugar edge to stop it from being sickly,  pecans with their fattiness cutting through it. The lemon tart had qually good pastry and a light, creamy filling which, for me, lacked enough lemon flavour and sharpness to hit the mark. Both were served with squirty whipped cream. Cheered up (though slightly missing the croque), we went to pay – we got up to pay at the counter rather than wait and it still took a while to get the bill, which, of course, had the croque monsieur listed. The staff were apologetic about having forgotten and it’s not the end of the world, and waitering is a thankless job, though obviously it’s not great business practice to miss people’s orders. Apparently something was wrong with the till that day so if you pop in your experience may vary.

Verdict: The tarts were very nice but honestly I could have given this one a miss, and you should only go if you have the time to spare on slightly slower service.

Dinner

The Larder
Parliament Street

Spoiler alert: dinner at this centrally-located fine-dining restaurant was the foodie highlight of the Dublin trip for me (I even mentioned it in my March Food Favourites video). I would advise booking because we were turned away one evening when it was packed to the rafters. On the day we went, though, it was quieter and had a cosy feel; we were tired and happy to be tucked in the corner of the window in two enormous velvety armchairs.

Slow-roast lamb, lamb croquette, colcannon mash, egg-yolk yellow carrot puree
Slow-roast lamb, lamb croquette, colcannon mash, egg-yolk yellow carrot puree

The menu was one of those agonising ones where everything looks amazing and it’s painfully difficult to choose; as both of us dithered lengthily, we had to send the conscientious waitress back a few times when she enquired if we were ready; fortunately, she took this with good grace. David agonised between the rib eye of beef, which came with chips and salad, and the wild mushroom gnocchi, while I mentally flitted between the slow cooked pig’s cheeks with roast autumn vegetables, pomme puree and horseradish foam (I have yet to eat foam!) and a special of braised lamb with colcannon mash and carrot puree. I always struggle with whether I should ordered a special because there’s a school of thought which says a one-off menu item will never be as good as the ones the chef practices and perfects night after night. But in the end, the ‘Irishness’ of a dish of lamb, potatoes and cabbage won the day, and the boy was won over by the steak, which he ordered medium-well.

Lamb, potatoes, cabbage and carrots it may have been, but the dish which was served up was no rustic peasant food but was elegantly refined, though not overly-fussy; the perfect balance. The lamb fell apart at the slight prod of the fork and was just meltingly perfect: sweet, with a strongly-flavoured glaze that didn’t compete with the lamb but brought out its essence. The lamb croquette had the perfect interplay of textures: crisp, robust crust and tender inside. Although the idea of carrot puree artfully decorating the plate might be a turn-off for some, the concentric circles of sweet carrot provided a lovely counterpoint on the plate and was a more imaginative way of presenting cooked carrot. The colcannon was deliciously creamy and buttery and perfectly smooth.

043My boyfriend’s steak was perfectly cooked according to his request: it was exactly as you’d want a medium-well steak to be, slightly pink but not bloody, and still retaining a delicate, tender texture. The cafe de Paris butter was well-flavoured and the chips were robust and well cooked: crisp exterior, fluffy interior, and enough of them (there’s nothing so annoying as parsimony with respect to chips at a restaurant, no matter how refined).

We didn’t have dessert (on account of the Easter eggs waiting for us back at the hotel), but I did indulge in an Irish coffee. It was deliciously balanced: hot coffee, the background burn of whiskey warming my throat and stomach, and the cool, aerated cream adding a lactic sweetness to balance the heat of the coffee and alcohol. In truth I would have preferred it a tiny bit sweeter – I like my coffee sweet – but this was admittedly perfectly executed.

Verdict: Centrally located, beautifully cooked food. As far as I’m concerned it’s a must-try. Book in advance.

Green19
Camden Street Lower

127_edThere’s a slightly Scandi-hipster vibe at Green19: clean wood and soothing green tones (even the menu cover is wood – I accidentally scorched it by placing it over the tealight in the centre of the table), friendly, bearded waiters, and minimalist, clean type. It’s a smallish place; although we might have gotten away with dropping in I think it’s best to book in advance.

They’d run out of 132_eda few items on the menu when we at there (no chicken wings, mackerel, or hake), so if you’re going with your heart set on something, it might be worth checking in advance (though I don’t know how typical it is for the kitchen to run low). I ordered the pork belly, which came with spinach, green beans (it was meant to be butternut squash as per the menu but…they’d run out) and mustard mash, and David, staggering a little under the weight of numerous Irish breakfasts and steak meals, went for a vegetarian main in the form of the gnocchi, which came with a creamy mushroom sauce.

The gnocchi were lovely and bouncy and the rich sauce had a smooth, supple flavour, full of that slightly dusty, woodsy, meaty mushroom taste. The sauce was also studded with pumpkin, lending its sweetness, and dusted with parmesan. It was rich, filling and indulgent, which is always nice in a vegetarian dish.

134The pork belly I had was fabulous. The belly was cooked shy of falling-apart tender, but it was soft and unctuous. The mustard mash was sharply tangy, which was an interesting contrast to its creamy texture, and of course provided the necessary counterpart to the rich pork. The beans were cooked until crunchy and bright green, the way I most prefer them. But the star of my dish was really the flat slab of pork belly skin which topped the plate: crisp and puffed, it shattered in the mouth, salty and brittle.
We also ordered dessert at the end of the meal; I went for the spiced apple crumble and David for the chocolate browdessertsnie. Both came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I’d characterise both desserts as good, solid, though not groundbreaking versions of the classics. The apple crumble came in a crumbly pastry case, which is a bit different, and the spicing leaned more towards clove and star anise than to cinnamon, which was a nice change. The brownie was moist and cakey rather than fudgy, and although light in texture was rich in chocolate flavour. The teas were served with a skinny stick of dark Valrhona chocolate, which was a nice touch.

Verdict: I liked the food here a lot: give it a go. It’s classic comfort food, rendered well.