Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Dundrum Town Centre
Dublin 16

A night out with old friends Joe and Elva is always a highlight of my year. We only get to see each other once or twice a year when I visit Ireland. After 25 years our evenings revolve around good food (often served in their own hectic kitchen), good wine and plenty of conversation.

A beautiful Irish summer evening saw Elva and I looking fabulous in summer fashion, and Joe looking buff and suntanned. Going out with Joe and Elva can be dangerous as they are both incredibly good-looking, and blessed with deep suntans after (it seems) five minutes in the sun. They both look more Mediterranean than Irish, and indeed Joe was once almost stopped from leaving Turkey as they suspected him of being a local trying to leave on a fake Irish passport...

Given the summer warmth and the fabulous outfits we opted for eating out: Italian seemed a perfect choice. Dublin's Dunn and Crescenzi mini-empire now includes l'Officina, in the new Dundrum shopping centre within a stone's throw of Harvey Nick's. Dunn and Crescenzi are known for their excellent ingredients, slow food philosophy and wonderful atmosphere, and l'Officina in Dundrum was no exception.

The wine list was impressive but we didn't linger over it. The house wine flowed as we shared three starters: some delicious bresaola served with rocket and olive oil on sourdough bread, divine bruschetta made from proper sun-ripened tomatoes, and a decent plate of antipasto with plenty of choice. We lingered over every mouthful and the last morsels of each went to the highest bidder.

Elva and I both chose the special for our main: pasta twists cut to the same length as the calamari it was served with, lightly tossed in olive oil, herbs and a hint of chilli. Joe chose a wagyu steak served alone with just a garnish: he actually forgot to order a side, but then decided it would have taken away from his experience.

For a Tuesday night the place was pretty busy which indicated its popularity. People sat outside by the fountain as well as inside in the modern but welcoming restaurant. Italian deli items and packets of coffee beans were stocked on shelves: the restaurant also sells what it serves.

The wait staff were, it seemed, all Italian, and the post-rush dinners they ate as we sat over our coffees looked as sensational as the food we had just been served. Can't remember the name of the brand of coffee they were serving, but it was really great. Smooth and rich, even the decaf had a kick to it. Happily the waiter didn't flinch when I asked for a macchiato: the mark (in Ireland) of a genuine Italian eatery.

I look forward to trying the rest of Dunn and Crescenzi's restaurants next time I am in town.

Spago Portlaoise

On our way home from Dingle we stopped late in the evening in Portlaoise looking for some good home-cooked Italian food. Some might say we were being a tad ambitious, but this is 21st century Ireland and I was hopeful. We stumbled upon Spago, a new-ish Italian housed in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel right in town.

A friendly maitre d' with a broad Dublin accent seated us in a rustic-looking (but not as far as checked table-cloths) restaurant and immediately served us warm marinated olives, virgin olive oil and sourdough bread. A good start.

We opted for main courses only at that late hour. The two pizzas were freshly made with only the best and freshest toppings. Not too big and perfectly cooked (the Doyles like our pizzas done well). Connor's chicken and mushroom pasta could have been ordinary but it tasted delicious. Not too creamy and the chicken flavours dominated. I ordered linguine vongole, one of my favourite comfort foods. Tomatoey and with a hint of chilli, I devoured it.

We could not be tempted by the desserts. Mum favours traditional fare such as her favourite, Knickerbocker Glory, and doesn't go in for the usual Italian treats such as tiramisu. Ashling was sorely tempted but it was getting late. The last-minute coffee I downed was again freshly made and ended a very enjoyable but brief meal. Pity it doesn't open Sundays or Ashling and Connor's dad my brother Bernard) would make this a weekend hangout.

Nat's baked beans recipe from Bill Granger

We met some friends at a Sunday lunch a few weeks ago, at Ann's house where everybody brought a dish. Nat kindly gave me her recipe for home-made baked beans, this one from Bill Granger.

2 tbs olive oil
2 x 400g (14oz) cans cannellini beans
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 small red onion, sliced into thin wedges
250 g (1 punnet) cherry tomatoes

To Serve
1 tsp olive oil
8 slices prosciutto
1 Tbs fresh oregano leaves

Preheat the oven to 200◦C (400◦F/Gas 6).
Place the olive oil, beans, garlic, chilli flakes, onion and tomatoes in a small baking dish and stir to combine.
Loosely cover with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the onion is tender and the tomatoes slightly shrivelled.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in large frying pan over a medium to high heat and cook the prosciutto until lightly crisp.
Remove and place on paper towels.
Serve the baked beans sprinkled with fresh oregano leaves and the crisp prosciutto.
Serves 4.

Nat used bacon instead of prosciutto and just sliced it and threw it in with the beans to all cook together and it worked well, too.