Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Greenhouse

Since settling back into life in Dublin, I have been reading up on where are the good places to eat in town. This is not as straightforward as it sounds as Dublin is much smaller than London. There is no real equivalent of a Timeout in the city (print version, never mind online!) and there are far fewer peeps blogging about their meals too (which is a good thing  or bad thing depending on your view on bloggers). I randomly came across this blog entry one day and after a bit more research, decided that we should try and get a reservation for the Greenhouse. Securing a Saturday dinner reservation was much harder than I thought and eventually, I was able to get one a whole 6 weeks from the time of enquiry!!!! I think this was due to all the good reviews that the Greenhouse has been getting since opening earlier this year and much excitement about the prospect of being awarded a Michelin star for its efforts.

I have to be honest and say that upon reading the menu before our visit, I was not majorly excited about dinner. There was nothing that really caught my eye and appealed to me. On the night, we decided to try the 7-course tasting menu and immediately, I was mightily impressed. The food that was served really was exceptional and by far, the most creative and innovative we have eaten in Ireland since coming back in the summer. I would even go as far as saying that the food trumps Hedone in London, a resto that shares similarities with the Greenhouse (Scandinavian chefs, creative cuisine) A real culinary experience and the first time in a long while that I was truly "wowed" by a chef! (no mean feat as I am not the biggest fan of high end creative cuisine, my natural dining preference would be somewhere more casual with good, honest cooking)

Michelin did release their list of restaurants which were to be awarded stars this year before our visit and unfortunately, The Greenhouse did not receive any. A shame as Hedone with less impressive cooking was in fact awarded a star. I do not know exactly what the Michelin inspectors are looking for but having worked and eaten at other Michelin star establishments (1 through to 3 stars) these were some of the things I noticed whilst dining at the Greenhouse which I don't believe were up to Michelin standards:
  1. The wait staff on the whole were pretty good and attentive at the beginning of the meal. However, once the restaurant was around 80% full, standards began to slip and it felt like the dining room was "in the weeds". There was no efficient system or strict routines causing it all to become a little chaotic. Whoever is in charge of the front of house also needs to ensure that nobody has a dirty uniform during service, this is unforgivable. 
  2. There was a long waiting time for us between the last of our main courses and our desserts. Perhaps the staff were giving us a pause as we had just eaten 5 courses but we were lingering a tad too long.
  3. Guests have a glimpse of the passe in the kitchen on the way to the toilets which I am not convinced about. It would be fine if you are a resto with an open kitchen where it adds to the theatre of the dining experience but to be wandering by the corner of the kitchen is not very sophisticated.
  4. I am guessing that the resto is a bit tight on space which is why the spare chairs from the dining room are placed in a row against the wall opposite the toilets. However, if it is indeed aspiring for Michelin stars, the chairs need to be removed as it looks untidy, a bit of an eyesore and amateur.
  5. The toilets are too dimly lit, which then does not evoke cleanliness and I am guessing that they are not checked regularly during the course of service which is another let-down.
Whilst the food is exceptional, I am guessing that other aspects of the Greenhouse (service and attention to detail) will need to be brought up to scratch if it is to attain a star as Michelin is about service as well as about food. All I can say for now is bravo chef Mickael et bonne continuation!! :) 
Big fan of the glassware - elegant and different :)

Bread in a bag (which the whole world seems to be doing these days!)

Delicious Finnish rye bread (with spreadable butter, a firm tick in the box for that!)

Amuse bouches of crispy fish skin with salmon mousse and seaweed jelly with tuna tartare....

...mushroom choux puffs,

and sea salt and parmesan crisps

Foie gras royal and frozen, apple and candied nuts. 
I am not the biggest fan of foie gras but I really enjoyed this dish - if anything, I could've done with more of the apple jelly blobs which were tart enough and cut through the richness of the foie gras nicely :)

Raw marinated scallop, parmesan, horseradish, lemon and black radish.
Again, raw seafood would not be my number one choice of starter but this again was excellent and great combination of textures and flavours.

Ravioli of milk fed Pyrennean lamb with artichokes, hazelnuts and mushrooms
(JD enquired about the lamb and why the resto was not using Irish lamb. After 2 attempts at trying to tell us where the Pyrennees where, they finally listened to his question and replied that the lamb from the Pyrennees in their opinion had better flavour)
A very autumnal tasting dish with lots of earthy, rich flavours. The only slight complaint would be that the flavours overwhelmed the lamb itself.

Originally sea bass on the menu but we were served turbot with octopus and sea greens - delicious with perfectly cooked fish.

Smoked sika deer and caillete (a type of sausage), pumpkin, licorice and bone marrow - first time I have eaten deer and it was pretty delicious. Not a big fan of the licorice in this dish however.

Lemon tart - very pretty and tasty too. If you are going to call the dessert a tart (even a deconstructed one), it needs some form of pastry - a few crumbs is not enough in my opinion

Chocolate, caramel, sea buckthorn and brown butter ice cream - I am not the world's biggest chocoholic but this was very good (JD wished his portion was double the size!). Sea buckthorn has appeared on the "Great British Menu" several times and has always been slated by the judges. This was my first time tasting it and I really enjoyed it, therefore I cannot what their gripe is with the ingredient??!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Union Square

I was in a bit of a mad rush trying to get everything baked and ready for my farmer's market stall this week since we only got back from Paris midweek so we decided to head out for dinner on Friday night for some "calm after the storm" :)

We had heard good things about a local eatery called "Union Square" from one of JD's friends who also lives in the area so decided to try it out for ourselves. We did make a reservation but didn't need to as the resto was pretty quiet, am guessing the reason was because it was the start of a bank holiday weekend.....

The resto is pretty casual, quirky but comfortable. JD commented that the space looked like someone's old garage but despite this, it was decorated sympathetically. Food was pretty good and very reasonably priced, 2 courses for the princely sum of 25 yoyos! Service was friendly and for the most part, pretty attentive.

I've also read that brunch is pretty good here too so will definitely be back to try that at some point :)
Starter of squid salad - tasty but squid was a little rubbery. Salad greens were nicely dressed :)

Burger with roasted new potatoes and beetroot horseradish puree. Not a bad burger but lacked the juice and slight greasiness that made the burgers from "Le Camion Qui Fume" soooooo good!! Would've preferred to have a proper pickle rather than cornichons, on the plus side, the spuds were yummy!

 Dessert of tea and cake :)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

30th wedding anniversary cake

After our Parisian break, I received a phonecall from JD's mum asking if I would be able to make a celebration cake for JD's aunt and uncle as they were about to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige but the tricky part was knowing what sort of cake to make and also what decorations were suitable. I was given "carte blanche" in this instance for almost everything which was great but daunting at the same time. The only stipulation was that there would be some form of writing of "Happy 30th Anniversary" on the cake and that the cake would feed a minimum of 30 people.

One of my first ideas was to create a tiered cake as it would be more elegant and it would be a reminder of a wedding cake which would be quite apt as we were celebrating a wedding milestone. I then did a bit of research on what flowers, colours and precious stones are associated with a 30th wedding anniversary which turned out to be lilies, sweetpeas, the colour green and pearls respectively. I then decided to base my cake decoration on these different components. The cakes themselves (6" vanilla sponge with vanilla buttercream and raspberry jam and 8" chocolate cake with chocolate ganache) were pretty straightforward to make but the real time killler was making sugarflowers and  foliage (not to mention traipsing around town searching for fondant, cake boards, gum paste, dust colours, flower wires, etc....) My flowers were made all well in advance and drying on my clothes rack nicely (with no laundry on it at the time, of course!) only for my clumsy partner in crime to lean an ironing board against a double door which is NEVER bolted in place behind said clothes rack and flowers. Cue major crash with ironing board landing on flowers!! Needless to say, I was not best pleased about having to make some more!!!

In the end, the cake was finally finished on time. The happy couple were very appreciative of the cake and it tasted good which was nice feedback. In hindsight, I probably should've made a 1-tier cake as the cake needed to be transported by car and maybe not sugarflowers (as they are very delicate, even with no ironing board damaging them!!) so I guess experience for the next celebration cake :) 
(I also need more practice with tying sugarflower bouquets, methinks)
 Sweetpea before.....

.......and after :)


Finished cake!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Cheeky vacances à Paris - day 3 dinner, Philou

I had read about Philou recently on David Lebovitz's blog, and he had raved about what a great neighbourhood resto this was so we decided to pay it a visit on our last night in town. My sense of direction failed me from the metro so it took us a lot longer to arrive than I anticipated. Upon arrival, the resto had not opened yet so we put our names down for a table (in the covered outside section as the inside was already fully booked) and went to a nearby bar for a quick drink.

The food was simple but tasty - maybe not as good as I had built it up to be but equally, I may have not chosen very well from the menu. Service was very good for most of the meal but there was a bit of a long delay for dessert. Again, nice to see another resto pretty packed with customers at the beginning of the week, will need to remember to make a reservation next time even for a Tuesday :)
My starter of mixed salad - nice but could've done with less Parmesan which was a bit overpowering

JD's salad of duck and cep mushrooms 

My main of braised beef cheek with vegetables in jus. Meat was beautifully soft and tender; a dish with quite subtle flavours

JD's main of onglet (hangar steak) with new potatoes and more mushrooms!

My pudding of almond bostock with cream and yoghurt ice cream - nice but wasn't convinced by the ice cream

JD's pudding of Tarte Tatin with Chartreuse ice cream - would've preferred plain old vanilla ice cream with the tarte, to be honest!

Cheeky vacances à Paris - day 3 lunch, Le Camion Qui Fume

I first heard of Le Camion Qui Fume last year through David Lebovitz's blog and how it was a pioneer of the Paris food truck scene, selling authentic good quality US burgers. I was even more excited to find out that the owner of Le Camion Qui Fume was Kristen Frederick, a fellow Ferrandi alumnus!! Kristen was at school exactly the same time as I was but was taking the Anglo-cuisine program. 

We had no set plans for lunch but happened to be around the area where Le Camion Qui Fume would be serving lunch at the Place de la Madeleine. I had read that the queues were always long and as we were arriving towards the end of lunch, I did not have high hopes of getting served.

As predicted, the queues were there and initially, we were told that they were sold out for the day. However, after hanging around for a while, we were then informed that there were a few burgers left so we happily placed our order and joined the queue to collect. We were the last people to be served and the poor guy who was taking orders then had to tell everyone joining the queue after us that they were sold out. Most people left upon hearing this but he had to repeat this 3 times to an old lady standing behind who refused to budge and eventually stomped off with a typical Gallic shrug! The 2 guys in front of us had not pre-ordered but had queue jumped ahead of us thinking that they would get their burgers at the counter. Luckily for them, they were not turned away once they reached the counter but it was all a bit risky!

Our burgers were ready after around a 20 minute wait and they were some of the best we have had to date!!! Kristen wasn't around but I was told she would arrive at the end of service - unfortunately, we didn't hang around so I wasn't able to tell her just how great the food was (she prolly knows it anyway as Le Camion Qui Fume has been getting rave reviews from everyone and has even graced the covers of FT!!)
Update November 2012: Le Camion Qui Fume has just won an award as part of the Le Guide Fooding 2013 (Fooding d'honneur), many congrats!!

I always feel very happy when I see someone from our Anglo cuisine/patisserie programs realise their dream and have the vision/determination/drive of setting up their own business. Bravo Kristen et bonne continuation! :)
The system is 1) place your order at the table where the lady on the right hand side of the pic is standing, 2) pay and collect your ticket (they take card also) and 3) join the queue to collect on the left hand side.

We are about to collect!!

I ordered the Campagne (cheese, caramelised onions and mushrooms)......

...whilst JD plumped for the BBQ (cheese, onion rings, BBQ sauce). In a word.......awesome!! Burger patty was wonderfully juicy and tasty, bun soft and crunchy with each of our fillings complimenting our burgers perfectly, absolutely delicious!!

Update - November 2012: Kristen has just published a cookbook with all her burger recipes as well as some side dishes and desserts. Its a lovely book with a really interesting intro and the background behind Le Camion Qui Fume, mouthwatering recipes and gorgeous photos of the food (if I ever wrote a book, I would ecstatic if it turned out like this one!). The only disappointment is that the recipe for her yummy hamburger buns is not included which for me was a shame; perhaps it may get included in another edition, fingers crossed!! :)

Cheeky vacances à Paris - day 3 breakfast, La Coupole

The French aren't exactly renowned for putting on a good spread when it comes to breakfast, most of the time it is merely a cup of coffee plus a chunk of baguette!! Our hotel room did not have breakfast included which meant having to venture out for our first meal of the day. The nearest branch of Le Pain Quotidien was a little too far away so we walked down the road and settled into La Coupole for their breakfast formule. Sitting in the brasserie is like being transported back to another era from the old school waiters rushing past each table to the Art Deco decor surroundings.

All in all, a satisfying brekkie (weak tea aside) to set us up nicely for the rest of the day :)