18 April 2014

Taste of Paris: Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse

I know most of you read this blog because it's about Dublin but this also my little personal space where I can share things or places I love, so I've decided to start a series called 'Taste of Paris' to tell you all about my favourite Parisian spots.

For my first post I was actually planning to blog about a restaurant but then I realised it was the start of the Easter weekend and that it would be better to blog about...  Le chocolat. Sorry to disappoint you, it's not about Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche in a movie about chocolate but about a place I visited when I was in Paris a few weeks ago: Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse.

Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse fell in love with chocolate about 30 years ago while he was working with some amazing pastry chefs. Ever since, he has had the dream of producing his own chocolate.

Well he did it! He created Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse, a chocolate factory located close to Bastille on rue de la Roquette in the 11th district. The premises used to be a Renault garage, there is a front courtyard, the shop and the factory itself.

Because they have see through windows you can actually look at what's going on inside and if you're lucky you might see the staff at work. Nicolas Berger is the artisan chocolate maker in Le Chocolat and he transforms cocoa beans into chocolate bars or divine little pieces of chocolate that then are sold in the beautiful onsite shop.

When you get in you can smell the beautiful fragrance of chocolate.

The boutique is stunning, chic and industrial looking at the same time and the chocolates are displayed in a centrepiece in the middle of the room, as well as on all the surrounding shelves.

Ganaches, truffles, chocolate bars, the choice can easily make you dizzy if you love chocolate.

Le Chocolat is a luxury chocolate shop so prices are quite high but they make a nice gift for chocolate lovers and the place is so pretty that it's really worth visiting. It's actually the video below that made me want to visit this place a few months ago,  have a little look, it's absolutely stunning and there is no better time than this Easter weekend to be dreaming of chocolate! Happy Easter everyone!

LE CHOCOLAT - Alain Ducasse from Simon Pénochet on Vimeo.

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris

16 April 2014

#BrewsWePlate: An Evening of Fine Dining and Irish Craft Beer

#BrewsWePlate is the brainchild of couple Eric Heilig and Floriane Loup, who during their pop up events serve a tasting menu made to match perfectly with a selection of Irish craft beers. I was delighted when Caroline Byrne aka 'The Dublin Foodie' asked me to go along with her a few weeks ago: an evening of Irish craft beer and fine dining definitely sounded like a good plan!

I didn’t know what to expect, which made it even more exciting. Upon arrival I found myself in a room especially set up for the pop up dinner upstairs in Cassidy’s on Westmoreland Street. 

That night, #BrewsWePlate teamed up with White Gypsy brewery which is based in co. Tipperary and between each course Declan Nixon from White Gypsy introduced us to each beer.

We were greeted with a Cork Dry Gin and Tonic with Dillisk seaweed and cucumber for aperitif. Buckets containing a variety of fresh homemade breads were brought to the table (treacle and porter brown soda bread, Swedish style pilsner and flux seed flat bread, nettle bread, spring onion and walnut bread and multigrain loaf) as well as carrot and ginger butter and lemon and wild garlic butter.

We started off with an unusual amuse-bouche of shredded pork, crispy pig’s ear with Dillisk crème fraîche wild garlic and buttermilk foam. It was an interesting and delicious mix of textures, the pork tartar worked wonders with the strong flavor of wild garlic.

The pairing started with White Gypsy’s blond beer served with a scallop dish. The perfectly cooked and plump scallop was plated with a smear of roast banana puree, coriander leaves, lime gel and Goji berries. This tasted wonderfully exotic and happened to be my favourite dish, leaving me with a taste for more.

We then had a White Gypsy Belgian brown ale paired with the next dish, consisting of a hen’s egg, leek, roast Jerusalem artichoke, roasted pear, torn brioche and chicken heart.

A White Gypsy American pale ale came next with the main dish:  a piece of tender pork shoulder, crispy pieces of crackling, grapes, smooth celeriac puree, almonds and grapefruit.

We rounded off the feast with a White Gypsy German Doppelbock served with wonderful dark chocolate ganache, a sweet potato gel, rye, duck egg yolk ice cream, sea salt and cocoa soil. 

I found #BrewsWePlate to be an original concept and an enjoyable experience. The food was inventive, beautifully plated and the pairings worked well. The service wasn’t rushed and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. After the event, I was curious to know more about the people behind #BrewsWePlate and so interviewed Eric and Floriane.

What’s #BrewsWePlate?
#BrewsWePlate is simple. We offer food and craft beer lovers a great pop up experience. We occupy a different location for each event and invite an exciting brewery over to serve and introduce the guests to their best Irish-produced beers. On our side, we put together a tasting menu in which each dish is specifically designed to enhance the flavours, various characteristics and qualities of each beer.  We aim at uniting the best of what Ireland has to offer.
We also want to open the experience to food and beer lovers or companies that would like to recreate these evenings at home or in any other location. You can now get #BrewsWePlate just for yourself and guests, with a designed tasting menu and beer pairing. 
Who is the team behind #BrewsWePlate?
The whole #BrewsWePlate adventure started with chef Eric Heilig and Maitre d'hote Floriane Loup. We are partners in life and in business. Eric has been working as a chef for the past twelve years and has broadened his culinary skills in some of the best restaurants around Europe. Among them, "The Long Room Hub" at The Lodge in Doonbeg, voted best Irish Hotel Restaurant of 2012, where he worked as the Junior Sous-Chef. His travels and love for food lead him to work in Michelin starred restaurants such as Bacchus in Mallorca and Le Val d'Or in Germany. After obtaining a sommelier degree, Eric developed a passion for craft beers and has since then involved them in his food and experimented with various foraged ingredients to the point of brewing his own beers and ciders. 
Floriane has always been what people call a "foodie". As she was working in the food industry in some of Dublin's best restaurants while completing her Masters in Journalism, Floriane had to face the facts and admit that she could not live without her two passions: food and communicating. She has worked for various newspapers and magazines in France and Ireland and worked as a communications officer for the European Parliament in Luxembourg. 
We have the same food and beer philosophy: breaking the stiff conventions tied to fine-dining and opening the doors of a too-often-closed club of food lovers and craft beer aficionados.

- What was your inspiration and how did you come up with the idea of #BrewsWePlate?
We've always been true foodies. We both are coming from countryside families and enjoy simple but well-produced food. We are always looking for new flavours and that is probably what brought us to craft beers. We both have knowledge and background in wine but discovered that the possibilities are endless with beers. Each beer is different, has its own characteristics and flavours. 
One of the first conversations we had when we met was about the fact that we could not find a place in Dublin that would render all this. You do have more and more craft beer pubs opening with great beers but they tend to be too cautious in their food menu. Moreover, even though the restaurant industry has been booming for the past few years and more beers have been given a spot in the drinks lists, nobody has yet fully involved them in their food or in their pairings. There are no perfectly balanced tasting menus offered, with dishes specifically created to enhance and elevate the flavours of excellent craft beers.
Food and beer should be enjoyed by all in an open-minded, simple and sharing philosophy without having to compromise with the quality you're getting. We decided that it was time for to take it in our own hands, share our passion with people and also get them to learn more about food and beer.

#BrewsWePlate on Facebook here 
#BrewsWePlate on Twitter here 

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event free of charge.  I gave no undertaking to write a review and the words above are, as always, my honest opinion.

14 April 2014

Jamie's Italian, Dundrum, Dublin

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

I like Jamie Oliver and I regularly use his cookbooks. I enjoy them because the dishes are always easy to make and packed with flavours.

A few years ago while in London with Mr. FFID we visited Jamie’s Italian in Canary Wharf: he liked it a lot but I was a little underwhelmed. 

In Ireland, Jamie’s Italian is located in Dundrum shopping centre in Dublin. We visited at lunchtime on Mother’s Day, which happened to be Mr. FFID’s birthday too. It seemed like a good place to book for a family gathering with the in-laws.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

The restaurant is massive and bright, it feels like a giant canteen on two levels with colourful metal chairs and giant graffiti on the back wall. There is a long bar with garlic (I could have made a necklace with them, as French people supposedly do), tomatoes and ham hanging above the counter to echo the Italian influence on the menu.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver
Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

The menu features antipasti including planks, plates, bread and nibbles, a choice of pasta, risotto, mains, sides, desserts also a kids menu.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver
Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

Our party started nibbling on ‘the world’s best olives on ice’ (€4.25) as named on their menu. Were they? The olives were fleshy and flavoursome. The presentation was lovely but the bread was dry and too crispy, breaking each time I was trying to use it to scoop out the dip (called black olive tapenade on the menu but I’m pretty sure it was sundried tomatoes).

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

Then I went for the cauliflower and cheese fritters (€5.75), 4 of them served with a creamy fontal cheese sauce. I enjoyed the starter even though it might have been a little too plain for my tastes.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver
Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

Mr. FFID, P and L went for the excellent spinach and taleggio cheese croquettes (€5.85) that immediately caused dish envy. There were 4 perfectly crisp tasty croquettes with a tangy lemon and basil dressing and some of grated cheese sprinkled on them, they were very moreish.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

E. ordered the cured meat plank (€8.75) which I didn’t taste, for fear of losing a finger, E. doesn’t share her food you see.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

My truffle tagliatelle (€16.50) dish was generous, buttery and topped with shavings of truffle and grated parmesan.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

Mr. FFID’s ordered Jamie’s signature dish: the porcetta (€16.95). It was a beautiful slow cooked pork belly, so tender and melt in the mouth, topped with rocket salad and a lovely arancini. He also had the ‘funky chips’ (€4.25) which were sprinkled with parsley and fresh garlic.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver
Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

I didn’t taste it but L’s wild mushroom and smoked mozzarella risotto (€15.95) went down a treat.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

As did P’s garlic and rosemary chicken served in a tomato sauce (€16.85). I didn’t get a chance to photograph E’s dish though.

Restaurant Dundrum, Dublin, Jamie Oliver

The portions were substantial so after starters and mains we didn’t go for desserts (ice creams, tiramisu, panna cotta…).

Jamie Italian’s is not the kind of place you’d go to for a romantic or quiet meal; it’s noisy, packed with yummy mummies and their children, it’s a franchise in a shopping centre and feels like it. Despite being busy it’s smoothly ran, the staff are friendly and helpful and the food is pretty good.

Jamie's Italian
Unit 1 Pembroke District, Dundrum Town Centre, Ballinteer Rd, 

10 April 2014

The Wine Club by The Cookery School at Donnybrook Fair

Wine tasting, Wine course, Wine

Many people have the misconception that all French people are wine experts but I can tell you that unfortunately, this is not the case. My mammy never put drops of wine in my bottle as a baby nor did we have a mandatory wine course for le bac (the French leaving cert).  

At the moment I'm very eager to learn about wine and try different things, so when The Cookery School at Donnybrook Fair invited me to their Wine Club back in February I couldn't possibly say 'non'.

The Wine Club ran for 4 consecutive weeks on Thursdays for two and a half hours and was tutored by wine consultant Laura Peterson. 

The course was very informal, Laura was bubbly and approachable and the size of the group was small which made the atmosphere friendlier

For the first hour of each class Laura taught us some theory and the rest of the time was all about practice: tasting 6 different wines and learning about them. Tough job but someone got to do it, right?

The first week was about wine production, regulations and the approach to tasting, as well as some wine terminology.

The second week focused on French wines only, oh la la!

The third week went fancier with Champagne and sparkling wines.

The fourth week was about food and wine pairing and you’d probably guess that this was my favourite part of the course. 

Of course I had to be a little nosy and look at what was going on in the kitchen.

Niall Murphy, head chef at Donnybrook Fair, made a 6 course tasting menu designed to perfectly match the wines chosen by Laura.

Chianti 'When We Dance' (2011, Italy) served with a charcuterie selection.

Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa, 2010)  served with cherry tomatoes marinated in a basil sugar syrup with red onion and cucumber.

Laurenz V, Sunny Grunener Veltliner (2010, Austria) served alongside scallop with peas and orange vanilla cream.

Innocent Bystander, Syrah (Australia, 2010) served with Lamb Tagine and couscous.

Wagner Stempel, Spaetburgunder Trocken (2010, Germany) served with the cheeseboard

Elysium, Black Muscat, Desert wine (2010, USA) served with a cherry sorbet, chocolate mousse with a macaron base and crème anglaise.

The Wine Club is priced at €195 and includes a four week course taught by an expert, 6 wines each week and a fabulous tasting menu matched with wines on the final week. The course is a great introduction to wine tasting and would ease any beginner into the subject in a fun way.

Merci beaucoup Laura, Niall and Donnybrook Fair!

Keep an eye on Donnybrook Fair’s website for future dates.

Donnybrook Fair
89 Morehampton Road
Dublin 4

Some of my classmates were bloggers, have a read at Laura’s and Jean’s posts for other perspectives.

Disclaimer: I was invited to the Wine Club by Donnybrook Fair free of charge. The words above are, as always, my honest opinion.

7 April 2014

Postcards from Paris

Paris, Seine,

Last week, I spent three amazing days in Paris doing the things I love the most: eating and being with Mr. FFID. We spent three days eating non-stop, I swear, NON-STOP.

No Eiffel tower, Champs Elysées or other touristy landmarks for us, it was all about visiting bakeries, markets, chocolate shops and other foodie places that the city of light has to offer.

L'eclair de genie, french pastry, Paris, Le Marais

During our stay we mainly stayed in the 3rd, 10th, 11th and 6th districts in neighbourhoods like Le Marais, St Germain des près and Bastille which I love as they are full of great places for food lovers.

Many tourists take the metro which is quick and relatively cheap (smelly though) but walking is really the best way to discover the city. If you walk you realise the contrast between different areas and end up finding hidden gems you'd never find otherwise and you're more likely to discover the real Paris away from tourist traps.

Visiting Paris on weekdays is much more enjoyable, we were so lucky to get tables without reservations in very popular places. Many good places don't take reservations and at the weekend you'd have to queue for ever or just go somewhere else.

Even if it wasn't the weekend we ended up visiting a few food markets, there is a great listing here if you wish to check some out on your next visit.

There are so many restaurants and cafes and when you don't know the city it's easy to end up in a horrible overpriced place. If you love food, you'd better have a read of blogs and go to the places they recommend to avoid bad surprises. Here are some of my favourites and they were great resources during my stay:

- Lost in Cheeseland
- David Lebovitz
- Rachel Khoo
- Farfelue

I have so many places to recommend after my trip and I think they'd fit perfectly on FFID, so for the next few weeks the blog is going to be a mix of reviews of places both in Dublin and Paris. I hope you enjoy them and that they can be of use next time you go to Paris!