Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chocolate Apricot Spice Cake

This recipe is a spin off of my original Chocolate Pear Gingerbread which I made a few months ago.  At the time it was absolutely devoured and barely a crumb remained.  This time around, I decided to use apricots from a tin as they are soft and succulent and don't need peeling and stoning unlike fresh apricots.  This makes this cake a perfect storecupboard recipe as chances are that you will have all the ingredients at home when the mood to cook strikes...

Chocolate Apricot Spice Cake

200g Golden Syrup
150g Butter
100g Caster Sugar
1 Egg
100ml Milk
2 tbsp Ground Ginger
2 tsp Cinnamon
200g Plain Flour
50g Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1 can Apricots, drained & roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 160/Gas Mark 3.  Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin or deep cake tin with baking parchment.

Gently heat the golden syrup in a large pot until runny.  Add the butter and sugar and continue to heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves.  Now remove from the heat.

Beat the egg, milk & spices together and add to the golden syrup mixture using a whisk.
Pour in the flour. cocoa and bicarb and beat until fully mixed - this reminded me a bit of choux pastry, but without the intense arm workout!

Now add the chopped apricots, give it a final mix & pour into the tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean (the cooking time will depend on the tin you use - longer for a loaf tin...)


Let the cake rest in the tin until cool, then remove and serve.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Dinner at The Tannery, Dungarvan

After our delicious lunch at O'Brien Chop House in Lismore and checking into our tranquil room at The Tannery Townhouse, it was time to tidy ourselves up and make the epic trek across the road to The Tannery for dinner.  Owned by Paul & Maire Flynn, it's a disused leather warehouse (hence the name) and has been beautifully converted to create a contemporary and spacious restaurant.  The downstairs area is where you find the bar and where there's a bar, there's cocktails served at little round tables and very comfortable seats.  They were so good and so potent, that I've forgotten what they were called!

After a browse through the short but perfectly formed menu, we settled on who was ordering what for dinner.  As I let The Hubs have first choice at lunch, I put my size fives down and demanded the pick of the menu.  My starter choice was pre-determined : it had to be the crab creme brulee with pickled cucumber and melba toast.  The Hubs made a face at this which I took as a good omen i.e. I wouldn't have to share it.  He opted for the caramelised red onion tart with soft Dromana cheese.  Mains kept both of us happy - aged ribeye steak with a wild mushroom duxelle and creamed onions, and smoked Barbary duck with green beans, peaches, bacon & girolles.  In the interest of research, I also ordered the french fries with smoked paprika aioli (more about this later...)

We were led upstairs to the very bright and airy dining room where I had a perfect view of all the activity.  The restaurant was absolutely packed, with early bird diners leaving and being quickly replaced by the 8pm mob.  I was tweeting away merrily, uploading photos of the food and the very lovely local beer when I got a tweet from the brains behind the Dungarvan Brewing Company who were not just having dinner in The Tannery, but were sitting right beside us!  Here's a bottle of their Helvick Gold blonde ale which kept The Hubs happy during his meal...

Soon the crab and the tart showed up and we stopped talking.  Until somebody opposite piped up "do you want to try some of mine".  This isn't him being all nice and sharing.  It just means that he wants some of mine. I happily handed over some of my crab, complete with pickled cucumber on a shard of melba toast and happily accepted some of his red onion tart which reminded me of my favourite Portugese tart, Pasteis do Nata.  The Dromana cheese was soft and delicate which worked really well with the crispy pastry and melting red onion filling.  My crab creme brulee was gorgeous.  I actually would have been happy to eat a main course-sized portion of it with a trough of melba toast and a vat of pickled cucumber.  Sadly this was not to be as every 2 minutes, the offer of more food came from across the table.  In the end, I very politely told The Hubs to sod off and eat his own starter.  Sometimes, you just have to be direct...

Soon after clearing our plates, our main courses arrived.  The Hubs prefers his steak more well done that I do but it was still very tender and full of flavour.  My duck was a great surprise - very smoky and it worked beautifully with the peaches.  This is going to sound dreadful but the highlight of the main course for me were the chips!  These were not just any old chips though, they were ultra crunchy (so much so that I may have speared the roof of my mouth with one - entirely my own fault) and the smoked paprika aioli was incredible.  In fact, I am now demanding the recipe for the pickled cucumbers and the aioli.  Or I'll sue for the traumatic chip-related injury I sustained...


Eventually, we managed to look at the dessert menu and after yet again more negotiation, ordered the Lemon Curd Alaska and the Chocolate Honeycomb Tart. They both looked very impressive and were beautifully plated but I felt that there was something missing from both desserts. My Alaska was very pretty indeed but the meringue covering the lemon curd icecream was too soft and didn't have enough texture, although the almonds in the citrus sauce did give it a much needed crunch. The Hubs' tart was nice although I would have preferred a more bitter chocolate centre to counteract the sweet honeycomb. Again, purely my personal opinion.

And just when we thought we could eat no more, out came a little dish of caramel popcorn with my coffee.  It was truly a Mr. Creosote moment for The Hubs but I still had a tiny bit of room left.  It was the most perfect moreish snack I've had in years. The Tannery should sell this on its own, it's so good....

Oh, did I mention that The Tannery has the poshest wallpaper in the bathrooms ever?  Yes indeed, Vivienne Westwood no less.  Somebody certainly has an eye for the unusual in The Tannery and it adds to the unique charm of the restaurant.  The service is friendly, charming and professional and even though Paul and Maire were away on holiday, you wouldn't have known.  And that is the mark of a great restaurant.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Short Stay at The Tannery Townhouse

After our lunch at O'Brien Chop House, it was time to get into the car and drive from Lismore to Dungarvan, home of The Tannery which was our base for the evening.  Owned by Paul & Maire Flynn, The Tannery is a renowned restaurant but there's more to it than just this - it also comprises a cookery school and beautiful accommodation called Tannery Townhouse.

I want to live here...

It's just around the corner from the Tannery Restaurant on a very quiet street and is split over two buildings, the Townhouse proper and the Cookery School where we were shown to Room 10 by the very lovely Valerie who opened the door to reveal one of the nicest rooms I've ever stayed in.  Our room was light, airy and very tranquil thanks to the soft grey painted walls, sleek accessories and an incredibly comfortable bed.  I used to work in a Georgian house where my office was almost identical in height and space so it was wonderful to see how the room worked as a bedroom.

Gorgeous spacious bathroom

The bathroom was equally impressive - it was enormous with a full sized sash window and painted in the same colour as our bedroom.  The towels were large and fluffy and the shower was ultra-powerful - what more could you want?

Now that's what I call breakfast

The Townhouse doesn't offer a full cooked breakfast, a fact which they make very clear on their website (although some people obviously can't read based on some of the petty comments on TripAdvisor).  This suited us perfectly as we were heading to The Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore for lunch.  To be honest, I'm a bit fussy about cooked breakfasts in hotels as they tend to be buffet style with dubious sausages, white tinged soggy rashers and plastic scrambled eggs with the exception of a few hotels who really take pride in what they serve their guests.

No worries at the Townhouse because we had a bag of beautiful raspberry muffins left on a hook outside our door, fruit, local apple juice, yoghurt & granola for our leisurely breakfast in our room.  As we loaded the bags into the car, Valerie came over to make sure we enjoyed our stay and that everything was ok.  OK?  It was one of the nicest nights away we have ever had.  We'll be back (sooner, rather than later!)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lunch at O'Brien Chop House, Lismore

After a drive through Wexford and Waterford, dodging speed cameras and marvelling at the beauty of the Waterford bypass, we drove into the heritage town of Lismore.  It’s one of the most scenic little towns I’ve ever seen in Ireland – we had seen photos of Lismore Castle at a photographic exhibition in Temple Bar a few months ago but the images didn’t do it justice.  It soars over the road in majestic splendour and reminded me of one of the towns we drive through in France with beautiful chateaux and bridges.

But we weren’t there to look at the Castle, we were there to begin our whistlestop tour of Waterford in style with lunch at O’Brien Chop House.  It’s located on Main Street (with plenty of free parking available on South Mall just around the corner).  From the street, it just looks like an old fashioned pub shopfront, although in beautiful muted paint colours.  Once you enter, you’re transported back to the pub your grandad used to drink in – it has been beautifully and sympathetically restored – and the restaurant proper is at the back, almost like a Tardis.

Richard the manager seated us at a lovely table opposite the service hatch (all the better to see the kitchen with), set with pretty blue willow pattern plates.  Two types of breads and a pat of Glenilen Farm butter arrived on a wooden plank to stave off the hunger pangs while we ordered from the €20 set menu.  As usual we negotiated who was having what and sat back and watched the staff hard at work.   The restaurant was booked solid with families and groups of friends having a convivial lunch and the kitchen staff were certainly under pressure but we never heard a raised voice, a broken plate or any sign of stress.  

I ordered the Endive & herb salad with soft boiled egg, anchovies & parmesan while The Hubs chose the Skeaghanore duck rillettes with pickled vegetables to start.  They were delicious - usually The Hubs would do anything to avoid anchovies but he kept stealing them from my plate.  His Rillettes were absolutely perfect with the crunchy toast.  Plates were rapidly emptied and we almost forgot we had main courses still to come...

This time around, the pork was mine - a pan-fried Ballyvolane House Saddleback chop with an apple & onion jam and a thyme sauce.  The Hubs ordered the Supreme of Cappoquin chicken with mustard mash & a lemon cream sauce.  We basically split the plates 50/50 because they were both equally gorgeous.  They arrived with some local new potatoes and very tender greens.

At this stage, we admitted defeat - we were absolutely stuffed and couldn't manage dessert or even coffee.  A stroll around the town and the beautiful St. Carthage's Cathedral was the only cure for our indulgence.  So, would I recommend O'Brien Chop House?  Absolutely.  Dedicated, enthusiastic happy staff, very talented chefs in the kitchen, the best of locally sourced produce and a beautiful restaurant - what's not to love?  My only regret is that we don't live closer...