Monday, January 17, 2011

Kinara Kitchen, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

In the past few years it has become a family tradition that we ease ourselves into the Christmas day cookathon and gorge by going out for an Asian themed meal on Christmas Eve.  Most aptly we’d stuck to Thai the past few years for its delicacy and kindness to the digestive tract. Somehow this year the cuisine of choice became Indian, or more specifically, Pakistani. This worried me as 1. Indian is my probably favourite food and I tend to overindulge on EVERYTHING. 2. I LOVE spicy food but it has made me sick the next day on more occasions than I care to remember. 3. Christmas day is NOT the day to feel bloated or sick. It would be a challenge but I knew I would have to exercise some severe self-restraint…
Seated comfortably in a warm and ambient setting, a Tom Collins for me (that’s fancy gin, soda water and lemon to you), a complimentary martini for Mr. Clause, a vodka and club orange for the alco (started the day an hour earlier with a beer) and a couple of G&Ts for the ginges began the proceedings. The underage one would probably have drunk the lot given half the chance, but kept up his guard with his bosses around (not so cute otherwise though, eh?).
The menu was interesting but as with most Indian restaurants, I find it difficult to discern one murgh cooked in chillies, tomatoes and coriander from another murgh cooked in…what’s that?... chillies, tomatoes and coriander??? Ok, so it wasn’t that bad but I made my decision by a process of elimination anyway. The rule was no meat, so that I could purge my system in preparation for the meat sweats to come the following day. I am always reluctant to go vegetarian when it comes to Indian food (even though for the benefit of all those Hindi herbivores they do them so well) since they are too carbalicious especially in conjunction with the essential rice AND naan. So that left me with fish. I’m not the biggest fan of fish paired with pungent spices but I was drawn to the unusually sounding Machall Achari, fillet of red snapper simmered in a combination of pickles, curry leaves and vinegar. I chose a few starters to share (no one else would take the risk of me eating their head off for ordering the wrong things). I choose squid rings marinated with garlic, ginger, dry coriander and lemon juice, deep fried and served with homemade chutney; Slices of tenderloin beef marinated with rock salt, garlic and mixed Pakistani spices cooked over charcoal and Bite-sized pieces of tender chicken breast marinated in ginger, garlic, turmeric and yoghurt to appease Mr. Chicken Tikka Masala (every family is afflicted with one, yes?)
After some delicious poppadums and chutneys and a few inappropriate ogles too many, our very sweet (in a neglected puppy dog kind of way) waiter brought the starters. Exercising self-restraint very well, I only had a taste of the spicy beef which was delicious. It alone with a couple of chutneys and naan bread would actually have made a fine meal by itself. The calamari and chicken also got the big thumbs up and the presentation of all three dishes was impeccable, accompanied by interesting and thought-out salads. However it seemed that everyone was erring on the side of caution in preparation for their mains, so surprisingly there was a bit of force feeding the trash cans into polishing off the plates. In hindsight, two plates, if any, would probably have been enough for the six of us.
After quite a long but welcome wait our mains arrived. Each came in its own brass pot alongside a couple of deep bowls of pilau rice and a selection of naans for the table. Although a little different to what I had expected, my red snapper was lovely. The sauce was not too spicy and thankfully not bold enough to overpower the meatiness of the fish. I would describe it as a high class curry sauce (think Burdocks x 100). Since the sauce was blended through, none of the ingredients were directly discernable but I did note the absence of any vinegary flavour which was what had drawn me to the dish. However this did not disappoint me. My one grievance would have to be that the dish could have been hotter. Being an objective critic, however, I would not rate this qualm as I am famous for putting things in the microwave straight from the wok/pan/oven. This extends to just made cups of tea (Weird? Nah just another of my unique qualities I would say).
This was high class Indian food (think Rasam/Ananda/Jaipur, though maybe not up to the standard of the first two and there was a qualm about no Riesling, a perfect match for Indian food, on the wine list). Other mains included prawn biriani, a traditional Pakistani dish of tenderloin beef in a spiced light curry sauce and of course the token Murgh Tikka Masala. Mrs Clause choose two starters for her main, a potato cake dish and a scallop dish. I can’t remember what Mr. Teetotaller had for his (his account of one rather distasteful sexual experience blocked out any other memory of the night…just as well he couldn’t finish off his one G&T or who knows what revelations would have come out). The rice was perfectly aromatic and the naan fine (though I’ve certainly had better). All in all the main courses were enjoyed, though half of us struggled to make any impact on ours. Clearly, I was not one of the aforementioned, as in the words of Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but temptation ;)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seapoint, Monkstown, Co. Dublin

Monkstown is in my opinion underrated as one of Dublin’s great suburban foodie hubs.  A bit out of the way for those living closer to the city centre, especially with Ranelagh and Ballsbridge’s offerings, but well worth a visit.
On a recent visit Seapoint became a newly discovered gem, alongside my personal favourite, Valparaiso. Sucked in by the value of the early bird, a glance at the a la carte and all sense of making good economic decisions went out the window.  The menu is exciting, setting expectations high. 
My very healthy friend stuck to the two course value menu, choosing the salad of smoked chicken, tabouli, warm caramelized apple & celery, mint & cucumber dressing for starters and the grilled marinated salmon, buttered spinach, mango & grapefruit salsa, olive oil & spring onion mash for the main course. I went straight to the main, choosing the pan-fried coconut encrusted monkfish, butternut squash risotto, sweet onion & chilli sauce. Tap water times two and a free basket of bread was delivered without request.
The starter was devoured graciously. A good sized portion, the smoky flavour of the meat defined the dish. The Bulgar wheat salad full of good things was not just the usual afterthought you get from so called starter ‘salads’
Wooed by the description of the monkfish dish it arrived and certainly looked the part-a pleasingly generous portion and all its component parts. Getting risotto just right is the test of a good kitchen. The disaster is when it turns to a stodgy mush which can happen so quickly. The risotto here was very much on the al dente side and maybe would be too underdone for some tastes, but it suited me fine. The rich fish broth it was cooked in, coupled with lots of cream was TO DIE FOR, but butternut squash did not feature. The sweet onions were sticky and delicious, but not a hint of chilli. The fish was beautifully cooked and flaked onto my fork, strangely so for monkfish that I am 90% certain it was cod...  Finally the coconut crust was more crust than coconut. In fact I could not detect a hint of coconut at all! If the dish had been below par I certainly would have pointed out the anomalies but I actually really enjoyed what I did get. Unfortunately the salmon dish did not work out so well. The fish was described as watery and while the mango worked with the cooked salmon, the grapefruit did not. Grapefruit and smoked salmon is a familiar partnership, but this was one inspiration too far.
And so onto my speciality…dessert :) Unfortunately I was not very tempted by any of the desserts on offer so I decided go for the most unusual sounding. This turned out to be rhubarb tartlet served with strawberry and balsamic ice cream. Obviously it was the latter component that drew my attention. I had previously heard of the wondrous strawberry-balsamic combo, but had yet to try it so was expecting something a bit wow. Well…it was pretty much just plain old vanilla ice cream with a bit of a strawberry streak through. But where was the balsamic flavour? Again, poetic licence taken too far I think. The rhubarb tartlet didn’t impress much either. Instead of a shortcrust pastry base, the kitchen had cut a corner by using puff pastry. Works great in tarte-tatin because it is baked pastry side up, allowing the pastry to puff up giving its characteristically flaky texture. But when the pastry is piled down with fruit which is 90% water, unsurprisingly the magic doesn’t happen. The rhubarb was also cooked in cardamom which made for a surprise appearance that was not to my taste.
Despite the disappointments of the evening and a bit of a snooty floor manager (cheap ass students only drinking tap water…), I would definitely return for that main course and to try many of the wonderful sounding starters and mains that caught my eye. Seapoint could do well to revise its dessert menu and pastry chef (no excuse of an off night!) to match the standards met elsewhere in the kitchen.