Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Review: A Lunch to Remember in the Samsung Kitchen @ L'Ecrivain

I was recently invited to an exclusive Bloggers’ Lunch in the Michelin starred L’Ecrivain on Baggot Street in Dublin. I have eaten there a number of times but I was delighted to visit again to experience the newly unveiled Samsung Kitchen @ L’Ecrivain. This is a wonderful venue adjacent to the main restaurant which can be booked for private functions and where guests can see for themselves, their meal being cooked by Chef/Proprietor Derry Clarke in the wonderfully sleek and contemporary Samsung kitchen.
Bread Selection
Derry was recently selected as the first ever brand ambassador of Samsung’s home appliances range and it is a role that at 58 years old he has embraced with gusto, acknowledging that he was honoured to have been chosen especially as some people may have expected that a younger ‘trendier’ chef would have been selected. Together with his wife Sallyanne, Derry has over three decades’ experience working in the restaurant industry and it is through their joint efforts that L’Ecrivain, which they opened in 1989, was awarded a Michelin star in 2003 and has retained ever since.
The dining room is spacious and can comfortably sit 20 people at the long, magnificent table.  Sallyanne recommends that at least twelve people dine at any one time as the room is quite large and smaller parties might get lost. The kitchen is located at the far end of the room in full view of diners. As one of Ireland’s top fine-dining restaurants, Derry recognises that L’Ecrivain is quite formal but hopes that eating in the Samsung Kitchen @ L’Ecrivain is a completely different experience with a more relaxed atmosphere.
The intimate nature of the Samsung Kitchen @ L’Ecrivain means that not only do you have the opportunity to watch as the food is prepared but that you also have the chance to ask questions about the ingredients used and the techniques employed to create your meal. For anyone who loves food, this is an experience that is not to be missed and it is fair to say that we were all eagerly looking forward to our lunch.
I vividly remember the wonderful breads that were served during my previous visits to L’Ecrivain and again, at our lunch they didn’t disappoint. The White Bread Rolls, Brown Soda Bread and Foccacia were all delicious and we nibbled away happily as we sipped Prosecco and chatted to each other.
Organic Salmon
First up was an amuse bouche of Beetroot & Whipped Goat’s Cheese which came served with shards of crispy chicken skin, pecan nut crumbs and was garnished with micro-herbs. This was a beautifully presented dish where everything on the plate served to highlight the sweet and earthy flavour of the roasted beetroot and it was a wonderful precursor to the dishes that were to follow.
The next dish of Organic Salmon consisted of Clare Island organic salmon cooked in two different ways, each of which showcased different qualities of the quality fish that was used. The salmon cured in salt, sugar and citrus was outstanding and tasted delicious with the tiny cubes of potato salad and horseradish mayonnaise which accompanied it. Small rings of lightly pickled shallot added piquancy whilst nasturtium leaves imparted a subtle peppery flavour. The other piece of salmon was cooked mi-cuit in a water bath and with a certain amount of drama was smoked under a glass cloche in front of us. I loved the subtle smokiness of the salmon which was succulent to eat and melted in the mouth.
Roast Sirloin of Beef
Roast Sirloin of Beef was another seemingly simple but stunning dish. Here beautifully tender 32-day, dry-aged Angus beef was brined for 24 hours before being pan roasted in beef dripping. It was served with mushroom purée, sautéed ceps and caramelised onions. All too often tender cuts of beef such as fillet and sirloin can be lacking in flavour, but here the meat was treated lovingly and with a real understanding of how to intensify the flavour so that each mouthful was a pure joy to eat.
I loved the pre-dessert which was a modern re-working of a classic Tiramisu. Each flavour element was deconstructed so that chocolate sponge and chocolate shavings sat side by side with coffee mousse and mascarpone cream. This was an elegant and surprisingly light plate of food but it was also self-indulgent and a little bit naughty like all good desserts should be.
A Lemon Tart was our final dish of the day and was a great end to a thoroughly enjoyable meal. I am a big fan of lemon desserts but I am notoriously difficult to please when it comes to lemon tarts! Without a doubt, this was one of the best that I have ever tasted; I loved the silky texture of the perfectly set lemon custard contrasted against the crisp texture of the thin pastry base. Served with toasted meringues, blackberry sorbet, blackberry gel and fresh blackberries, this was a dish where everything was perfectly balanced.
We finished our meal with coffees and a lovely selection of Petits Fours which included a macaron, a raspberry jelly and a tiny choux bun filled with pistachio crème patissière.
Lemon Tart
This was a dining experience with a difference and one that I will remember for a long time. It was fascinating watching Derry ably assisted by Tom Doyle, L’Ecrivain’s Head Chef, prepare our meal in the impressive Samsung kitchen. Service was impeccable as one would expect in a restaurant of this calibre and added to our enjoyment of the meal.
This is a venue and a concept that would be ideal for corporate and private functions or for informal family get-togethers and I would highly recommend it.
Dinner is priced at €85 per person and lunch at €55 per person. Further information about the Samsung Kitchen @L’Ecrivain is available at
109a Baggot Street Lower
Dublin 2
Telephone: 01-6611919

Derry Clarke

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Restaurant Review: Wuff, Benburb Street, Dublin 7

I really enjoy eating out and dining in restaurants that I haven’t been to before. Although I predominantly write dinner reviews, I also love documenting my brunch experiences and I am always on the lookout for new places to try. Luckily, brunch seems to be hugely popular these days so there are plenty to choose from. Whilst brunch has taken Dublin by storm there are fewer spots offering it outside the capital and, as I live down the country, I am at a slight disadvantage. As a result, when I get the chance to indulge my brunch lust I jump at it!
I recently spent a weekend in Dublin and, on the recommendation of a friend who knows the restaurant well, decided to pop into Wuff located on Benburb Street, not far from Smithfield Market in the heart of the city, to try the brunch offered there.
The first thing that strikes you as you walk through its doors is that Wuff is popular. When we arrived shortly after it opened for the day most of the tables were taken and we were fortunate to get the last remaining one. The restaurant feels effortlessly cool and with its bare stone walls, barred windows and sparse wooden tables you almost feel that you are dining in the heart of Queens or Greenwich Village.
As we sat there and took in our surroundings we noticed that a queue was forming outside, full of eager diners waiting for tables. Despite the demand for tables we never felt that we were being rushed during our meal, although the service was definitely brisk and efficient. Wuff doesn’t take bookings for brunch so it is well worth getting there early if you want to eat without queuing first.
Small Irish
The menu contains all the brunch stalwarts that you would expect to see and also offers a small selection of cocktails… which we felt compelled to sample! My Wufftini was light and full of the fresh early morning flavour of pink grapefruit juice and also included some Grenadine. It was topped up with Cipriano Prosecco and was suitably easy-to-drink for that time of the day. Eithne’s Bellini – made with peach purée and also topped up with Prosecco was another refreshing drink that went down easily.
Although tempted by both the Pulled Pork Sandwich (€11.50)which came served in a Waterford Blaa and the Steak Sandwich with Sundried Tomatoes, Onion Marmalade and Cheese (€12.95), I decided to go for a Small Irish (€7.00) which included a large free-range pork and leek sausage, bacon, a fried egg and came served with toasted sourdough bread. Whilst the egg was faultlessly cooked; yielding up its runny interior when pierced with a knife and the bacon was perfectly acceptable, the hero of this dish was definitely the wonderfully flavoursome pork and leek sausage. I think that I would return to Wuff again for this alone – I loved it.
Eggs Benedict
Eithne’s Eggs Benedict was another well-executed dish although purists would quibble at the accuracy of its description as the inclusion of spinach would more normally classify it as Eggs Florentine. This aside, the poached eggs were perfectly cooked and nestled invitingly on some wilted spinach and toasted brioche. An excellent hollandaise sauce contained the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of the overall dish and was absolutely delicious. At €8.95 (or €9.95 with bacon which was the way Eithne had it) this was a competitively priced especially when compared to what some other restaurants are charging for eggs benedict in Dublin.
To finish we shared a Warm Sweet Waffle (€6.95) which came with a generous sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts, fresh strawberries, a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream and loads of chocolate sauce. This was sweet and sticky and tasted absolutely heavenly. This was the perfect end to an enjoyable meal.

Warm Sweet Waffle
On one hand the brunch menu in Wuff is a little predictable, but the service is good, the surroundings are comfortable and most importantly the food, which is reasonably priced tastes delicious. I would have no hesitation in recommending Wuff’s brunch and look forward to re-visiting and eating some of the other dishes on the menu.
Our bill for two came to €47 including cocktails, coffees and optional gratuity.
23 Benburb Street
Dublin 7
Telephone: 01-5320347

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Smoked Haddock Chowder

Anyone who reads my blog regularly or has browsed through the recipes here will know that I am a big fan of soups. There’s nothing more nourishing and comforting to eat on a cold and wintry day than a big bowl of steaming hot soup. Whilst there are many wonderful chilled soup recipes out there such as Vichyssoise and Borscht, I love soups that warm your very soul and make you feel good from the inside out!
I find it hard to understand why people spend so much money buying packet or tinned soups or even  fresh soups from the chilled section in the supermarket when it is so easy to make your own at home. In most cases, they can be made in little time using ingredients that are relatively inexpensive.
My gang love the Cream of Vegetable Soup that I make using potatoes, carrots, onions, and leeks, but they also like my version of Minestrone Soup into which I add some pasta. Soups like the latter are a meal in their own right and require nothing more than some nice crusty bread as an accompaniment.
Chowders are creamy, thickened soups usually containing chunks of potato and can include other vegetables. Fish or shellfish are often used in chowders and here I have included smoked haddock which gives the soup a lovely smokiness which marries well with the creaminess of the soup itself. Along with the sweetcorn, the chunks of potato and the samphire this is a substantial dish which is incredibly tasty.
This chowder is inspired by the wonderful chowder that I recently had in The Vintage Kitchen which I was so impressed with. I am not claiming that this version is as magnificent as the one that I ate there but it is still incredibly delicious and relatively simple to make. The Vintage Kitchen’s chowder included samphire which I thought was an inspired addition so I have used it here too. Samphire can be a little hard to source, so if you can’t get your hands on some just leave it out – the chowder will still taste amazing!


To poach the fish:
300g smoked haddock (preferably undyed)
350ml vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
50g butter
1 large white onion, finely chopped
200g potato, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
A large sprig of thyme
1tsp of Dijon mustard
250ml double cream
125g frozen sweetcorn
125g samphire, blanched and refreshed in cold water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To finish:
Chives, finely chopped


To poach the fish:
1. Place the fish in a medium-sized but deepish frying pan, add the bay leaf and cover with the vegetable stock. Bring up to simmering point over a medium heat and allow to bubble away for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 5 minutes.
2. Carefully remove the fish with a slotted spoon but reserve the poaching liquid. Flake the fish into large chunks, removing and discarding any bones that you come across. Set aside.
3. Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a moderate heat and add the onions. Fry for 2 minute and then add the potatoes and thyme. Reduce the heat and place the lid on the saucepan. Allow the vegetables to sweat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until they have begun to soften.
4. Add the reserved poaching liquid and the Dijon mustard and allow to simmer uncovered, over a gentle heat for 10 minutes until the potatoes have softened but are not disintegrating.
5. Add the cream and stir through. Allow to simmer for a further 3 minutes and then add in the fish and frozen sweetcorn. Remove and discard the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme. Simmer for 3 minutes and then add the blanched samphire. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
6. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives.

Serves 6.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Walnut Cake

I absolutely love walnuts and try to use them whenever I can in my cooking and baking. As a child one of my favourite cakes was the Coffee & Walnut Cake that my grandmother often baked when guests were expected but I can’t recall ever eating a cake where walnuts were the primary ingredient and ‘star-of-the-show’!

I was determined to create a cake that showcased walnuts and after a little experimentation, this is the cake that I came up with. It is packed full of walnuts but is still surprisingly light in texture. I am thrilled with how it turned out and can see it becoming a mainstay in my baking repertoire. Even my children, who can be fussy at the best of times, loved it… and believe me that is saying something because they are the most demanding of critics!
Due to the inclusion of a lot of nuts (and a good amount of butter) this is a rich cake but it has a unique flavour which will have you going back for more. Whilst it is lovely served on its own, it also makes a decadent dessert when served with a poached pear, a little salted caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


175g walnuts
185g butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, separated
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
75ml milk
To finish:
12-16 walnut halves to decorate


1. Preheat oven to 160C/Fan Oven 140C/Gas Mark 2. Grease a 20cm round spring-form tin with butter and line the base with a circle of baking parchment. Set aside.
2. Place the walnuts on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 10 minutes until lightly toasted. Check on them a couple of times to make sure they are not burning and give them a shake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before roughly grinding in a food processor. Do not over process the walnuts as you still want them to retain some texture.
3. Meanwhile place the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat again for another couple of minutes to ensure that they are well incorporated.
4. Add the sifted flour gradually, alternating with the milk to create a thick cake batter. Fold in the roughly ground walnuts and vanilla extract making sure that they are well distributed.
5. Using a clean bowl and whisk attachments beat the egg whites to the ‘firm peak’ stage. Add one third of the egg whites to the cake batter and mix in well. This will loosen the batter slightly and make incorporating the rest of the egg whites much easier.  Fold in the remaining egg whites using a large metal spoon. Stop once there are no large pockets of egg white remaining, but try to avoid over-mixing as this will result in a heavier cake.
6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface using the back of a metal spoon or a spatula. Decorate the top of the cake with the walnut halves and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes approximately or until a thin skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
7. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Serves 10-12.