I have a certain someone and Ireland to thank for my continuing ability to legally live, work, and eat on this side of the world. Without my main dining companion, his allegiance to the land of the shamrock, and about 500 pages of proof that we aren’t cohabitating out of convenience, I would almost certainly be on some Home Office black list. I’ve sat in the little holding pens by passport control at the airports, they’re not pleasant places to be so I’m eternally grateful to the man and the country.
At the time of the torturously long visa process, I had never even set foot in Ireland so I vowed that if the visa-gods let me stay, I would of course venture across and pay it a visit! As you know, the luck of the Irish was on my side (for the time-being as who knows what will happen after Brexit) so we kept our promise and jetted off to Ireland for a small road trip from Galway to Dublin… the former was filled with breathtaking landscape and delicious food, and the latter was filled with a bit of history and more delicious food and drink, here are my suggestions for where to eat and drink in Dublin…
As a general rule, restaurants housed in any of London’s five star hotels are not for the tight-fisted Scrooges amongst us. If there also happens to be the name of a celebrity chef above the door or emblazoned across the menu, you and your debit card should enter at your own risk. These places are high-end and high-cost, as a general rule. However, sometimes the clever ones bend the rules a little and offer a more affordable alternative to lure in new guests. Why? Because high-end or not, restaurants need diners, and diners inevitably love a good deal.
I am one of these deal-loving diners, a label I’m not ashamed to wear because let’s be frank, my dining addiction has been quite onerous on my finances. So on numerous occasions I’ve happily (and sensibly) ditched the a la carte menu for a much more succinct set menu offering at a fraction of the price but still with all the restaurant’s usual bells and whistles! My latest deal-hunting triumph was a mid-week jolly to the gloriously elegant Roux at The Landau in The Langham.
If you tell me there’s a dish that’s ‘so finger-licking good, I won’t even need wet wipes’, you will have my full attention. I think you all know that I don’t mind a bit of dainty dining, and I’m now quite accomplished at navigating my way round a table cluttered with multiple sets of cutlery, but I’m just as happy to forgo that altogether. In many cases, fingers (clean ones, of course) are just as good as forks, and in some situations, they’re even better. A plate of Malaysian chilli crab is a fine example; forks will bring you nothing but sauce in the face with a side of frustration, whereas diving in there with your fingers will bring you unadulterated, delicious joy. And sauce in the face, but that’s a small sacrifice.
I recently discovered this finger-licking goodness at the Wild Serai Supperclub where their signature Malaysian chilli crab reduced the room to silence, bar the cracking of shells and slurping of crab meat and sauce… But I’m getting ahead of myself; before that there were other delights. Each table came laden with the most gigantic prawn crackers I have ever come across, which is no mean feat considering my affair with them has been a long one. From a young age, I’ve watched my mother transform them from unappetising opaque discs to the wonderfully salty, crunchy crackers we all know and love, and naturally I’ve eaten more than my fair share. And so the memories started flooding in.
Aside from having the good fortune (or misfortune, depending on your perspective of family pecking orders) of being the first-born in my family, I’m rarely the first at anything else. I don’t even consider myself to be part of the competition in any sporting endeavours, let alone there being the possibility of coming first. Even in things that I could potentially have a chance at winning (random quizzes, debates, Connect 4 challenges) I think I lack that cut-throat competitive edge to really excel. So can you imagine my surprise when I came first at something, without even trying.
There we were, sitting at the bar in Ginza Onodera, studiously reviewing the cocktail list when I casually commented to the bartender that it sounded like they were still putting the furniture together downstairs. The sound of drilling and plastic sheets rustling around will do that. Turns out that yes, the finishing touches to the dining room were being made and we were in fact, the first people through their newly refurbished doors. Fancy that, me, first in a restaurant… I think I can officially call myself one of the obsessive London food set! I did suspect it as being a bit of friendly bartender banter until I stepped into the vast, very much on the swish side, and absolutely pristine dining room. Yep, I’ll take first place this time.
Is it just me or are some restaurant names getting more and more obscure? Sometimes I tell a certain someone the name of our dining destination and get a fleeting look of puzzlement followed by a shrug in return; he knows to just go with the flow by now. Friends, family, and colleagues however, seem to dwell a little longer. Superstar BBQ raised questions about whether the gimmick involved chefs who were also DJs, Tootoomoo caused a giggle or two, and The Pony and Trap led to a long discussion about Cockney slang – I can assure you that the restaurant itself is far from crap! You can probably imagine the queries when I mentioned we were going to The Other Naughty Piglet…
No, it isn’t a restaurant just for pork enthusiasts (though we don’t object to that kind of thing), and yes, there is an ‘original’ naughty piglet to this ‘other’. The first of the Naughty Piglets is in Brixton, and has been somewhere we’ve been eager to visit for some time; regular readers will have realised by now that we have a penchant for seasonal small plates, and this is what they specialise in. That, and good wine, both in a casual kind of manner; all music to my ears and stomach.
This was going to be the year I finally got to visit Japan, a country that I have been itching to get to since missing out on a school trip back when I was fourteen. Somewhere towards the end of 2016, we hatched a plan to spend three to six months in Japan, just eating, exploring and hopefully learning some Japanese. The length of time raised some eyebrows but we weren’t phased; we figured, if not now, then when?! Well it turns out, it won’t be now… and the when might actually be next year. Plans: some were made to be followed, while others were made to be broken. I’d like to think this one is just on hold.
The annoyingly sensible decision to put the brakes on this grand plan was made a couple of days before we ventured to Elizabeth Allen’s Shibui residency at Carousel, featuring her take on European and Japanese fusion cuisine. Ironic consolation or just rubbing salt in the wounds? I think if it had been bad, it would have been the latter but it wasn’t, so while we can’t yet experience the real deal, it was a good reminder than there are plenty of places in London where we can savour that taste of Japan in its many guises.
I imagine what draws most people to Granada is a visit to the Alhambra, the stunning fortified palace sitting at the top of the city. However, what might make them stay a little longer is the proximity to the ski fields of the Sierra Nevada in winter and the nearby beaches in summer. The heart of the city itself is also worth a wander; there are mix of wide boulevards and narrow lanes where you can shop, marvel at the architecture, and of course, eat and drink. Unsurprisingly, the latter two are my favourite past-times whenever I find myself in Spain.
A certain someone and I have always had a soft spot for tapas, even back when we were in New Zealand, I remember gorging ourselves silly at this one place in Auckland… but I think we really fell in love with it when we visited our first Spanish city together – Barcelona. Everything we had previous to that just paled in comparison; this was the real deal and ever since then, we’ve been excited about all the food we’ve had in the country whether it’s been fine dining in Madrid, pintxos in San Sebastian or a food tour in Seville. I think the Spanish have a wonderfully civilised drinking culture where they usually serve some sort of nibble alongside their beer or wine.