Sunday, 29 March 2009

Chameleon, Dublin

Recently I went to a friend's birthday dinner in The Chameleon in Temple Bar in Dublin. I approached the place with a sense of trepidation. I had been there twice before and found it thoroughly uninspired and overpriced. It was basically cashing in on "Hey look! We are cool and Indonesian!".

So I met my friends and we sat down and ordered. Rijstafel (#3) of course, with one added dish. My friend's wife is cœliac and she mentioned that to the waitress, which resulted in all dishes that carried gluten (which for instance is contained in normal soy sauce) being prepared separately and just as nicely for her. And what food!

I am not going to comment on every dish in the rijstafel, but I'll pick out a few highlights:

Chicken satay cooked on a wooden skewer and served with a peanut (katjan) sauce:

This was one of the starters. Now usually that is bland chicken covered with a more or less nice peanut sauce. Not so here: The chicken skewers were intricately seasoned and the satay sauce had a near pure peanut flavour that complimented the spicyness of the chicken nicely. Far and above the best chicken satay I have had in my life.

Tipperary slow cooked belly of pork in a ketjap manis star anise sauce:

This achieved the rare feat of having a dominant spice that managed to balance perfectly with the other ingredients and the pork flavour. The belly was so tender that it was nearly falling apart on its own accord, albeit a tiny bit too dry. Overall it can only be called stunning.

Crispy marinated squid rings served with a sweet chili dip:

Lovely, light and crispy with the sweet chili sauce forming a perfect complement.

Apart from the food what stood out was the incredible presentation and the excellent service. One of the persons serving us was clearly the chef, who was very pleased with our praise which we heaped quite lavishly, and said that he was glad that his work was paying off. My friends commented that they had only discovered the place after having visited Amsterdam and learning to eat Indonesian food there, and that not only had The Chameleon markedly improved in the last half year, they were giving the best Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam a run for their money.

As far as I am concerned the only ethnic restaurant that they have left to beat in Dublin is Kinara on the coast road. That is one of the best possible eating-out experiences in Dublin - of which more later

Friday, 27 March 2009

Beef pot roast with rosemary, apricots and jalapeños

This recipe came out of a housemate and me meditating over a bottle of vinegar that I had gotten for christmas from another housemate. It was a white wine vinegar infused with apricots, rosemary and red chilies. So here goes:

You need about 1.2kg of stewing beef, I usually use round steak in Ireland. Find a big pot and inject some of the above mentioned vinegar into the meat. I have since ceased this practice, because I a) ran out of vinegar and b) found that marinating overnight yielded the same if not better results. Deseed 3 red (important that they are red) jalapeños and quarter them and put them into the pot. Also, add a 500g bag of dried apricots - do get the good californian ones, it makes a diference. Finally, add 2 or 3 solid sprigs of rosemary and 1l of plain dry chardonnay as well as a bit of white wine vinegar.

Marinate over night.

Next morning, take the meat out of the marinade, put the marinade aside by means of pouring it into a different pot and seal your roast all round in the pot. Pour your marinade back in and cook as a pot roast until it reaches the fall-apart stage. Remove the meat, add salt to taste and some cream, fish out the rosemary sprigs and needles.

Meanwhile ...

Put parboiled rice, salt and a bit of olive oil into a saucepan and roast the rice without stirring till the bottom layer is nice and brown. Add double the volume of the rice in water and let simmer.

Serve forth, the apricots are your vegetable side.

Wine with this should be a traditional fat Australian or similar chardonnay that has undergone lactic acid fermentation and has seen an oak barrel from the inside.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Ard Bia and Nimmo's

This day we had an early dinner at Ard Bia and Nimmo's, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, Ireland ( We were lucky to be early; that was the only reason they could find us a table. This is a crowded restaurant, for good reasons, and booking is recommended. Outside, you can admire all the awards they've collected over the years.

The bread was the first indication of what was to come: three different kinds, all of them delicious but the cinnamon bread was astounding. We rapidly consumed it all. Bernhard had a starter, as usual, and choose the day's special, chili squid rings on salad. The leaves were crisp and tasty, herbs rather than lettuce, with lots of fennel, and the squid just the right level of hot.

The main course was another day's special, tuna with tabbouleh, for Bernhard and, since I had decided, based on the bread, that I could trust this place to have a good cook, polenta cake with smoked Gubeen cheese, creamy mushroom, spinach & tarragon sauce. The tuna was rare, as it should be, and the tabbouleh flavourful, just as it should be. My polenta cake was creamy, fluffy, and resting in a sauce that mixed justt he right amount of flavours: none of the one-flavour-too-many which is so common right now for reasons which escape me. The mushroom and spinach dominated, with the tarragon nicely understated (tarragon in food, like in your garden, tends to take over if not kept within bounds).

We were too full for dessert. This is a lamentable fate.