Blackrock Dublin

The Dublin Cookery School, which DonQui Oaty wrote about in his last post, is located in Blackrock — a Dublin suburb on the coast, a few kms south of the city proper. It is unlikely DonQui would have stayed in Blackrock had it not been for his course at the Cookery School and that would have been a pity.

First impressions, as the airport bus drops DonQui off outside a bland looking shopping centre, are not auspicious. The area seems to have quite a suburban feel to it with lots of traffic and modern buildings.

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Yet tucked away behind the shopping centre, towards Dublin Bay, is a pleasant park and a number of quiet streets filled with coffee shops, pubs and eateries of all kinds from Indian to Italian and, of course, Irish. There is also a small quirky antiques market with yet more places to eat and drink. Some are little more than small stalls, others are cafés, and there is also an up-market restaurant.

This is more like it DonQui thinks!

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Just because it is on the coast of the Irish sea don’t expect a beach holiday in Blackrock. The view of Dublin Bay is atmospheric but it is not the sort of place to tempt DonQui to dip his hooves in the water. On a late spring/early summer’s day the weather is typically Irish with cloud and rain interspersed with all too infrequent sunny periods.

Over three days DonQui tests out many of the local eateries and watering holes. There are many more he would have liked to have tried but he will have to save these for another visit. In no particular order these are his views of the places he tried out:

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The Mellow Fig: From the outside it looks like a fairly traditional ‘caff’ where one might expect tea and a bacon and egg breakfast. Inside it is anything but that. With pastel colours it clearly caters to ‘yummy mummies’ in search of a light lunch or, yes, breakfast. The pastry and cake counter looks divine. DonQui’s breakfast at the Mellow Fig consists of an excellent croissant and one of the most perfect cappuccinos he has had in ages, The topping of high quality chocolate flakes rather than the usual cocoa powder is a very nice touch indeed.

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Rage: Although there are other things on the menu this place specialises in flame grilled steaks and that is what DonQui goes for. Nicely seared on the outside and evenly juicy inside, his sirloin steak lives up to expectations. The whiskey and mushroom sauce is divine and the accompanying triple-cooked chips are just as DonQui likes them — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. His strawberry Eaton mess desert (see photo above) is a wonderfully calorific sweet to finish off with.

Flash Harry’s: Named after DonQui’s fictional hero — Harry Flashman as portrayed in George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books rather than in Tom Brown’s School Days — he had to try out this bar. With football on the many television sets and a pool table outside the main bar area this is not the sort of place a non-sports fan like DonQui would normally frequent. That said Flash Harry’s has a decent selection of beers on tap and is pretty relaxed.

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Café Ciamei: This great little casual Italian restaurant is at the north end of Blackrock market.

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Their pizza’s are excellent with nice thin crispy crusts even if they are not cooked in a wood-fired oven. Duchess’ seafood risotto is indifferent but the atmosphere makes up for it. They also have superb proper Italian coffee. DonQui’s espresso is a tiny high-powered caffeine shot of the sort one might expect only to find in Italy.

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Dunne and Crescenzi: This was DonQui’s only disappointment. Billed as an upmarket Italian restaurant DonQui expected much. The atmosphere and very helpful waitresses lived up to expectation but unfortunately the food did not. At best it was ordinary and certainly not worth the prices nor the marketing.

Instead of fresh basil DonQui’s caprese salad came with pesto. The pesto was good but it was not a proper caprese and the tomatoes were tasteless. The main of grilled chicken supposedly came with a truffle and mushroom sauce but there is no hint of truffle, the chicken is overcooked, the accompanying roast potatoes are barely roasted and have frost damage.

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It is not often DonQui leaves much of his main dish but in this instance he does. To their credit, when DonQui tells the pleasant waitress of his views she is most apologetic and not only does not charge him for his main course but she throws in a free glass of wine. The house wine, it must be said, is really top-notch.

The owners started off selling fine Italian wines, salumi and cheeses and their wine certainly more than lives up to expectation. DonQui sees a nearby couple sharing a charcuterie board and given how good it looked he wishes he had ordered the same. He does not sample the cheese as when he asks if it had been left out of the fridge to let the flavour develop he is told that it had not. There are few things more sacrilegious in DonQui’s view than eating good cheese straight from the refrigerator.

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There is a direct bus to and from Dublin airport every hour and the city centre is quickly and easily reached from Blackrock station via the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART) train. DonQui stayed in an excellent Airbnb apartment which was much more spacious and at a fraction of the price of a Dublin city hotel. Next time he visits Dublin, DonQui will probably stay in Blackrock again. There are still plenty of great looking restaurants for him to sample and it was very pleasant staying in a place with a local neighbourhood rather than touristy feel.

The Art of Cookery

No matter how good you think you are there is always room to improve your skills. So it is that DonQui finds himself in Ireland attending the one day Cheat’s Guide to Gourmet Cooking course at the Dublin Cookery School.

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Feeling a bit like a contestant on Master Chef, Don Qui fastens his apron and sets about trying to reproduce six gourmet dishes: three starters, two mains, and a desert.

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Each dish is first demonstrated, the tilted mirror above the demonstration counter allowing DonQui to see what is going on in the dishes and pans from above as well as from in front. Then armed with notes and a printed recipe he joins the others to take his station before a stove top where the various utensils, and pre-measured ingredients have been laid out.

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Short-cutting the prep time along with the fact that others did the cleaning up suited DonQui very much. He found himself wondering if there could be some way of reproducing this at home.

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The point of the course is not just to cook the dishes but to learn the tips, tricks and techniques used by chefs. Some of these — such as blanching vegetables in advance and finishing them off in a pan at the last moment — DonQui already knew. Others, such as how to produce the perfect poached egg, are new to him. Indeed DonQui has never poached an egg before and he approaches the exercise with some trepidation. The same could be said of the hot salad dressing.

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DonQui feels very pleased with himself when each of the dishes turn out as they should. He is particularly proud of his asparagus salad with lardons, black pudding and poached egg.

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Over the next few weeks DonQui will try the recipes and techniques at home to see how they turn out whens he tries them without adult supervision. On the assumption they work out he will publish them on his blog, revealing some of the tips he has learned.

 

 

London’s Airports

Many visitors to the UK don’t realise that London is served by 6 Airports. Depending on destination or point of origin there may be no choice but if there is, where you land or take off from can make a huge difference to your comfort as well as the length and cost of your overland journey.

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DonQui Oaty has previously extolled the virtues of tiny Southend Airport which is the furthest to the east of London.

Now he is flying to Dublin from London City Airport which is DonQui’s favourite London airport. Amongst its advantages is that it is actually in London and easy to get to or from on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and Underground, without needing to resort to the long and expensive train journeys all the other airports require. Unlike the often chaotic, hectic larger airports, London City (LCY) is quite civilised and comfortable. As a creature who likes his comfort, this is rather important for DonQui.

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As it is actually in London, LCY is, necessarily, a very small airport with a short runway suitable only for quick hops to nearby European cities. Therefore there are no transcontinental flights but there are good connections to other international hubs such as Amsterdam and Paris. As LCY tends to cater to business passengers the flights can be on the pricy side compared to the budget fights out of Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Southend.

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There are no lounges but the whole departure area feels a bit like a business lounge so there is no need. There are plenty of seats, good food and drink options and no hordes of package holiday-makers.

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It has been pointed out to DonQui that there are no opportunities to to stock up on toiletries or cosmetics in the departure area to get around the 100ml security limit for liquids and gels. Therefore if you wish to cary such things you will need to check a bag. DonQui has a pre-packed plastic bag with small sized amounts of such things for his travels so this does not bother him.

So what of London’s other airports? Here is DonQui’s biased guide, moving around London in a clockwise direction from the west:

Heathrow: Often hard to avoid if you have a transcontinental flight, Europe’s busiest airport can be hectic and daunting although it is well organised. With 5 huge terminals you need to know which one your airline will be using as although T1-3 are within walking distance of each other T4 and T5 will require bus or train transfers. Heathrow is convenient for the west but the Heathrow express into Paddington station is expensive. If you are short on cash you can take the regular commuter train at a fraction of the price or the Tube (Subway for North Americans). Both of the cheaper options take much longer — 45 minutes on the Tube vs 20 minutes on the Heathrow express.

Luton: Relatively small and dominated by Ryanair — DonQui’s least favourite airline. As a result this is the only London airport he has not flown from so cannot give a view. The journey into London tends to take about 30-40 minutes to St Pancras

Stansted: London’s third largest airport to the north is not one of DonQui’s favourites. It serves mostly budget airlines so there are good bargains to many European cities but it is overcrowded and chaotic. The journey into London can take an hour and the so-called Stansted Express which goes to Liverpool Street Station is not very express-like.

Southend: A great little airport well to the east of London serving only a small number of destinations with budget airlines. The trip into London Liverpool St station will take almost an hour.

Gatwick: With two terminals Gatwick is a sort of budget version of Heathrow with some major airlines using it and with some intercontinental flights. Although smaller it seems more overcrowded and more unpleasant than Heathrow. One plus for Gatwick is the Bloc Hotel inside the South Terminal which is great for an overnight if you have a ghastly o’clock start. There are good (approx 30min) connections by train to Victoria and London Bridge stations as well as Brighton to the south.

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If by some unfortunate circumstance you are transiting through London and have to change airports then DonQui pities you. DonQui would rather walk over hot coals than attempt it himself. Only London City airport is actually in Greater London. All the others are many miles away.