Friday, 28 August 2015

Beer, Food & Travel: Sage, Midleton, Co. Cork - Wise Choices

Your memory can be flawed, seriously flawed.

That is why I try to record as much as possible so that when I come to report on, reply to or simply describe an occurrence I'll have something factual to fall back on.

Some of the places that I have eaten or drank in that sit high on my list of best experiences are recorded in my notebooks and subsequently - or eventually - on this blog and are therefore written with the benefit of hindsight and the cooling-off-period that can help you speak rationally and clearly with controlled passion about any subject.

So as I sit here looking at the notes I hastily scribbled in Sage restaurant in Midleton a few weeks back I can feel confident that what I write about will be accurate where it needs to be and as factual as possible where it should be, allowing for a pinch of poetic licence of course!

We had visited Sage's younger sibling the afternoon before and were impressed enough to think about coming here for the early evening menu, with only the lack of visible kid's menus - on the actual building and online - making us wonder whether they would be fed or even tolerated. But a quick Tweet confirmed that there was indeed a kid's menu and I can only assume that its absence is just to stop hordes of unruly children from running amok in the restaurant and annoying those who have come for a romantic meal or those who don't like hearing discussions about Minecraft, or having to pick small pieces of strewn Lego or worse from their beef carpaccio ... and who can blame them?

We would have persevered even if they hadn't responded to my Tweet ... I like their ethos with regard to their main ingredients coming from within 12 Miles of the restaurant, and also the place had been recommended by a couple of people on the Twitter machine.

Arriving without a reservation didn't appear to be an issue as we had came early enough to avoid any evening rush. Our waiter got the nod from the manager that we looked ok and so we were seated, a little close to the door for comfort for me but only because of some ancient need I have to sit with my back to a wall facing an escape route. Not knowing how loud our kids might be, it was probably the correct decision, as we were a fair distance away from the rest of the diners.

Our surroundings tread a fine line between the warmth of wooden furniture, vases of cottage flowers and low lighting, and the clean angularity of modern chicness. The staff played their part in this look too, sporting jeans with waistcoats and crisp white shirts. This worked incredibly well by putting you at ease and giving you the feeling that this was a place that was easy-going and friendly but with that clinical polish that makes a place really click.

The early evening menu had a few interesting items on it; lamb's tongue, bone marrow butter, beef carpaccio all sounded a little different but Sage's own black pudding appealed as a starter while the brisket seemed like the natural follow-up main course to my palate's logic. Herself went with the chicken and smoked pork rib terrine followed by the hake, while the kids decided on a garlic bread starter between them and then fish and chips, with the memory of Skinny's still in their little minds. To drink I chose O'Hara's Leann Follain to go with my meal while herself went for 8 Degrees Barefoot Bohemian from a beer menu of 10 or more Irish beers.

We were served tasty breads with a sage butter as we waited for our starters, which arrived quite promptly. My black pudding was served with a crispy potato, onions and shiitake mushrooms, and looked like a little dark tower sitting in a sea of bearnaise sauce. The pudding itself was perfectly cooked, pink and moist inside slightly crisp on the outside, with a subtle sweet flavour. The terrine was a seriously smoky, greasy, meaty combination with tons of taste - we were off to a great start, as the kids munched on their garlic bread.

Our two main courses arrived quickly too, the hake was nice and perfectly cooked but my brisket was amazing. A subtle and shreddable, no-knife-needed lump of beef with exquisite creamy mash and a carmelised whole carrot, with gravy and creamy sauce.

There was a short delay with the kids food - I think they might have forgot about them! But their fish arrived not too long after our main courses and although the batter was a tad undercooked it was still gobbled up quickly and enjoyed, with chips dipped in tiny jars of red sauce.

For dessert herself had the the Midleton Brick - a chocolate and toasted marshmallow slice while I decided to have the baked cheese cake I had the day before and choose 12 Acres pale Ale to go with it this time, sticking with two beers that were local to me in this local-focussed restaurant.

The brick arrived and so did my cheesecake, but it turned out to be fridged cheesecake and not the baked one I thought I was having! No matter as it was lovely anyway and still suited the bitter lemony pale ale.

We had been well looked after all evening by the attentive staff and although it wasn't yet busy you could see that service ran like a well drilled army troop.

The meal itself was very good value, the key being the use of local, affordable ingredients cooked correctly and respected, with just a tiny bit of essential faffing. Personally I'd highly recommend Sage and it certainly lived up to the hype surrounding it.

Anything I'd change? Well being a family man I'd like to see some nod to the fact that they do kids food, a mention on the website or on the menu near the entrance would not go astray. But as mentioned earlier, in the interest of peace and quiet, maybe they've made the right decision to keep the kids meals under wraps!

I'd also love to see them with their own nano brewery too, producing beers to compliment their food, but I can appreciate that that's a serious investment in every way. Even if it would fit in with their ethos of local produce.

Anyhow, Sage is a great spot and hopefully we'll get back some day soon.

Oh, and they serve wine too by the way!

Visited 8th July 2015

(Apologies for the photo quality!)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Recipe: Spent Malt, Oats & Apricot Flapjacks - Stuck Mash

I don't really have a sweet tooth, so it's rare for me to make or bake desserts or cakes, but occasionally my palate gets turned by my brain's ridiculous requirement to occasionally eat something sugary.

Yesterday I fancied something sticky, sweet and sickly but with limited time and resources - plus a scrounger's need to use some spent malt from my homebrew at the weekend - making a batch of flapjacks seemed to make sense. Firstly they were easy to make, secondly I had all the ingredients and finally they ticked the aforementioned alliterated criteria.

So here we go!

175g of Butter
175g of Brown Sugar
175g of Dried Spent Malt
175g of Oats
2 tbsp of Golden Syrup
2 tbsp of Dried Apricots - Finely Chopped

Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan and heat gently until butter is melted. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Spread out evenly in a 30cm by 20cm tray and cook in a 170 C oven for 25 to 30 mins. Leave to completely cool and then cut into squares.

That's it!

You can substitute any dried fruit for the apricots, or leave them out completely. The taste of the biscuity malt shines through and complements the oats, although next time I might use slightly more of the malt and less oats, as I like how the malt tastes.

As ever, feel free to adjust quantities to suit your palate.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Food & Travel: Skinny's Diner & Ballycotton, Co. Cork - Of Hake & Sea Kale

Considering my fear of open water I find it more than a little ironic that I seem to be drawn to the coast when out for a drive. If I believed in reincarnation I'd swear that I was a sailor who was lost at sea - forever soaked into my soul both the need to see the sea and the mortal fear of being under it.

Our recent trip to Midleton took a diversion by way of Ballycotton for no reasons other than that magnetic attraction and also because the kids wanted to get to the sea, as it's not classed as a real holiday unless they do seemingly.

Ballycotton is a pretty, neat village dominated by The Star of the Sea church on the hill overlooking this side of the headland and the 19th century lighthouse on one of the islands that are set adrift just off the coast.

With lunch time approaching and having promised everyone we'd find some fish and chips, I spotted a small whitewashed building with some oil clothed picnic tables out front and a chalk board announcing, 'Fresh Ballycotton Fish of the Day with Chips and a Tub' with the name 'Skinny's Diner' crudely written on the top. We parked a little up the road and wandered back down curious to find out what the fish was and what would be in the important sounding tub.

The place seemed quirky and interesting so we decided to stay. It was a showery, cool morning so we opted to sit inside after ordering our two fish and chips for herself and I, and two fish goujons for the smaller people from the guy behind the counter. The tubs by the way were small sides from a selection of eight or so - we chose mushy peas and coleslaw. Seating inside consisted of four tables and an assortment of chairs and benching giving the place a certain charming, homely feel. The window at the back looked out across Ballycotton Bay to Knockadoon head, with the sun making a fleeting appearance just to tease us as we sat waiting for our food.

We sat down and admired the view while we waited for our meals. Some kids came and went - belonging to the owner we assumed from the conversations we overheard - and a few more people came and ordered different things from the large menu that made me think that the small cooking area must have tardis-like properties.

Our food arrived pretty quickly and looked great - I have to confess that I was so excited and hungry I forgot to take a photo of it! The fish was cooked with the skin still on the fillet in a nice light, crispy batter with loads of carmelised crunchy bits and served with chips that at first I thought were frozen. Eating them I wasn't so sure, as they tasted great and didn't have that frozen chip quality. They fish itself certainly wasn't frozen, it was fresh caught hake that had been collected from the pier down the road that morning and reaffirmed my thoughts that every second and mile counts when getting fish from net to pan.

We devoured our lunch in record time and my oldest declared it the best fish ... ever! More than satisfied, we paid our bill and headed back outside, where the clouds appeared to be clearing away. By the side of the building was a gate that lead to steps running down to a kid's play area and some extra seating - plus 'Misty' the dog, who belongs to the owners. She was a friendly little terrier who was hoping against hope that we'd stay and talk to her, which we did for a few minutes.

Needing to walk off our lunch, we decided to take a stroll along the main street, past a giant clump of asters on a bank overlooking the coast guard station and down to the harbour, which was packed full of boats, ropes, crates and monstrous seagulls. This was obviously a very busy port and the large lifeboat bobbing within the pier's shelter was proof of how valuable a position the harbour held on this coast.

Beyond the pier wall were two islands and on the furthest sits the striking Ballycotton lighthouse built in the mid 1800s, you can take tours out to it but that wasn't something we fancied today - I certainly didn't anyway. Steps led down from the pier to the rocky, shingled shore, a clump of rock samphire clinging to the side of them.

The headland and beach were covered in a bewildering array of plants and there was even a large clump of seakale on the top of the foreshore at the end of the cliffs. Seakale is a pretty, plastic-like plant and one I'd love to try to grow back home in my gravel-strewn back garden. I was tempted to harvest some seeds or take a little piece but I had the feeling I was being watched, although that might have just been by the huge, circling gulls.

We wandered around the shore for a while, the kids playing on the rocks and their mother looking on, while I studied the local flora a little more, spotting hebes, sea thrift and a host of other plants dotted on the banks, and cast a wary eye out to sea, hypnotized by the waves.

But eventually it was time to get back on the road, so we said our goodbyes to the plants and the gulls, the boats and the lighthouse, and with a special wave to Skinny's - and to Misty - as we drove past, we headed inland ...

Away from the sea and my love/hate feelings for it.

Visited 7th July 2015