Beauty and Bogs in Connemara

As much fun as it was exploring the city of Galway, we also wanted to take the chance to explore a bit of the nearby countryside. While there are loads of drawbacks of travelling with a car, this is definitely one of the perks. To me, there’s nothing lovelier than a drive through beautiful countryside: especially if you can stop, hop out, and appreciate the moment.

We loaded up a map on Google, and headed towards Connemara.

Connemara 3

“The Real Emerald of Ireland”, Connemara is full of beautiful scenery. Pretty lakes and towering mountains, golden beaches and bogs filled with unique flora and fauna. I love unspoiled scenery and often wish that I didn’t have to rely on technology so much. Otherwise I’d just bugger off and live in a cave somewhere (instead of living with one).

After driving for a wee while and admiring the stunning scenery, we eventually reached a wee place called Recess: home to the charming Joyce’s Gift Shop. We decided to stop and have a nosy. There were a few interesting pieces in the car park, showcasing the famous Irish sense of humour. There was the “Connemara Giant” (a “late 20th Century monument” which was built by Joyce’s gift shop “for no apparent reason”) and a sign commemorating what happened there a hundred or so years ago.

Connemara 1

The gift shop was full of quirky goodies. James had bought me a very chic Guinness scarf when we were exploring Galway the previous day, so I bought him a book called “Stuff Irish People Love”. It had a hologram Virgin Mary on the front. It was also full of interesting cultural tidbits that just go to show how similar Irish and Scots culture and language is: for example, the Irish call their shopping “messages” too. Now I just need to find out where the word “bunker” comes from.

We picked up some crusty rolls, cheese, and crisps from the grocery shop next door and had a little picnic. Afterwards it was onwards and upwards, and we soon found ourselves at the National Park itself: just in time for the sun to come out. We had a little look in the visitor’s centre, and I entertained myself by reading about crannogs and peat bogs. James didn’t seem quite so excited by this, sadly.

Connemara 2

We went on a nature trail which was supposed to be 7km long but was really 7 minutes long. There was also a big hill/ that I wanted to climb, but James said I wasn’t properly dressed. He’s a dafty though, I was wearing my best mountain climbing dress (as you can see).

Since we weren’t going to be doing any mountaineering, we daundered back to the car. We noticed loads of French families in the car park, all having their traditional lunch time bread, cheese and wine outside of their caravans. They waved at us as we drove by. I like to think this is because we’ve perfected the French airs and graces so much that we actually look French… but it’s probably because we were in a left hand drive Renault.

REVIEW: Eddie Rocket’s City Diner

In the evenings Galway comes alive with song, as the bustling pubs of the Latin Quarter fill up with locals and visitors alike. Sipping Guinness and listening to local bands seems like the best way to spend an evening in Galway, but unfortunately James and I were giving our livers a rest.

After ten days with my hard drinking parents and our crazy friends, four days being entertained by clients in Brighton, and a rather boozy evening in the Nag’s Head with Uncle Sean, we didn’t really fancy looking at bevvy again for a while.

In fact, we made a pledge: no booze til Porto. 

This meant that our evenings in Galway were quite the laid back affair, usually involving a dip in the hotel pool followed by a bit of telly watching in our lovely room. One evening we decided to venture out for a late dinner, circa 10pm: and ended up at Eddie Rockets.

Eddie Rockets is a chain of burger restaurants in Ireland, designed to look like American diners from the 1950’s. The neon lighting wasn’t conducive to good photos, but it did lend the place a certain atmosphere. The menu included a wide range of tasty looking diner snacks like chicken in a basket, quesadillas, and most importantly: burgers. We both went for the Smokestack burger, featuring smokey bacon, BBQ sauce, and applewood smoked cheddar.

EddieRockets

The burgers arrived in a genius little paper holder thing that I personally believe should be rolled out to every gourmet burger chain in the UK. It meant you could eat your burger comfortably with your hands without worrying about filling slopping down your top, or getting your hands all greasy. It pretty much kept the filling where it should be, and made eating a clean and easy job.

As for the burger itself, bloody hell. I decided there and then that this was the best burger I’d ever eaten, and no one will change my mind on that count. I dream of the tangy cheese, the smoked bacon, the light and chewy bun. This was fast food well done, and sorry Wannaburger: Eddie Rockets does it better.

Then again, when I told my friend Martin (a Galwegian) that I went to Eddie Rockets he thought I was mental. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been starved for burgery goodness in Edinburgh? As far as I’m concerned this was more than your usual meat and cheese slapped between two buns: it was perfection. Their late night opening hours pleased me too!

I’m sure there are much higher brow restaurants in Galway, but if you’re travelling on a budget like we were and want something tasty, Eddie Rockets should be your first port of call.

Eddie Rockets City Diner on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: McDonagh’s

On our first day in Galway we managed to shuffle some work around so that we could spend a day exploring. We wandered down to the Claddagh, drank in the atmosphere of the Latin Quarter, and decided to round it off with a tasty lunch of fish and chips. Sadly, the weather wasn’t at its best: and we’d left most of our winter clothes in Edinburgh. We still enjoyed it though, and I can only imagine the buzz here when the famous oyster festival is on the go.

Galway1

So where is one to go for fish and chips in Galway? There’s only one sensible answer it seems, and that’s McDonagh’s. It’s a seafood restaurant as well as a “chipper”, so we got a bit confused by the menu which mostly recounted their fancier wares, such as grilled salmon and sole.

They did have a board outside advertising their haggis suppers though, and a few folk were tucking into regular old fish and chips. In the end we just wandered up and asked for two fish and chipses, and the counter staff told us to take a seat in the restaurant. Well, that was easy! I suppose after eight months in France our confidence was knocked after so many waiting staff glaring at us (because our French is piss poor).

Best fish & chips ever
Best fish & chips ever

The restaurant was fairly quiet. The decor was sort of faux quaint, with murals of Irish fisherfolk decorating the walls. At first I thought maybe we’d stumbled into a tourist trap, but once the food arrived all of my fears were allayed. I swear, this is the best fish and chips I’ve ever eaten: and I’ve been to the Anstruther Fish Bar in its heyday. The batter was light and crisp, and the chips were lovely fat pieces of crunchy and creamy potatoey goodness. I reckon they were cooked in animal fat, they had that sort of rich flavour.

James disagreed with me about it being the best fish and chips, but he likes his batter soggy. What a weirdo, eh?

McDonagh’s gets two thumbs up from me, and I reckon all of their awards are most certainly well deserved.

McDonaghs Seafood Bar on Urbanspoon

The Great Irish Road Trip of 2013

Ireland

We had quite a lot of business to attend to in the UK. After catching up with everyone in Edinburgh it was time to drive down to Brighton (Hove, actually) so that James could have some meetings with one of his major clients. They were great fun: mucho booze was imbibed, and when I said “no” to one last glass of wine, there was a cheer as Mr Client realised he’d “drank the Scot under the table”. No mean feat, as my friends will tell you. *cough*

Anyway, after a few days of drinking and dining and working, it was time for us to move on. There’s only so much UK I can take, ya dig? Our next house sitting assignment wasn’t until May, so we decided to take a week and drive around James’s homeland: Ireland. This is probably the best year to visit, as the Irish tourist board are running their The Gathering campaign. Very similar to a campaign run by the Scottish tourist board a few years ago…

 

This was our itinerary:

19th – 21st April: visiting James’s uncles, aunts, and cousins in Co.Kildare

21st – 24th April: Galway (where I had the best fish and chips, the best burger, and journeyed to Connemara)

24th April: road trip through the Burren: featuring Kilmacduagh Monastery, Father Ted’s House, Lisdoonvarna, and the Cliffs of Moher

25th – 27th April: Cork

Needless to say it was an amazing trip, as driving in Ireland is a joy. Still, we could have done without the massive group of Jedwards on the ferry. I didn’t get a picture (dammit!) but seriously, there were about 16 English guys all dressed as Jedward for a stag do. The stroke of genius was that they were in pairs: so two were wearing red sparkly jumpsuits, two were wearing blue ones, and so forth. Poor Temple Bar mustn’t have known what hit it!

 

REVIEW: Tempus Summer 2013 Menu

Tempus, 25 George Street, 0131 240 7197

Ladies and gentlemen, my Edinburgh correspondent Euan is back with a bang! This time he’s managed to blag himself an invite to Tempus’s Summer Menu launch. That boy has connections, I tell thee. I’ve never been to Tempus, but I do remember an old friend saying that their chips are to die for. Closely followed by their French Martinis. This made me wonder why I haven’t been, and after seeing Euan’s verdict I reckon it’ll be a must visit on my next trip home. Anyway, enough blethering from me: heeeeere’s Euan!

Photo shamelessly nicked from Lynne's Facebook
Photo shamelessly nicked from Lynne’s Facebook

I was very excited when Lynne invited me to tag along to bloggers’ event at Tempus on George Street. I had had a pretty stressy day at work, so this was going to be welcome relief! I was also super excited about meeting Kirsty from Indigo Buttons, as I’ve recently become obsessed by her blog read a few of her posts…

After arriving in town and stopping off at The Queens Arms for the obligatory glass of wine (LOVE The Queens Arms), I headed along to Tempus to meet Lynne. I never knew that Tempus was part of the George Hotel, but it is, so there you go. This event was to launch their new summer me-en-you, and I was expecting a couple of drinks and a few trays of nibbles…and I would have been perfectly delighted with that. But no, it would seem that when Tempus does an event, IT DOES AN EVENT!

Strolling in past the punters we were met by the lovely Toni from DADA who checked our name on the clipboard, we’re in. We then got handed a massive tumbler of cocktail, Elderflower Tattoo, which is made with Sailor Jerry Rum, this was looking good! It was very refreshing and perfect for a summer evening. We then took our seat with Kirsty and her mate at a table for four. Why were there 6 wine glasses in front of me, surely not…..

The general manager then introduced the evening, followed by the executive chef. We were made to feel so welcome, and the management at Tempus are clearly proud of what they have to offer. The chef even offered to show us round the kitchen if we fancied it later on. The wine supplier spoke to us all about the varieties of wine on offer as I began to become delirious with anticipation.

Then the food started to arrive. Each ’round’ of three dishes were presented on a rectangular plate with a big enough portion for Lynne and I to share. This was exactly the same format for the starters, mains and deserts. They did have the full versions of each dish presented at the back of the restaurant for us to look at.

I’ll be honest, I have been known to be difficult to please, but I was blown away by the starters. My particular favourite was the buffalo mozzarella with 6 month cured Coppa ham, and this was only marginally in front of the rope grown mussels. I don’t normally like mussels, but these were perfect. Each ’round’ was matched with a wine which was perfectly selected by the wine supplier. The company wasn’t bad either, I thought that I had landed in some parallel universe!

The mains did not disappoint. I was trying to decide which was my favourite between the sea bream and the belly of pork (with braised check FRITTER…), but then I had forgotten about the burger! The humble burger was elevated to new heights in Tempus. I don’t know why, but it was just the nicest burger (mini version) I have ever had. The meat is from the world famous Crombie’s butchers and the cheese is local. My mouth is watering at the memory.

Oh, I almost forgot about the wines…

Each wine was introduced by the very knowledgeable supplier who did the rounds during the night. We were treated to 3 whites and 3 reds to match our courses. The range of wines was excellent and each one was very easy to sup away at. None of your three for a tenner here!

The deserts were presented beautifully on the same style of rectangular plates. My favourite was absolutely the Illy coffee and Valrona white chocolate crème brulee served in a cappuccino cup. And then the pineapple carpaccio with panna cotta and coconut ice cream, and then the lemon tart with clotted cream ice cream, and the cheese, and the wine. The sticky toffee pudding was a wee bit dry, but who am I to complain!

To round off the evening the waiter offered us a full glass of our favourite wine from the night, mine was the viognier (of course)!

BUT THEN, the General Manager felt that because it was such a lovely night he would take us on a quick tour of the hotel and up to the ’Panorama Suite’ for some champagne. The suite itself is beautiful and would be ideal for a wee wedding or posh birthday party. The roof terrace was unbelievable with brilliant views over Edinburgh and out to Fife, I felt like a superstar supping on my never ending glass of champers.

Needless to say I was in danger of overindulging, so Jack had to pick me up at 11pm (it was a school night after all!). Having never been in Tempus or the George Hotel before I would thoroughly recommend them. The menu was varied and surprisingly reasonable. Writing this blog has made me desperately want to book a table for tonight, and that’s what I think I might do…

Euan was enjoying himself too much to take any snaps, but you can see some lovely photos over at the equally lovely Lynne’s blog

Tempus on Urbanspoon

REVIEW: La Tasca

La Tasca, 9 South Charlotte Street, 01312200011

Edinburgh 039
Ronnie and Carol, aka my folks, aka Today’s Guest Reviewers

I was sitting in Edinburgh Airport waiting for my Ryanair flight back to Faro when I got an email from La Tasca’s PR company asking if I would be interested in reviewing their West End restaurant: which was awarded a 2013 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.

More interestingly, they’ve also got seven new daily specials created by their chef Antony Bennett. Each one is prepared with ingredients sourced from the best Spanish producers. 

The thought of ‘missing my flight’ did cross my mind, but in the end I decided to ask my mum and dad if they would like to go in my stead. Here’s what they thought!

Ronnie and I were delighted to try out this eatery in the very picturesque Charlotte Square, in Edinburgh’s West End. We are particularly partial to tapas due to the wide variety of tastes and dishes offered. I also think Spanish cuisine is very under rated compared to their Italian, and especially, their French continental cousins.

The restaurant was reasonably busy for a Wednesday evening. We were greeted by a friendly waitress who seated us by the big window. The atmosphere was friendly due to the clientele (a mix of families, couples and ladies who dine), colourful décor and Enrique Iglesias playing in the background.

I ordered the white house wine (Torres Vina Sol) which is very pleasant on the pallet, and Ronnie had a pint of Estrella (the beer of Barcelona) while we mused over the menu. There is no shortage of tempting tasty bites and being the adventurous souls that we are, we ordered the Spanish Rustic Bread Board with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip.

Seriously though, there is nothing that warms my heart more than a lovely bit of bread. I nearly overlooked it as a delight, being brought up with a ‘sliced pan’ which has its place, but tastes and feels nothing like the selection of bread here: all very fresh and tasty. The tortas was a good contrast in texture to the ciabatta and the cheese & onion bread.

Getting Started with Beer, Bread, and Anchovies
Getting Started with Beer, Bread and Anchovies

Appetites whetted, we progressed to order a selection of the all new ‘chef’s specials’. We ordered them all at once. Being Scottish, we are somewhat conditioned to be in a hurry and make sure we do not out stay our welcome. Not the spirit of tapas, I know, but I think most people in Edinburgh will order this way.

So our selection comprised of four dishes. First up, Amazing Spanish White Anchovies from Madrid. Right up our street! Slithers of tangy oily fish. Dare I say it…a pallet cleanser. Ronnie was particularly fond of this choice, despite the fact his belly was full of the lion’s share of the bread and dip (as well as the beer of Barcelona).

Slow cooked pork cheeks served with creamed mash potatoes. This was a fabulous choice. The meat melted in our mouths and the potato mash actually tasted like potatoes! There was also a sauce that balanced the dish…flavoured with aniseed and brandy. Yummy!

Galician Octopus with patatas. I really liked the flavour of this dish, especially the patatas! Unlike patatas bravas, they were not spicy hot. They were just seasoned very nicely. Unfortunately the octopus was very chewy. Do not get me wrong, we do not expect octopus to melt in our mouths but…we did expect to be able to chew it. Fortunately, Ronnie has a knack for swallowing things whole so he had most of the octopus and I got the tatties.

L-R: Galician Octopus, Aubergine Rolls, Pork Cheeks
L-R: Galician Octopus, Aubergine Rolls, Pork Cheeks

Stuffed Aubergine Rolls. Our favourite by far! This was a tangy dish of flavoursome goodness. Everything about this dish was, in my view, just lovely and sums up everything I adore about Spanish food. The Aubergines were stuffed with tomatoes, peppers and goat cheese. Perfect!

I do not usually bother with dessert but on this occasion I wanted to try the fat free sorbet. Not because I am on a diet (never been on one in my life) but because I thought it would be nice to review something for those who are watching their weight. I had a scoop of lemon and a scoop of strawberry. It was nice and fruity without being too sweet and best of all, no ice crystals.

Ronnie went for the full fat Malaga gelato with Pedro Ximenez Triana, aka rum and raisin ice cream with a lovely fine tasting sherry. All ice cream lovers should try this at least once.

Malaga Ice Cream with Pedro Ximinez
Malaga Ice Cream with Pedro Ximinez

In sum, the food in La Tasca is what food should be: fresh, tasty and satisfying. The service was friendly and efficient and the waitresses had a good knowledge and passion for the food they served. We will certainly be back.

La Tasca on Urbanspoon

RECIPE: Quick, Easy, Vegan Chickpea Curry

I’ve got some pretty exciting news: James and I have officially moved in together!

It’s true that we have been unofficially living together as house sitters for a year or so, but as of Monday we’ve been renting our first flat together. It’s in the town of Alcala de Guadaira, 15km south of Seville. There’s not much information about the town online, so we’re enjoying the feeling of exploring a new place without the help of wikitravel or Time Out.

Alacala de Guadaira 1 049

Just after we moved in, I whipped up this chickpea curry as a light lunch. We were surprised at how good it tasted for minimal effort, considering how much of a pain in the bum it was to make a curry using the recipe in the Takeaway Secrets book.

You know what? I love this chickpea curry on a crusty bread roll. It reminds me of a really good veggie burger. As James pointed out, it’s vegan too.

That got me thinking that this is the perfect summer barbecue recipe to have on hand if you’ve invited a troupe of vegetarians or vegans to your backyard soiree. Or indeed, if you’re a veggie/vegan yourself and want something quick and hearty for tea. If you just want to cut down your meat intake. Or if you’re hungry and want something tasty to put in your face.

It takes less than 15 minutes to whip up, and it’s a lot tastier than a barbecued Quorn sausage. I say that as an ex vegetarian myself.

RECIPE: Quick, Easy, Vegan Chickpea Curry
Recipe Type: Lunch
Cuisine: Indian
Author: Jemma Porter
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3
Quick easy vegan curry. Perfect for barbeque season, as it tastes great on a roll as a veggie burger alternative.
Ingredients
  • 3 x cloves of garlic
  • 1 x handful of diced green pepper
  • 1/2 a small white onion, diced
  • 1 x jar of chickpeas
  • 1 tsp medium curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • Enough passata to coat
  • 1 x sprinkle Maldon sea salt
Instructions
  1. Chop the garlic up finely and fry with the onions and peppers for a few minutes, until the pepper and onion soften
  2. Add the chickpeas and stir. Cook for another few minutes.
  3. Sprinkle in the chilli and curry powder, stir to coat everything evenly
  4. Squeeze in the passata. You want to make sure that everything is coated with tomato, but that there’s not too much spare sauce.
  5. Simmer and sprinkle in some Maldon salt before serving

I know it’s a bit of a cheat using curry powder, but life’s too short to go whipping out the ground coriander and turmeric. Especially when you could be outside soaking up the sunshine: god knows we Brits don’t get enough of it!