Cheap Eats in Cork

Cork

After picking up a bumper box of Barry’s Tea in James’s home town of Bandon, we drove on to our next stop: Cork. Unfortunately, our B&B was a 2km walk away from the city centre,  but after all of the fried and stodgy Irish food we’d been feasting upon it was probably a good thing. We had a pretty chilled out time wandering around the shops, meeting up with James’s old school friends, and running a couple of errands.

Although Cork probably has plenty of great high end restaurants, our bellies are unfortunately dictated by our purse strings. There’s no point in pretending that this is a Foodies Guide to Cork, but if you happen to be in the Rebel City and want some cheap eats then you could do worse than these places. In fact, there’s an example at the end that shows you just how worse you could do!

Istanbul Kebab House

Cork 011

For lunch it was a toss up between kebab, and pizza. I’m really glad that kebab won, because this restaurant was an absolute joy. It reaffirmed in my head what I’d already decided about Irish food; although it’s generally not very exciting, people really make an effort to get the quality right. When I spotted a guy behind the counter rolling out and baking his own flatbreads, I was satisfied that we’d made the right lunchtime decision. Nothing can beat freshly made flatbread. Topped off with tasty cubed lamb, chilli sauce, and garlic mayo this was definitely one of the best kebabs I’ve ever had.

The English Market

If you’re spending a weekend in Cork, get yer arse down here. Unlike the expensive Edinburgh farmer’s markets which seem to be a playground for yuppies with more money than they know what to do with, the English Market is actually pretty good in terms of budget. We found a lovely cake stall where you could get a massive slice of Chester Cake for one Euro. For the uninitiated, Chester Cake is basically all of yesterday’s leftover cakes mixed up together and iced. Bloody tasty, and an amazing idea. Although who has leftover cake, apart from bakeries?

Gourmet Burger Bistro

Burger Bistro

 

Although I wouldn’t have minded popping into the Cork branch of Eddie Rocket’s after my amazing experience in Galway, James convinced me that we should probably try a local place. Enter Gourmet Burger Bistro. They had a very interesting menu, and it took me about ten minutes of hand wringing to actually settle on the daily special; lamb, caramelised apple, and goats cheese. It was extremely tasty.James had the spicy lamb kofta burger, which was nicely spiced and came with a lovely lamb kofta. All of the burgers came with a cute little flag on top denoting the country of origin. It would be easy to eat here for a week trying a new burger every night without getting bored.

Lennox’s Chipper

JamesPhone 064

Paying a visit to this Cork institution had been on the to-do list of our Irish road trip all along. To paraphrase Gary Tank Commander, every radge likes chips but there are few radges who enjoy chips more than this radge right here. I was convinced by the Yelp reviews and James to do as the locals do and get my chips slathered with a combo of garlic mayo and cheese. Unfortunately this combination was too rich for me (give me good old salt ‘n’ sauce any day) and kind of drowned out the flavour of the chips, which were certainly very tasty in their own right. Oh, if you’re interested in craft beer, head to the off license across the road as they have a great selection.

And the worst…

Dashi Deli

The only time I was unimpressed with a meal in Ireland was at this sushi bar. Sitting in the window picking at my ‘raw fish’ platter of tiny, malformed nori, I was reminded of the Boots sushi that I used to pick at when I didn’t fancy a sandwich for my meal deal. To be honest, alarm bells should have started ringing when I looked at the menu and saw that they didn’t have any rainbow rolls or other sushi restaurant mainstays.

So that’s that. A whirlwind of eating on the cheap in Cork, while still somehow managing not to drink any alcohol…

 

Bumming around the Burren

Well, it wouldn’t be the ultimate Irish road trip if we didn’t actually do any driving or sightseeing, would it? When we left Galway we had a free day before our arrival in Cork, so we spontaneously booked a hotel in Killarney and got ready for a day of sightseeing. The only two places that we had on our hitlist were the Cliffs of Moher and Father Ted’s house: but we ended up discovering a few other beautiful places on the way.

RoadTrwip

I’ve got to tell you something that might ruin your childhood. Father Ted’s house isn’t actually on Craggy Island. Nope. It’s in an, admittedly craggy, part of Ireland called “The Burren”. Father Ted doesn’t live in the house, either. It belongs to a family who have lived there for over 20 years. James said it must have got a bit awkward when Ted, Dougal, Jack and Mrs Doyle were all hanging out in the living room: and I had to ruin his childhood by explaining that those scenes were probably filmed on a set in Dublin.

Father Ted

Sadly, we didn’t realise until that day that you can actually have afternoon tea in Father Ted’s house. We thought it would be rude to ring the family first thing in the morning and ask them to bake for us, so we missed out. But if you’re planning on heading down to the Parochial House I reckon you should give them a call! I could have killed for a nice cup of Barry’s and a cream scone.

As we were driving on the back roads towards the famous farmhouse, we stumbled upon Kilmacduagh Monastery, which dates back to the 7th Century. We parked the car and took some time to roam around the ancient buildings. The most interesting building was the uniquely Irish 30m high round tower; the door is 7m from ground level. During attacks, the monks would climb in with a ladder then pull the ladder inside so that they were safe.

Awesome Ruins

We continued on our way to Father Ted’s pad: if you’re interested in paying a visit yourself, the coordinates are 53°0’37″N 9°1’50″W. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a photo at the front gate, although I did feel a little bit nervous as I could see members of the family milling about and thought they might shout at us! On the contrary they were very friendly, and even waved hello.

We drove away rather elated, and then noticed a footpath leading into the Burren National Park. We decided it would be nice to stretch our legs and have a little wander. We didn’t go very far, but we saw loads of rocks and a gigantic hare. The landscape was really interesting, very rocky, and very: well, barren. It’s easy to see why this area was chosen as “Craggy Island”.

Burren

 

Our next stop was the Cliffs of Moher, but as luck would have it our sat nav took us through Lisdoonvarna: just in time for lunch!  I’ve become slightly obsessed with Lisdoonvarna after watching a highly bizarre and hilarious TV show on BBC Alba where two Gaelic lassies from Scotland head off to Lisdoonvarna’s famous matchmaking festival to find a man. Sadly we were there in the off season, but we did find the Matchmaker Bar : which had a sign outside proudly proclaiming that “some matches are made in heaven, but the best are made in Lisdoonvarna”.

Lisdoonvarna

We grabbed some fish and chips in the Irish Arms. It was surprisingly good pub grub, considering we were the only people in the bar and considering it was the off season. To be honest, I was vastly impressed by the general quality of food in Ireland. Sure, I didn’t eat anything exciting, but the amount of care and attention that went into the food made it taste far better than anything I’ve ever eaten in Scotland. There was maybe one meal I had during my time in Ireland that I didn’t enjoy, but we’ll get to that.

After digesting, we drove onwards to the Cliffs of Moher: where they charge you 6 Euro each to get in. SIX EURO EACH! Bloody fortune. Of course, it was definitely worth it to see these beautiful cliffs and gaze out over Ireland’s Atlantic Coast. I don’t really like being high up, so I was a wee bit nervous. The cliffs stand about 702 feet tall: the same size as The Wall in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, fact fans.

Cliffs of Moher

We decided since we’d paid a bloody fortune to get in that we’d visit the mysteriously titled “Cliffs of Moher Experience!”. Sadly this was just a room where a screensaver of the Cliffs of Moher was playing. Errr. We beat a hasty retreat, and then James enjoyed an espresso in the gift shop while I slurped down a Mr Whippy ice cream because I’m a child.

Understandably, by the time we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Killarney we were knackered. We didn’t have the energy to walk all the way into town and explore that too, so I’m ashamed to say we just wandered next door to the Chinese restaurant for our dinner.

Still, it was an amazing day of exploring: and I’d highly recommend it as part of the essential Irish road trip!

Next time: Cork!

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!

 

Irish Cream Liqueur Topped Cakes

This afternoon I found myself with a free day: boyfriend off driving, flatmate at her niece’s christening: so I decided to have a browse through some cupcake recipes and see what I could knock up. One recipe that caught my eye was an Irish cream cupcake. What better way to use up that leftover Christmas Baileys?

It’s been a while since I last got into the kitchen: unless you count my disastrous attempt at making pitta breads last week. Why. Won’t. You. Puff. Up!?

Anyway, here’s the cast of characters.

It's a piece of cake to make a pretty cake, apparently

First things first: get your equipment organised. I bought this cool bowl set a few years ago when I first decided to get into baking, and I loves it to bits.

Pretty AND Practical

The first step is mixing the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, and chocolate chips. I weighed the flour first and seived it into the bowl. I couldn’t find dark chocolate chips in my local supermarket, so I made my own. Using a *ahem* good quality dark chocolate, cut it into pieces with a knife. That should do the trick.

Just chop it any old way

Next, add the wet ingredients. Creme Fraiche, oil and eggs. Sadly my measuring jug starts at 200ml (grrr) so I had to kind of guesstimate the oil (150 ml) and creme fraiche (100 ml). It worked out fine but really baking is an exact science so if you have the time/equipment you should be more precise.

Goopy Goop

Now beat it into submission! I got this far before I realised I’d not added the cocoa powder, oops!

Forgotten something?

Keep going until it looks nice and smooth and fudgey, like this:

Nice and smooth

Fill up the muffin cases to two thirds and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes I conducted the toothpick test (insert a toothpick into the center: if it comes out clean then they’re ready to eat) and they weren’t done, so I put them in for an extra 5 minutes. While they’re cooking you could do something productive like dye your hair or hoover the living room.

Once you take them out, leave them to rest while you make the indulgent Irish Cream frosting.

Baked cakes

The recipe mentions 60g of softened butter, twice. In these circumstances I ask myself, what would Ree Drummond do? Why, she’d go for the 120g right? Right!

Now if you’re a smartypants like me, you’d measure out your butter and leave it to soften from the very start. Add a splash of Baileys (or supermarket own brand Irish Cream, whatevs) to proceedings: I used the hazelnut one because I’m fancy and it’s all we had in the flat.

Frosting

Then (silver) spoon in your icing sugar and beat it until it’s light and fluffy and delicious. Try not to coat your kitchen in icing sugar. After doing this I’m of the firm belief that we ladies wouldn’t need pilates, the gym, or Davina McCall workout DVDs if we just baked at home a little more. My arms, owwww!

If you’re a fancy pants with a piping bag, pipe a lovely design on top of your chocolatey cakes. If you’re me, just smoosh it on top any old way with a butter knife.

Who needs cake decorating classes? Me? Oh.

Take your first bite and say: “OMG that’s sweet!” I’d recommend cutting the sugar by half if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Although it’s a very handy preservative, as these were still good a few days later.

The recipe site I used suggested that these little beauties are “Best eaten watching a soppy chickflick!” But I can highly recommend them as a post karaoke  drunken treat for friends after a very memorable night out that you can’t remember the next day. I speak from experience here.

RECIPE :: Beef & Guinness “Pie”

There’s a level of debate amongst my friends about when winter truly begins. Many of them argue that since it’s still November,  right now can’t be considered winter.  We’re still technically in Autumn. But I reckon that when it’s dark outside at half past four, texting on the go is a no-no (unless you want frost-bite) and stepping outside without a big faux fur coat on results in noisy teeth chattering, we’re probably not a kick in the arse off it.

Every year I say “this is the last summer I’m going to spend in Scotland” and every year I mean it. The problem is I get distracted over the summer and think it’s not so bad. But I forget what it’s like queuing for ages at a bus stop for a bus that doesn’t come, wading through six inches of snow in a pair of canvas shoes, and the general darkness of it all.

I’m going to try hard not to be grim. There are lots of nice things about winter, too. The way that the frost glitters on the ground, Christmas, and (best of all) the perfect excuse to cook comfort food without feeling like a big fat heifer. Beef and Guinness pie, anyone?

I whipped this up a couple of weeks ago, basing it on Donal Skehan’s recipe.  I served it with roast winter veggies and creamy mash. I’m still not 100% there yet, but it was damn tasty and I wanted to share. If you try making this let me know how you got on, and thanks to Donal for the inspiration.

Continue reading “RECIPE :: Beef & Guinness “Pie””

Irish Contraband!

Although I love travelling,  I hate having to travel for work. Usually it involves getting up at the unholy time of before 8am and then rushing through airport security in business clothes. I end up spending the whole day feeling slightly out of it from lack of sleep as well as constantly having my mind on getting back to the airport in time.

So you can imagine my joy when my work told that I was being sent to Dublin to attend a conference.  Actually, instead of being a Grumpy McLumpy I decided to look on the bright side and used it as an excuse to bring my lovely boyfriend some of his home comforts from the Emerald Isle, which can be quite hard to get here in Scotland. He wrote me a list and I spent the day explaining to everyone that no, I wasn’t staying overnight and that the little suitcase I was dragging around was empty and ready to be filled with Irish contraband.

I managed to nip into Tesco en route to the airport and got everything he was after. Although I did get some funny looks at the self service checkout when I started packing everything into my suitcase!

He was pretty happy with the haul!

Irish Food
Tasty Irish Yumminess

What we have here is;

2 x multipacks of Taytos. These are basically the Irish national crisps (if such a thing exists). Legend has it that when Ryanair commuter flights to London first started, there were loads of popping noises as the plane took off; due to the amount of Tayto bags on board reacting to cabin pressure.

2 x packs of King Crisps. These are similar to Taytos, but a bit… posher, I suppose. They’re less greasy.

2 x boxes of Barry’s Tea. One premium (red box), one regular (green box). This tea has a cult following, and is definitely stronger and more satisfying than Tetleys. I noticed a box on display in Mellis’s cheesemongers on Victoria Street, so this could be a new source to keep my man satisfied in future.

2 x rolls of Clonakilty black pudding. This is a bit different to Scottish black pudding in that it’s oatier, like haggis. It’s produced just down the road from where my boy used to live so he was very pleased when I managed to nab some as he thought it might be difficult to find (although they sell it in the supermarket like it aint no thang).

This was about all I could fit in my Ryanair sized hand-luggage (I had to squeeze my hand bag in there too once I reached my gate) but I managed to get everything James asked for.

I’ve never lived anywhere aside from Edinburgh, but I can imagine that if I move to another country there will be a few things that I’ll miss. Particularly an Irn Bru and haggis roll after a heavy night on the Brewdog!

RECIPE :: Irish Beef Cobbler

Irish CobblerAfter a few dismal restaurant experiences in recent weeks (I’m looking at you, Igg’s)  I’ve started to wonder if really I’m better off staying at home. The food tastes how I want, the wine is better quality, and generally there’s less to stress out about. A mid-week Irish stew/cobbler which I threw together with my other half pretty much reaffirmed this.

I’m not sure if it’s actually an Irish recipe, but since my Irish boyfriend taught me it, and since it was passed down from his mother who’s also Irish, I reckon their people should get some credit.

Do try this at home.

Continue reading “RECIPE :: Irish Beef Cobbler”