Sunday, June 13, 2010

Taste of Dublin Festival

As any or most Dublin foodies will know, the talk of the past four days will have been dominated by one thing and one thing only: the Taste of Dublin Festival. For the last five years it has landed itself in the Iveagh Gardens, playing host to some of the biggest names in the British and Irish celebrity chef circles, many of Dublin’s finest restaurants and innumerable food related companies from Dubliner cheese to Lindt chocolates and Aga cooking stoves. If that wasn’t enough, free entertainment in the form of fashion competitions, barber shop quartets and live music are all thrown in as part of the package. It’s a literal day at the races, minus any horses! Which – given it’s supposed to be all about food - I’m glad is the case.

This year’s festival was particularly significant given that it was my first outright Taste of Dublin experience. Yup, shameful for somebody who calls themselves a Dublin foodie! The truth is that I’ve only started to properly stick my head into the city’s food scene since starting up Consumed, so whatever happened afterwards was always going to be a series of adventures into unexplored territory. What a difference a blog makes, eh?

I’d bought two Taste of Dublin tickets each for myself and Rebecca; one set for the early opening on Friday and the second for Saturday evening (each ticket cost roughly forty euro, but this included twenty Euro worth of ‘florins’ to spend at the festival). I figured that this would be the best way to see what difference the weekend made to it all, as well as just varying the overall experience. A visit on Sunday had been part of the original plan since my old classmate and fellow blogger Donal Skehan was doing a demonstration at the event, but a few whispers about the food petering out by then and - more importantly – my holidays ending on Saturday meant that this idea quickly flew out the window.

So it was that by half twelve on Friday, give or take a small bank balance disaster, Rebecca and I strolled past a handful of bouncers and into the almost unrecognisable Iveagh Gardens. Knowing little to nothing about the layout I’d expected it to be centred mostly around the middle of the park but you literally could not walk anywhere without coming face to face with a pavilion of some kind.

Not that I was complaining, we immediately launched toward the first row we saw and grabbed every last morsel of complimentary food we could beg for, borrow or steal! There was plenty to choose from; Tropicana, Green & Blacks chocolate, spiced hams, Dubliner cheese, Prosecco, smoked salmon and many, many more. The best part was, of course, that given the volume of people passing by, it was easy enough to do a lap and shamelessly gobble up a second helping of each one! Rebecca summed it up perfectly in pointing out on our seventh time around that having a cup of Tropicana was like collecting out €200 on passing ‘Go’.

There was also plenty of food available to buy. In fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that the majority of bites on offer would have cost you! Nearly every second stall represented one of Dublin’s restaurants or cafés, amongst which you could find Roly’s Bistro, Jaipur, the comparatively new Salon de Saveurs and Town Bar and Grill.

All in all, nearly twenty restaurants were represented with backup from several food companies and associations also producing their own dishes. Over the course of two days Rebecca and I had a chance to sample a wide range of what was being catered, the highlights of which for me were Jaipur’s Tawa Gosht (slow cooked lamb with aniseed and curry leaved griddled in a light onion and tomato masala) and Bramble’s beer battered fish and chips with a minted mushy peas. I even got a photo of my dish from Salon de Saveurs with Conrad Gallagher himself!

Whilst the food itself was delicious, the prices being charged for each individual helping were just appalling. One florin equates to one Euro, and many of the signature main dishes hit the seven or eight florin mark, despite information about the festival claiming that the average price of the dishes on offer would be just five. Many that you did actually pay five for turned out to be little more than a small plastic cupful of strawberries and cream. In a nutshell, genuine bargains were practically nonexistent. Given, many of the restaurants are well reputed in and about the Dublin food scene but rational thinking would dictate that to promote the food you cook and entice diners into your restaurant proper, you would offer a proportionately better or discounted price. This is particularly relevant to a festival environment where you would expect the emphasis to be on creating a more inclusive experience. I don’t even need to begin talking about how the ‘R’ word should also be playing on the minds of whoever deems such ludicrous prices suitable. To put it another, simpler way, it felt like paying to get into a music festival but then being made to pay five euro every time a band played a song.

Thankfully and as you’d expect, the cooking presentations were, for the most part, free. We were lucky enough to squeeze into a presentation by the notorious Gino D’Acampo who spent as much time flirting with his army of female fans as he did cooking!

The end result was a pesto tagliatelle, tiramisu and plenty of culinary innuendo. For both lack of time and the difference in the number of people attending on Saturday we didn’t stay around long enough to watch a second presentation. It was however truly remarkable to witness not even the slightest let up in how quickly the food was being served, despite the park being about three times busier by my estimation!

Ultimately, I learned three things from my two-day visit to the Taste of Dublin Festival. The first two were very simple lessons: only buy tickets for one day and don’t make assumptions about how holiday pay is dispersed! The third, unfortunately, is far more serious and in all honesty, upsetting to think about. Taste of Dublin is advertised not only as the definitive food festival of this fair city, but also as ‘the world’s greatest restaurant festival’, or so claims the official website. The latter is a bit dubious and you all no doubt will agree but regardless, it’s puts out there as the gathering that should define interest in Irish food both as a pleasure and business. Indeed, food is something that unifies everybody in a fundamental way given that it’s something that everybody must and will experience throughout their entire lives. Despite all of this, the only feeling I got in walking around the grounds of Iveagh Gardens for those two days was one of threatening exclusivity. The stocky bouncers siphoning you into lines at the gateway; the well dressed socialites proudly displaying their ‘VIP’ tags; the shockingly overpriced cups of strawberries and cream; all of this drags the implied idea behind the festival kicking and screaming into the background where it becomes little more than an accessory to a fashionable outing.

Think for a moment of any decent food market or street festival you’ve been to. What defined them? For me, it’s low prices, fresh and good food, great smells, lively atmosphere and a generally all inclusive feel. Taste of Dublin features only one of those qualities, which itself is mired in the issue of cost. The atmosphere is stiff and the smells of any actual cooking are sealed in by screens and tarps, lest the festival-goers be exposed to the visual horror of somebody working a stove. What summed it all up in spectacular irony was that the guys manning the Donnybrook Fair stall handed us a Eton mess cup (five florins) on the sly which, had you bought the ingredients in their shop, would probably have set you back less than a euro. They understood, and looked to be trying to make as much of a laugh of it they could.

To summarise, the food on offer at Taste of Dublin was everything it ought to be and delicious. The presentations were fun and the weather played ball which made walking around during the quieter hours a pleasant experience. On a whole, the festival itself felt more like a celebration of food elitism, with less attention given to the former. It typified the refusal of certain castes within Dublin city to acknowledge how things have changed since the early noughties, and that the exclusivity associated with eating out has been somewhat broken down over the past twenty years. I’d definitely attend again based on the fact that I try to keep up with Dublin’s dining scene and write about it, but my advice to anybody with a just a casual interest in food would be to stay well away and visit one of Dublin’s weekend marketplaces instead. They’re cheaper, friendlier, and unequivocally aimed at food lovers.

Taste of Dublin Festival
June 10th - 13th,
Iveagh Gardens,
Clonmel Street,
Dublin 2

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Free Burrito Day at Boojum Fresh Mexican

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of being amongst Boojum's first customers. They arrived without so much as a whisper on the Millennium Walk, serving up burritos on the spot and other Mexican fare in keeping with the 'fast casual' style of catering that the US is so familiar with. The emphasis was squarely on fresh ingredients, and everything was made from scratch on the premises (for more info, check out the full review!). Roll on today and they've proven and instant hit with the everyday Dubliner, thanks in no small part I'm sure to yet another well run Facebook advertising campaign. Frozen mojito machines have been added, and in general it's looking like Boojum have established the benchmark for any other stop and go Mexican eatery looking to locate in Dublin's fair city.

That said, I'm pleased to announce that tomorrow, Boojum will be promoting themselves in the best way possible by offering everybody a free burrito. All day long. There's no catch, and you even have a choice between a normal burrito or fajita burrito! Service will begin at noon but at three o'clock there'll be a two hour break for the staff to regroup and tidy. After that, they're open 'til seven so there's plenty of time to stop in. And lets be honest, when there's an offer like this available then you have absolutely no reason not to.

See you all there, and lets do our best to keep the riots at a bare minimum!

Boojum Fresh Mexican
New Millennium Walkway,
Dublin 1

Tph: 01-8788152

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Quick and Simple Spicy Barbeque Marinade

Even though there's a deluge falling outside as I write, it's fair enough to say that the weather hasn't been too bad so far this summer. Well, comparitively I mean. Normally, May tends to be a bit of an annual wahsout in Ireland; this time around we actually managed a week or two of sustained sunny weather! The measure of which in this country is - typically - the number of barbeques you can smell at any given moment, for where there is smoke, there is sunshine.

In contributing to all of this, we've already fired up a good five or six! Mostly it's been for the sake of a proper, chargrilled burger but there's always room for a marinated barbeque chicken fillet. The problem was that when I went to actually make some a couple of weeks back, I quickly discovered that the barbeque marinade I though I had stored away wasn't actually there anymore. Disaster!

For whatever reason (panic induced meat craving?), I immediately decided in looking at the fridge that mixing ketchup with one or two other ingredients would probably produce something similar. Enter my two good friends, dark soy sauce and smoked paprika! A quick stir later and surprisingly, I had ended up with a substitute that was close enough to your average bottled barbeque marinade.

Yes, the end result is a little spicier than you'd expect, but given the recent rise in popularity of bottled Jamaican jerk chicken marinades, it isn't anything too offensive. It looks even better than the real thing with a fantastic rich darkness about it, and tastes about as close as you can get to that barbeque marinade flavour without investing more time or resorting to more elusive ingredients like liquid smoke. It'll never replace the real thing for most people, but it certainly provides a remarkably quick alternative if you have the ingredients on hand.

Serves 2 (or, enough marinate for 2 large chicken fillets)

4 tbs tomato ketchup
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Simply add all of the ingredients into a medium sized bowl and stir until properly mixed. You can add the meat you intend to marinate immediately, or store the sauce in a sealed container until you intend to use it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

World Cup Consolation with Authentic Bobotie

The sunshine’s been (for the most part) rolling in, I’m off on a week’s holiday with the Taste of Dublin Festival inclusive, my laptop is back from its own little excursion and in general, the summer’s turning out to be an almost perfect one! Well, I say almost perfect for a reason, one that almost everybody in Ireland no doubt understand over the next month. That’s right, it’s time for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa; minus the boys in green, sadly. Most of the nation will probably adopt the ABF (anyone but France) approach instead of the usual gloating over England’s routine failure, but since very few of us will see the point in making a trip to support a generic team, I figured it would be a good idea to bring a bit of South Africa up to Ireland instead. Just so, y’know, we don’t all feel left out for the next four weeks. What I discovered in my research was bobotie; not only the purported national dish of South Africa, but an extremely rewarding and versatile recipe. It also has a reputation for being excellent comfort food, which is exactly what all the disillusioned Irish football fans out there could use I’m sure!

What follows is my own assembly of ingredients based on averaging several different versions of bobotie from across the internet.

Serves 6

1kg fresh Irish pork mince
2 medium onions
3 cloves of garlic
2 slices of plain, white bread
2 large Eggs
1 lemon
Several bay leaves
A handful of seedless sultanas
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs malt vinegar
250ml milk
2 tbs chutney
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
1 tsp ground allspice berries

Roughly chop the two onions and finely slice the garlic cloves, then add to a large, deep frying pan. Cook over a medium heat until the onions begin to soften and become transparent. Now add the minced pork, stirring well to break down any chunks; a very fine texture is what you’re looking to achieve.

Once the minced pork had been suitably broken down and has begun to brown, add the malt vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, cardamom seeds and allspice berries. Stir well until all of the ingredients are well mixed. Now add the chutney (I stuck with mango in this case, since it was all I had available but there are any number of varieties to choose from!), sultanas and squeeze in the juice of the lemon, again stirring until properly mixed. Salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 170˚c and grease a large baking dish. Spoon the minced pork mixture into the dish and spread it out evenly. Place in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until it begins to turn a golden brown colour.

Whilst waiting for the minced pork to cook, prepare the topping for the bobotie. Remove the crusts from both slices of bread and soak in half of the milk. Squeeze to retain any excess milk out of the soaked bread and pour it back into the other half measure of milk. Mash the bread into a smooth paste, then add the eggs to the milk and beat until properly mixed. Finally, add the mashed bread paste to the egg and milk, stirring until fully broken down and the mixture thickens. Set aside.

Slice the banana thinly into several segments and place them evenly across the top of the minced pork. Pour the egg, milk and bread mixture evenly across the entire top surface, ensuring that it is completely covered. If not, simply repeat the topping steps with half measures to produce some extra mixture. Add several bay leaves to the topping and replace the dish into the oven until it begins to brown slightly.

Remove the bobotie and serve immediately with rice, chutney or a salad. Traditional bobotie is eaten with yellow rice and a chilli sauce called Sambal. It’s a wholesome and warming dish, so the perfect time to cook it (especially in this country!) would be the depths of winter. Nonetheless, its simplicity means that it’ll be a hit on any given day of the year. So whilst the rest of the world is having a taste of South Africa over the next month, get yourself involved instead of feeling left out and rustle some bobotie up!