Wednesday, 8 May 2013

O'Donnell's Bar - Amsterdam

The stag weekend continued on Marie Heinekenplein in Amsterdam, at O'Donnell's, a place that's ploughing the furrow of continental Irish pub with which many of us are all too familiar.
Bitterballen

It was situated on quite a nice city square spot, so suited us rather splendidly for a beer and a light snack, in the afternoon sunshine.

Now, I won't claim that the food on offer was particularly outstanding, but the situation merited a review as we were dressed in a quite outstandingly bonkers fashion.
Nachos

As I may have mentioned, there a good section of regular readers who are way more interested in the "what we wore" section as opposed to "what we ate". Many of these devotees were represented here today, so we couldn't but take the opportunity to give them their moment in the sun.

Aside from the stag, regally decked out as our reignin monarch, we had a blend of other royals, revolutionaries, presidents, and leaders from history, including Cardinal Richelieu, Tutankhamun, and a quite magnificent Maggie Thatcher. The challenges of retaining one's modesty while wearing a short skirt proved insurmountable, but the welcoming and attentive waiting staff at O'Donnell's managed to cope.
The journey to O'Donnell's

We ordered thirteen small beers, then considered the menu, which was of the pub snack variety. I extolled the virtues of bitterballen, which are the quintessential Dutch bar snack. Half way between a pork meatball and a croquette, they're served with mustard, usually in a portion somewhere between half dozen and a dozen. I've enjoyed them many times, to the extent that I've cooked them at home, and even have my own secret recipe for the little blighters.

My voice was not greatly heeded, though, with nachos, burgers, and many, many bowls of chips ordered, instead.

The food was all decent, performed its task admirably, and allowed us to proceed on our merry way with stomachs that thanked us for the brief respite from our otherwise liquid diet.

So overall, O'Donnell's will remember us, and we'll remember them. We'll remember a good refuelling feed, and they'll remember a pair of size 8 ballet pumps that we cast aside by Maggie Thatcher in favour of bare-footed hobbling. Its place in the collective memory is guaranteed.

Scores
Blythe scores O'Donnell's
3/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for setting
3.5/5 for service
giving an overall 13/20

Today's quester were: Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (2), King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands, Margaret Hilda Thatcher, William Jefferson Clinton (né Blythe), Barack Hussein Obama, the Duke of Edinburgh, Armand Jean du Plessis - the Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, Ho Chi Minh, Tutankhamun, Prince Charles, Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, Queen Elizabeth II

We ate: nachos, frites, bitterballen, burgers

We drank: Heineken

We wore: Presidential tie (2), combat fatigues (3), crown, purple Calvin Klein's, orange t-shirt, tweeds, military jacket, snake head-dress, grey beard, purple robes

Total bill: the bitterballen were €6, the beers were around €2.50

Ferdinand Bolstraat 5, Amsterdam
http://www.odonnellsirishpub.com

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

La Vaca Argentina - Amsterdam


Amsterdam! My visits, recently, have simply been for transit, either to countries further afield or to other parts of the Netherlands, so I was glad to get a chance to wander round the place for an afternoon. The main business of my visit was a stag weekend for regular guest quester, Malcolm (who has joined at Locanda de Gusti and Origano amongst other places), but I got a little oasis of calm to start my weekend with a relaxed lunch, prior to the arrival of the massed ranks of chaps.
Interior

After a wee stroll, I alighted upon a likely looking row of restaurants. I was tempted by one called Garlic Queen, which featured the Dracula-repelling bulb in just about every dish, but sadly it wasn't open, yet. Instead, I popped in to one of the many Argentinian steak places that populate the city centre.

This one was called La Vaca Argentina, and looked a smart if under-populated place. I guess there's not much demand for a steak dinner at 3pm when it's sunny outside.
Soup

Their menu was extensive, featuring a big range of meats, cuts and preparation styles. Argentinian goulash soup caught my eye, unsurprisingly, then I chose to follow that with a rump steak

Soup arrived promptly, in a big cup. It bore some flavour relationship to some previous goulashes I've had, but it wasn't the best soup in history. Solid but unspectacular would be the verdict.
Steak

The steak was entirely better, with an impressively large, accurately cooked and seasoned rump delivering good flavour and that unmistakeable meaty texture. The quality of the beef was good, and the execution was pleasing.

So overall, La Vaca Argentina served me very nicely, and fulfilled its function of giving me a good meal to remember while I shoved bad shawarma towards my face, in the few moments when I wasn't pouring lager down my neck, over the course of the rest of the weekend.

<b>Scores</b>
Blythe scores La Vaca Argentina
3.5/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
3.5/5 for setting
3/5 for service
giving an overall 13.5/20

Today's quester was: Blythe

I ate: Argentinian goulash soup; rump steak

I drank: red wine

I wore: brown suit

Total bill: €30.75

Reguliersdwarsstraat 8, Amsterdam
<a href="http://www.lavacarestaurant.nl/">http://www.lavacarestaurant.nl/</a>

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Butcher's Arms: Abbotskerswell: Devon.



Having been very remiss about remembering my duty as a roving reporter, I thought today was a good day to make amends. (Note the use of alliteration!)
So on a lovely mild and sunny day in December, the week leading to Xmas, it was time to visit and review the other local establishment in the village of Abbotskerswell, “The Butcher’s Arms”.
On first moving to this village over 5 years ago, we were warned that “The Butcher’s” wasn’t a great place for food, but in the last couple of years, with a new chef, it has improved by leaps and bounds…or so we were told!
It did not disappoint. The food is all cooked on the premises and the chef actually brings the food out to the tables when not too busy.
Four of us enjoyed a good meal. All four plates were well presented and there was plenty of quality food on the plate to fill even the emptiest of tums.

Sue had a board special of Meat Lasagne, chips and salad, which was well presented and equally good in the tasting.

Colin had one of his favourite dishes: a Fish Bake , which was equally good and again well presented.








John plumped for the Cod in Beer Batter with new potatoes which he polished off with no hesitation.

I was so very tempted to have the Steak with Stilton and Walnut sauce, but as my tummy hadn’t been so good this week decided to have a Rare Rump Steak with new potatoes, salad and coleslaw and onion rings. The steak was almost perfect, but lacked a crisp outer coat to cover the lovely juicy centre.

We decided against a desert as we were quite full and decided that a mince pie and coffee at Greystone (our place) would just finish things off nicely.
We dressed casually.
We drank J2O, beer, and fizzy water.
The cost was £41:75....not bad for a pub lunch !

General rating for: -
Presentation 4/5
Food 4/5
Ambience 3/5 sadly there were few people in at the height of lunchtime
maybe due to their being no Xmas lunch menu????
Service 4/5 

It is lovely to have two such good local pubs with excellent food in a small village like Abbotskerswell. We are, indeed, blessed.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stann & Olly's, Belfast

Black Friday in Belfast is generally the last Friday before Christmas. This is when 90% of business Christmas parties are held and as a result, the city centre is thronged. Despite being booked into another restaurant on the trendy Lisburn Road, we spotted the eyecatching Stann and Olly's diner on the Dublin road when parking the car. We were running slightly late anyway so decided to kill two birds with one stone by letting our intended fellow diners begin without us and trying out the diner!

As Laurel and Hardy fans both, we found it hard to suppress a smile as we walked to the US style diner. The walls are covered with pictures of the famous comedy duo and large screens run their silent movies non stop. We were immediately brought to a large booth and the charming waiter decided that Leo would like a pint of beer whilst I was to apparently have one of his home made Strawberry Daiquiris! The Daiquiri, which was made in my view, was wonderful!

From the extensive menu we selected Cheesy Nachos (£4.25) and Ribs with home made BBQ sauce (£4.05) for starters, with Leo opting for the Bacon and Cheese Burger (£8.75) whilst I chose The Marilyn Monroe, a wonderfully described BBQ chicken burger. The food arrived promptly and was far better than one would expect for the archetypal US diner. Both starter plates were completely cleared but the portions were so big that I did not quite manage to polish off the Marilyn, not for the lack of effort though- it was superb!


The bill came to a reasonable €34.55.

Whist chatting with Richard, he told us that they were only open for three weeks and that this was a “soft opening” before the proper launch in January sometime. If they manage to keep up these great standards, expect Stann and Olly’s to be a roaring success!

Stann & Olly's
18 Dublin Road
Belfast BT2 7HN

028 9023 1213

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Blackfriars, Newcastle


Blythe's Verdict
As a lunchtime treat on our little trip to Newcastle, to bathe in the glorious majesty that is Britney Spears' effulgent splendour, we popped along to Blackfriars, which boasts the UK's oldest dining room. It showcases local produce from the region, and if you ask nicely they'll even stretch to a mead-fuelled banquet in monastic and comely wench gear (although for that, you apparently need to bring your own spoon!).




The place is tucked neatly away, strangely enough just on the edge of Newcastle's Chinatown. It's probably not the kind of spot where you'd expect to meet four revellers fuelling-up for a Britney gig, but we were probably not your typical Spears devotees (they were already queuing outside the Metro Radio Arena, as we sat down to lunch).

Friendly waitresses welcomed us to the dining area that radiated medieval chic from every carefully turned stonework arch. And if we thought we'd escaped the tendrils of TFGE's topic of the month, 'from the tree', we were wrong, as an ancient looking item was growing in the very restaurant, clutched to a corner for dear life.

The lunch menu showed an attractive looking lunch deal, with two courses available for £12, from a generous selection of freshly prepared dishes.


In a rare aberration, I was tempted away from my usual furrow, opting to start with the black-pudding topped with a poached egg, served with brown sauce.


Soup wasn't far away, though, as Milo opted for the spiced parsnip soup. I had a little taste and it had a real depth of flavour, was rich and dark, indicating real good carmelisation from roasting the parsnips, and was quite unlike your usual version of this classic soup.


My starter was excellent. The generous slab of home-produced black pudding was expertly prepared. The poached egg offered just the right amount of goo to moisten the dish, with the fruity notes of the brown sauce adding a tidy little finish. The micro-herb coriander made the dish look very pretty, but lead it off towards a powerfully divergent vignette, so perhaps could have been replaced with something equally pretty, but a touch more subtle.


MJ's smoked salmon starter was good, although the texture was a little unusual.


The risotto looked good and tasted good.


I was hung-up on whether to go for the steak or the shepherd's pie, but our waitress steered me towards the latter. It was an excellent piece of guidance. Delving through the potato topping revealed beautifully tender pieces of lamb, with nuggets of sweet carrot. It really was first class.


The accompanying vegetables were simply prepared, but beautifully fresh. The ingredients could be allowed to speak for themselves, and they eloquently did so.


The fish and chips, sampled by Hannah and Milo, looked very good. MJ enjoyed her main course portion of the risotto, too.


We were pretty full after that, but we contemplated the desserts, momentarily. We opted for coffees to round out what had been an enjoyable introduction to Newcastle's dining scene.


Overall, I was impressed by Blackfriars. It has translated the impulse towards showcasing local ingredients into an excellent and varied menu, offering good hearty fare. The setting is something rather special, too. I'd recommend you pay it a visit, next time you're in the neighbourhood.

Scores

Blythe scores Blackfriars:
4/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
4/5 for setting
3/5 for service
Giving an overall 14/20

MJ scores Blackfriars:
3/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
4/5 for setting
3/5 for service
Giving an overall 13/20

Today's Lunch Questers were: Miriam, Hannah, Milo, Blythe

We wore: pony bling, tweed, ninja badge, all-purpose clubbing footwear.

We ate: spiced parsnip soup, risotto (starter portion), black pudding, smoked salmon, risotto (main course portion), fish and chips (x2), shepherd's pie

We drank: Pilsner Urquell, water, coffees

Total bill: c.£70

Elephant & Castle, Dublin


If you type "Elephant and Castle Dublin" into Google, it will automatically prompt you to add "chicken wings" to your search, such is the popularity of the house dish.

Elephant & Castle, in the centre of Dublin's bustling Temple Bar tourist hub, has been open since 1989. It differs from most other eateries in the area in that the majority of the clients are local, it is always busy and it is extremely rare to walk in and get a table immediately.

We arrived at about 3pm on a Friday afternoon and were lucky to be seated within 5 minutes. The waiting staff were busy to the verge of being overworked but took our drinks orders immediately.

I ordered an Elderflower Cordial, whilst Leo plumped for the "Home Made Ginger Beer" while we perused the extensive and unusual menu. It was immediately noticable that most of the customers just ordered "the wings", some not even needing a menu to make their decision! I ordered the Pear and Stilton Salad, with toasted walnuts (€12.75), while Leo went for the Smoked Haddock and Gruyere Omelette (€10.75) and we agreed to the likeable waitess' suggestion that we "share a side of fries".

The omelette was cooked to perfection and the two ingredients complimented each other perfectly, whilst the salad was fresh and crisp. Suffice it to say, all plates were cleared with many shared nods of approval and an unusual (for us), lack of conversation!

The bill came to €33.00 and as as we left, our table was reset and had two new occupants about to be seated. I only hope they ventured beyond the ubiquitous chicken wings and enjoyed some of the almost hidden gems on the Elephant & Castle's menu...

Elephant & Castle
18 Temple Bar,
Dublin 2,
Ireland
(+353) 1 679 3121
www.elephantandcastle.ie

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Trago Mills: Devon

Trago Mills: Devon

The blurb tells us that: -

“Thousands travel from far and wide to save fortunes on the biggest range of discounted goods in the West Country from carpets to paperclips - and to enjoy the superb family leisure facilities set in 100 acres of rolling South Devon countryside, including magnificent narrow gauge Steam Railway, Supakarts and Family Go-Karts, all weather skating, Bumper Boats, Trawler Rides and Swan Pedalos, Trampolines, Aquablasters, Orbitors, Shooting Gallery, Remote Control Cars and Cruisers, Forklifts and Mini Diggers, Slide Complex, Fun Dungeon, The Den Animal Park, Fort Trago, Picnic Area, Edwardian Penny Arcade and the finest 00 Gauge Model Railway in the UK!”

This is Trago Mills in Newton Abbot, Devon. It is the sort of place you find all sorts of things which you don’t really need, but that could be useful in the future!

We found ourselves there once more…we seem to find ourselves there quite often as the prices are reasonable and they are brilliant for DIY bits etc. Our friends were going there and we said we would meet them there for lunch

The new restaurant…it opened at the end of the summer season… is bright, clean, spacious and really quite boring. There is a predictable fare of Lasagne / Roast Beef / Fish and chips / Meat or Chicken Pie etc. The puddings consist of bread and butter pudding or apple and raisin pie and a selection of buns. I guess that is what your tourist wants and to be fare it was quite busy…mostly with retired people!

Dave and I went for the Roast Beef dinner and Colin, Sue and their friend went for Cod and Chips.



The Roast Beef dinner consisted of 2 thin slices of beef a few boiled potatoes, a few roast potatoes and a dry, but perfectly formed Yorkshire pudding with a choice of 2 out of 3 awful vegetables of frozen peas, carrots and some sort of tasteless swede!



Dave had asked for an extra helping of roast potatoes instead of boiled and he was happy with the mega amount of potato on his plate...but I prefer quality to quantity and that was definitely missing.

The Cod on the plates of the other three were huge, but I think the batter made up for some of the length.


Colin’s cod was certainly more battered than the other’s. Colin said that it was ok, except for the same tasteless frozen peas.



The saving grace was that we had not spent a fortune on this meal and it filled empty tums.

The tea and coffee was good value: 80p per cup / pot. I was pleased to see a jug of tap water, which reminded me of school dinners, but at least I didn’t have to pay for it!

Roast Dinner

Mel gives Trago : -
2/5 for food
2/5 for presentation
3/5 for setting
giving an overall /7/15

Colin gives Trago: -
3/5 for food
2/5 for presentation
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 8/15

Price

£4:99 for each plate of food

80p for a pot of tea or cup of coffee

No one could face the puddings.

For me it is a place to eat if there is nowhere else.