Friday 30 November 2012

Dublin sightseeing and other places

Travel is wonderful but seeing family from far flung corners of the globe spending time together is priceless.  Above is a picture of Sylvia with her cousin Dash.  They had such a great time together that it was sad to part them when we left.  But rather than dwell on the cousins, in this post I want to share with you some of the sights and places of our brief stay in Dublin.

We stayed at the Central Hotel in Exchequer Street, which I highly recommend to anyone looking for somewhere to stay in Dublin that is a reasonable price and in a great central location.  The rooms has plenty of space, the Christmas decorations were gorgeous and the staff lent us a huge umbrella when it was raining. 

A little bonus of the Central Hotel was that it has a marvellous Library Bar where you could sit and while away the hours if only you had a bit more time than us.  It is a cosy, albeit busy, place that feels like you stepped into the set of a BBC costume drama with large wooden bookcases, open fires and elegant old chairs.  We only had a quick drink here but in that time met a couple of friendly Dubliners who made us wish we could have stayed longer.

As I have remarked before, I have had quite a few visits to Dublin in the past.  It makes a quick trip more relaxed because we don't feel the need to see everything.  In the past, I have visited Temple Bar, the GPO, Phoenix Park, Kilmainham Gaol, the Natural History Museum, Christ Church Cathedral and the nearby Wicklow Mountains.  I have seen the Tart with the Cart, and the Floozie in the Jacuzzi.  I have been to the Dulbin Writers Festival and Bloomsday.  One of the fun ways to see the city is the Viking Splash tour, which we would have done again on this visit if it hadn't been out of season.

One of the first tourist attractions that I ever visited in Ireland was the Book of Kells at Trinity College.  I don't think I appreciated it as much as I might today.  I was more in awe of the faded glory of the Long Room Library at Trinity.  We didn't visit the Book of Kells on this trip but we did walk through the ground of Trinity (above) and had a quick browse in the giftshop.

Another place that I have enjoyed visiting on previous sojourns in Dublin is St Stephen' Green.  I am very fond of gardens that nestle cheek by jowl with the built environment.  These fine gardens are indeed a work of beauty with lots of interesting statues and spaces.  We were there this time to feed the ducks and give the kids a run.  (Actually there were so many pigeons and seagulls as well as ducks that the kids were running from them!)

Near to St Stephen's Green is the Little Museum of Dublin.  It is one of the newer attractions in Dublin, having only opened last year.  The museum is housed in one of Dublin's traditional Georgian terrace houses and focuses on the social, cultural and political history of the city.  It is both more local than many of the other museums in the city and also not quite so overwhelming (being little).

I loved this museum.  It is full of fascinating memorabilia and has a great array of quotations about the city on the stairs leading up to the main exhibitions.  In the temporary Bram Stoker exhibition I learnt that Bram comes from Abraham.  (I had always thought it an unusual name and wondered where it came from).  Upstairs there was a great cabinet of old grocery items where I learnt that Sudocream comes from Dulbin.  E did a tour which he said was a great way to learn about Dublin.

Another more recent addition to the sights of Dublin is the Chester Beatty Library. (The present building opened in 2000.)  We went there on such a wet dark afternoon that I was unable to take any photos of the beautiful Dublin Castle grounds where it is located.  Though it is called a library, it is more a museum of the book.  Chester Beatty was a successful mining engineer from America who collected rare books and manuscripts and left them to the people of Ireland, where he was living at the time of his death.  We went on a very informative and highly entertaining tour of the displays.

My sister Chris is a bibliophile and insisted on taking us to the Hodges Figgis bookstore.  She then kindly looked after Sylvia and Dash so that we could spend time browsing the shelves.  Oh joy!  I often judge a bookstore by the vegetarian cookbooks and was impressed by the range here.  What really struck me on this visit to Dublin was the bilingual nature of the city.  So many signs were in both English and Irish.  Even the bookstore signs as you can see in the above photo.

Another favourite shop that Chris insisted upon taking us was Avoca.  It is a store that is full of gorgeous displays of clothes, children's toys, and homewares.  While Chris made a valiant effort to stop Sylvia and Dash hiding their toy coins in the little kids cases, I wandered through the kitchen and food section, my heart aflutter at the beautiful crockery and my stomach grumbling for scones and brownies and soda bread.  I did buy a pretty teatowel and made a wise purchase of a cheese and tomato scone for the airport.  Had I the time, money and space in my suitcase I would have bought a lot more.

Well that is it for my Dublin posts.  We had a fantastic time there with my sister and her family.  Their hospitality was warm and welcoming.  I have plenty to write about Edinburgh where we are now staying.  Fortunately as we are here longer, we are not having to cram so much into a short period of time and can relax a bit more.  More about it soon.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Dublin cafe - Queen of Tarts

The Queen of Tarts she stole some hearts...  Many year ago in fact.  E and I were taken to this place by my sister on a previous visit and never forgot how much we enjoyed it.  So on a grey and misty Dublin morning last weekend we returned.  The cafe was as pretty and quirky as we remembered but the food was a bit hit and miss.

Thanks to jetlag, we arrived so early that the shop wasn't open yet (just before 8am).  We walked around the block, admired the Liffey and returned to find the lights were on.  It is such a warm and welcoming space, full of retro chic details.  The crockery has an elegant floral design reminiscent of afternoon tea with your great aunt.

E and I both ordered the big breakfasts.  His was meat and mine was vegetarian.  He really liked his coffee and I enjoyed my blackberry and nettle tea.  However E was most dissatisfied with his breakfast not being warm enough.  I wasn't that impressed with my breakfast at first sight.  It seemed much smaller than it looks in the above photo. 

Once I began to eat I found it was quite nice.  Could have been hotter.  But the home made baked beans were lovely with a subtle spicy kick, the mushrooms were juicy and plentiful and the fried tomato was soft and yielding.  The fry up was let down by the potato scones that were too much mashed potato (not enough flour) and too cold.  Worst of all was the cold hard toast, that is disappointing from a bakery cafe.

Having had better food there before and sitting in view of the tiers of plump scones was too tempting.  I decided my breakfast was not that huge and I needed a raspberry scone.  An excellent decision.  It was one of the nicest scones ever.  So soft and full of flavoursome berries that I didn't mind it being so huge.  I did wonder why it needed to be served with jam.

One good decision leads to another.   I loved the scone so much that I bought another one to take to the airport where we were flying out around lunchtime.   A big breakfast and a couple of scones in paper bags prepared me well for a hectic time in the airport that found us with little to eat for lunch but vending machine style food.  From the sublime to the ridiculous.  E was most displeased with Queen of Tarts.  Whereas I was more forgiving.  I wouldn't go back for a cooked breakfast but I would most definitely return for their cakes, tarts and scones.

Queen of Tarts
Cork Hill
Dame Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel:+353(01) 670 7499
(NB A new store has opened nearby at Cows Lane that we didn't get to visit)

Dublin cafe: Fallon and Byrne

After a busy morning wondering around Dublin museums and shops, we found ourselves at Fallon and Byrne.  My sister Chris tells me that this is Dublin's equivalent to Dean and Deluca in New York.  It is indeed an impressive culinary emporium.  I was itching to explore but first we ate lunch in the basement.

Fallon and Byrne has three eating spaces.  Upstairs is the restaurant for those who want a proper sit-down meal.  (According to the website, it offers some good vegetarian options.)  The Food Hall on the ground floor is like a deli counter with lots of choice (and a few tables and chairs to eat at).  The wine bar in the basement has a more limited menu but is a lovely space to sit surrounded by posters and wine bottles.

We split our order between the food hall and the wine bar.  Fergal, E and I bought our lunches at the Food Hall counter and took them downstairs.  I had more options there - a vegetarian burger, goats cheese tarts, soup, or gourmet sandwiches.  E had a chilli con carne, Fergal had bangers and mash.

I chose the burger that included lots of nice ingredients like lentils, chickpeas and sweet potato.  It came with tomato relish and two salads.  There was a fine array to choose from and I decided on the broccoli and tofu and a chickpea and tomato salad.  I loved the soft burger with crispy coating.  I wasn't so keen on the large chunks of raw cold broccoli and very soft tofu.  The chickpea salad, though, was delicious, albeit a little plain.  Overall a good choice.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the wine bar, Sylvia and Dash both had ordered a bowl of chips with pesto aioli. The chips were some of the goldenest, crispiest, nicest chips I have had.  (So golden that initially I thought they were sweet potato chips!)  Chris and Fergal swooned over the green aioli because the basil flavour was so lovely.  I am less of an aioli fan but even I loved it.

After lunch was over, Sylvia went off with Chris, Fergal and Dash for a sleepover.  E and I wondered the store without a small child pulling us this way and that.  My eye was initially drawn to the colourful cherry tomatoes.  It signalled that this would be an interesting shop.  Fergal told me that 70% of the goods were reasonably priced but about 30% were exorbitantly priced.

I hope this montage of photos of the fruit and veg does it justice.  I just wanted to fill a shopping basket with the colourful and interesting produce.  In particular, I desperately wanted to buy some smoked garlic.  Unfortunately it would probably make my bags stink and the Australian customs officers wouldn't be nice to me about it.  I was also fascinated to see salsify that I have never tasted.

I was happier to be able to just admire the mushroom display without feeling the need to buy any.  I am not so keen on mushrooms but am fascinated by all the varieties.  There were so many here it was hard to keep count. 

We wondered around the rest of the shelves, admiring the range and quality of the goods.  I bought some delicious (non-alcoholic) Belvoir mulled winter punch here.  I would also have loved to buy some bread and goldfish biscuits and cheeses.  In fact, I wanted to buy some much that I have forgotten most of it.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the chocolate.  It was where we spent the most time and the most money.  After all it is easiest to carry when travelling and you always need some chocolate.  The range of chocolate on offer was amazing.  We are currently eating through a block of Aine Zesty Lime and I am looking forward to tasting the bar of Cocoa Bean Milk Chocolate with Irish Honey.

Fallon and Byrne
11 -17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel: (01) 472 1010

Dublin cafe - Bewley's in Grafton Street

On our first morning in Dublin, we had breakfast at Bewley's Cafe in Grafton Street for old times sake.  It is a place I have visited before with family.  If we had cared to read about the place, we might have been impressed by the famous Irish literary figures and the fame of the place.  Nevermind.  Sometimes you don't need to know the history to appreciate how special a place is.

We sat in a booth at the back of the cafe.  The furnishings are rich deep browns and reds.  It wasn't oppressive, thanks to the wonderful stained glass windows created by Harry Clarke in 1927.  They fill the space with light and beauty. 

If you don't eat meat and don't like eggs, it is a difficult task to find a vegetarian breakfast of any interest.  In retrospect, having had some amazing scones on my trip so far, I probably should have gone for a sweet scone.  Instead I went for the bagels with tomato and cheese.  They were nice but not amazing.

E on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed his breakfast.  After starting the day with a croissant at Centra, he ordered porridge and the full Irish breakfast.  Needless to say he didn't finish everything on his plate.  Sylvia and her cousin Dash were very busy colouring in the Bewley's activity sheet, but they took time out to share a pancake stack.  Chris and Fergal both had bagels with ham and eggs.

I wish I had had more time to admire the baked goods at the front of the store.  There were pretty iced cupcakes, pastries and scones.  All looked very tempting.  I also loved this tier of Christmas baked goodies. 

We all had a fantastic time at Bewley's.  Interestingly, Chris and Fergal who are locals, said how much they enjoyed it but that they rarely thought to go there.  I'd like to think that if I had a Bewley's in my own city I would visit more.  The reality would probably be quite different.  Yet I am sure on our next visit to Dublin we will yet again visit this fine Dublin institution.

Bewley’s Café
78/79 Grafton Street
Dublin 2
Tel: +353 1 672 7720

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Dublin streets and miscellany

Last night we arrived in Edinburgh after a couple of wonderful days in Dublin.  Having Irish ancestors and siblings who lived in Dublin, I had visited the fair city on many occasions.  However it has been quite some years since we were there last.  Being back made us wonder why we had left it so long to return.  A charming welcoming city of elegant Georgian buildings, it is easy to see why my sister has made it her home town.

I am planning to write a few posts about Dublin but for now, I will start with some photos I took on the streets and some miscellany.  Above is our first meal in Dublin.  My sister Chris and her partner Fergal were wonderful hosts.  They picked us up at the airport and fed us freshly baked scones, then fed us Ottelenghi's potato and goats cheese tart tatin with chickpeas and roasted sweet potato on the side.  How good was that after 24 hours on a plane eating food of dubious quality!

The next morning we were still on jetlag time and were up before the sun.  All the better to admire the Christmas lights.

We had already planned breakfast with Chris but had a first breakfast at Centra (think 7/11, Spar, or your corner shop or convenience store).  I had a chocolate pastry while reading Jamie Oliver's potato recipes in the Daily Mail newspaper.  It wasn't fancy but jetlag makes you do strange things!

When it was light we ventured out again and admired the Christmas displays in Dublin's streets. I think I am right in saying that Butlers are well known for their fine chocolates throughout Ireland.

I loved the Irish take on the traditional gingerbread house with a wee leprechaun outside it.  I guess this is where he keeps his pot of gold.

Brown Thomas in Grafton Street has a quirky mix of traditional Christmas and snooty fashion in their windows.  I liked the snowman and the dummies.  My sister was amused by the dummy having a sleighride in another window.

Just to remind you that not everything in Dublin is gorgeous to look at, I took a photo of this tasteless snowman.  Fortunately for you I don't post videos to this blog or you might have been treated to a video of the snowman doing his dance.  Moving right along!

We also saw signs of Dublin hipsters in the streets.  Here is a sweet poster we spied on a walk early yesterday.

If I had had lots of time to take photos with my zoom lens I might have taken a better photo of these traditional Dublin street lamps.  Alas, this was the best photo I could do.  It will do.  I love the beautiful design on these lamp posts but even more I love them because they remind me of my excitement at being in Dublin many years ago.  (Actually I didn't love Dublin at first sight but I did love these street lamps.)

The Irish Parliament building with no windows (to avoid window taxes) also reminds me of lots of previous visits and tours I have done.  An iconic image in Dublin.  I will write more about the places we went in another post.

Time to leave you as the day is beginning in Edinburgh and we have things to do and people to see.  I will leave you with a glimpse of some of the goodies we took away with us. 

Monday 26 November 2012

The Rainbow Hotel

You can plan meticulously for a great lunch and yet some of the best happen serendipitously.  Take our lunch at the Rainbow Hotel a few weeks back.  Our plans had revolved around going to the Fitzroy Market.  I had only been to the Rainbox once before many years ago in the evening.  Yet I knew it was close and worth a try.  It was just the spot for a convivial and relaxing afternoon.

The Rainbow Hotel is in a small side street off Brunswick Street.  We sat in the beer garden and enjoy the spring sunshine.  Having two young children meant that we appreciated the bench seats and the space for them to run around.  It is pleasing to feel a sense of space generally around Fitzroy, and the beer garden certainly has this, despite the modern flats opposite.

Originally we decided to just go for a drink.  Soda lime and bitters for me.  Then we had a look at the menu and before we knew it, a delicious lunch was spread before us.  I was busy trying to keep an eye on Sylvia and didn't spend much time looking for myself.  Corn croquettes were at the top of the list and vegetarian and not the usual fare.  That would do.  They were excellent.  Crisp on the outside and melting with gooey (mozzerella?) cheese on the inside as well and corn.  The sauce was a bit spicy for me but others enjoyed it.

For Sylvia we chose chips.  I loved the modern presentation of all the food.  The chips came in a piece of greaseproof paper in a bucket.  Hot and crisp, they were very popular among our group.  As well as the chips, we ordered what the menu describes as "Victorian cheese board w house made crackers & stout glazed muscatels".  I enjoyed it but don't remember the cheese terribly well.  I remember the apple slices being refreshing and my mum raving about the muscatels.

Everyone had a great time.  You can see some of the beads purchased at the Fitzroy Market which the kids loved playing with, as well as Sylvia's new dolly.  We were also entertained by a dog that I think we called twitch.  The owner seemed to work at the pub and asked if the dog was bothering us.  He wasn't.  He was just gorgeous the way he can and sat beside my dad and looked so interested in the food but so patiently waiting for an invitation to enjoy it.

It was such a different experience to my last visit.  We had first gone there years ago with vegetarian friends who raved about the burgers.  I was interested to read Cindy and Michael's account of their recent experience of the burgers with portobello mushrooms for burgers.

I wish I could remember the burgers we had in more detail (before blogging of course).  They weren't mushrooms but they were huge and messy and I think they were in turkish bread.  The interior of the pub was dark and full of poky corners where you could go for some privacy.  After two very different but both very satisfying visits, I am looking forward with interest to my next visit to the Rainbow.

The Rainbow Hotel
27 St David Street Fitzroy
03 9419 4193

Friday 23 November 2012

MCG lunch and reflections

Last week was a busy series of meetings at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).  I am happy to report that mostly I ate well.  I didn't have my camera most of the time - now I have a DSLR it is too attention-seeking.  At the end of the week I took my camera along to take a few photos because I found the venue made me quite nostalgic.  Pleasingly I also had one of my favourite lunches of the week.

Not all of our lunches came in cute cardboard lunchboxes, such as the one below, but I loved the ones that did.  I was aware of the waste because they packed more food than anyone could eat into the lunchbox.  I enjoyed the little salad sandwiches, found the pasta salad a bit dry and the muffin a bit dull.  What I loved about them was the huge chunk of brie packaged up with dry biscuits, dried apricots and candied walnuts (see top photo).  It was amazing.

As well as the cute lunchboxes in the above photo, you can see a plate of colourful cream puffs.  A bit much creaminess for me but they looked gorgeous.  I had a strawberry one but perhaps I might have enjoyed a chocolate one more.

Lunch was also so much nicer when eaten in the deserted stands of the MCG.  As a child I sometimes came here to cricket matches with my family.  At the time the light towers were still a novelty and a new electronic scoreboard had recently replaced the old manual one.

Replays on the scoreboard were great because I am sure I always looked away when a wicket fell.  I knew how to follow a game of cricket but even more, I loved watching the crowd - the witty signs people would hold up and the larrikins in Bay 13.  I had fun doing the Mexican wave and chanting "he's going home in the back of a divvy van" after the police took away a drunk from Bay 13. 

I didn't take many pictures inside the MCG last week as I don't like to do so with work colleagues about.  Above you can see the Members area where we had many meetings.  We had a great view of the empty MCG arena out the huge windows which made the meeting rooms feel spacious.  After the meeting, I had time to take some photos outside.

The gardens outside the MCG are lovely with sporting sculptures, avenues of old trees and old fashioned signs.  It was the Dennis Lillee statue that really brought back memories.  I want dwell too much on how much I loved the world of cricket for a period in my childhood.  Instead I will tell you a story to illustrate it.

After one of our visits to a cricket match, the highlight happened while we were hanging around outside the MCG afterwards.  We chanced upon the Pakistan cricket team going home.  We knew them all from the telly.  We asked for autographs.  It was thrilling to come face to face with the legendary Imran Khan.  Later I remember talking to my brother about how it felt to put his hand on his cricket pullover.  I also have clear memories of holding the autograph book for a team member whose arm has been amputated.  Then, as if we hadn't had enough excitement, we found Tony Greig and Greg Chappell behind the Channel 9 commentators vans.  More autographs.  Oh joy!

It is a long time since I have been to the MCG to see the cricket.  I think my last visit was a football match but my memories aren't that clear.  Nevertheless, I found it quite nostalgic to be there.  The MCG is a Melbourne sporting institution and a great meeting venue too.