Sep 23, 2013

Culture Night 2013 – Howdy Neighbours!

This is how I played Culture Night. If somebody calls me, I’ll go. If they don’t, I won’t. Just back from my holliers in Barcelona, a loll on the sofa was tempting. Alas, the Bruv announced that he and his chica were venturing out for a a bit’o culture. We didn’t have to go far to find it. The Design Tower on Grand Canal Quay was hosting an interactive tour of its studios. The Tower is home to a dynamic bunch.

Artists, jewellery makers, sculptors, and fashion designers. Glass of Merlot in hand, the lovely people at the Tower also laid on snacks and live music, we made our way up to the artists dens. First stop was silversmith Seamus Gill, whose contemporary collections are housed in glass cabinets front of studio. He gave us a behind the scenes look at his workshop, explaining his craft – materials, tools and skill.

Jewellery maker Breda Haugh talked us through her celtic inspired gold and silver work. She designs heritage pieces for the National Museum of Ireland and told us of the value of the Design Tower to the art community. Indeed, many creative types have passed through its doors over the last thirty years. Fine Art Conservationist Ciara Brennan took us through her fascinating art restoration processes next.

Then it was onto the colourful studio of ceramics sculptor Ayelet Lalor. Specialising in one-of-kind figurative and decorative ceramics, Ayelet’s work is striking and fun. She recently contributed a piece to urban pop-up Granby Park, and collaborated with the Doorway Gallery to make a sculpture from icing for their Edible Art exhibition, for Culture Night. Ayelet also runs classes and special group events.

The Misery Hill Gallery were showing work from their latest exhibition, featuring some exquisite mixed media and painting. Philip Murphy explained their innovative use of plastics and how the warping effect reflects that of the human body in life drawing. Finally we dropped into Da Capo, goldsmith duo Lee Harding & Se O’Donoghue. They told us how the rich history of their studio inspires their beautiful work.

It was such a nice evening and I was showing off my holiday tan (freckles) as we strolled back to Merrion Square. Time to drop into the nabes. We hit no.45, the grandest terraced house on the Square. Now home to the Irish Architectural Archive. We enjoyed a tour and history of the house, including the Raymond McGrath exhibtion which is showing until October 4th. Such an impressive building.

The Irish Manuscripts Commision, which shares the first floor, gave an interesting talk on the importance of documenting history. So much of our identity is tied to the past… Culture Night was coming to a close. The Bruv and Herself went in search of food (and drink!) while I popped into n0.38, The Society of Chartered Surveyors. Another pad with a fine Georgian interior. My place is not so fancy!

An intriguing feature was an old map of Dublin from 17-something. So cool. Merrion Square was just off the radar, but I could see my old gaff in the Blackpitts. Not much has changed, really. Still the best town in Europe! It was time for my good self to retire home, a sort of mini Culture Night under my belt. It’s always a buzz to chat with artists and creative bods, thanks to Culture Night. And now to dream…

The Design Tower, Trinity Centre, Grand Canal Quay, Dublin 2 / Irish Architechtural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 / Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, 38 Merrion Square, Dublin 2

Sep 6, 2013

Electric Picnic – It’s Not You, It’s Me…

This day last week I landed in Stradbally, Co. Laois, for the 10th Electric Picnic. Not my 10th. I’ve been to the festival four times. I met the Bloke at his gaff, with Simon’s Place sandwiches in my bag. A quick munch and a cup of tea, and were off down George’s Quay to catch the party bus. I didn’t know it then but this was just the start of my journey. An epic time travelling episode that would change my life.

First stop was the pub. Ramsbottoms, for a lovely pair of Guinness. We sat in the beer garden supping and chatting to locals. Just the ticket to kick start the weekend. Here, we liased with our Man in Japan. The Bloke was DJing in Trenchtown and I was Santa’s little helper, so we got our performer passes (swanky!) and jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Serious mileage ahead for my trusty biker boots.

Trenchtown was already abuzz, the crew having been here all week. We were shacked up in our own mini camp site at the back of the stage. If I never hear reggae again… Me and the Bloke managed to get our house built without committing murder. I told him to piss off. He told me to shut up. Still, nobody was hurt in the making of this tent. We even blew up our blow up mattress by mouth. Go team!

Now, the tent was a joke. A nylon condom. I’d found it in Dad’s garage and assumed to be an old tent from festivals of yore. No. I don’t know who owned it or where it came from but it’s been binned now. Sure, it did the job. We squeezed the mattress inside and mashed our bags into the tiny porch. Rain, rain stay away… And so it was out of the rarefied air (ahem) of Trenchtown and off into the main arena.

Walking from our gaff to the security gates, I noticed that Electric Picnic was far more organised than before. The place was like Fort Knox. But that wasn’t the only thing. The punters. “Oh My God. I’m getting Subway tomorrow!” the kid in front of me announced. “They’ve got Subway?” her orange companion gasped, “Like, that’s what so great about Electric Picnic!” Is it? I had a bad feeling…

I realised pretty quickly that the Electric Picnic of my youth is dead. Where were all the cool people? Surrounded by packs of youngsters in Penneys festival uniform – denim cut offs, pleather jackets and faux flower crowns for girls. Hipster lite tee shirts for guys – I suddenly felt old. I thought these kids were supposed to be in Australia? Folk my age were at home in front of the Late Late, obviously.

Everything felt different. Including me. The delicious excitement that anything could happen was no longer mine. It was theirs. I’m not the girl I used to be. Wearing my furry leopard coat, flowery dress and diamante on my eyes I was dressed like my old self but somehow she seemed irrelevant to Electric Picnic mark ten. All around me was fake tan, black tattooed eyebrows and ropey hair extensions.

I was transported back to my college days by the Wu Tang Clan. Well, they were still the same. So many of them, I’ve never known who is who, but they were brilliant. The crowd were loving it. Probably retro cool, these days! The Casa Bacardi was heaving and we got ourselves a couple of mojitos from the Bloke’s mate, who was behind the bar. Now for some food. There was a dizzying array of nosh.

I went for Bombay potatoes and rice from Indian Food and the Bloke picked up a burrito next door. We had a mill about the place to find our bearings – Body & Soul, Electric Arena, The Cosby Stage, Rankin Wood, Trailer Park. Then we ambled back to Trenchtown. Work for the Bloke and a little rest for me. I watched the fireworks, for the Picnic’s birthday from the tent, which was handy for the Main Stage.

Time for round two, I zipped up my body warmer and pulled my trilby down over my nose. A cup of tea was what I wanted. Hardcore! Just me, I dropped into a white marquee right outside Trenchtown. Paradoxology. What do you know? Tea and biscuits. I got chatting to Scott Evans, the guy who was running this little Christian chill out zone. Such a nice chap. We talked books, creativity and God.

I mosied down to the Salty Dog. The stage was a big wooden ship and housed Saint John The Gambler. I caught this lot at a party last summer, so was delighted to chance upon them. Hugh, a young Cork lad, then chanced upon me. He seemed wide eyed and lost. When Hugh asked if he could come to Fatboy Slim with me, I turned from Cougar to Mother Hen and told him to wait there for his pals.

Have I still got it? Ha! I used to love flirting with boys, but now that I’m a woman… The crowd at Fatboy Slim was pure Oxegen. The last time I saw him probably was at Oxegen. Except this time my mates weren’t here. They were in the ‘burbs nursing babies and mortgages. There was a thirty something exodus going on. I bopped around at the back catching the tail end of his set. Right Here, Right Now.

Drifting into Body & Soul I found the amphitheatre of the B&S Stage lined with chilled out bods. Except for those at the front. RSAG was giving it socks. With the flashing lights and manic drumming it was quite magical. I looked up to the black sky. A shooting star! I’ve never seen one before. The spiritual type in me decided it was Granny saying hello. She always encouraged me to do my own thing.

A bit of dancing in the Zen Garden and it was back to Trenchtown, moving through the hordes. I found the Bloke and his chums. A rich aroma all around spurred me to take my first puff of greenery in years. And that was it. One drag. Put away childish things… I went to bed in my freezing tent, wondering what had changed. Me or Electric Picnic? Had we both grown up overnight… I cuddled into Himself.

We woke to sunshine on Saturday. Hurrah! The portaloo was still fresh-ish, thank God. Baby wipe shower, a dusting of glitter (for me!) and we were off to the Salty Dog for brekkie. A Dubliner cheese toastie for me and a bacon sarnie for Himself. And lashings of tea, natch. Blind Yackety were on the ship. The Bloke went off to play his set in Trenchtown Yard and I hit the Electric Arena for The Raglans.

Then it was a spot of Dancergy with Mr. Motivator. Why not? Turns out Mr. M is actually quite the dude. He’s not all ker-azy neon lycra, but a had some top self love tips for us too. Folk were grinning from ear to ear. And I thought he was just the Timmy Mallett of fitness. Respect. Feeling much better than the day before, I slurped on a Purple Haze smoothie and mooched around “the shops”. Any opportunity…

There was lots of crafty gear on offer, novelty thingies, handmade stuff and cool clothes. I picked up a High School Musical cushion for the Bloke, as he’d been using his coat for comfort. Wandering into the Mindfield, I spotted Roisin Ingle and Pauline McLynn chatting to Amy Huberman outside the Arts Council Literary Stage. What luck! Ingle was about to interview the two authors so I took a pew inside.

Hubes was funny in a sassy way and McLynn was funny in a hilarious way. And they both imparted some very savvy writing tips. A great random find. I was forced to think about my own writing. I’m working on my first novel. My laptop was stolen a couple of weeks ago and I lost a fair bit. But the fire has been under me ever since. Listening to two “real” writers was totally inspirational, I’ve gotta say.

Passing the Main Stage I was just in time for the Duckworth Lewis Method. Neil Hannon and the Pugwash crew in fancy dress. They were leading a merry crowd with feel good cricket tunes. Thomas Walsh was in his element, strumming away in a top hat. It was back to Trenchtown via Body & Soul, where I enjoyed a choir all in black and white polka dots. Children danced and played, it was lovely!

After an interlude, reading Scott Evans’ book “Closer Still” in my tent, I met up with the Bloke’s gang. As a bunch of forty something guys, their tribe was more evident at this year’s Picnic than mine. Along with the college crowd, the families and the hippies, forty something types were out in droves. They joked that security hadn’t bothered fleecing them for cans. But the music was certainly up their street.

With Himself working away, I went with the lads to see Robert Plant presents Sensational Space Shifters on the Main Stage. Wow! The Led Zeppelin front man still has it in spades. That unique brand of sexy… Funny how a 65 year old can channel it, but a field full of young ‘uns have no idea. I’ve never seen so much flesh. Cheeks are the new cleavage, but it’s the rare Irish girl has the legs for hot pants.

I got word from a couple of pals who were at Little Green Cars in the Electric Arena, so I multi-gigged and scooched on over. Midway, I encountered two scantily clad girls who asked me to photograph them on their iPhones. As they posed up a storm, and thanked me in faux American accents I thought of my 22 year old self. Vodka, mini skirts and my whole life ahead of me. That was fifteen years ago.

Little Green Cars were ace. Ones to watch, according to my sources. Peckish, we headed to Saba for bites. My chums scoffed Pad Thai noodles and kindly offered me some of their Yellow Curry potato wedges and a round up of their Picnic must-sees. I’m not much good with modrin bands, having stopped buying records when I left school. My music collection is a Britpop graveyard. Back to Robert Plant…

I hooked up with the Bloke, who was free for now, and we went on the hunt for food. I’ve turned vegetarian, after years of being meat-friendly but mostly veggie. It’s so much easier, now I’m 100%. Yummy scran is part of the Electric Picnic experience, whether you want a burger or a gourmet meal. I filled up on paneer and veg curry from Karuna’s Kitchen while Himself enjoyed Dixieland chicken gumbo.

It was hello, goodbye and he was off to Billy Bragg as I went to Bjork. That’s why I love this man. I can be me and he can be him. That simple. It’s something I came to appreciate even more that weekend. I’ve always feared becoming someone’s “other half”. With the Bloke, I’m still a whole person. Me. But now with another whole person to hang around with. Him. Who’s kind, funny and my best friend.

So, Bjork. Due to ridiculous circumstances I missed her last set a couple of years ago. But Saturday night well and truly made up for my past fail. She was stunning. Backed up by a head banging all woman choir, Bjork took the Main Stage by storm in an electric blue bubble dress and sparking headgear. I remember falling in love with the Icelandic singer as a teenager. It’s okay to be a weirdo!

With a giant tesla coil dropping from above, Bjork was electric with energy as she belted out her brilliant new material. Hers is a very special stage presence and the crowd were spellbound. To say she owned Electric Picnic is an understatement. I was on such a high after her show. I celebrated with a mojito from the Casa Bacardi and nipped into the Electric Arena to catch the last choon from Billy Bragg.

Another artist in fine form, Bragg rallied us at the top of his voice. I admire his passion, as fresh as the day he started. These people really gave me something to think about. About myself. The world around me. I’d been a little bit scared at the start of the Picnic, with all the change in the air. But I felt like I was evolving into somebody I truly want to be. Bigger and better. More mature. And I like it very much.

After all of this heavy musing, I was in need of some light entertainment and I found it in the Trailer Park. A good old fashioned hoe down, courtesy of Prison Love. Fronted by the honey voiced Mark O’Mahony, these guys are nothing but great fun, taking unlikely numbers and putting a bluegrass twist on them. I found the lads here too, what luck. Off to the Rankin Wood tent for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

All rocked out, I headed back to Trenchtown for a sup of Heineken backstage. Another cold night in our nylon cell, a few laughs with Himself warmed me up. Ear plugs were an essential piece of kit, with Trenchtown partying ’til the wee hours. My ability to stay up late has dwindled as much as my capacity for drink. Heh heh… But seriously, a hangover in that tent? Would ya stop. I’d rather get up early!

And that I did, on Sunday morning. The portaloo was fairly grim at this stage. I love being a woman, and would hate to be a man. But the one time a willy would come in handy… I did see one girl stop and go as she pleased, and it wasn’t pretty. Breakfast was tea and biscuits at Paradoxology. Scott was doing a service, which was just him sitting on a stool talking about God. This fella is such a good speaker.

The thing about God, is that it’s not very fashionable to like him any more. Most folk my age have ditched religion. Catholicism at least. Buddhism and stuff is socially acceptable. A lot of my friends are atheist, and fair play. Some aren’t believers, but get married in church and have their kids christened anyway. And laugh at me for going to mass. But I don’t care. I’ve questioned my faith, of course.

Is God simply something I grew up with? Maybe. I appreciate science and spirituality. I don’t feel black and white about it. What Scott is saying makes total sense to me, so it felt great to meet someone who gets it. There was angelic hymn singing with acoustic guitar and breaking of bread. Pamela, a beautiful artist I got chatting to, told me all about her time working in India and we exchanged some ideas.

I wasn’t expecting that at Electric Picnic. That’s what’s so great about it. Not Subway! Off I went to Body & Soul, only to bump into some old muckers. They were down for the Sunday, leaving the kids at home. It was nice to see them. Seems like a life time now, but we would have been those 20 something kids back in the day. I remember one wild Summer at Wittness, after I came back from London.

Pizza for Trees provided my lunch from their wood fired oven. Fresh dough, tomato sauce and mozzarella. Delish! Washed down with Wispa hot chocolate. I cashed in my Electric Picnic birthday cake voucher for a giant iced fairy cake, given to me by Rev. Olive Donohoe, the Rector of Stradbally. Next stop was Green Crafts and the Global Green. This was an organic cornucopia of cooking and craft.

More food for thought. Watching people basket weaving, wood carving, sewing and painting I wondered what it would be like to be a total hippy. No mortgage, no car, no boss. Out of the rat race. So many of my generation have been made wage slaves due to the property bubble, career ladder and wedding debt. Not to mention childcare. Some of my friends have chosen to be stay at home mothers.

I’ve chosen none of the above. That doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the pressure. Owning a house and driving a car aren’t things I want in life. Getting married or having kids wasn’t something I thought about much. But I like the idea. I’m open to an alternative lifestyle more than the norm. Or what’s expected. Living in town for the last few years has suited me perfectly, but I see my future near water.

At last, Electric Picnic became the place I wanted it to be. A place to dream and just be. Green Crafts was so close to nature, far away from the commercial aspect. I finally realised why the Picnic needs both. It will never be the boutique affair it once was, but it hasn’t lost it’s ability to inspire. I could feel some of John Reynolds’ original vision in the air on Sunday. I hope it doesn’t go changing too much…

After a trip back to Trenchtown to meet Himself for a cuppa (more mild than wild) I tucked him into the tent for a rest while I went off to Johnny Marr. Now, this I was looking forward to. Marr didn’t disappoint. In fact he blew me away. A full house at the Electric Arena, his infamous jangly guitar washed in gorgeous waves over the audience. And he can sing too. His own material and some Electronica.

And of course, The Smiths. I just closed my eyes and danced. Bigmouth Strikes Again, How Soon Is Now and There Is A Light. Amazing. A time machine back to the bedroom of my youth. Now there’s a girl I once was. It was such an emotional moment. I smiled through tears. Although I wished the Bloke could have experienced Marr too, I embraced the music as mine. And I let go of my past in that tent.

Dazed, delighted, I went out into the sunshine. There was the Bloke and his posse. Eels at the Main Stage was next on the agenda. A load of geezers with beards in tracksuits. There was something novelty about Eels that I didn’t get. I mean I got it. But I didn’t like it. So I went off and got Pieminister for Sunday dinner. Heidi pie (goat’s cheese, sweet potato and spinach) with peas, mash and gravy.

David Byrne & St Vincent in the Electric Arena was a spectacle with all of the players lined up marching band style. Excellent stuff. Me and the Bloke slipped into Body & Soul for some chai and a wander about. We just sat and soaked up the atmosphere, happy together. Off he went back to Trenchtown, while I made my way to Mindfield to see what I could see. Crow Black Chicken rocking The Word.

A little munchy I was won over by the smell from Kinara Kitchen, doing Pakistani street food. Fresh naan bread and mango lassi did the trick. I chomped while watching the Arctic Monkeys. Now there’s a band I know nothing about. The turn out was massive and I was really impressed by them. Front man, Alex Turner, was on top of his game. I only know their songs from the radio, I must confess…

Back in Trenchtown, I was ready to party. By that I mean I had a nip of gin and juice from my hip flask, while chatting to the Bloke and various band heads backstage. I’ll start rebelling against myself if I’m not careful. Wasn’t too bad a night in the tent in the end. Living on one of the busiest roads in Dublin city centre, meant all night reggae was a cinch to sleep through. We slept late on Monday morning.

The portaloo was a disgrace. All you can do is laugh! I was chuffed when Himself came back from the camps with tea and sambos. He’d queued for twenty minutes to get me a vegetarian sandwich. With no onions. Awh… Forget diamond rings and Paris in the spring – that’s real romance in my eyes. The time came to pack our things and say goodbye to Electric Picnic. Tired, sticky and hurting all over.

We’d missed the bus, but luckily a mate was driving to Dublin so we bunged our gear into the back of the van and off we went, leaving the crew to dismantle Trenchtown. They were a good bunch. Back at the Bloke’s place in Temple Bar, he crashed out while I fetched dinner. Fish and chips from Leo Burdock’s on buttered batch bread. And tea. Only the best! A fitting end to an unforgettable weekend.

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Sep 5, 2013

Cats – The Greatest Musical Ever

It’s no secret that Herbstreet is my fave restaurant in Grand Canal Dock. So that’s exactly where I went for a pre-theatre supper last week. Me & Dad sat by the window, twas a mild night & the water was rippling gently. The last of that summer feeling… We got our munch on with lemon and lime marinated chicken, Irish oak smoked salmon and fish tacos, made with local plaice, and sweet potato wedges.

Fine food in our bellies, we were ready for Cats at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. A quick dash into Fresh for sweeties, a cup of tea in the foyer and we were soon seated close to the action. The last time I saw Cats was in London fifteen years ago. We used to go up the West End together whenever Dad visited, for London was my home, and it was him who introduced me to the joys of musical theatre.

Cats, of course, is legendary. One of the longest running shows in West End and Broadway history, Cats is a wonderful blend of music, song and dance. I still remember the magic! Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and directed by Trevor Nunn, with tour direction and choreography by Chrissie Cartwright. This time Susan McFadden plays the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat. Let the Jellicle Ball begin…

Based on T.S Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, this is the story of the Jellicle Cats, a motley crew of street cats who attend the annual Jellicle Ball with the hope of being reborn to the Heaviside Layer. Top cat, Old Deuteronomy presides while the cats sing and dance their way through each character’s personal story. The cats are a sight to behold with their tiger stripes and painted faces.

Set in a junk yard, the stage remains the same and it’s the choreography that sets the scene. The cast were amazing to watch as they flipped, pranced and crawled through high tempo numbers, opening with “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats”, then “The Rum Tum Tugger”, “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer”, “Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat” and “Magical Mr. Mistoffilees”. I had a huge grin on my chops!

Admiring the beautiful acrobatic cats, I wished I could sing and dance. I was sent to Irish dancing when I was five. Two left feet… The drama played out as the cats ran up and down the aisles, delighting the audience. More melancholy moments were the appearance of Grizabella the Glamour Cat and Gus the Theatre Cat, played by Paul F. Monaghan. In the background was menacing Mystery Cat Macavity.

The scene stealer was Susan McFadden, as Grizabella, with a jaw dropping version of “Memory”. McFadden made it her own, like original Elaine Paige had. A truly enjoyable show, Cats kept us on the edge of our seats from beginning to end. Enchanting and breathtaking it transported me to a child-like awe, like only Lloyd Webber can do. If you want to forget the world for a couple of hours, then go see!

www.catsthemusical.com / www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie / Herbstreet, Hanover Quay, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2 / www.herbstreet.ie

Sep 4, 2013

Decibelles – Molloy & Dowling

A Friday evening with friends, what could be nicer? The addition of pizza, that’s what. I met the gang after work (well, for them. My office is casual. Ahem) in Chaplins on Hawkins Street. What a lovely pub. Unassuming. Traditional in a non Paddy-whackery way. Purveyors of a fine ten euro pizza and pint deal too. I went for a scoop of O’Hara’s and a margarita. Down the hatch! The rest of them munched away.

It was a flying meet up before my next engagement, but good to see my chums for a bit o’ banter. I was off to Molloy & Dowling on Kildare Street for a party in an opticians. A what in a where, you ask? That’s right. Funky eye wear dispensers, Mssrs Molloy & Dowling host regular events in their Aladin’s cave of a shop. The two gentlemen share a wonderfully eclectic taste, with their own art on display throughout.

Decibelles, featuring live music from some super cool bands, was in aid of the Women’s Therapy Centre Ireland. A counselling and psychotherapy service for women, the centre enjoyed a successful fundraiser at Molloy & Dowling on the night. WTC Office and Fundraising Manager, Claire de Jong told me that she was delighted with the turnout and thanked the bands involved for volunteering their services for free.

My 15 euro ticket price got me some vino, a couple of Kit Kats and plenty of top sounds. First up was Revelry for Beginners, a one woman show and debut performance for the enigmatic Grainne. Interspersing her act with poetic vocals, self deprecating one liners and lots of la la la, Revelry for Beginners was original and surprising. I liked. Cave Ghosts were next with a melodic rock pop vibe.

Three edgy girls and a guy, they tried out new song ” All My Life”, a little slice of summery guitar choon. Little xs for Eyes filled up the stage with six players on myriad instruments. Theirs was a rich tapestry of jangly sounds all melded together with wistful vocals. Very nice. We swayed along, all smiles and rainbows. The final act of the night was the less winsome, more femme punk five piece September Girls.

I had spotted these chicks kicking back, earlier in the night, looking hot and being cool. They were no different on stage, turning out fuzzy garage rock with spiky charm. All eyeliner, back combing and plectrums these girls have a good thing going on. Their drummer was a powerhouse with sticks, with the front line strumming away in rhythm. Watch out for their debut album, coming out early next year.

With the music over, the fun kept on coming with Tina Maguire, Counselling Psychologist with WTC, opening the hat for their raffle. Prizes included books, DVDs, wine and vintage glasses. Yours truly didn’t win, but I was like a child with the excitement. Molloy & Dowling is such a brilliant venue. Quirky and intimate, I love what they’ve created. WTC were thrilled to announce they raised 936.59 euro.

www.womenstherapycentre.ie / Molloy & Dowling, 18b Kildare Street, Dublin 2

Aug 28, 2013

The Marble City – Kilkenny Steam Train

Choo Choo! I was up and at ’em early on Sunday morning for my steam train adventure. Me, Dad and the Bloke were off to Kilkenny for the day. The Marble City trip was organised by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland. Dad, being a train buff, had booked us seats on the beautifully restored locomotive. We met up at Connolly Station and joined an excited crowd. Big kids and little kids!

The No. 461 was a beauty. Inside and out. Restored to her former glory in a coat of CIE green with black and red trimmings, she was very impressive. Run on coal and man power, No.461 took us a return journey of seven hours in total. Fair play to the lads! The Railway Preservation Society has been restoring steam locomotives and rolling stock since 1964 and is instrumental in Ireland’s rail heritage.

We settled into our carriage, all wood panelling, metal luggage racks, plush check upholstery and granite effect tables. Trundling up through North County Dublin, we snaked around Croke Park and were soon out onto the open track, chugging away. Our view was something else. The rolling green of Kildare, Carlow and Kilkenny. Horses, cows and sheep at pasture. A welcome break from city life.

After a pit stop in Athy to take on water, we rocked into Kilkenny Station. We hadn’t far to go, just down the hill to Billy Byrne’s, an old skool pub and guesthouse. My men didn’t need encouragement and ordered two full Irish breakfasts. I went for the veggie version. Lashings of tea all round, naturellement. Billy Byrne’s serves breakfast all day, as well as a lunch menu. I was told about the Bula Bus out back, so out I went.

Very funky and with a great ever-changing menu to boot, the Bula Bus cranks up in the evenings and puts on a good party, including movie nights and hangover Sundays. Gotta get me in there! We finished our meal with lovely homemade apple tart and cream and a nice stroll through Kilkenny. There was hen party chicks everywhere. It might explain Kilkenny’s glut of quirky girl shops? Not to mention bars! Last time I was here was for a girlfriend’s send off, actually…

Back on board for the return leg, we soon found ourselves parked at the bar in the buffet car. Great craic altogether with trad musicians on the go and a gang of old boys bantering on high. The Guinness was the best I’ve tasted in years. No kidding! Supping, laughing and watching the world whizz by, resting my pint on the window rail in between. Bliss. Train journeys were something to savour in days gone by.

The No.461 had been all over the country in her time and it was a joy to experience such a train in action. Watching the thick black smoke billowing. The sound of the steam chimney whistling. Men with sooty faces shovelling away. Magic. Tired but happy we were transported back to Dublin. Into the Brew Dock for a settler. The Railway Preservation Society runs regular jaunts all over Ireland. Book one!

www.steamtrainsireland.com /Billy Byrne’s, 39 John Street Lower, Kilkenny / www.billybyrnes.com

Aug 27, 2013

The Brew Dock – Frothy Beverages

Now, I wouldn’t normally be one for hitting the pub by lunchtime. But the Brew Dock is no ordinary pub. Right on the corner of Amiens Street opposite Busaras, it’s the best gastropub in the area. Did I mention lunch? The Brew Dock has a delicious menu, the sort of hearty food that compliments a frothy beverage. Their daily lunch special is top value at 8 euro for a hot sandwich, soup and chunky chips.

The Bloke tucked into just that. Saturday’s offering was a bacon & egg bap teamed with tomato and sweet potato soup. I helped him with the chips… I enjoyed a quesadilla filled with beans, cheese and jalapeno peppers all mushed up. With tomato salsa and sour cream lashed on top. And a bit of salad. My kinda food. Yum! All washed down with a cool iced coffee made with love, chocolate and ice cream.

I know what you’re thinking. What about the beer? Indeed. The Brew Dock is from the same stable as Against the Grain and The Black Sheep and has more sisters in Galway. Craft beer is the name of the game. The many taps include several sups from the Galway Bay Brewery, Trouble Brewing, Punk IPA and Galway Hooker. Guest beers do the rounds at the bar and there’s a Willy Wonka choice of bottles.

We settled in with pints of Galway Bay Brewery Buried at Sea Chocolate Milk Stout and Trouble Brewing Dark Arts Porter. Both satisfying jars. You won’t find any of your common or garden commercial beers at the Brew Dock, but once you’ve tasted what they’ve got… It’s like switching from white bread to lovely homemade brown. We moved onto bottles of Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout next.

Our man Alan is the go-to-guy at the Brew Dock. A craft expert, Alan talked us through the ales, tipping tasters into us as he explained heritage, ingredients and brewing techniques. It’s tough work, this beer lark! If you’re not one for the cask, this place has plenty more to offer. There’s a damn fine whiskey collection behind the bar, including some real rare ‘uns. As rare as we were upon home time…

The Brew Dock, 1 Amiens Street, Dublin 1 / www.facebook.com/thebrewdock

Aug 22, 2013

Cafe du Journal – Monkstown Hub

I love doing things you’re not supposed to do. Like going to the beach in the lashing rain. Whiterock on a dark, mysterious day. Sorrento Terrace on the skyline. All those ancient steps, it seemed as if I was dipping down into the sea. After our wet and wild interlude, me, the folks and my favourite uncle were in need of nourishment. Next stop was Monkstown. A town that ebbs and flows much like the water.

There are plenty of good things in Monkstown right now and Cafe du Journal is one of them. A real neighbourhood hub, the place was buzzing. Mums and babies, happy families, groups of friends and loving couples. I had to smile as a pair of retired gents next door shared a pink marshmallow topped cupcake. How sweet. We were presented with an a la carte lunch menu and a specials menu.

Luckily Cafe du Journal allowed for salady folk like me and Mama and meat ‘n’ two veg types like my uncle. Everyone’s invited to the party! I started with a milky latte, while the others supped tea. Lunch followed with super service from a waitress my Ma recognised as an old school chum of the Bruv’s. She brought a goat’s cheese salad with roasted beetroot, carmelised walnuts and mixed leaves for me.

Uncle enjoyed a trad plaice and chips, Pops had a goat’s cheese and smoked salmon salad and Mama munched mozzarella, tomato and pesto on ciabatta bread, all from the specials menu. Brown bread, fresh from the oven, was hearty as it sounds. Cafe du Journal was such a nice place to be in with it’s book lined walls and homely vibe. We were totally relaxed by the time we left.

Cafe du Journal, 17a Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co. Dublin / www.cafedujournal.ie

Aug 21, 2013

Le Petit Parisien – The Mercantile

That lovely little slice of French deliciousness Le Petit Parisien has opened it’s doors at the Mercantile on Dame Street. Like it’s big sister on Wicklow Street, Le Petit Parisien mark 2 offers a dark, brooding atmosphere full of cake and romance. Wooden bistro chairs and booths provide comfort, with a back room or a window seat. It was a rainy day in Dublin so me and the Bloke squirrelled away, happy in love.

Tea for me, natch, and a coffee for himself (how continental. Usually sups Barry’s). Both came with yummy chunks of the best chocolate biscuit cake I’ve ever tasted. Seriously. I’m not sure I could eat a whole one… But I ate his! The cakes are a selection similar to the mothership, all freshly baked of course. Baskets of croissants, glazed pastries, pain au chocolat. Rows of tarts, eclairs, choux buns. I’d seen what I wanted…

Feeling less Francais on account of the damp, we went for wholemeal scones with jam and butter. Soft, springy, warm. Our waitress kindly checked on us as we curled up, offering more tea. And more cake! The Mercantile have done a nice job, transforming this place from bar to cafe. The long bar and round tables at the front evoke French simplicity and decor is well thought out. Le Petit Parisien c’est chic.

Le Petit Parisienne, The Mercantile, 28 Dame Street, Dublin 2

Aug 16, 2013

Pyg Cafe – Powerscourt Townhouse Central

Twas a fine day on Wednesday between sunshine and showers. I met a dear friend for lunch. Y’know one of those people you can while away an afternoon with, putting the world to rights. And that we did over some scrumptious bites at Pyg Cafe in Powerscourt Townhouse. I’m no stranger to the Pyg, as it’s one of Momma’s fave haunts. Part of the Pygmalion family, this place does an unpretentious menu.

The Pyg takes up a central spot under the glass ceiling at Powercourt, lending an exotic courtyard feeling. Very cosmo! The staff are delightful and our lovely waitress tucked us into a comfy corner. By day it is the Pyg Cafe, with a lunch menu and by night it the Pyg Restaurant, offering a range of tasty tapas. Me and my pal went for oak smoked salmon with grilled asparagus and a classic Caesar.

We shared a generous portion of sweet potato wedges. I can’t eat in Pyg Cafe without scoffing these bad boys – order some! His salmon came with a perfectly poached egg in a blanket of silky Hollandaise sauce. My Caesar was most definitely up to scratch. Dunno if I’ve mentioned it, but one of my measures of a good restaurant is the quality of it’s Caesar salad. This was sharp, fresh and crunchy.

Satisfied customers, we were ready for round two. A cuppa for me, green tea and chocolate hazelnut cake for him. What, no cake for Lorna you ask? Worry not, my full self did manage to taste a morsel and I can declare this gluten free number as a right go-er. Dark, moist, sweet… Oh, stop! Run by nice people and serving cracking food, I’d recommend going off the beaten track and getting into Pyg Cafe.

Pyg Cafe, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, South William Street, Dublin 2 / pygrestaurantdublin.ie

Aug 7, 2013

The Port House – Totally Tapas

We dined en famille on Monday, so that’s me and the Bloke, the Bruv and his lady and Ma ‘n’ Pa. How sweet. We were celebrating my parents wedding anniversary 39 years to the day. We all met up in town with the intention of going somewhere but were going nowhere fast on discovering our chosen spot closed for the Bank Holiday. But Madre mia saved the day when she suggested The Port House.

Good thinking it was too, as we took the centre table in their intimate South William Street restaurant. The place has a great atmos, all dripping candles and olde wine bottles in a foodie cave. The generous menu boasts a great selection of Basque pintxos and tapas. Something for everyone in the audience. We managed to order wine but kept the lovely waitresses hovering with our oohing and ahhing.

The final edit included almendras (roasted almonds), ensalada de queso de cabra con miel (honeyed goat’s cheese salad), croquetas setas (mushroom croquettes), paella de pollo (chicken paella), patatas bravas (fried potatoes), paella de marisco (seafood paella), caballa (mackerel on toast), berenjena con queso de cabra (goat’s cheese aubergine), tetilla templada (deep fried cheese) and guindillas (chillies).

It was a Spanish banquet. I had the goat’s cheese salad, a warm gooey thing on a bed of spinach with tomato. Delish! The mackerel and the mushroom croquettes were mine, all mine. But I was kind enough to sample the deep fried cheese and almonds. The Bloke enjoyed a black pudding dish while Pops tucked into mushrooms on toast. Mother, like moi, stayed mostly green with a bite of something fishy.

The beauty of tapas is in the mixing and matching, so everybody gets to experiment and discover new tastes. And you can go veggie or bloody. The Port House offers traditional desserts and a Ferrero Rocher cheesecake (nom) but it was adios and back to the ranch with us. Via Butlers and Laduree… Well it was a special occasion! There was still room for tea and my homemade banoffee too. Delicioso!

The Port House, 64 South William Street, Dublin 2 / www.porthouse.ie

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