Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sur la Table: Pub Grub and Asian Fusion Cuisine

Sea bass on a bed of vegetables with curry sauce and steamed rice

One late Sunday evening in Ennis, a small town about 30 minutes from Shannon Airport, I was looking for a place to eat and happened to read the menu on the window of a "take away" place. I was famished after an exploratory walk all over town and on my way back to the hotel. After much indecision, I settled for the prawns with sweet and sour sauce and steamed rice. All for 10 euros. While waiting I noticed a steady stream of people coming in to order their dinner. When my order was ready, I received it in a plastic box. No worries about spilling.

I counted at least four Asian restaurants in the center of Ennis which I thought was surprising in such a small community. But further explorations in other cities revealed the proliferation of Asian fusion restaurants. This says a lot about the culinary preferences of the locals. Here are some restaurants and a pub where I had a pleasurable dining experience.

Tamarind - Galway


At the end of Galway City's busy main street on Fishmarket Square is Tamarind Restaurant. It has an enviable location across from the Corrib river and right by the Spanish Arch which can be seen from its large window. As with most restaurants in Europe, the menu is posted outside the door. But I didn't have the chance to review it because a gust of wind coupled with huge drops of rain (in the middle of summer) pushed me into the restaurant. When I saw the dining room, I knew immediately I wanted to eat there. I liked the minimalist, zen like ambience of wood top tables and straight back burgundy upholstered chairs. And the food didn't disappoint. My choice was curried sea bass with rice and vegetables. Since I'm not much of a curry fan, I asked that the curry sauce be served on the side. This was a good move because the fish was succulent and didn't need much to spice it up. Just a little soy sauce. The waitress was attentive and was always within reach. Here's their address:
Spanish Arch
Galway, Co. Galway, Ireland
091 568 010
http://www.tamarind.ie/

Bambu Thai Restaurant - Limerick City

Chicken with black bean sauce

At Bambu, I felt comfortable in simple surroundings. So comfortable in fact that I was the last to leave among the late lunch-goers. I had a plateful of chicken with black bean sauce and steamed rice (you can also request for noodles and french fries instead of rice) which I managed to devour completely. The sauce was just right, neither salty nor greasy. I also had some kropek (shrimp crackers) for appetizer and these were nice and crunchy.  Bambu is located on the main shopping street in Limerick.
116 O'Connell Street
Limerick, County Limerick
http://www.bambu.ie/

Gus O'Connor's Pub - Doolin

Since 1832

Our tour guide carefully explained this pub rule: when you enter the pub, get your table first, then go to the bar and order your food (who's gonna watch my table while I go to the bar?).  So I secured my table, stood up near the bar and looked puzzled, (I was searching for the menu). And one of the staff, reading my mind, came up to me to ask if I needed help. I was impressed with his attentiveness. Menu in hand, I went up to the bar once more and asked for the Atlantic Salmon. (Doolin is right on the coast and seafood is often fresh and varied.) In no time my entrée arrived with 2 scoops of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli. A lot of food for one person.


Gus O'Connor's is well known throughout Ireland as the home of traditional Irish music. The pub is alive with music sessions nightly during the summer months and annually in February, when the Russell Memorial Weekend is held in Doolin to remember the Russell brothers, all traditional musicians who helped put Doolin on the world music circuit.
Fisher Street, Doolin
County Clare

I have to say that in all the restaurants where I dined in Western Ireland, the service was very good. The waiter/waitress was always there to check if I needed anything else. This is quite a switch from the poor service I've experienced in other European countries where I've been totally ignored or kept waiting for as long as it pleased the server (even with local company) or condescendingly served. How refreshing to visit a country where the people are genuinely nice and accommodating.

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Images by Charie

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Adare, Ireland's Prettiest Village

Thatched-roof cottages

Twenty minutes south of Limerick City on the River Maigue is Ireland's prettiest village, Adare. It's a small town, pleasantly quiet even in mid July, at the height of the tourist season. There was a celebrity classic golf tournament going on at the exclusive Adare Manor Golf Course during my visit. But thankfully, this did not bring in the crowds.

Augustinian Priory

It's an easy stroll from the Augustinian Priory to Bill Chawke's Lounge Bar on the opposite end of town.  Centuries old thatched roof cottages, medieval monasteries, vine covered townhouses, the Adare Town Park and the quintessential Irish pubs line Main Street. There's no need to rush. All these places invite visitors to linger and savor the moment.


At Bill Chawke's the kegs are full and ready to be served. But before saying your first "sláinte!" (to your health), consider walking the extra mile or so to the ruins of Desmond Castle, north of Adare Manor. It dates back to the early 13th century and was once the property of the Earls of Kildare until forfeited to the Earls of Desmond during the 1536 rebellion. On the way, stop by the Augustinian priory which was built in 1315 (it is now The Church of Ireland) and take a peep at its cloister through gothic inspired windows.

 Cloister at the Augustinian Priory

(There were no visitors at the priory and I found myself completely alone. It was so eerily still that I got goose bumps and nearly walked away towards town but decided to stay and see the church as well. Then just as I was leaving, it started to rain. No wonder Ireland is so green!)

Adare Town Park

For more information about Adare, check this site: http://www.adarevillage.com/.
To get to Adare from Shannon Airport or Limerick City, take Bus Eireann from the airport (#51) and change to Bus # 13 (to Tralee) at Colbert Station in Limerick. Check this link for bus schedules: http://www.buseireann.ie/.  The bus picks up passengers returning to Limerick in front of the tourist office which is right across from the park.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New UNESCO World Heritage Sites for Ireland

Poulnabrone dolmen in The Burren

Gadling reports that Ireland has recently proposed seven sites to be included in the Tentative List for UNESCO World Heritage nomination. Among these are The Burren and Western Stone Forts which I just visited last week (an article appears below). The other five sites are the Historic Center of Dublin, the Céide Fields and North West Mayo Boglands, The Monastic City of Clonmacnoise and its Cultural Landscape, Early Medieval Monastic Sites, and the Royal Sites of Ireland including Cashel and Tara Complex.

I'm happy to read this report as Ireland is one beautiful country with supernatural scenery and rich history.  The inclusion of its seven sites in the Tentative List would be well deserved.

For more on this story follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/348cacb

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Image by Charie

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Burren Region, Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher

On my first trip to Ireland, I knew exactly what I wanted to see; the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren.  So on my first full day in County Clare, I set out to discover this region of contrasts - from green, pastoral countryside to the limestone terrain of The Burren to the blue waters of Galway Bay crashing against the coast on its journey to the Atlantic.  Over time the frigid waters of the ocean carved the stunning walls of the eight kilometer long Cliffs of Moher.

Leamenagh Castle

We passed by the ruins of Leamenagh Castle on our way to The Burren. This was once the home of Conor and Maire Rua O'Brien of the mighty O'Brien clan. Lord Conor died after he was mortally wounded by Cromwell's army in 1651. It is said that his wife Maire refused his dead body until she realized he was still breathing and she cared for him till the next day when he passed away.  Fiery Mary Rua (the redhead) feared the loss of her castle so she offered to marry a willing Cromwellian soldier in order to keep her estates for her children.

Caherconnell Stone Ringfort

Radiocarbon dating of materials dug from this ringfort suggests that this was built around 900 AD to 1000 AD.  The walls are 12 feet thick and 6 to 14 feet high and the external diameter is 140-145 feet. I noticed gaps between the stones of the fort wall while walking around it. These open spaces allow wind or air to pass through and prevent the wall from falling apart. Large ringforts such as this one could accommodate as many as 25 people and may have had more than one house and an animal pen. Ringforts were built for defensive or security purposes.



In the heart of the Burren is the ancient burial site of Poulnabrone or Poll na Brón which means "hole of sorrows"  and dates back to between 3800 to 3200 BC. Two portal stones support a capstone about 1.8 meters high.  It stands dramatically alone in a field of limestone. 

Poulnabrone dolmen

The Burren is not barren. On the contrary, a spectrum of colorful flowers thrive in these hills like the yellow Ladies Bedstraw and the magenta Bloody Crainsbill. I particulary noticed the beautiful ferns along the side of the road.

Ballyreen overlooking Galway Bay

In Ballyreen, the limestone landscape spills down the slopes to Galway Bay. In the distance are the Aran Islands, clearly visible on this sunny afternoon. There are ferries that sail from Doolin (a few minutes to the south) to the Aran Islands several times a day.

View of the coast from Ballyreen

For more information about the tour to the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren, check out http://www.4tours.biz/. I thought they gave a comprehensive tour of the region and more.

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Images by Charie

Friday, July 02, 2010

Happy 4th of July


Buy one get one free from this fireworks stall but please be very careful as it is dry out and sparks can fly. Remember SAFETY is first and foremost!

Have a fun and safe Independence Day weekend.

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Image by Charie