Review: Leo Burdock, Dublin Ireland

Fish and chips are a quintessentially English dish, but of course, the Irish will try to lay claim to its origins. It’s just like how Australia and New Zealand will argue over who first invented the pavlova (obviously Australia), but will both try to get rid of Russell Crowe.

Leo Burdock Fish and Chips in Dublin (there’s a few different branches) claim to have the best fish and chips in Dublin, in Ireland, in the British Isles, and even the world. Their fame has spread far and wide, attracting luminaries from all around the world who are now immortalised in the Leo Burdock Hall of Fame.

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We dropped into the Temple Bar branch of Leo Burdock’s while in Dublin, as K had a hankering for old-fashioned fish and chips, without any frills or fancy trimmings. There’s definitely nothing fancy about Leo Burdock – while they offer some extras like burgers and fried chicken strips, plain old fish and chips is the main item on the menu. There’s not that many varieties of fish to choose from either – in fact on the day that we went, only a smoked cod and a fresh cod were available, so we ended up getting one of each.

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K’s Smoked Cod Fish and Chips was a case of there being too much of a good thing. While smoked cod in smaller quantities can be extremely delicious with a salty smoky flavour, eating an entire battered fillet of it ends up being much too salty on the palate especially as the batter is also flavoured as well. When dining at Leo Burdock, I think it makes more sense to choose a fresh fish as the batter they use is quite tasty already with a good amount of salt used throughout.

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With that in mind, my Fresh Cod Fish and Chips was a much more enjoyable meal as it was flavoured just right, and enhanced by the drizzle of tartare sauce I put over it. I loved the chips as well – they were short, stubby and full of the flavour that can only come from a fish and chip shop’s deep-fryer. This is definitely the meal to order, but keep in mind that it is a huge serving that can probably serve two people if you’re not feeling particularly peckish!

Leo Burdock is a traditional fish and chip shop in the very best way possible – they don’t deviate too far from the classics and don’t mess the menu by doing too many different things. They stick to what they know, and they do it well. Make sure you order the fresh fish options when you go, and don’t be shy about asking for lashings of tartare sauce to go with the fish!

Leo Burdock is located at 4 Crown Alley in Temple Bar, Dublin Ireland.

Review: Mammoth, Armadale

I have a small connection to one of Melbourne’s leading families in hospitality. My dad is a house cleaner and some of his regular clients include various members of the Sahely and McBride families who own cool cafes around Melbourne – Touchwood, Pillar of Salt, Barry, BAWA Coffee and Food, Square and Compass and Mammoth.

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Dad’s always updating me on how his clients are going (all about the new babies in the family!), and telling me about their new cafes. He makes it sound so enticing that K and I decided to drop into Mammoth for Sunday lunch one weekend before an afternoon window-shopping in nearby shopping villages.

Mammoth is understandably popular and we ended up waiting about ten minutes before getting shown to a four-person table which we shared with a mother and daughter duo. The clientele is a mix of preppy locals and others more like us who fit in the “Asian food blogger / food-obsessed traipse-all-over-town-for-a-good-meal” category.

Salted caramel hot chocolate and a cappuccino
Salted caramel hot chocolate and a cappuccino

I ordered a hot chocolate from our waitress before K drew my attention to the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate on the specials board. Say no more – I flagged our waitress down to change my order. This was an inspired choice and even K who tends to shy away from salted caramel products had to admit that it was a far superior drink to his simple Cappuccino.

The trick is to create a blend that enhances the smooth caramel and chocolate tones on the palate, before ending with a short and sharp salty bite that doesn’t linger. A heavenly combination, and I hope they add this drink to the regular drinks menu!

North Shore (smoky ham hock, flame grilled pineapple, jalapeno popper, tabasco, poached eggs), $21.50
North Shore (smoky ham hock, flame grilled pineapple, jalapeno popper, tabasco, poached eggs), $21.50

As a Sydney North Shore boy, K was immediately drawn to their North Shore breakfast of ham hock, grilled pineapple and poached eggs. Clearly the name of the dish refers not to Sydney North Shore but more accurately to the surfing mecca that is the North Shore of Hawaii’s Oahu island. The featured pineapple and ham is a definite nod to the Aloha state.

My favourite element of this dish was most definitely the fresh pineapple, enhanced with a sweet caramelised brulee top that shattered with a tap. The sweetness of the pineapple went well with the spiciness of the cheesy jalapeno popper, and the savoury meatiness of the fried ham. It’s definitely the type of dish where each individual element works really well on its own, but really shines when combined.

Doughnut burger (chicken katsu, green mango and papaya slaw, cucumber jam, chilli mayonnaise, salt and pepper doughnut), $20
Doughnut burger (chicken katsu, green mango and papaya slaw, cucumber jam, chilli mayonnaise, salt and pepper doughnut), $20

Much has been written about Mammoth’s famous lobster doughnut burger. Some are doubters – in fact K thought it sounded a bit gimmicky though he ended up changing his mind! The menu had changed slightly, and as of early August, they were serving up a Doughnut Burger with a chicken katsu filling. Don’t be disappointed – without having tried the lobster burger myself, I’d venture a guess and say that this version with chicken katsu is as good as the original, if not better.

Like K’s meal, this was really all about individual elements that stand out on their own, that come together to create something even better. The chicken katsu was hot and crispy with beautifully tender chicken fillet. The green mango and papaya slaw had the right touch of sweetness, sourness, and just a bit of crunch. The savoury yet somehow sweet doughnut was light, fluffy and springy. Combined, it created a burger that was just absolutely delectable. If there’s any downside, it’s that the bottom of the doughnut does soak up all the sauces and juices of the burger very quickly, so it does get a little bit soggy. Not a big issue!

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Mammoth is a cafe that deserves its high reputation and glowing reviews. While the menu is innovative in the way that it reimagines the classics, enough of the core ingredients remain to make it familiar to a wider audience. Meals are beautifully presented, wait staff are friendly, and service is prompt. Prices for meals are a little bit higher than your average cafe, but you do get what you pay for.

Now to visit the other cafes owned by the same family…

Mammoth is located at 736 Malvern Road in Armadale.

Review: Avoca Cafe, Belfast Ireland

I was too young to understand much about the Irish troubles of the 1990s. Even now I don’t really understand much about it, outside of the bastardised versions of history offered by Hollywood films such as The Devil’s Own. All I know is that there’s a Northern Ireland and a Republic of Ireland, and tourists should take care when referring to either country to ensure you don’t ruffle any feathers!

These days, it’s very easy to travel from Dublin in the Republic of Ireland to Belfast in Northern Ireland. There are regular trains and buses between the two cities, or you could do what we did and hire a car so that you can do a proper day trip to Northern Ireland, visiting amazing sites like the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge as well as Belfast. It only takes two hours to drive from Dublin to Belfast and one hour more to drive north to the rope bridge and causeway – an easy drive for anyone used to driving in Australia!

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But first, lunch in Belfast. We were there on a Sunday which was particularly difficult as most shops and restaurants don’t seem to open until about 1pm – perhaps a result of morning church attendance in a Catholic country? Just keep that in mind if you’re ever in Belfast on a Sunday! I had my heart set on going to Avoca Cafe, reputedly one of the best places to have Irish scones in Belfast.

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It’s the type of cafe that you could very easily miss if you didn’t know it was there though! The ground floor of Avoca is primarily a lifestyle destination store, not unlike Anthropologie in America. If you walk past all the organic cotton clothes, tealight candles and garden-to-kitchen cookbooks though, you can go up the stairs in the back to their cafe and food hall on the next floor.

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The cafe orders purely pre-made food items like pies, quiches, salads, cakes and pastries – nothing is made to order. That’s not a downside though, as there’s a fantastic range to choose from and all of it is house-made rather than sourced from other supplies. To order, you just queue up at the counter before taking your order to one of the many tables scattered throughout the cafe. Be prepared to share your table with other groups, cafeteria-style – there’s not many small tables available.

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Scones were what I was after at Avoca – and they had five different varieties to offer! Only one was savoury – this Sundried Tomato Scone served with a pat of butter and spiced tomato chutney on the side. These aren’t the scones you would be used to in England or Australia – these Irish scones are much rougher, crumblier, and are hand-shaped rather than cut out with a scone cutter. This savoury scone was a lovely choice, with a great mix of seeds and nuts throughout and sprinkled on top that provided a fantastic and tasty crunch with every bite – not something you would expect with a traditionally softer scone, but very welcome all the same.

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These are two traditional sweet scones served at Avoca – a Plain Scone and a Fruit Scone. Both are served with seeded raspberry jam and butter on the side. Clotted cream is never served here – only the English have cream with their scones! The Irish prefer to use butter on their scones instead. Again, these scones are quite large, rough and crumbly, making it quite difficult to spread the hard butter evenly on the scone. I did like the sugar crust on the plain scone though, as well as how buttery the scone was.

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We ordered their other two sweet scones – a more modern blend of a Pear and Almond Scone and a Mixed Berry Scone. K found both too doughy, like a brioche-esque cake rather than a typical scone, and I have to agree with him. These scones were definitely more like a muffin than a scone, which was a bit disappointing.

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We finished off our meal with a shared Green Tea – unfortunately the teapot only held enough for one cup of tea, which I felt was a bit stingy given that it cost about 2.50 GBP. At least the scones were relatively cheap, costing between 1.50 GBP and 1.80 GBP each.

Overall, I would say that Avoca’s scones are the perfect large hearty doughy snack for the everyday Irish workingman or woman, rather than a feather-light dainty morsel served at an elegant afternoon tea with finger sandwiches. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Five scones between two people are more than ample – I’d actually just recommend ordering one each as a snack as it’s almost a meal in itself!

Avoca Cafe is located at 41 Arthur Street, Belfast Northern Ireland.