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: Kamenice and Dolce Vita, Dubrovnik Croatia

The morning after we arrived in Dubrovnik, K woke up with a persisting sharp pain and a large red inflammation in his big toe. Consulting with Dr Google (never a good idea!) we thought it warranted a visit to the local hospital for a formal diagnosis and treatment. Gout. My thirty-year-old husband developed gout. The diagnosis put a significant dampener on our plans to explore Dubrovnik as he had to spend most of our time in the city on the couch with his foot elevated!

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Still, we couldn’t be complete recluses as we needed to go to a pharmacy to get some ongoing medication to prevent further gouty breakouts in the future. We combined our outing with a visit to one of the few restaurants in the Old City that remains open during the tourism low season – Kamenice.

It’s interesting to note that well over half of the restaurants in the area close between November and March, relying entirely on summer tourist trade to earn income for the whole year. Kamenice is one of the few that remains open, and I think it’s because they do a strong take-away trade for locals who want to take some freshly cooked seafood home with them.

Octopus Salad Dalmatia Style, 79 Croatian Kuna
Octopus Salad Dalmatia Style, 79 Croatian Kuna

We started with the Octopus Salad to share – a refreshing mix of grilled (local) octopus with raw red onion, diced tomatoes, parsley, and lemon juice. It’s a local specialty, one that I’ve seen on many menus of restaurants along the Croatian coastline because it literally is the perfect dish. The sweetness of the tomato offsets the sharpness of the raw onion, while the smoked tender octopus is enhanced by the sourness of the lemon – and it’s all topped off with a lingering freshness on the palate thanks to the parsley. It’s an absolute winner of a dish, and a perfect example of how a great dish doesn’t need a list of ingredients a mile long to be amazing. Simple is best.

Mussels Bouzzara, 68 Croatian Kuna
Mussels Bouzzara, 68 Croatian Kuna

I chose the main dish of Mussels Bouzzara and in doing so, cursed K for developing gout as it would prevent us from splitting dishes as we had done in the past. As part of his new gout-friendly diet, he needed to cut back on eating red meat (no steaks), molluscs (no oysters or mussels!), and to refrain from drinking alcohol and soft drinks. That meant that this whole platter of mussels cooked in white wine with garlic and parsley was just for me!

I loved the sauce that the mussels were cooked in, and took great delight in sopping it up with chunks of bread. However, I found the mussels a bit strange, in that almost 80% of them hadn’t been de-bearded before cooking – a large flaw in my book. It’s not that hard to do either. I don’t know whether it’s a local custom to leave them untouched, but it results in a less than pleasant experience as you end up trying to de-beard cooked mussels which is much harder than de-bearding an uncooked mussel!

Spaghetti Bolognese, 68 Croatian Kuna
Spaghetti Bolognese, 68 Croatian Kuna

Shockingly, K ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese even after I told him to cut back on his consumption of red meat. “There’s hardly any meat in it,” he reasoned. “It’s mainly pasta carbs anyway”. He was proven wrong when this generous serving of meaty bolognese sauce on pasta was placed in front of him. There was more mince than sauce and I’m convinced that this dish delayed his healing process by another day. Still, he enjoyed this traditional spagbol so much, that I didn’t have the heart to tell him off too much.

Kamenice is the type of restaurant you want to go to in fair weather – with only a few seats inside, they rely on the beautiful Dalmatia Coast sunshine to warm up the outdoor seating. Luckily it’s rare for the thermostat to drop below 10 degrees even in the depths of winter – it was a warm and balmy 17 degrees on the day that we went in February! There’s nothing quite as good as eating freshly caught local seafood outside with the warm sun on your shoulders, and Kamenice is the place to go for that experience in Dubrovnik.

Kamenice is located at 8 Gunduliceva Poljana, Dubrovnik.

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I wouldn’t bother sticking around at Kamenice for dessert or drinks, as they only offer two options – a creme caramel or fresh fruit. Instead, I suggest you pay your bill quickly and then head down the street to Dolce Vita, a little ice-cream and dessert bar in one of Dubrovnik Old City’s many narrow walkways. It’s a big favourite with the local kids after school – many younger kids will drop in to buy a scoop of ice-cream with their allowance money, and older kids will order pancakes then sit around and engage in awkward teenage flirting.

Chocolate and cherry palacinke, 20 Croatian Kuna
Chocolate and cherry palacinke, 20 Croatian Kuna

K ordered the Chocolate and Cherry Palacinke, reasoning that “cherries are shown to help reduce the incidence of gout, so this is a gout-healthy meal”. That’s a bit of a roundabout reasoning given that the cherries were tinned not fresh, and there was more cherry syrup than actual cherries, but whatever works for him! The palacinke were wonderfully springy and fluffy, and the the chocolate sauce rich and thick.

Vanilla and walnut cake, 12 Croatian Kuna
Vanilla and walnut cake, 12 Croatian Kuna

I chose for a simpler option after my button-bursting giant platter of mussels – a dainty Vanilla and Walnut Sponge Cake. The sponge was just as light as it should be, with a satisfying crunch every so often as you bit into a walnut crumb. Combined with the slightly tart almost lemony cream frosting, this was the perfect little slice of cake to satisfy a sweet tooth without putting too much pressure on my jeans.

Drop into Dolce Vita for a sit-down dessert like we did – or even just drop in for a takeaway scoop of ice-cream. Either way, it’s a dessert destination in Dubrovnik that’s not to be missed!

Dolce Vita is located at 1a Naljeskoviceva, Dubrovnik.

Review: Restaurant Amarena, Bilbao, Spain

Arriving late in the afternoon in Bilbao, Basque Country, K and I were stuck for ideas for dinner. Having been fully engrossed in our travels at that point through the Netherlands, Belgium and France, we hadn’t really done any research into what Spain, and more specifically the Basque Autonomous Region, offered in terms of regional dining specialities.

Walking through the Old Town, we saw groups of people out drinking at bars and eating little bar snacks, but nowhere did we actually see anyone having a full meal. It wasn’t until later after doing some research that we realised it was normal to have drinks and pintxos (like tapas) at bars until about 9pm – 10pm, at which point you move onto a restaurant to have dinner.

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My stomach doesn’t agree with those dining hours though, as it demands satisfaction from an evening meal no later than 8pm! So with some difficulty, we found a proper sit-down restaurant serving up early dinners to tourists like ourselves – Restaurant Amarena.

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We steeled ourselves for the very worst in tourist dining experiences – high prices, generic menus, bland food. The lack of locals in the restaurant all seemed to indicate that we had a less than ideal foodie evening ahead. Luckily, it proved to be the exact opposite as you’ll see later on!

Warm seasonal vegetable salad, $7.50 Euro
Warm seasonal vegetable salad, $7.50 Euro

We started by sharing the Warm Seasonal Vegetable Salad as an entree. The whole salad was lightly dressed with a tasty tangy vinaigrette and a little cucumber and tomato salsa, but the highlight was definitely the charring on the winter vegetables in the salad. Nothing quite beats smoky chargrilled eggplant and capsicum, and sweet caramelised pumpkin.

Braised veal cheeks, $9.90 Euro
Braised veal cheeks, $9.90 Euro

K ordered the Braised Veal Cheeks – and didn’t expect too much from the description on the menu given it was listed with a sub-$10 price point. He was very pleasantly surprised when this dish was set in front of him – soft, tender veal that fell apart with a single touch. Served with some roast potatoes and a strong savoury gravy, this dish was a hearty meal that really hit the spot.

Basque hake with prawns and clams, $13.50 Euro
Basque hake with prawns and clams, $13.50 Euro

I chose to have a local seafood specialty – the Basque Hake with Prawns and Clams. The most disappointing thing about this dish is that it was only served with two clams and two prawns on top, as I would have expected a little more for the price. Still, the fish was cooked beautifully, and the herbed buttery sauce was absolutely delicious, especially when sopped up with the complimentary bread.

Pantxineta, traditional Basque dessert, $5.90 Euro
Pantxineta, traditional Basque dessert, $5.90 Euro

We shared a dessert to finish our meal – Pantxineta, a traditional Basque dessert. I had no idea what it was when we ordered it, as the waiter who didn’t speak English very well simply said, “It’s a traditional cake”. What it actually is is a puff pastry tart filled with custard, topped with nuts and icing sugar. This was served on a bed of thick and rich dark chocolate sauce, and a less impressive scoop of vanilla ice-cream on the side. It was absolutely delicious in its simplicity, definitely a dessert that I’d like to try and replicate when we return to Australia!

Overall, our meal at Restaurant Amarena was an amazing start to our time in Spain/Basque Country. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of each dish presented, especially as we had walked in expecting to be gouged in a tourist trap. Further research after we left the area advised us that this level of quality is consistently maintained throughout all restaurants in the Basque Country, where food plays an integral part in local culture. A good reason to return to Bilbao?

Restaurant Amarena is located at 18 Calle Santa Maria, Bilbao, Spain.