Benefit From the Bad Behaviour of Others

It would appear that certain features of the so-called Celtic Tiger are back. A number of restaurateurs – all of them running very serious places – tell me that people are booking several restaurants for the same date and time and then, at the last minute, deciding what one to choose.

That’s bad enough, but, as you will have guessed by now these ill-bred, awful people don’t even bother to cancel the restaurants that they are letting down. It’s utterly reprehensible behaviour, flagrantly inconsiderate and perhaps a modern manifestation of the old proverb about beggars on horseback.

The silver lining – for us, not for the restaurants – is that there are often last minute tables available in even the best of establishments. One Michelin-starred chef said to me this week “Tell people to phone and check. It’s possible, even likely that some of these bastards will have just let us down. Let their shitty behaviour be your good fortune.”

Sounds like a plan.


The Foxrock Olive Harvest

Foxrock’s own olive oil, to be found at Bistro One, despite global warming is not entirely nostrano. It comes from owner Mark Shannon’s olive grove near Lucca in Tuscany and thanks to the tiny scale of production, the age of the trees and the diligent care of Mark and his family, the oil is superb. Green gold, precious stuff, with a combination of pepper, fruit and leafiness that I find irresistible.

Mark tells me that this year’s harvest was of excellent quality but reduced in quantity, hence the few bottles that they had for sale to customers are well sold by now. But the restaurant has enough to keep them going for another ten months. All the more reason to eat there. Here’s my take on Bistro One




My Pick of the Aldi Christmas Wines:

I was asked by several friends to email them a short guide to what they should be buying this year in Aldi. This is what I wrote. I should add that I work with Aldi Ireland on the wine side (and that I do so very gladly as a longtime admirer of their quality).

There’s no bore like a wine bore, so I’d better be careful here. But I just want to tell you about my top picks from the Aldi wine selection for Christmas 2016. I promise I’ll try to be brief and to-the-point!

Well, the key point is that Aldi has better value than ever before and the quality is amazingly impressive and – something competitors struggle with – outstandingly consistent.

Let’s kick off with festive fizz.

Well there’s the magnum of Lucci Prosecco (that’s a double bottle, so 1.5 litres for €21.99) for entertaining and it’s proper spumante Prosecco, not the less sparkling frizzante. I think it’s great with peach purée (which makes a Bellini) or fresh orange juice to make a Mimosa (or Buck’s Fizz, if you prefer) for Christmas brunch.

Or there’s the amazing Crémant de Jura, 100% Chardonnay and 100% sparkling, really elegant stuff with more than a hint of Champagne for €10.99. The only trouble is that, at this price, some people will think “It can’t be any good.” They will be missing a treat.

But I think I’ll keep it for New Year and stay with Champagne for Christmas itself and I am genuinely torn between old favourite Veuve Monsigny No 3 (€19.99) which is totally seductive (and which beat the famous and very expensive Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame in a blind tasting!) and its sister, Veuve Monsigny Grand Cru Blanc des Blancs 2009.

This is serious gear, made with all Chardonnay grapes from the best regions within Champagne. It’s delicate yet powerful, fabulously stylish and I had to pinch myself when I saw the price: €26.99. Seriously, it tastes closer to €100.

Right, on to the whites and this is where I think of all the fabulous seafood that Aldi has this Christmas.

Amongst the classics are the Chablis (€12.99) and Chablis Grand Cru (€21.99), both great expressions of the region and the style. It’s Chardonnay again but not as most people know it: very dry, almost austere, with a mineral tang and, in the Grand Cru, a touch of honey on the nose.

The Montagny Premier Cru (€16.99) is riper and broader with a good seasoning of smoky oak and it tastes dearer than it costs.

Then there’s the gorgeous Limoux Chardonnay (yes, again!) which comes from the Languedoc, way down south in France but from high altitude, cool vineyards. The result is a bit like an expensive Californian white wine with a lovely seasoning of expensive toasty French oak. Yours for €9.99.

My own choice here I think is going to be the Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Riesling from Australia: dry, very crisp with a touch of lime and even a whiff of petrol (which is, believe it or not a classic tasting note! Try it and see.) At €9.99 this is pretty well half the price of an equivalent wine elsewhere and, for me, is just perfect with smoked salmon.

If you’re taking the traditional route and staying with turkey, I’d suggest a white, ideally a Chardonnay, maybe the Limoux but why not the Lot Argentinian Chardonnay (€13.99) with all that plump, juicy New World fruit to counteract any dryness in the meat.

If it’s going to be goose or duck (and I think we’re going with duck due to empty nest syndrome here) you need a red with a bit of acidity. The Exquisite Collection Fleurie (€9.99) would do the trick or you could push the boat out with the Beaune, a beautifully poised red Burgundy for €29.99. Alternatively, try the Exquisite Collection Hawke’s Bay Cabernet-Merlot (€10.99) which hails from New Zealand but could be taken for an expensive Bordeaux.

Speaking of which, Chateau Saint-Pierre (€29.99) is a grand cru from Bordeaux’s Saint-Julien commune and is such a bargain it will fly off the shelves. It’s still young but let it open and soften in the glass and drink it slowly (or put it away for a few years if you can bear to).

If you’re going to try beef this year, one of my top choices would have to be the Exquisite Collection Rioja Reserva Penusco which not only has over a decade of ageing under its belt but it’s the exceptional 2005 vintage, an outstanding wine for €11.99.

Then again there are the Lot Series red wines: in these I adore the dark, brooding and delicious Douro Grande Reserva at €13.99.

With lamb, Rioja is always a good partner but the Exquisite Collection Valpolicella Classico Ripasso (made with partially dried grapes, as it happens) was terrific when I put the two together recently. The Exquisite Collection New Zealand Pinot Noir, however, could have been specially designed to go with lamb (and they do have a lot of them down there).

This year Aldi has a fabulously decadent collection of sweet wines which will be good with mince pies, pudding and all sorts of sticky things. But, odd as it may seem, they are even better with blue cheese.

There’s the famously apricot scented St Stephen’s Crown Tokaji 5 Puttonyos (€24.99), the honeyed, barley sugar concentration of Chateau de Myrat Sauternes (€17.99) and the remarkable de Bortoli Liqueur Muscat (€16.99) that tastes like a kind of dark alcoholic marmalade!

The jewel in the crown, of course, has to be Maynard’s 40 Year Old Tawny Port (€49.99) from the Van Zeller family who used to own Quinta do Noval, home of the rarest and most expensive port in the world, Nacional.

This is how you get to drink history. Apart from that it’s sweet, nutty with touches of candied peel, raisin and caramel and, best of all, the taste goes on and on and on...

Speaking of which, I better not. Because I could talk about the fabulous Lot Pinot Blanc and the new Chateauneuf and the Gavi... but I don’t want to bore you!

Whatever you choose to drink Christmas, I hope you will be very happy.


A Couple of Recipes for Christmas

It’s not too late to make mince meat, so I thought you might like to see Johann’s (aka @Caccabus’s) recipe by which a lot of people swear (in a very good way). And, on the basis that most mulled wine is absolutely vile, I’ve decided to share my recipe for a dangerously drinkable version. Enjoy!


Old Pop Doorley's Hot Drinking Wine

(The name is inspired by Private Eye’s glorious Old Ma Moosejaw’s Rare Old Canadian Drinking Wine – just add sachet to water)

This is a recipe that I researched and recreated from an old recipe twenty years ago when I was on RTÉ television’s Moveable Feast. It has stood the test of time and is now a family favourite. Make sure the wine is good but not expensive; and use a LBV Port if you want a bit more oomph. You can also splash in a little brandy at the end but be careful!

(serves 6, generously)


2 bottles of modest but quaffable red wine

1 bottle ruby port (Maynard’s from Aldi is good)

1 stick of cinnamon

12 cloves

½ a nutmeg, finely grated

1 lemon

8 sugar cubes

sugar to taste


Pour the wine and the port into a stainless steel saucepan with a lid. Add the herbs and start to heat the mixture gently. Now take the lemon and rub the rind hard with each of the sugar cubes until they absorb some lemon oil from the rind.

Add the lemony sugar cubes to the mixture in the saucepan; slice the lemon thinly and add it too.

Taste. You may want to add more sugar if you have a sweet tooth.

Don’t allow the mixture to boil (unless you want a very low alcochol version of mulled wine, which isn’t a bad idea) and ladle it into pre-warmed glasses. If you want to be dainty, it might be an idea to fish out the cloves and the cinnamon.


Vegetarian Christmas Mincemeat

(Fills a 1 litre preserving jar)

grated zest and juice of a lemon
450g cooking apple, grated
150g raisins
150g sultanas
150g currants
200g muscavado sugar
100g dried apricots (stoneless)
100g mixed candied peel
1 cm fresh ginger
½ tsp green cardamon seeds
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
40g butter
60ml whiskey

Put the lemon zest, juice, apple, raisins, sultanas currants and sugar into a large bowl. Chop the apricots and candied peel into small dice, then add them to the bowl.


Peel the ginger and grate it into the mix. Roughly crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and add them with the cinnamon, coriander and nutmeg. Mix all well and leave to stand over night. 
Next day transfer to a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes until thick. Leave to cool for 10 - 15 minutes and stir in the butter and whiskey. Transfer into hot sterlised jars and seal.

When cool, store in the fridge.