Dublin Again

The Paramount Hotel, our digs for two nights, is in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, meaning it is a tourist destination.  To quote our taxi driver on the outbound trip “Temple Bar is full of damned tourists and is shiite if you want to see the real Dublin”  Oh well, we already had reservations, so we stuck with our plan. The taxi driver was right, it was shiite. The hotel was originally either a whorehouse or was fifteen different slums bashed together and called a hotel.  There was nothing wrong with it, except getting to your room meant walking in ever changing directions up and down tiny flights of stairs at odd angles in strange directions in some kind of triangle pattern.  Temple Bar is the neighbourhood and it is somewhat famous from books and movies, which also means it attracts tourists looking for something memorable.  By comparison, the Byward Market in Ottawa, or the Distillery district in Toronto would be equivalents, meaning lots of shops, restaurants and bars interspersed with historical structures.

We dined that first night at the Porterhouse Pub, simple fare, as we were tired from our trip across the Irish Sea and retired comparatively early, still on boat time mentally.  This was disturbed at 0600 by the sounds of kegs. Bars, of which Temple Bar has hundreds, require beer. Beer is transported in steel kegs. Empties must be removed and full ones delivered each morning to keep the thirsty patrons at bay.  We lay there, half dozing and hoping the sound would cease, allowing us to nod back off on a Monday morning. No. It would seem that Monday is the prime delivery day and 0600 the prime delivery time, for at least a friggin hour. Bang, clank, rumble, Bang, clank, rumble.  Repeat until you wish to do someone harm.

If we’re going to be up, then at least we can eat, so we adjourned to a joint just across the street that said it had breakfast.  Pinocchio’s was the name and yes, they did have breakfast. You could have toast and coffee. Groggily we agreed to toast and coffee, then noticing a large fiberglass Pinocchio head over in the corner, glaring at us the whole time.  Why an Italian pasta joint would have a fiberglass Pinocchio head, football mascot sized is the first puzzle. The second puzzle was why do you advertise breakfast if all you have is toast?

Our first stop was luggage.  Rob’s rolling bag decided after the miles of travel to blow a handle.  The telescoping handle wouldn’t retract any more, so rather than sacrifice his bag to Air Canada in a couple of days, we found a luggage store and obtained a new bag.  Since my contribution at this point was to stand around and look handsome, I figured I would help the staff load in a shipment of a couple of pallets of bags that were kindly dropped off in the road in front of the store. 

Across the street from the hotel was a place we both noted in our brains for sensible reasons.  If we returned home without some kind of treasures for our beloved partners in life, from an epic trip to the UK and Ireland, then we might as well just chain concrete blocks to our necks and drown in the River Liffey now and skip the flight home.

Being practical men we recognize that art is always appreciated.  We adjourned to Fab Cow and perused their wares.  Francis Leavey is the artist and one of the pieces of his that I had seen before was his single line drawings. They’re stunning pieces and getting to meet the artist is something you should always try to do, because then you understand the nuance and inspiration behind the work.  We bought modestly, because of luggage room, but we bought direct from the artist, which is always better.

Francis Leavey is a fascinating artist with a background in Chinese medicine and longish stays in China, as well as study of his art at a very deep level.  We compared notes, Francis speaking from how art reflects culture and me speaking how culture is reflected in food.  Eclectic and kind is the kind of mix one likes to be near.

Liquor was next on our list, Dublin being home to two magical distilleries, one that actually produces in Dublin and the other that has converted their old digs into an excellent display of the history of distilling in Ireland.

First stop, Jameson’s.

 

Food And Drink – Chippy

If one watches enough Coronation Street, you understand that a Chippy is the local Fish and Chip joint.  In Ellesmere on the return trip we decided to go truly local. Knowing the local Tesco would be open late after we moored up, we headed instead of to the Black Lion Hotel Pub, we went a few extra blocks to the local chippy, with a warm up stop at a local pub that did not serve food.  

A quick pint and a gab with a couple of locals “Ahh you’re Canadian then, we were worried you would be Yanks…” was not an uncommon comment that we heard more than once.  After our pints, we stepped next door for actual solid food.

What we call French Fries in Canada do not exist by that moniker in the UK:  Chips thanks and they have nothing to do with anything from McCain frozen, or from the Golden Arches drive-thru.  Chips start out as potatoes, cut into lengths then deep fried.

Since nowhere in England is more than 76 miles from the sea, fish is plentiful and almost always wonderfully fresh.  Again, battered then deep fried, a chippy trip is not for those without atorvastatin readily to hand. You can also get things like fried chicken or curry, but there had to be at least one meal of fish and chips from a real chippy.  With mushy peas, if only to keep to the stereotype.

Was it good?  Certainly it was.  We both ordered a small and the portion size would have fed a family of four, but the fish tasted like fish and the chips tasted like potatoes.  The mushy peas were the expected radioactive green and tasted somewhat like garden peas. A perfectly satisfying dinner after a day of hard work fighting the rain.

 

Food And Drink I – Pub Fare

One wag has described navigating the Shropshire Union Canal to Llangollen as a slow pub crawl on a boat.  Public houses seem to proliferate in the middle of nowhere next to the canal, ostensibly serving locals (Population of the village, 11 people, 1,400 sheep and 24 dogs) but in reality are there to provide a comfortable place for boaters to pause and refresh.

During high season when the canals are clogged with holiday-makers, business must be very good, but in the off-season, perhaps not so much.  Our trip, essential the first two weeks of October, is considered on the cusp of the off-season, as it can be cold, rainy and damp, sunny, or a blizzard, depending on the vagaurities of the UK Met. Office and their reading of the entrails.

Pub fare is the subject of much discussion among those who are self-proclaimed experts as to what is and is not actual pub fare.  Perhaps they know, or perhaps they are talking out their arse, but we do know what pub fare is not:

There are no micro-greens involved in or near pub fare

Peas of some sort must be served, or available to order

Gravy is a food group

Chips must taste like potato, not starch tubes and be served hot enough to scald

Yorkshire puddings are also a food group

No pub fare will feature a 50p sized piece of ‘artisanal’ salmon with an eggplant slice the size of a book of matches and cost £45, especially if served by someone wearing a wool hat named Campbell or Daffyd

There must be local, real ale.

You must be offered, or have readily available ‘brown’ sauce, which we know as HP

Vinegar must be malt vinegar

An appetite is required

Pub fare is not complicated food by any means.  Roasted meat, a couple of veg, potato of some sort, gravy and more often than not, Yorkshire pudding, especially if it is the Sunday roast special.  It is home-style cooking. Where else could you get cold, hand-carved real leg-of-pig ham, a small salad (instead of chips) and hot peas and carrots with palate-melting hot mustard except in a pub, or at home.  Portions are generous and you find that your membership in the clean-your-plate club is always threatened by the size of the meals.

When it comes to beverages, the most common accompaniment is ale.  Real ale, quite often brewed within a few miles of the pub, reflecting the local tastes and desires.  You will see taps for Heineken, Peroni or other commercial brews, but the most common is the hand-pulled pint of what is local and what pairs perfectly with the food.

Which is exactly what you want.