Kinnaree Thai

After a few months working my butt off I decided it was time for a night out with the better half.  Somewhere with a taste of the exotic was what we had in mind, and a friend of mine knew just the place.

Kinnaree Thai has been serving up the best Thai cuisine in Birmingham as far back as 2007.  In the same year it won the Excellence in Tourism award.  It sits on the waterfront behind the Mailbox and over the canal from the Cube.

From the outside it looks very warm and inviting, full of candles, statues and Thai curiosities.  They don’t do minimalism here.  The ladies who greeted us were courteous and welcoming, and led us to our table.

Over a soft drink we browsed through the menu, a long slim booklet.  But it was very descriptive and full of wonder.  We opted for the set menu of Sukhothai Era, mostly because it sounded like a beach resort.

It consisted of some tasty, if chewy, crab cakes, spring rolls, prawn dumpling parcels, and a fantastic chicken satay with peanut sauce.  Alongside all this was a carrot carving that I could not replicate if you gave me all year.

For the next course we were given steaming bowls of hot and sour soup.  It was spicy as hell, and it cleared up my head cold overnight!  It was filled with tender pieces of chicken and oriental vegetables, nice and crisp.

After the starters were cleared we took a few minutes before the next course.  I had first come across Kinnaree Thai when I visited their stand at the Taste of Birmingham festival last summer.  They were demonstrating their achievements in fruit carving and decoration, something I have always held in awe.

A short while later our main course arrived in ornately decorated bowls.  For my better half came a mild green chicken curry.  For me a lovely stir-fried beef with a red chili paste.  And to share came a stir-fried pork in oyster sauce.  The beef was cooked to perfection, not too dry or overdone, nor too rare or chewy.  The pork was lovely and tender, stewed in oyster sauce for some considerable time.  It all came accompanied by fluffy, sticky jasmine rice.

I managed a fair amount but my better half was slightly over-faced by the meal.  Thai food is amazing but you have to take it slowly.  It is healthy and free of MSG.

By now the place was really starting to fill up with mid-week diners from the local hotels and apartment blocks.  With the opening of the Cube hotel opposite, business looks set to boom for Kinnaree.

But could we manage a dessert?  Better half said no, but I talked her into sharing one with me.  We opted for deep-fried ice cream, more out of curiosity than anything.  I mean, how do they do that?

It is a tricky process of taking a scoop of  ice cream, coating it in a doughnut-like batter, freezing it again, then deep frying the whole package, like a fist-sized golden ball.  We cracked open the crispy outer coating to reveal the still-frozen ice cream inside.  It tasted like a doughnut, and we finished it in barely a minute.  So much for feeling full!

We skipped coffee, settled up and thanked the attentive staff on the way out.

Kinnaree Thai is definitely worth a visit, especially mid-week.  It is not expensive and is located in an area rich with bars for a pre-dinner drink.

Check their website here:  Kinnaree Thai

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El Greco Sangria

Well boys and girls the summer has officially started, so grab your spot on the beach while you can!  I nearly bought a sunbed the other day but I didn’t want to curse it.

So you want something cool, tasty and slightly alcoholic to sip while you lap up the rays?  Step into my bar.

Sangria is a Spanish beverage that goes back a hundred years and them some.  It is popular with a light lunch using what alcohol is available.  My version is a little different, as I use a sweet Greek red wine instead of the usual Rioja.  The fruity flavour mixes well with various ingredients.

You need:

One bottle of Mavrodaphne Greek red wine

One large carton of orange juice

Various white spirits (dry sherry, rum, gin or vodka) 100ml

50ml of Metaxa Greek Brandy for fuller flavour

Soft fruit such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries. cherries, orange, lemon.

Take one large bowl, add all the ingredients, cover and place in a refrigerator overnight.  Once all the flavours have infused overnight you can serve it in a punch bowl with attendant cups for people to help themselves.

That is really all there is to it.  Feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you will.  Enjoy!

Yammas as the Greeks would say.

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A restaurant to Bank on

Birmingham has some great restaurants, as we all know.  Some are better than others, and often they come and go within merely a few years.  Consistency is a rare thing in the restaurant world.

One of the best known restaurants in Birmingham is Bank, and it is known for simply getting it right, on time, every time, all of the time.

My partner and I chose to dine on a Thursday night, as it wouldn’t be as busy.  How wrong we were.  They were going at it like the recession never happened.  We were greeted at the door by very friendly smiley staff, the likes of which you do not get at some establishments.  After a short drink in the very busy bar we moved swiftly to our table in the far corner, away from the crowds.

Our table was nice and sturdy, and overlooked the canals and the NIA.  When the nights get lighter it will be a lovely place to sit and gaze out.

Our waitress, Erica, was very switched on, attentive and knowledgeable throughout the evening.  She brought us nice crispy bread rolls and some very tasty olives and garlic to nibble on while we were choosing from the menu.

As the designated driver I was on the chateau coca-cola for the night but my partner had a glass of Pinot Grigio blush.  It was nice, and cold and crisp, apparently.

For starters we had gone for the Prawns in Tempura Batter with a chili and lime jam (me) and Grilled Asparagus topped with Poached Egg and Hollandaise sauce (her).  The prawns were cooked just enough to still be juicy, and cooked in Tempura batter, which was nice and light.  I loved the jam accompaniment and must have a go at making it myself one day.  Herself delighted in her Asparagus, which was cooked beautifully with the perfect poached egg on top.  And, believe me, she can be fussy about her poached eggs.

Between courses I popped to the bathrooms and had a general explore of the place on the way back.  Bank also has a private dining room for about thirty (at a guess).  It has a well stocked bar, and some of the best award-winning cocktail bartenders in Birmingham.  The whole place is in a good state of repair, but it could do with a lick of paint and a bit of upholstery.  Most of this is scheduled to take place over the summer and autumn.

I returned just in time for the steaks.  Herself had gone for the Rib-eye while I had settled for the Sirloin.  Cooking a steak to the customers requirements must be the least exact science known to man.  I had asked for medium rare, so, knowingly, they had cooked it the rare side of medium.  With a steak it is always safer to under-cook it slightly, so if anyone complains, they just give it another ten seconds.  Better than throwing it to the dog and starting again.  It came served with the traditional steak garnish of flat mushroom and grilled tomato.  And you can’t argue with that kind of tradition.  We also had proper fat chips, and a rocket salad.  Herself loved the salad, rocket leaves, freshly shaved Parmesan and balsamic vinegar.  It went perfectly with the steak, she said.  So know I suppose we will be having a lot more salad at home.

The service was attentive, and not rushed, but far from slack.  They just get on with it in a calm and professional manner.  They have a simple white uniform with a long black apron.  These are a good idea, they are easier to change than a whole shirt in the middle of a busy night.

After the steaks we had a little rest before choosing a dessert.  We were pretty full so we agreed that one to share would be adequate.  After some debate, as we do about such things, we finally agreed on the Baked New York Cheesecake with a berry coulis.  And also, a cappucino for me.  We concluded that we made a very good choice, it tasted fantastic, and creamy without being too heavy.

On our way out we said goodbye to Gemma, who greeted us earlier, and told her a little about the website.  She was the epitome of charm with a lovely smile.

So to sum up:  Bank is one of the city’s leading restaurants and takes it’s responsibility very seriously.  It’s food is first rate and it’s staff are wonderfully professional.  It has a great location and, for the quality, is far from overpriced.  We recommend it highly.

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Rimini Chicken

Many moons ago, on holiday in Italy, my family visited a restaurant in the Italian holiday resort of Rimini.  It was here that I tried the most amazing, juicy lemon chicken I have ever tasted.  It took me literally years to re-create the dish to as close as I can get it, but the original recipe (and name) are known only to the locals themselves.

So you need:

Six or eight chicken legs, thighs, or drumsticks.  Or even a combination of them all.

Four lemons

Chicken stock (one pint)

300 ml Pinot Grigio or any dry white

Tarragon,  Paprika, Oregano,  and seasonings.

Pre-heat your oven at 180 degrees Celsius.  Take one large oven dish (lasagne size) and place the chicken in the bottom.  Grate the lemons and squeeze the juice out.  Sprinkle the lemon zest carefully over the chicken.  Sprinkle two large tablespoons of tarragon, paprika and oregano over the chicken.  Add a little salt and a twist of cracked black pepper.

Carefully pour the pint of chicken stock over the chicken, being careful not to wash off the herbs.  Add the white wine to the dish.  Cover and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, checking regularly.  After thirty minutes, check the chicken with a knife, if it is pink inside cook for a further ten minutes.  If it is perfectly white and steaming, it is cooked perfectly.

The juices can be used to make delicious gravy too.

Serve with your own choice of potatoes and vegetables.

Enjoy!

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Chef’s Tales

Yorkshire has produced some darned good cooks down the years.  Brian Turner, James Martin, er.. me.  But one of the most traveled and seasoned has to be Mike Saxon, author of the new book, Chef’s Tales.  Now the name may not be familiar to you for a very good reason, he left the UK in his teens and I seriously doubt he has ever looked back.

Mike’s adventures took him to the four corners of the earth, Toronto, the Bahamas, the Philippines and Malaysia to name but a few.  Finally at long last he has found time to sit down and write his stories.

Whether he as delivering room service to naked people in Toronto, coming face to face with huge rats in Barbados or dodging bullets in Houston, Mike’s job was never dull.  He met weird and wonderful figures as the mysterious Mr Teppinyaki.  Then there was the  fearsome French chef who would chase people around the kitchen with meat cleavers.  And a whole cast of mentalists who, in spite or because of their antics, produced the best food you will ever taste.

On his days off he has hunted and fished in deepest darkest Canada among the bears, walked the Great Wall of China, and partied like Dionysus.  He has sunbathed with Playboy models (presumably on his front), eaten in jaw droppingly dirty Hong Kong street cafes, and had near death experiences being chauffeured by  nudist taxi drivers.

So I finally got hold of this Malaysia-based individual for a chat:

My current position is the “Director of the Hospitality & Lifestyle Division” which comes with the additional title of the “CEO Of Delicious Group of restaurants” both these portfolios are for the Eastern & Oriental Group. I have just accepted this position 2 months ago after being promoted from the position of GM of the EOH Hotel in Penang.

I have currently about 1,000 employees who work with me and which I feel a great responsibility to ensure they are well taken care of in regards to all aspects, especially their personal finances, their health and their career development. Ensuring they are working happy is also one of my biggest dreams that drives me everyday which and will hopefully help me to succeed in my responsibilities and tasks.

I am responsible for the financial performance of both the 125 year old Heritage E&O Hotel and the heritage boutique Lone Line hotel on Batu Ferringhi beach. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel fondly known as the E&O was owned by the same family who also built and owned the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. We also build and manage luxury property developments for which I also take overall responsibility. When these 5* developments are completed and occupied, to ensure that all buyers and residents alike get to witness and enjoy the overall E&O Hospitality and lifestyle trademark personal and 5* services.


Of all the chefs you have worked with, who inspired you the most?

I have to be very honest that I am not too fond of the TV chefs who shout, swear, belittle and abuse other human beings to increase ratings. It is my personal view that to make them selves more famous they paint a very bad picture of uneducated and uncouth chefs working in the tourism industry. This puts young people considering a life in the hospitality industry off, we are always complaining concerning the lack of young enthusiasm but kick them in the backside with a size 10 safety shoe the second they walk through the back door of the hotel and are unbelievably surprised when they walk right back out never to be seen again.

I once worked with a chef in Hong Kong whom taught me humility, he taught me how to be honorable and fair and he taught me that deep down that all people no matter how tough the exterior are deep down inside ultimately fragile. He taught me to never think I was any better that the kitchen dish washer, as for without him I would have to wash the dishes myself. He taught me that everyone in the kitchen is of equal importance, a well oiled and vulnerable machine and without you having these basic beliefs you are sure doomed to fail. I have sharpened my people’s skills to ensure that I motivate my people with psychological tools and never with a stick as, I can even today clearly remember being abused when I started out as a chef at 16. The day I have to behave like a Neanderthal is the day I will instantly retire, hang up my gear and walk away.

Did you see much of your family during your international journey?

I left home in 1978 after promising my parents to only stay away for an initial 6 months period and went to live in Canada with 300 pounds sterling in my pocket. I have never been back since other than a yearly 2 weeks holiday to ensure my parents are aright and that they are well taken care of. I am now married to my wonderful Malaysian soul mate from Sabah in Borneo and we have 2 lovely daughters aged 10 and 4. Now that I am almost 51 years old I have calculated to ensure my girls get the great education that I have promised them, that is my responsibility to deliver and for which they definitely deserve, I have now calculated that I have to work until I am 102. However I shall still keep going back to Harrogate one a year as I am proud of where I come from and love my parents dearly.

Why did you pick Malaysia to settle?

I have lived and worked in 9 different countries so far and visited many more. They all have good points and bad points and I guess the idea like everything is to try and choose the country with the least bad points and the country with the most best points. Malaysia is clean, affordable, and stable with loving people of different cultures that live in harmony which made the decision to stay here a no brainer. The fact that I have a wife and 2 daughters living with me in my house and would kill me if I asked to move has nothing to do with it.

Give me a good disaster story?

I was working for a top 5* hotel in the Bahamas and we had been working on a buffet for 1,200 VIP’S whom had flown in from Miami for a trip of a lifetime and we were challenged to give them a dinner they would surely never forget. 30 minutes before they were supposed to arrive, a chef ran around the fully presented and uncovered food items laid out on the huge buffet table and sprayed the entire spread emptying a whole can of bug spray. Everything had to be thrown away and we barely made the buffet presentable with the back up food from the kitchen before the guests arrived. Half way through of course we had to replace the original menu items with what ever we had in the fridge. Hardly the original hard worked, well planned and impeccably delivered master piece, but we at least got them fed. I heard later that the VIP’S had told our General Manager that they had indeed had a dinner that they would never forget, and also I heard that the chef had been committed to the local mental hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown; we all nearly had one as well!

Do you have any advice for the next generation of chefs?

Use cook books to get you started but them improve yourself by cooking with one very secret ingredient… your heart.

The profession of a chef is a challenging one but offers opportunities that are beyond your wildest dreams. Recently, over lunch with a friend who’s in the hospitality training line, we were lamenting the difficulties of getting young people to commit themselves to the hospitality industry. With Malaysia hoping to welcome 24 million tourists this year, (which should generate at least RM26 billion in revenue), securing a good reputation for service, safety, food quality and tourist appreciation has to be our top priority. Towards this end, I am thinking that the hotel industry should do more to make itself attractive to prospective employees. It is only by attracting young, energetic and intelligent people who are dedicated to the hospitality business that we can hope to improve the overall tourism industry.

Well, I always wanted to be a chef. Just the thought of having the opportunity to make people happy with a great dining experience – one that they would remember forever – made it the easiest career choice for me to make. A few hoteliers have taught me that this business chooses you and when you embrace it, you will banish the thought of considering the other professions you had initially tried. To remain in this demanding industry, the passion for it has to be in your blood but the hospitality line is a challenging one which offers immensely rewarding careers.

International travelled chefs are people who have much better interpersonal and problem-solving skills because of their exposure to people from different backgrounds, from around the world. The hotel industry will give you a sense of being that no other profession could; it will help you travel the world, mature in every way humanly possible and send your self-confidence soaring to rare heights. The hotel business will offer you opportunities that are beyond even your wildest dreams. When your chance to join it comes, grab it by the horns and never look back as you will be on the path to fulfillment. Very few professions will ever afford you the sense of fulfillment that you will get from the hotel business.

Mike’s book is available via Amazon.co.uk

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Steamed Lamb

These days we have to make the most of the cuts of meat we can get.  Lamb is notoriously expensive compared to pork and beef, but you can still make a decent meal out of even the cheapest cuts.

I found two rolls of lamb in the cheapest section of Asda, for under £2.00 each.  The first time I cooked them I roasted them in the oven.  They were tasteless and tough as old boots.  So I revised a little and came up with a new tack.

So, for this method you will need two rolls of lamb, about four cloves of unpeeled garlic and one lemon cut into wedges.  It takes two hours to cook, be aware.

Take one steaming pan, add half a pint of boiling water to the bottom and set the hob on mark 3.  Add the lemon and garlic cloves to the base of the pan.  Place the inner pan with the holes over the water.  Place the lamb within the inner pan and cover with a lid.

(Here I added some Gyros flavouring but that is optional)

It takes over two hours to steam thoroughly.  Check it from time to time, and add water to the pan as it can evaporate fairly quickly.  Please take care and only lift the lid using a dry cloth or oven glove.

After two hours remove the pan from the heat, and remove the lamb on to a separate plate using a set of tongs or a fork.  Cut off the outer netting and then carefully cut off the outer fat.

What you are left with underneath is some juicy lamb still with all it’s moisture and taste sealed in.

Important:  Do not pour the water from the pan down the sink, it is full of fat and will congeal and block the drain.  Pour it out the back or on to the garden instead.

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Piccolino Birmingham

When you get an invite to the finest Italian restaurant Birmingham has to offer you know things are looking up.

Piccolino Birmingham opened a few years ago.  It sits right in the culinary epicenter of Birmingham, Brindley place.  In fact, it sits right opposite it’s sister restaurant, Bank.  Not only that, it has Jamie’s Italian newly arrived in the city and Carluccio’s just around the corner.  Clearly it has to stay cutting edge to keep ahead of the game.

Their latest idea, sponsored by Grey Goose Vodka, are courses in cocktail mixology.  Knowing as I do, that mixing drinks is tremendous fun, they should be on to a winner with that.

The Spring season is now well underway.  Valentine’s day is an expensive memory, Mother’s day is ahead of us with Easter hot on it’s heels.  So busy times ahead for these boys and girls.

I arrived, chilled to the bone, on a recent Saturday evening.  The manager, Shazma, must have noticed as she was good enough to seat me facing the pizza oven next to the open kitchen.

I had opted for the lunchtime menu, which was still in operation especially for me.  The main menu is full of Italian wonders for the pallette.  Everything from pan-fried Swordfish to Tuscan sausages.  They also have a very extensive (though inexpensive) wine list.

As I said they had an open kitchen, and before me the Pizza chef was busy doing his thing.  The clay Pizza oven behind him was on full and he must have been roasting, but he seemed unperturbed and cool as a cucumber.  I don’t know how he coped, seriously.

To start I had the pan-fried Calamaris on a bed of rocket.  It arrived in a very reasonable time frame and was suitably delicious.  Even the little crunchy tenticles!Pan-frying Calamaris isn’t easy, two seconds two long and it can go like rubber, but these guys and girls were pros.

The girls on the table next to me were having a bit of a ponder of what to order so the waiter called one of the chefs out.  He did a better job of selling the dish, I feel he was wasted cooped up in the kitchen.  I don’t know if she got his number, but I she sure asked.

Just outside the kitchen they had a proper Italian prosciutto ham slicer, with a big hunk of meat ready to go.  Every ten minutes the chefs came out to slice off a plateful.  Now this is what you call fresh.

While waiting for my main course I had a look around the place.  The whole place, toilets especially, were in an excellent state of repair.

By the time I got back my main course was nearly ready.  I had gone for the chicken and prosciutto kebabs on a bed of ragu.  Chicken and prosciutto are one of those winning combinations that works so well as long as it isn’t overdone.  Naturally, it wasn’t, they could probably cook it blindfold.  The ragu was not too heavy or too rich, and was clearly home made.

I had no complaints about the service at all.  I did notice that they wore no name badges, which is a bold move on somebody’s part.  But they were all friendly, smiley and immaculate, which isn’t always easy, believe me.

I finished off with a nice frothy Cappuchino, good and rich, with a half-topping of cocoa.  I am a bit of a geek when it comes to how people top their coffee.  Blame Starbucks.

By the time I was ready to go the trickle of customers had turned into the Saturday night tsunami, so I let them get on with it.  Ever seen a warship go to action stations?  Imagine restaurant staff that well drilled and you have a good idea what I am talking about..

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The Future Chefs take centre stage in Springboard’s big night

Good news, people.  The future of the Hospitality industry is in safe hands.  Last Tuesday night I met six very impressive young people who were part of the Futurechef initiative from Springboard UK.

The venue for the evening was the impressive Hyatt hotel, the finest in the city of Birmingham. And I, now the big time food critic, had been invited to taste the menu.

The chefs of the future, still in their mid-teens, would be instrumental in the night’s banquet.  The names of the finalists were Jess Higgins, Meghan Bell and Kelly Reed.  On hand were last year’s finalists, Becky Weston, Bethany Dare and Harvey Martin.

Our hostess for the evening was Rickie Josen, the local mentor of Springboard UK and event organizer.  Among the luminaries of the local hotel trade that night were representatives from the Hyatt, the Malmaison, the Hilton and many others, including the families of the graduates.

The night started in the lobby with some cake decorating courtesy of sponsors Kiss Me Cupcakes.  We were encouraged, for a small fee, to decorate two cupcakes of our very own to enter in prize draw for later.

I found myself seated on the top table, feeling like such a blagger, alongside Rickie, the HR director of the Hyatt and two chaps from the media.  I did a little mingling around the tables and met a few of the parents, who were rightfully proud.

Bethany Dare’s mum, Kathy, had this to say:

“I’m really, really proud of Bethany.  She has come a long way from making cakes and scones on the kitchen table to a big event like this.  Holding her own in an industrial kitchen is fantastic, and the quality of the food she produces is amazing.”

I was led by the arm into the kitchen to film the youngsters preparing the main course.  As you can see from the footage, they were all as cool as cucumbers the whole way through, very assured in the tasks they had been assigned.

By then the head chef was giving subtle hints that I should sling my hook out of the Kitchen so I scurried back to my table in time for the starter.  We had a Ham Hock roulade, that was tasty and moist.

Over the starters I managed to get a quote from the Dawn Turner, Hyatt’s human resources director:

“We were delighted to be able to support this event.  Rickie has done well, it is good to see the employees of tomorrow with such passion and creativity.”

Then for the main course we had a Chicken breast baked to perfection with potatoes and vegetables.  Washed down with a good white wine it hit the spot nicely.  The service, I would add, was fantastic.

After the main course we settled down for the presentation of the finalists.  We wished them luck and took their team photo.  They were hardly phased by the attention and seemed happy to pose for publicity shots.

In all, a great night out and it was fantastic to see that the future of the hospitality industry is in such good hands.

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The Jekyll and Hyde

For my first official review I was invited down to a pub in central Birmingham.  The Jekyll and Hyde is one of the most recommended pubs in central Birmingham, and for many very good reasons.

Firstly, it is one of the country’s best Gin Parlours, stocking more brands than any other hostelry between here and London (over fifty varieties).  But unlike a lot of pubs it sells it’s wares with a due sense of awareness.

Gin, in it’s day, was the crack of nineteenth century London.  The staff are most keen to avoid such a fate befalling the people of Birmingham.  Their staff give courses in drink awareness and knowledge.

The Gin Parlour is open every Wednesday-Saturday night from 5pm onwards.

Secondly they have a fantastic chef, and when they invited me over to sample the menu, how could I say no?

It transpired that I had only just missed the sub-Editor of Diffords Guides who were doing an update of the best pubs in the city.  Clearly I was on to a winner then.

Most pubs struggle to entertain their customers in the days when Sky Sports is woefully overpriced.  The Jekyll and Hyde did things it’s own way.  It hosts pub quizzes, cocktail nights, and most popular, cinema nights (Wednesday from 8.00pm).

The manager, Carl Hawkins, told me that when the company took it over it was an old man’s pub, with Carling being the drink of choice. When the Carling was removed, everybody predicted doom and gloom.  Of course, it never happened, they just attracted a new, different crowd.  Carl himself came from an advertising background, but he was always a cocktail fanatic and put his skills to use in his new venue.

So, to the menu.  They had the usual fare of a pub menu with a few little twists here and there.   Their main selling point is their pies, supplied by A&P Doherty in the Bullring.  The flavours are as various as they are luscious.  Rabbit and pheasant in a port sauce anybody?

I was in a burger mood so I went for something just a little bit different.  An Ostrich burger.  No, seriously, it tasted a bit like a beefburger but with a slightly milder flavour.  It came on a nice floury bun with bacon and onion marmalade.  The chips alongside it were home made and the salad and coldslaw were clearly very fresh.  I asked for some condiments and I was given Heinz ketchup (nice), but I had to ask for salt and pepper.  Although when it did arrive it came in two very ornate grinders, which I considered ‘borrowing’.

The service was very good though, with friendly, smiley staff the smartest-dressed pub manager I have ever met.  In all, it sets a shining example of what pubs should, and indeed, could be like.

To find out more check out their website.

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Meet Peter O’Connor, professional bartender, professional Irishman

Bartending is a hugely underestimated profession.  Even at school the careers officer told me I could do a lot better.  But I didn’t care because, when the time came, I really enjoyed the job.  Long antisocial hours and dreadful pay were offset by an exciting work environment, a chance to show off and meet stunning women.

While I was out working in Ireland I first met Peter O’Connor.  This guy is also a bartender, but he is on a whole other level.  Peter is what you might call a professional Irishman.  Handsome, twinkly eyed, funny  and charming, he is perfect for the trade.  He is also one of the best cocktail bartenders you will ever meet.

It wasn’t long before Diageo snapped him up to be a brand ambassador, teaching the next generation of bartenders about how to serve and recommend whiskey properly.  He taught the staff about his product in their own place of work, and installed some enthusiasm and pride in their job.

He also won many cocktail competitions and scholarships, and traveled across America, touring breweries and distilleries.  It was here that he made many important contacts.

Only a few months later he had a phone call that kicked his career into high gear.  Peter would now be the brand ambassador for the New Jersey area.

And all this from being just a humble bartender.

What was your first bar job?

My 1st bar job was when I was 15yo and it was in Jury’s Hotel in Dublin. I worked there 1 day a week helping out and it was here that I pulled my 1st ever pint of Guinness and made the 1st ever Irish Coffee. I know then the was no turning back…

When did your cocktail career really start to gather speed?

It was when I moved to a bar called Nancy Hands and I was put in charge of the cocktail bar. We had over 100 cocktails on the menu so I was tasked to know them all, which I did and it was from here that people started to notice me in the Dublin Cocktail scene.

What was your first prize?

My 1st prize for cocktails was 2nd place in a Grand Marnier comp I think, long time ago and a lot of cocktails drank since then so can’t really remember

What is your favorite bar in the world?

God Knows… I have that many. I guess I love the bars on the islands in Thailand the most, Tuks Hut on Koh Samet. In Dublin it has to be the Sackville for the Best pint of Guinness ever.

Who do you take your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from my family, we all have a get up and go attitude. As for the cocktails, i do what I want when I want and don’t look at anyone for inspiration.

What are you doing at the minute?

I am currently the Diageo Master of Whisky for New Jersey in the USA. I stared the role about 3 months ago and really enjoying it. Traveling NJ teaching bartenders and consumers about whisky and whisky mixology.

What do you plan on doing next?

Take a break from all this madness and maybe, just maybe meet someone and settle down… (MAYBE)

Would you recommend the drinks industry as a place to work?

For my children…. NEVER, for anyone else it is the best experience in life and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Its long hours and hard work, but if you work hard it will pay off.

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