Thursday, 26 September 2013

Dining on P&O's Azura

I recently returned from a 7 day cruise to the Norwegian Fjords on P&O's Azura. And it was utterly amazing even if the food wasn't always.

This was my first time on one of this company's ships and I hadn't been expecting a huge deal, it's title evoking images of crammed ferries and an altogether lower grade experience. I couldn't have been more wrong.

The cabin, for a start, was by far the most spacious and comfortable of any ship I've been on (which are to date RCI's Oasis of the Seas, MSC's Splendida and Celebrity's Constellation). It's difficult to get a sense of it from this picture but it was more like standard hotel room than a ship cabin, including as it did a large walk in wardrobe area and an abundance of storage.

We made the mistake of going to ship's premium restaurant Seventeen on the second night, a mistake as it was so good the perfectly adequate dining room seemed lacking in comparison. It really was was exquisite;  a proper old world dining experience and a real treat (at a cost of £28 per head but worth every penny). However its extremely dim lighting meant that I got no pictures worth posting.We actually went twice, enjoying chateaubriand, prawn and crayfish cocktail and other classics done very very well.

The Glasshouse is all about wine but they also serve British style tapas dishes and a few mains at an extra charge (for the lunch in the picture above we picked three little dishes each at the reasonable cost of £5 a head. They included mini scotch (quails)eggs, ham terrine with toasts and other lovely things.)

Michelin chef Atul Kochhar's Indian restaurant Sindhu was what we had been looking forward to the most but actually turned out to be the main let down of the week. There were never more than 9 tables occupied in this huge room any time we passed and it is clear why.

This was a spiced beef salad which was ok( if a bit fatty.)

My main was lobster with 'kedgeree' and a sauce that tasted strangely old and stale, like it had been made with out of date spices (perhaps not so unthinkable when you consider the incredibly slow trade they seem to do). This restaurant tries to deliver a British -Indian fusion. I say 'tries to' because curried mushy peas are not something that should ever be served anywhere!Awful! They were one of the sides we got together with some naan bread which seemed to be from a packet (strangely sweet and hard and definitely not authentic). Apparently the main man himself was due on board for the next cruise so perhaps he whipped them into shape....

In addition, the main dining room was way more hit than miss and the buffet was consistently good - so much so that I found it very hard to break my newly acquired four meal a day habit on my return home. P & O is now right up there with Celebrity as one of my favourite cruise companies. I loved it.

(And PS Norway, I had absolutely no idea how beautiful you really are!.)

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Making Gumpaste Baby Shoes

I had never used a paper cake decorating template from the internet before but when I saw this one for life-sized little girls' Mary Jane style shoes on the brilliant Cake Central site I knew I had to try it out for a special Christening cake I was making.

 I already have the Jem bootees cutter which gives a pretty good result but I think these take cuteness to a new level. The template is available here

The base - this was cut out with a craft knife and left to harden slightly whilst the other pieces were cut. It is then flipped over to make the other shoe. 

The other segments must be kept covered though as I have discovered to my detriment that gum-paste hardens - fast!

The various pieces were fixed together with edible glue but most of the work went into ensuring there was a solid join and that the edges were tucked and curved under the sole and not too 'blunt'. 

I then used a stitching wheel to create a criss-cross effect.

A little white button finished them off.

 All in all I was really happy with the results and chose to use these on the cake over the Jem bootees I had also made. Here they are on the cake - daisies for a little Daisy.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Pre Theatre@ Chapter One

Photographing my food in restaurants these days is making me increasingly self conscious. Of course, I am not inconsiderate enough to use the flash but what seems to be the decreasing proximity between tables (or is that just me?) means that I'm often left with just one very hurried snap per course as was the case during my recent visit to the jewel in the crown of north-side dining, Chapter One.

I had been to Chapter one on two previous occasions but never for the Pre-Theatre and had really excellent experiences. And so,my friend Jenny and I looked forward to our visit on a recent Friday just after they reopened following their annual summer break. The Pre-Theatre menu is €36.50 for three courses and is thankfully free of the supplement charges on some of the more expensive dishes which can really push a bill out of 'bargain' territory (with the exception of what is now a pretty standard charge of €2.50 for the cheese plate).


After a very warm and theatrical welcome from the Maitre D, we were shown to our table, which was one of just a few occupied for the duration of our meal. For me, the bread basket is an integral part of a special meal out but I was disappointed with this particular selection which was very ordinary for a Michelin starred restaurant. They were stone-cold for a start and just not very exciting - a plain, slightly dry seeded loaf, a standard cob-style white and a regular wholemeal. I couldn't help but wonder if they had dropped their standards and that those visiting later would do better (that's not to say we didn't eat the lot - this is me and my Number One Partner in Eating we are talking about).

We both chose the same starter - Black Pudding with Braised Peas, Wilted Celery, Burnt Onions and a Duck Egg Cream and agreed it was easily the best course of the evening - a huge round of lightly spiced black pudding sitting on a chunky pea puree with a gorgeous light as air eggy cream. We cleared our plates in record time and looked forward to our main, Braised Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Roasted Summer Carrots and White Onion, Fried Sweetbreads and Pickled Garlic Sauce with Buttermilk Potato.

Unfortunately, we didn't enjoy this course to the same degree at all. It was just way too much - too caramelized, too buttery and too sweet and that is coming from someone who loves rich food. (In fact, I don't know if I have I have ever deemed something to be too rich before). It cried out for something fresh or sharp, maybe a green vegetable, to balance things out a bit. My piece of lamb was also very fatty, though Jenny fared much better with hers. Putting a sweetbread in my mouth is also something I will not be doing again any time soon.

Dessert was better. My Raspberries Compressed in Elderflower with Jasmine Tea Pannacotta and Lime Meringue, Créme Fraiche and Elderflower Bombe with Raspberry Sorbet (phew!) was refreshing and light but strangely bland and certainly not memorable. (In fact I had forgotten what I had until I uploaded my photos).  Jenny had a chocolate pot with some bells and whistles which was eaten but certainly not raved about. 

All in all, we had a nice visit to Chapter One but it seems to me that chance to enjoy the full experience of The Pride of Parnell Square for €36.50 might just be too good to be true.