A Week in Dublin – 21st Birthday Celebrations, Knightsbrook Hotel and BYOB at Zakura Sushi & Noodle

“Home is where the fire is.”

While it’s not an exact quote from anywhere, it’s certainly true. There’s nothing like a real fire. I don’t have a fireplace in Spain…why would I need one I guess? That’s why I especially love visiting Dublin in the depths of winter, where a roaring fire is guaranteed, the cats curled up mere feet away. When there isn’t one toasting up a storm in the kitchen, one is radiating heat to every bend and curve in the log cabin – flames to beat the band. It’s synonymous with going home for me; warmth of family, the warmth of home.

I recently went home to Dublin for a week to celebrate my amazing sister’s 21st* and the whole week left me with a glow much like those cosy fires. It wasn’t your typical week (a milestone birthday week never is) and we were busy every day, celebrating with family and friends.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon to find that those good ol’ parents of mine made a reservation for Blue Bar, so I could eat chicken wings to my heart’s content. My family are a very tolerant bunch really, considering anytime they mentioned they were going to Blue for dinner (while I was in Spain) I moaned about them torturing me with wings nearly 2,000 miles away that could never be mine.
So that was a stellar Sunday. I took no pictures because I had my mind on other things (wings) and the Carolina chicken burger. It has guacamole on it and everything. I was so happy. The best welcome home.

*I just know that when you read ’21st celebrations’ in the title that y’all thought it was mine. How you flatter me! But nope, not mine. I do remember mine though, it was also at home, thrown in pretty much the same manner. It still feels kinda recent. How grim.

The very next day (Monday, of course) I can’t say I remember what I did. I’m pretty sure I just lazed around, taking full advantage of being home at my parent’s house with a full fridge of goodness. My eyes darted to every shelf, the food, oh the food! infinite and delicious. I could have anything my heart desired. I probably have very little memory of that day as my brain was probably on autopilot due to a sugar/food coma/carb overload.

Tuesday was my sister’s official birthday, so that was exciting. She was spoiled big time, as she should be (she deserves the world and more, that lady). It was lovely to see her showered with gifts and see what she got from everyone, and of course, she was super appreciative. That night the gang went to dinner at Nautilus, one of mine and my sister’s forever favourites. We all had a wonderful night. My poor parents got didn’t get a look in the pic above, covered by my sister’s head and my manic expression. Something they’re well used to.

Naturally, spending some time at home meant photographing MEEMS! Isn’t she the cutest? I have two cats but the other one was probably outside starting fights or crunching on a rabbit. I love her (Cookie) too, but she’s definitely more of a handful. Their temperaments are very different. Anyway, enjoy these pics. I know, it’s hard to have a pet as dreamy as mine. Maybe I’ll print these out all wallet size and stuff.

On with the week that keeps on giving! On Wednesday morning my Dad handed me that bag of croissants. As I said when I posted it on my Facebook page, I have never loved the man more. And it’s true. And no, I didn’t eat them all. But it’s nice to have the option.
The day started off as a buttery flaky croissant dream, only to be followed by a spa day with my nearest and dearest – my Mam, the birthday girl, Helen and Niamh. It was a wonderful day organised by Helen (who also happens to be my sister’s Godmother) who spoiled us so much for Sarah’s birthday that it felt like mine and my Mam’s too. We set off in the afternoon to Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim, which was only about 45 minutes away. I had never been before and was very impressed. The spa is like nothing I’ve seen before and it was my best spa experience to date. In fact, when we all ended up in the relaxation room after our treatments (we floated in, no walking necessary) we all said the same thing.
The facilities were excellent too, from the reception to the waiting area to the changing rooms and of course, the thermal spa. We spent some time there first in a Romanesque style area with rooms offering different temperatures. A nice experience before our treatments, which included a full body massage (partly with hot stones) facial and Indian head massage.

The girl looking after me was Lauren, and I can’t recommend her enough. She was thorough and professional and informative, and she never stopped for a minute, which sometimes annoys me during a treatment when beauty/spa therapists stop and start banging and fidgeting with things. She got plenty of knots out of my back and gave me advice on my skin type and products to take care of it. That’s all you want, isn’t it really? A knotless back and a nice face.

After our treatments (totally zenned out in the relaxation room) Helen mentioned that she was hungry and was definitely ready for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea as well?! My GOD Helen. As if the day couldn’t get any better.

The food was delicious. Some kind of chicken salad sandwich was my favourite, as well as the mango mousse and scones with jam and cream. I don’t think scones exist in Spain and I have no oven, so it had to be done.

We headed back to Dublin after such a good day. It’s rare that we’re all in one place or have the time off to spend a day like that together, which made it even better.

Thursday I met my friend Caitriona for a date at Zakura on Wexford Street. We both had good news for various things and were excited not only to catch up but to celebrate. The ever switched on Cat suggested we go somewhere B.Y.O.B., so we brought both prosecco and wine for the evening. One to toast with and drink, the other one to eh…toast with and drink. And that’s how we settled on Zakura. I had never been before, but like Knightsbridge, it won’t be a one time visit. The food was incredible and very well priced. I do love that about Dublin, the food quality and level of customer service are amazing, you rarely get a bad experience. Dublin really spoils us in that department…my expectations for places have always been high as a result.

Things were heating up by the time Friday rolled around. Party prep had been underway for my parents for some time (they aren’t the type to do things by halves) but now you could see the details, and not just the behind the scenes stuff. Glasses were polished, tables were set up, the gazebo was cleaned and prepped and filled with chairs and *I* got to stuff the piñata. With Trolli sweets.
Have you ever had gummy sweets from Trolli? My god. They’re too good. I’ve had the odd Trolli thing here and there but that volume of their products had never been at my disposal before. They beat Haribo in the gummy stakes by a mile! I stuffed the piñata as I was told to, but shoved a couple of lil’ bags in my pockets. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. You have to get your thrills somewhere.

Friday was also busy as Iñaki arrived (you didn’t expect him to miss the party, or an opportunity to visit Ireland, did you?) so I collected him at the airport and the full Irish breakfast above was waiting for us when we walked in the door. Typical Irish Mother, overfeeding, etc. etc., you know the drill. Another reason I love coming home and why we can’t get rid of him. Just kidding!

We visited my Nana (Iñaki loves her sassy personality and takes any opportunity to see her) and then stopped by O’Connor’s for a pint of Guinness before heading home with bags from the chipper. His three favourites in one day; a fry, chipper and Guinness. Throw in a sausage roll and Iñaki’s life would be complete. But it didn’t stop there. The Guinness keg was already set up for the party, so naturally, it had to be tested. Just in case it wasn’t up to scratch for the guests. Helen made it feel like it was my birthday at the spa, and I think Iñaki felt it was his with a never-ending supply of Guinness out the back. A very merry un-birthday to us.

Saturday morning, aka party day, I woke to the sound of Niamh’s voice downstairs. Niamh (sister from another Mister, hero and all around dazzling human) made Sarah’s 21st cake. Chocolate biscuit cake with a Disney princess theme. Needless to say, when I saw the cake, I was floored. Just look at it! The perfect Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid hybrid. The attention to detail and design – so clever and well done. Niamh is a whizz at this stuff, seriously. Also, everyone knows Belle and Ariel are the best two princesses. Not only was the cake beautiful, it was delicious. I had more slices than I’d care to share.

Ready to party – there were decorations like this more or less EVERYWHERE.

Piñata ready for smashing out in the gazebo, kegs at the ready.

Corners of normality – I added these two shots as they were the only parts of the kitchen and dining room that weren’t covered in 21st stuff. Yet.

I can’t remember why this happened (probably the day that was in it) but we started talking about Irish coffees. Since everything was pretty much ready to go and only the guests had to arrive, the birthday girl (who looked a million bucks) and also happens to be an excellent barwoman made us Irish coffees.
Everything was ready to go outside. It was such a lovely atmosphere, fairy lights in the garden, music playing and everything glowing. It was even better with a warm cup in hand. Above is a shot from inside the log cabin (a pint of Guinness is never too far away). Soon the guests started to arrive and everything was in full swing.

The food was made by Jude, Molly’s SuperMam and amazing cook. Molly even donned an apron and the two of them served Thai curries and salads in a super easy breezy manner. If that was me, I’d make a mess of the portions or there would be food on the floor.
Everything was so delicious, and I was so happy that there was some leftover which was a lifesaver on Sunday. Those kinds of foods often taste even better the next day, don’t you think?

There’s the birthday girl, and her friend Las. I had to rob this from my sister’s Facebook, how awful is that? I have no pictures of her in her dress, or of the speeches or people dancing or the cake and candles. None of that. Why? Because at parties in our house I tend to put my phone down, forget where I put it, and repeat that action many, many times. I lost it on at least twelve different occasions.

No idea what everyone was so engrossed in in this pic, but the log cabin was where it was at. R.I.P. adorable piñata (time of death, 3.44am) whose head was left swaying into the wee hours of the morning while we demolished the goods found inside it’s obliterated body. The lady in red has a good right swing.
Bedtime was about 7am, after Iñaki and I did a little tidying up, and most of Sarah’s college friends went to bed just before 6, and our friends left a while after. I guess that proves we’re still the reigning champions of partying.

The next day we went downstairs at 3 in the afternoon (necessary) ate the delicious, delicious leftovers and sat around in our jammies all day. I threw the last of whatever was hanging around in my case, ready for Madrid the next day.
Sarah showed us all her presents and showed Iñaki her best gift of all (and surprise from my parents) an Olivetti typewriter. She was so happy when she opened it, the look on her face was priceless. Not only is it a fabulous gift but it also has a story. This typewriter is brand new, despite the fact that Olivetti stopped making them long ago. These days you have to get one secondhand. Sarah’s is 100% brand new, purchased from The Typewriter Shop on Dorset Street. It was kept in a box for years and years, thought to be a projector, until recently they discovered otherwise. Definitely one of a kind, and so amazing to have something so old yet brand new!

And just like that, we were back in Madrid. Above is a little corner of Iñaki’s apartment. It had been a while since I was there, I love it; it’s really another home for me.

My friend Paddy and I have a yearly tradition where we get a Starbucks Christmas coffee together and everything feels warm, cosy and festive. I usually get one with my pal Katie too. Since it was a short trip home and Paddy was in Portugal surfing at the time (we were both sad he missed the party) and Katie and I never got around to having a coffee date outside my house, I had to hit the brakes on the traditions for 2017 and start a new one with Iñaki. A new twist on the yearly red cup. We both had the fudge hot chocolate (So not coffee at all, but Starbucks do make good fancy drinks, it has to be said. Regular coffee? Not for me, too bitter) and it was pretty amazing. I had to take the picture for the gold chocolate swirls alone. Christmas is coming!

Evening walks by the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, and a trip to the Irish Rover for an Irish coffee, Iñaki’s new favourite thing, which doesn’t surprise me. He was convinced it would cure his cold so he sampled a few.

Dinner at La Mordida, one of my favourites. We were actually meant to go to a ramen place, Ramen Kagura, recommended by my friend Vega. It’s known as Madrid’s best, but a queue had formed outside the door before it had even opened. Queueing? Nah. We ain’t about that life. It just so happened that one of the many La Mordida chains was right next door, and that’s where we went. We started with nachos to share (as always) with an alambre mixto. I’ve waxed lyrical about this place – if you love Mexican food and you find yourself in Madrid, don’t miss La Mordida.

The night before it was time to go back to Granada (I could only spend a couple of days in Madrid this time around) I had dinner at Iñaki’s parent’s house. Lots and lots of food (as usual) and it’s always great to catch up. We had cheeses and meats to start then pastel de carne which is more or less Sheperd’s pie to us folk, but it had boiled eggs in it too. Game changer. We had chocolate mousse I made for dessert, alfajores and plenty of dulce de leche. Miriam gave me an alfajor for my trip back to Granada too. So thoughtful!

I left Madrid on Friday afternoon on the ALSA Premium Bus service. I always travel this way, simply because the WIFI is decent, there’s a bathroom, newspapers, food, drinks, coffee and movies and TV. The 4 and a half hour journey feels like an hour, so it’s well worth it.
I got home to my apartment, dumped everything out my suitcase, washed stuff and packed it again for a press trip to Portugal starting that Sunday. I’ll be sharing that soon too, it was the most amazing trip. I can’t wait to go back!

Right now, I’m back in Madrid (I took the premium service back up on Wednesday) ready for a few days here with my parents before heading back to Dublin for Christmas. I realise my timeline is all over the place, but sure look…timelines are for Facebook.

 

Have a wonderful weekend. Just ten days left!

E x

 

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