January Eats and Secondary Activities

*Portugal posts temporarily on pause 😬*

Well, that was fun! I found January very enjoyable. If you’re rolling your eyes because it’s 8 days into February and you’re glad you’ve already seen the back of good ol’ Jan and don’t want to speak of it again, I apologise. This will be a one and only Jan special. In January’s defence, February is a bit of a weirdo too. Just as you’re getting into the Feb groove and have flipped the page of your (most likely a Christmas present) calendar, you’re already in the thick of it. I guess that’s short months for you.
Back to January for a minute – I’m not sure why some people dislike it. Sure, it felt long, but who wants time to fly? It’s a fresh new year, new page…time to shake off the old stuff. I know you can set goals any time at all, but a new year has a certain glow to it. Wish my life away I will not. During January I managed to do a lot (by ‘do’ I really mean ate) and I moved around a bit during the second half of the month as I often like to do. I kept busy experiencing, enjoying, creating, challenging myself. Trying new things, trying in general, writing, reading and simply discovering; which I plan to continue doing for the rest of the year and I’m enjoying the process…and I hope you are too. I’m also enjoying eating which is the focal point of this post and pretty much every post. And every day and month and year of my LIFE! Maybe you’ll discover some recommendations here. Who knows? To 2018! To FOOD!

On January 1st my dearest Mother turned 60. I feel sorry for her sometimes because by the time her birthday hits, people are partied out or violently hungover from the night before. I tried to convince her to move it but she’s not interested. Does my mama look 60? NOPE. She just looks fabulous. I hope I look that good when I’m old and weathering. Although I might not reach my next birthday if she sees I’ve blogged her age for all to see. Just kidding. Heh heh.
Anyway, my fabulous auntie Marian dressed that fancy salmon in the top left (divine) and all in all it was a pretty modest affair so we did the cooking ourselves. That cake was also delicious, and all those bags are full of gifts for Queen Mom, and don’t you know it. A lovely start to the new year with my family and some pals by my side.

Sushi date with my sister at the super duper J2 Grill & Sushi. I can’t recommend this place enough. The ingredients are always so fresh, the noodles are ridiculously good and the prices are amazing. All their meat is from F.X.Buckley too! Fancy. They offered 20% off everything during January so naturally, we had to stop by. They’ll definitely sashimi there in the near future.

There are times I drink cocktails. Then there are months I don’t touch them at all. But when I do, it’s always, always a margarita, espresso martini or a whiskey sour. No sugary or creamy or garishly coloured ones, please. Jan saw me in an espresso martini mood I just couldn’t shake* and I sampled more than I care to share. New year new meeeee.

*pun always intended.

Anyway, the others weren’t great, so no point in mentioning them. But the two above are a different story. On the left is Café en Seine’s version. Absolutely beautiful to look at, and a dream to photograph. And it tasted very good you guys. Very good. I had this one fancy afternoon which explains all the natural light, so the presentation also had that advantage. Only €10 too, which is the sweet spot for EMs. Any more and they’re just ripping you off.

On the right is the true superstar. Also at €10 is Dublin’s best espresso martini (for me, anyway…and I’ve done the research) is at Eden Bar & Grill. I love the décor there and sitting at the bar to have a drink, or staying a while longer to get me some brunch. Anyway, this EM is smooth (thanks to some Bailey’s) with the right amount of sweetness from the vanilla vodka and is truly the best of the best. You can hold me to that. It even has ombre going on. What more do you need?

One of Dublin’s best for value, food, atmosphere and consistency – The Green Hen. I always talk about this place and reviewed it years ago. I will love them forever! Their early bird can’t be beaten. 2 courses for €21.50, 3 courses for €25. My Dad and I went to the Leinster vs Ulster rugby match and naturally we had to make a day of it. Food was eaten and drinks were imbibed. Pure craic. We started here for lunch; Dad had soup and a burger and I had smoked salmon and the steak with Béarnaise sauce. Ooooh, it was too good. This month if you have dinner there, you can enter their competition to win a trip for 2 to Paris. I’d get on it like a car bonnet if I were you.

Our seats at the match (and a great match it was) I’d go for those again for sure – great views and protected from Mother Nature’s elements. She’s a tricky one. Especially in Ireland.

The match was hours after lunch, and by the time we got back to Swords, it was time to eat again. Two restaurants in one day are often necessary. Dad and I joined my Mama, Helen and Victor (surrogate parents, many mentions) at another favourite of ours, Masterson’s. I had their famous sizzling prawns (chilli, garlic, white wine cream – yes, yes, yes) and the braised beef. Everything was delicious and it always feels so cosy in there. The staff are the warmest, friendliest people. They definitely add to the experience and I enjoy catching up with them anytime I’m home for a visit.

Clearly, I didn’t get enough of the food or the fun at Mastersons, because less than 24 hours later I was back in for their jazz brunch. To be fair, it was my friend Katie’s idea before I knew we were going the previous night, but I ain’t complainin’. It was all cosy and inviting anew. Everyone had big smiles on their faces as always and the music was so relaxing. We were there for about 4 hours, no joke. The staff didn’t mind of course, and we had chicken wings, sizzling prawns (Katie ordered them this time) and totally pigged out ordering eggs benedict (me) blueberry pancakes (Katie) and lots of coffee, of course. Agita (total dream girl who works there) asked Katie if she wanted a scoop of ice cream on her pancakes. Sure enough, Katie was delirious. Best staff and brunch date.

Full of brunch and feeling rotund we rolled out of Masterson’s to walk around Swords and burn off some of that food…..in another life. Nah, we walked out of Masterson’s and went to Empire across the road, practically falling distance from our dinner table, really going for that lazy Sunday vibe. I didn’t see any of my usuals on the menu so I went with a Tom Collins and Katie had a Long Island Ice Tea. It was one of those perfect Sundays, you know the kind; one for the books.

Don’t you love these booths? They are just perfect.
“Man, is this chick gonna stop eating?” I hear you cry. “No. Never.” I reply. Imperturbably. A few days after fat and lazy Sunday, Mam and I went to The Saddle Room at The Shelbourne Hotel for some lunch. Her sister Ger organised it as a birthday treat along with other thoughtful gifts and I ended up being the lucky lunch companion.

Ah, the food. The food was mindblowing. We really enjoyed it. We both had the very same – Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese (my favourite goat’s cheese!) mousse with baby beets and spiced beetroot gel, the juicy slow braised beef cheek with a side of addictively delicious truffle fries, veg and baby potatoes. Dessert was a warm chocolate and raspberry tart with pistachio ice cream. We ate very well, as you can see. 5-star food, and the restaurant is very chic. I want a booth for myself.  I can’t say the same for the service unfortunately, they get about 2 stars in that department. 

A ramen date with my friend Caitriona at Zakura. A really good sushi and ramen spot on Wexford St. that’s also BYOB. The whole menu is so well priced too. The kimchi beef or chicken ramen are usually what I order because they’re the BOMB. We had a cocktail in The Jar after. I love that place. It’s chic and elegant without pretense and it always puts me in a good mood. I had the most divine margarita. I’ll be back for that margarita alone. Heaven’s nectar, I say. If The Jar happen to read this and give me a lifetime supply, that would be fine with me.

January curveball alert! My Dad and I went to run some errands (always sounds so important) one Saturday afternoon and decided on brunch. The places we were thinking of looked crazy full and neither of us likes to be surrounded by a slew of people, all squished up and miserable together. Gross. So he suggested The Well which was lovely and quiet.

I ordered the pumpkin salad with goat’s cheese, pine nuts and a slightly sweet vinaigrette and oh my god it was one of the best things I ever tasted in my whole life! You know when you order something and figure it’ll be nice but you don’t know just how nice? Well that’s how they get you, the sneaky Well. So, the salad. Deliciously tender pieces of pumpkin, creamy cheese, peppery rocket and the slightly spiced vinaigrette blew the whole thing up. It was a party in my mouth. A taste explosion of epic proportions. You need to go. And order a glass of Fat Bird chardonnay to go along with it too, just because its funny.

Snow! On the 16th of January, it snowed. My phone just told me that. It would have been nice if it started on December 24th, but we can’t have everything. I worked by the fire with the two furballs cuddled up close. A snowday (even though it barely stuck) is nice once in a while. It makes everything look so fresh and bright and postcard-worthy.
My farewell Dublin meal. It had to be with my sister, of course, we are two peas in a pod. She’s my little homie. We went to San Lorenzo’s, another favourite of ours for their dazzling early bird menu. 2 courses for just €24.95, 3 for €28.95. It’s available all night Sunday to Thursday and Friday and Saturday between 5 and 7pm. You can’t argue with that. I love SL because the food is absolutely loaded with flavour. It may sound weird, but after you’ve eaten, the flavours keep going and going. There’s so much going on…you definitely get your money’s worth. They also do an incredible brunch and the best dessert in the city – New York baked Nutella cheesecake.

I had the pan fried gambas with white wine, chilli and garlic, as I so often do because they are perfection. Sarah had the bresaola – air-cured beef with whipped goats cheese, purple endive and white onion agrodolce. She loved it because again it was bursting with flavours. We both had the 10z black Angus striploin served with sage & mustard mash, sprouting broccoli, garlic butter & chianti jus and shared a bottle of dark, heady red which was the cherry on top. Flawless food, excellent service and the best company. I left on a high note.

And just like that, I was back in the ‘Rid, or Madrid as normal people call it. I had seen a lot about Patong Thai online so was intrigued to give it a go. So the Yakster and I decided to make a day out of it. Actually, it was all his idea. Food, movie and drinks. This is why I keep him. Patong was delicious, every dish brimming with punchy flavours – chilli, mango and coconut. The meat was melt in the mouth and I loved the spicy sautéed vegetables. We had the menu degustación which was €20 each, along with a bottle of rosé. Prices weren’t too bad, I thought we would have gotten a little more for €40 for what’s above, but it definitely filled us.
We then went to see Coco, the new Disney Pixar film. Finally! I felt like I had been waiting forever. It was very enjoyable; full of all the beautiful Mexican colours, lots of songs and I felt like it was a completely new direction for Pixar, in the sense that I can’t believe Toy Story or Up came from the same company. Go see it!

We then went to one of the better Irish bars in Madrid, El Parnasillo del Príncipe, where you can get a very delectable Irish coffee. Which is what we went for. My honorary Argentinean-Irish had to get his fix, and so his fix he got. Definitely start here if you want to visit an Irish bar, it’s the nicest. There are heaps in Madrid though. Heaps, I tells ya.

Then we went to a bar I adore that reminds me of my time living in Madrid so much, as it was just around the corner from me. Harvey’s is a cocktail bar named after the light-hearted movie starring Jimmy Stewart and his rabbit pal Harvey. The décor is old-time American speakeasy, so you can imagine the amazing music they play. The cocktails are creative and so well made, you can tell the barmen are proud of them and love what they do. Each one is €9 but worth every penny. The one pictured is a mezcal cocktail with chilli and orange. It tasted like a margarita with a kick. Harvey’s serve food too, which I have yet to try, but the food keeps with the American theme. Sandwiches, hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos, fried green tomatoes and jambalaya for a New Orleans touch. They even have Ramos gin fizz on the cocktail menu too, another homage to The Big Easy.

Mine and Iñaki’s last meal together for a while. We went to La Rollerie for brunch. They have lots dotted around Madrid. I love them because they do an excellent menu of pretty much everything, but breakfast and brunch foods are where they shine. Their menu is very clever. Choose an American, English, Spanish or French brunch. Above is the French and English. You get the idea!

Time to return to Granada. I always go by ALSA Premium, a bus service with screens, meals, drinks, WIFI, newspapers, coffee, a bathroom. The best way to go really. You can also avail of the lounge as I did above, which has magazines, coffee, refreshments, biscuits and more WIFI. A service I recommend highly when it comes to moving between Madrid and Andalucía.

A little photo documentation of the first days back in my beautiful Granada. I breathe easier when I’m here, and settled in very quickly. Granada is kinda like that feeling you get when you take a really deep mindful breath, and when you let it out, all your muscles go soft like jelly. A city of dreams! If you haven’t visited, you have to put it on your list. It’s pretty cold at the moment and people are still up skiing in the Sierra Nevada, but it seems to be snowing in a lot of places right now. Paris is covered, and Ireland had some a few days ago. We are all connected!
And so, we come to the end of my January 2018 post. I had fun reliving all of that, but now I’m ferociously hungry. I did other things of course like reading new books, listening to podcasts and started new TV shows, but I’ll save that for another time in a non-January post. I talk too much as it is.

Start as you mean to go on, that’s what they say. My first February meal out was one of my favourites. The best pizza in the world at La Tagliatella. Yes, the cheese is always that yellow, they use a few types. The smooth and sharp cheeses pair perfectly with the mushrooms and truffle cream. I savoured this pizza and wine as I read my Kindle and watched the sun go behind the Sierra Nevada, as my table just so happened to be facing the snowcapped goodness. February has been good to me thus far, or perhaps it’s because I’ve been good to me? Sure it’s all the same.

As for the year so far and what’s to come, I am really focusing on the process of things, the journey and not the destination. I am also considering Cheryl Strayed’s line – put yourself in the way of beauty. You can’t go wrong with either. Happy almost weekend!

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