Wake up and smell the coffee?

Last Thursday I was invited to attend a tasting of the renowned Kopi Luwak coffee at Mr Waffle, located on Scholars Walk, Newcastle. For those unfamiliar with Kopi Luwak, it is one of the world's most rare and expensive coffees, at almost €50 per cup. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the Asian palm civet. Yes indeed folks, this unique coffee has the dubious distinction of being consumed before the customer has even taken a sip. I will take mine with milk, sugar, and a good dose of scepticism.

A wondrous wee beastie, the civet cat. This nocturnal, furry, long-tailed, animal that prowls southeast Asia's coffee-growing lands is responsible for all the hype. This barista of the animal kingdom, more properly known as the palm civet‚ is not really a cat at all, rather a distant cousin of the mongoose. Native to southeast Asia and Indonesia, the palm civet, known there as a luwak, subsists entirely on fruit, in particular the fleshy red cherry of the coffee tree and then only the ripest, reddest, coffee cherries, which grow abundantly in these parts of the world.

Then the unusual fermentation process is deployed. The stomach acids and enzymatic action produces the beans for the world’s rarest coffee beverage. Unable to digest the coffee beans, the Luwak graciously 'deposits' them on the jungle floor where they are eagerly collected by the locals.

I had, of course, heard all about this coffee, renowned all over the world for its incredibly delicious, subtle, lingering flavour and exceptional smoothness, so naturally, and not being of a squeamish disposition, I had to give it a go. The other eager coffee lovers and I were served our cup of exorbitantly priced coffee to try. Scepticism aside however, it really is good coffee, remarkably smooth with no bitter aftertaste. I certainly would not drink it every day, but it would make a really great gift for any coffee lover.

So, if you just want to try something special, this unique coffee is available to buy from Mr Waffle. The staff will tell you how to store and prepare your Kopi Luwak coffee for the best results at home. Alternatively you can contact Galway Bay Coffee, [email protected] baycoffee.com, for a list of stockists.

Guests on the evening made a donation to Cystic Fibrosis Galway, Mr Waffle's chosen charity partner, and raised €400 for cystic fibrosis.

Creole, another great West End dining destination

Not so very long ago the dining options in Galway's West End were limited to say the least. Having lived on Dominick Street for a number of years, during the glory days of the newly-opened Blue Note and afternoons in Taylor's beer garden, it was sad to see the area so down in the dumps for a while. Fast forward a few years and the change in fortunes is significant. They may have been down, but they were never out.

The West has always been saturated in culture, a strong Irish speaking contingent and a fantastic arts scene. Now, once again, some of the best pubs are here, both trendy and trad. The arty, bohemian, types traditionally hang out in this end of town. Best of all, there is such a choice of eclectic places to eat you would hardly know where to start. Kai, Oscars, Kashmir, Aniar, and Rouge (which seems to be spreading across the road to a second premises ) are all excellent in their own way. The newest eatery to open its doors is Creole. And even though it is situated right next door to Cava, its culinary inspiration is thousands of miles away.

I had heard a lot of good things about this place before I went along for an early meal on Saturday evening. I thought being so early it would be quiet. But nope — it was buzzing with a great atmosphere and a constant flow of customers to the door which was great to see. There were four of us that evening, one in training for a triathlon had the Paulander (non-alcoholic ) beer and the woman with the hangover stuck to water. Myself and 'the chef' had a beer, they were out of my first choice of Dungarvan Brewing Company, but in my experience this is usually a supply issue of the producer and it is commendable that the restaurant is willing to stock a few artisan Irish beers. Other than the usual soft drinks, there are five wines available at €4.95 a glass, the rest by the bottle.

We were given some deep fried chicken skewers with an astonishingly weird and wonderful banana ketchup to try as we looked over the menu. We also tried the deep-fried okra, one of my least favourite foods. This usually objectionable and slimy vegetable was transformed into a tasty morsel by the deep frying, I could grow to love it like this.

It has to be said straight off that the portions are really generous, there is no other word for it. The pricing seemed fair to start with, but when the food arrived it seemed incredibly good value for the sheer amount of food including a range of sides, sweetcorn, home-baked beans, fries or baked potato, all served up on your platter. If you cannot make your mind up what to have, and it is difficult, there is a half and half option where you can have a bit of both, maybe some sirloin and shrimp, some chicken and ribs, a carnivore's paradise!

Chargrilled shrimp skewers dusted with dried garlic and brushed with melted butter with 'dirty rice' was an excellent dish; the rice was perfectly seasoned and spiced and full of interesting treasure, tomato, spring onion, and peppers. The chargrilled 10oz sirloin steak was perfectly cooked, as good as any and better than most in town, and wore its flame-grilled stripes with pride.

My low and slow roasted beef ribs were the fall-off-the-bone kind of barbecue ribs. The portion was Man V Food sized, but the waitress did offer to wrap up the rest for me to take home when I threw in the towel with more than half the portion left. The chips and sweet potato chips were both excellent, but the homemade baked beans were the stars of the side dishes.

The Louisiana catfish — fried fillet of catfish in corn batter served with hand cut chips and a fresh caper and dill remoulade sauce — caused the first upset of the evening. The chef forked open the yellow corn batter casing and mused, “I don't think it's catfish.” He was both right and wrong as it turned out. It was not catfish as this southern gent would know it; this bottom feeder is often grey and a bit muddy from its natural habitat. The sustainability-focused folks at Creole have sourced a farmed catfish from closer to home which is bright white and fleshy, perfect for standing up to the rigours of a barbecue and holds its own against the spices.

The desserts are the ‘could do better’ part of Creole. They need a little bit more thought to catch up with the rest of what is a great menu. The Mississippi mud pie that passed me on its way to another table looked suspiciously like a chocolate fondant. We ordered the key lime pie and while that was nice, it was not very limey. The pecan praline cheesecake had one pecan on top, and after that was unmistakably filled with walnut pieces. Having said that, I really cannot imagine too many people ordering dessert here — not many people would have room after such a gargantuan feed. Even so, we four gluttons found ourselves discussing our plans for what we were having next time we came, having not tried the jambalaya or gumbo, the homemade corn bread, or the Kentucky chicken wings. Hopefully we will get back there soon as we had a sneak peek at the new terrace to the rear of the building — high walled and airy, it looks like a perfect summer lunch spot. This restaurant is only open a matter of weeks, but it is quickly finding its feet, and with this kind of value and quality of food it is going to be around for a long time yet, another win for the West End dining scene.

Such has been the demand for Creole that it has decided to open for a limited period at lunchtime with a tailored menu from 11.30am to 2.30pm. Dinner time at Creole runs from 5pm to 10pm, Tuesday to Thursday and Sundays, extending to 11pm on Friday and Saturday. Check out its Facebook page for updates on plans for a jazz supper club, Sunday brunch, and live jazz sessions. For more information view www.creole.ie or telephone 091 895926 for reservations.


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