Friday, July 30, 2010

Coffee: Butlers Chocolate Cafe

A chocolate shop selling take-away coffees? That must have been quite the conversation when some bright spark had this idea - "No, wait, I'm not crazy, just hear me out...".

And crazy they were not. As a coffee shop Butlers is at least as good as many 'real' cafes. I think the lattes and cappuccinos are only so-so, but other coffee drinkers like them. Of course their opinion might be influenced by Butler's not-so-secret edge over their competitors: they give a free chocolate with every coffee. It's hard to see how any other coffee shop could match them in this respect without actually becoming a chocolate shop, because Butlers have a very wide range of high-quality chocolates.

For me though the real secret weapon of Butlers is the strength of the espresso. You put this stuff near your mouth and wham, you're in flavour country. Even before you taste it you can smell the power of this coffee. Oh, and it's nice.

There are Butlers branches all over the city. If you like coffee and chocolate, this is the cafe for you. And even if you're a coffee purist, try out that espresso.

Also this week: Badger & Dodo

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

DublinCulture.ie wins online culture competition

I had a wonderful time at the Summer Sensational festival held in Temple Bar a few weeks ago. Blogging about the festival was enjoyable, and to make it even better I've won a shiny new HTC Legend Smartphone from Meteor and the Temple Bar Cultural Trust.

Announcement:
Winner announced for the Summer Sensational online competition.

I can't wait for Culture Night in September! And before then, I have high hopes for the events in August when Meeting House Square is covered over. Go on, have a look. Funky Seomra sounds especially fun.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Twitter

I've just joined Twitter, as @dublinculture.

Dear Readers: Lords of Strut

Some of you have been looking for picture of the awesome Seamus and Sue of Lords of Strut from the recent Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures. I'd love to provide them but... sadly I couldn't actually locate the arch-talented duo at the festival. There were designated busking points but the sheer scale of the festival meant that unfortunately none of the stewards / volunteers I talked to could locate them.

All I can promise, my dear readers, is to be on alert for the day when once again our city will be graced with their presence.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In brief

Tomorrow (27th July) sees the opening of a new production of The Plough and The Stars in the Abbey Theatre. I'll definitely be going to see this as soon as I can.

Dublin is named a UNESCO City of Literature. I'm torn between being very pleased and cynically dismissing this as a worthless title. I suppose it depends on what we do with it.

On Thursday, Juventus will be in Dublin to take on Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League. RTE will show the game live on TV.

And finally, I hope any of you who were at the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures at the weekend were as impressed as I was. Very good festival; all the volunteers and performers should be pleased with how well the weekend went. The Mela event in the People's Park, primarily celebrating Indian culture, was my favourite part of the festival.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Coffee: Bewley's on Grafton Street

Bewley's on Grafton Street is something special: in terms of its size, age, architecture and heritage it outclasses every other cafe in the city. It's been around since 1927 and is loved by many Dubliners, for whom memories of its coffee and sticky buns are an essential part of their image of the city. Several years ago the possibility of closure was met with outrage.

All of this makes it hard to review Bewley's, because there is Bewley's as it is today - just another coffee shop in a city full of coffee shops - and the Bewley's of Dubliners' fond memories, a sort of Platonic ideal of a cafe. I can only comment on the former.

Bewley's takeaway coffee gets a nice, simple fail. The espresso itself is fine, but any of the milky variations of coffee are not. The latte, macchiato and cappuccino are just plain bad. My best guess is that there's too much milk and not enough coffee; the quantity of milk overwhelms the coffee flavour.

This suspicion was confirmed by the quality of the coffee I got when I ordered cappuccino with my (very tasty) lunch. This was a different coffee experience entirely; with the right amount of milk, the milk now brought out the coffee's quality instead of drowning it. Of course it helps that the cafe is spacious and has a balcony overlooking Grafton Street.

Prices are a little high for sit-in coffee, but no more so than is to be expected for the area. Take-away coffee is cheap if you get the €2 special offer that runs from Monday to Friday.

Conclusion: Excellent if you want to sit, relax, sip coffee and watch the world go by. Acceptable if you want a take-away espresso or Americano. Avoid entirely if you want a take-away latte, macchiato or cappuccino; there are far better offerings from nearby competitors such as Carluccio's and Fixx.

Next week: Butlers

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Theatre: Eastwallenders

Yesterday I went to see 'Eastwallenders', a play by John Staunton, in the Sean O'Casey Community Centre in East Wall. The actors are mostly professional but the play is being run as a fund-raiser for the community centre.

Tickets cost €10 / €8. Tonight (Saturday 24th) is the final night. The play starts at 8 pm.

The play is a comedy set in East Wall. I could make one or two minor criticisms - I've been spoiled by Project Arts Centre - but nevertheless it was enjoyable. Paul O'Flaherty (playing Charlie Malone) deserves particular praise for an extremely credible performance, although he was assisted in this by some wonderful one-liners in the script.

I do have one major criticism but it's not of the play itself. The community centre has no internet presence at all and would in my opinion benefit from getting a website, or joining facebook, or something. Anything. I almost arrived late because I'd wasted time trying to find information on the internet about the centre and the play. Yes, there's a little, but it's scattered and insufficient.

A comedy can benefit from a large audience, because laughter is infectious. As a play Eastwallenders can be considered a success, but as a production it needed more promotion. I'm critical of the community centre rather than the director/cast because the play was being run for the benefit of the community centre so it was in their interest to draw people in. (Quite possibly those involved thought there was enough promotion... but there never is.) If you're trying to raise funds and raise your profile you need to reach out to people, and not just to those in your immediate area. Just because this is a facility for East Wall doesn't mean it should ignore the internet or the wider community. If nothing else, they should be trying to get those tenners out of us to keep the centre funded.

The centre is a good amenity with a good theatre, so I hope it prospers, but to do so someone needs to step up and make it happen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Theatre: The Colleen Bawn

For the sake of fairness I should point out that this post is based on a preview of the play, not the final production.

The latest play to open in Project Arts Centre on East Essex Street in Temple Bar is 'The Colleen Bawn'. Written in the 19th century, the play is (loosely) inspired by the tragic tale of Ellen Hanley, the Colleen Bawn.

Set in rural Ireland in the early 1800s, it's the story of an Ascendancy family's attempts to avoid financial ruin. The right marriage could solve their problem - but inevitably love, self-interest and confusion complicate matters.

So is it any good, and would I recommend it to a friend? Yes, and yes.

The most impressive aspect of the performance was the vocals. Wow! A wonderful range of Irish accents were used; and as several of the actors played two characters they had ample opportunity to show off their vocal talents.

The actors were clearly enjoying the performance - this was particularly evident during a scene involving singing and dancing, and also towards the very end of the show. I don't mean that they broke character, simply that they were enthusiastic, and (I assume) pleased with how their first preview showing went.

The character motivations are generally good. With one exception, all the major characters are given the chance to put forward their perspective: it's easy to sympathise with them. They do what they do for coherent, sensible reasons. Only one character lacks this depth and is just a "bad guy".

I have a two minor criticisms, neither of which would stop me recommending the play. Firstly, at one point a strong blue light was angled in such a way that it shone into the audience. Secondly, I felt at one point that the Colleen Bawn's singing voice waivered and almost didn't hit the note it was aiming for; but having said that I quite enjoyed the singing.

In summary: tragedy, comedy, good accents, surprisingly complex characterisation and plot, enjoyable, and worth seeing.

The Colleen Bawn runs in the Project Arts Centre until 4th September 2010.

Also on in Project Arts Centre: Oedipus the King.

Photographs below provided by Project Arts Centre.
Himself and herself
Himself and herself, happier

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MerrionStreet.ie

Thank you to the helpful reader who pointed out this interesting new website, launched earlier this month: the new Irish Government News Service, MerrionStreet.ie.

Its aim is "to give people a view of Government from the vantage point of Government Buildings itself". While it would be easy to be cynical and dismiss this as mere propaganda, my guess is that that would be unfair. Time will tell.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dublin 10km

It's official: every summer event in the city is on this weekend. All of them. Or at least it feels that way.

So one more to add to the list, the Dublin 10km. It's on Sunday 25th July and starts in Park West in D12. "Online entry closes on 23rd July or before if 1,000 entrants received", says the website.

Malahide Has It

This weekend, of all weekends, the city needs good weather. As if the Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures and the Carlsburg Comedy Carnival weren't enough to keep us all busy, there'll also be a revived Malahide Festival, Malahide Has It. Have a look out for the exhibition on the Green by Art Alley Gallery on Saturday and Sunday.

Malahide Has It runs from Thursday 22nd July to Sunday 25th.

Inception

Go see it. Don't read any reviews, just go see it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The week ahead

This week:

The Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures begins on Friday 23rd July. The best bits of this festival aren't necessarily the high-profile acts - it's events like this, the Intercultural Knit Days. Oh, and the über-talented Lords of Strut will be busking at the festival. If you see two people dressed in the most wonderfully shiny 80's style clothes (or just spandex) that's probably them, and you should watch the show.

'The Colleen Bawn' opens in Project Arts Centre.

I'll try out a new bistro on Exchequer Street, the Green Hen.

Coffee: does Bewley's on Grafton Street live up to its reputation?

There'll be a CD/records fair at the weekend in Filmbase. On Saturday, there's also the "Artists' Book, Comic and Zine Fair" at the same venue.

The Carlsburg Comedy Carnival runs from Thursday 22nd July to Sunday 25th in the Iveagh Gardens.

Coffee: Ariosa Coffee

If you're around Temple Bar on a Saturday and you like coffee, check out Ariosa Coffee. Ariosa is actually a coffee wholesaler but each Saturday they have a coffee stand in Meeting House Square as part of the Temple Bar Food Market.

The coffee is good; the cappuccino is among the best in the city. Fortunately this quality is not reflected in the prices, which are incredibly low considering the stall is in the tourist centre of our capital city. An espresso costs only €1, and a small latte or cappuccino is just €2!

It's a pity Ariosa don't have a cafe open all week instead of a small take-away stand once per week. The good news is that other proprietors in Temple Bar get their coffee from Ariosa. So if you want to try Ariosa in the the comfort of a nice restaurant, I'd suggest Brick Alley Cafe on East Essex Street.

Recent coffee reviews: Carluccio's, Fixx.

Next week: it's a big one - Bewley's on Grafton Street.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Theatre: Oedipus the King

I was a little concerned before seeing a preview of this play that it might be worthy and dull - a play remembered merely because it is ancient rather than because it is good. I'm glad to say my concern was unfounded, and I found the play both fascinating and enjoyable.

Sophocles' Oedipus the King is the story of the king of Thebes, Oedipus, as he attempts to uncover the truth about both the previous king and Oedipus himself. Being used to modern film and theatre, I foolishly found myself trying to think of the play in modern terms as I watched - "Is it a murder mystery?", "No, wait, it's a political thriller!". It just is what it is, and it's good.

The Chorus is an interesting concept: these five actors serve a variety of roles, equivalent at times to extras in a crowd, but at other times speaking and interacting with the main characters, singing, or providing a form of narration.

The acting was generally good. There were one or two minor slips, but that's what previews are for. I particularly liked Michael Bates as Creon. Creon is a most likeable and impressive character, and Bates really brings out the man's virtues. (Bates also has the good fortune to have one of those rich, clear voices that audiences just want to keep listening to. He could be saying anything and it would sound wise and reasonable.) Creon's defense against a political allegation, in which he succinctly set outs his approach to life and politics, is a highlight of the show.

As the drama progresses, the intensity builds well. The pace and overall production quality are also good.

The play is presented by Classic Stage Ireland and runs from 19th July to 31st July 2010 in Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar. It is one hour and thirty-five minutes long, with no interval.

Also on in Project Arts Centre: The Colleen Bawn.

Photographs linked to with permission of Classic Stage Ireland. (1) Oedipus speaks, Creon listens (2) The Chorus.

Oedipus speaks

The Chorus

IrishEconomy.ie

To paraphrase a quote usually attributed to Leon Trotsky, "You may not be interested in the economy, but the economy is interested in you." Many arts and cultural organisations might prefer not to be part of the economy right now... but they are.

One of the best places for commentary about our current situation is IrishEconomy.ie. It's a blog written by Irish economists, including some very high profile ones such as Colm McCarthy and Philip Lane.

(And no, I'm not the David Madden listed on that site.)

Pablo Picante

If you like Mexican food, check out Pablo Picante on Baggot Street, a "Californian Burrito Bar" serving take-away burritos. It opened earlier this year.

The food is delicious, the prices are very reasonable - mostly under €6 - and the service is fast even at peak times. This speed of service is probably due to having a simple menu. This restaurant isn't trying to do everything; it's doing just one thing and doing it very, very well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In brief

On Friday 16th July Temple Bar Gallery & Studios reopens with a new exhibition, Bran New Brains by Sonia Shiel. I quite like the concept of turning the process of creating the final work into a performance in itself. Could be interesting.

Friday also sees the opening of the already-acclaimed new film Inception. Just be careful not to read too much about it - this is a film that could be ruined by spoilers.

On the subject of films, on Sunday 25th July Filmbase will present the winning short films from this year's Galway Film Fleadh in the Light House Cinema in Smithfield. The event is called 'Best of the West'. If you think short films are dull and arty, have a look at the description of Action Evader. Nice!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

French Week, continued

I was a little underwhemled by the French Market when I dropped by on Tuesday. Docklands regularly has this type of market, and I had quite high expectations. The market felt busy but a bit small in comparison to previous events in Docklands.

Perhaps my opinion was influenced by the deeply boring hotdog I got from "Charcoal BBQ". The stand is blue and white and well worth avoiding. There are lots of excellent food options available in the French Market; this isn't one of them.

To be fair however I should say that since the arrival of the Belem the market's atmosphere has picked up nicely. And earlier today Donnybrook Fair hosted a wine and food reception on board the ship - very nice idea.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A few final thoughts on the Summer Sensational

Temple Bar Cultural Trust are to be congratulated on continuing to try out new ideas. I very much enjoyed the festival, although that's partly out of sheer self-interest; the festival organisers really did an excellent job in supporting on-line commentary about the festival.

So what was good? The events: they were varied and of a high quality. Lords of Strut in particular were wonderful. I also enjoyed Cirque de Legume, the Julie Feeney concert and Summer Lightning. Oh, and the walking tour of public art was a revelation - walking through Temple Bar will never be quite the same again.

What was bad? The weather. Apart from Sunday, the weather really let the side down. July is the new June. The organisers were well prepared for the rain, and it did produce a sense of camaraderie, but a festival that's called Summer Sensational is always going to suffer if it rains.

And that leaves just one final thought. There's no doubt that Temple Bar can organise one damn fine festival and draw in quality acts. The big question for the organisers now is, is the Summer Sensational the right format? By being so inclusive and having such a wide variety of events, does the Summer Sensational risk trying - and failing - to be all things to all people? Should they split the festival into two or more smaller but more focused festivals? I can't answer those questions: all I can say is that I enjoyed the festival, and I hope that whatever festival format(s) is used next year will be just as enjoyable.

French Week begins

I've been told that the Belem - the sailing ship coming over from France to Dublin for French Week - is due to arrive at Spencer around 3 pm on Tuesday.

The French Market is due to open shortly before 10 am, also on Tuesday (i.e. today).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The week ahead

Coinciding with Bastille Day (14th July), French Week begins in Dublin Docklands on Tuesday 13th. The main feature will be a French-themed market, "Le Marche de France". The Docklands website doesn't mention it, but Alliance Francaise are hosting a Bal Musette on the eve of Bastille Day. Date and time: Tuesday 13th, 19:30.

On Friday 16th, Oedipus the King starts in Project Arts Centre. The show runs until the end of July.

This week's coffee review: Ariosa Coffee.

Summer Lightning

In these days of austerity, Arts organisations need to find new sources of income. Temple Bar Gallery & Studios responsed with last night's benefit gig, Summer Lightning, and I now have a few preliminary photos from the event.

Technical note: I've converted these down in size and quality into nasty little internet-friendly GIFs so your web browsers don't fall over dead. I have lots of (higher quality) originals if anyone involved in the gig needs them. I'll take a look at cleaning up these images a bit... GIF was a poor choice for the format. Also I should apologise to the two beautiful girls who asked to be photographed - I'll spare you the technical excuses for not getting a good shot.

Well done to everyone involved in organising and playing last night, and good luck with the relaunch.







Summer Sunday on the Square

I've really enjoyed the Summer Sensational festival over the last few days, but it's been tiring. Today is a day for just taking it easy, so I'll head on down to Queen of Tarts for brunch and then just enjoy the good weather.

There's music on all day in Meeting House Square, "Summer Sumday on the Square".

Summer Sensational: Saturday

I started the day with the "American breakfast" in Brick Alley Cafe. Yummy.

At 11:00 a brave group of tourists and Dubliners ventured out into the drizzle for a walking tour of Temple Bar's public art. It never ceases to amaze me how much hidden detail there is in Dublin's architecture. It's one of the reasons I started this blog - sometimes it seems as if tourists are the only ones who make the effort to see the city properly. (Photos to follow.)

After that I went to Filmbase to watch short documentaries. Subjects for the documentaries included: a pair of John Lennon fans, a deer living among cattle (The Herd), a dog on a farm (Useless Dog), the crazy antics of car drivers approaching Rosslare Harbour (Terminal Communication), deer in the Phoenix Park (Deer Don), and the closing of rural phone-booths. Those don't sound like interesting subjects, but they were. I think my favourite was Useless Dog.

In the evening I went to Summer Lightning in Temple Bar Gallery & Studios. The Gallery isn't normally a nightclub but was turned into one for this fund-raising event. The music was good and just right for the venue and crowd; lots of synthesizer-style effects.

The line-up included:
Crayonsmith - my favourite act of the night
Sarsparilla
Skinny Wolves DJs - very nice play list
The Boys of Summer
Patrick Kelleher
The Jimmy Cake - the headline act

The acoustics in the building are wierd; but I spend a bit of time talking to one of the sound guys and he didn't have any problems. For photography, the upper floor is wonderful: clear ambient light and, as a bonus, a balcony with a view of Temple Bar. The lighting in general was a challenge though. (Photos to follow.)

And finally I briefly dropped into the Button Factory to see Balkanarama. The crowd seemed to be enjoying it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lords of Strut

As I said in my previous post about the Lords of Strut, this was the best live performance I've seen all year.

Here are Sue and Famous Seamus:



Summer Sensational: Saturday's highlights

The good weather has finally arrived! Right on time, too, as Saturday has the busiest schedule of the festival. My choice of highlights for the day:

11:00 - Walking Tour of Temple Bar's public art - Booking required. You can book at the Temple Bar Cultural Trust on East Essex Street - that's also the meeting location for the start of the tour. Repeated at 14:00.

13:00 - Get into Shorts with Filmbase - there will be showings at other times and places as well.

15:30 - Toy Story 3 - a real coup for the festival and the IFI (Irish Film Institute), they're previewing this film over a week in advance of the general Irish release. Booking required.

19:30 - Summer Lightning - Live music in Temple Bar Gallery & Studios. Tickets cost €15.

21:30 - Dublin Balkanarama - Traditional balkan music, "electro Balkan beats" and "exquisite gypsy bellydancing", so they say. I saw one of the dancers around earlier in the festival - good costume. Location: Button Factory on Curved Street. Tickets cost €15.

Plus of course all the usual fun of Temple Bar at the weekend.

A good sign

Yesterday I saw a letting agent showing potential customers around a ground-floor retail unit in Temple Bar.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Julie Feeney

I saw Julie Feeney and Tarab earlier. Enjoyable - she's a good performer - but it rained throughout. To her credit she didn't let that stop her wandering around through the crowd.

Lords of Strut

Wow.

At lunchtime today I saw the best live performance I've seen all year, the incredible Lords of Strut. The show is a street performance, a comedy based on acrobatics, break dancing, contortion, and lots and lots of spandex.

Normally the show features Famous Seamus and Seantastic, but for this show Seantastic was replaced by a super-cute girl called Sue. Famous Seamus and No Nickname Sue are an amazing pair and both of them were superb. Sue brought to the show an element not listed as a standard part of the act, a beautiful singing voice. Famous Seamus brought Attitude and the ability to climb an unsupported ladder and walk it around.

This was street theatre at its best - the performers really used the crowd as part of the show. From getting people to clap enthusiastically to bringing three guys up to dance in the finale, the crowd was involved in a way a traditional stage performance could never match. Oh, and they sure knows how to strike a pose and work that camera, baby. (Photos to follow!)

Some shows take a little time to get good, to get funny, to get the audience warmed up. These guys won the crowd over quickly, and the show was hilarious right from the start.

Wonderful, just wonderful. The best part of the Summer Sensational so far.

Later: I uploaded two photos of Sue and Famous Seamus.

Summer Sensational: today's highlights

As part of the 'Summer Sensational', a film is being shown each evening in Meeting House Square. On Thursday I went along to see Jaws. (It's still compelling viewing.) The festival organisers coped well with the light rain.

Today's highlights are, in my opinion:

12:30 & 14:00 - The Lords of Strut - acrobatics, break dancing, and contortion. Free, just turn up at Meeting House Square.

19:00 to 21:30 - Julie Feeney - perhaps the musical highlight of the entire festival. Supported by Franceso Turrisi / Tarab. (No, I haven't heard of him before either.) Free, ticket required. Meeting House Square.

22:30 - Film: Dirty Dancing - Free, ticket required. Once again, Meeting House Square. If it's cold and wet, check out the coffee stand.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Summer Sensational: Drama Workshop by the GSA

After the excellent Cirque de Legume I popped by the Culture Box on East Essex St for the second of two free drama workshops being offered by the Gaiety School of Acting.

The workshop started with a few warm-up exercises - fun games that get people in the right frame of mind. After that there was a kind of charades-style game: we had to pose as inanimate objects in various situations. (Yes, for the garden scene someone was a tree.) That progressed onto framing an iconic scene from a movie so that the other people present could guess the movie - our group did Pulp Fiction, a dead easy choice given the distinctive sideways-V hand gesture associated with the movie.

The final exercise was to tell a movie in three to five still scenes. We were split into two groups - each would prepare their scenes and also try to guess the other group's movie. We did the Matrix series: choosing the pill, people in stasis, Neo dodging the Agent's bullet, Neo doing some other ridiculous stuff, and the chess scene. The other group did Ghost: the pottery wheel scene was an immediate give-away as to their choice of movie.

Loads of fun. As always, I'd strongly encourage anyone who's never done any acting or drama to try it.

The Summer Sensational: Cirque de Legume

Earlier this evening I saw a show I'd been told was a "must see", Cirque de Legume. It's (sort of) a parody of Cirque de Soleil and claims to be ‘The Greatest Vegetable Circus on Earth’. Quite a bold claim, I'm sure you'll agree.

The show lasts for a little under an hour and consists of several acts. On one level, this is a family-friendly kids show. At the same time, one of the later acts is... how can I described this, it's a vegetable-based striptease. There, I said it. It's a vegetable-based striptease and there's nothing unsuitable for the kids but yet nonetheless that's what's going on.

The pace and intensity of the show builds nicely, and by the end I was just laughing constantly. Very impressive for a show consisting of nothing more than two actors and a lot of vegetables.

I'll post photos but they can't do the show justice.

Predators

Ireland, so I'm informed, has the highest rate of cinema attendance in Europe. It must be the weather; certainly that's why I took a brief break from the Summer Sensational festival to head over to Cineworld on Parnell St to watch a preview of Predators.

If you liked the original (Predator), you'll like this. It did everything I expected it to do and more. Any movie with a guy dual wielding MP5Ks is likely to be good, and this sure is.

La Dolce Vita

After the morning events of the Summer Sensational I headed to La Dolce Vita for a quick meal. I didn't get it. The food was excellent, a delicious Amatriciana, but it was sloooooooow.

When a customer asks for whatever on the menu they can get fastest, and is told the pasta will take 10 to 15 minutes, it is completely and totally unacceptable for the food to take 27 minutes to arrive. It is worse still that the waitress didn't bother to alert me to any delay; the food just turned up late. Had the restaurant been very busy at the time I'd have expected some delay - but it wasn't busy.

Conclusion: win on quality food, fail on speed and service. I want to like this place, I really do - they show movies and have wonderful food! - so I'll give it a second chance. I'll just make sure I'm not in a rush at the time...

Temple Bar: update on Summer Sensational

Cliffhanger! reminded me of the shows I saw as a kid while on holidays in Orlando, Florida. I enjoyed them then, and the audience (mostly families of course) seemed to enjoy this show. Very nice moments of crowd participation. The live piano music was perfect for the show. There's a second showing at 4 pm today, once again in Meeting House Square.

I stopped by the No Grants Gallery for the opening of the Summertime exhibition. I think for the children involved and their families this is a lovely event, and they seemed very happy.

Demise en Scene: photographs of people taking photos. One or two very beautiful shots.

The weather's been OK so far... a little overcast but no rain.

Photos to follow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Day After The Day Before Tomorrow

I'm looking forward to the start of the Summer Sensational festival tomorrow. Here's my planned schedule:

12:30 - Cliffhanger! - "An action-packed street theatre show, inspired by Buster Keaton’s short film ‘Convict 13’." Free, no tickets required. Location: Meeting House Square.

13:00 - Exhibition opening of Summertime - Free, no tickets required. Location: No Grants Gallery.

Afternoon - Demise en Scene - Free, no tickets required. Location: Monster Truck Gallery.

Then some chilling out, seeing what's going on, and just enjoying the weather... I hope.

19:00 - Cirque de Legume - I've been told this is a must-see. Free, no tickets required. Location: Meeting House Square.

20:00 - Drama Workshops by the Gaiety School of Acting - This might be sold out! If it isn't, I can't recommend this too highly. Free, but pre-booking is required. Location: The Culture Box, East Essex St - not in the Gaiety School of Acting itself.

22:30 - Movies on the Square: 'Jaws' - Free, but tickets required, and probably already sold out. Location: Meeting House Square.


Now as much as I love Temple Bar and appreciate the work of everyone involved in making it the genuinely exciting place it has become, I have to make one slightly critical comment. A reader has asked me to say that she found the festival's website a bit unhelpful and that the focus of the Summer Sensational was unclear. As a result she was concerned that the festival was very family-oriented and therefore unsuitable for someone without kids. My hope is that this concern will prove incorrect and there'll be plenty to do - but I agree there is a risk that some potential festival-goers might be put off by the impression that the festival is aimed mainly at families/kids.

So will Temple Bar be overrun by chaotic, screaming children? Or will the festival have an atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm, shared by everyone? We'll find out tomorrow...

Coffee: Carluccio's on Dawson Street

Carluccio's, on the corner of Dawson St and Duke St, is part of a chain of restaurants. A few months ago it almost closed, but thanks to a rent reduction it has remained open. It's a restaurant, a cafe (sorry, caffè) and a shop, but for the purposes of this post I'm only considering it as a cafe. So of course the most important question is: is the coffee good?

Hell yes it is. All of it. I've tried the entire (hot coffee) menu and I liked every single beverage they served me. Even the latte had a good strong coffee flavour to it. The machiatto and espresso are nice; the cappuccino varies from good to excellent. They don't serve Americano - some people might dislike that, but I don't.

The service attitude is friendly and helpful. To try something new and also test the service I asked for a takeout bicerin. A bicerin is a traditional drink from Turin, made of espresso, drinking chocolate and milk/cream. It is not suited to takeout: normally in Carluccio's it would be served in three little jugs, with the three components mixed together to taste by the customer. Would this slightly absurd request phase the staff? Not in the slightest.

Flaws? Two points. Firstly, as this is a restaurant and shop as well as a cafe it can get busy and service can become slow. If you're in a hurry and need coffee right now, try Fixx instead. Secondly, they only serve one size for the larger coffee drinks e.g. cappuccino, latte: no small / medium / large to choose from. I like the option to get a small coffee - the first few sips are the best - so I consider this a bit unfortunate.

The ambiance is pleasant and relaxing, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning coffee or brunch.

Conclusion: possibly the best coffee on Dawson St. If you have time, go there.

Next: Ariosa Coffee

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Restaurant: Sushi King

Over recent years the number of Japanese restaurants in Dublin has increased. They vary a lot in style and focus, and they are mostly quite good - although also somewhat expensive. One of the Japanese restaurants I eat in (or get take-away from) regularly is Sushi King. There are two branches, one of Baggot Street and a newer one on Dawson St.

Sushi King has several things in its favour: the convenience and speed of being able to get sushi as take-away; fresh, high quality ingredients; several very solid "selection box" offerings; and an unrelenting ambition to keep trying new things. The best thing I can say for the restaurant is that I keep going back.

Against that, while I approve in principle of innovation and "contemporary" sushi designs, in practice I'd rather they used less chicken, no duck, and more varieties of seafood.

Another personal quibble: I tried out the all-you-can-eat offer one Sunday and while it was of higher quality than I expected (i.e. not 90%+ rice!) it was a "chef's selection". As someone who has a pretty good idea of his own sushi preferences, I'd rather eat my selection.

Yamamori beats Sushi King for value, largely due to its incredible bento box; Koishi in Ballsbridge beats it on decor and atmosphere; Kokoro beats it on variety... I could go on. So why do I go back to Sushi King? Three reasons: I like the locations it's in; I like how quickly I can get in and out; and it's a good all-rounder I can rely on.

A reader mailed me to comment that presentation is an important aspect of sushi, and the chef's selection allows the chef to create an aesthetically pleasing platter. Point taken.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In brief

Bray Summerfest begins next week on Wednesday 14th July and runs for about six weeks.

The Irish Architecture Foundation must be well organised; they already have an initial flyer printed for the 2010 Open House Dublin event (running 7th - 10th October). Keep an eye on this - last year's event was one of the highlights of the year.

And more immediately: if you're going to be around Temple Bar for the Summer Sensational, I'd strongly recommend the free Drama classes being run by the Gaiety School of Acting in the Culture Box on East Essex Street. Booking in advance is required.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The week ahead

Over the next week I'll be enjoying the Summer Sensational festival in Temple Bar (starting Thursday), watching a preview showing of the film Predators, and checking out the range of coffees offered by Carluccio's on Dawson Street.

Temple Bar at its very best

Sometimes the very best cultural events aren't preplanned or carefully staged, they just happen spontaneously. I was sitting outside Brick Alley Cafe this afternoon, drinking quite nice boro boro tea, listening to a busker. As he was playing Hit the Road Jack a group of four pretty girls - maybe around 18 years old? - wandered by and started dancing along. And then, as they warmed to the attention they were getting, they started singing as well.

The busker reacted well; I'm guessing, but I think he must have that (to me) amazing ability to play songs without ever having learned them as sheet music. The girls started in on the Kings of Leon's Sex on Fire and the busker just picked up the tune - they didn't tell him in advance, he just gave them the mike and let them start singing whatever they knew.

By this point a crowd had gathered. People had come out onto their balconies and started clapping along. The crowed started calling out requests - surprisingly, the girls were unable to respond to the crowd request for Lady Gaga. (No, I wasn't the one calling for it, but I would have loved to hear it.)

The girls finished with Wonderwall. All these years later it's still a crowd-pleaser.

Perhaps this doesn't sound all this impressive; I suppose you just had to be there. It was like one of those contrived happy crowd scenes in many advertisements, except it was real.

PhotoIreland - 'The Gift'

As part of the PhotoIreland festival, the Gallery of Photography on Meeting House Square in Temple Bar is exhibiting 'The Gift' by Giorgia Fiorio.

The theme - spiritual and religious ritual - is presented through a collection of black-and-white photographs. The Gallery says it took seven years to create the collection, and I'm entirely unsurprised: the sheer variety of cultures represented would have required an enormous amount of travel.

The photos are all of a high quality; this is an impressive exhibition and well worth seeing. It runs until 22nd August 2010.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Coffee: Fixx Coffee House on Dawson Street

Until about a fortnight ago there lay on the corner of Dawson St and Molesworth St a vacant unit, the empty shell of a failed Costa Coffee. I liked that Costa, but I suppose opening a cafe on Dawson St in the middle of a recession was always going to be a risky proposition.

And then... Fixx opened. This is not the first Fixx cafe, but it is the first one I've been to, and I had no idea what to expect. So let's start off with the most important thing: the quality of the coffee.

I was mildly disappointed by my first drink, a cappuccino, but I think that's more a matter of personal taste than a flaw in the preparation: I was hoping for a more 'wet' cappuccino with more of a foam texture throughout the drink. However subsequent cappuccinos - once I knew what to expect - were fine. I liked the macchiato.

To get a broader perspective I got the views of other regular coffee drinkers. They were very positive, especially about the latte and cappuccino. The only criticism I heard was of the espresso, although personally I thought it was a pretty solid offering. So overall, I'd regard the coffee as good but not exceptional. I'll give it more time though - I suspect it has potential to be better than I've given it credit for so far.

The service attitude is excellent: fast, accurate and genuinely warm. I like that Fixx has loyalty cards - buy nine coffees, get nine stamps, get a free coffee. I like even more than when I forgot to get a few stamps one morning and returned later the girl behind the counter filled out the card and politely asked "Would you like your free coffee?"

There are two counters, one for sit-down and one for take-out. I'm not sure but this might be the reason for the speed of service. I've never had to wait more than a few seconds to be served.

The decor is... acceptable. I liked Costa's chairs and tables; Fixx is OK but is neither heart-warmingly snug nor impressively stylish.

Prices are typical for the area i.e. moderately expensive.

Conclusion: certainly not perfect, but serves good coffee and provides excellent service. Has real potential: I wouldn't be surprised if over time I get to really like the place. Right now, it's my default destination for coffee during the workday.

Update, 10th July 2010: It's happening... I'm starting to like the coffee there more each time I try it. Had a latte today. Oh. My. God.

Update, 16th July 2010: The coffee is still good, but service has disimproved. The take-away counter has been closed, with a single counter now being used for both sit-in and take-away. The result: queues and delays. I'm told there's a shortage of staff. This really isn't sensible - the fixed overheads such as rent must be very high for this location, so there's no point scrimping on staff numbers and putting at risk the cafe's service and reputation.

Update, 25th September 2010: The Bald Barista has turned the service around.

Airsoft: Ops weekend milsim event

Last year I started playing airsoft. It's been fascinating, a wonderful combination of challenges: mental (tactics), physical (fitness, strength and co-ordination) and social (team integration and the roleplaying aspect of some games).

This weekend sees the start of Ops, the first weekend-long event of its kind in Ireland (as far as I'm aware). It's a collection of milsim games with associated side events such as an airsoft-themed table quiz. 'Milsim' refers to a type of airsoft game, typically based on limiting ammunition and having harsh consequences for being hit. Milsim games are often longer and more complex than the other type of game, 'skirmish'.

Ops starts this evening and runs on Saturday and Sunday. The venue is HRTA.

Note: I will be a marshal for at least one of the games.