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21 November 2007

The Limerick Food Bloggers & 101 Talbot

Keen readers of the new Bridgestone Guide will have noticed that Valerie O'Connor is one of our contributing editors. But you may not have known that Valerie first came to our notice thanks to her sharply opinionated and funny writing on her blog,

And, now that Valerie has relocated back to her native Limerick, it turns out she has joined up with the most bloggerful group of food lovers you can find anywhere: The Limerick Food Bloggers. Check these guys out:

I finally met up with the Limerick bloggers for dinner during the week at Copper & Spice in Cornmarket Square. The food was fine as always, but, to be honest we could have just as easily gone to the pub, we just yakked and yakked, like women do, for hours. We left only because they were closing down the shutters. Mary T is gone to Oz for six months, Maz from Style Treaty was great to chat to, it was great to put a face to Lorraine from the Italian Foodies and Laura I already know.

But it isn't all Shannonside stuff for Valerie. Here is her report of a tremendous Saturday night in Dublin's iconic 101 Talbot.

When I called the 101 to make a booking I told Pascal, who took the call, that I had a choice between his restaurant and my friend's choice of Eden in Temple Bar. He chirpily told me that Eden was a fancier restaurant and that his wife Margaret goes there when she's off work. He also added that the food in 101 was "Good and reasonable and that the place had a great atmosphere". He went on to lament the fact that they hadn't spent any money doing it up since they opened seventeen years ago and that it could do with a bit of an update. I was in and intrigued.

When this place was opened back in the darkness of the early 90s Dublin was not the shining economic light that it is now. Surely they had no idea their place would be situated right beside the controversial "Spike" on O'Connell St, but it makes it easier to find as all you can see from the street is a little sign. You go up a simple staircase and open the door on what seems like the best party in town. The place is packed with diners chatting loudly and passionately and, it seems, enjoying their food heartily.

Yes the décor is basic; it's a throwback to the 90's when there was no style at all. The amphitheatre or disco layout of a drop in the middle of the floor breaks up the busy crowd. An exhibition of busy oil paintings of Dublin street scenes is crammed onto the walls; they even hang over the mirrors. It's feels like a proper city place, full of life. The tables and chairs are chosen for functionality and even the glasses are those small wine glasses you had in your college flat. The staff are young and funky with nothing but enthusiasm for the food. If they don't know something they will quickly find it out from someone who does.

The menu is generous with the staples of sirloin steak with garlic butter or whiskey cream sauce, slow roast shoulder of lamb, goat's cheese salad and more adventurous-than-usual sounding veggie options. I had pathetic intentions of having a light meal but chose the Crispy Pork Belly wrapped in Savoy Cabbage served with a plum and ginger sauce as my starter. It was a joy to behold on the plate. A perfect round mould was created from the bright green cabbage leaf, the pig was inside, and it sat contentedly in a bright pink pool of its sauce, like a pig in sauce. When I cut into it the cabbage still had plenty of bite, it and the pork were warm, and the pork was a little crispy and shredded into chunks. The cold sauce contrasted well with the meat and the vegetable to give a great contrast of flavours and textures, with a fruity almost oriental twist.

My date's choice (rather my second choice) of starter was the warm duck liver salad with roast pine-nut and balsamic dressing. The livers were very rare and deliciously tender, almost runny in the middle; I ate most of them as Date was a bit squeamish. The accompanying salad was a bit unimaginative but everything in it was fine and it worked with the livers, which don't need much dressing up anyway.

For mains I chose the char-grilled swordfish with smoked garlic and chilli butter. I was asked how I'd like it cooked, I went for medium. It came served simply on a bed of roasted baby new potatoes with its butter running down its sides. It was juicy and delicious, falling apart at the touch of my fork. The smoked garlic butter had none of the usual tang of garlic butter and didn't murder the fish's delicate flavours. My bowl of side salad was pretty standard with cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce. The star of the show was the date's main of Pan Roast venison served with sautéed bacon and cabbage and redcurrant jus. The venison, cooked to medium, was melt in the mouth and so rich. It's dark red colour with pink centre oozed sexiness on the plate, enhanced by the fruity, heady jus. The bed of bacon and cabbage sounded strange but the cabbage was finely shredded and barely sweated with the smoked bacon to make an unusual but uplifting marriage to the meat.

The wine list was very reasonably priced from €22 to €32 for the most expensive. I don't drink white but often choose the fish and the server suggested the Sardinian Bombarde which was light enough for the dish but still held up well to the rich meaty ones.

Though the Date insisted he couldn't manage desert after all the rich food I told him he had to, it was part of the brief. He chose the dark chocolate cheesecake with strawberries while I had the fool of blueberries over blackberry compote. The cheesecake was one of those ones that make you cry, it was so rich and dense it almost crumbled. Strawberries peeked out from its insides and oohs and aahs could be heard from other diners in the same state of bliss who had ordered it. My fool was light and fluffy and came in one of the little wine glasses; it looked like something from a Marguerite Patten cookery card. It was good to eat something a bit lighter than the rest of what we'd indulged in, though I must admit that I had most of the cheesecake too.

We were so full we had to have brandies and coffees. Lots of diners were lingering over pints of Guinness and drinks. It seems you can have your whole night out here and never get flung out.

The meal for us both came to €124.00 including beer, wine and brandies (well it was Saturday…)

101 Talbot, 101 Talbot Street, Dublin 1
Tel: 01 874 5011

Restaurant Review: Bon Appetit, Malahide, Co Dublin

Oliver Dunne is making his mark in Malahide. Caroline Byrne has a thoroughly wonderful time.

Restaurant Bon Appetit is a totally different affair from its bistro style counterpart, Café Bon, downstairs. In its classic style, the manner of its front of house and most of all its food, Oliver Dunne demonstrates his deep understanding of what a fine dining experience is. To begin with we enjoyed a glass of wine in the bar, ascending to the dining room when we were ready. Our host was gracious and never attempted to hurry us in spite of the fact that we were running a little late. The room upstairs is elegant, combining classic and modern elements to create a stylish yet comfortable space. The only thing detracting from the ambiance was the choice of background music that seemed very out of place and bordered on being too loud. Once seated our drinks were returned to us, the menus were distributed along with the ample wine list and we were left to make our selections.

Looking through the repertoire of classical French dishes, there was plenty of the current season in evidence. Irish new season lamb, beetroot, a range of woodland mushrooms, roasted hazel nuts and a variety of game made for tempting options. We chose boudain of skate and braised pork belly with girole purée and crispy capers, and roast breast of quail and confit legs with red onion purée to start. After we'd chosen the mains I selected a bottle of Meursault Côtes de Beaune, Faiveley 1989 but then, on recommendation from the sommelier, I switched to the 1997 Moray, also Côtes de Beaune, for that extra bit of weight. This proved to be very good advice and there was no difference in price. After a palate cleanser of sparkling apple with elderflower foam we were treated to a little amuse bouche - a boudain of confit rabbit with beetroot puree and roast artichoke dressed with a balsamic reduction - a delicious morsel to whet our appetites for what was about to come.

The starters were perfect. Each plate was elegantly composed to place emphasis on the many combinations of flavours and textures that comprised each dish. The fatness of succulent pork belly and creamy girole purée was cut by the sharpness of the capers, and on the other side of the plate, meaty skate combined girole purée, or a bite of crisp, salty pork crackling created a completely different experience.

Our main courses, the slow cooked rack of new season lamb and braised shoulder with rosemary jus and creamed potato, and pan fried Dover sole in a red wine sauce with fondant potato, were equally good. This time the main ingredient of the dish took centre stage. Both the lamb and the fish were cooked to perfection and neither meal was overcomplicated, containing a perfect balance of flavour and well judged portions.

Once the empty plates had been cleared away we were offered an interesting pre-dessert of passion fruit purée and Szechuan pepper foam on top of white chocolate crème anglais, followed by the main desserts - coconut parfait and caramelized pineapple, accompanied by whiskey crème anglais and coffee ice cream served on the side, and 'apple assiette' which was accompanied by a glass of apple juice and elderflower foam. Whilst all was delicious we did feel that the 'sidecar' elements of this course were unnecessary and contributed little to their respective dishes.

We finished dinner with a selection of French cheeses with which I opted to have a glass of Sandeman 1977. This was a perfect end to a perfect evening - my only criticism is of the lack of Irish cheese included in their selection. It may be a French restaurant but that's no reason to ignore our own excellent products. The entire bill came to €274 which we felt was a fair price for a fantastic dining experience. This is an exceptional restaurant.


Kennedy's Food Store in Fairview

Out in deepest Fairview, Sarah Kennedy is doing the Good Thing. Leslie Williams catches up with the Fairest of Fairview, a shop/deli/restaurant that every neighborhood should have at the centre of its culinary culture.

Kennedy's Food Store in Fairview is the kind of food shop/deli/cafe which planners should require builders and developers to provide along with schools and libraries in new housing estates. Every community needs a place to go for home made brown bread for breakfast, sandwiches and home made soup at lunchtime and maybe a cheap meal and a glass of wine when you come home from the office wrecked at 8pm and can't face the kitchen - oh and the meal should cost around a tenner.

Kennedy's does all this and you can also pick up some decent chocolate and a bottle of wine to guzzle in front of the TV when you get home. Almost all the food is home cooked and that which is not is sourced well from the likes of Maison des Gourmets for bread and ham from Hicks. All food served is cooked from first principles using essentially the same principles as you would use at home. Eggs and chickens are free range and the ham and beef for sandwiches is cooked on the premises.

The dinner special on the evening I visited was Lasagne, Salad and a glass of wine for 9.95 but I opted for the Pork and Leek Sausages in a Lyonnaise sauce with roast potatoes (9.95) and a glass of Hungarian Bulls Blood. This was simple fare but tasty nonetheless with good quality sausages from Morrisseys of Wexford Street. For dessert I had a slice of triple layered chocolate cake that was a little dryer than I would have liked but the ample layers of chocolate ganache filling more than compensated. Add a cup of Americano coffee and a bar of Green and Blacks to eat on the way home and the bill came to a very reasonable €21.35.

So lets get lobbying to have the planning laws changed so we can all get a place like this near us!

Kennedy's Food Store
5 Fairview Strand, Dublin 3
Tel: 01 833 1400
Opening Times: Mon-Fri: 7.30am-9pm, Sat- 9am-6pm, Sun- 10am-4pm

Tell us about your favourite local deli heaven.

Cookery Book: Good Things by Jane Grigson

Ann Dolamore is the sharpest food publisher on the block. She has a habit of snatching up neglected classics and turning them into smart new editions for her company, Grub Street, and her new edition of Jane Grigson's "Good Things" is one of the nicest reprints she has ever done.

All of the late Mrs Grigson's books are cherishable, but GT is perhaps the most personal of all her works, and all the better for it. There is a chapter on prunes. There is a chapter on chicory. There is a chapter on sweetbreads. Throughout there is wisdom and learning, lightly displayed and despatched.

Here is a typically charming recipe from this precious volume, and one that has become a kitchen classic.

Curried Parsnip Soup
3oz butterlarge parsnip
4oz chopped onion
1 clove garlic, crushed
tablespoon flour
rounded teaspoon curry powder
2 pints hot beef stock
quarter pint cream

Peel and dice the parsnip. Put the onion, parsnip and garlic into a heavy pan with the butter and cook for 10 minutes slowly with the lid on the pan. The vegetables must not brown, but gently absorb the butter. Add flour and curry powder to take up the fat, and gradually incorporate the hot beef stock. Simmer until the parsnip is cooked. Liquidize or push through the mouli-legumes. Return to the pan, correct seasoning with salt, pepper and a little more curry powder if liked (but be cautious: keep the flavour mild.) Add the cream and a spinkling of choppedchives. Serve with croutons of bread fried in butter and oil.

Note: Liquidized soup may need the further dilution of some extra stock, or some creamy milk.

Cookery Book: Cook Simple by Diana Henry

Megabytes has often praised the work of Diana Henry, especially her classic first book, "Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons". Somehow, as well as writing for The Sunday Telegraph. Ms Henry is managing a cookery book each year, and her latest is another beauty. "Cook Simple" borrows it's name from Escoffier's dictum, "Faites Simple", and takes the idea of simple cooking to deliciously logical extremes.

The chapters are divided up into menu mainstays - Chicken; Chops; Sausages; Leg of Lamb; Fish; Pasta; Leaves and Herbs - and so on, and the imprimatur is that the dishes involve the minimum amount of work, of which the opening recipe, Pacific Lime Chicken, gives a classic example. "A recipe, from a café in Hawaii, which I have been cooking for years. There's practically no cooking, but everyone loves this dish…" Diana writes.

Another smart, friendly book that will be dog-eared and stain-splattered before you know it.
Mitchell Beazley £20stg.

What cookery book has made a huge difference to your Monday to Friday cooking?

Cookery Book: "Cooking by Hand" by Paul Bertolli

When did you last come across a cookery book that had been conceived and executed as a work of art? Today, the majority of successful cookery books are works of pure commerce: Nigella, having done Feast, must now deliver Fast, because what else can constitute a framework for the next television series? Jamie, having delivered the Cookery Bible (the big book!) must now do The Good Life, because what else can constitute a framework for the next television series?

It wasn't always like this. The greatest cookery Books - Simple French Food by Richard Olney; A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden; Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray, to name just three - are self-consciously Works of Art, as well as supremely useful cookery books which grant you recipes for your lifetime.

Books by Marcella Hazan, Jane Grigson, Alice Waters and Elizabeth David are designed not simply to be practical, but also to convey the aesthetic of their subject. They are, very decisively, not books of their moment: they are books of their generation, if not indeed of their century.
So, where might you go looking today for something as fine as these great classics. Well, finding a conduit through Alice Waters and her supreme aesthetic is a good place to start. It was whilst reading an article on Chez Panisse alumni -folk like Steve Sullivan of Acme Bakery, Mary Jo Thorensen of Jojo, and Paul Bertolli, former head chef for a decade who moved on to Oliveto restaurant and who has now set up his own specialist salami company, Fra'Mani - that we looked up Mr Bertolli's site and discovered a 2003 cookery book, "Cooking by Hand", that had never been printed here. Having got our hands on a copy, published by Clarkson Potter, it shows what a shame it is that in this age of commerce a brilliant, exceptional book such as this doesn't cross the Atlantic.

"Cooking By Hand" is the cookery book as art. That's not to say it's a big, glossy tome like The French Laundry Cookbook: it isn't. It's almost exclusively in black and white, with just a few colour photographs. But Bertolli's obsessions - tomatoes, charcuterie; pasta, balsamic vinegar - are treated here as subjects to be teased and explored, executed and considered, and to be written about is stunning aphoristic prose:

The trouble with cooking begins when you decide to take it seriously. This raises the question: 'What does seriously good cooking mean I must do?'. As long as I have been cooking in earnest, this question has led me down trails full of circles and switchbacks, sometimes taking me directly into the brambles. And the learning never ends. The idea of 'mastering' cooking now seems more like an illusion than a goal".

How wise and modest that is, and that is what this book is: wise and modest, and not a "pukka" in sight.

Tell us your favourite cookery-as-art book

"The Creators" Individuals of Irish Food by Dianne Curtin

Dianne Curtin's first book could be described simply as a series of pen portraits accompanied by superb photographic portraits of some of the major players in Cork's rich artisan food culture.

In fact the book is much more than this, and is the story of a series of producers whose work has helped the author to see creative food culture in a new and richer light. The Creators is a mixture of love letter and tone poem about a group of dogged determined individuals whose work has come to be of supreme importance in our food culture. Ms Curtin captures the nuances of personality of these people with deftness and Philip Curtin's photography, in a typically beautifully produced book by Cork University Press, includes some photographs that are nothing less than transcendent.

Atrium €29.95
Published 1 November 2007

Menu of the Season: The Waterfront Restaurant

The Waterfront Restaurant, Lord Bagenal Hotel, Main Street, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow

This menu from The Waterfront was one of the most memorable meals of our restaurant-going year. It all started with an amuse of air-dried Connemara lamb with lavender honey…

Fillet of Red MulletChickpea fries, Lemon & Basil Tartar Sauce €13.50
Pressed terrine of Confit Duck & Foie grasApricot Compote, Warm Brioche €13.50
Roast Breast of QuailWild Mushroom Risotto, Salsify Crisps €14.00
Graden Herb SaladPassion Fruit Jelly and Asparagus €13.50
Mosaic of Ham Hock & ChorizoWith Watermelon & Avocado Purée €13.50
Pan Fried ScallopsWith home-made Crubeen Pudding, Apple & Fennel Salad €16.00
Carpaccio of Hereford BeefHorseradish Ice Cream and Beetroot Pickle €15.00
Pan-Fried Sa TroutWith Sweet Potato and Lemongrass Soup €13.50

Main Course
Fillet of Hereford BeefRosti Potato, Carrot Puree & Foie Gras Cromesquis & Orange€32.00
Caramelized Black SoleWith Mussels, Fresh Linguini & Asparagus Puree, Wild Mushrooms €30.00
Roast Breast of Free Range ChickenMoroccan spiced pine nut Cous Cous, home made Date Chutney & Tagine Sauce €28.00
Pan Fried CodCrab & Ginger Tortellini, Roast Shellfish Sauce and Deep Fried Celery Leaf €28.00
Sweetcorn RavioliCauliflower Beignet, Braised Onion & Curry Froth & Caramel €24.00
Butter Roast Strip of VealSmoked Gubbeen & potato gratin, creamed peas & bacon, béarnaise sauce €30
Pan Roasted John DoryBasil Crushed Potatoes, Confit Plum tomatoes & Tapenade Beurre Blanc €29.50
Rump of LambBroad Beans & Mint, Colcannon Potato & Violet Mustard €28.00

Bonbon Fuille De BrickFrangepan Mousseline, Caramel Ice Cream & Crème Anglaise
Dragon FruitsPistachio Avocado Mousse
Delice of Poached PearsCaramel Sauce, Kiwi Sorbet
Dark Chocolate FondantMilk Chocolate Sauce, Strawberry Sorbet & Sherry Syrup
Sensation Trio of Fruit MoussesCoconut Passion fruit Cráeme Brulee and Mint Ginger Sorbet
Rhubarb Crème BruleeVanilla Tuille
Cheese BoardSelection of Irish & French Cheese
Selection of SorbetPineapple, Mango & Mandarin

Sweetie Pies

Ever since Alison Pearson's heroine took a rolling pin to her M&S mince pies to distress them for her child's school open day in the brilliant novel "I Don't Know How She Does It", it has been impossible to pass off any professionally made cakes or biscuits as being from your own hand.
But fear not: a bag of Sweetie Pie cakes, pies and sweet loaves are so gloriously hand-made, so abidingly domestic, that you effectively could claim them as your own work. If you were a really good baker, that is.

Now, this may seem unfair to Jennifer Griffin and Maureen Foley, whose bakery sells to 11 different outlets in and around Galway, but it is truly the highest compliment we can pay these lovely apple pies, yummy scones and other delights. "We do the best mince pies with homemade mincemeat at Christmas", says Jennifer, so west coast food lovers are sorted for that staple of the Xmas feast. You will find these lovely things, packaged in the simplest style, in Galway shops such as McCambridge's, Centras in Clarinbridge and Carnmore, Grace's Londis in Loughrea and Centra Craughwell. Nestor's Supervalu and other good stores.

Contact Jennifer and Maureen on Tel: 091 846640.

Curraghchase Farm Shop

Here is a Sunday afternoon jaunt with a difference. Pack the kids in the car. Drive to Kilcornan in west Limerick, with Curraghchase Forest Park as your general point of reference. From the N71, around Kildimo, look for signs that say "Farm Shop". Follow the signs.

These will take you to a tall, dark-red house, with a small stone shop just across from it. You have arrived at Caroline Rigney's Farm Shop, home of Curraghchase bacon and pork products.
Let the kids wander off to see the geese, the horses, the pigs and the cows and the chickens, whilst you get the cheque book out to splurge on superb bacon, Caroline's own hand-made sausages, and rarities such as the best pig's trotters you ever did see.

Admire the luscious creamy white fat on the superb rashers - Limerick Lardo. Pack a few roundels of the superb white pudding into your basket - this is one of the best puddings you can buy. Fill up the freezer bag with roast pork cuts. Round up the kids. Head back home. Get Fergus Henderson's new book, "Beyond Nose to Tail Cooking", and brew up some wicked Trotter Gear with your newly purchased trotters. Have a porky repast with all the Curraghchase pork and bacon. Now, wasn't that a grand excursion? Same again next Sunday afternoon, then?

Caroline's Curraghchase is just one of the many exciting things happening with Irish artisan pork. Not too far away, between Newmarket and Kanturk, John and Olive Forde are producing superb pork products that they sell at local markets. In Tipperary T.J. Crowe is processing the pigs of Tom and Sharyn Shore, as well as his own happy porkers. Pork and bacon, once the most tragic example of Irish low-quality commodity farming, is undergoing a welcome renaissance.

Once you eat these great products, there is no going back. Brilliant.

Tel: 061 393988

Eamon's Bridgestone Diary: On The Road

Saturday May 19th
After work we head for Richmond House in Cappoquin, one of our favourite places for a 'Dinner & Duvet' stay over. It's a lovely evening and the grounds are very restful. Since we're a little earlier than usual we bring a bottle of wine down to the conservatory and read the Saturday papers. Dinner is wonderful, as always, and service is efficient, gracious and very, very friendly.

Sunday May 20th
Home from Cappaquin it's off to Dunbrody Abbey Cookery Centre where Pierce & Valerie McAuliffe are hosting a Slow Food event. On a stunningly sunny day we spend the afternoon in their courtyard garden, meeting new people (check out Pierre and Ursula's new wine company at ), learning about the Wexford Organic Centre at Cushinstown, New Ross and tasting the great Tom Cleary's homemade sloe gin. On the way home we pop in to Roger & Terrie Pooley at Parkswood House in Passage East to ask whether they might host a Slow Food event.

Thursday May 24th
It's Election Day. We head to In A Nutshell in New Ross for lunch and then on to check out the Wexford Organic Centre outside New Ross. It's a low-key place but we are mighty impressed when our request for some mixed leaves and some rocket results in them being cut from the ground in front of us and bagged up. On the way home we call in to Tom Kearney's butchers in John St. Waterford and pick up some beef fillet. Using a recipe from Food & Wine magazine the beef is just seared on the pan, then cut really thinly and stuffed with the rocket leaves. Served with the salad leaves and some cherry tomatoes, it was delicious.

Monday May 28th
We drive out to Annestown to visit the little bistro at the Copper Coast Geopark centre. We limited ourselves to coffee with scones and jam but those scones were still warm from the oven, light as a feather, the coffee served in generous sized cafetieres. Prices are amazingly low.

Tuesday May 29th
After work we head for Flahavan's Oat mills in Kilmacthomas where Slow Food have arranged a tour of the facility. It's a really impressive place, certified organic, sourcing it's raw ingredient mostly from farmers within 30 miles of the factory. Some of the electricity for the place is generated from the original old millstream and the heating by burning off the waste husks from the oats in a boiler. John and Mary Flahavan were generous hosts. Porridge will never seem such a simple product again!

Thursday May 30th
On a trip through Bennettsbridge in Kilkenny we grab a quick lunch at the reliable café at the Nicholas Mosse pottery. Pork terrine with salad for me, goat's cheese and red onion tart for J. That night we head to my old school - De La Salle College - to catch the end of year student concert. Amazing musical talent on display.

Friday June 1st
Lunch at the Granary Café at Waterford Treasures Museum where I meet up with chef Martin Dwyer and Donal Lehane, convivium leader of the Four Rivers Slow Food group, to plan a Slow Food event for September.

Saturday June 2nd
Dinner at a restaurant that has to remain nameless. Foie gras with stewed rhubarb was not a match made in heaven. Lamb terrine was tasteless and a dessert of chocolate brownie with chocolate mousse served on a pile of chopped mango was dry and unsatisfying. Service was overpowering at the beginning of the evening and almost non-existent by the end. The bill was almost €150.00 with just two glasses of wine.

Sunday June 3rd
Dinner at Bassetts restaurant in Inistioge. From a really strong start this restaurant has just gotten better and better. The tasting menu now only takes place on Saturday evenings and the restaurant now rears its own pigs; you won't miss them out front. We had a super dinner and somehow managed to get back in the car without taking a little piglet home as a pet. Back home I finish off the last drop of sloe gin from a bottle that Martin Dwyer gave me.

Thursday June 7th
Over the years we have often undertaken long journeys in pursuit of good food. Today we leave Waterford on what will be a 600km round trip to visit Neven Maguire's MacNean House in Blacklion, Co. Cavan. Despite the fact that our car gave up the ghost just 100 yards short of the restaurant and had to make the journey back to Waterford on the back of an AA truck, we loved the restaurant and our - amazingly good value - room. Staff were really friendly and Neven Maguire seems to work incredibly hard; he's there for breakfast from first thing in the morning and he's there in the evening as we head for bed.

Friday June 8th
Having picked up a rental car in Cavan we head to Sligo. After a little retail therapy we end up in the amazing Kate's Kitchen on Castle St., an extraordinary shop. If we weren't so far from home we'd have brought a heap of things home with us. Back in MacNean House that night, the menu has changed completely since yesterday and the food has moved up to an even higher gear.

Throughout our two-night stay, the staff have been amongst the best we have encountered. In the guest book we wrote that it had been worth every one of the 600km!


Eamon's Diary

You probably reckon it's all fun being a Bridgestone Editor. Well, here is the reality behind the red-carpet glamour, the paparazzi moments, the celebrity endorsements and the pro-golf tournaments, courtesy of Eamon Barrett of the Waterford parish.

We begin with the reality of checking out accommodation for the Bridgestone 100 Best Guides, and just what can be discovered in Ireland. Names have been changed here to protect the guilty: E. A. Poe House isn't actually the real name of this place, though it probably should be.
Then, it's a trip back a few months to when Eamon was whistle-stopping around the country. First, the painful bit…

E. A Poe House, Sometown, Ireland.

Judging restaurants and accommodation for inclusion in the 100 Best is never something that I take for granted. On some level, somebody at the heart of every operation thinks that they are doing a great job. Over the years, experience of all of the places we visit provide me with a set of benchmarking standards that I can apply. When places come very close to being a 100 Best experience, it is this set of 'standards experienced' that helps to sort out the nitty gritty.

Well, that's the theory anyway. And then there are places where no mental conundrum is necessary, either because it is so obviously ahead of the game or, as in the case of E. A Poe House, where we simply aren't on the right planet at all.We arrive at 8pm, park the car at the side of the house and are then met at the front door by the proprietor, who asks us if we have a booking. When we confirm that we do we're given the key to our room and then a sheet of paper. It's the menu for breakfast in the morning. We must choose now what we want and if we fancy the baked omelette, we have to specify the time we'll be down for breakfast as "they take 20 minutes." An omelette. 20 minutes. Really?

After that we're shown to our room, number 1, and left at that. No mention of a welcome, a cup of tea, a lounge, anything. The room is a grim affair made to look fancy. There's a kettle and cups with UHT milk and little individually wrapped biscuits - you know the type. The bed is faux four-poster but is too big for such a small room. The sheets are moss green, the pillows have diamantes sewn into them. The bathroom has no window, just an extractor so the ceiling above the shower is black with mould. There is no facecloth, no shampoo, no soap, just an anonymous dispenser bottle of gel handwash.

Sorry if this passes into 'too much information' but the toilet seat is cracked and is fully capable of giving you a nasty pinch as you go to the, well, you get the picture. There is a fancy flat screen TV. The carpet is grass green and cheap. We are both dying for a coffee so we wander downstairs to see if there is in fact a lounge but all there are are closed doors. And signs. "Guests are requested to settle their bill ON ARRIVAL". "Please make sure the door is firmly shut." "The car park is locked at 10.30pm." "Breakfast is served between 8.30am and 9.30am." "Guests are requested to vacate their room by 11am. We hope you enjoy your stay."We walk down to Main St and have that coffee in the bar of The Excelsior Hotel, read the papers and walk back up to E. A Poe House. In the absence of any sign of life, there's nothing for it but to go to bed and watch TV. In the morning the two of us are on tenterhooks as there is only that one hour window of opportunity to have breakfast, but in hindsight it might have been a blessing to miss it.

Orange juice that manages to taste of anything but oranges. A lifeless buffet with cereals and some 'not exactly jumping with freshness' sliced fruit. No yoghurt. My pre-ordered scrambled egg with smoked salmon is brought almost instantly. Of course it has, it's been sitting under a heat lamp for that long that all of the liquid has separated and the egg sits in it's own puddle. It has all the visual appeal of somebody who has wet themself. I eat a few forkfuls and all the energy drains from my body. I push the rest of it around in the hope that it will look like I've eaten more than I have. J refuses to have anything but coffee, clever girl.

When we're ready to go I tap on the kitchen door to pay the bill. My card is accepted almost without conversation except for a single sentence: "Have you got the key for me?." No 'thank you', no 'did you enjoy your stay?', not even a goodbye. In the car J has a few apples from Ballycross Apples that she bought in Ardkeen Stores the day before. I eat one as quickly as possible to get the taste of the scrambled eggs out of my mouth.A souless experience, devoid of any sense of hospitality. I really didn't think it could be like this. I am sorry that the only two other guests at breakfast, an American couple, might think that this is what the Irish B n' B experience is like.

Total Bill €80.00

Do you have an E. A. Poe story? Share it with us!

We come to bury Chicken Caesar

Believe it or believe it not, but I have sitting on my desk a menu from a popular Irish restaurant which offers its customers "Classic Chicken Caesar salad".

I'm not making this up. We are living in an age when Irish chefs think Caesar Salad comes with chicken.

The same guys who have desecrated Caesar Cardini's classic creation, however, tend to be less inventive and rather more derivative when it comes to the rest of their menus.

The Chicken Caesars, these Emperors of invention, offer these things on their menus: Confit belly of pork. Braised shank of lamb with root vegetables. Dry Aged Rib-eye steak with béarnaise and chips. Bangers and mash with onion gravy. Warm salad of goat's cheese. Hamburger with crispy onion rings and potato wedges. Battered cod with pea purée. Bailey's parfait. Panacotta.

We live in a universe of untold diversity. But you sure wouldn't think it if you were eating in Irish restaurants.

Time and again, the new warhorses, the new prawn cocktail-sirloin steak/black forest gateau clichés are wheeled out in every county of the country. You could travel the length and breadth of Ireland and eat nothing but battered cod with peas and shank of lamb and risotto with mushrooms and crème brulee. What on earth is going wrong?

I mean, if you are going to copy someone, for Heaven's sake make it Seamus O'Connell - tea smoked duck with Earl Grey gravy; wild Irish salmon with carrot crust and grapefruit sauce were two things Seamus had on the menu at Parknasilla during the season - or Denis Cotter - beetroot mouse with orange-scented yogurt, watercress and fennel crispbreads - or George Kehoe of Carlow's Waterfront Restaurant - carpaccio of Hereford beef with horseradish ice cream and beetroot pickle - or Seamus McDonald of Kerry's Out Of The Blue, who created a stunning dish of turbot cutlet with its own foie gras and with the roe of the fish smoked and then stuffed into morels. A violet mustard sauce completed a stunning creation, and one that used every bit of the fish.

Why not copy the best, in other words? Why not plagiarise those who are worth plagiarising? Why copy those who think that adding chicken to a Caesar salad somehow makes it "Classic".
So, let's ditch the clichés, and let's have a new template of things that are Worth Copying: Niall McKenna's lobster salad with tomato ceviche; Alden's haunch of rabbit with cabbage, pine nuts and currants; Danny Millar's rump of Finnebrogue venison with boxty and Bushmills; Aine Maguire's bacon collar with parsley sauce and organic cabbage.

So, tell us the dish which you have most enjoyed in an Irish restaurant, and suggestions for any other "classics" that should be deemed forbidden.

Leslie Williams sprinkles the salt and calls for the mustard: Steak Frites

Steak Frites is the quintessential French Bistro dish. Whenever I am in France this is the dish I order more than any other as I can be fairly certain they will get it right - or at least less wrong. The chips might be cooked from frozen and the steak underdone (to some Irish palates) but I have come to trust in the simplicity of this dish.

First let me tell you what steak frites is not. It is not tender but tasteless fillet steak with a tournedos sauce (the reason fillet always has a rich sauce is because it is usually tasteless on its own), and the frites are thin and crispy - they are never, ever, ever, wedges of undercooked soggy potato.

The best steak frites is made with a cheap cut such as rib-eye, rump or onglet cooked rare or blue. If you like your steak well done you need to order a better cut as these cuts will not work.
The chewy texture and meaty flavours from the cheaper cuts are essential to match the crispy fluffy chips. Sirloin is just about acceptable and maybe Striploin but the chips had better be damn good.

In France ask for "à point" for what we call medium rare or saignant as the French do. A word of warning - you wont be taken seriously as a diner in France unless you ask for saignant which will only cook the outside leaving most of the proteins un-connected (OK I admit it - raw!). Once you try it a few times you wont want your steak frites any other way.

Sadly many restaurant customers do not understand this and I know that Venu were forced within six months to change their cut (and increase the price) as customers reported their steak as "chewy". Telling customers "it's supposed to be that way!" is sadly not an option in Ireland (as it would be in France!).

Now the frites - this may sound like sacrilege, but give me frozen crispy chips over the abomination that are "home-cooked chips" or "hand-cut chips" which turn out to be little more than soapy wedges of undercooked potato - all too prevalent in restaurants of all price ranges in Dublin and elsewhere.

The problem with freshly prepared thin crispy chips is time. Bistros survive on rapid turnover and many believe they just don't have the time to first blanch their chips in 140C oil, cool them down, and then cook from cold at 180C - as they do in Alexis in Dun Laoghaire (who use maris piper).

Personally I don't see what the problem is - if Alexis can do it and just charge €22.50 for sublime steak and the crispiest of chips why cant everyone else?

Locks use Spanish potatoes, blanch their chips three times in oil before the final frying and these are also out of this world good. Blanching three times probably a little over the top but it really does work so I am not complaining. Balzac cooks a fine steak frites and unashamedly uses frozen chips and I applaud them for this, particularly as they have outstanding duck fat potatoes also on the menu - a reason for visiting on their own.

Venu has tried fresh cut chips (cut raw early in the day - pretty good), frozen chips (not bad) and have finally settled on the blanching and re-frying method (excellent). Currently my sources tell me they are experimenting with oils and have a "secret ingredient" which they believe will give them "the best chips in the city". Truly a worthy ambition and something for which I wish others would strive.

If you are in Paris the best steak frites I have had was at Le Gavroche on Rue St. Marc, a tiny old school bistro in the 2nd Arr - the best frites in Paris according to Figaro and truly excellent they are; (whisper it though, the ones in Locks and Alexis are better.)

In New York visit Les Halles on Park Avenue which I still believe was the best steak frites I have ever experienced. At home use Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook which tells you all you need to know about the dish.

As Disreli said "It was not reason that besieged Troy; it was not reason that sent forth the Saracen from the desert to conquer the world… above all, it was not reason that created the French Revolution. Man is only great when he acts from the passions; never irresistible but when he appeals to the imagination."

So rise with me as customers of the restaurants of Ireland to stay the encroaching tide of wedges, and let us demand frites.

Who, in your opinion, makes the best steak frites?

19 November 2007

IOFGA at Athenry

Yesterday's IOFGA conference yielded a rich crop of intellectual stimulation. Peter Melchett of the Soil Association gave a dazzling presentation which seemed to touch on every point from grey partridges to GMOs. Charles “Merf” Merfield gave the most intoxicating presentation on soil and organics – with some truly revolutionary thinking that revealed the weaknesses of what we think of as “agricultural science”, and Michael Hickey gave a splendidly droll and witty talk on the history of the Association. The prize for technical glitches in a powerpoint went to John McKenna of the Bridgestone parish who found his images of Marvin Gaye and others disappearing into cyberspace as he called for members of the food bureaucracy to resign.
The award for The Next Big Thing goes to chairman Peter Young, who stands ready to succeed John Bowman as the chairman with the mostest, and is in line to pick up €5k for every future appearance, and the prize for Most Comfortable in His Own Skin goes to Minister Trevor Sargent, a man so completely on top of his brief that it is a joy to behold. Chef Enroco Fantasia and his crew of Gerry and Paolo produced delicious lamb and barley stew, and a brilliant lasagne with cabbage. The atmosphere at Mellows College in Athenry was only amazing, the energy of a young organisation that knows its time is now.

14 November 2007

25 Years of IOFGA

The Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Asociation celebrates 25 years of inspiring work at its annual conference on Sunday. Minister Trevor Sargent is kicking off proceedings, Dr Charles Merfield of Teagasc will be talking about soil, Peter Melchett of the Soil Association will be speaking along with organic farmer Michael Hickey and John McKenna of the Bridgestone parish will be chipping in a few words.
And here is a thought for you: over 25 years IOFGA has been a force for moral good, preaching that we must preserve our farms and our agriculture as sustainable enterprises, and thereby protect our environment. Can anyone name another institution in Ireland that has seen its moral stature increase over the last 25 years, and seen its core principles proven correct? Most of the usual suspects – politicians, church leaders, media, legal profession, An Garda Siochana – would now be viewed much more sceptically by the man in the street than 25 years ago. But, organic farmers have producd great food for us, and they have been proven right in their analysis of environmental damage.
And there are people out there who still think they are no more than a bunch of hippies. But, these days, as we look back, we reckon a core truth is emerging: the hippies were right!
25 more years? 2,500 more years, please!

06 November 2007

Eating Little Furry Animals

The culinary arts provide the most gracious and delicious solutions to environmental and farming problems.
Too many cockerels causing trouble in the hen house? Get out the pot and we shall have coq au vin. What to do with that pig’s head? Let’s brew up a succulent and satisfying brawn, and whilst we are at it, we will use the trotters to make jambon persille – jellied ham.
The great cuisines are full of elegant answers to problems such as these. But now, a new problem faces us, and it is time to take direct action.
On October 10th, The Irish Times reported that “Concerted action will be needed in order to protect Ireland’s population of red squirrels”. The problem is that the red squirrel is being chased from its habitat “largely due to the spread of the more aggressive North American grey squirrel”.
“The grey is chasing the red west”, said Minister of State for Forestry, Mary Wallace. Forestry consultant Dr Michael Carey said that the survey showing the threat to the cute, adorable, bushy-tailed red squirrel from the nasty grey squirrel “has made me much more aware of the complex issues surrounding biodiversity and the fine balance in nature between one species and another”.
Mysteriously, the report did not propose any solution, and the Minister didn’t appear to have any suggestions as to just what we have to do.
But, cometh the hour, cometh the man with the culinary solution.
On page 50 of his new cookery book Beyond Nose to Tail, the ingenious chef Fergus Henderson, of London’s critically and commercially acclaimed St John restaurants, proposes what is a simple, delicious solution: Braised Squirrel.
The recipe is simplicity itself, and can be upscaled should your guests want more than one squirrel each. Simply brown some shallots in duck fat, add the skinned and jointed squirrels and brown them with some pieces of bacon. Add dried mushrooms – for that suggestive woodland note, I guess – and some garlic, add Fergus’s wonderful “Trotter Gear” (a stock made with pig’s trotters), and season. Bung it in a gentle oven for two and a half hours, and when the flesh is tender and yielding, serve simply with some watercress. Voila! A culinary solution to an environmental problem.
Now, many people may not opt for this solution, because many people will find the idea of eating squirrel simply nauseating, despite its popularity in Arkansas, and I am not forecasting that Ms Wallace will direct a Forestry Department team to go forth and to bring back grey squirrel to be served at all future State banquets.
But, “And when did you last eat a squirrel” is a question many of us should actually be asking ourselves, and each other.
What prompted this reflection is not actually the sad plight of the cute red squirrel at the bushy-tailed bullying of the grey squirrel – “The grey is literally the tree rat” said Ms Wallace, inflicting eternal PR damage on the species’ chances of ever enjoying its own Pixar movie.
It was instead alerted by the fact noted by the writer Colin Tudge, in his book So Shall We Reap, that the ¡Kung tribesmen of the Kalahari, one of the last of the hunter-gatherer tribes, enjoyed a diet that “included about 105 different kinds of plant – far more than ours is likely to do”.
Mr Tudge’s sarcasm is a little too gentle. The ¡Kung’s 105 varieties of plant food is likely to be 100 more varieties than the plant foods consumed by very many of us. Count the number of plant foods you have eaten in the last week. A dozen? Ten?
So the issue is not just, “And when did you last eat a squirrel?” It is also, “And when did you last eat turnip/chickpeas/spinach/quinoa/porridge oats?”
And while we are at it, “When did you last eat liver/tongue/oxtail/game? Or mullet/squid/oysters? Or pomegranate/plum/pear/gooseberry?”
For a sizeable proportion of Irish men, for example, the answer to that last question will be “Never”.
10% of Irish men don’t eat fruit.
I know that because Dr Marion Faughnan, of Safe Food, a department of the Food Safety Promotion Board, explained it recently to an audience at the West Cork Food Festival in Skibbereen.
Ms Faughnan also pointed out a few other realities about our un-¡Kung-like modern diet: 1 in 4 kids are obese; we eat too much of refined foods and not enough wholefoods; most breakfast cereals are sugary cereals; most kids get fruit from fruit juice; 28% of boys and 37% of girls have low calcium intake; our meat intake is too high in processed meat which is laced with salt and fat; our fish consumption is too low.
So, the world may well be our oyster, but presented with the mighty mollusc, and many other health-bearing, health-giving foods, we suddenly lose our appetites, and don’t feel hungry
Ms Faughnan’s conclusion was simple and sober: “Using raw ingredients makes for a much healthier diet”. But many of us, clearly, are not using those raw ingredients. Our diets are not merely composed of refined and processed foods, they are composed of a small number of refined and processed foods: lots of battery chicken; lots of processed beef, lots of sausages and mince and poor-quality bread.
So, the solution to our dietary woes, currently breeding an obesity time bomb that will bankrupt our health services, and in the process condemning our children to shortened life spans of increasing ill health, lies with the !Kung, and perhaps the grey squirrel.
We need to get out there and become hunter-gatherers, gathering in a much wider base of raw foods and more diverse foods, protecting Dr Carey’s bio-diversity, and nature’s fine balance, and protecting the fine diversity and balance of our own health. We don’t need to do that hunting and gathering in the wild – a supermarket will do the trick – but we need to eat more of what is good for us.