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29 April 2008

Rock of Angels

If you drank either the red or the white wines from Domaine Le Roc des Anges, could you tell they were made by a woman, and a young woman at that?
Marjorie Gallet comes from the Rhone, trained in oenology at Montpellier, then got herself 54 acres in Montner in the eastern Pyrenees, a currently hot wine-making area.
She started making the red Roc des Anges aged 23, back in 2001. The red wine, Segna De Cor, has grenache, carignan and syrah, and it's accessible and likeable, slightly vegetal and extremely good with food.
But the white is slightly something else. It's not a Cotes du Roussillon, it's a Vin de Pays de Pyrenées Orientales. I can recall the days when you ran away from any wines from the Pyrenées, but this is a white wine to embrace and to linger with. The alcohol is 14%, giving a sherry-like nose and nuttiness, and it comes across as a hot-weather wine. It doesn't come across as a woman's wine – “engineered” was my wife's reaction – if we take a woman's wine to be something elemental rather than very structured.
But the elemental bit is there: I reckoned this was a lion tamer's wine, a wine where someone has tussled with the elements, though not necessarily with a whip and a bentwood chair.
“My philosophy is to prevent more than to correct, to have happy vines in their terroir”. Ms Gallet is quoted in the James Nicholson wine portfolio. “Daily work in the vineyard is focused on preserving the balance of the vine plants to let them freely express the terroir”.

But the white isn't good with food, unless you live on very mature Oisin goat's cheese, when the wine shows beautifully. It would suit avocado and other oily, spicy things, but it's a strange bedfellow, to be honest. It's a bedfellow I rather like.
Roc des Anges wines are sold by James Nicholson:

24 April 2008

Here's some I made in California...

A final thought about Restaurant Magazine's 50 Best Restaurants.
In position number 5, is Thomas Keller of The French Laundry in The United States, so the critics say that's the best restaurant in the U.S.A.
In 6th place is Thomas Keller of Per Se, in the United States, so that's the second best restaurant in the U.S.A.
But hang on a second.. isn't The French Laundry in California?
And isn't Per Se in New York?
Can Tom Keller bi-locate?
Through all those time zones?
He isn't a chef. He's superman!
And aren't critic's lists absurd?!
So, it isn't our job to tell Restaurant magazine how to do their job, but isn't there something preposterous about one guy grabbing the top two positions in the U.S.A. when the restaurants are on opposite coasts.
Ditto Alain Ducasse, with joints in Monaco and Paris, who appears a bit further down the list.
Let's get back to chef-proprietors who shake the pans: Aduriz; Arzak; Blumenthal; Tetsuya Wakuda, and so on.

23 April 2008

Roast My Marrow

The highest climber in this years 50 best restaurants list is Fergus Henderson's iconic St. John, in London.
We love the man's books, and his food, and here is what our man in the Sunny South-East, Eamon Barret, made of a recent visit:

Star of the trip was dinner in St John, Fergus Henderson's spartan restaurant in the City.
It's the simplest of spaces, so trimmed down it could be a canteen. For starter I had venison heart with beetroot and walnut, an amazing dish, the heart sliced paper thin, its delicate cut offsetting the strong flavour. I almost went for the chitterlings but the waiter recommended the tripe and sausage as being particularly good, and so it was, a lovely stew with white beans. Ju had slow roasted lamb, beautifully pink. The dessert was a pear and treacle steamed pudding for two, served with a large jug of hot homemade custard, just amazing. Definitely on the list of London places we would go back to.

And that is also the verdict of most chefs, as St John is also the chef's choice in the Restaurant magazine list.

22 April 2008

The Germans are Coming!

The annual Restaurant Magazine's 50 Best Restaurants in the World is a daft idea, and one in which we have played a part in previous years.
Like all daft ideas, certain truths emerge from the voting process, none more so than this year.
So, who's hot? Well, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, who moves up to 4th place in the list, for one. We make no secret of our admiration for this chef, who is a genuinely poetic, sublime cook.
But, almost as interesting is the emergence of another great northern Spanish chef whose cooking we enjoyed a few years back. Victor Arguinzoniz of Extebarri cooks everything over open flames, what he calls “primitive cooking”. His restaurant is also abidingly simple, as you can see above, making for a truly echt experience, which is well worth the haul from San Sebastian.
The other exciting news from the Restaurant list is: The Germans are coming! Joachim Wissler of Vendome, Hans Haas of Tantris and Harald Wohlfahrt of Die Schwartzwahlstube all make the list, and this promising culinary culture seems to be coming alive at last.

For the (extensive) record, here is what we ate at Extebarri:

Slices of cured pork
Egg yolk with fresh garlic
Gambas with sliced artichoke and grilled seaweed
Perdena with tomato and olive oil
piquillo stuffed with morcillo and fagioli bean soup
Tuna with asparagus and green beans
Bacalao alla bacca
Grilled beef
Toasted cocoa and vanilla ice cream
Coffee and almond cake

Our notes are peppered with exclamatory Mamma Mias! after many of the dishes.

21 April 2008

The Bridgestone Chair

Well, you are familiar with Bridgestone Tyres, and maybe with Bridgestone Guides. But did you know that there is a Bridgestone Chair, designed by the late, great Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata?
That's it above, originally created as four chairs in 1986 for Bridgestone's Tokyo office, with Kuramata's signature mesh on the exterior and upholstered leather inside.
The Italian firm Living Divani is set to launch six of Kuramata's pieces, none of which were originally produced commercially. The price tag is likely to be one of those P.O.A (price on application) jobs, because Kuramata's star is stellar high, even ten years after his death. One of his 1986 sofas recently sold for £46,100.00.
So, start saving now.

Slow Food Bantry

A more-than-full-house of Slow Food food lovers packed out Bantry's Organico Café yesterday to launch the newest West Cork Slow Food Convivium. Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House broke the champagne over the bow, her splendid speech packed with witty – “It's for her own sake that the cat purrs” – and serious – “Animals and plants are exploited to produce cheap food, and the farmer is exploited also” – content.
Martha Cashman's fantastic art spoons were not only exhibited on the walls of the café but were also auctioned to raise money for good charitable causes, and of course the food was only superb, but then that is what we have come to expect from the seriously cool Dare sisters – Hannah and Rachel – and all of their crew who steer the mighty ship Organico. A great day.

20 April 2008

Celine Dion Vs The Dan

Behind many interesting books, there is a male with a mid-life crisis, and so it proves with Carl Wilson's fine “Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste”.
LTAL is, ostensibly, about Celine Dion, and specifically her album of the same title, and is an exploration of the nature of taste, as Wilson works his way through schmaltz, parlour music, Pierre Bourdieu and lots of other usual suspects, trying to make up his mind about what he thinks of the mega-successful chanteuse.
But actually, the book is about Wilson getting close to being 40 years old and making a crust from writing about popular music, and having a failed marriage. In particular, the book is about one specific moment in Wilson's life with his wife-to-be, who is afterwards his wife-no-more, when she reveals her strengths, and his weaknesses. I won't say what the moment is, as it's worth the price of the book alone to read it.
But the moment was revealing for me because, as a former pop scribe, it answered one eternal question: why don't women like Steely Dan?
Most specifically, why doesn't my wife like Steely Dan? How can she listen to Neil Young, and Karen Carpenter, and J S Bach or Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill, and yet never wish to hear the cruel irony of “Pearl of the Quarter” or “Gaucho”?
And that's the answer. Pop scribes, sad bunch that we are, love cruel irony. And women don't. Lay on the emotion, and we back away, pretending to be cerebral with our Pierre Bourdieu books.
We keep thinking about listening, rather than just listening. And all pop music needs is to be listened to. Analysis murders pop.
However, who wants a bet that right now the Continuum 33 1/3 series – where writers like Wilson and others write about classic records – hasn't already commissioned a pop scribe to write about how much he doesn't like Mariah Carey?

18 April 2008

Turquaz, Limerick

Yes, we know that all you ever read about Limerick is the Moyross Estate and drive-by shootings.
But elsewhere in the city, life goes on as normal, and Limerick, in fact, is a city getting it's culinary act together in many ways, not least in some good echt ethnic cooking, complete with ethnic hip-hop.
Herewith a report from our gal, Val, in Limerick, on the splendidly named Turquaz. Take it away Val:

Turquaz is a Mecca for lovers of Middle Eastern food. Though there are other players in Limerick this by far beats the competition. The interior is basic but strikingly clean, big wooden tables and chairs in a big basic white space with a huge flat screen playing Turkish hip hop, it does what it says on the tin.

The menu is kebabs, doner, chicken, shish, koftas and the like. The flat bread is made here by hand and can be seen being rolled out and cooked in their huge oven. All the meats are grilled to order so your food will take 10-15mins to prepare, that’s ok there’s a huge glass front to watch the world go by from. Being located beside the bustling Milk Market it’s the perfect place for a family feast on a Saturday.

To get a broad feel for the menu I ordered Ezzo Soup, made of lentils and warmingly mildly spiced. I was intrigued by the name Pide so I ordered a feta one of them, a boat shaped long open pie filled with cheese and tomato. Other fillings offered are minced lamb with peppers and spices and one with cheddar. Meat is cooked to order so if you want yours burnt they will do it!

All kebabs can be made into meals for an extra €2.50, this means rice or chips and the usual drinks. I got a plate of the best silky smooth hummus; they make their own and even gave me the recipe. All the meals arrived together with a huge stack of flat bread and bowls of chilli sauce and garlic sauce. The moans from the little diners put the seal of approval on the incredibly tender lamb and beef. The mixed kebab is a king size meal of lamb and chicken shish with kaftans (mince patties) served with salad and flat bread. We had so much that we had to get a doggie bag! The staff are so friendly and helpful making it a real pleasure for a family feed. It’s casual dining and great value for money and you don’t feel like you’ve eaten a bucket of lard.

For pizza lovers, they have a selection made with their flat bread as bases, plus the usual suspects of quarter pounders and chips. Deserts are baklava, organic ice cream and kadayif, but we were too full. The meal for 4 came to €50.00.

Turquaz Kebab
Unit 4 Cornmarket Row
Limerick City
Phone: +353 61 404705
Open: 7 days 11.30am till late
Cash only

Valerie O'Connor

17 April 2008

At ONE with Water

Gwen from the excellent Stockwell Artisan Foods in Drogheda writes with an interesting new product that could put our obsession with bottled water to some productive use:

“I have just started to stock ONE water which is being distributed by Pallas Foods. It is a non profit organisation that uses water from Limerick and all profits from the sales go into building irrigation pumps in Africa. Simply buy a bottle of One water and– all our profits, every last drop, go to building unique PlayPump® water systems in Africa which improve people's lives by providing free, clean water.
I thought there is no better way to target foodies than through yourselves, check out their website and I hope you agree with me that this is a great organisation and one that should be supported”.

So, food lovers, check out the site and let's use our mania for bottled water to get clean water to people who need it. Meantime, should you be around Drogheda way, then remember Stockwell. As Gwen writes: “We make all our own food using local ingredients on our premises, and help fill the hungry bellies of Drogheda!”

16 April 2008

Belle Notte, Dungarvan, County Waterford

Our man in the Sunny South-East eats Italian: a concise review from Eamon Barret.

Did Belle Notte in Dungarvan last night and it was a pleasant surprise.
The menu is very run of the mill Irish-Italian, lots of dishes with cream but the execution of some of the dishes threw up some surprising authenticity. Caprese starter for me was just mozarella, basil and tomato, well flavoured and not mucked about with. Similarly a bruschetta was made with good toasted bread and nicely chopped tomatos.
My pal David was with me and his main course of tortellini with bacon and peas with cream looked heavy but was quite clean tasting. My spaghetti della casa was just some spaghetti coated in tomato with italian sausage and olive oil. Again it surprised me, not dumped with tomato, just coated it was tasty.
Italian owner, I Pagliacci playing in the backround, plain surroundings, undertrained Irish staff, all positive comments from the customers around us, it's a good local restaurant, a good entry for the next Food Guide. Total cost €53.40 including 2 bottles of San Pellegrino and 2 coffees so value is strong.

And an extra 10 points – no, make that 100 points – from me for not playing Andrea Bocelli, restaurateurs and hoteliers please note!

14 April 2008

Presidential Aroma

When we were discussing artisan bakeries last week, yet another of the great specialist bakeries that we could have included was Aroma, Tom and Arturo's small and perfectly formed restaurant and bakery in the Craft Village just outside Donegal town.
Well, I didn't mention it on the grounds that Aroma is more of a café and restaurant than a bakery. Wrong!
“My brown bread is now going out at the rate of 600 per week at present and rising no doubt as the season kicks in”, writes Tom, an astonishing figure when you consider the tiny scale of the bakery.
Why is Aroma such a hot shot success? Here is the answer, as related by Tom:
“I sent some of my brown bread and Tunisian orange cake to President McAleese when attending an Irish Language course in Donegal last summer, and she stopped in for lunch the following Saturday with her entourage!”
So, if it's good enough for the head of state, it is sure good enough for the rest of us. We have always known Mary McAleese was a smart woman, but now we know that she is a smart woman with a smart palate who knows a good thing when she eats it.
By Presidential Approval. Yeah, that's Tom and Arturo's Aroma all right.
Aroma, Craft Village, Donegal town: Tel: 074 972 3222

11 April 2008

Riffing the Cheeses

Bord Bia's Organoleptic Cheese Seminar held this week was a marvel of discovery.
Kevin Sheridan of Sheridan's Cheesemonger's took us through a plate of six cheeses – 2 Gubbeens; 2 Cooleeneys, Mount Callan Cheddar and Coolea – showing how the Gubbeens were differentiated by two distinct rennets – animal versus vegetarian – and the Cooleeneys by virtue of raw milk versus pasteurised.
The animal rennet Gubbeen showed better than the vegetarian rennet, offering more of the cooked mushrooms and mustard notes that characterise this most marvellous West Cork champion. The vegetarian rennet simply wasn't as complex, though it was still mighty fine.
With the Cooleeneys, only a day separated the two 8 week old cheeses, but the raw milk cheese had more of that wonderful “baby's breath” aroma, and notes of pork fat and hazelnut in a superbly integrated cheese. Both cheeses showed brilliant cheesemaking from winter milk, but again the primal cheese won the day.
Lucy Hayes's Mount Callan had aged to 21 months, slightly longer than normal, and had notes of silage and sherry in its feral and rather wild nature. This is one of the great elemental cheeses, and so was the powerfully buttery Coolea, at 17 months sitting right at its peak, with a huge length to the burnt cream flavour. Kevin Sheridan's explanations and presentation were not just faultless, but inspiring.
Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard Dairy and Jamie Montgomery of Montgomery Cheddar followed, with a tasting of four Montgomerys. Number one, made on April 10th 2007, was a very fine, middling level cheddar, still developing towards its optimum time of 14 months. Number 2 was made on May 8th 2007, and was sour and awful. The cheese was made on a day of terrible weather, and “had gone off the rails, and was distinguished by empty flavour” said Jamie, who forms a terrific double-act with Randolph. Number 3 from March 30th was characterised by high acidity and a crumbly texture that even allowed some blueing to develop. Number 4, from March 19th, was formed and focused, balanced, showing all the shades of a cheese that was wrapped up in its own journey towards flavour.
This was the most intricate and focused cheese tasting, and the most revelatory, that many of us had ever attended, and it was eye-opening and taste-bud-opening to see how weather and cheesemaking decisions impact on the final product to such a colossal extent. Hopefully the next organoleptic seminar might focus on Irish beef, and I would love to see further seminars on potatoes and bacon. here's hoping...

10 April 2008


Yeah, Momofuku. I know what I thought it meant the first time I heard it – that impolite term rappers use to express themselves – but it seems it is actually Japanese for lucky peach.
Momofuku however, is today a small chain of the hottest New York restaurants run by David Chang, who is the hippest, hottest, most-critically acclaimed chef in the Big Apple. Chang mixes things up in a way no one else does – consommé with kimchee, anyone? – and it has made him famous, and good luck to him.
But my point about Momofuku isn't fusion cooking with lots of pork. Chang's newest Momofuku is Ko, and here's how it works: it's a counter with fourteen seats, as you can see above. You book online a week in advance, starting at 10am. The seats are, of course, sold in seconds. The menu is no-choice, and costs $85. The chefs work behind the counter and fire the food to the customers. Oyster bar meets teppan-yaki.
What Ko reminds me of is Barcelona's brilliant Cal Pep, which has about 15 seats and where me and my family managed to blag five of them last year because we were there at 1 minute past 5 when Cal Pep opened. Everyone who came at 5.02 pm simply stood behind us and waited until we were finished, sipping wine, waiting. The experience was brilliant, but then we didn't have to wait.
And Cal Pep meets Momofuku Ko is what Dublin needs: a little room with no tables, just stools and a counter, and little or no choice on the menu, just red-hot, very personal signature cooking from a team of great cooks. Someone will do it, but chances are it will happen in Galway before Dublin gets its act together. Let's see.

The Second Robbie Millar Scholarship

We had the great honour of launching the Robbie Millar Scholarship just over a year ago, when the title to commemorate the work of one of Ireland's most brilliant culinary greats was won by the ultra-talented Chris McClurg from Belfast's white-hot SHU restaurant.
This year, local Holywood cook and Westminster Kingsway College student Ben Arnold grabbed the prize from amongst the eight finalists, and he scoops the many fine prizes – stages at The River Café, in Valrhona chocolate and Illy Coffee as well as a bunch of goodies – and the kudos as the second winner of this respected scholarship.
For the record, the finalists were:
Ben Arnold Westminster Kingsway College, London
· David Scott SHU Restaurant, Belfast
· Rose Greene The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
· Alexander Greene (SRC) Deanes Restaurant, Belfast
· Michael Eminson Northcote Manor, Lancashire
· Thomas Parker Northcote Manor, Lancashire
· Andrew Craig Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Derry
· Danielle Barry Restaurant 23, Warrenpoint

Congrats to them all, and remember these names for the future!

09 April 2008

Buns and Stuff, Macroom

A very interesting discovery and note from Michelle Rea:

comments: Hello John and Sally.

Just read your interesting article re. Bread in Irish Times today. You listed a few artisan bakers throughout the country, but did you know about a baker who is producing the most incredibly flavoursome bread. He is German, I believe, operates from Cobh, but supplies "Buns and Stuff", the daytime cafe in Macroom, Co. Cork.
I am a foodie and I know good food, and the food in this cafe is really something else, simple, unsophisticated food but full of flavour - it's all about flavour actually. The cafe itself is ordinary enough but the food here really outshines its surroundings. And the bread is better than Arbutus bread, and I know Artbutus bread is very good. This is better! Thought you might like to investigate this little cafe in Macroom.
Keep up the good work.
Michelle Rea

The baker is the splendid Thomas Hueneberg, whose work you can also enjoy at various markets including this Saturday's Kilavullen market at the Nano Nagle centre in North Cork, one of our favourite farmer's markets. Mr Hueneberg is a really ace baker, and features in the Bridgestone Irish Food Guide. And that's us into Buns and Stuff next time we are going through Macroom, “the town that never reared a fool”.

The Irish Times Healthplus April 2008

Our Daily Bread

For the good of our health, we need to amend a little piece of scripture.
Instead of “And give us this day our daily bread”, we need to get a bit more specific.
We need to implore: “And give us this day our daily bread, but please make sure the flour has no “improvers”, and make sure it’s made by hand rather than by a machine, and with a long slow fermentation so that the good lactic acid bacteria can develop, and make sure it isn’t that gunky, gloopy stuff that real bakers call ‘water standing upright’. Amen”.
We neglect the quality of our staff of life at our peril. Travel to countries that would be regarded as the poor cousins of international cuisine – I’m thinking of Germany, here – and just look at the attention paid to sourcing good bread.
Germans may be hooked on the heavy discount chains for a large element of their food shopping, but when it comes to their daily bread, they patronise the country’s excellent specialist, bespoke bakeries.
We used to have local bakeries like the Germans, until thirty years ago when the supermarkets started a bread price war to build their market share, and the bakeries were wiped out over the following twelve months. Industrially produced bread has become the norm in Ireland, a system that the great English baker Andrew Whitley believes “produces bread that more and more people cannot and should not eat”.
But now, the bakeries are coming back, and we should rejoice, for nothing is so pivotal to the good of our health as being able to get our hands on pure, unadulterated, healthful bread.
The renaissance was begun by Declan Ryan of Cork’s Arbutus Bakery, whose masterly sourdough loaves are amongst the great shining stars of modern Irish food. But others have been signing up to the bread crusade in recent times: Pascal Gillard and Sinead McGuire in Jinny’s Bakery in Leitrim; Soul Bakery of Nangor in Dublin; the Village Bakery in Terenure; Oldtown Hill Bakery in Kilkenny; Kerr’s Kitchen in Meath; The California Market Bakery in Newry; Blazing Salads Bakery in Dublin. All of these fine bakeries create the breads we need not just for epicurean pleasure, but also for the good of our health.
And to get a sense of the zestful passion of this new generation of bakers, you need only head down Pearse Street in Dublin to the corner of Grand Canal Quay, where Owen Doorly’s three-month-old bakery, Il Valentino, is already doing brisk business.
Mr Doorly spent 15 years in Italy working in the coffee business. Whilst there, he absorbed the pivotal role of bread – and bakeries – in Italian eating.
“In 25BC there were 329 artisan bakeries in Rome alone!”, he says. “In Italy, top quality food has to be the norm, and part of a daily routine. I’m not talking about fancy restaurants with squared plates and double-storey servings of 25 ingredients. I’m talking about simple food, healthy, alive, full of the nutrients we need, great food that isn’t a luxury”.
Making high-quality bread the very staple and backbone of our eating, rather than a luxury product with a high price tag, is Mr Doorly’s ambition.
“Bread isn’t a luxury, it shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be for everyday”, he says, But the state of our own daily bread has become so contaminated with artificial ingredients that Doorly had to go right back to square one in order to get the unadulterated flour he wanted to work with in order to make an unadulterated bread.
“The problem was ingredients”, he says, which has meant importing Italian-milled flour, and creating an Austrian-designed water purification system in order to restore to Dublin water the energy and purity needed for high-quality bread making.
“We turned Grand Canal water supply into Evain!” he jokes.
The result is a bakery – sited underground from the shop and the bright café on the first floor – that offers breads with a directness and focus of taste, and a complexity of texture and crust, that make you feel very good indeed.
Unlike muscular, powerfully-flavoured sourdoughs and weighty seed breads, these Italian breads are canvases that frame the ingredients you put in or on them, whether that is a dressing of olive oil, or a slather of butter on breakfast toast, or a panorma of tastes lavished on some crostini or bruschetta. The simple ham sandwich is transformed when placed between two slices of their country bread. They are a powerfully healthful halo made from flour, water, salt and fresh yeast, the simple staples of all bread, ennobled by talented Italian bakers.
Like all the best breads, Mr Doorly’s creations inspire not just admiration for their skilful execution, they also inspire respect for the very business of breadmaking itself. “The material simplicity of bread as food is constantly suggestive of its involvement in friendship, hope and transformation”, says Andrew Whitley. But that material simplicity is also of crucial involvement in our day to day health. The new bakers are at last offering us the true staff of life.

07 April 2008

Alienating Two Generations in One

My thanks to a reader who sent in the following, which brilliantly shows how to alienate two generations of food lovers in double-quick time. And well done Ricky's Restaurant in 'Clon, who showed just how to capture two generations of food lovers in double-quick time.

Just a comment re a West Cork pub/restaurant which we visited recently on a visit to Clonakilty.
4 adults and 4 children ventured in at around 6.00 on the Friday after Easter. Two of the children were in buggies, 2 were 5 & 4 but quiet and well-behaved. We were drawn in, in part, by the amount of Bridgestone plaques on the door outside.
Now, we are cognisant of the fact that two buggies can be bothersome, but this was a pub after all, not a restaurant, we were looking for a quick bite to eat, it was quite early and although pleasantly busy, the pub was not packed.
I have never been treated as rudely in my life. We entered and made our way to a table at the back of the pub, out of the way or so we thought. I asked if they had a high chair, a very pleasant young man went to look for one. However, in the meantime, what looked like a manager arrived over and barked "you're right in the way of the food there! Disassemble please!". The table was quite close to the kitchen door. We duly packed up and looked for another seat. There was plenty of space but no seat was quite suitable. As we discussed whether to put the two older children at their own table or let the two fathers sit at the bar, the manager stood in the middle of the floor flanked by a waitress, staring at us.
At no point did anyone offer to help. At no point did they offer to rearrange a table slightly, advise us to come back later, or even say that unfortunately they couldn't take us. It was made no secret of that the sooner we were out the better. We took the hint. I have seen travellers treated this way before - I have never experienced anything like it myself.
We took ourselves to Ricky's where we were welcomed with open arms, our children were given crayons, and we had a delicous meal.
West Cork pub/restaurants may have wonderful food, but let them at least be honest about it and put a sign on the door stating that children are not welcome - or weren't in this case at any rate.

04 April 2008

A New Delight

A darling new discovery at this morning's Bantry market is Crumbles, a new bakery based in Ballydehob and run by Patricia Delaney and Colleen O'Kane.
Smashing brownies, great almond croissants, lovely meringues, pretty gingerbread people – this is a very PC bakery – and a cracking smoked Gubbeen cheese loaf which I have just demolished for lunch were just some of the delights on offer, all at very keen prices for such artful work.
This is crafted, smart baking with a lovely aesthetic. Contact the girls on 086 3387266 or via
Another new West Cork star in the making, and baking.

Orla planted, Colleen to follow

“Orla planted in rt. bed” we scribbled in our wee gardening notebook the day before yesterday, before hastily adding “potatoes!” to the line, just in case anyone thinks we are up to a spot of skullduggery.
We are putting the orlas into the polytunnel, and the Colleens will be planted into one of the vegetable beds, probably later today. We will also try with carrots – again! – having had nothing but a dismal series of failures with them over the years, including one year when our mighty harvest amounted to a single carrot. Still, we have unquestionably happy slugs and blissfully well-fed carrot fly. Fortunately, they don't go for the purple-sprouting broccoli, which has produced a fine early spring crop.
Anyone who wants to know how to do this planting thing properly should get along to Hosford's Garden centre this Sunday, April 6th, for the Slow Food afternoon, when John Hosford will show kids just how easy it is to plant and grow pumpkins, courgettes, peas and tomatoes. Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso cuts the ribbon at 2pm, before demonstrating some of his delectable dishes.

03 April 2008

The Irish Times Health Plus: In Defence of Food

Food Pornography

My colleague Sylvia Thompson has written on these pages about Michael Pollan’s important new book, “In Defence Of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating”. Today, however, I would like to look closely at the point with which Pollan concludes his eloquent defence of common sense when it comes to our diets and our health.

Closing his book with a series of prescriptive mantras designed to help us avoid bad food and bad food apologists – Eat like an omnivore; Eat well-grown food from healthy soils; Get out of the supermarket whenever possible; You are what you eat eats too – Pollan finishes by stating that:

“As cook in your kitchen you enjoy an omniscience about your food that no amount of supermarket study or label reading could hope to match…To reclaim this much control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing: indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts”.

So, now we know. The anarchists, the subversives, the revolutionaries, the Bakunins and Che Guevaras of our age, are the woman with the packet of Lazy Housewife French bean seeds from The Brown Envelope Seed Company, and the bloke with the shopping basket and the Global knife.

It’s always hard to spot the really dangerous ones amongst us, isn’t it?

The strange thing about these new-found subversives, however, is that they don’t pose a threat to the state. In fact, their subversion is aimed at countering what is, in fact, the biggest threat that the State faces: the obesity-diabetes-cancer epidemic that is stalking our health.

John Reynolds, professor of surgery at Trinity College and St. James’s Hospital, recently pointed out in this newspaper that “obesity may account for up to 14 per cent of cancer deaths in men and 20 per cent of cancer deaths in women”. Professor Reynolds was writing in particular about oesophageal cancer. “Obesity is a major risk factor for cancer of the oesophagous as well as many other cancers”, he pointed out.

Bad news, of course. But, unfortunately, there is much more bad news: “The emerging problem of obesity in children and adolescents in Ireland is well recognized, and unfortunately cancer risk has now to be added to the acknowledged risks of diabetes, and liver and cardiac problems”.

That’s a whole lot of life-threatening problems to deal with, and it would be a foolish man who would say that there is a simple solution. Unfortunately, I am that man, and the solution is simple, as simple as Pollan points out. We need to become subversives. We need to cook our own food.

Cooking has never been as popular as a spectator sport, and as unpopular as a daily activity, as it is today. Sit down in front of the telly, and you can wallow in Guerrilla Gourmets (more subversives! They’re everywhere!) and Chef at Home and Masterchef and Ready Steady Cook and Jamie at Home and so on and so on ad nauseam.

You can, then, devote all the time that good sense and good health tell you should be spent cooking in your own kitchen watching other people cooking in kitchens that are merely studio sets. Isn’t that just food pornography?

The death of domestic cooking isn’t simply a tragedy for our health. To borrow Darina Allen’s catchphrase, we need to recall that “Cooking is fun!”. It’s not just fun, however, for it’s also intensely stimulating for the brain, because the planning and multi-tasking that cooking involves demand prefrontal cortex activation in our brains. Never mind eating fish for brain food: the act and art of cooking itself is food for our brains. Cooking is an act that is tactile, sensual, scientific and, ultimately, intensely satisfying, simply because you get to eat the fruits of your endeavour.

But whilst we can read almost every day about Cancer Strategies, we never seem to hear anything about Cookery Strategies. Yet the person who can cook, as Michael Pollan points out, enjoys “an omniscience about your food …To reclaim this much control over one’s food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing”.

No small thing indeed, as any cookery educator will tell you.
“The problem is that people haven’t been given the skills they need in order to cook”, says Carmel Somers, who runs the Good Things Café and Cookery School in West Cork. “Cooking wasn’t a priority, and then people get so busy working that they never develop the skills. I had two retired people on my latest cookery class who had simply never cooked, and who lived on take-away foods. But when they have a few skills, they realise that everyone can cook, and that it is simple. One of the men said to me: “Now I know I don’t need all of that crap equipment that I have in my kitchen!”.

Ms Somers points out that there are many people who don’t cook “because they don’t know where to start, so it’s terrifying for them. But after only a day or two you can show people exactly where to begin, and I think that is why cookery schools have become so popular in Ireland in recent times: so many people just want to know where to begin when they are in the kitchen”.

Cookery teacher Phelim Byrne echoes Ms Somers point that many of the people who are going to schools and looking to learn to cook are frequently not the youthful ingénues the teachers expect, but are often middle-aged people who have never spent any time in the kitchen.

“More than 50% of the people on a recent course were either retiring, or were recently bereaved”, Mr Byrne explains. “And what I find is that they particularly want hands-on cookery, they don’t just want to watch demonstrations, they want the skills and the know-how themselves, and they want to learn how to cook from scratch, using basic, raw ingredients”.

The hunger for knowledge about cookery skills has led to an explosion of growth in bespoke cookery schools in Ireland, operating everywhere from Fermanagh to Dublin to Carlow – Carlow actually has two cookery schools – to Mr Byrne’s school in Wexford and Ms Somer’s sold-out cookery classes in West Cork.

Lynda Booth of the Dublin Cookery School has recently multiplied the capacity of her school, but the demand for courses means that her website has a host of SOLD OUT notices on many of the courses – Fish Course; Man in the Kitchen; Chocolate Masterclass; Cooking for Friends; BBQ.

Ms Booth says simply, “I have yet to meet the person who can’t learn to cook, yet so many people are daunted by the prospect of creating something in the kitchen. I recently had a cookery class for men, and on day 1 it was chaos, but by day 6 I was astonished by what they had achieved and what they could create, and they were astonished as well”.

Vitally, Ms Booth points out the mastering a simple set of cookery skills “introduces people to the joy of cooking, the pleasure of tasting and it makes such a difference to people’s palates, and to their food choices. When you have a student who thinks they can’t cook, and you get them to think outside the box and to be imaginative in cooking, it completely blows their minds”.

Lynda Booth thinks that we suffer because people have a perception that “they should innately know how to cook, that it had to have been something they learnt from their mother. But many mothers don’t know much cookery, and so people need to acquire the skills themselves”

So, if the kitchen frightens you, and if your food choices are dominated by big-business food processors and retailers, then it’s not just the pleasure of a good dinner at the end of the day that depends on being able to handle a knife and a frying pan. Your very life may depend on becoming the person who can reclaim control over your diet and, thereby, your health.
“In Defence of Food” is published by Allen Lane

The Melancholy of the Products

An interview with our favourite Spanish chef, Andoni Luis Aduriz, of Mugaritz just outside San Sebastian, discloses this magnificent quote:

“Mine is a “tepid” cuisine, a cuisine of whispers, a cuisine where I seek inspidity in every sense. Diners at Mugaritz have to tune themselves in, to make more of an effort to understand than has been asked of them up until that moment.
It's a new tone, as if the melancholy of the products was emerging. It's a tremendously subversive exercise.
Many people think that what gets attention is shouting. It's not. To whisper is subversive. I love these plants that are melancholic, that whisper”.

Ah, pure genius from one of the world's greatest chefs... “the melancholy of the products...”.

02 April 2008

Kildare Pies

No news is more urgent or important – even on the day of a Taoiseach's announced resignation – than the news of good pies.
Pie lovers, herewith follows the good news:

My name is Harry Morrin O'Rourke, son of Mary Morrin who you wrote an article on a few years ago.
I'm just dropping you a note to say that in the last couple of months we have restarted the pie business on a larger scale, have had them certified as organic and are now selling at Temple Bar market and some shops around town.
Anyway, we are going under the name of Morrin O'Rourke Farm Foods and thought that you may have been interested to hear how things are going.

Kind regards,
Harry Morrin O'Rourke

Morrin O'Rourke Farm Foods
Co. Kildare
086 3208940/ 01 6103605

Nothing is as nice as a piece of pie...

Fishing for Coffee Beans

Food people are always fascinating characters – how could they create exciting foods if they weren't? – but John Gowan's story, as told in the Irish Times Health Plus this Tuesday, is one of the best lifetime stories one can read.
Dangerous Alaskan fishing trips, cascading around the USA as a teenager, captain of a fishing vessel aged 21, and then back to his native Cork to open the sublime Cork Coffee Roasters – this guy has done it all.
We have to confess to being addicts not just of Mr Gowan's singular roasts, but also of his most singular coffee shop on Bridge Street in Cork. The retro style, the groovy sounds, the unbeatable brews, this is one of the glories of Cork city and no visitor to Leeside should miss it.

West Cork Natural Champions

Just in case you missed the Observer's latest Food Monthly, hearty congrats are due to Bill Hogan and Sean Ferry, the makers of Gabriel and Desmond cheeses, who netted the judges Outstanding Achievement Award. The legal travails which Mr Ferry and Mr Hogan have had to endure are dealt with in the article, and one imagines that their courage in facing up to the legal juggernaut that is the combined Departments of Agriculture and Food Safety was a factor in garnering West Cork Natural Cheeses this important international prize. Well done guys!
As someone who observed the West Cork Natural Cheese legal battles, it has always amazed me that more was not made of one hugely significant disclosure that arose during the case.
This concerned the fact that whilst the WCNC cheeses were to be destroyed – without compensation – because of the discovery of the tb virus in one herd from which Bill and Sean bought milk, the animal that tested positive had the infected tissue removed, and then the rest of the meat went back into the food chain. Incredible! One rule for farmers and meat producers, another for cheesemakers.

01 April 2008

Keira, Keira, Keira!

We always pant in anticipation of the newest edition of skymag, the monthly delight/penance we endure for having a subscription to a non-terrestrial channel.
But, imagine our joy when this month's hot cover girl, Keira Knightley, is trailered thus: “Celebrity Interview: Keira Knightley on fame, fashion and farmers' markets!”.
And inside, here is the handsome Miss Knightley in reply to this penetrating enquiry:
“So we won't see you partying till dawn soon, then?” (how do they think them up?!)
To which Keira says: “I'd fall asleep first!... In fact, I'd rather go to a London farmers' market than go to a club. It's the thing that makes me most happy!”
So. Clubbing: passé.
Farmers' Markets: packed with celebs like Keira Knightley, therefore deeply cool, and very hot.

Georgina's Tearooms

A concise farewell from a great stalwart of County Louth's and Carlingford's food culture:

I need to inform you that Georgina's Bakehouse Tearooms has ceased trading. After 30 years in the Bakery/Tearooms business I decided to retire, and as I did not wish to pass the business on, I have retired.
I would like to express my gratitude for inclusion in your guides since 1999, seeing the review every year was always great encouragement to keep striving towards the highest standards. Thank you once again for all your help.
From Georgina E. Finnegan.

So, farewell Georgina, and a happy and lengthy retirement from all your admirers.

Knocked Up

Judd Apatow is, it seems, everywhere. Writer, director, producer, co-producer, the man behind an endless stream of movies that garner major box office success.
So, time to settle down with Knocked Up, Mr Apatow's big hit, in order to get a feel for this auteur's theory and practice.
The theory would appear to be that if you create what seems to be a funny situation – slacker impregnates WASPish career girl – that you don't need to spend any more time on the script.
The practice seems to be that ten minutes is more than enough time to work out the camera angles and the lighting, and to get the actors to rehearse.
The result is dire in the extreme. Are there no cinema critics – as opposed to cinema writers – who are able to stand up and say what a steaming pile of ordure this is?
I gave up after 40 minutes. My wife boldly stayed to the - inevitably saccharine, not bitter – end.
It feels so good – so liberating – to have gotten Mr Apatow's cinematic oeuvre out of one's personal space.

Ten Easter Highlights

1. The St George's Saturday Market, Belfast: now the second-best market in the land after Cork, a rollicking food-fest that is the North's first great food and tourism success story.
2. Mary Ward's colcannon in Country Choice, Tipperary: spuds and cabbage in blissful union.
3. The Cherry Tree Restaurant, Clare: right back on form with inspired cooking.
4. The Taste of Mayo: an eye-opening collection of west coast artisans.
5. Same Happy, Belfast: where you now go for echt Chinese food, and great smiling service.
6. L'Ecrivain restaurant, Dublin: polished perfection in every detail.
7. Liquorice ice cream with blood orange syrup, Café Paradiso, Cork: what an end to lunch!
8. Mature Baylough cheese, Tipperary: Dick and Anne Keating's masterpiece.
9. Clandeboye Estate Yogurt, Bangor: superb natural and Greek-style pots of deliciousness.
10. Trevor Irvine's new cheese shop, Dromahair, Leitrim: the master affineur and marketeer's new base.