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21 August 2008

Pizza Defined and Acclaimed

Just in case you missed the last Irish Examiner Weekend – which you didn't, of course – we thought we might bring to your attention Darina Allen's generous comments about Bernadette O'Shea's Pizza Defined:

“There isn't a better book on pizza cookery, or if there is I certainly don't know of it... Her free spirit and unique creativity live on in this delicious little book... It feels every bit as fresh and exciting today as it did when it was originally published”.

Pizza Defined is in all good shops, and also available via this site

Curraghchase Gold

Congratulations to Caroline Rigney, of Limerick's splendiferous Curraghchase pork company, who has won gold medals at the Great Taste Awards in the U.K. for her sausages, white pudding and streaky rashers. We judged at these awards several years ago, and they are rigorous and pukka, so these medals carry clout, Mind you, it doesn't surprise us one iota that Mrs Rigney should have collected so many gongs: her pork products are superlative, so make a trip to the farm shop and get your hands on some of the best bangers, rashers and puddings that you will find in these islands.

20 August 2008

Roadford House, Doolin, County Clare

Valerie O'Connor has a high old time in County Clare.

Ballinlacken Castle was where Frank and Marian Sheedy last worked together in the hospitality business before opening Roadford House two years ago. Marian is gracefully front of the tastefully red painted house while chef Frank works his magic in the kitchen.
The dining room is unassuming and full of windows to show off the breathtaking views of the Co. Clare. Simply decorated and furnished with walls hung of quirky paintings of local sights, the room is homely and seats between 30 and 40 people, so is intimate.

The menu has all the classics; goats cheese, Doolin Crab Stack, rack of lamb and confit of duck but the top ten listing ends there. For starters I ordered the Tempura of Monkfish with coriander, fennel coleslaw and tomato chilli jam. The plate of a stack of four fine fingers of monkfish was artfully presented with a tower of slaw and painted dressing. It tasted as good as it looked with subtle spices and sesame seeds coating the fish. The slaw lacked a little of fennel flavour but was fresh and crunchy. The starter of Chilled Wafers of Seared Beef Fillet (carpaccio) with pickled red onion, brie fritters and horseradish dressing was busy, it could have done without the cheese. The beef was soft and melting, with a bow to Asian influences from the punchy horseradish dressing.

Sadly the main of Roast Sea bass with seared scallops was sold out, it would have been my choice. Instead I chose the special of Pan-Fried Lemon Sole in a beurre blanc, this was cooked to perfection, simple and delicious with yummy almost crispy bits stuck to the edges of the bones, and I did suck the meat from them. The side vegetables were a creamy dauphinois, some baby new potatoes, carrots and greens. The Spice Crusted rack of Lamb was served with pepperonata, pea puree and basil lamb jus. Juicy and pink, the lamb was delicious and delivered its promise. The sole was the star of the show however and was fought over.

Deserts clearly showed Frank in his true colours, a pastry chef. The likes of these deserts I’ve only seen in Dublin’s L’ecrivain, but these tasted better. The Chocolate Truffle Cake served with White Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (made on site) was so good it made it impossible to open either your mouth or your eyes once a piece had passed your lips. So this was the desert to fight over. The ice cream was also unnecessary, though probably to break the pleasure and sensuality of the rich rich desert. My Strawberry Crème Brulee came with a White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Sorbet and an orange and caramel syrup. The brulee cracked reassuringly under the spoon and crunched so perfectly against the smoothness of the custard. The syrup and the sorbet with the brulee made one of the most perfect deserts I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat. Turns out Frank enjoys the deserts part of the cooking the most, and he does it so well.

The Sheedys excel in their small hostelry. Pity the rooms were booked up, I’d have loved to indulge in their breakfast.

Roadford House
Doolin Village
Phone (065) 7075050

Open all year for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 6-9.30pm
Early bird 6-6.45pm

07 August 2008


The images were shocking, depressing, post-apocalyptic.
A desecrated landscape; enough food litter and packaging detritus to fill a week of WALL-E’s clean-up time; still-smouldering fires; abandoned habitats.
Apocalypse Now? No, just the remains of Oxegen 2008, a world of deserted and abandoned Gelerts, San Marinos, Topazs, Akashis and Iglus.
The snail may travel with his house on his back, but Oxegen festivalgoers can’t be bothered to pack up their pricey tents and bring them back home for another day, another weekend.
Bloody kids, you think. So this is the Eco-generation in action? Save the world. But not County Kildare.
It’s always easy to blame the kids and, usually, it’s the wrong thing to do. Kids learn from their parents, and the parents of today’s Oxegen revellers are the generation that throw away loads of stuff every day. Most significantly, however, what they throw away is food.
In the U.K., for instance, a third of all food purchased is chucked away uneaten. 4 million tones of food each year. One billion sterling in value. A value in each household of £420, some €530, or more than a tenner a week.
In Ireland and the U.K., lured by the BOGOF bait – Buy-One-Get-One-Free – shoppers tear around supermarkets looking to save a few cent, lured by promises that Megamarket X is cheaper than Megamarket Y.
Having saved a few euro, at the cost of exhausting time and effort, they get the food home, keep it for a few days, let it get past a meaningless sell-by date, and then throw it into the bin.
What is missing in this tragic food pantomime is not prudence, or thoughtfulness, or a sense of economy. It is actually rather more profound than all those necessary virtues. For what is missing is respect. Respect for the food itself, for the energy both human and natural that created it, and for the planet that has to suffer the waste being dumped on land-fill sites where it generates methane as it decomposes.
And such a lack of respect for food implies a lack of respect for ourselves, our bodies, and our health. Food is not just fuel for physical sustenance. Good food impacts on our mental well-being as much as it does on our physical well-being. What we respect, we value.
The Aztecs had such reverence for corn that they would rebuke themselves if they failed to pick up a dropped kernel of maize: “Our Sustenance suffereth, it lieth weeping”, Friar Sahagun recorded the Aztecs as saying four centuries ago. “If we should not gather it up, it would accuse us before our Lord”.
I like that idea of the corn as possessing human qualities – lying weeping because it has been dropped to the ground, like a fallen child – and also the fact that the corn has the human and spiritual quality of rebuke: it possesses a moral compass.
The Aztecs had no genetically modified maize to sow by tractor or combine, but they knew the power of sunshine and photosynthesis, and they knew the value of human toil when harvest time came.
Today, of course, any manner of agricultural reality fades further and further away from the lives of more and more people.
We only see farmers when they are protesting, not when they are working. Farming is a matter of WTO economics, not respect for the land and its bounty. Food is commodity, and commodity produces money. It doesn’t deal in reverence or respect. Drop a carrot on the floor and you will not be able to picture it as something that could suffer from such lack of respect. It’s just a carrot.
How did we get here? How did a generation who at least started out as Mass-attenders forget that it was simple bread and wine – agricultural produce – that became the body and blood of the Christian Jesus? Did our moral compass, when it comes to respecting food, drown in EEC wine lakes, and die of frostbite at the summits of butter and beef mountains in the late 1980’s?
“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk”, was how the late, great food writer MFK Fisher explained the significance of eating well and respecting what we eat and drink, in her book, “The Gastronomical Me”, published back in 1943.
But an even more ancient quotation from the Irish best expresses the profound respect our food deserves, and which it should engender in us.
When the first new potatoes were dug and cooked and served, they used to say: “Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís”:
“May we be alive at this time again”.
It might be a good line to teach your teenagers, to bid farewell to their friends at the end of Oxegen 2009, as you also show them how to quickly pack up a tent and bring home their food waste.

06 August 2008

Cliff House, Ardmore

Most Western cooking, linguistically speaking, takes place in English, even though its antecedents are in the romance languages – French and Italian.
But English is pervasive, expected, understood, elementary – the lingua franca of contemporary cooking, the discourse of cookery books and food writing, the framework for cooking and eating, the way in which we understand the process.
But every so often, a new language suddenly appears in the world of food. Ferran Adria's Spanish cooking, for instance, isn't just Spanish, it is Catalan Spanish, and artistic Catalan Spanish at that. Adria has inspired many others in Spain to speak in their own tongues – Castilian Spanish, Basque Spanish – if we can call Basque Spanish, that is.
Away from Spain, Adria's excursions into texture, temperature, into what is expected and unexpected, has liberated others to search for their Mother Tongue. The result is a wonderfully evolving Tower of Babel, something every food lover should welcome.
If you are into a Tower of Babel approach – many voices, many dialects, new emphases – then you need to experience Martijn Kajuiter's cooking in the Cliff House Hotel, in lovely Ardmore, on Waterford's wild, forbidding and rather lovely coastline.
The hotel itself is a pearl – it clings to the cliff in a miraculous feat of engineering, and the interior style is spiffing – and inside that pearl is the pearl of Mr Kajuiter's cuisine. If the design template of the Cliff House is bold, the culinary template is bolder still.
“Local and vegetarian” is how the chef modestly describes his sourcing, and his motivation, but “Complex yet simple” might be a better description of what is going on.
Yes, there are froths and foams, but fundamentally this cooking is a series of complex results engineered from simple details – the appreciation of a spaghetti of cucumber; the placing of a fennel flower on top of a piece of black pudding; the clean berry tea under a bowl of cherries and ice cream, the superb lemony shamrock sorrel that counterpoints the sweetness of West Cork scallops, the ribbons of kale with just-cooked pigeon.
Mr Kajuiter brings a marvellous lightness of both touch and spirit to these dishes, but above all else he brings a new way of thinking and expressing food, and it makes for thrilling eating, eating that is using a new language of skill, appreciation and orthodoxy.
A word of warning: do choose the tasting menus, of six courses, as this is the best way to see the succession of ideas the kitchen proposes, at its zenith. And do ask advice from the superb sommelier as to what you should drink with the food.

04 August 2008

The Art of the Concierge

Whenever we give a talk to people in the food business, the first thing we try to explain is The Blink Moment.
What is TBM? It's the 2-3 seconds you have in which to capture, calm and control the customer who has just walked into your restaurant, hotel, shop, whatever.
Screw up TBM, and you will have a difficult customer. Get it right, and the customer eats out of the palm of your hand.
There are many people in Irish food and hospitality who practice the Blink to perfection but, until we got to The Heritage in Killenard, we had never come across anyone who practised the Blink to perfection Before You Even Get In The Door.
The Heritage has several concierges, and they are masters of the art. The Art of The Blink Moment. The Art of The Concierge.
To appreciate what this means, consider what you normally understand when you talk about a concierge. Usually, it's a stuffy, old, over dressed guy who basically wants to shake you down for a tip just for opening the car door or hailing a taxi.
If you don't drop him the old pourboire, then next time he sees you he will ignore you completely.
In The Heritage, the team of concierges are the finest, most accommodating, most helpful we have ever encountered, anywhere in the world.
They know your name the minute you arrive. They know what you want even before you know it, and they know how to make it happen. They are fountains of knowledge for directions, local attractions, local specialities, arcane lore, and good jokes.
Of course, this is no real surprise. The Heritage has Donagh Daven as general manager, and Mr Davern is the best. The amazing thing is, he can get everyone in this great big complex to also be their best, from the kitchen – Robbie Webster in the restaurant kitchen, whom many will recall from Ballynahinch Castle, is firing out superb food – to the staff in the bar, to the housekeepers and the girls on reception, are all on top of their game.
But the concierges – we mention Declan, Finbarr and Dougie, simply because they were working the shifts on our last visit – take this excellence to a whole new level, to the level of Art. It is a joy to behold.