Food Guides Recipes Buy The Guides Feed Back Food News 100 Best Search Bridgestone Food Guides Bridgestone Guides - details about food lovers and 100 best books

27 November 2009

Corner Boys...

So, here are Ian and Peter, and Ian and Peter are the guys in Dublin who everyone seems to be talking about.
They have opened up The Exchequer and Leslie Williams likes what they are doing: “Had a very fine Venison pie with beetroot salad last night in the Exchequer on Exchequer Sreet. (on the corner of Dame Lane). Pie was whole with pastry all round with well cooked meat - clearly stewed first before being put in the pie. Mushrooms were a mix of regular and wild (from dried) but tasted good and mushroomy. Beetroot was young fresh sweet baby beetroots with a mix of leaves including of course beet leaves. We also had very good crispy chips with mayonnaise. Beers on tap include Urquell and College Green Belfast Blonde and lots of funky bottled beers. Staff very friendly and good other stuff on the menu sounded good such as calf liver and deep fried ling and chips”.
Caroline Byrne, meantime, writes: “Very excited about this place - this is what the pub should be: creative, great food and drink, Irish, sustainable, great value.... Let's hope the location doesn't kill them! The bar's doing great at weekends, they're just what we need - and it's two young guys too. Another gem for Dublin during the recession!!”
So, meet a Belfast Blonde with a deep fried ling at The Exchequer.

26 November 2009

Eurotoque Awards

So many awards are given annually in every sector of society – especially the world of food and drink – that many have become all but worthless. But one gong is truly worth having, and that is the annual Eurotoque awards to specialist food producers.
This year, the Eurotoque guys got it right once again, presenting awards to Con Trass's The Apple Farm, Kitty Colchester's Happy Heart Oil, Jorg Muller's Solaris Botanicals and, a brilliant and brand new arrival, Martin and Noreen Conroy's Woodside Farm, who produce superb pork products. There was also a special award for Connemara Hill lamb, which has been awarded PGI status.
Cyril Byrne's pic shows Minister Trevor Sargent with Prea Munian from Solaris, Con Traas and Kitty Colchester. Pity the Conroys couldn't make it, but shouldn't they have had a Connemara Hill lamb is the shot somewhere? Maybe next year.
You will, of course, be able to read more about all the winners, all of whom feature in the new Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, when it hits the shops in a couple of weeks time.


Fintan O'Toole: Ship of Fools (Faber & Faber)

“Ship of Fools” is a polemic, and a good one. You could read it from cover to cover in one sitting, and you will emerge suffused with righteous anger, and disappointment.
The anger is on account of the persistent stupidity of the political class, and the persistent greed and perfidy of the bourgeois and banking class in Ireland.
The disappointment is that we have let unacceptable behaviour derail our economy once again, and once again a future generation will pay for the present generation's naivete and lack of simple decency.
O'Toole traces the stupidity and the perfidy right back to Charlie Haughey and Guinness & Mahon bank, and the DIRT scams of the banks back in the 1980's. He paints a picture of a governing party – Fianna Fail – which is so wrapped up in its own code of omerta that it doesn't know which way is right, and which way might be left, or even just wrong. Next time you wonder if Brian Lenihan is the man for the job, remember that this is the man who spoke at the funeral of Charles Haughey, the man who stole money donated to pay for his father's liver transplant operation.
O'Toole is not just angry, he is also funny, and superb at puncturing the inflated egos of politicos, bankers and builders.
But, whilst all this is fine and good, there is one major question that arises. It is clear from this book that Fintan O'Toole actually seems to know all about ... Coronation Street! Quite how Ireland's leading public intellectual has time to worry about Ken and Deirdre (if both those characters are dead or written out, forgive us: we are out of our depth here) we just don't know. But there is something fine and clever and appropriate about being able to discuss the strange case of Bertie Ahern in the context of two soap characters.

25 November 2009

Rua Xmas

As you will soon be able to read in the new Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, the McMahon family of Castlebar are building quite a food empire in the town, an empire that has taken a mighty step forward with the opening of RUA, the splendiferous deli and café overseen by Aran McMahon.
You don't need an excuse to visit the shop – you are a person of discrimination, after all – but if you do, then please note that Aran has lined up some special visitors and exhibitors over the coming weeks, including Graham Roberts of the Connemara Smokehouse, and Enrico Fantasia of the brilliant Grape Circus.
RUA also have an amazing range of hampers which have exactly what a discriminating person like you requires, including a “Best of the West” hamper. Get all the gen at:

24 November 2009


Alina Ibragimova: Bach; Sonatas & Partitas (Hyperion)
Sheer wonderment at how a woman in her early 20's can play Bach like this is the only critical response. Beyond belief, beyond time.

John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman (Impulse!)
A date from 1963, half a dozen sings from the tenor player and the husky baritone, and pure gorgeous for every second of its too-short duration.

Kurt Elling: Dedicated To You (Concord)
The greatest living singer takes on Coltrane and Hartman in this act of homage, part of the American Songbook series, with Ernie Watts brave enough to play at being Coltrane. Elling is a star, and a truly magnificent performer.

Bruce Springsteen: Live in Dublin (Columbia)
With his Sessions Band, and what a blast from 2006. The horn playing, in particular, is stupendous, referencing every American style from New Orleans onwards. Wild.


Carmel Somers: Eat Good Things Every Day (Atrium)
No question that this is the best cookery book of the year. Polemical, passionate, and beautifully photographed by John Carey, and the food eats beautifully.

Wing & Scott: The Bread Builders (Chelsea Green)
Daniel Wing and Alan Scott's beautiful book is subtitled; Hearth Loaves & Masonry Ovens. Boy does this make you want to have your own simple, bread-baking oven in the backyard.

19 November 2009

An Empty Vessel

We are afraid of hunger, even though few of us have any experience of it whatsoever.
“The stomach contractions we experience at midday or in the evenings, often quite painful ones, which signal mealtimes and which we call ’hunger’, are strictly speaking nothing of the kind’ writes Margaret Visser, in her book, “The Rituals of Dinner”.
Well Margaret, if my tummy is rumbling and I haven’t eaten anything for several hours, and that isn’t hunger, then what is that rumbling and what are those pangs?
“They are the result of habits and bodily rhythms only, and they result from a culturally induced custom of eating regular meals”, says Mrs Visser.
Well, that isn’t very reassuring, but it is almost certainly right: who hasn’t been on holiday in Spain and wished that dinner would be served – now – rather than having to wait until 10pm or 11pm, the time when the locals finally deign to start enjoying some food.
But if Margaret Visser reckons that this sort of hunger isn’t real, what I would like to propose is that we start to look for ways in which to make ourselves truly hungry.
And do you know what? It isn’t easy to do.
Let’s say, for instance, that to take your mind off those faux hunger pangs, you decide to do a little shopping. So, you head for the Dundrum Shopping Centre. And what will you find there?
No fewer than 32 different places to eat are trading in this temple of consumerism, designed to exploit your footfall, and to make you feel that having something sublime – Indian food at Ananda, let’s say, or the First Floor at Harvey Nick’s – or something fast – McDonald’s or KFC – is what you really need right now. Modern living often seems to be a challenging, if not impossible, navigation through and around places that want to sell us food. Urban living is a waltz around calorie consumption.
But why would you want to let yourself get hungry. Who needs it? And what possible good does it do?
I would suggest there are two main reasons why letting yourself get hungry – truly hungry, properly hungry – is actually very good for you.
The first is that hunger triggers the appetite, and the better your appetite, the better you enjoy what you will eat and drink. Appetite is a beautiful, mysterious thing, but we all know exactly what it is, and we all know how pleasurable it is to satisfy a true appetite. “Hunger is the best sauce” is one of the oldest clichés in the book, and one of the truest. Food eaten when our appetite is at a peak is food we can remember with vivid clarity, and is not just another trip to the trough.
Practitioners of tai chi and chi-gung offer some of the best reasons for letting yourself get hungry. Daniel Reid, in “The Complete Guide to Chi-Gung” writes that “leaving the stomach completely empty, as in the period of abstinence practiced by chi-gung adepts, is by far the best way to detoxify the system, purify the blood and alkalize the tissues and bodily fluids. Eat only when you feel hungry, but do not eat only to fill an empty stomach. From the viewpoint of chi-gung practice, an empty stomach is far more useful for energy work than a full one”.
What an interesting idea, that an empty stomach is more useful than a full one. It’s an idea, of course, that runs counter to what we are today told is normal, or even healthy.
But it isn’t so long ago that we actually took a different view, and that we venerated creating true hunger in ourselves. Today, however, fasting has been shoe-horned into the more esoteric Catholic practices – pilgrimages involving self-denial at places like Lough Derg, for instance – and into an essential rite of passage for idealistic students who want to raise funds for worthy causes.
Both of these things – mortifying the flesh, and supporting good causes – are worthy, but the other worthy thing for participants is actually the healthfulness of letting yourself get really, truly, properly hungry, of building a true, natural appetite, and then satisfying it carefully and deliberately.
So, don’t be afraid of hunger. The cultural memory of the famine may have conditioned us to want to be surrounded by plenty, to have full cupboards and deep-freezes, to have reserves and sufficient unto more than the day. But just as our health depends on eating well, it can also depend on not eating, it can be helped by abstaining from grazing, from feeling that we should be consuming something, no matter what time of day it is or where we are.
It may come as a surprise to many younger people, but there was a time when it was considered extremely bad manners to eat something whilst walking on the street. And there was a time when shopping was about purchasing things you needed, not just interspersing gazing and snacking with visiting different shops. “We turn clay to make a vessel/But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends”, says the I Ching. Let yourself be an empty vessel.

18 November 2009

Feeding the little ones...

Six o’clock on Saturday evening, and the McKenna kids are sitting at the dinner table, so tired that they cannot even talk to one another. It’s the end of another long week, with five days of school complemented by swimming lessons, drama classes, sailing lessons, hanging out, you name it.
This is the time for comfort food. So tonight I have made Italian potato pie, a typically elegant Italian solution where left-over bits of meat, left-over bits of sausage and chopped-up ends of salami are dressed up in a blanket of mash, with lots of grated cheeses, a couple of eggs, and breadcrumbs on the outside.
Grate in plenty of nutmeg, mix it all together, dot the breadcrumbs and slices of butter on top, then bake it in a moderate oven for half an hour. I give it to the kids, with some cooked batons of carrot mixed with baby sweetcorn, and within five minutes, the conversation is firing on all cylinders, the tired bodies and minds are full-on. Kids embrace this sort of food – cheap, tender, soulful, warming – as they embrace a hug. It not only sustains them, it does something else: it restores them.
Comfort food is the great healer. When we are low, it can bring us back from the brink, and it does so by providing tactile comfort, like a big blanket of warmth. Look at how much we like those other elegant solutions to left-over foods – shepherd’s pie and cottage pie – for instance. We know that beneath that helmet of mash, there is the tactile delight of minced beef in a rich tomato sauce, or diced, cut-up roast lamb mixed with carrots and peas.
When I need to fall back on comfort food for the family, the solution seems usually to rest with a blanket of spuds, or else a blanket of béchamel sauce, that simple flour, butter and milk sauce.
One of my children’s favourite things to eat, for instance, is called “Sausage Boats”. You make your mash, and you fry some good sausages. Then, you cut the sausages down the middle so that they open up – don’t cut all the way through – and you pile a pillow of mash into each sausage boat. Flash them under the grill for a few minutes so that the spud crisps and colours (this bit is optional), then with a cocktail stick and a piece of carrot or tomato, you decorate them with a sail (this bit is not optional, so get the kids to do it themselves).
Suddenly, spuds and mash has a whole new lustre, and rather than being the most clichéd of children’s dinners, it is a new adventure in flavour. But you, wise parent, know that it is no more than sausages and mash.
With bechamel, you can be even more laid back. Take Corn Cheese, for instance. What is it? A béchamel sauce simply has lots of grated cheeses stirred into it, again using up odds and ends and rinds. Then you drain a can of sweetcorn, stir it into the béchamel, put it into a baking dish and give it twenty minutes in the oven. I promise you that they will lick the dish clean.
The béchamel comes to the rescue also with left-over roast chicken, in a chicken gratin. You pile your sliced pieces of chicken into a dish, and pour plenty of béchamel over to coat the lot. Grate on some cheese – Parmesan is best – and shove it into the oven. Twenty minutes later you have a slightly burnt top – that’s the gratin bit – and underneath you have chicken transformed into a comfort zone that children go crazy for. You can also give them a blast of iron by adding cooked florets of broccoli to the chicken.
But if the Italians know how to make spuds into a restorative dish in the form of potato pie, they are also the masters of the most restoring comfort food: polenta, or maize meal.
I always enjoyed polenta, but never cooked it for my kids because I had always believed that making polenta involved stirring the corn meal in water for an hour - this is what virtually all recipes will tell you.
But then I discovered a fool-proof way to make polenta that doesn’t involve any stirring, and which involves almost no work. You butter a casserole dish, then tip in one cup of polenta. Pour in 4 or 5 cups of water, throw in a big piece of butter and a big pinch of salt, and bake for an hour at 180C. Your polenta will spoon out of the dish like molten sunshine, and you only need a few meatballs, or some minced beef in tomato sauce, or just a few sausages, and your kids will be brought back from the brink of exhaustion, and restored, and ready to do it all over again.

The News...

Ponaire, Tommy and Jennifer Ryan's splendid coffee company, is expanding into cyberspace. Find them at, and click on shop. See them also at the brilliant No1 Pery Square Xmas Market on Sunday...

On Thursday 26th Darina Allen will be signing copies of her new book at Nash 19 in Cork. Mulled wine will be waiting for you, and Claire and her team will be rolling out the Xmas hampers, with their superb plum puddings. It kicks off at 10.45am...

Speaking of hampers, the brilliant Gubbeen team from Schull in West Cork are offering a hamper range this year, with prices from €25 to €75. Delievry is €10 if you can't pick one up at the Schull, Bantry, Skibbereen and Mahon Point markets. Contact Giana:

Peter Ward's Xmas puddings from Nenagh's Country Choice are the stuff of legend. But what about a cooked dry-cured Tipperary ham, cooked for you by Country Choice and delivered by courier before Xmas. Now you're talking... (

Finally, a lovely idea from Florry Smye of The Scullery, also in Nenagh: little individual, hand-made plum puddings. “Eat me hot, love me cold, eat me now” it says on the box. Ours are already all gone...

17 November 2009

The Perfect Cure

The Perfect Cure

Swine flu has garnered one so-far-unremarked achievement: we now know just how medieval citizens, living in walled towns, felt when the barbarians were at the gate.
The fear. The uncertainty. The dread. The waiting.
Just like our medieval counterparts, we wait for a solution, a saviour to come riding over the hill to rescue us. Vaccine? Tami flu? The correct way to blow your nose when in public? Hand-washing? Drinking a bottle of brandy?
Actually, the bottle of brandy idea isn’t entirely a joke, as I read about its curative properties many years ago, in a piece called “How To Cure a Cold”:

“One tall silk hat, one four poster bed, one bottle of brandy. To be taken as follows: put the tall silk hat on the right-hand post at the foot of the bed, lie down and arrange yourself comfortably, drink the brandy, and when you see a tall silk hat on both the right and left bedposts you are cured’.

Voila! They don’t make many cures like this old French cure anymore, but as the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher noted in her book “A Cordiall Water”, a collection of recipes designed to cure the ills of men and beasts, “This may be a somewhat Gallic exaggeration, but it is based on sound sense…”
It might make sound sense to a binging teenager, but the rest of us would more likely be killed than cured by MFK’s boozy solution. But if swine flu is going to simply make an awful lot of us feel pretty awful, how can what we eat help us back to health?
Before modern medicine, we looked first and foremost to the curative power of certain foods, and maybe it’s something that today we neglect at our peril.
“For thousands of years it has been well known that food substances, especially plants like mint, turmeric, garlic, onion, lemon and ginger are highly effective as medicines”, writes Dr Stephen Fulder in his book, “Ginger: The Ultimate Home Remedy”. Dr Fulder’s recipe for “Ginger Tea for Fevers and Colds” couldn’t be simpler:
“Grate a small piece of fresh ginger of about one gram (about the size of half a sugar cube) into a glass. Add lemon juice from about half a lemon, fill with hot water and add a little honey to sweeten”.
This encourages sweating and brings out low grade fevers and colds, writes Dr Fulder. The recipe puts me in mind of my own first-resort drink whenever anyone in the house is feeling low. “Stina’s Healing Tea” is a recipe I found in a book by the American writer Viana la Place:

1 sprig each sage, basil, marjoram and spearmint
1 thin slice lemon
1 cup spring water
half teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons brandy

Simmer together herbs, lemon and water for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in honey, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Stir in brandy and drink.

Certain foods attract many champions on account of their healthful qualities and curative powers, their ability to keep us well and to bring us back from a period of ill-health.
In “The Sprouters Handbook”, for example, Edward Cairney writes that “Sprouts are truly a superfood in a league of their own”, and he goes on to point out that “if the early seafarers had known about sprouts, they would not have suffered from scurvy… sprouts have such a complete nutritional profile as to allow us to live on them and nothing else”.
Well, that may be so, but it doesn’t sound like the ideal lifestyle choice. But Cairney isn’t talking about Brussels sprouts, of course, but about the process of sprouting pulses, nuts and grains – such as alfalfa, chick peas, lentils, oats and so on – by soaking the seeds in water, then draining and letting them sprout. The enzymes we then access through the sprouts “play vital roles in everything from eliminating toxins to acting as crack frontline troops in our immune systems”.
I like sprouts – and buy them in farmer’s markets where they are often available – but my favourite cure is one of the most ancient of all. An old Provençal saying is: “Aïgo boulido sauova la vida. Boiled water saves your life”.

Boiled Water
1 litre water
12-15 garlic cloves
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 sprigs sage
5 tabs olive oil
slices of dry bread
grated cheese (Parmesan, or Gabriel or Desmond)

In a saucepan, salt the water, add the garlic, and bring to the boil. After 10 minutes, add the bay, sage and a dash of oil. Let cook for a few minutes more, then take the pan off the heat, cover, and allow the soup to stand for about 10 minutes. Strain. Put the bread slices into a warmed soup bowl, cover with grated cheese, sprinkle with the remaining oil, and pour over the strained infusion”.

I feel better already.

John McKenna

The Blog Returns

“What's happened to your blog?” writes a friend.
Well, you are looking at what happened to the blog. The new Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, the 9th edition, is 624 pages long, a full 100 pages more than the 2007 book, which was 100 pages more than the 2003 book.
624 pages of the good stuff, coming your way just before Xmas, and more on this in the future