Irish Food Trip: just another sunny Sunday evening in paradise

Summer arrived yesterday. Actually it arrived on Saturday, so by yesterday plans had been cleared and sandals donned by most of Dublin, or so it seemed by the time I was embarking the 2.10pm train to Waterford, along with five of Ireland’s most talented young chefs and a representative from Failte Ireland who is bringing us all on tour. If we didn’t have such a great itinerary lined up we might have felt sorry for ourselves (have a read of Saturday’s post here for the background to the trip).

It was still glorious by the time we got to our first port of call of our foodie road trip of the sunny South East. So last night I took a stroll before dinner around the shoreline of ‘The Island’ which Waterford Castle lords it over. The boggy marsh edges of the isle looked stunning in the late Sunday sunshine. So did the water all around us, and the little boats sitting pretty. The gorse was blazing too; and though it’s still a little early for the scent to really lift it put me in mind of last year’s series of posts about gorse and wild garlic.

Back in the woods I spotted a bed of wild garlic and nettles, both of which are powerhouses of nutrients. Nettles are full of iron and a great spring detox. And as for the garlic, well apart from being super pretty and tasting gorgeous (I had a nibble – potent stuff!) they are also great for the system, as anything that’s had to fight for its life out in the wild tends to be.

Appetite duly earned, I headed back to the hotel, past the open log fire in the Castle’s handsome lobby and joined the gang of Euro-toques Young Chefs for a seven course tasting menu cooked by sous chef Dave Larkin who was running the kitchen while the bossman (head chef Michael Quinn) was away for the night. We kicked off with some brilliant Catalan-style ox-tail croquettes which came with a little dropper of intense cep jus to be squeezed over before devouring. Have a look at Dave’s photo here of the croquette which seem to be a bit of a regular – I can see why: rich yet light, these were meltingly moreish with bag loads of flavour.

Next up some nicely seared scallops from Kilmore Quay served with puy lentils and a deeply savoury scallop cream – and what should be garnishing the plate only a broad leaf of wild garlic, presumably all the way from the adjacent woodlands. The foraging theme continued with the next course, a palate cleanser of gorse flower sorbet and chocolate mint, fresh and clean and about as local as you can get, considering the island is covered with the cheerful stuff.

Wild garlic was put to work again in the next course of local lobster from fisherman Martin Simpson, which was served with ‘liquid peas’ (a nod to molecular gastronomy influences, but in a nicely reined in fashion appropriate to the old school surroundings), sauce Americaine and some lightly carmelised pecan and walnut which worked surprisingly well. More wild food for our mains (no that wasn’t our main) in the form of wild venison wellington, a gorgeous piece of loin tucked up in a pastry wrapping and served with red cabbage jelly and sweet parsnip. Brilliant stuff.

Dessert was a pistachio tart with red bell pepper jelly and a melt-away pistachio powder, and finally a hunk of Crozier Blue sheeps’ cheese drizzled with truffled honey and served with slices of red apple and a glass of port. Ahhhhh. Now that’s what I call a dinner – not to mention a brilliant start to a glorious four days in food heaven.

See the next post for pix, or follow the action live on Twitter (@holymackers, #IrishFoodTrip), and tune in later for all of Monday’s action, including a 9am visit to one of Ireland’s smallest (and cleanest) abattoirs, the home of the blaa, and a trip to the top of the morning on Comeragh Mountains…

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