Dia de los Muertos @ 777

I’m just back from one of the best parties of my life, down in the stunning Ross Castle just outside Moycullen, Co Galway, where the incredible costumes were just one of the many many funny funny highlights of the long long night.

Ross Castle, Co Galway, which can be rented

The theme was Something Beginning With F, in honour of the honourable host of the night, a certain Freddie. My humble contribution was Fidelma Flintstone (as in Wilma’s lil’ sister, in from the big shmoke to stir trouble) which involved a red wig, furry pink leopardskin dress and plastic cave(wo)man club. A fishtank, Flashdance, Mr Mercury, several Frida Kahlos, a silver fox, Fembot, a walking farmyard, several Mr Sinatras, a French kiss, several FBI undercover agents, Fabulous Mr Fox, Frozen, Feather Girl, Mr Kruger, a flapper, Fursace, a flower, Five, several fetish freaks, a Ferris Wheel and Senor Castro were just some of the fabulous freaks who turned up.

That's Wilma on the left, with her pal Betty. Fidelma wasn't around for this shot.

Why am I telling you this and what the fog does it have to do with a food blog?

Here's a clue...

My point, dear reader, is that dressing up is a whole lotta fun. Truly. Especially when you actually make a little bit of an effort and so does everyone around you. There’s no ice-breaker like a bit of excessive make-up and an excuse to guess the adopted moniker for the evening.

And my second point is this. There’s going to be lots of chances to dress up in coming days. I’m off to an Enchanted Forest on Friday for example, possibly as a Ray of Sunshine, just cos I have a great yellow dress I think I can do something with, and cos I feel like spreading cheer.

Here's another...

But there is one upcoming party for which I’m going to embrace my darker side and you’re invited to too.

The good folk at 777 on Dublin’s St Gt George’s Street are throwing themselves an open-house bash to celebrate Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. Traditionally, the Day of the Dead runs as a public fiesta from Oct 31 – Nov 2, when the souls of the departed are thought to return to earth to be reunited with their families.

A right pair of Catrinas, one of the popular Dia de los Muertos figures

The deal? On the eve of Thursday 1st November, from 9pm, rock up to 777  in your finest ‘Day of the Dead’-est costume for a night of cocktails specials, DJs and dancing. And dinner. Head Chef Eamonn Connors will be ‘sacrificing’ a whole lamb for the menu of traditional and festive dishes for the revellers. There will be spot prizes for the best costumes too. The whole lot costs €10 per person including food, but not drinks, which is fair enough really. Especially as proceeds from drink sales on the night will be going to the Irish Cancer Society.

So, a good excuse to get dressed up, eat well, drink the best cocktails in town, dance with all your friends – both living and lost to this world – while raising money for a great cause? What’s not to love?

See you there?



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A sweet pair of Irish cookbooks

They couldn’t be more different, and yet each in their own way are a nice little snapshot of who we are, where we’ve come from, and the kind of cakes we’ve come to know and love along the way.

And as cookbooks that focus largely – if not both fully – on the recently re-embraced art of baking, both are perfect stocking fillers for a budding baker you know and love this Christmas.

I’m talking (in part) about The ICA Cookbook, a tidy tome which I came to know and love at the start of our short summer, when I spent the guts of a month editing recipes from over 40 contributors from ICA guilds all around the country.

The ICA Cookbook, what I edited

Each recipe was edited by me and tested by the ever-cheerful Marie McGuirk down in An Grianán, Termonfeckin (which is ICA HQ). The book includes gorgeous photography and styling by Joanne Murphy and Orla Neligan and elegant design by Tanya Ross.

Favourites include the clever Parsnip Cake with Walnuts & Raisins (move over Carrot, you’re so yesterday), Fraughan Buns (good excuse to get out for a day’s picking in the Wicklow wilds) and Grandma’s Rhubarb Tart (part soda-bread, part tart, totally retro and totally Irish).

But there’s two parts to this tale. For I’m also talking about The Cake Cafe Bake Book, which I had a very small but proud part in helping produce – well, me and the many other friends and supporters of Michelle Darmody’s gem of a café who helped fund her self-published book through Fundit. The result, designed by the uber-talented Niall Sweeney, is so darn stylish that an international publisher has gotten on board to distribute the book to all good bookshops around the world, no less!

The Fundit-funded books hot from the oven

Fundit allowed people like me pay up in advance for the book, knowing we’d love it. Which allowed Michelle and Niall go ahead and make their Bake Book. And one of the exciting things about self-publishing is that there’s no nervous publishing company telling you that you can’t take risks. Risks like not having any photos. At all. IN A COOKBOOK! A COOKBOOK FULL OF DELICIOUS CAKES!

But anyone who knows how Michelle and Niall work – or indeed knows the Cake Café tucked away off Camden Street on Pleasants Lane – knows that their risk is going to pay off. And I can tell you that even before my pre-bought copy wings its way through my letterbox. I don’t need luscious photos of Michelle’s cakes to convince me they’ll be delicious. I’ve eaten them often enough to know I love them.

If you’d like a little preview of what a photo-free bake book might look like, check out their Youtube trailer, or just head to your nearest good bookshop on Saturday morning, where you’ll find both new cookbooks fresh from the presses, on the shelves and representing an interesting snapshot of where Irish baking has come from and where it’s at today.

Anois, cá bhfuil an cáca milis? Níl ocras orm ach…

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Food memories, how are ye!

What’s your favourite food memory? Like the one that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and brings you right back to the child you once were?

I had a beautiful dinner last night in Hartleys in Dun Laoghaire. (Great new menu highlights include the sesame-seared tuna and pork belly with wasabi slaw, and specials last night included a hunk of spiced swordfish, still juicy and served with soft, sweet strips of fennel and red pepper with saffron aoili – all as good as it sounds.)

Anyways, we were chatting about food memories ahead of this weekend’s Dingle Food Festival, at which I’m hosting a For Food’s Sake event on Sat & Sun avo (skip down below for full line-up). Someone was saying they had an emergency breakfast of fish fingers and beans recently and it brought them right back to being eight years old, sitting tucking into an emergency supper. Sounds like such a bad combo but you know you’d hoover it up if you were presented with it.

One of my favourite memories is of those not too rare but nonetheless treasured back-to-school autumnal evenings when the ma would decide to cook fish and chips for tea. We’d be cosy in the sitting room, the rain pelting against the windows, watching Grange Hill or Blue Peter or Cheggars Plays Pop, and from the kitchen we’d hear the sound of  knives being sharpened, and the cats pattering down from upstairs bedrooms or scratching at the backdoor to get into the kitchen, cos they knew that knives being sharpened meant fish being filleted which meant lots of lovely skin and heads for them to eat. Then you’d hear the steady chopping as lovely spuds got peeled and chopped into lovely chips. Then the deep-fat fryer spitting and hissing as the fat fizzled and danced on the starchy surface in the first fry. The background murmur of drivetime talk radio would still itself as the Angelus peeled out and one of us would get called to set the table.

White fillets gleaming with freshness would be dredged through seasoned flour and into the bubbling butter in the pan, while the drained chips would drop crackling into the deep fat fryer for their second fry. Malt vinegar would take pride of place on the table alongside freshly made tartare sauce. And if I asked nicely, I could mix up some Angel Delight for dessert. We wouldn’t have to be called twice to that dinner table. And there’d be no bickering around it either. Happy days indeed.

What about your worst food memory, the one that makes you feel a little off just thinking about it? Mine is a dinner I cooked about 10 days after landing in Prague in the summer of ’94. We had been out for about nine nights in a row, sampling the world-famous beer (well, at 20p a frothy pint a pair of 20-year-olds would have to take advantage, right?). Anyway on the 10th night we couldn’t face another bar, and I suggested a home-cooked meal.

Off we went to local supermarket, where we bought the closest thing we could find to pasta, tinned tomatoes and tuna. There were no fresh onions or herbs, just a funny looking pale green capsicum yoke which I figured would do. What I served up  would have been an affront to the sturdiest of sensibilities, never mind our delicate states of being after our crash course in Swilling Pivo Like a Local. Skinny sludgy semolina with sweet tomato paste, unidentified oily tinned fish and funny capsicum, anyone?

Between the scars of that dinner (little of which was eaten) and those inflicted by several unwitting meals of unidentified meat and dumplings, very early in that summer in Prague I turned vegetarian – and stayed that way for a good seven years. A local Hare Krishna cafe where you could get seconds or even third servings of delicious nutritious food for just 70p all-in kept us healthy and well fed. Maybe there is a god after all.

Anyway, enough about me and my memories. I’m looking forward to hearing about the food memories of the following food writers, bloggers, producers and chefs down at Dingle Food Festival, to which I’m heading on the train as I write this. If you’re going too, look out for the Big Blue Bus parked up on Orchard Lane, opposite the AIB bank on Main Street. One €2 tasting trial token will get you upstairs on the converted double decker, where I’ll be interviewing these lovely people:


Sat 2.00pm Aoife McElwain of Totally Dublin &  icanhascook.com

Sat 2.20pm Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse

Sat 2.40pm Caroline Byrne of Bridgestone Guides & thedublinfoodie.blogspot.ie

Sat 3.00pm Katy McGuinness of The Gloss & The Sunday Times

Sat 3.20pm – John Desmond of Island Cottage Cookery School, Heir Island

Sat 3.40pm Sharon Greene of Queens of Neon


Sun 2.00pm Caroline Hennessy of Irish Food Bloggers Association & Bibliocook.com

Sun 2.20pm A sweet surprise (TBC)

Sun 2.40pm Ollie Moore of Irish Examiner & olivermoore.blogspot.ie

Sun 3.00pm Imen McDonnell of Irish Farmer’s Journal & marriedanirishfarmer.com

Sun 3.20pm Fiona Falconer of Wild About Foods

Sun 3.40pm Jack McCarthy of McCarthy’s of Kanturk

Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it, follow the action on Twitter at #FFS #foodmemories

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It’s been awhile…


Wow. It’s been awhile. Apparently I took a bit of an unanticipated, unannounced sabatical from Holy Mackerel.

Things got busy you see. There was a big job for Zagat, who are launching their restaurant guide to Dublin very shortly, and for whom I’m one of the local editors. (Basically, that involves trawling through the good, the bad and the downright rude user-generated Zagat Survey comments written by thousands of Dubliners about hundreds of Dublin restaurants, and writing short pithy little 50 word reviews to reflect the word on the street about said restaurants.) If you haven’t heard of Zagat yet, you will. They’re huge in the States, and having being recently acquired by Google, are set to be huge here too. (They also recently acquired Frommers travel guides too.) You can read up about them here (click it) and I’ll let you know when the updated Dublin site goes live.

But one big job is surely no excuse for leaving my blog high and dry and lonesome?

Well no, but there was also the mammoth task of editing of The ICA Cookbook (that’s the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, for anyone who needs the introduction to this 100-year-old institution of rural Ireland), which features recipes from some 50+ ordinary Guild members as well as a couple of key ICA chefs too. My job was to keep some consistency and flow to such a broad collection of culinary styles. And when I say broad, I mean Cake in a Mug on the one hand (stir eggs, flour, cocoa etc in a mug, cook in a microwave, turn out on a plate: ta da! Cake in a Mug!!) and rabbit pie with homemade puff pastry on the other hand (first, catch your rabbit, à la ICA Bootcamp styley… well not quite, but nearly). The book hits the shelves later this month, and hopefully flies off it.

And there was the new weekly wine column with the Irish Mail on Sunday, which has landed me with the arduous task of tasting a whole bevvy load of wines every single week and writing up what I think of them and telling people where they can find them and what not. I know, tough post.

Then there was a flurry of trips around the country. One involved a two-day spin along Mayo’s Gourmet Greenway and back, kicking off in Castlebar so we could conveniently stock up on baguette, Carrowholly cheese and cake in the delightful Café Rua before hitting the road – and setting up camp 60km later in the stunning setting of Keel on Achill. The next morning, after a pre-brekkie swim on Keel strand, we found ourselves a Country Market where we picked up some potato farls & homemade chutney with which to finish off our Carrowholly (a gorgeous local Gouda-style cheese) before cycling the 60km back to Westport where creamy pints in McGings and a tasty dinner next door in Sage restaurant were the reward for our impressive exertions (if I say so myself). If you ever thought you fancied a cycling holiday I would thoroughly recommend the Greenway – stunning scenery and brilliantly maintained.

Then there was another trip off down to the Electric Picnic to host the ‘Guinea Pig’ readers’ wine tasting for Food&Wine Magazine (check out the November issue for the colourful results) and chair a debate in the Theatre of Food on What’s Hot in Food Right Now (hot potatoes, it seems, GM potatoes to be specific… being trial-grown in Carlow by Teagasc – but that’s another whole post in itself).

And then there was the small matter of hopping down to Gaillimh town to stay over in the inimitable Heron’s Rest boutique B&B on the Long Walk (the prettiest street in town, which overlooks Nimmo’s Pier and the Claddagh Basin) where the ever-charming bean-an-tí (who happens to be a trained nutritional therapist) Sorcha Molloy cooked up an unforgettable morning-after breakfast of scallops and crab risotto cakes for me and my family.

Morning after what you say? Just the best book launch I’ve ever been to, in that it involved delicious Ard Bia food and generous prosecco and the great company of John McKenna of Bridgestone Guides (who helped launch the book) dancing till the wee hours with Manchan Magan (who wrote the foreword), all to celebrate the book I co-wrote with restaurateur Aoibheann MacNamara and her brilliant right-hand-gal Siomha Nee and all the chefs from Ard Bia at Nimmos. That particular book is on the bookshop shelves already, and is packed full of gorgeous recipes typical of the Middle-East-Meets-Out-Whest culinary style that is uniquely Ard Bia. (I’d highly recommend you pick up a copy, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?)

And then the next thing it was back to school time, and I got busy preparing lectures in Feature Writing & Ethics in Journalism for the first year BA in Journalism students at Dublin’s Independent Colleges. And also got busy with a WSET wine course that I’m taking to formalise my wine knowledge and fill in any gaps. The course is run by Cooks Academy and my tutor is none other than the lovely Liam Campbell (who used to be described by his colleagues in The Dubliner Magazine as officially the loveliest man in Dublin, and who is a darn fine wine writer and tutor too). I’ll be blogging here about the course over the coming weeks, and sharing some of Liam’s gems with any readers interested in reading them.

So. Here’s the nub of it.

It all got busy. And I got sick. And something had to give.

Which is all a long way around saying, sorry I haven’t been around. For the longest time. But I have been thinking of you. And now I’m back. And I’ve loads to tell you. (All of the above is just the start of it.)

Such as, I’m off to Dingle Food Festival for the weekend and I’d love you to come too. Here’s a sneak preview of the For Food’s Sake event I’ll be hosting down there. Watch this space for a confirmed line-up and more. Or watch out on Twitter over the weekend for tweets from @holymackers and others (#ffs #foodmemories #dinglefoodfest). Or even better, come to Dingle!

Right, adieu for now. I’ll be back. Promise.


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Win a €100 Superquinn voucher at #FFS_BBQ

Wow, check out that weather – we’re crossing every available digit that it holds out for tomorrow’s For Food’s Sake cook out barbecue in Toner’s weird and wonderful and very large beer garden off Baggot Street Lower. (3pm–7pm for those who don’t know about it: see full details on my previous post and our Facebook page.)

The key thing you need to know is that we’re supplying the barbecues, you’re supplying (and cooking) the food. And it’s free, with a suggested donation of €2 to cover fuel costs etc.

It’s all shaping up very nicely, even without the glorious weather. We were thinking it’d be fun to document all the hard work we know you’re all putting into preparing whatever food you’re gonna bring along to cook (although turning up with a pack of Superquinn sausages is also fine).

So we’re running a competition for the best food photo from the day.

All you’ll need to do is tweet your best food pix tomorrow with the hastag, #FFS_BBQ. Those discerning fellas from Le Cool are gonna choose the best ones from the day and we’ll be giving out some great prizes:

Superquinn (who are re-running their Steak and Wine Sale at the mo, in case you wanted to grab a humdinger hunk of meat for tomorrow) have very kindly given us a €100 voucher as first prize. The winner may not have time to catch their current sale (which ends Tuesday) but there’s always great wines worth picking up, and you could use €8 of it to try their limited edition burger BBQ package, which includes a 4-pack of their new Superquinn Ultimate Steak Burger (6oz burgers based on prime Irish Hereford beef), a 4-pack of Superquinn buns and Superquinn Sliced Red or White Cheddar.

John 'The Bull' Hayes (ex Irish international rugby) and Cormac Melia enjoying a bit of cheese with their Ultimate Steak Burger.

And for the runner-up we’ll have a month’s supply of Vita Coco natural coconut water, which apparently is all the rage with the celebs these days and just the ticket for rehydration – from either all the sun we deserve to get or all the drink we’ll resort to if we don’t.

How’s about that for looking after your every need?

Now all you have to do is come along. Oh and bring some gorgeous food. And of course take photos and tweet them with the #FFS_BBQ hashtag.


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For Food’s Sake, it’s a barbecue cook out!

We’re going slightly off-piste next weekend with the first of what will hopefully be a lorryload of For Food’s Sake cook-out events. If you’re familiar with what we’ve been doing at For Food’s Sake, you’ll know we started off with a year of regular bi-monthly food discussion nights in The Sugar Club last year, dotted with a couple of foodie movie nights where we cooked up food inspired by the films we were showing.

This year we’ve been mixing it up a bit and we’ve taken For Food’s Sake events over to the Science Gallery for the Edible exhibition, and up to Donegal for the Inishfood festival. Now we’re off to the pub for some grub.

The pub? Toner’s on Lower Baggot Street (www.tonerspub.ie), who have the hugest, weirdest beer garden we know of, complete with an enormous sheltered room with a TV and a roof but only three walls. There’s also lots of no-roof action going on should the sun come out to play, so all in all it’s perfect for our mixed-up rain-sun-rain-sun days.

And the grub? Well, that’s up to you.

Here’s the deal: next Saturday 11th August, we’re rolling several party-sized barbecues into said beer garden, rounding up some food producers along with samples of their barbecue-friendly products, and then inviting YOU and yours to join us between 3pm–7pm for a barbecue party. And the best bit? You get to supply and cook the food!

It’s up to you what you cook. You could bring the simplest home-made burgers or the most elaborate marinated fish dish. Sweetcorn or hotdogs, salads or salsas… dinner for one, or a taster for all. We’re just supplying the set-up: it’s up to you what you make of it. Think Street Feast with cooking facilities and one of Dublin’s best bars on tap, or think urban picnic with lots of lovely randomers – but just please think of joining us.

On the day itself we’ll lay on cooking utensils and disposable cutlery, paper plates and napkins, an area to keep your food chilled before it’s cooked and some games for your kids if you have any and want to bring them too.

In the meantime, Twitterati should keep an eye on #FFS_BBQ for inspiration of what you might bring along, and links to great articles such as this one in The Guardian discussing the science behind marinating meats. We’d love to hear from you on Twitter or on our For Food’s Sake Facebook page.

For now, I’ll leave you with this marinade recipe courtesy of my mate’s dad who picked it up on his travels in Thailand and India in the 70s & 80s:

  • Ginger – a thumb
  • Spring onion – 3 chopped
  • Chilli- 2 chopped
  • Garlic – 3 smashed
  • Mustard – 1 spoon
  • Wine – 1 glass
  • Soy – 1 glass
  • Fish sauce – 1 teaspoon
  • Brown sugar – 2 tablespoons
Baste such as prawns, chicken or ribs; cook for 3/4 distance in a hot oven; place on 700 degree BBQ to finish; replace into cooling sauce ( Ieftover from oven); serve!
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A taste of the Midlands at Viewmount House

View of the Burren from top of Corkscrew Hill

There are places we dream of escaping our daily lives to. One of my favourite fantasies is spinning out the M6 towards Galway, taking a sharp left at Oranmore and hitting the coast road towards the Burren, preferably ending my journey in the beautiful Gregan’s Castle in Ballyvaughan where ex-Tannery head chef David Hurley has taken over the reigns from chef-extraordinaire Mickael Viljanen (who has gone to The Greenhouse in Dublin).

The only drawback about going somewhere like the Burren to completely unwind is that I would feel guilty if I didn’t get out and explore the surrounding landscape. Guilt can be the hardest thing to escape from, even when it’s misplaced.

The gateway leading into Gregan's Castle

Last weekend myself and a couple of friends escaped to guilt-free Longford. Yes, Longford. Or Viewmount House just outside Longford town, to be exact. We had no idea if there were great things to discover on our doorstep and didn’t really care to find out. We were quite happy to make Viewmount House’s reception rooms, suites, restaurant and gorgeous gardens the extent of our world for our short stay there.

(Okay, so I since did find out that Viewmount House is close to Strokestown House, the Famine Museum, Belvedere House, Clonmacnoise and Newgrange – but thankfully not until we had happily wasted many aimless hours.)

We went because I had been hearing great things about the restaurant for a couple of years now. VM Restaurant has been open four years, with head chef Gary O’Hanlon at the helm and a strong team behind him, including Slovakian sous chef Daniel Skukalek, who was named 2011 Knorr Student Chef of the Year, winning a prize of a trip to Noma in Copenhagen.

I was expecting great cooking, but I wasn’t quite expecting the sheer stylishness of the setting. From the balance of period-piece furniture against perfectly pitched dusky pink and teal blue wallpaint to the immaculate lawn, burbling water features and wandering garden paths, the place oozes charm. Owners Beryl and James Kearney told us they’ve been they’ve been living in the 1750s house and lovingly restoring the it since the 1990s. And it shows.

Gardens at Viewmount House, a labour of love

By the time we gathered ourselves in the restaurant bar for a glass of Mount Difficulty Pinot Gris while we perused the four-course menu (€55, with a complimentary fifth course for residents staying in one of the 12 rooms) we felt we had well and truly escaped and were ready to be spoilt. And spoilt we were.

After a little complimentary taster of Thornhill duck breast with powdered curry oil and cherry pepper mayonnaise, and lovely homemade breads with a red pepper hummus dip, we were on to starters proper. I loved my Lissadell mussels cooked in a coconut green curry broth with coriander, scallions, slices of juicy shiitake mushrooms and cubes of pineapple that added great texture and a note of subdued sweetness. As with the rest of the meal to come, an elegant balance proved to be this kitchen’s signature stroke – along with an ability to integrate some unlikely pairings into a cohesive expression.

Mussels in green curry broth with pineapple & shiitake

Opposite me, Clare Island organic salmon had been cured with juniper and pink grapefruit, and served with pickled herb stalk and puffed capers. But it was the starter of star anise and orange-cured duck leg confit that stole the show, with waves of flavours that just kept on coming. Gary told us that the garnish for this dish has changed several times (currently a nicely pitched, blush-pink ragout of beetroot, mushroom, tarragon and sherry) but the cured confit has been a star dish on the menu for several seasons. And long may it remain there.

Taste of Midlands salad with Kelly's organic cream cheese

For our middle course, we went for a Taste of the Midlands Salad, featuring roast pear, Rogan’s whiskey-smoked bacon and Kelly’s organic cream cheese flavoured with eggs yolk, mustard and scallion. Next, a complimentary palate cleansing jelly of Martina Burns’ elderflower & wild strawberry topped with Glenisk organic yoghurt. Martina is the wife of local farmer David Burns, who supplies his legendary sweetcorn to the likes of Chapter One. Gary recently nominated David to win an EirGrid Euro-Toques Food Award 2012.

Wild strawberry and elderflower jelly with Glenisk yoghurt

Then – because we really were being spoilt – another little taster of lobster with charred Malibu-infused baby leek (yep, the booze, and yep, it worked), wild artichoke (teensy and intense) and carrot and lime purée.

Lobster with Malibu-charred leek

For mains, I found the will to look past the first option: Friendly Farmer Chicken (another 2012 EirGrid Euro-Toques Food Awards winner) cooked ‘sous vide’ with 36-month Parmesan cream, garden peas, shallot and chorizo nage and gnocchi. I may have to return for that dish, or for the salt-fried Donald Russell 28-day dry-aged sirloin, served with mac’n'cheese made with Crozier Blue and Glebe Brethan macaroni, and a tomato and piquillo pepper jam. One of my friend’s had the steak – and I can still taste that mac’n'cheese.

Another friend went for the Clare Island salmon, cooked at 60ºC so that it was wobblingly moist but with a glistening crispy skin. Its presentation put me in mind of a summer’s day on which the sun has made a garden explode with colour: bell pepper risotto, avocado, peas and shoots, and little rockets of purple cauliflower ready to lift off the plate. Gorgeous.

60ºC salmon with bell pepper risotto

My main course was my favourite, I’m glad to report. Little moist discs of canon of Roscommon lamb, beautifully seared and pink inside, with a flavour and texture delicate enough to savour but hearty enough to make for an utterly satisfying feed. It came with basil and hickory smoked cherry tomatoes bursting with flavour, wild artichoke paste, pickled oyster mushroom, roast garlic, bone marrow and a bagna couda jus (a Piedmontese classic featuring anchovies, garlic and olive oil). Jaysus it was good.

Roscommon lamb with incredible cherry tomatoes

I’m really not sure how we did it, but we soldiered on and finished the meal with a dessert of crème caramel with various renditions of tangy sea buckthorn, dill and carrot, including a blackened carrot cake crumb.

Crème caramel with sea buckthorn, carrot and dill

If all that sounds like a lot of different flavours to take in over the one meal, well it was. But the over-riding impression was of a judicious balance within each dish, and of an imagination held in check by consideration of what the diner might want rather than what the kitchen can do.

Gary O’Hanlon’s cooking is very different to Mickael Viljanen’s, but experiencing it for the first time last weekend in the surprisingly beautiful Viewmount House reminded me of a very special meal shared on a very special week-long escape to the Burren years ago, looking out from Gregan’s Castle dining room over the lunar landscape sweeping down to Galway Bay.

That outposts of great Irish cooking such as these should exist in the most unlikely of places is another great excuse to go exploring this green island of ours.

p.s. We came home via Kildare Village Outlet where we did a spot of shopping (I picked up a bargain Le Creuset pot which I’ve needing). I’m sorry to say we didn’t have room to sample any of the fantastic food being served up at the Good Food Ireland pop-up food stall. You’ll understand why. But with a choice of Jane Russell’s sausages, Waterford bacon blaas with Boyne Valley Blue cheese, and Country Choice Hereford beef ciabatta, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit Kildare Village, the current Chic Summer Festival (until Sunday 29th) might just be it.


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Curry and beer, Co Louth style

The makings of Ma Chanda's chicken curry

Last weekend I went to the unlikely location of Ardee, Co Louth to learn more about the kind of cooking you might find on the streets and in the homes of Bangladesh. (Read on for details of this Thursday’s Bangladeshi street food and Irish craft beer night – or this autumn’s Bangladeshi cookery classes which will keep off in September.) Read the rest of this entry

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Fermanagh is Forever (not just for Diamond Jubilees)

Fermanagh is such a surprise to those of us who, like me, had spent years satisfied with the love of the west and the rest of Southern Ireland. Fermanagh is different to the windy wilds which I rated as the best of Ireland’s charms. There’s something more pastoral about it, what with the hundreds of islands and many lakes and rolling wooded hills between them.

It’s totally charming and well worth a trip over the border, should you be one of the many Southern Irish folk who rarely go north except to stock up on cheap booze or for a trip to Belfast city.

The Queen was in Enniskillen yesterday, doing her smiling, nodding thing as consummately as we have come to expect of her. She didn’t get to hang about for too long, which is a shame because there’s lots of great eating and drinking to be done in the area, not to mention sightseeing and outdoorsy activities.

This October there’s what sounds like a great cultural festival taking place. The Fermanagh Live (www.FLive.org.uk) programme includes comedy, children’s competitions and workshops, literature, music of all sorts including classical, brass and folk, theatre, film, visual art exhibitions and much more. Dónal Lunny, Andy Irvine & Ardal O’Hanlon are some of the names that caught my eye.

If any of this has piqued your interest and you’re thinking of  taking a look for yourself, below is a flavour of what the Fermanagh Lakelands (www.fermanaghlakelands.com) have to offer foodwise, written for a recent supplement in The Irish Times.

I didn’t include Neven Maguire’s MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan, but it’s a short drive. Nor did I include the magical Belle Isle Castle which presides over it’s own private island and boasts an excellent cookery school offering residential courses as well as shorter affairs. Nor did I include the new Kitchen Academy cookery school located in Enniskillen town and run by Chef Joe Kelly. But I did include lots of suggestions for eating out, so you can rest assured you won’t go hungry.


1. Eating en masse

Whether you work up an appetite in the water or on the greenway, Fermanagh has plenty of fun choices for feasting with friends.

Franco’s Restaurant, Queen Elizabeth Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 4424, www.francosrestaurant.co.uk

This well-run operation delivers quality local food in an upbeat ambience, and its broad food offering makes it a good option for a crowd. Think contemporary pizza toppings, home-made marinades and locally sourced organic vegetables alongside Donegal seafood, Fermanagh lamb and 26-day dry-aged Kettyle beef.

Dollakis, Cross Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 66 342616, www.dollakis.co.uk

Locals head to this award-winning Greek bistro when they need a holiday fix – at any time of day. Authentic Greek treats like pikilia platters or cinnamon-scented stifado cooked with local venison sit side by side with crowd-pleasers like mixed grill with Greek salad.

Lusty Beg Island Restaurant, Boa Island, Kesh, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6863 3300, www.lustybegisland.com

Work up an appetite from any number of group activities offered on this private island including canoeing, archery and off-road driving, and then work it off with the likes of seafood chowder and smoked wild Irish salmon, beef and Guinness pie or ginger-spiced fishcakes. (Enquire about group bookings for everything from family holidays to hen / stag parties or weddings.)

The Bush Bar, Townhall Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 5210, www.thebushbar.com

Whether it’s burgers and beers with the match, wine and nibbles in the rooftop garden with views of the River Erne, or a three-course dinner followed by cocktails and a live band, there’s something for all the gang in this buzzed-up venue.

2. Table for two

Top off a special day exploring the hidden charms of these stunning lakelands with an intimate evening at one of the area’s excellent fine-dining options.

The Catalina Restaurant, Lough Erne Golf Resort, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 3230, www.lougherneresort.com

Talented chef Noel McMeel has long been a passionate champion of local artisan producers. He combines this rooted sense of place with skillful delivery of classic and contemporary dishes in the elegant setting of the Catalina dining room with its impressive lakeviews.

The Terrace Restaurant, Westville Hotel, Tempo Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 0333, www.westvillehotel.com

Two brothers have joined forces to put this new culinary destination on the map, with owner Nicky Cassidy leading the friendly front-of-house service while his brother and chef Gavin Cassidy heads up the kitchen. Expect flashes of fine dining inspired by Gavin’s time at MacNean House and l’Ecrivain.

Café Merlot / Restaurant No., Church Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 0918, www.russellanddonnelly.com

Two acclaimed food offerings now nestle under the roof of one of Ireland’s great pubs, Blakes of the Hollow. Begin your evening with a drink in the original Victorian front bar before ascending for fine-dining at Restaurant No. 6 – or settle in to the vaulted Café Merlot Wine Bar for classy contemporary cooking.

Watermill Restaurant, Kilmore Quay, Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6772 4369, www.kilmorequayclub.com

Perched on the shores of Lough Erne, boasting water gardens and a 50,000 litre aquarium, it’s no surprise that the likes of warm lobster salad should take pride of place on chef Pascal Brissaud’s menu. Home-grown garden produce also feature alongside extravagant Kettyle dry-aged beef served Rossini-style with truffles and foie gras.

3. Family-friendly feeds

Fermanagh’s lakelands are fertile grounds for family outings, and there are plenty of casual eateries with treats for all ages.

The Sheelin Tea Shop, Derrylin Road, Bellanaleck, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6634 8232, www.thesheelinteashop-bellanaleck.co.uk

It’s all about attention to detail in these beloved Tea Rooms adjacent to the impressive Sheelin Irish Lace Museum. Artisan baker Julie Snoddy crafts her baked delights from carefully-sourced local produce such as Fivemiletown Creamery butter, cream and cream cheese and local honey. The result is a sweet little piece of heaven.

The Horseshoe & Saddler, Belmore Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 6223, www.horseshoeandsaddlers.com

With activity menus and child-friendly cups for younger diners and signature Saddlers steaks for their chaperones, the recently renovated Saddlers bistro is well-tuned to the needs of all its punters. A keenly priced early bird offering runs from the early hour of 5pm.

FiddleSticks Restaurant, Customs House Inn, Main Street, Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, Tel. +44 (0) 28 6638 6285, www.customshouseinn.com

The pretty village of Belcoo lies at the foot of Cuilcagh Mountain overlooking Lough McNean and the Famous Hanging Rock. Here you’ll find the family-run Customs House Inn, an award-winning gastropub whose menu ranges from finger-lickin’ chicken wings to family favourites such as roast chicken with colcannon.

The Thatch Cottage, Main Street, Belleek, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6865 8181

Boasting the county’s only original thatched roof, the listed 18th-century building provides a picture-perfect setting for traditional treats such as homemade scones and cakes, hearty soups and freshly made sandwiches. You can even pick up some fishing tackle or hire bikes for the afternoon.

You can download a visitor guide here which includes lots of local restaurants, or visit www.fermanaghlakelands.com.


PANEL A unique flavour of Fermanagh

If you’re looking to sample truly local flavours, you need look no further than Pat O’Doherty’s Black Bacon. As with any true dry-cured bacon, the traditional and natural curing process ensures no shrinkage in the pan and none of the white residue that inferior bacon can leave behind. Pat uses rare-breed pigs such as the all-black Wessex pigs and black and white Saddlebacks alongside Gloucester Old Spots and Tamworths, and takes his time with a three-month curing process.


But it is the fact that these lucky pigs are reared on their very own private island on Upper Lough Erne where they are free to roam and feed on the wild herbs and grasses that gives Black Bacon its truly unique flavour. Visitors can arrange a trip out to see the pigs on their Inishcorkish home, or simply pick up The Fermanagh Black Bacon Cookbook with a packet of black bacon from O’Doherty’s Fine Meats in Enniskillen.

Where to stock up on local and artisan produce

O’Doherty’s Fine Meats, Belmore Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, www.blackbacon.com

Pat O’Doherty’s famous butcher shop selling award-winning burgers and bacon

Orchard Acre Farm, Lisnarick, Co Fermanagh, www.orchardacrefarm.com

An open organic farm offering everything from cookery classes and seasonal events to tipi holidays.

Russell & Donnelly Deli, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, www.russellanddonnelly.com

Just the spot to stock up on nibbles, wines and craft beers for an impromptu picnic

Ulster Farmers’ Mart, Tempo Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

Farmers’ Market on the last Saturday of every month

Farmer’s Food Market, Tesco Carpark, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

Farmers’ Market on the second Saturday of every month


**The gorgeous photos above are courtesy of www.fermanaghlakelands.com which is worth a browse for more ideas.**








Filed in Artisan food producers, Ireland, Irish Times food features, Travel | Comment Now

Of curries and kiwis: two takes on a cucumber salad

Last Saturday I needed food to warm me up and set me right. As wrong as it might seem to be craving curry just two days after midsummer’s day, the rain and grey were putting heat into my mind. So I bought myself a shiny aubergine…

which I picked up in my local food market, the lovely Dublin Food Co-op in Newmarket Square, along with a bunch of beautiful flowers from the Sonairte stall for just €5…

…just cos they always make me happy and remind me that it actually is summertime, sunshine or no sunshine.

Back at home, while snacking on a bit of Oisin Farmhouse goats’ cheese on seeded rye bread (also both from the Coop), I had a browse through three of my favourite cookbooks: Yotam Ottonlenghi’s Plenty, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian & Sally Butcher’s Veggiestan for some ideas. (That’s Sally with her book…)

Sally Butcher with her Veggiestan cookbook


Then I put those aside and cooked.

I softened some shallots in a bit of butter and rapeseed oil, added some grated ginger, sliced garlic and red chilli and various spices from the Patel gift set a friend gave me. Together with a booklet of (mostly meat-based) recipes, the set includes various ground and whole spices and several spice blends or ‘masala’. I wanted something tangy so went for a generous pinch each of ground cumin and coriander  and twice that of their tandoori masala blend. I cooked those gently for a couple of minutes until it was smelling really good and then I tipped in the guts of a tin of chopped tomatoes, spooning out the flesh and leaving behind some of the excess juice.

While this cooked away, I roasted slices of the aubergine drizzled in a little rapeseed oil, grated half a cucumber into a colander set above a bowl to drain and cooked off some quinoa (I could have gone for rice but quinoa ticks the box as both a grain-like accompaniment and a source of protein). Once the tomatoes had lost their rawness, I added a little more grated ginger, to be sure to have an upfront ginger heat as well as the background flavours. (This is something Irish chef Paul Flynn recently said he often does for one-pot dishes to ensure layers of flavour, adding the likes of garlic as a base and a final seasoning.)

Finally I finely chopped some fresh mint and mixed this with the drained cucumber and some natural yoghurt, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Then I built myself a little bowl of nutty quinoa, tangy sauce, roast aubergine and minty raita, and tucked in. (I was too hungry to take a photo, sorry!) Warming, cheering and wholesome, it was just what I had been wanting.

And what of my leftover cucumber water?

With the sun dancing in and out just enough for it to feel like a sort of summer again, I mixed myself up a salad of kiwi and galia melon and dressed it with the cucumber juice, a small squeeze of lime and a swirl of Highbank Original Irish Orchard Syrup. This apple-based syrup that is one of my favourite condiments going, being an Irish-made sweetener made from indigenous produce that brings extra flavour while it sweetens. The dressing worked really nicely, the cucumber giving a lovely fresh lift to the melon. I reckon it’ll taste even better tomorrow.

Without the kiwi and lime the same salad would probably make a great accompaniment to Parma ham, or diced very small along with a tart green apple could work really well with some smoked mackerel too. I’ll be trying it again as the mood takes me.


p.s. for those of you who really prefer to cook with recipes, here’s what you need to make the above:


for the roast aubergine with gingered tomatoes

1 aubergine

1 tin chopped tomatoes

3 shallots, finely chopped

2–3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 red chilli, sliced

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon Patel’s tandoori masala


for the minty raita

1/2 cucumber, grated and drained

2 handfuls mint, finely chopped

2–3 generous tablespoons natural yoghurt


for the melon and kiwi salad with cucumber, lime and apple syrup dressing

1 small galia melon

2 kiwi

3–4 tablespoons liquid drained from grated cucumber

1 very small wedge of lime, or to taste (go easy)

Highbank Orchard syrup, to taste (about half a teaspoon)





Filed in Artisan food producers, Breakfasts and brunch, Recipes, Suppers and snacks | Comment Now