Time was, if you wanted to be a baker, you went to Paris. Then, thirty years ago, the axis shifted. You want to be a baker? San Francisco became your destination. Home of ACME bakery, of Chad Robertson’s Tartine, of Craftsman and Wolves, of B. Patisserie, home of San Francisco sourdough. When Paul Bertolli wrote “Chez Panisse Cooking”, way back in 1988, the book included lengthy recipes on how to make pain au levain, and spontaneously leavened sourdough bread. Thirty years ago, the guys in San Francisco had already taken on the mantle. They defined the cutting-edge.
What’s more important to you in a restaurant: cutting-edge, or comfort?
In the media, it’s no contest: cutting-edge wins out, everytime. Reviewers never stress the comfort of a room, or its cooking. We write about the guys who move fast, and break things, and who ask you to sit on an orange crate while they are at it.
“Are you always, like, this busy?” we asked the waitress in Strandfield.
“Mother’s Day? The queue was right back to this door,” she replied, pointing to the double doors that form the entrance to the restaurant from the shop and flower shop.
We were sitting near to that door, which meant a 50-yard Mother’s Day queue for food at Strandfield.
We’re not surprised. Strandfield is ace. Hannah Byrne’s inspired concept is smart, functional, blessed with incredibly fine staff, and it’s in the right place: a 2-minute detour off the M1, and right in between Dundalk and Newry.
Toby Simmonds was a 20 year old working on building sites in Germany when the late Alan Dare of the Organico Café in Bantry asked him to see if he could find some good olives. Toby went digging and found Jean Pierre Huber, a German olive supplier with whom he has been trading continuously since he opened The Real Olive Company stall in the English Market in 1993. Back then most Cork people didn’t know was an olive was and more than one aul wan stopped to ask him “what class of a grape” he was selling.
When Imelda Tynan starts to talk about pastry, she speaks as if channeling a higher order. Her language is rapturous, immersed, bewitched. All of a sudden Ms Tynan ceases to be the boss of the hugely busy Tynan’s Restaurant, in The Store Yard, in Portlaoise, and she becomes an apostle, an acolyte, a true believer in the deliciousness of good things. But you don’t just need to listen to Imelda. The proof of the pudding, have no doubt, is in the eating.
There was a time, not so long ago, when if you were interested in Irish beers and spirits, it was still okay to be an amateur. You know: someone with a keen interest, who sorta knew what was going on, read the weekend papers, the magazines, liked trying new things at the weekend.
The recent history of Irish restaurants and places to drink suggests that being in the right zone is as important as doing the right thing.
Eating zones have been created in places as small as Dublin’s Fade Street, and as big as Galway’s West End, or the strip between the canal at Portobello all the way down to Dame Street in Dublin, currently Dublin’s restaurant city.
And you will find the same equivalent of culinary critical mass on Capel Street, and in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.
When I heard that Gerry White had launched a new gin in his native Belfast, I never doubted it would be a success. When Gerry does something, he “does it right”, and I knew he would have the support of the hospitality community in Northern Ireland of which he has been a key player for years.
When we hosted a recent seafood and seaweed weekend at Renvyle House in Connemara, two particular moments stood out during a brilliant weekend.
The first was a brand new creation by chef Tim O’Sullivan, who served Renvyle lamb rack with scallops and a carrageen dressing. Lamb and clams we know of, but the pairing of scallops with the lamb, and the brilliant carrageen dressing, was the sort of new concept that proves the truth of the ancient saying, that the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star.
Aisling Butler speaks food.
The chef in Cong’s pretty Hungry Monk Café speaks food volubly, speedily, devotedly, fluently.
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