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John McKenna's blog

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

SABA: The Cookbook

Inside a Thai/Vietnamese Kitchen, by Paul Cadden and Taweesak Trakoolwattana

Saba is that rare thing: an enchanting book. A mighty team have pulled a mighty achievement out of the hat, with beautiful food revealed in a work of beautiful design and photography – hats off to Fresh Design and snapper Matthew Thompson.

Bear, Dublin

Bear, Dublin
Bear, Dublin
Bear, Dublin
Bear, Dublin
Bear, Dublin
Bear, Dublin

@williambarry5: Any words of advice to a person starting out in the restaurant business?
@JoBurgerDublin: If you’re not there living it, you shouldn't be in this biz

That was Joe Macken’s Twitter reply to William Barry’s question back in April, 2012. It’s the perfect reply: live it up, or give it up. Otherwise your restaurant will lack that animating restaurant quality which is – basically – hard graft, and the enjoyment of hard graft.

Kelly's Hotel, Dublin

Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin
Kelly's Hotel, Dublin

How do you make something small look big? How do you make it look inviting, intimate, cosy, welcoming?

How do you make economy seem expansive, especially when that economy extends to the amount of money you have to spend on a project. And how do you make someone who is travelling economy feel spoiled, special?

How do you make a little seem a lot?

K.C. Peaches, Dublin

KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin
KC Peaches, Dublin

Some rooms summon the zeitgeist. Some rooms return you to your youth, because they seem to be so youthful. Some rooms urge you to get to the centre of them, and to stay there for as long as you can. Some rooms are just IT. Some rooms are happening. Some rooms are now. Some rooms are like precious songs from a time in your life when songs spelt out your philosophy for you – you know, like when you first heard Blue Lines, or Murmur, or Merriweather Post Pavilion, or Hot Fuss or I’m Your Man.

KC Peaches, on Dublin’s Nassau Street, is all of those rooms.

The MacNean Resturant Cookbook

The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook

On the rear cover of Neven Maguire’s magnum opus, “The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook”, the designer Graham Thew has chosen Joanne Murphy’s photograph of the restaurant’s dessert of Trio of Chocolate – warm fondant, delice, and opera cake.

Laid out on a fine piece of what looks like olive wood, the image is perfect: it’s the artist’s palette, the beginning and the conclusion of the work of the culinary Cezanne of Cavan, the chef who paints with food.

Fabulous Fabiola's

Harem pants. You know, harem pants are a rarity amongst food folk but, along with the Jacques Brel soundtrack, and the vintage 2CV, you will find harem pants in Fabiola’s café just outside Doolin, in West County Clare, and Fabiola Tombo will be wearing them. Who wears the harem pants around here? Fabiola Tombo, that’s who.

The Roadside Tavern

Birgitta Curtin, The Roadside Tavern
Peter Curtin, The Roadside Tavern
The Roadside Tavern
The Roadside Tavern
The Roadside Tavern

“It’s got to do with the socio-economics of around here”, Peter Curtin said to us back in 1989, as we were careening around the country in a £100 Renault 4, and had made a stopover in Lisdoonvarna at The Roadside Tavern. Almost 25 years later, and Mr Curtin is still wrapped up in the socio-economics of “around here”: how to make a living in a tourist town; how to re-invent yourself to stay relevant; how to avoid the tsunami of pub closures that is enveloping rural Ireland.

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