2017 was another fast year for this greedy gobbling writer, and it's time to look back on my culinary highlights.
The year started in the United States with an eye opener: I learned that in Ireland we take good food for granted. If you want fresh vegetables, free range meats and decent cheese in the US, then you need a lot of money to buy them. We are so lucky here in Ireland, as the quality of produce we come to expect as standard in every type of supermarket is only available in expensive wholefoods stores in the US, and there is plenty of beyond-terrible food available very cheaply, with all the resulting health problems that come with it.
The business of beer took up much my time this year, and the microbrewery industry is still powering ahead yet also slowing down as the goldrush mentality of previous years halts. There are now over 100 microbrewers in Ireland which I predict may be too many. Personally, the term “craft beer” is dead to me, and the term has been hijacked and thrown around so much it's meaningless. Now, when I talk about a small brewery, I say microbrewery because the term has a easily defended definition.
On the subject of beer, my runner up for best festival this year is the Big Grill in Herbert Park. The organiser, Andy Noonan brings together the best of Irish breweries with local and international chefs and some of the best meats cooked over fire. Festival of the Year for me was Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic where Sally McKenna and crew continue to knock it out of the park.
My Drink of the Year goes to Justin Green for his Berthas Revenge gin, this spicy gin is produced from whey alcohol at Justin’s home at Ballyvolane House in North Cork. My Hidden Gem of the Year goes to another country house doing the right thing year in and year out: Newforge House in Armagh remains one of my favourites.
A move home to my native Cork meant I became acquainted with all the best casual eateries Leeside, I enjoyed feeds from Palmento Pizza, Son of a Bun, Toonsbridge Diary and West Cork Burger, spent good nights imbibing at L’Attitude 51 Wine Bar, cured plenty of sick heads at The Spitjack on Washington Street and I enjoyed steamed buns from BaoBoi where chef Byran McCarthy has just opened the doors.
If travelling between Cork and Dublin in 2018 do yourself a favour and detour to Cashel to enjoy a meal at Mikey Ryans Bar and Kitchen where Chef Liam Kirwan impressed me with his producer-led menu and was my Pub/Restaurant of the Year.
My Meal of the Year was with food friends at Forest and Marcy in Dublin 4 where chef Ciaran Sweeney sent out course after course of plates which were so good they had me smiling to myself all night. Each course was paired with well-chosen wines and was astonishing good value.
My Ones to Watch for 2018 include nineteen year old Maurice Allshire of Rosscarbery Recipes Irish Biltong who since doing his leaving certificate has single-mindedly created a great tasting and healthy biltong snack which reminds me of spiced beef and is likely to win many fans. Likewise Clovis Ferguson and Ruth Calder-Potts of MUtonics have been gaining momentum for their turmeric and ginger based health drink Jamu.
In an uncertain world my hopes for 2018 is that Ireland can continue to protect the momentum behind the food culture we promote here at McKenna’s Guides, I believe that food tourism is our single greatest potential. The world will come and visit us and enjoy what we offer: it’s sustainable, honourable and every corner of Ireland can benefit. On a more personal note, I hope that people will spend less time on their smartphones and more time cooking, eating, drinking and spending real time with friends and family.
Happy New Year!