Thursday, October 19, 2017

Kinsale Mead Company. Up and Running.

Kinsale Mead Company

Up and Running.

Kate does a check

The Kinsale Mead Company was officially launched last Friday (13th) but owners Kate and Denis Dempsey have been working away since the spring in their meadery in an industrial unit in the Barrack Lane area of the town. Indeed, they already have two products on the market and a third due any day now.

Note the distinctive bottle shape
Atlantic Dry Mead is a traditional mead type, white in colour and with a refreshing citrus orange honey flavour. Its primary ingredient is raw orange blossom honey from southern Spain. Kinsale’s history is of course uniquely linked to Spain and the battle of Kinsale in 1601. This mead is best served chilled, or over ice or with tonic water and a thin slice of orange. Atlantic Dry Mead is lovely with olives, herby pasta dishes or with a dessert like raspberry and white chocolate tart.

Their Wild Red Mead is a melomel or fruit mead type, made from a Spanish dark forest honey, tart blackcurrants and sweet cherries to produce a zesty fruity aroma and long finish, perfect to have chilled or at room temperature. This Wild Red Mead also pairs very well with a cold meat platter, cheese board or sticky barbecued ribs.

The pair, both with an ABV of 12%, are available in local bars and restaurants and in the 1601 off-licence in Kinsale, also in O’Brien’s, Matson’s and Bradley’s and in SuperValu via the Food Academy. Mead is more a wine than beer, with a final alcohol level anywhere between 10 and 18 percent. Each of the Kinsale bottles is rated 12%.
The business end of the meadery
The newest version is a Six Berry mead. It is not in bottle yet but we got a taste from the tank when we visited last week. It has a red berry nose (raspberry and strawberry), fruity on the palate and again with that distinctive off-dry finish.
A crossflow filter

Local water is an important ingredient but honey is the essential, and expensive, component and indeed accounts for about thirty per cent of the ingredients. The Kinsale company are using Spanish honey while the country’s other meadery (at the Lough Gill brewery in Sligo) are also importing it. 

The process itself, including fermentation, with good temperature, environmental and hygiene control, takes four to five months before the mead is ready for bottling.

Initially, the honey has to be heated but “not too much”. They use a honey pump to purify it and then mix it into the water (local) with a large whisk! A Cotes du Rhone yeast is then added. For the red, the frozen fruit added consists of the marvellous blackcurrants from Mr Jeffares of Wexford and cherries from Sunnyside in Rathcormac.

When the primary fermentation, usually at about 17.5 degrees, is complete, the temperature is reduced to 3 degrees to stop the action of the yeast which flocculates to the bottom of the tank. There the mead sits for a few days and then it is racked off the lees and into a new tank. A filtering process, using an Italian crossflow filter (more normally seen in a winery), also takes place and the now crystal clear mead is allowed mature for a few months.

Hygiene is an intrinsic part of the meadery and Kinsale Mead give it a very high priority from start to finish. When the mead is ready, the bottles are cleaned using a Ferrari engineered device. They are filled, corked (by hand, at present) and then labelled, all on site.
Ferrari in the meadery

Kate and Denis have indicated various uses for the mead (see opening paragraphs). But they also asked various people around Kinsale for ideas. Jamie from Haven Seafood suggested adding a few drops to an oyster. And there was a general guideline to use the white mead in situations where'd you would use a white wine.

And a corresponding guideline applies to the red. You could try adding a dash to venison dishes. Use in sauces for Barbecued ribs or similar. And ever inventive local chocolatier Frank at Koko has used the red as a main ingredient in a dark Madagascan chocolate truffle.

Kate and Denis have quite a bit of space in their unit with a welcome room and bar at the front. The eye-catching counter was crafted in Carrignavar from timber between two and three hundred years old. Next year, you’ll have a chance of seeing it yourself as the company intend to start doing tasting tours. 
The bar counter
More details on the company here



Sligo's Embassy Steakhouse. Jameson Whiskey Sauce is a Must!

Sligo's Embassy Steakhouse

Where Jameson Whiskey Sauce is a Must!
When I told a bartender in a Sligo pub that I was heading to the Embassy Steakhouse for dinner, I got a tip. “You must have their Jameson Whiskey sauce. I used to work there and it is magnificent.” And it is!

Indeed, the building, with its five large arched windows by the Garavogue River, is itself eye-catching on the outside and the decor on the inside is also impressive. The menu is not confined to steak but the reason most people visit is to sample the chargrilled meat and that whiskey sauce.

Even CL, who loves her fish, picked the steak, an 8 ounce Hereford fillet. My choice was the 10 ounce Rib Eye. We both had the Jameson sauce, of course, and the steaks came with onion marmalade, sautéed green beans and grilled asparagus. And there were sides, salad and ratatouille. Indeed, you could have added sautéed king prawns for an extra fiver but we said no to that. As it happened we had enough on the plate, a very well cooked and presented plate of top quality meat and that magnificent sauce. Highly recommended.

You are not confined to steak. There are mains featuring fish and chicken and the starters give you ample opportunity to stay away from meat until the main event itself. Indeed, the starters are top notch as well.


My potted Mullaghmore crab, with seasonal salad leaves and sourdough toast, was an excellent opener. The fresh crab was exceptional, great flavour in that packed pot. CL meanwhile was enjoying the Pan-seared King prawns with lemon, chilli and garlic. 

Took a wee bit of a pause after the mains. The place was packed, it was packed all night. A hen party had two large tables and another two had a birthday party. There was a great buzz in the Embassy, a convivial one, happy voices.

We didn't get to hear the most distinctive voice in the place though. That, I’m told, belongs to Head Chef Marc Gabbidon and has been described “as a truly wondrous thing”. Marc is yet another of Sligo’s wanderers. He has “wandered in” from Jamaica, via East Coast US. In the US, while working in Connolly’s Irish Pub in NY City he met his now wife Karen. Eight years back, they moved to Sligo. Think I might have enjoyed that melodic voice but we certainly enjoyed the cooking!

And we did decide to share a dessert. Fabio is the man for the sweet stuff but we reluctantly decided to leave the Chocolate Indulgence Cake on this occasion and picked and shared Fabio’s Ice-cream Selection, a trio of house-made Italian style ice-creams. A safe choice but quite delicious also.

The Embassy Steakhouse, with an excellent wine bar, is a chic and comfortable place for a night out. Service is very friendly here but very much on the ball as well. So if you like your steak and are in the Sligo area, you know where to go!

See also: Lough Gill Brewery
 Strandhill Food Festival
Sligo Cafés
Clo's Chocolates

Holy Smoke On The Mardyke. Temple of Fire and Smoke

Holy Smoke On The Mardyke

Temple of Fire and Smoke
Wings

If you visit Holy Smoke, and you should, you’ll be visiting a kingdom of fire and smoke. And your royal guides will be John Relihan and Deccie Walsh.

John welcomed us to their tasty palace on the Mardyke last Tuesday night for a rather special evening: six courses of pit smoked BBQ paired with either Irish Craft Beer or Irish Whiskey. Caroline Hennessy, of Eight Degrees and author of Slainte, introduced the beers while Killian O’Mahony, a recently qualified cooper at Midleton Distillery, told us about the whiskey.

Did you know that Holy Smoke is housed in the original Woodford Bourne cellars (1875), that stored at one time over 50,000 gallons of choice whiskies, Cognac, rum and casks of wine, sherries and ports?

Gubbeen sausages
John told us they cook  here “with fire”, using a Japanese Robata grill and a large smoker. They use sustainable charcoal (supplied by an Oxford firm). Ribs take four hours while brisket and pork can take 14 to 16 hours. He stressed the importance of using the right charcoal and the right wood.

He has trained with some of the best, including Jamie Oliver, and in many cuisines including BBQ, Italian, Spanish, Japanese. “It’s been quite a journey,” said the man from Duagh in Co, Kerry. They have just introduced steak to the menu - “you can expect lots of different cuts and do check out our Jazz event on October 25th.” Link is here.

Six courses seems like a lot. But the Holy Smoke team judged this to perfection. It was quality all the way but the quantity was spot-on too, not too much and certainly not too little. 
Baby Ribs

After a welcome drink of Prosecco and a bowl of pickles and pork scratchings, Caroline introduced the first of the beers. “The Franciscan Well were among the first of our craft brewers and their traditional red ale, the Rebel Red, is great with pork.” And our first dish was Gubbeen Hot Links Sausages. These spicy sausages, commonly used in southern US barbecues, got the taste buds up and running.

More pork now but of a very different kind: Wet Rubbed Baby Back Ribs (marinaded overnight and smoked for four hours over oak). Caroline praised the quality of Irish Malt and said Eight Degrees were proud to use it. And certainly the Howling Gale Pale Ale had a good solid base of malt, a lovely aroma and not too hoppy and proved a good match for the ribs and the cornbread.
Pork sliders

And next came one of the highlights of the night: Pulled Pork Slider (shoulder smoked low and slow for 14 hours). Amazingly succulent and delicious and the Stonewell cider, that Caroline had been keeping in reserve, proved an ideal match. 

Head Chef Deccie Walsh managed to take a few minutes away from the kitchen and told us of his love for slow cooking and nose to tail cooking. He really enjoys this type of event. After last night, we all do! 
Local ale

Another highlight next: Pit Smoked BBQ Chicken Wings (marinaded, smoked for 4 hours and char-grilled). Accompanied by pickled celery and a blue cheese dip, this was a superb mid-menu course, fingers in action again. And the beer? Another from Eight Degrees: the Barefoot Bohemian Pilsner, a nice light beer in the traditional Czech style and excellent with the wings.

Brisket Burnt End Sliders were now arriving on the table, another highlight for me, all the more appreciated when we heard that their journey to our plates had started during the storm of the day before.
Brisket

We had a two drinks to go with this one. The first was a can of the Franciscan Well Irish Pale Ale, a favourite of mine. “Don't drink from the can,” Caroline advised. “Pour it into the glass, the better to appreciate its lovely amber colour, the citrus aromas. As you drink, you’ll note the citrus bite.”
A winner

Killian told us about the importance of the casks as he introduced the Green Spot whiskey made at Midleton from pot still whiskey aged between seven and nine years, with 25% coming from sherry casks.

Time then for dessert: Chocolate, banana and caramel brownie, with a whiskey sauce. Obviously, if you had whiskey remaining (I didn’t), you could have tried a drop with this. 

The final beer was the award-winning Amber Ella from Eight Degrees. As Caroline said, it has a lovely malty flavour to go with the brownie and the sauce. First brewed in 2014, this American style amber surprised the home brewers by taking a bronze in the World Beer Cup in the US. “It was  a big surprise,” recalled Caroline. “ It was a boost for Eight Degrees but also a boost for Irish craft.”

Killian had ended his whiskey intro with a toast to friendship and the lovely evening finished in that kind of spirit, old friends met and new friends made. Thanks for the invite and Slainte to all at Holy Smoke.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Rugantino of Sligo. Italian on the banks of the Garavogue

Rugantino of Sligo

Italian on the banks of the Garavogue
Chicken

We first came across Chicken Cacciatore in Rossini’s in Cork, many moons ago. It is, we were told, the hunter’s dish, made with pieces of chicken and mushrooms. And while it may well be the hunter’s dish, there are many many versions across Italy and in Italian restaurants in Ireland.

We came across another during an evening meal in Rugantino of Sligo, a family run restaurant on the banks of the Garavogue River, last week. No little bits of chicken here. Instead, a massive half (breast, thigh and leg), appeared on the plate. No mushrooms in the sauce. Instead the chicken had been braised in a delicious braised tomatoes and mixed pepper sauce with mixed olives. 
Saltimbocca

Saltimbocca is another Italian classic with regional variations. It is usually made with veal and this was the case at Rugantino. Two rose veal steaks were pounded with prosciutto and sage and sautéed in a white wine sauce.  It was slightly salty, slightly woodsy (more so than the chicken), and entirely delicious. There were sides for both of us as we shared excellent fries and a garden salad.

We finished the gorgeous wine, a Sangiovese special of the month, before tackling yet another Italian classic: Tiramisu. Another with a million variations. The Sligo offering though was pretty close to the classic. Savoiardi, egg yolks, mascarpone, cocoa, coffee are the usual ingredients and they all seemed to be present here in a delightful finalé.
Sweet finish

They offer about 17 starters here, excluding specials, and we covered most bases by ordering a selection of Cicchetti (Italian tapas), eight pieces in all. Delicious. We almost had a fight over them and indeed could have eaten another round. But there was a good meal ahead..
Shared starter plate

Lots of choices, as is usual in Italian restaurants, and that was even before we looked at the huge Pizza selection which comes from their state of the art set-up and seems to be very popular with take-out customers. If visiting, be sure and watch out for the specials. Tonnarelli with Lobster was a recent one!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taste of the Week. Clo’s Wind Atlantic Bar

Taste of the Week
Clo’s Wind Atlantic Bar

Called into Le Fournil, a bakery and chocolatier on the Sligo Food Trail, during a recent visit to the town. And I immediately spotted some truffles that I had seen in Dingle during the Blas na hEireann tasting, truffles that had won for Clo who makes the chocolates here.

But is was one of her bars that next caught my eye. I always like chocolate with a little salt and when I spotted the Wild Atlantic Bar I couldn't resist. It was every bit as good a expected and is our Taste of the Week.


It is a milk chocolate bar and, of course, Irish Sea Salt is one of the important ingredients. Another is Knocknarea Honey. A delicious blend made in Sligo and also a Blas winner for Clo, this in 2015.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kelly's Butchers Newport. We Believe In Quality

Kelly's Butchers Newport
We Believe In Quality
Kelly's of Newport


For us, it is all about the food - the quality of the ingredients. You can be sure that we will always source our meat locally where possible, and if it's not local, it is always Irish. We believe in quality, in supporting our local farmers and Irish producers. We hope you do too. 

This is the philosophy of Kelly’s Butchers in Newport. It has stood them well over the decades. And I heard it reiterated at first hand from Paddy McDonald (Quality Assurance manager) and Ger Chambers (Production manager) during a recent visit. Both are fully behind it and you know there'll be no “rind emulsion” here. “Not as long as I have anything to do with it,” says a determined Ger.
Kelly's Kitchen (left) and the shop
Paddy is not a stay-in-the-office manager. He gets out and meets the customers, anywhere from Ballina to Blanchardstown. And he is thrilled, and encouraged, with the reaction. People can't believe the flavours. 

I recall craft beer guru Garret Oliver talking about introducing craft beer to people. They say this is nice, doesn't taste like beer. He had an explanation: “The beer they grew up with didn't taste like real beer!” So, Paddy tells his tasters about that good stuff that goes into Kelly’s products. They are reassured and delighted that they know now where to get the real thing. The principle put into practice pays off.
Black pudding on baguette for lunch
It’s not all serious stuff here though. Good humour abounds. Who else would take a black pudding in the shape of a pint to the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goute-Boudin in Mortagne-au-Perche, Normandy? Better still, they won the gold! And Kelly's are proud organisers and sponsors of the All Ireland Putóg Throwing Competition  (shot putt rules apply) which is the highlight of the Newport Festival every August. 

Sean Kelly, the Mayo Person of the Year 2017, is the public face of Kelly’s, but it was brother Seamus who was in charge of the shop when we called and he proudly showed us their range of puddings (they produce much more besides): the black, the white, the black and white (half and half), and now the Vegetarian (delicious!). 
Quiche

We had arrived at lunchtime so were invited in next door to the café run by Shauna Kelly (Sean’s daughter). Had we been earlier, much earlier, we could have breakfast: porridge, granola, the full Irish of course and more.

But, being visitors, we were keen to sample the pudding and there was such a choice: black, white, seaweed and more. I went for the Black Goat  and that, with goats cheese and salad, kept me going for hours. There was also a white equivalent. CL dined well on her Black pudding and goats cheese quiche. 

Lots of meat as you'd expect from the shop next door but no shortage of fish dishes either and plenty of salads in a lovely room with warm colours. And you’ll also enjoy the homemade relishes and chutneys. Not warm enough outside for us, though it was a lovely day, but in summer you can dine al fresco.
Two of Newport's best: Kelly's puddings and the Greenway.
Then Paddy took us on tour. Their modern two years old facility is built onto the rear of the previous one (now used mainly for admin and dispatch). The process is streamlined, with the emphasis on hygiene, health and safety and efficiency. It works well throughout the week and here much of the credit goes to Ger Chambers.

When kitted out, Paddy took us through. Not a warm welcome though. His first stop was the Blast Chiller! Brrr… But it is a massive bonus for the Kelly’s as it helps increase shelf life of the products.
Yours truly with Seamus Kelly (left)
The different products and their different sizes were explained. Did you know four different types of organic seaweed is used in the Seaweed Pudding? The popular Hazlett (a traditional meatloaf, often eaten cold) has fresh leeks and carrots and 70% pure pork. It comes in standard size for domestic use and also in a 2.5 kilo size.

Putóg
And that vegetable pudding? You might think that this, coming from a renowned meat company, would be just a token effort. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Kelly name is on the packet so the best of ingredients are used and it is top quality. It was the first of the samples that I tried back at home and it is really very impressive.

While we were making our way around, taking in all the machinery and the storage areas, the crew were busy at work. The weekly schedule doesn't change much. Production in the morning. The early part of the afternoon sees the machines being taken apart and meticulously cleaned. 

Then the line is prepared for the morning. Ingredients, the spice, rusk or the oatmeal for instance, are lined up. And all is ready. We were there on the Thursday afternoon. And that following morning, black pudding would be produced, an amazing 3.5 tonnes of it! So you can see why the detailed preparation is needed. There’s a country to be fed!


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sligo Cafés. Variety is the Spice

Sligo Cafés. 
Variety is the Spice 
Naanwich
Vegan friendly dishes at the Sweet Beat in Bridge Street. A Naanwich and Leitrim roasted coffee at The Nook in rural Collooney. Chocolate and French Baking at Le Fournil in Tobergal Lane. Oysters and Prosecco at WB’s in Stephen Street. Just a few examples from the lively café scene in and around Sligo.

Growing up in Brittany, Clotilde (known in Sligo as Clo and I read somewhere her Friday doughnuts are Clonuts), saw just how important bread was in their lives so no big surprise that she and her partner Tomasz Giderewicz run Le Fournil bakery in Sligo. There is also a related Le Fournil in Donegal.
Le Fournil. Including Friday's "Clonuts"

A sweet tooth led Clo to pastries and chocolate and indeed she won two Bronze at the recent Blas Awards. She has a fiercely loyal staff and they told me in no uncertain terms that it should have been two golds! We did, of course, leave “this little corner of France” with some chocolate. If Clo “wandered” in to Sligo, some of the other café owners here wandered out, for a spell.

Sligo Food Trails neatly sums up Carolanne Rushe of Sweet Beat. “The grass will never grow under Carolanne’s feet (though if it did, she’d probably turn it into a pesto)….. Going from running a market stall on her own to employing fifteen in Sweet Beat in just two short years, Carolanne is proving that plant based cuisine can taste great.” Coffee is pretty good there too as I found out on a brief visit to Bridge Street.

It seems that many in the Sligo food scene have been abroad (not just on holidays) and Carolanne is no exception. She’s been to the Middle East, Himalayas, Australia, South Africa. An extended course in Ballymaloe helped her bring all her food knowledge together and now Sweet Beat is a revelation, even for many committed meat eaters. She describes her plant based cuisine as “just food that’s good for you”.

Aisling Kelly is another Sligo “wanderer”, having spent many years on America's West Coast. Back in Ireland she became involved in the travel industry before returning home to Sligo to open WB’s in the old family pub. A larger than life statue of WB Yeats stands a few yards away.

She had learned much about coffee on the US West Coast and now makes sure that coffee culture is alive and well on Ireland’s West Coast. They also have an unusual offering. For under a tenner, you may enjoy a couple of local oysters and a glass of Prosecco.

Ethna Reynolds, of the Nook Cafe in Collooney village, is another who wandered out, not so much from Sligo, but from her native Leitrim. But the food bug had already struck through her part-time work in cafés in her student days. Several years travelling around Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand and working in different types of kitchens helped to further mould the budding chef.
Curry Roll

And indeed those years led to the slightly exotic cuisine at The Nook where the best of local produce gets a Reynolds twist. The signature dish is perhaps the Naanwich. “We can change the menu and we do, but we can never take that one off,” one of the staff told us on our visit there for lunch.

CL picked that one. So what is the Naanwich?  A soft folded Naan bread with a Tandoori spiced mouth watering filling of Donegal buttermilk chicken, tikka mayo, house local veg pickle, local grown salad and slaw. A plateful of colour and flavour, altogether delicious, at a very reasonable price.

My pick was the Curry Roll and I was surprised by both the quantity and the quality! It’s a Tortilla wrap stuffed with curried roast chicken, Dozio’s Chilli Zing Cheese (from Mayo), Mango Chutney, Red Cabbage Slaw, Markree Farm herb tossed couscous, paprika fries. You’d have to be palate paralysed not to appreciate the flavours here. An amazing dish (€11.00) to find in a small rural village. 

No wonder though that the new venture (May 2016) is well supported and already winning awards (including Georgina Campbell Newcomer of the Year 2017). By the way, they do breakfast here as well.

There are, of course, many other cafes in Sligo, and you may check them out here on this Sligo Food Trail list.

We had a great base in the Riverside Hotel, so conveniently situated for walking to the cafes, bars and restaurants in Sligo town. It has a marvellous location on the Garavogue River, at 50.7 kms, one of Ireland's shortest. The hotel overlooks the weir. 

The lovely restaurant room, where you also take breakfast, takes full advantage of the location and you can enjoy the waters on two sides. As I say, a really convenient location and we were able to walk to bars such as the Swagman and Anderson's, cafes like WB's and Sweet Beat, and restaurants Rugatino and Embassy Steakhouse.


See also: Lough Gill Brewery
 Strandhill Food Festival
Clo's Chocolates
Rugatino of Sligo
Embassy Steakhouse





Blasket Lamb Buzz at Market Lane. Also at ORSO, Castle Cafe and Elbow Lane

Blasket Lamb Buzz at Market Lane. 
Also at ORSO, Castle Cafe and Elbow Lane



There’s always a buzz when Market Lane announces that its annual allocation of tasty Blasket Lamb has arrived! Well in case you haven’t heard, now is the time for 2017. Just a short window during which you may get it at Market Lane and its associated restaurants: ORSO, Castle Café and Elbow Lane.


Grabbed an opportunity to taste it last week, had it in both starter and mains, and enjoyed every little bit. The Oliver Plunkett Street venue was indeed buzzing as we arrived to a warm welcome and lots of info on the lamb. We had no other interest on the night, well dessert maybe, so that made it easy for our enthusiastic and well-informed server.
Starter

Time perhaps for a bit of background.
This story begins with small holder, Donnacha O Ceileachair, who raises a small flock of sheep on the Great Blasket Island. When the April-born lambs are ready, he brings them by ferry from the Island onto the mainland. Award-winning Dingle Butcher, Jerry Kennedy, selects out the premium meat for the Market Lane Group.

“The impeccable provenance of this product is reflected in its quality and flavour; we are proud to be the only restaurants in Ireland to serve it to our customers. This truly is a farm to fork experience with everybody in the supply chain really respectful and excited about the product.” – Pamela Kelly, Head Chef, Market Lane. And we met Pam on the night and delighted to be able to congratulate her  and her team on a job well done!

The starter was Spiced Blasket Lamb croquette with Velvet Cloud sheep’s yogurt, crispy mint and pomegranate. All the ingredients, including the mild spice, the chickpeas in the croquette, the smooth cooling yogurt from Mayo, each played a role in a lovely plateful.

Server Yuliyan was coming up with some excellent drink matches but we were keen to renew  acquaintance with their own Elbow Lane beers and so he recommended the Wisdom Amber Ale with the starter. He was spot-on with that as he was when suggesting the sharper Elbow lager would do well with the mains.
Dessert!

And, if the starter was five star, then the mains was all of that but even more outstanding, hors catégorie as they say in the cycling world. I’ll give you the full description: Blasket Lamb Rack and pressed lamb belly with fondant root veggies, Elbow beer vinaigrette, and buttermilk mash. This was a duo of lamb to remember, tender and tasty, perfectly cooked and served.

Would we like dessert? Well, we’ll look. Yuliyan recommended the Marmalade and vanilla bread and butter pudding. “The massive one?”, I asked (having had previous). He confirmed with a smile. We decided to share and loved it.


It is just one of about a dozen desserts here. Lots of starters too and the same applies to the mains; here you’ll see the names of local suppliers such as Coolea, Goatsbridge, St Tola, Ballinwillin, Tom Durcan, and Toonsbridge. But, at present, the Blasket Lamb is the star of the show. You’ll need to get in soon as the limited supply won't last for very long!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Amuse Bouche


View from Trocadero

The following morning, while President Sarkozy was taking Carlo Bruni for his third wife and EU operation commander General Pat Nash was taking his third cup of coffee at a Trocadero café, President Idriss Déby was taking stock of preparations for his third action against the rebels. 

He had not come too well from the previous two and now was fighting for his life. While wedding bells were ringing in the Élysée Palace, tank shells were ringing in N’Djamena.

from Into Action: Irish Peacekeepers Under Fire, 1960-2014, by Dan Harvey (2017). Recommended.

Saturday Last in Strandhill. Food Festival and more!

Saturday Last in Strandhill

Food Festival and more!

There is a weekly market in Strandhill but last Saturday was a bit special as the County Sligo resort held its inaugural Food Festival. It wasn't the best of mornings but the vast majority of the stands were under the substantial cover of Hangar No. 1, while a series of demos were held in the airport terminal building.

We had a arrived a couple of hours earlier to sample the local Voya Seaweed Baths that overlook the ocean where a surfing lesson was in progress. VOYA Seaweed Baths and organic treatments are especially recommended for those who are over worked, stressed or simply seeking an effective natural detoxifying process for the skin. Not too sure that any of those applied but I was keen to try it out.

A big welcome and then we were shown to our double bath room, the steam cabins and the baths all ready. We were warned to drink plenty of water over the next forty minutes or so and we did as we relaxed in the hot water under the seaweed, immediately feeling the oils on the skin. Good for the hair, they said. So it tried that! No miracles yet. But it was indeed a very relaxing hour.

Then, with body temperature back to normal, we headed off to the nearby airport whose car park provided ample space for the many visitors throughout the day.  On entering, you immediately noticed the colours of the improvised decor, the music (different artists from time to time) and the many and varied stalls. The large industrials space had been turned into an indoor village square.

There weren't that many primary producers there but there was no shortage of food to eat and there were many tables scattered around. But what to eat? Hawaiian Pokés? Korean Burritos? Shells Cafe were offering temptations that included Smoked Mackerel Bap and Duck Confit Burger.

So you want to know what is a Hawaiian Poké? Well it’s mainly rice and tuna and fruit and sauce. You could take one of those offered on the menu or build your own as you can see from the photo (at bottom). 

Must admit I liked the look of Joy Kitchen, particularly their Tikka Masala, and, after a second walkabout, that was the pick, a very flavoursome one as it turned out. Something sweet? Why not? The Black Sheep bakery stand was certainly busy, always a good sign. “All baked in the one oven,” said a smiling Sarah Elvey. All baked well if the two pastries we had were anything to go by!

No shortage of drinks either, including coffee from a truck, wines by the local Draft House and beer by Sligo’s White Hag. The most striking drink though was apple juice! Yes indeed, freshly squeezed apple juice from the Organic Centre.

Not too much produce that you could buy and bring home with you but we did spot some interesting bits, at the Sweet Beat stand where we met owner Carolanne Rushe. We had visited her cafe in Bridge Street in Sligo the day before and she was to do one of the cooking demos later in the afternoon.

Sweet Beat had a selection of their gut loving plant-based ferments, featuring tons of local organic produce.. from Kimchi, Sauerkraut + Kombucha to their Apple Cider Vinegar + Fermented Cashew Cheesecakes.. and were also serving up some tasty dishes all day long. Their Super Kale Pesto (with activated almonds) caught my eye and made it all the way to Cork.

Unfortunately we didn't have time for all the demos. I would have liked to have seen Prannie Rhatigan but by then we were on our way to another visit at the other side of Sligo. 

That demo stage was in the terminal building and here too the kids were kept happy with puppets, storytelling, and clowns. The festival started at noon and was scheduled to finish at eight in the evening but I did hear of at least one stall-holder who didn't leave until after ten. A long day then but a worthwhile one.

Clo's Chocolates
Rugatino of Sligo

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lovely and Central. Westport’s Clew Bay Hotel.

Clew Bay Hotel (hotel pic)

Lovely and Central. 
Westport’s Clew Bay Hotel.
Westport is a great base to visit the many attractions of Mayo and right in the heart of this County Mayo town is the Clew Bay Hotel. It looks rather small from its frontage on James Street but it has over fifty bedrooms. No parking out front, unless you’re very lucky on this one-way street, but there is a pay carpark in the rear (turn left just before the hotel) and the Clew Bay will give you a display disk to cover your stay.

Darren and Maria Madden’s three-star hotel is very well kept and I very much liked the calm decor throughout. There’s a very helpful front-desk there too. They came up with that parking disc very promptly and arranged a taxi without fuss. Little things maybe but little things count! The room was very comfortable and, very importantly, the bed was top notch. Wifi pretty good too.

We had a fairly busy schedule and didn't have time to check out the Maddens Bar or the restaurant, or indeed the Madden’s Bistro that has its own entrance from the street. Actually we did have breakfast in the impressive large restaurant room, appropriately called the Riverside as the Carrowbeg River flows just alongside; it was flowing fairly quickly last week!

Pretty good breakfast there too. I had a tip-off on their own granola; it is good and I can highly recommend it. Good choices of cooked breakfast including the Full Irish and variations thereof, also kippers. Had a big meal the night before so I settled for the French Toast with spicy egg and that hit the spot as they say. CL enjoyed her vegetarian breakfast.

Lots of things to see and do in the area, man-made such as Westport House or natural gems like the bay itself and Croagh Patrick. There is a lovely drive to the west that takes you into the splendid Doolough and its haunting famine story. And of course there is the famous Greenway if you feel like walking or biking. 

Further out, there is Achill Island, unmissable on a good day, indeed unmissable on a bad day as well. To the east, near Castlebar, there is the National Museum of Country Living. The other three national museums (Archaeology; Decorative Arts & History; and Natural History) are all in Dublin.

I was also in Westport earlier in the year. Read what I got up to here,  including dining at The Black Truffle and drinking at McGing’s.
Clew Bay and islands, from lower slopes of Croagh Patrick


Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!). Focus on quality and consistency.

Lough Gill Brewery (and Meadery!)
Focus on quality and consistency.


It’s a Friday evening and I am sitting in a classy new bar, Anderson’s, on the banks of the Garavogue in Sligo, on an ale "pilgrimage".

Back in the 1800s, Anderson’s Ale was the most popular beer in Connacht and the family owned three breweries in the province, one of them housed in this very building. The story makes my pint of Anderson’s Ale all the tastier!

The new Anderson’s Ale is produced by a new family micro brewery, the Lough Gill. And, that morning, James Ward told me that they  (he and wife Valerie) went back to the region’s roots to brew a traditional Irish ale that is their interpretation of what was originally produced. “It opened the door for us.”
Anderson's, once a brewery, now a smart pub

While Lough Gill’s initial beer looked to the past, their production now looks to the future and James sees that future in cans and in America. Their beers are geared towards the US market and their eye-catching can labels are designed by a US artist. Indeed, their brewer Tony Wickham is a Lakota Sioux from Montana.

You get the drift once you sample their Mac Nutty, a nut brown ale (with toasted macadamia nuts), similar to Newcastle Brown Ale that you may have seen in a one pint bottle. Mac Nutty is one of their regular beers and exported to the US where Lough Gill is established in New York State and Massachusetts.

The water, and the name, come from nearby Lough Gill and that was also the name of the old brewery. It is not the first brewery for James and wife Valerie. Their initial venture, the White Hag, was the first brewery in Sligo for the best part of a century. After a couple of years, he sold it to its investor group and launched Lough Gill, with Anderson’s Ale, just last November.



Now they make quite an array of beers, lots of bold flavours and tastes here, including their Round the Clock stout; recommended for breakfast as it has Flahavan’s Oatmeal included!

They mill everything on site here. “We crack it open, it’s fresh. Our focus is on quality and consistency.” Irish malts are used for all their basic beers while specially malts are sourced in Belgium.

He took us through the process. By the way, this is a steam operated brewery, a better boil, better beer. After the usual mash tun, kettle, the more unusual whirlpool, the cooling, it goes into the tank and fresh yeast is added. “We use live yeast, makes for a better product. When we make our Imperial Coffee Oatmeal Stout, the yeast goes crazy. At 11%, this stout is the strongest in Ireland.”
In Lough Gill with James (left) and brewer Tony (right)

Their four core beers are: the Mac Nutty nut brown ale, the Round the Clock stout, the Heinoweiser IPA, and the Thieving Bastards Pale ale; some of the names are a finger up to the bigger brands. The stout and the brown ale are both exported. In addition, there is the Rebel Stout Series, the Irish Punch Up Series (which has started with a  barley wine), and the Irish Wild Atlantic series (sours).

“Sour is huge in the US. We have a sour wheat beer, a Wild Rosé Ale, an Imperial Peach Sour and a Cherry sour is coming soon.” And coming soon too will be their Mead.

Didn't know they had a Meadery here when I arrived but enjoyed a taste from the tank and can confirm that Tony’s Mead is a very different take indeed. James told me that it is the oldest drink in the world, “made by women and the drink of legends”. Tony has made mead in the states where it is quite popular. And James reckons that the far east, especially Japan and China, will prove likely markets.

Amazing energy and innovation here. Must be in that Lough Gill water. Maybe in some other local liquid. Best of luck to the team here as they take Sligo brewing on to the world stage.

* That same evening, Lough Gill was awarded Best New Sligo Business 2017. James: “We have yet to reach our 1st anniversary brew day and we are extremely delighted to receive this award at such an early stage in our business.” Great to get honoured in your home town.

See also: Strandhill Food Festival
Sligo Cafés
Clo's Chocolates
Rugatino of Sligo
Embassy Steakhouse