That was the year that was!
When you go over the hill, you go faster. And certainly this year, 2019, went faster!
|Cask "toasting". Wine, Whiskey and Beer evening at the Franciscan Well|
It was a good one though, some terrific visits to producers of all kinds, delicious meals, excellent stays at everything from B&Bs to five star hotels and friendly festivals as well.
And great to be able to confirm that friendliness is still a huge and engaging factor in the Irish hospitality sector. There were warm welcomes, above and beyond, in many places and our front of house laurels go to:
and to the entire team at Wicklow Heather in Laragh.
On the Gastro Pub scene, you’ll find it hard to beat the Victor led front of house at O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill. And in accommodation, the nod goes to Mary T and the Sweeney family at Castle Grove House in Donegal. Always a terrific welcome too at both the Trident in Kinsale and the Celtic Ross in Rosscarbery. Top guesthouses: Perryville (Kinsale) and Sheedy’s (Doolin).
Breakfast is a key part of accommodation of course and we came across some gems this year. Aldridge Lodge in Wexford is absolutely outstanding while Sheedy’s of Doolin is another excellent place. I don't do breakfasts in restaurants often but ORSO in Cork gets an honourable mention! The most impressive breakfast room we came across is the beautiful conservatory in the Quay House in Clifden and the breakfast is good too as it is in Kinsale’s Perryville.
O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill is an outstanding venue for pub grub while Gallagher’s in MacCurtain Street Cork impressed on a pre-theatre visit.
Great variety in the restaurant scene nowadays, including the famed vegetarian (and wine!) offering at Cafe Paradiso, also on Leeside. Crab claws were superb at Pier 26 (Ballycotton) and Naughton's (Kilkee) while the best steak was served at Liberty Grill (Cork). Hard to beat Nash 19 Cork for pork and the Market Lane group for lamb (especially when the Blasket Lamb is available). When it comes to variety on the menu, Cork’s Dockland is the place to be.
Enjoyed the Palestinian fare at Izz in Cork though the ethnic highlight was the Pickle Pop-up with Sunil Ghai in Sage Midleton. Another good one was Richy's Curry Series with his excellent Indian chef Meeran Gani.
Lunch is an important time if you're on the road. The Woollen Mills Café in Foxford , St Francis Provisions (Kinsale), TIA in Louisburgh are all worth noting - great salads and more. In Cork city, put the Farmgate (celebrating 25 years) and Crawford Gallery Cafe on your list, not forgetting Vikki's in Sunday's Well, O'Callaghan's (Mitchelstown) and Seasalt in Cobh. Something more substantial? Then put Tramore’s Copper Hen in your diary. And go for the lunch tasting menu at Greene’s Cork if you are looking for something really special. Off for an afternoon? Why not the extra special Afternoon Tea in the River Lee Hotel?
We enjoyed a few special dinners. The Sake dinner at Ichigo Ichie was outstanding. Great company, wine and food at the Rizzardi Wine dinner in Courtmacsherry’s Lifeboat Inn. And fantastic wine and fish at a FEAST event in the Bayview. And another excellent night was the Barnabrow Gourmet Evening with ENO Wines.
Indeed, FEAST was our top festival this year. It has made huge strides in recent years. The Pickle Pop-up here was a good one and another very enjoyable meal was the Picado Mexican Pop-up during the West Waterford Festival.
Oh, I nearly forgot dessert. Indeed, I’ve been known to skip it sometimes. But two that I remember with pleasure are the Mocha Choca Yumma at the Ballymaloe Cookery School Garden Café Truck and the Apple and Berry Crumble at the Copper Hen (Tramore).
|Dessert at Ballymaloe CS truck|
On the wine side, there was a very impressive Spit 2019 day in the River Lee. Best wine bar we visited was the Gallery in Westport. More and more non-alcoholic drinks, good ones, are coming on the market and our favourite this year is the Highbank Orchards Organic Drivers Cider.
A couple of excellent distillery visits too including to Clonakilty and Powerscourt (both new). Perhaps the most memorable was the lovely Pearse Lyons distillery in Dublin’s Liberties, big thanks there to our guides Bernard and James.
Speaking of guides, we had the lovely Karen Coakley include us on her excellent Kenmare Food Tour, lots of good food and variety in this small Kerry town. Kenmare is excellent but our top town of 2019 for good drink, excellent food and off-the-scale craic is Clonakilty. My highlight in Clon is the annual Street Carnival. In the city, we enjoyed the Long Table Walk in June and the Gourmet Trail (part of the Oyster Fest) in September. And in mid-summer, we thoroughly enjoyed a West Cork Farm Tour where another three top class guides - the O'Donovan family - showed us around..
Can’t go without mentioning pizza. I know there are many good ones around nowadays but my nod goes to newcomer Curley Stu (check his Facebook here for venues) and the well established Pompeii (regulars at the Franciscan Well and in Waterville for the summer).
|Lunch at Greene's|
For comfort and ticking all the other restaurant boxes as well, it has to be the Cornstore in Cork. Always a good atmosphere here. This year though the best buzz we came across was at Tapas de Lola (Dublin) and The Bullman (Kinsale).
Always get around to the farmers markets and it usually pays off! And it paid off on the double when we called to Killavullen before Christmas as it was here that we found the best ever Mince Pies (Noirin) and the best ever Sausage Rolls (Ciaran).
Some Random Bits
Top walks for auld fellas: Knockadoon, Ballycotton Cliff Walk, Nire Valley Gap, Bray Head (Valentia) and Carrigfadda (West Cork).
Film: Satan and Adam (Netflix)
Books: Beautiful Affair (Mike Hanrahan), Suzy Suzy (William Wall), Rewind (Catherine Ryan Howard), all different but each with a strong East Cork connection.
Museum: Little Museum of Dublin.
So that was 2019, or at least a summary. If you have any suggestions for 2020, you know where to find me!