The past twelve months have seen me change career twice, and cover fewer miles than years previous, but the quality of hospitality I enjoyed just keeps improving as Ireland hits its stride once again.
Starting at the top of the country, my best meal in Northern Ireland came from the team in the Barking Dog on Belfast’s Malone Road. I often say best value restaurants in Ireland are to be found in the six counties and my meal, including Peter Hannon’s salt aged rib eye, confirmed this. The Barking Dog epitomizes the best of NI hospitality: good value, honest food and forthright service.
Northern Ireland is also where I came across my drink of the year. Belfast publican and hospitality industry stalwart Gerry White of the John Hewitt pub has brought to market his Jawbox Gin which is produced in the Echlinville Distillery in Newtownards in County Down. Named after the famous square sinks, this gin is best enjoyed with ginger ale and lime and Gerry reliably informs me that ginger ale was, in fact, invented in Belfast.
I spent much of this year learning the joys of the cheese business which brings me to my favorite recipe, Tartiflette is a dish from the French Alps made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions and is truly a joy to make and consume. You will find reblochon and everything else you need on the shelves of my favorite shop this year which is Lotts & Co on Bath Avenue in Dublin 4.
Featherblade on Dawson street gave me my best casual meal.
My most pleasant surprise was a meal in Sova Vegan Butchers. Barto Sova moved to Ireland from Poland ten years ago and has gone from working in over-priced sandwich bars to owning his own restaurant on Pleasants Place in Dublin 8. When Barto became a vegan he missed the experience of going to a restaurant to enjoy a meal, and so he has created a room where even the most skeptical of diners (including this writer) will be won over.
As I inch ever closer to my third decade weddings are becoming a staple of my summers. I had six this year and Blair’s Cove in Durrus in West Cork was the wedding venue which most impressed me. Apart from all my friends getting married, another unfortunate reality I noticed this year is that rapidly rising Dublin rents are making it difficult for young chefs to set up shop and has forced talent out into the suburbs. Renting anything in Dublin these days, home or business, has gone beyond a joke and is going to have negative effects on how we live and work in our cities into the future.
On a sadder note: West Cork lost one of its great characters of the food world with the loss of Frankie Murphy, Frankie’s larger than life personality and delicious burgers will be missed by many who frequent the various West Cork farmer’s markets.
Towards the latter half of the year my attention turned to Irish whiskey and I thoroughly enjoyed an Irish Whiskey Appreciation Course with Mark McLaughlin of the esteemed Dublin wine merchants Mitchell and Sons.
And, finally, my Meal of the Year was with a group of friends at the Chef’s Table in Dublin’s Chapter One, where Ross Lewis and his team provided an eight course tasting menu with matching wines which I will never be able to do justice to with words. It was a bittersweet night because I won’t be able to enjoy a meal like it for a quite some time again as, the following week, I temporarily relocated to the US to embark on a new adventure. Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.