Ireland, along with Denmark, is one of my favourite European destinations. The Emerald Isle has everything: warm and friendly people, fantastic and varied food scene, not to mention one that is steeped in a rich cultural heritage. And the landscape is stunning, a perfect place to go on a road trip and get lost as writer Matt Gross did and recently wrote about in this New York Times feature.
Two of London’s finest restaurants, Bentley’s and Corrigan’s Mayfair are run by the mighty Irishman Richard Corrigan, quite simply one of the best chefs in town, and ambassador for all that is so great about Irish food.
I grew up in a family with close ties to Ireland. My American grampa Jack, like many second or third generation Irish-Americans, went to catholic university Notre Dame and visited Ireland as often as he could, choosing rather conveniently to ignore his German heritage. My great uncle Walter was born in Castletownsend, West Cork and grew up in Dublin, subsequently spending most of his life working as a cardiologist in London. Since the 1970s my Norwegian father’s been travelling to Cork on business and it’s always the place he most looks forward to visiting for work. Dad says he feels at home in Ireland, which is telling for such a staunchly patriotic Norwegian!
Through their stories and anecdotes I felt as if I knew Ireland better than I knew most other countries, and had a real soft spot for all things Irish. As a teenager I became nerdily obsessed with Irish history and my first extended essay for the International Baccalaureate many moons ago was on the Irish Potato Famine. Yes, I know, mention Ireland, mention potatoes. Of course when you visit Ireland the great famine is often cited in stories not just about food, but in the context of mass Irish migration to the U.S. and of course politics as a whole. But that’s not for discussion here today!
When I finally had the opportunity to travel to Ireland in the spring of 2006 my dad treated me to a 3 day course taught by Rachel Allen at Ballymaloe Cookery School. I loved the quirky black and white illustrations of the original Ballymaloe Cookbook given to my father by Myrtle Allen on one of his many visits to Ballymaloe House. I couldn’t wait to visit one day. It was that all too brief course in 2006 that made me realise I wanted to pursue a career in food, and the subsequent 3 days of feasting in Cork and Kinsale with dad and his Irish pals gave me a glimpse of what a hidden gastronomic gem this easterly coast of Ireland really is. Outside of Norway and Japan I’ve never eaten such delicious seafood as I did in Ireland.
As you might expect, the food in Ireland is not a million miles away from what we know and love here in the UK, and I see a lot of parallels between Ireland and Scandinavia. Yet oddly, Ireland remains off most self-proclaimed epicureans’ radars. Why?
Perhaps it’s the fact it’s so accessible, it’s almost too close to home for most people to consider Ireland a place to escape to. Perhaps it’s the turbulent history of Anglo-Irish relations. Who knows, I certainly don’t have the answer. I frequently find myself telling English friends how amazing Ireland is for food and all they do is look at me as if I’m slightly demented! (Though they could be looking at me like that anyway for all I know)
So imagine the excitement when Niamh of Eat Like A Girl and Tourism Ireland arranged an #IrishEats trip to Cork and Waterford earlier this autumn for us greedy London food bloggers. My cup runneth over! There was no way I was going to miss this, and honestly it was the most comprehensive and wonderful introduction to this gastronomic haven five food bloggers (OK four food bloggers and one wine sleuth) could have asked for.
Trying to process the trip after we all returned to London proved something of a challenge. I started a new job, have been working like a dawg on several new projects and wondered how best to distill all our experiences into some meaningful posts here.
So let me start with the easy stuff: Irish Eats, the highlights! A few choice nuggets of dishes and products we sampled before zero-ing in on our stay at the ultra chic Cliff House Hotel, a cookery demo and lunch made by Paul Flynn at the Tannery, Ballymaloe Cookery School and more….
Butter is Best:
Irish Pizza, strictly speaking Ballymaloe Pizza:
Irish beverages (no eating without drinking…):
A big thank you to Aoife Finnegan and Sarah Rogers for organising such a fantastic trip. Want to learn more about Irish Eats? I highly recommend you visit Niamh’s blog Eat Like A Girl, Liz of Gastronomy Domine and Ailbhe of Simply Splendiferous for their brilliant blog posts. Sláinte ladies!