Irish Eats

Irish potatoes at Midleton Farmer's Market

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….

Queen of the food bloggers Niamh with her Taytos! We food bloggers don't just go for high end cuisine you know

Tucking in to Paul Flynn's bouillabaisse at the Tannery cookery school

Wet walnut from Ballymaloe gardens

Ballymaloe rosehips

Irish Bread:

Arbutus bread made with Irish stout, simply delicious

Soda breads made according to Cliff House Hotel recipe back here in London

Ducks & Skulls...no I have no idea why they named their bread that either!

Irish Seafood:

K. O'Connell smoked salmon, my dad always brings this back from Cork

Tannery Bouillabaisse cooked by Paul Flynn's fair hands

Bantry Bay organic salmon with beetroot and oak smoke from Cliff House Hotel tasting menu

Crab pie from Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, one of the best seafood pies EVER

Crab claws at Fishy Fishy

Irish Beef:

McGrath's Butchers in Lismore, County Waterford. A family butcher that goes back to the early 1800s

Spiced beef, a Cork speciality

Irish Cheese:

Smoked Gubbeen...mmm...

The Irish like naming cheeses Gabriel, Desmond, etc.

The green sticker says it all: Love Irish Food.

More cheese please

Butter is Best:

Buttered eggs! Genius

Bog Butter...just kidding, we didn't sample anything from a bog. At least I think we didn't...

Irish Pizza, strictly speaking Ballymaloe Pizza:

Ballymaloe's fantastic Saturday pizza

Irish beverages (no eating without drinking…):

The Little Irish Apple Company juice

Morning Growler coffee from Cork Coffee Roasters

Perfect Irish Coffee at Fishy Fishy

Barry's Tea, stock up on this when in Ireland. It's scarily addictive

Wise words

Quite simply the greatest tea pot I've ever seen. Ballymaloe Cookery School I salute you.

Dungarvan Brewing Company: fantastic beer

You can't leave Cork without sampling a Murphy's (we sampled rather more than we needed to)

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!

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10 Responses to Irish Eats

  1. Ailbhe says:

    It was such a great food trip wasn’t it. I had almost forgotten the crab pie! How could I sooo delicious. Lovely range of photos We have to all go on another food trip again – such great company! The Cliff House Hotel brown soda looked perfect Sig! Lovely post as always x

    • Ailbhe, it was such a whirlwind weekend – so much to take in and see and people to meet and food to EAT! What fun. Thanks for being excellent company, you must come round sometime for Cliff House Hotel soda bread and smoked salmon :)

  2. Helen says:

    ooh Milleen’s – one of my all time favourite cheeses. You’re right, I haven’t ever considered Ireland as a holiday destination. I wonder if it is something to do with it being so close. Then again, I don’t hesitate to visit Cornwall, probably because I had a lot of family there. Anyway, definitely something to think about.

    • Cornwall’s a wonderful location for visiting family, I envy you Helen. If you get a chance pop over to Ireland, I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you love food :)

  3. Meeta says:

    Brilliant read. Norway, Denmark and Ireland are my top three European destinations – I’ve managed the first two now only Ireland awaits me to discover it like only a foodie would want to discover it. This was a great read Sig.

  4. winesleuth says:

    You’ve inspired me to write up my post about our trip! I just didn’t know where to start…

  5. Sleuthie I think you can be forgiven for not posting, after all you’ve been at the wine bloggers conference and jetted off to Argentina!! Look forward to reading your thoughts on the trip. Start somewhere, anywhere! I wasn’t sure how to make sense of all the amazing things we saw and tasted so I opted for the products first….xx

  6. Foodwriter says:

    Sounds like a great trip – and great pix, Sig. Any chance of posting the recipe for that crab pie?

  7. Thanks Foodwriter, would love to snaffle the recipe for Fishy Fishy’s crab pie, will see if I can get a hold of it…

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