A Culinary Tour of Ireland
Who knew that it was the French – not a race renowned for their love of the humble spud (frites aside) – who were responsible for bringing the potato to Ireland? The continental conquerors, more specifically the Normans, who had remained in England after invading in 1066, sailed over to Ireland in the 12th century, bringing wheat, peas and beans with them, followed by potatoes in the late 1500s. In addition to new raw ingredients, French cooking styles began to infiltrate the Irish upper classes while the poorer population embraced spuds as their staple diet. So much so that when the Great Potato Famine swept in from Belgium almost 700 years later, decimating the country’s crop, one million people starved and two million more were forced to emigrate. Nobody could have predicted that Ireland would make such a meteoric culinary comeback, rising from the ashes to become one of the world’s foremost foodie destinations. And now, the potato once again reigns supreme, with the Irish consuming more mash than anywhere else in the world.
But it’s unfair to limit a country full of cracking cooks to one vegetable. Ireland is known for its proliferation of fresh, local ingredients and indulgent recipes. Most traditional dishes contain few herbs or spices, except for salt and pepper, with puritans instead preferring to include an optional sauce or gravy on the side. The Irish are also accomplished cheese makers and have put their names to about 50 different varieties to date. Dairy aside, no Gaelic menu is complete without a soup or two – always thick, hearty and filling with a hunk of bread on the side. Seafood is also big business, with the Irish coastline serving up some of the best fish in Europe, including salmon, scallops, lobster, mussels and oysters. Weirdly, while the local catch of the day draws in the restaurant crowds, meat is more frequently the star of the show in Irish homes, with beef and lamb appearing regularly on family dinner tables.
Another staple, served in homes and restaurants alike, is Irish stew. Traditionally, an ad hoc mix of lamb, potatoes and carrots, seasoned with salt and pepper, bay leaves, thyme and parsley, there are now variations aplenty, if you’re brave enough to try them. Historically a working-class creation, crafted from cheaper mutton cuts, purists would have you believe there’s no other way to make it, despite some pretty tasty beef and Guinness-infused alternatives now doing the rounds. Whatever your preference, Ireland in 2012 is a culinary joy with dozens of award-winning restaurants to visit. Read on to discover the best Irish foodie venues and events and learn how to prepare some Irish classics of you own
Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
Ireland’s only two Michelin-starred spot fuses the best local ingredients with a fine dining vibe. Start with the light fennel soup langoustine ravioli followed by the fillet of wild salmon with cucumber chutney, broadbeans and red sorrel and make sure you leave room for the selection of French and Irish farmhouse cheeses.
The House, the Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co Waterford
Known as much for its views and eclectic design as its food, a trip to one Michelinstarred The House is a must for any foodie visit to Ireland. Described as Irish cuisine with international expertise, expect a location as fantastic as the menu. Start with the BallinWillin partridge followed by the Helvick turbot and finish with the hazelnut souffle, if you can squeeze in three courses.
Fishy Fishy, Kinsale, Co Cork
A fresh and funky beach spot with top-notch seafood.
Lively city centre bistro serving scrumptious French classics.
The White Sage, Adare, Co Limerick
It’s a picturesque village eatery, described as fine food but not fine dining.
Irish Foodie Events to look out for
Waterford Food Festival, Waterford
12 to 15 April
A meeting point for Michelin star chefs, artisan food producers and visitors of all ages. Seaweed seminars, food foraging trails, baking courses, restaurant trails, cookery demonstrations, picnics, barbeques and more, including a farmers market extravaganza.
31 May to 4 June
Ireland’s much loved gardening, food and family festival. Spectacular show gardens, floral displays, the Bord Bia Food Village and five days of live entertainment for all ages.
Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, The Curragh Kildare
29 June to 1 July
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby will again welcome the Good Food Ireland Village showcasing the triumph of Irish food producer’s tasty morsels, healthy food options, natural organic produce and a multitude of other food and drink specialities from across Ireland. Don’t miss another all-time great festival of food, fashion and racing.
Savour Kilkenny, Kilkenny
25 to 29 October
Celebrating Kilkenny’s food heritage against the dramatic backdrop of Kilkenny Castle. Open-air markets on the parade plaza showcase the best of local and regional produce, workshops and demonstrations from artisan producers.