From food to fashion, it's the highlights of 2018

From food to fashion to movies, our critics reveal their highlights for 2018. They let us know the best thing I...


Annmarie O’Connor on fashion

Annmarie O'Connor in corduroy

Anyone who lives in Ireland knows, winter is never a sure thing (see also: spring, summer, autumn). 

Getting dressed requires cross-referencing at least three weather reports and a quick prayer to Saint Jude. 

When you don’t know whether to play it safe in a metric tonne of wool or risk hypothermia rather than carry a coat, split the difference and stick to this season’s hero fabric – corduroy.

Although bubbling under the trend radar since 2017, velvet’s notions-free cousin has rightfully taken its place among this year’s top fashion trends. 

Fustian enough to fend off a westerly wind but still able to accommodate an unseasonal temperature spike, consider corduroy a peri-menopausal weather foil.

Which therein begs the question: how does one carry it off without looking like a history professor, Woody Allen or an extra in That 70s Show? 

Simple – play to your opposites. 

Drape a cord blazer over a floral dress and corset strap heels or a pussy bow blouse, vintage jeans and chunky-soled trainers. 

Feeling brave? Work it head-to-toe in a lady-tux ensemble by night and deconstruct with savvy separates by day. 

What’s not to love?


Declan Burke on movies

Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong, First Man, could easily have been a nostalgic, flag-waving exercise in American technological superiority. 

Instead, Josh Singer’s script built the story of the first man to step onto the moon around Armstrong’s private grief – indeed, the subtext suggests that Armstrong was so devastated by the death of his two-year-old daughter from a brain tumour that he was driven to go into space in order to leave behind a pain he found himself unable to process. 

Ryan Gosling was perfectly cast as the understated Armstrong, whom he portrays as an unusually introspective American hero and a man suffering from wounds that time cannot heal, and who discovers himself increasingly alienated from his wife, Janet (Claire Foy). 

The story doesn’t neglect the epic quality of the story, of course, and brilliantly depicts the claustrophobic horror of being shot into space in what amounted to glorified tin cans. 

Ultimately, it’s that blend of the jaw-droppingly epic and the heartbreakingly intimate that delivers a three-tissue emotional climax when the Eagle finally touches down on the lunar surface, and Armstrong steps out into the Sea of Tranquility to take that one small step for man, and a giant leap for mankind.


Ed Power on music

Kendrick Lamar has become the most fascinating figure in hip-hop even as he has broken many of the fundamental rules of the genre. 

He shrinks from braggadocio while his music –glowering and stripped-back – adopts the revolutionary (by hip hop standards) idea that less is more. 

And he turns up for interviews on time (at least judging by this writer’s meeting with him in 2013). 

All of which is to say he is a singular force in rap – perhaps in pop in a wider sense.

This was made searingly clear in February as he opened the European leg of his Damn tour at 3Arena in Dublin. 

The performance was a bravura feat of high-concept minimalism. 

Lamar’s band stood in the wings, the rapper, dressed in flowing robes, commanding the spotlight alone.

He glittered darkly through the two hour performance. 

Lamar’s rhyming was a ferocious staccato while the music had a spasmodic grace. 

There was humour too, with the accompanying videos leaning archly into the 31 year old Los Angeleno’s “Kung Fu Kenny” persona.

Lamar’s rise has not been without hyperbole, with some of his cheerleaders hailing him his generation’s Bob Dylan or one-person Beatles. 

We’re too close to the moment to properly assess what his legacy is likely to be. 

On a cold afternoon in Dublin in February he felt like the most important artist on the planet.


Joe McNamee and Leslie Williams on food

Rob Krawczyk at his Michelin-starred Restaurant Chestnut

Hogget was my standout dish from Rob Krawczyk, in Restaurant Chestnut, in Ballydehob, in April, an early signal of something truly special afoot while the stunning simplicity of a fresh pea-based starter reminded that chef Martijn Kaijuiter (Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore) remains a unique and vital talent. 

A good book was the only dining companion needed at Dax, Dublin, in June, relishing Graham Neville’s exquisite Lobster Ravioli before meeting friends for a stirring Microdisney reunion gig, at the NCH. 

Summer dining abroad, a mixed bag, largely equated to: France, poor; Spain, good (though still inferior to my favourite Irish meals of the year).

Steamed cod with seaweeds in Mews, in Baltimore, in August, was sublime while Da Mirco, in Cork, in October, with two of my closest friends and No 1 Son was the very definition of (hilarious!) bonding over food. 

No 1 Son and another old comrade were also present for a very lovely recent lunch in an eternal favourite, the English Market’s Farmgate Café; I predict our upcoming ‘return match’, shorn of post-prandial commitments, allowing lunch to ‘stretch’ on until it is time to go to the pub for our Christmas drink will be my best meal of 2018.


Picking my best meals of the year is challenging but picking my worst is easy – The Ivy, where everything was woefully industrial and overcooked including bizarrely the Beef Tartare.

But back to the good. Klaw Seafood Café was my best seafood of the year - brilliantly light and flavourful takes on everything from oysters to fish and chips. 

Solas Tapas in Dingle also deserves a mention.

Best meat dish is a toss-up between the Dexter Beef Tartare in Richmond (with a side of tempura ox-tongue) and the lightly fried slices of Broughgammon Goat Heart in Assassination Custard.

On the ethnic front Pickle and Ananda were both outstanding this year and Ananda has the bonus of a fine new wine list. 

Overall my best restaurant experiences were in Chapter One where I ate two flawless lunches and one flawless dinner. 

Gregan’s Castle was in fine form under new chef Robert McCauley and L’Ecrivain and Greenhouse were as good as ever. 

Best fried chicken I ate was in Mad Egg, best pizza was Pi Pizza and best burger is still Bunsen with Bujo in Sandymount a close second.



Leslie Williams on wine

It was the year Natural Wine went mainstream in Ireland. 

Aldi released an Orange skin-contact wine and I started to see the words ‘natural’ as a selling point from Galway (Tartare) to Cork (l’Attitude 51) to Dublin (Greenman, Loose Cannon and Bar Giuseppe).

While the word ‘natural’ is hard to define it generally means organic grapes, spontaneous fermentation on wild yeasts, no filtration and low or zero added sulphur. 

The pure fruits that the good examples contain are instantly recognisable, and the low sulphur also keeps the PH low and brings out primary fruit flavours.

The best I tasted this year was undoubtedly Château Le Puy ‘Emilien’ 2015 (€38 - Greenman Wines, Baggot St. Wines), brimming with dark chocolate and blackberry tinged fruits with admirable purity, brightness and depth. 

My second natural pick is Gran Cerdo (€15 Bradleys, l’Attitude 51, Bradleys, Le Caveau) from Spain (Rioja), a gorgeously ripe and brashly fruity organic Tempranillo that shows off the natural wine making style perfectly. 

For my top white I’m also going natural with Broc Cellars ‘Love’ White (€30 Bradleys, Greenman, Alex Findlater Limerick) – textured and complex with honeyed floral aromas and lingering lemon balm and pear flavours.


Rachel Marie Walsh on beauty

YourGood - Skin Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser,€11.99

In a year filled with facial-gadgets and wellness-inspired exotica, it seems unlikely I would be especially pleased with a cleanser. 

YourGoodSkin Nourishing Hot Cloth Cleanser, €11.99, has lots going for it, however and I like to spotlight something in a category everyone needs to shop, that does what it says on the tube and does it well.

This is the best of YourGoodSkin’s eight cleansers (the Boots Walgreen brand does not skimp on choice). 

The two-step concept is not new. 

Both Liz Earle and Aldi do cream cleansers you take off with cloths but I have recommended against both before because of the potential irritants in their formulas. 

All you really need after any cleanser is to be thoroughly clean without dryness or irritation. 

The removal of debris from skin allows natural oils to reach the surface unimpeded, decreasing the chances of a breakout. 

It also prevents eye irritation and helps skin to absorb other products. 

This cleanser whips off dirt, excess oil and all kinds of makeup with no need for rubbing or scrubbing. 

It rinses cleanly and calms skin with glycerin, shea butter and a couple of antioxidants.


Des O’Driscoll on the arts

In the long journey from page to stage for an issue-based drama, there’s always the danger that the prescient topic that initially drove it along will become yesterday’s news by the time opening night comes around.

If only it were so with Asking For It.

The adaptation of Louise O’Neill’s 2015 novel centered on 18-year-old Emma, a bright and confident student whose life goes off the rails following a sexual assault at a party.

At any time, a well-told story about a girl’s life being destroyed in this way would make for an emotional experience.

The charged atmosphere at Asking For It’s premiere run at the Everyman in Cork was given a further turbo-boost by the fact that it came in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the high-profile debate about consent that followed the Belfast rape trial.

Lauren Coe as Emma in Asking For It. Picture: Hugh O'Connor

To add to the ludicrous relevance of some of the issues raised, the play’s subsequent run at the Abbey in November coincided with a rape trial in Cork that had the issue of a teenager’s underwear being raised as evidence.

Trying to rank works of creativity is always a mug’s game. 

Perhaps the past 12 months had ‘better’ plays or films or gigs than Asking For It; it’s unlikely that any were as important.


Rick O’Shea on books

The best book I read this year was without a shadow of a doubt 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by an Israeli author called Yuval Noah Harari.

Sapiens was his first book and it was written about the history of the human race right the way from the very beginning where we all started up until the present day.

It is one of those books that open your mind and you come out of it thinking, ‘I never thought of the history human race that way’. 

I enjoyed his second book, but not as much and he has blown me out of the water with this new one.

The genius of this book is that he deals with 21 different subjects that affect all of us in our daily lives.

So, he talks about everything from the nature of news to the state of education to where our jobs are all going with the advances of Artificial Intelligence to the environment.

He deals with them all in bite-size chapters that are really easy to digest.

I read a lot of non-fiction and sometimes he manages to encapsulate all of what you’ve read and heard about a single subject in ten pages and that is really hard to do.

It’s a brilliant primer for anyone who is fascinated by the world and how it works, and even for someone who doesn’t read a lot of non-fiction but is interested and passionate about the world around them.

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