The Menu’s Munchie Awards 2014: The best of Irish food and drink

The Menu returns once again with his Yuletide roundup of the very best of 2014 to fill the Christmas Hamper as well as his food awards, The Munchies, a tip of the hat to those who labour long and hard to make local, sustainable Irish produce to a world-class standard.

The Menu’s Munchie Awards 2014: The best of Irish food and drink

Food Emporium of the Year

Bradley’s, North Main St, Cork.

It has deeply gladdened The Menu’s little heart to witness the ongoing rise of small independent stores selling finest local Irish produce including: Ballintemple Food Stores; O’Keeffe’s, St Luke’s; Menloe Stores, Blackrock; The Roughty Foods, in the English Market.

Michael Creedon’s third-generation family business, Bradley’s, hosts a continually evolving stock, a fine cross-section of Irish produce, the selection of wines and spirits is excellent but it is the breathtaking craft beer range, probably biggest and best in Ireland that clinches the award.

www.bradleysofflicence.ie

Farmer’s Market of the Year

Coal Quay Saturday Food Market

The Menu relishes his weekly visits to farmer’s markets around the country. When West, he heads for Schull, Skibbereen, Bandon or Bantry (though, frustratingly, has yet to make the Sheep’s Head market). The vibrant little Killaloe Farmer’s Market is in a divine location and Mahon Market and Douglas Market remain two of the very best in the country but this year’s Munchie goes to The Coal Quay Saturday Food Market. Though small, and in need of a good cheese stall, it is most perfectly formed.

(www.facebook/CoalQuaySaturdayFoodMarket)

Product of the year

Silver Darlings

It is rare in this golden age of Irish food to encounter an entirely new type of product; rarer still when that product turns out to be world class but some months ago, The Menu decreed Silver Darlings Nordic-style herring to be ‘one of the finest new products to grace his plate in many a long moon.’

Kirsti Kelly’s stunning range of pickled fish includes a traditional dill-heavy number but it was the sandalwood pickle that utterly stole The Menu’s heart.

www.silverdarlings.ie

Producer of the Year

Tom Clancy, Ballycotton Free Range Poultry

Those lucky enough to have gained access to the inner sanctum that is The Menu’s Christmas table, will be aghast to hear he is considering an alternative to his usual bronze turkey from Ballycotton Free Range Poultry.

But fret not, salivating souls, as he is instead contemplating using one of Tom Clancy’s ducks or possibly even a goose.

Tom’s market stall, like Tom himself, is a discreet affair but a single sampling of his free-range poultry leads to a lifetime’s ruination as any other bird eaten thereafter will pale next to what The Menu considers the finest poultry in Ireland.

Book of the Year

Dan Barber – The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (Penguin)

In another great year for cookbooks, Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider by Caroline Hennessy & Kristin Jensen (New Island) is an excellent Irish craft beer primer while the re-issued Ballymaloe Cookbook by Myrtle Allen (Gill & MacMillan) remains probably The Menu’s most treasured cookbook of all.

But this year’s winner is extra special. Author Dan Barber is a renowned and hugely-respected American chef but there is nary a recipe to be found.

Rather it is part treatise, part polemic, unflinchingly addressing the problem of an unsustainable and truly doomed industrial global food machine.

To those who prefer food-themed literature firmly rooted in the light and fluffy, sections will make for grim reading but it is a truth that needs to be told — and, more importantly, heard.

And, suspects The Menu, a message with which Myrtle Allen would heartily concur.

Person of the Year

Derry Clarke

L’Ecrivain’s chef/proprietor would make a fine winner at any time but his herculean efforts to raise funds for suicide charity Console (www.console.ie) on foot of his son’s death included marathon cycles in Ireland and abroad as well as pop-up fine dining restaurants.

The Menu, like so many in Ireland, knows the heartbreak of losing a dear loved one in this manner but remains humbled by Clarke’s superhuman response in the face of such a blow.

The Menu’s Christmas Hamper

Golden Bean Coffee: locally roasted in the Ballymaloe Grainstore. Twitter: @thegoldenbean

Badger & Dodo Coffee: locally-roasted plus delightful porcelain cup-and-saucer sets.

www.badgeranddodo.ie

Coffee Connoisseur’s Club Membership: Irish specialty roasted coffee each month for 12 months.

www.robert-roberts.ie

Peppermint Farm Herbal Teas: www.peppermintfarm.com

Nash 19 Christmas Pudding and Mince Pies: In a swoop, both singular and fell, fine versions of two yuletide essentials from one location.

www.nash19.com

G’s Brandy Butter: ideal with Nash 19 pudding.

www.gsgourmetjams.ie

Yum Gelato Hazelnut Ice Cream: superb with Xmas pud, equally splendid solo.

www.facebook/yumgelato

The Chocolate Shop Christmas Hamper: Niall Daly’s English Market stall is Ireland’s No. 1 chocolate emporium, featuring the best of Irish and world chocolate, including Shana Wilkie’s very first Irish bean-to-bar chocolate.

www.chocolate.ie

Cookies of Character: each magnificent product a uniquely individual offering.

www.regale.ie

The Lismore Food Company Irish All Butter Irish Shortbread: www.thelismorefoodcompany.com

Joe’s Farm Crisps: superb vegetable crisps.

www.facebook.com/joesfarmcrisps

Keogh’s Roast Turkey & Stuffing Crisps: for a superior yuletide sandwich.

www.keoghs.ie

Raw Sauerkraut with Carrot & Fennel: fizzing fermentation from another dimension.

www.facebook.com/

theculturedfoodco

www.facebook/theculturedfoodcompany

Crossogue Preserves: Veronica Molloy’s jams and relishes are some of the finest in Ireland.

www.crossoguepreserves.com

Heaven Preserve Us Cranberry & Orange Relish:

www.facebook.com/heaven.preserve.us.cork

Improper Butter Cashel Blue Butter: for a very fine potato and celeriac mash.

www.improperbutter.com

Nutcase Vegetarian Nutroast: www.NutcaseCo.ie

Ballyhoura Mushrooms: The Menu’s Producer of the Year 2013

www.ballyhouramushrooms.ie

Duck Liver Pate, Venison Terrine: from the very extensive range sold by On The Pig’s Back

www.onthepigsback.ie

Comeragh Mountain Lamb: Weary of turkey? Try this sweet gamey lamb

www.comeraghmountainlamb.ie

Woodside Farm Ham: from the very best pigs in Ireland

www.woodsidefarm.ie

Skeaghanore Smoked Duck Breast: producers of stupendous ducks. www.skeaghanoreduck.ie

Smoked Salmon: Sally Barnes’ utterly sublime Woodcock Smokery Smoked Wild Salmon (www.woodcocksmokery.com); Hedermann’s Smoked Salmon, renowned worldwide—and rightly so! (www.frankhederman.com).

Spiced Beef: Tom Durcan’s (www.tomdurcanmeats.ie) and Barry O’Connell’s (available from Nash 19)

Jack McCarthy’s Boudin Noel sumptuous seasonal black pudding. www.jackmccarthy.ie

The Irish Cheeseboard: world-class Irish cheeses including: Durrus, Gubbeen and Milleens, Hegarty’s Cheddar, Crozier Blue, Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese and The Menu’s latest favourite, Humming Bark, from Carrigbyrne.

Gubbeen Cheese Biscuits: www.gubbeen.com

Craft Beers: limited edition Christmas brews: 8Degrees Brewing Co’s Double Irish Imperial; Dungarvan Brewing Company’s Coffee & Oatmeal Stout; St Mel’s Brewing Co Raisin & Oatmeal Stout raisin; White Gypsy Yule Ól; Rascal’s Brewing Chocolate Ginger Porter.

The Menu Abroad

The Menu is often hard-pressed to tell his asal from his elbow because Neidín, the hardest working donkey in the Irish food business, passes much of the year ferrying his master’s mighty frame around our fair island. Here are some highlights from this year’s Travels With Neidín.

Meal of the Year

Chef Stephen Toman,Ox, Belfast. www.oxbelfast.com

Chef Graham Neville, Restaurant 41, Dublin. www.restaurantfortyone.ie

As the tailor charged with overseeing the annual expansion of The Menu’s waistband can confirm, The Menu finds it impossible to settle for just one of anything.

On a glorious summer’s eve, The Menu sat down in Restaurant 41 overlooking Stephen’s Green and one dish stood above all: prawn and scallop pureed with cream, steamed in a courgette flower, surrounded by a moat of lovage sauce, a chirpy counterpoint to this effortlessly elegant piscine perfection.

Winter had already set up shop in Belfast by the time The Menu checked in which only further enhanced the warmth of an Ox welcome.

First, their incredible gin bar before a sumptuous dinner, the highlight, haybaked celeriac, sweet, earthy, aniseed notes of its near-meat-like flesh burnished by carmelised sugars of a black garlic puree and burnt onion powder.

Food Festival of the Year

Savour Kilkenny

The Menu was received at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival with open arms.

And fine Irish craft beers. Which he received with equally open arms, almost missing his stage slot for Can The Critics Cook but mercifully the event appeared to pass off without further incident and most judges were able to eat again within the fortnight.

Kilkenny is a polished gem where good food is almost as highly valued as hurling, and boasts very fine local producers and splendid restaurants.

The festival is a superb showcase.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year

The Cranky Yankee’s Corn Dogs

2am in the Body & Soul Arena at Electric Picnic and The Menu is with his great compadre in culinary carousing, dashing young Irish Examiner wine scribe Leslie Williams, when Dr Williams rattles off the only prescription for all woes, past, present or future— the Corn Dog!

It seems the Cranky Yankee himself, one Nick Hines, afflicted with a bad case of the love, finds himself hitched to a Tullamore lass and, to pass the time, resolves to introduce the Gael to that epicurean treasure from his native Minneapolis, the ‘banquet on a stick’, a frankfurter sausage, dipped in a corn batter and deepfried.

Traditionally served with or without mustard, Hines, in a concession to the Gael, also offers ketchup.

Requests for further fripperies, mayo and the like, are met with industrial strength crankiness.

The Menu’s first bite leaves him distinctly underwhelmed. The second trips a switch as corn dog molecules reach that section of the brain formerly reserved for responding to crack cocaine.

And, now, it seems, corn dogs as well.

www.facebook.com/CrankyYankeeCornDogs 

Best Sustainable Food Initiative

Bia Food Bank

So close to home, a trip to a Little Island warehouse may not overly tax Neidín but this is the base of the very splendid Bia Food Bank.

Taking surplus food otherwise to be disposed of as waste, it redistributes it to those most in need and is a superb example of a socially responsible, environmentally sound, sustainable food system.

The business community has embraced it wholeheartedly with many of the big multiples already on board.

www.biafoodbank.ie

Food Moment of the Year

The Big Shed, Ballymaloe Litfest 2014

The world’s greatest assembly of food writers and chefs produced numerous highlights but eclipsing all was the synergy that arises when you deviate from the script and these great culinary creatives start spark ing off each other.

Every moment spent there added up to The Menu’s food moment of the year.

www.litfest.ie

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