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.
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.
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.’
This is our new festive herring, lots of citrus and winter warming spices, the pickle is drinkable!! pic.twitter.com/gEMaKyDuwy— Kirsti O Kelly (@silverdarlings1) November 26, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
locally roasted in the Ballymaloe Grainstore. Twitter: @thegoldenbean
locally-roasted plus delightful porcelain cup-and-saucer sets.
Irish specialty roasted coffee each month for 12 months.
In a swoop, both singular and fell, fine versions of two yuletide essentials from one location.
ideal with Nash 19 pudding.
superb with Xmas pud, equally splendid solo.
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.
each magnificent product a uniquely individual offering.
superb vegetable crisps.
for a superior yuletide sandwich.
fizzing fermentation from another dimension.
Veronica Molloy’s jams and relishes are some of the finest in Ireland.
for a very fine potato and celeriac mash.
The Menu’s Producer of the Year 2013
from the very extensive range sold by On The Pig’s Back
Weary of turkey? Try this sweet gamey lamb
from the very best pigs in Ireland
producers of stupendous ducks. www.skeaghanoreduck.ie
Sally Barnes’ utterly sublime Woodcock Smokery Smoked Wild Salmon (www.woodcocksmokery.com); Hedermann’s Smoked Salmon, renowned worldwide—and rightly so! (www.frankhederman.com).
Tom Durcan’s (www.tomdurcanmeats.ie) and Barry O’Connell’s (available from Nash 19)
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.
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 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.
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 inoverlooking 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 anwelcome.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.