It’s no exaggeration to say the eyes of a very nervous nation are currently trained on the Irish hospitality sector, to see how those who have chosen to reopen will fare in the days and weeks ahead.
Neither does opening bring any iron-clad promise of survival let alone success so The Menu hopes the dining Irish public will return to the best of their abilities, within the limits of their own comfort levels around personal safety, to support this so vital sector of Irish economic and social life.
And while the restaurants and cafes that do open have been working flat out to implement guidelines that arrived exceedingly late to protect their staff and customers, The Menu hopes the public will work equally hard to play their part in observing the new codes of practice because if there is any breaking of the protocols you can be very damn sure it is only the restaurants that will be punished.
The ever-progressive town of Kinsale has long recognised that a community-wide approach will always trump any individual efforts and has accordingly alighted on a concerted plan that will see street dining, pedestrianisation of certain thoroughfares, free parking and family days in an effort to compensate for indoor space lost to social distancing and any chance of outdoor day in summery Kinsale is always welcome.
In addition, the town is linking up with other locations along the Wild Atlantic Way, including Westport, in Co Mayo, for a specially tailored ‘Adventure’ staycation holiday in 2020.
The west's awake
The Galway hospitality sector has similar notions of forming an edible alliance with a Dine In Galway initiative showcasing the town’s very vibrant and varied food culture including Chinese Street Food from Xi’an Street Food, Italian pizza from The Dough Bros, falafel from The Gourmet Offensive, tapas from Cava, contemporary brunch from Dela or Bistro food from The Kings Head, and, of course, the nationally renowned Loam, Kai Restaurant & Cafe and Aniar, as well as a very decent farmer’s market on Saturday.
In addition, Galway has a substantial accommodation sector in which to house visitors of all stripes, including an old favourite of The Menu’s, The Stop B&B, just a short walk from the town centre.
One consequence of the lockdown and closure of much of the hospitality sector has been the increasing proliferation of al fresco street food trucks and trailers and The Menu is especially keen to take a trip down to Dunworley Strand in the near future to try out chef Caitlin Ruth’s new mobile enterprise for she cooked up quite a storm during her years in the late, lamented Deasy’s, in Ring, in West Cork.
There has also been a welcome ‘outbreak’ of mobile coffee stalls and The Menu kicks himself on a daily basis every time he neglects to bring money along with him on his morning cycle as the itinerary includes the Cork’s Marina, currently home to new arrival Cortado, also roasting a very interesting selection of coffee beans available via the Douglas Neighbourfood market and which The Menu hopes to bring further tidings of in the near future.
Further up river, the Kingsley Hotel, beautifully located alongside the River Lee pedestrian pathway just below the weir have opened up Bean & River, a coffee dock offering hot and cold beverages, and sweet and savoury snacks, including a range of crepes.
The Menu very much likes the cut of Dublin-based Imbibe Coffee Roasters’ jib, beginning with an ethos of social responsibility that extends far beyond mere lip service.
Their Colombian El Puente (The Bridge) is named for a bridge-building project they have funded in Planadas, enabling children to access a school and playground on the far side of a river previously forded using tree trunks.
In addition, Imbibe not only offer employees a profit-sharing scheme but also donate 1% of their annual sales to Women’s Aid. On foot of that, The Menu would be a fan even if they were flogging freeze-dried powdered coffee out of the back of a car boot.
Imbibe’s founder Gary Grant, however, has infinitely more elevated targets, determined to position the company as one of Ireland’s premium roasters.
El Puente is a characterful blend with fruity cocoa notes, while their flagship blend, Kaleidoscope is a real crowdpleaser, working both as filter and espresso without ever sacrificing quality, good body and acidity and sporting a floral nose and sweet chocolate notes.
But the extent of Grant’s ambitions become truly apparent with the current pair of offerings from Imbibe’s specialty coffee club: a wush wush from Colombia (Finca Monteverde) and a Panamanian gesha (or geisha), currently one of the world’s most exclusive and consequently pricey beans, and with both retailing at €19 for 90gm, this latter pair is most definitely for the connoisseurs and both best enjoyed as filters.
Having said that a single sampling would make connoisseurs out of cowherds.
Having indulged, the progeny have taken to hiding their piggy banks from a distinctly devious Menu: the wush wush was exceptional, mellow, medium-bodied with stone fruit and delicious malty, biscuity notes.
In the tail end of lockdown, he took the Gesha as a travelling companion on his weekly visits to visit Dear Old Sainted Mother Menu in the sanctuary of her garden, merely troubling her for some boiled water with which to ‘baptise’ yet another sensational coffee, middling of body, chocolate fruit resolving with a sublimely balanced sweetness on the palate.