Dining in Ireland, Artisanally
Ireland’s focus on artisanal ingredients was a delightful surprise for two roving gourmands on assignment for FoodieS.
Derrie Clark frowns when talking about staple Irish dishes like corned beef and cabbage–or worse yet, Irish stew with potatoes. “Traditional dishes get abused with cheaper ingredients,” says the chef patron of l’Ecrivain, for decades deemed one of Dublin’s best restaurants.
“Food does not travel. Wine does not travel,” Derrie says, sitting on a stool in l’Ecrivain’s bar before dinner service. Instead of chasing exotic flavors and culinary trends, Derrie wants diners at his one-Michelin-star place to focus on what local artisanal farms are producing.
“Take your Irish Farmhouse Cheese dessert, for example,” I say. It’s served simply, with only chutney, crackers and a baguette. Derrie smiles, saying he spent a long time looking for that specific artisanal soft cheese, which is made by a local father/daughter team and their stable of exactly five cows.
While Ireland might not yet be in the middle of a culinary revolution, despite its 11 Michelin-starred eateries; there is plenty of excellent eating in the Republic other than Irish breakfasts, shepherd’s pies and potatoes.
Dublin, Waterford and Kilkenny were on our itinerary for this trip. In all three cities, it was clear that chefs have been doing serious thinking and rethinking about what to put on the table, whether at fine-dining restaurants or humble pizzerias.
Here’s some of what we found.
Dining in Dublin
Go down the cobblestoned alleys off Grafton Street, the Irish capital’s pedestrian-only shopping haven, and you’ll find traditional leathermakers and silversmiths, hidden churches and even a furrier selling mink stoles. However, serious foodies need to follow their nose to Sheridans Cheesemongers on nearby South Anne Street.
Climb the stairs into the narrow, traditional shop and you’ll be greeted by the apron-clad Patrick, who will gladly talk about case after case of artisanal cheeses that run from St. Tola Ash from Inagh in County Clare to Monte Enebro from Spain–and that’s just for raw goat cheese.
“The quality of cheese was always here,” says the Breton, who arrived in Ireland 23 years ago, when local tastes went no farther than Stilton. Things changed when continental transplants with backgrounds in cheese like Patrick arrived during Ireland’s 1990s economic boom. Finding excellent goats, cows and land, the expatriates shared their expertise and improved the products and palates of local cheesemongers and diners alike.
The Dublin outpost of Galway-based Sheridans offers grab-and-go cheeses from Ireland, Spain and France, as well as a selection of cured meats and wines. There are also regular pairing classes and even a cheese-of-the-month-type program (sheridanscheesemongers.com).
Based on a tip to try something sweet, we headed toward St. Stephen’s Green at the top end of Grafton Street to find one of the original cafes run by Butler’s Chocolates. Run by an Irish family of devoted chocolatiers for over 80 years, Butler’s is famous the world over (the confections are available at Soekarno-Hatta in Jakarta). Duck in and savor an authentic hot chocolate spiked with peppermint, marshmallows–or even coconut, if you’re homesick for a tropical taste. There’s also a selection of chocolate a la carte or bars–try the white truffles–packaged as souvenirs. (butlerschocolates.com)
While in Dublin, those seeking history with their tipple are spoiled for choice: Paid tours of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery¬–the first new distillery to open in Dublin in decades–and Jameson Whiskey’s Bow St. Experience offer an extended discourse on the importance of double versus triple distillation, as well as a few complimentary samples (teelingdistillery.com, jamesonwhiskey.com).
A few minutes’ walk past Dublin Castle, a medieval fortress turned government office, brought us to Temple Bar by the River Liffey. Temple Bar is not a venue, but rather a pedestrian-friendly warren of narrow streets fronted by a multitude of popular bars and pubs attracting raucous crowds and tourists. We stopped at one of the district’s more alternative venues, The Liquor Rooms, to meet Luke O’Meara, voted Ireland’s best mixologist, according to Bushmills, and to try some his excellent concoctions. (theliquorrooms.ie)
What caught our eye, however, was what was next door: A small window to the street where you could order pizza by the slice, New York City-style. The Dollard & Co Food Hall and Grill is a gourmet Dean&DeLuca-type gourmet grocery store with a warm vibe, exposed brick and copious seating amid aisles of cheeses and hanging meats in brine. Don’t miss the cheese and charcuterie counter, where the staff will make you a charcuterie plate of southern Tuscan Finocchiona salami, locally made Bresaola salted beef and wedges of fresh Irish Farmhouse Cheese.
Pizza is reportedly served through the window until after 4 am. Veal meatball slices were on offer during our visit. (dollardandco.ie)
Blaa in Waterford
A train brought us through 170 kilometers of pastures to Ireland’s Ancient East and the city of Waterford. Founded as a Viking colony in the 10th century and invaded by the Normans about 200 years later, Waterford still has evidence of this history today. Segments of thousand-year-old stone walls still stand, juxtaposed against offices and hospitals–and in a nod to the city’s heritage, the Medieval Museum’s gift shop sells suits of armor.
We, however, were hunting a different Norse invader: The Viking Burger, served at Burzza, run by Louise Buggy and Cormac Cronin. The pair, also behind the slightly pricier fine-dining restaurant Bodgea next door, have racked up accolades for serving creative contemporary cuisine and comfort food using exquisitely curated local ingredients, whether organic pork from the Comeragh Mountains or seafood and shellfish from Dunmore East.
During our Friday night visit, the cozy 16 tables of Burzza (a portmanteau of beer and pizza) were packed with families, couples and friends. The monstrously sized (and delicious) Viking Burger came with house-cured bacon, pulled pork, chilli beef, house-smoked cheddar and onion rings–and with double beef patties from local butcher Tom Kearney’s farm in Kilmacthomas. We also ordered a gooey and glorious Margherita Pizza with pulled pork, pickled cheese and Jack Daniels BBQ sauce made with fresh dough by Burzza’s in-house Italian chef (burzza.com).
Skipping the restaurant’s long menu of prosecco cocktails, we opted for a Metalman Pale Ale, a citrusy take on American-style beers. Brewed in Waterford by local craft beermakers Grainne Walsh and Tim Barber, Metalman is one of several Irish beers that are not Guinness–and which have been making waves in Ireland and overseas. (metalmanbrewing.com)
By the way, you never really feel “blaa” in Waterford–it’s something you eat. The blaa is a bread roll unique to Waterford and its environs, made without preservatives and designed to be eaten when fresh. Grab a sausage blaa sandwich on the go and explore.
Kilkenny After Dark
A walk at night in Kilkenny might take you past Kyteler’s Inn–still an active pub after 783 years–and expose Ireland’s medieval soul. Moonlight and the evening chill make strolling past the city’s old stone buildings more eerie than in the day, when the modern world’s traces are seen more clearly.
About 100 kilometers south of Dublin, Kilkenny is an easy-to-walk city that’s a favorite weekend getaway for Dubliners. There’s a laid-back vibe, green spaces, great food, excellent pubs and rollicking nightlife. We spied people dancing jigs, wholeheartedly and spontaneously, through the windows of several pubs as we walked by.
Kilkenny is also an ideal place for an in-depth exploration of Irish whiskey, according to the Kilkenny Whiskey Guild. Its 10 venues, all within easy walking distance, each serve a minimum of 60 different types of Irish whiskey (kilkennywhiskeyguild.com). We visited guild member Lanigans (lanigans.ie), a casual pub with a welcoming crowd, live music and multiple screens showing rugby.
Around the block is another guild member, The Left Bank, named Ireland’s Best Gastro Pub by the 2017 Sky Bar Awards. The pub takes its name from when the building, with its gorgeous cut-limestone facade, hosted a Bank of Ireland branch. Inside, red neon shines down on dark wood floors and Art Nouveau influenced stools. Ornate ceiling fans and wrought-iron chandeliers hang from above as we faced a bizarre oil painting of a smirking Jack Nicholson.
Sixty Irish whiskeys and 24 different gins are on the menu at The Left Bank’s long bar, which wraps around two sides of the building. Trusting in the specials scrawled on a nearby gilt-framed mirror, we tried the beef pie in a pastry shell, with chunks of beef and local carrots served with gravy and a dollop of mashed potatoes; and a pulled pork sandwich, served on a wooden carving platter on a bed of baby greens. (theleftbank.ie).
Take It with You
Wary of cheese spoiling while on the road, we thought we’d be going back home without souvenir comestibles. Dublin International Airport, however, had us covered. Marqette Food Hall, located airside at Terminal 1, says it’s a purveyor of food on the slow–and food on the fly. The selection rivals the best downtown gourmet grocers, while the sit-down dining and food packaged to go are far superior to typical airport options. Marqette even has gin tastings.
We grabbed reasonably priced artisanal pork sausages from Sheridans sealed in plastic as well as several soft-rind Milleens. The cow-milk cheese could make the trip back to Jakarta, although I had to “be prepared for the taste to change” according to the cheesemonger (marqette.com).
It was a long journey home. While the tastes of Ireland in my carryon didn’t make the trip go any faster, I was able to savor memories of some exquisite dining a little longer.