We might be a small island, but when it comes to food, we’ve got big culinary ambitions
Irish food has been rustic and filling – the kind of dinners that would get you through a cold winter; the kind of stuff that warms the cockles. Irish stew, colcannon, beef and Guinness pie – they’re all great dishes, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a new strand of creative Irish cuisine fuelled by artisan producers, innovative chefs, and world-class ingredients that are right on our doorstep.
“You’ve got all the right geography, grass, animals, breeding and farming,” superstar chef Jamie Oliver told newspapers on his last visit to Dublin, “no excuses for not having incredible, incredible stuff.”
We would tend to agree: from sea to shore, there’s never been a better range of produce to tuck into: super-fresh oysters, mussels and hand-dived scallops; estate venison; grass-fed free-range beef; extraordinary sea vegetables plucked from salty Atlantic waters; homemade fudge and handmade chocolate; award-winning black pudding; the prized Comber potato; rich, deep yellow country butter. All of these ingredients, and basket-loads more, are being used to their best advantage by dynamic chefs all over the island of Ireland.
“We're starting to cotton on to the fact that we have some of the best raw ingredients in the world,” says food writer Aoife Carrigy of Holymackerel.ie. “There are lots of pristine Irish fish available to us here, and in terms of meat and dairy, it's down to the green, green grass that visitors find so remarkable, but which we take for granted. It's no surprise that it was the farmhouse cheese-makers who were the pioneers of the new wave of artisan food producers: they were working with such fantastic raw material in the form of local milk. Twenty-five years later, there are now over 50 of them producing some world-class cheese of every style.”
In his book The Country Cooking of Ireland, US writer and editor Coleman Andrews notes that, “All over Ireland – from the artisanal ateliers of West Cork to the lush market gardens of County Wicklow, to bustling Galway and burgeoning County Antrim – a new culinary world is taking shape."
The bold mix of Irish produce and international influences has hit its zenith at critically acclaimed restaurants such as the one Michelin Star Cliff House Hotel in County Waterford, where Head Chef Matrijn Kajuiter invents creative dishes like “Bantry Bay organic salmon with bonbon, mi-cuit, iced marinated garden beetroot, pickled cucumber, herb cream, salmon eggs and whiskey oak smoke”. In Dublin, The Greenhouse won Best Newcomer at the Irish Restaurant Awards, while Michelin-starred Chapter One scored the title of Ireland’s Best Restaurant 2012 for the fourth year in a row.
Elsewhere, you’ll find local restaurants, country houses and small hotels becoming bastions of modern Irish, with a focus on local produce mixed with pure imagination. Among those causing a stir are The Long Room at Doonbeg in County Clare, Newforge House in County Armagh, the award-winning Lough Erne Resort in County Fermanagh, James Street South in Belfast, and Dunbrody House in County Wexford.
If it’s fresh innovative cooking you’re after, you've come to the right place.