Culinary Adventures on the Emerald Isle
Did you miss me? That was a fairly long separation we had there. I hope you coped all right. But I have returned! After traipsing around Ireland for two full weeks, I am back in Seattle, jet lagged and perhaps a bit more plump. What can I say? The food was good. Excellent, really. And I may have overindulged a bit. Just a tad. Okay, maybe a lot. But it was for research purposes, I tell you. I had an obligation to report back to you about the Irish cuisine! Here are some things I learned:
- Potatoes will be served at every meal. You can’t avoid them. Don’t even bother asking not to have them. You’ll just get weird looks and then they’ll show up anyway in some shape or form because you couldn’t seriously not want potatoes with your dinner. That’s blasphemy.
- Same goes for toast at breakfast.
- If a place serves tea and coffee, you’ll always find scones to go with it. Whether it’s a quaint café, a roadside B&B, a gas station mini-mart, or the local pub, they’d better dammed well have a tray of scones on offer. It just wouldn’t be right not to.
- It’s perfectly acceptable to eat cake at any time of day. The Irish unabashedly display their ridiculously decadent and beautiful desserts to tempt any passers-by and dig into a slices of apple crumble, Victoria sponge, or chocolate gateau with no shame at 10:30 in the morning.
- The Irish know how to cook fish. There never was a piece of dry, overcooked, or bland fish served, and we ate a lot of fish. Salmon, sole, hake or monkfish, all were prepared to tender, succulent perfection. Bravo.
All in all, just about everything we ate over there was delicious. But of course, there were favorites, and I have to share them with you…since I get so much pleasure torturing you with photos of incredible yummy food. I know, I’m cruel.
- Breakfast at Dromoland Castle: The purpose behind this entire trip to Ireland was to attend my cousin’s wedding at this incredible castle in Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare. Though Mom and I stayed in a cute pub/B&B in town the other nights, my cousin put me up in the castle the night before the wedding since I was a bridesmaid. First thing on the itinerary on wedding day: breakfast in the gorgeous castle dining room. Not only were the sausages with caramelized onions and fried eggs ridiculously good, but the brown bread (my favorite!) was some of the very best I’ve ever eaten. A great start to a spectacular day!
- Apple Crumble at Goya’s: You all know by now that I’m a sucker for pie. But I’m also pretty particular about what makes a great piece of pie: a tender, flaky crust, fruit that’s soft but distinguishable, a perfect balance of sweet and salty. The apple crumble pie at Goya’s in Galway hit all the marks. They say Irish butter is some of the best, and it certainly made one incredible pie crust. My mom’s lemon meringue pie was a hit as well.
- Dinner at Ard Bia: This is one of the top restaurants in Galway, without a doubt. I dined here before when Betsy came to visit me while I was living in Galway in 2009. I still remember the pumpkin and sage risotto I ate there, sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts. My second time at Ard Bia was a feast no less memorable. In fact, my appetizer of spice-roasted squash with chili feta and flatbread will go down as one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Spicy and smoky slices of tender squash, slightly fiery and salty feta dip, crisp triangles of vibrant yellow flatbread…sublime.
For dessert, I partook in my first helping of Eton Mess: sweet, fresh strawberries tossed with whipped cream and bits of crunchy meringue, all piled (elegantly) in a glass. This one was also topped with a scoop of Murphy’s sea salt ice cream. The meringue had a sort of malted flavor to it, like the center of a malted milk ball, and it was the prefect crisp counterpoint to the juicy berries. I’ll definitely be making this at home!
- Sticky Toffee Pudding at Ashe’s: My favorite dessert of all time. I had my first taste of sticky toffee pudding in England when I was 16 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Why oh why have American’s not embraced this dessert yet?! It’s heaven on a plate. Seriously. Warm, gooey cake made from cooked dates, smothered in a rich, hot toffee sauce and topped with cool ice cream (in this case, whiskey-flavored ice cream!) that melts and seeps all over the plate. Sticky and sinful and just try not to lick the plate.
- Tracking down my favorite Blackberry Apple Crumble Pie in Dingle: I’ve told you all about my favorite pie and the story behind it. If you’ve not heard it, read about here. Go on. Good. So on my return to Dingle, I warned my mom that although I didn’t know the name of the place nor where exactly on the peninsula it was, I had every intention of finding this legendary pie again. At every little bakery/cafe along the drive around Slea Head in Dingle, we stopped to see. In the little town of Dun Quin, we found it! They had the pie! It was just as good as I remembered, and now that my memory is refreshed, I’ll have to make another attempt at recreating it (no oats in the crumble, who knew?!).
- Oatmeal with Bailey’s at Pax House: Genius. If you’re an oatmeal fan, get your morning off to a fantastic start by
drizzlingpouring some Bailey’s Irish Cream over the top. If you’re not an oatmeal fan, maybe you would be if you tried it with Bailey’s. The poached pears and muscavado sugar wouldn’t hurt either.
- Sticky Toffee Pavlova at the Strasbourg Goose: You just listened to me wax poetic about sticky toffee pudding, so now what if I told you this sticky toffee pavlova came pretty close to knocking it out of the top spot? This dessert was so good I wanted to go back the next day for more and would travel all the way back to Cork just to eat another serving. A pavlova is usually just a baked meringue, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle, topped with whipped cream and fruit. This was not that. There was some crisp meringue along the edge, but the center was a dense, creamy concoction like a mousse, flavored with rich toffee. It reminded me of dulce de leche ice cream. When I ordered it the waitress told me I could have it on one condition: I couldn’t leave any of it behind on the plate. It was too good to waste. After a taste, I happily licked the plate clean.
- A Vegetarian Dinner at Cafe Paradiso: Bobby Flay visited this restaurant in his special on Ireland that aired for St Patrick’s Day. The chef, Dennis Cotter, cooks an entirely vegetarian menu and sources his produce from a local organic farm. It changes frequently with the seasons and uses a lot of incredible local cheeses as well. I knew I had to go here. Despite the lack of meat, nothing was lacking about my meal. The gingered sweet potato spring rolls were highlighted with flacks of vibrant cilantro, my roast aubergine parcels of black kale, almonds & Coolea cheese were as hearty and satisfying as the best lasagna, and my olive oil chocolate mousse with sesame & pink peppercorn crumb was a luscious and decadent end to a fantastic meal.
- Crab Crême Brulée at The Tannery: The write-up for this place in my Lonely Planet guidebook mentioned the infamous crab crême brulée and I knew I had to try it. This was another restaurant featured on Bobby Flay’s Ireland special, and my mom and I already had reservations at the restaurant and a night booked at the Tannery Townhouse across the street. The Tannery restaurant is owned by acclaimed chef Paul Flynn in the cute southwest coastal town of Dungarvan. He focuses on seasonality and features local specialties such as duck and fish. This crab-filled custard was creamy and rich, perfumed with nutmeg and topped with a crisp layer of parmesan cheese. The homemade pickles were equally delicious!
- Cinnamon Mixed Berry Scone at Avoca Handweavers: I have no idea how many scones I ate on this trip, nor would I care to share the number if I did know, since I’m sure it’s obscene. As I mentioned, scones must be served with tea/coffee, and even if they weren’t a requirement, it really wouldn’t take much urging to get me to eat a scone if it’s offered. My mom and I grew very fond of our mid-morning “second breakfasts”, as we called our pre-lunch coffee and scone breaks. The cinnamon mixed berry scone I had in the tiny town of Avoca, in County Wicklow, at the shop of oldest handweavers. This, cinnamon-sugared, crunchy-topped scone was just as comforting as the hand-woven wool blankets on sale and was without a doubt the best scones of all the
dozens ofscones I ate in Ireland.
Needless to say, I was very well fed! I’m sad to have left the Emerald Isle behind, but I know I’ll return again soon! Until then, I have plenty of memories (and quite a few recipes to try out!).