While this week has been mainly about all things healthy, a couple of days ago it was my birthday, and so there was some pretty major deviation from that plan. However, as I will explain, it could have been worse!!
My birthday surprise was essentially a whole day of foodie treats… and I mean the whole day from dawn to dusk. So for those of you sensitive about gluttony, it may be time to click to a different post, or even a different blogger, because I amazed myself with my ability to keep eating.
The first stop on this culinary expedition was in my home town of Tralee in Co. Kerry, in a bustling town centre cafe and restaurant called The Roast House. Now this is not my first brunch here by any stretch, it is a place where I regularly catch up with some of my closest girlfriends, but I do think it was my favourite breakfast to date. Given that this place does a really great pancake dish, with fruit and cream, that is quite a statement. I ordered a Vegetarian Breakfast Bake (see healthyish) and I expected that it would be like a baked full Irish just without the meat. Turns out I had pictured it completely wrong and what a happy surprise that ended up being. What appeared was actually a type of potato hash; with summer vine tomatoes, fresh thyme, mushrooms & spinach all mixed through the delicious little potato cubes. The dish was topped with a free range egg with a runny yolk, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and a little french toast. It was so so tasty, the perfect savory (meat free and gluten free – if like me you don’t eat the toast) breakfast dish. The Roast House take their coffee seriously, so as is the norm, the accompanying Americano was also an excellent blend – black, strong and just bitter enough – a great caffeine kick to start a long day.
Allowing breakfast to digest there was time for a short walk and a longer drive, as we snaked west over the mountain to the coastal town of Dingle. Now if you are not familiar with Dingle, look it up and if you have never been to Dingle, go! I have been many times, although to be honest more often for booze and nightlife than lunch and shopping but I am starting to think that it is the latter that the town does best. Unfortunately, the day was miserable, otherwise this post would be full of some of the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, but I promise that will follow some day soon. This was a day that was all about the food. First we shopped for it and then we ate it. The shopping centered on two local gems – The Little Cheese Shop and Crinkle Stores. Both are stunning little artisan stores, showcasing local and other carefully sourced products. I could have bought so, so much more and I am sure over time I will.
I started with The Little Cheese Shop and it is exactly as it looks in your head – cozy, smelly, chockablock with Irish and European cheeses and all the culinary delights you would want to go with them. They are quick to offer a taste, the cheese is cut to your specification and expert advice is on hand. Good luck nipping in for cheddar and coming out with one wax paper parcel when you see the array of fresh bread, pesto, hummus, hand made chocolate and chutneys that sit side by side with more cheese than you can dream of finding time to taste. If it is not clear, this place is a gem on the West Kerry food scene. I left with some fresh buffalo mozzarella, some soft goat’s cheese, some seaweed speckled cheddar (I think), delicious basil pesto and a generous portion of chunky hummus. I have been working them into my meals since.
Then to Crinkle Stores, when I got over my complete obsession with the fabulous tiles in this shop, it was time to browse the products. There is an exceptional salad bar and some quality coffee on offer, not to mention an exquisite cake display. The shelves are lined with artisan skincare products, Irish vinegar made with foraged ingredients like thyme, gorse and blackberry. Jams, chutneys, fancy cordials, herbal teas and numerous other delights. I added some Mountain Thyme Vinegar, a bar of Dark Chocolate with Apricot and Almond and a rhubarb and apple pop to my foodie haul and regretted that the day wasn’t better for a salad box by the sea. Again that will come another day.
And then, it was time for lunch. And yes we did at least keep it light(ish). We sheltered from the rain in a welcoming little cafe called Chowder, and ate predictably and sensibly, bowls of chowder. Well I did, my shellfish averse husband had an equally comforting steaming bowl of carrot and ginger soup. What appeared was a really satisfying bowl of steaming chowder, thickened with local potato and containing the widest array of fish I have ever encountered in this very common Irish dish. There was the usual white and smoked fish, but how often do you get squid rings in your seafood chowder and the garnishing mussels were a great touch. I didn’t eat the bread (healthy!) but it was wholemeal and homemade, served with real Irish butter.
Then to dessert – it was my birthday remember – and Dingle is home to Murphy’s Ice Cream – handmade here in the town. It comes in cones and cups, served with a smile by staff sporting farmers’ caps and happy to let you taste before you choose. I had a special called Dreamy Creamy Caramel that was full of the flavours of caramel, butterscotch, chocolate and whipped cream. Better than cake, definitely better than cake!! This product is not cheap but it is quality. Worth every penny, I promise.
After lunch we again took a break from eating, visited my parents and my adorable godchild. Then we shopped a little more, completing my birthday present buying with a divine scented candle for the kitchen and a book called “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee”. Seriously, how could I not!!!!!
And then I am embarrassed to admit (almost) that we went out to dinner. But it was not a dinner I would want to have missed. We went to Allo’s Bistro in the little market town of Listowel, where John B. Keane once observed local life with the eye of a poet and the wit of a rural publican. His smiling statue now welcomes you to a town that has retained its soul better than almost any small town I know. It houses a range of excellent independent boutiques, some interior shops that are perfect for the lazy browser and Woulfes, one of the best independent bookshops in the country. There are also more pubs than people and a delightful old-style hotel in the middle of town. Come for Writer’s Week to see Irish culture at its very best but there is also a food festival and a race week in this town’s packed social calendar.
Now that I have done my bit for the Listowel Tourist Board, on to the food. Allo’s Bistro is as bistros should be, homely and welcoming, with cosy small tables and larger communal ones, wine served by the glass and specials on daily changing chalkboards. For obvious reasons we skipped straight to main courses and I opted for a smaller size portion (see healthy choice! – although it was still extremely generous) of prawn and coconut curry served with jasmine rice. The other dish for the table was a salmon fillet with Bearnaise (unusual I thought) that was well cooked and tasty, accompanied with al dente veg and buttery mashed potato. The curry was delicately spiced with a very generous amount of prawns and a mixture of spring onion, courgette and peppers adding a welcome crunch. Despite the day that had gone before, plates were left completely clear, the message to the chef not in any way encrypted.
I presume you are now imaging that we called for the bill, opened the top button on our jeans and shuffled for the car. Alas, I have something of an affliction to admit to. I cannot resist creme brulee and although I don’t see the need to pepper it with various fruit purees, I still cannot leave it unordered – EVER. And so I devoured every morsel of a perfect passion-fruit creme brulee with a hazelnut biscuit. Had the jeans button popped before I got it open, it would have been worth every added inch to the waistline. It was yum!!!!!
So home we went….to my in laws, who were putting us up for the night, and you won’t believe it but my very sweet mother-in-law had bought a cake!!!!! Now of course I was full but what’s a girl to do, if some one buys you a fluffy sponge cake, filled with fresh cream and strawberry jam and sprinkled with icing sugar, and there’s a candle in it…there really are no options. You eat the cake. Don’t you?? Well of course I did.
Now before there is an intervention, I promise I have eaten like a gourmet loving rabbit since. But more of that in the next post, where we will celebrate the humble salad. There is a good reason birthdays only come once a year….the world could not sacrifice any more jeans’ buttons. Have a great weekend. Til next time xoxo