Tapas in Kerry

 

I took FOUR photos!!!! No that’s a lie, I took six photos, one of which appears to be of an outside flower-pot and one that is completely out of focus. So this post will include just four photos. This is despite travelling 40 minutes, spending two and a half hours in the restaurant and sampling quite a portion of the vast menu. I think I need to take blogger classes for dummies!!!

But in my defense I was busy. My best friend was with me, there was wine, we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of weeks. That meant there were several situations to be totally over-analysed. You know the drill…. we look at what “he” said, and then we consider the 8,000 possible things this might mean… not really engaging with the idea that there may not in fact be a message to decode and in some weird reality men might just mean exactly what they say. Because where would the fun be in that?? Although if wine sipping women took our conversations with attractive men completely at face value, this post might actually contain some photos of the food!!!

Because ostensibly the food was the purpose of the trip to Killorglin, a small town on the Ring of Kerry, where Sol Y Sombra is housed in an old but beautifully restored Church of Ireland. Stone walls, high ceilings, stained glass windows, good acoustics – the atmosphere takes care of itself. But do the food and wine measure up?

Yes and yes. This little gem of a restaurant definitely did not disappoint. The whole experience was positive, starting with the simple online booking option – no need to speak to pesky humans – just a few clicks and your table is sorted.

Next came the wine list – it is extensive and includes a really great selection of by the glass options – allowing you to pair a cool, crisp white with some seafood tapas before switching to a full-bodied red to match a heartier meat dish! It is also very fairly priced. Now on this particular occasion, we were not such sophisticated tipplers who match food to vino – we stuck to white, we ordered by the bottle (and more than once) and we kept it safe and French instead of exploring the extensive and interesting looking Spanish options. But there is always next time…

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Because given the quality of the food there will definitely be a next time. The menu is quite vast and although we tried a great selection of dishes, we didn’t really make a dent in it. And that is a testament to very generous portion sizes. We started with three tapa sized plates to share – fillet of hake and prawns fried in beer batter with garlic mayo, a portion of Kerry lamb meatballs cooked in a rich tomato sauce with delicious cubed potatoes and the highlight for me, a little pan of prawns sautéed in garlic and chilli oil that did not skimp on the prawns. We ordered a basket of bread for dipping in the oil and set about devouring every morsel of food on the table. It was all excellent but for me the prawns were the standout dish – they somehow encapsulated everything that I love about food. Take something simple but high quality, combine it with minimal ingredients (enough to enhance not confuse the flavour) and allow the dish to transport you to a different place and a different time, be it watching a technicolour Mediterranean sunset, experiencing tapas in a bustling Madrid bar, or dipping bread in wine on a Portuguese beach front. The simple action of dipping bread in spicy and gently pungent garlic oil  is a wonderful sensory experience. On a drizzly Thursday evening in Co. Kerry, it recreated something from a different place and a different time. There was a memory hidden somewhere in the cast iron sizzling pan….this is what I understand to be food for the soul, or possibly food for the heart.

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The plan was to go on to order two larger Racion portions but we were genuinely quite full after the tapas and decided that one to share would be more prudent. We opted for a skewer of monkfish & bacon with scallops on a potato cake and it was a really tasty dish – plump meaty monkfish interspersed with fresh scallops all wrapped in crispy smoked bacon. What’s not to like?

Dessert was not the plan (there was wine to finish) but we made the fatal mistake of just taking a look. What did we expect to happen? That we wouldn’t like the sound of anything!!! That was definitely a long-shot. In reality we didn’t need to read beyond the first line – homemade lemon mousse on a crumble biscuit base sounded like a perfect end to a quality meal – sweet yet tart, smooth in texture but zingy in flavour. My dining companion gave serious thought to licking the bowl.

So if it wasn’t clear, I was really, really impressed with Sol Y Sombra. Great space, great food, great drinks and best of all great company. I am very excited to make a return visit. xo.

Once to Ballybunion…

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Today we have another instalment in what could be termed a “Highlights of Kerry” series. Regular readers will recognise that this isn’t really a challenging remit… especially when the sun shines brightly and the Kingdom’s jewels twinkle happily in iridescent light. It was on one such day we took a leisurely road trip to Ballybunion, or possibly Ballybunnion, in North Kerry.  Which spelling is correct joins “Who was Jack the Ripper?” and “Who killed JFK?” on the list of great unsolved mysteries. The town’s own website and renowned golf club both go with the former spelling, and that is what I am most familiar with but as you travel the highways and byways of North Kerry, the road signs direct you to “Ballybunnion”. Way to confuse a girl!!!! So if you know let me know….. how do we spell the name of this coastal, seaside town on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way?

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Anyway, issues of the redundant or errant “n” aside, there was a hint of nostalgia to our summer sojourn to Ballyb., not so much for me but for my other half. You see a trip to this seaside resort was an integral part of his childhood. In a rural Ireland before the foreign holiday was commonplace, especially in the dairy farming community, his family went on two seminal outings each summer  – “we didn’t go on holidays – we went once to Ballybunion and once to the festival (i.e. The Rose of Tralee), that was our holidays.” There was never a need to stay somewhere overnight and definitely no “fancy” trip to a Keycamp resort in France (like the townies might go on). Instead there was the short drive to Ballybunion, a few pounds for the bumper cars in the most retro of amusement arcades, a go on the swings in the playground and a bag of chips for the trip home. The result was tired but happy children half way through their summer treats. Of course, no farmer’s son in rural Ireland grows up without something of a persecution complex, and so the fond reminiscences of  “simpler times” are a cue for a gentle rant beginning with the phrase –  “I was never taken to…….”. But for all the world left unseen, he was without fail taken to Ballybunion and so, many summers on, off we went down memory lane.

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Now… as salubrious as the dodgems in the Pavilion look, they were not the focus of this more grown up trip to the sea. This was more about the scenery. Ballybunion has a stunning cliff walk, really breathtaking, #nofilter type vistas that take your breath away. It starts above the town’s golden sandy beach, holder of a prestigious Blue Flag, and provides amazing views of ocean, cliffs, caves, sand dunes and even Bottlenose dolphins. It’s a safe, easy walk that really rewards the effort.

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I like to walk, mostly to justify all the food I plan to graze on …. and true to form the exercise led to a natural need to refuel. Having read favourable reviews of Daroka and admiring its philosophy of “Real food, real simple”, we opted to give it a go. It is a comfortable, simple space spread over two levels. The lunch menu was compact but appealing and I was impressed by little touches that made the place feel homely – fresh flowers, quality hand-cream in the ladies, little messages on blackboards. We ordered very simply – freshly battered fish and chips, a BLT, a beer and a house wine. Perfect food as you come up from the beach, nothing fancy but executed really well.

Our food was delicious but I had serious order envy and I know I really need a return trip to give this menu a better appraisal. The lady beside me had wonderfully succulent looking crab claws in a coconut and chilli sauce and I was very jealous of the soft, almost orgasmic moans, she was emitting with each mouthful. The hake with prawns and samphire (sea asparagus) appeared the most popular dish, and plates were returning almost licked clean. Naturally the seafood dishes were proving more popular than the more carnivorous options as people gazed out into the Atlantic ocean on probably the hottest day of the summer so far. Finally, when your BLT is mostly B and comes in triple decker form, you know you have backed a winner. And being easily pleased, I got a little giggly seeing it come with a quality steak knife to carve through the generous rashers of bacon. It’s the simple things!!!

 

 

We skipped dessert, although they sounded tempting, in order to sample some of MacCarthy’s homemade ice-cream from Sundaes. It was really good ice-cream and there was an abundance of flavours and toppings to choose from (we tried oreo, nutella, vanilla and strawberry), but it is definitely on the expensive side of normal for scoops in a tub. That said finding a peaceful spot, listening to the ocean and munching on quality hand-produced food, is an experience worth paying a premium for, at least once a year.

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And that was it for this year’s “once to Ballybunion” trip… We returned home after a paddle in neighbouring Ballyheigue and stopping for a little liquid sustenance in Kate Brown’s Traditional Pub in Ardfert. Tired from the fresh sea air and keeping the nostalgic air alive, we cooked an old school fry-up with slices of warm white toast dripping with Kerry Gold butter. It may have been the perfect summer’s day. And if you are looking for any further evidence that Kerry is indeed a Kingdom, you might like to peruse these older posts about GlanteenassigBanna beach & Killarney, Foodie Kerry and Dingle (my personal favourite). xo

 

 

Glanteenassig Woods, Co. Kerry – A Hidden Gem.

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This post is going to mainly let the pictures do the talking, because they can articulate the magic much better than my loquacious ramblings. Really, I just want to alert you to the fact that on the meandering road between Tralee and Dingle, close to the village of Castlegregory, there hides a place that looks like this. A place where woodland, lakes and mountains collide and we are merely guests of nature for the duration of our visit. If sprites, elves and faeries exist (and we all know they do) surely they choose to live here. So keep your eyes peeled for some of “the little folk” of Irish mythology as you walk through some of this beautiful country’s most majestic scenery. And remember – if you don’t believe in them, you can never see them!!!!

 

 

The amazing thing about Glanteenassig Wood (pronounced locally as Glown – Ten – Ass – Ig) is despite being well maintained and accessible to all fitness levels, it remains largely undiscovered. Tourists hurtling from the Ring of Kerry or Killarney en route to Slea Head or the town of Dingle often miss this hidden gem completely. And where tourists with jam packed itineraries can be forgiven, I have no idea what excuse I can offer for not having visited in over a decade. I mean just take a look…..

 

 

The wood is signposted from the main road, but it is a bit of an uphill drive (maybe about 5km) from the village of Aughacashla where you turn left. As you climb, houses gradually give way to grazing land for mountain sheep and you feel yourself leaving reality behind. It’s down the hill somewhere with your wifi connection and mobile phone reception.

Then suddenly you stop and take it in – and it’s majestic. The clouds sit on the rocky hill top as waterfalls and streams make their way down glacial rock face to the tranquil lakes below. The shelter of the trees and the exposure of the rocks seem in stark contrast yet in perfect harmony. It looks like summer but smells of Christmas.  It is as it always was – little changed from the Ice Age to now.

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If you are lucky you may get the entire place to yourself, especially on a weekday and outside the tourist season. We didn’t. We met a father teaching his children how to fish for trout and a family allowing their three dogs have a swim in the lower lake. Hardly a traffic jam!!!

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After we took some pictures at the tranquil Lough Slat, we followed the road up to the Lough Caum Boardwalk loop, where we followed the “path” made from planks of timber all around the lake. On a slightly warmer day, this is a prime location to chill out with a book and a picnic. If you are in the neighbourhood, be sure to check it out. If you are from the neighbourhood, don’t be like us, make use of this fantastic amenity that we are blessed to live so close to.  xo

 

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Urchin, Dublin – A Short Review

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There was a lot of What’s App debate regarding a dining venue for an early bite before attending a Bell X1 gig, part of the Trinity Summer Series on Saturday evening. Given that we were going to be eating early and we were a little unsure what time the whole party would assemble, we agreed to a casual tapas meal. We narrowed our selection to The Port House, House or Urchin and after much debate the latter emerged victorious.

Situated on St. Stephen’s Green, Urchin scored points for location and it was also the only place on the list that none of us had visited previously. Added to this, reviews of Urchin, a little sister of The Cliff Townhouse, have been generally very positive.

Urchin doesn’t take reservations but when we rocked up at 5.30pm we easily nabbed a large table in a cosy alcove. First impressions were really good. Urchin is an achingly cool venue. It is a light, colourful space that is channelling a sort of beach house in The Hamptons vibe. Lots of white and exposed brick, softened with bold splashes of orange and turquoise. It feels young and hip, the aesthetic complimented by laid back music and a charming, sexy Italian waiter. So far so good!!!

 

We started our visit to Urchin with some cocktails. This venue has a great cocktail menu and a mixologist who knows what he is doing. We sampled a selection of gin and vodka based tipples and everyone was happy with these boozy thirst quenchers. At €12 – €14 a pop, the pricing here was pretty standard for a cool city centre bar and the drinks that appeared had both style and substance. A good start.

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We chatted for a while, nibbling on some delicious crisps, before eventually placing a food order. Urchin serves some “small bites” and some “bigger bites” which can be shared and the seafood heavy menu reads like the stuff of foodie dreams. But it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that it was here the experience started to unravel. We ordered about 12 portions of food from across the menu to share between 5 people. We had fully intended to order more as required. Our selections included a sea urchin in a Bloody Mary type sauce, a couple of duck liver choux buns, pork belly in lettuce wraps, portions of both Iberico ham and shrimp croquettes and a two portions of mozzarella fritters.  Everything looked great, each dish was well executed and quality ingredients were clearly sourced.

 

The problem? Because there was a problem  – was that the portions were tiny!!! And I am fully aware that we had chosen a “small plates” venue but these offerings came directly from the tiny portion movement. We had eaten half the menu and we were still starving and begging the waiter for more crisps. In normal circumstances we would simply have ordered the other half of the menu but we were unanimous in concluding that we would then have spent a fortune to still leave hungry. So we decided to cut our losses and go for a burger!!!

So all in all, Urchin is a cool venue. It has a fab little beer garden to the front if you are lucky enough to snag a table. It does great cocktails. It feels trendy and fun. It does tasty little bites. But it will not fill you up. So my advice is to consider it a place for a drink and a snack – a lot classier than a pint and a packet of crisps – but providing a similar amount of sustenance. I want to go back on a sunny afternoon to sip a gin cocktail at an outside table. I would order a little tapas to tickle my taste-buds. I would have a dinner reservation close by.

 

Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle

Situated over two hours away, it was a long drive “for an aul mug of tae and a few sambos“. But Ashford Castle on a rare sunny day rewarded the effort.

The 13th Century castle, situated in Cong, Co. Mayo, is a fairy-tale setting, the stuff American tourists dream of. Surely some part of it must be haunted and elfin figures inhabit the undergrowth in the nearby woods. The castle itself has hosted the wedding receptions of Pierce Brosnan, Shane Filan (the lad out of Westlife) and Rory McIlroy – so you see it’s proper posh!!!!

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Now in the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to reveal that I bear the little village of Cong “an ancient grudge” of Shakespearean proportions. You see when I was twelve, their GAA team beat mine in a national final. It was one of my first tastes of defeat on a big stage, and the association between this place and that memory is undeniable. I would love to say I was a gracious loser, but while everyone else hears Cong and thinks of “The Quiet Man”, the epic scenery and celebrity sightings, I think of one crushing afternoon in Mosney at the National Community Games Finals. Sorry Cong, my little heart was broken, it is hard to let go!!!!!

But anyway, last week I put my issues aside and embarked on a girlie roadtrip in search of High Tea in a castle…. sure what else would you be at on a Monday morning? We even saw a llama – or was it a goat???

Now you know you are in the realm of elegance, when not one but three men in funny hats have greeted you before you even get in the door. We had to explain our purpose, be ticked off lists and given instructions on how to pass the little extra time we had – this is very much a 5 star location.While waiting to be called in for tea at 1.30pm we admired the period decor and the tranquil lakeside setting, but mostly we worried about whether the poor man at the gate was melting in his emerald green tweed tails and top hat.

Now I admit to being a philistine when it comes to heritage type interiors, favouring more modern and slightly edgy decor, but even I can appreciate the beauty and the attention to detail of this hotel – in particular the room in which you “take tea“. There is an intangible sense of history and if you close your eyes for just a second you can imagine lords and ladies of eras past, sitting exactly where you are, also sipping tea from bone china cups, although possibly less worried about spillages or breakages. That’s the thing about a silver spoon upbringing, breaking the Wedgewood China is just breaking a cup! What luxury!

So seated and settled, with a cherry lemonade, a gift from the kitchen, tea was ready to be served. And the choice of teas was very impressive – from fruity to traditional – there were pages to select from. So of course we wondered where the Barry’s was, two of us queried if we could have coffee and in a particularly classy moment we could be heard snorting with laughter at the mention of a Red Bush tea. You can dress them up!!!!!

Then to the food – in typical afternoon tea fashion – we started with the savoury layer and I have to admit these were good sarnies. No chicken and stuffing here – rather chicken with avocado, tossed it seemed in a light garlic mayo. The most delicious filling but it didn’t stop there. All crusts were removed (to the dismay of the Irish mammy), the bread was cut into circles and the outside of the sandwich was dipped in almonds. This flavour combination alone was worth the trip. It was sublime. So much so we asked for a whole other plate of just that sandwich. After that you had the all traditional combinations of cheddar and tomato, egg and cress, smoked salmon and cream cheese and cucumber and crème fraîche. The quality was really high – particularly the very mature, tangy cheddar that I think is from Hegarty’s Farm in Cork. We were off to a good start.

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The scones came next. As they are served warm from the oven, you order them 10 mins or so before you want them. And it is that type of attention to detail that makes this a special experience. There was the traditional plain and fruit scones, with strawberry jam and clotted cream. But what was new to me (and my extensive afternoon tea experience!!) was a cheese scone, so warm the cheese was all melty and runny in the middle. The lovely server suggested we try this with lemon curd!!!  Now, that might be a familiar combo to some of you – but warm cheese scones with zesty lemon curd – was never a staple with the pot of Lyons Tea when I was growing up in Kerry. And more is the pity – it is delicious.

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My biggest issue with afternoon tea is always that by the time you get to the sweet treats on the top tier you are just a little too full. But don’t worry, we took a little time-out, had a team talk and were ready for the final quarter. Multiple calorific delicacies were shared and discussed, from custards to cupcakes, meringues to macaroons, chocolate tortes to fruit tarts.  What we couldn’t finish was presented to us in individual boxes along with a chocolate box from the pastry chef.

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I expected to find this a lovely experience but a tad on the expensive side – a case of paying for the location. But in all honesty it is quite good value. The staff were so sweet and were really quick to offer seconds (or thirds) of anything we wanted. We had about four rounds of teas and coffees. We left with boxes of scones, pastries and chocolate. And we spent hours in the stunning setting. At €40 per person (which is of course dear), I genuinely felt we got our money’s worth. It was a damn good afternoon tea. But don’t get me started on the “cosht of the fizzy wine” – given that one glass is never enough we just left it out altogether, and the experience didn’t suffer from its omission in any way. Ashford Castle, I may return, despite old wounds felt anew at the sight of the word “Cong” on the signpost.

Taste of Dublin – what keeps me coming back?

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The Iveagh Gardens in the sun are the perfect setting to celebrate Irish food and increasingly Irish booze. And for the fourth year running, the sun shone brightly on the Saturday afternoon session that the girls and I chose to attend, making it yet again my favourite day of the year so far.

So what do I love so much about Taste of Dublin?

The setting:

Taste of Dublin is a classy day out and the location totally befits the vibe it is striving for. Once inside the gates, the city feels a world away, as the gardens are very much an urban oasis. They are big enough to take the crowd but not so big they dilute the atmosphere; they are shaded but don’t block out the sun and they are stunning without being so precious that you can’t lounge on the grass sipping a cocktail.  It really is an ideal site for this type of event.

Florins:

Florins are the currency of Taste and they are a little piece of marketing magic. For many they will be a negative but I love the way they promote a suspension of reality. Taste is an expensive day out (I will get to that in a minute) but the Florin system allows you to pretend it isn’t happening. It is Monopoly money and the connection between it and the ESB bill pinned magnetically to the fridge is completely non-existent. It subtly but effectively banishes any feelings of guilt about what can easily become a very extravagant afternoon.

The Entertainment:

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Taste is about the food. Unlike Bloom where the gardens seem to be almost peripheral, Taste keeps its focus firmly fixed on the consumption of all things edible. But that is not to suggest that it is light on musical entertainment or that this lacks quality. In fact the diversity and calibre of the live performances is something that has remained a consistent feature of the event over the years. And it really helps create a chilled out, summer party atmosphere.

Bubbles:

Now there is absolute no need to be drinking alcohol to enjoy Taste of Dublin and I am sure hundreds of visitors don’t. However, it has always been part of my Taste experience. I go with friends – some friends from my childhood and some friends of these friends. Friends I only know from Taste, only meet at Taste, but really enjoy catching up with. The group can vary in size but a love of food and a penchant for a fizzy flute of Prosecco makes for a very easy day out, always full of laughter. We pool our Florins, swap foodie anecdotes, right the wrongs of the world and generally laugh a lot. Whether it is a gentle ribbing of the IT professional who can’t use internet banking, anecdotes about my best mate’s “schoolboy” office humour or a lively debate about the pros and cons of internet dating it is always a slightly tipsy day full of laughter. And don’t worry if after too many bubbles you feel a little worse for wear – I have it on good authority that a splash of water on your forearms is entirely sobering!! Not convinced? Me neither!

The Food:

Well obviously.

Now, if I were to be critical I would have to acknowledge that there has been a decrease in the really high end food available at Taste in recent years. No more do we seem to see L’Ecrivan, Chapter One or Thornton’s. And where oh where have the lobster rolls gone? But on the flip side, the food is great. And there is an oyster bar.

The thing about Taste is that even if something is not what I expected, I never remember getting food that I felt was sub-standard or poorly executed. While we may wish for more crab in our croquette, or softer rhubarb after the stewing, it all still tastes like good food. It is all still prepared skilfully. The ingredients always appear to be high quality. And that’s why we go.

Where else do you get to move from restaurant to restaurant picking and choosing from their signature dishes? The aforementioned crab croquette with avocado mayonnaise from Suesey St, pan seared scallops in the shell from Matt the Thresher or gambas and chilli risotto from The Old Spot gave seafood lovers something to whet their appetite with. For committed carnivores an Irish pork belly lettuce wrap from Urchin, The Porterhouse’s grilled lamb chop or goat on toast from Pickle were just some of the options we sampled. A spicy Singara – Bengali Samosa with lentils and puffed rice was pronounced the dish of the festival and its creator, Jaipur, was the favoured restaurant by the judges. But from my observations the punters’ pick was St. Lorenzo’s calamari with chilli and lime, served in paper cones with a garlic mayo dip. There were tons of desserts and loads of veggie offerings, illustrating why one session is never enough and why Taste of Dublin has such enduring foodie appeal.

So roll on next June when we can do it all again. Maybe for an evening session, just to break with tradition. Or maybe not. After all if it’s not broken…

If you have never been, then I can’t really recommend Taste of Dublin enough but be prepared, this is an expensive day out that is definitely not getting any more affordable as the years go by. Yes, the ticket is cheap but really the ticket buys you nothing but a foot in the door (or the garden in this case). You will spend a lot and still you will be hungry again a few hours later but you will have a great day. xo

 

Galway: A Hungry Girl’s Guide

If you’ve never been to Galway (or you’ve been 1000 times) the spaces and places pictured above will be more than sufficient to while away a lazy afternoon. Wander down Shop St and Quay St listening to the buskers, stop for a pint of black in Ua Neachtáin’s or Tig Cóilí, grab a bite in Ard Bia or An Cupán Tae and have a browse of the gifts, textiles and ceramics in Judy Greene or Twice as Nice. It is the Galway of guidebooks and rightly so.  More hippy than hipster, more Celtic than modern European. But full to the brim with music, wit and charm and so laid back you wonder how anyone gets a day’s work done. But just as Galway trades under several titles – City of the Tribes, Gaillimh, City of the Festivals – so too does it smile out of several faces.

And so I spent the day yesterday looking at a more 21st Century Galway and visited places that have captured the essence of the city they are fortunate enough to trade in, but moulded it into something more modern and innovative than what came before.

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I started my voyage of discovery in Coffeewerk and Press, for a caffeine hit to fuel a long day of eating, drinking and shopping. The space is beautiful, full to the brim with exquisite homewares and works of art from all over the world. It’s more concept store or small gallery than cafe (although I assume the money is in the coffee sales) but the fact that you can get great coffee, while listening to vinyl in a quiet window seat shows where the two businesses collide. The staff were friendly, the baked goods looked great and they know their caffeine. Not a place to linger for the afternoon working on your laptop or finishing a novel but for browsing two floors of beautiful “stuff ” while sipping an Americano in a super cute take-away cup it definitely works. Coffeewerk and Press is achingly cool; I assume it to be a  place hipsters hang out discussing the merits of Guatemalan blends over Ethiopian. But have you noticed the problem with the hipster of today? Yes, they have started to shave their beards so we can’t spot them (avoid them!!) as easily. Next they will start wearing socks and only be identifiable when you hear the discussion on the latest gin micro-distillery they discovered on a visit to North Leitrim!!! All this while looking at the craft beer drinker and thinking, “that poor guy is so 2016″.

Caffeine levels stabilised it was then time for some food.

Now despite my younger brother often labelling me pretentious (as he slurps a protein shake from the Nutribullet and listens to wireless headphones – all while googling the term irony!) I really am not quite there yet. And, let’s be honest, to a 23 year old DJ still enjoying the festival circuit and drinking cans of Galahad while sporting a head to toe charity shop ensemble, most things are pretentious!!! But it must be remembered  I am married to a man who judges restaurants on the quality of their “pandy” (that’s mash) and how generous they are with the gravy. He only yesterday accused who ever first put breadcrumbs on chicken breast of all sorts – “wasn’t it fine the way it was?” and as for replacing his beloved gravy with pepper sauce – now that is “just looking for notice”. So you see there is a gravitational pull at work to keep my feet firmly on the ground. And this is why the growing “brunch” circuit with Bloody Marys or Prosecco makes me cringe a little. It’s just breakfast people!!! Unless you actually eat it in the afternoon and it is going to keep you full until dinner…. then maybe it constitutes brunch. But if it is a bowl of granola or a fry up on a Tuesday morning at 11, it is breakfast!!!!! And you eat it, you don’t do it!!!!

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So long story long….. I went for BREAKFAST to Dela. And the homefries alone were enough to make me long to return. The vibe was laid back and airy, the menu has clear Scandinavian influences (what doesn’t at the moment) and, to be honest, anywhere that can make fried cauliflower taste that good deserves its success. I rate this place highly however, not for the Scandi vibe, but for the fact that, like neighbouring Kai, it takes ingredients seriously. They were local and clearly carefully selected, produced in a kitchen with a passion for food. Everything had a flavour. This was a breakfast where the mushrooms tasted almost like field mushrooms (although I think we are a little too early), and where you stop and realise that you shouldn’t be pleasantly surprised about how mushroomy the mushrooms are. That should be normal. But, in a world where people who own restaurants think frozen chips are ok, it isn’t. So yes, I like to do a little research to seek out places that are getting good press and making positive waves, not cause I need a Mimosa with my breakfast, but because if I am going to pay for it, I like to think some effort went in to the purchasing and the preparation. Does that make me pretentious? (The question is rhetorical little brother!!!)

It was a pretty day in Galway, so, after a the leisurely breakfast, I wandered by the Corrib, read my book and did a little interior shopping while waiting for my appetite to rebuild. I find the issue of not getting hungry fast enough to try all the places I would like to a real hindrance when I am away. Now that’s a first world problem!

But lo and behold, time passed and if not starving I was definitely able to take on a little more sustenance. And I knew exactly where I wanted to go. The Dough Bros on Middle St. for pizza.

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Now this is laid back eating at its finest, inspired by not just the pizza but the culture of Naples, it is not a place that stands on ceremony. You pay at the counter and eat with your fingers. And the queue is out the door.

Why? Because it’s delicious. And I lived in Italy so I speak about pizza from the perspective of the perpetually disappointed. Good pizza is not so filling you need to share it, or take the remainder home in a box. The dough is light, the edges are burnt, the toppings are kept to a minimum. This was REALLY, REALLY good pizza. I devoured it…. great base, simple tomato sauce and high quality mozzarella. The basics all in place… you are onto a winner whatever toppings you choose. It was the perfect end to my day out!!!

So there you go – a day in Galway without an Irish pub, trad music or handmade pottery. Lots of you know that this is a city that has it all, the rest of us can enjoy finding that out. Galway, I look forward to our next encounter xo

Buying Bits and Bobs at Bloom 2017.

IMG_2824Bloom has been on my “to-visit” list for a number of years, mostly because Taste of Dublin has become an annual foodie pilgrimage for me and the two are so often compared. But having finally got to Bloom this Sunday, I really don’t see the two events as being in any way comparable. Taste is like a super fancy food court, where Bloom is more of a giant farmer’s market.

Bloom, ostensibly a gardening event, has evolved to become largely about the food. It is a space where Irish producers showcase their wares by way of free samples and discounted deals. And given that it is a Bord Bia sponsored event, you may argue that the gardening element is being somewhat overshadowed. But that’s just my opinion.

Anyway I went, I ate, I caught up with a good friend and I made a few purchases… here’s what I got.

Firstly I hit up the craft section, probably my favourite part of Bloom, and I had to show lots of restraint from the candle and ceramic temptation. I could not however resist a couple of Lainey K prints for my newly painted kitchen walls. I can see myself buying more from this quirky and fun designer; her products really suit my urban cottage(ish) aesthetic. I just popped them into simple, black frames from Søstrene Grene and watched them liven up my soft grey walls.

Continuing my search for some subtle pops of yellow, to enliven my grey and white kitchen, I bought some cute ceramics from Big Leap Designs, a Mayo company who hand decorate their tableware, and a delicious lemongrass candle from Emma’s All Natural Soy collection. I LOVE the scent and am so relieved that these are made so close to where I live, therefore repurchasing will be a doddle. People live in a world without fancy candles or pretty cushions, but can they really be happy there???

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Having sampled many, many variations of granola and more than a dozen jams and chutneys, I did also make a few food purchases. The first of these may yet frustrate me endlessly. I use a lot of stock when I am cooking, and always struggle with the absence of a quality, ready to use version (so common in other countries). This has left me crumbling my stock cube or dissolving a stock pot, head bowed in foodie shame. When suddenly, there it was…. the product of dreams…. Organic Chicken Broth from Sadie’s Kitchen. And then I cooked with it last night!!! Is it weird to fall in love with chicken stock??? Not with this one… it is UNREAL!!!!! And not available in Athlone (yep that’s where I live!!!). Trauma. But some research has taken place in the meantime and

IMG_2808I am hoping stockpiling (cringe at the pun) can happen in Horan’s Health Food Store, Tralee, when next I visit the family. Because I can no longer live without this product in my life… so much flavour, nothing nasty, a dream to use!!!! (Nope they are not paying me.) Yes it is possible to get this excited about stock!

And finally I picked up some fancy pesto and hummus. The samples tasted yum with crackers but when the pesto was heated with a little chicken, double cream, fresh tagliatelle and ground black pepper, the product really started to shine. The walnuts really add to the texture and it is a really delicious staple for a quick supper. And for the best bit…. they stock it in my local SuperValu.

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Now some of you may justifiably be thinking, is she ever going to mention the gardens. And to be honest, it might be better if I didn’t due to my lack of green fingers…or indeed a garden. But I did take a look (it felt rude not to) and overall I would say I was bemused. I know there is fashion in clothing – gingham, ruffles and asymmetric hemlines for example. And in food – avocado on toast, beetroot flavoured everything and added bloody protein (just eat a piece of cheese peeps!). I am even au fait with the current trends in interiors – chalk paint and filament exposed bulbs. But until Bloom I was completely unaware of how trend driven gardening clearly is. Flowers in fashion are wild and purple – lavender, elderflower, foxgloves… you get the idea. Stuff that grows on hedgerows. And it left all the gardens, to the completely untrained (and almost ignorant I admit) eye, looking exceptionally similar. Manicured lawns and perfect flower beds are clearly out; a controlled wilderness vibe is clearly in. It was fun to see but I expected so much more diversity. And please…. a piano in a garden….now that would never catch on in South Roscommon!!!!!!

So the verdict: I enjoyed Bloom. My new purchases are making me very happy. I would return. But the Chelsea Flower Show it ain’t.

 

Retreat from the Renovations

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And so we bought…. and moved… and are “all happy”.  But as I have previously mentioned, and as the estate agent clearly never would, buying a century old house and living in it while the renovation work is ongoing is no walk in the park.

Some days, chemical paint stripper perfumes the air like a Yankee Candle scented by someone with a weird sense of humour – and trust me, 100 years of gloss paint on woodwork and banisters requires quite a lot of the stuff! Suffice to say that no amount of scented candles can neutralise a chemical odour of this magnitude.

Other days, dust from an industrial sander creates a thin veneer on every conceivable surface, as a century’s worth of wear and grime is stripped away (I would like to say “lovingly” but frequent audible expletives from the man – hopefully still a friend – attached to the machine may attest to the contrary).

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And then we have the worst  – the mortar and dust that were remnants of the wall skimming. The walls look great now – but Oh My God that dust would stress the Dalai Lama!  It teases and taunts you, and then invariably has the last laugh as you wash it away for the 1000th time, only to leave and return to that lovely film of grey still all over the floor. You swore it was gone, you watched it dissolve in the boiling water but, like those annoying birthday candles that keep relighting, there it is again as soon as the moisture dries. However, as one of my wisest friends keeps reassuring me, progress is being made, and soon the worst will be behind us and our little bijou terrace will be suitable for occasional visitors.

But we are not there yet and so, in the short term, I decided to take a much needed trip home to recharge and escape the grime…..

And what a lovely trip it has been so far….

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People who have never been to Kerry really need to sort that one out because long walks on deserted beaches are the best cure I know for stress. I can assure you that there is no expensive therapy that will so physically and metaphorically blow away all traces of dust!! Some days I go to Banna Beach, well deserving its recent Trip Advisor accolade (No. 1 Irish Beach), and other days to the slightly more local and generally deserted Derrymore Strand. Here’s a few shots from the last two days.

And when fresh air and exercise have done their thing, there is family and friends to chat with and laugh with. Lots of home cooking and lazy afternoons, peppered with an occasional treat meal. Like, for example, a girlie dinner in Cellar 1, the restaurant of The Ross Hotel, was a perfect treat for the weary DIYer.

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I have featured The Ross on the blog before and it is one of those places with which I have never been disappointed. It is funky and modern without trying too hard. The restaurant has an ambitious yet compact menu that comes accompanied by the inoffensive and atmospheric background noise of a resident pianist. The bar is bustling, serving cocktails in fancy glasses to the well heeled. The vibe throughout is contemporary and youthful. It struck just the right chord for four female friends, who share amongst us decades of memories and a love of good food. We were not disappointed.

Starters sampled included a spicy Arancini, mussels in a red curry sauce, scallops and monkfish skewers. The menu is seafood heavy but there is a twist to every dish and there were no complaints about any of the offerings on this occasion.

For mains, we all toyed with the idea of surf and turf but only one of us went for it in the end – and I for one was guilty of a little food envy. The other carnivorous selection was an extremely attractive looking pork belly, while the two of us remaining opted for a prawn dish in an agave and tequila sauce. All four dishes were deemed successful… what more can you ask for?

Only half of the group had the stamina for dessert, the other half opting for a strong espresso to aid digestion, although we did all put a fork or two through the chosen sticky toffee puddings. A nice slow Hendricks with Elderflower tonic in the bar before the journey home rounded off the evening, reinforcing the notion that most loads can be lightened by a good natter, delicious food and great friends.

I am still on retreat in The Kingdom but the new smell in the old house is apparently fresh paint (surely a sign of progress). And although I am aware that when I return next week it is likely that there will be no operating kitchen sink or cooking facilities, and a whole other range of debris that will need to be disposed of, I will face it refreshed and re-energised. And, given that the aroma of a rack of lamb with stuffing is currently wafting from my mother’s oven, and over the next few days an afternoon playing with my adorable goddaughter and lots of walks and coffees still await, I am happy to be distracted for now.

Dingle in a Day

One of my favourite things to do is travel and, of late, my ventures have been somewhat scarce, so when opportunity does knock, I like to be ready with my toothbrush packed. This post features a very local trip but when there is a suitcase to be packed, a hotel check-in and meals in new spaces, I still think it constitutes travel blogging.  And if you have never been, you may learn enough about West Kerry to contemplate a little trip of your own.

Dingle was the destination for this short but sweet overnight stay-cation.  If you have never had the pleasure of visiting, it is a town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Almost all businesses are independent, lots are artisan, and it has a paradoxical sense of being a bustling yet laid back town. Artists come for the peace to create and the landscape to inspire. Chefs appear to want to allow the fruits of land and sea to take centre stage, making restaurants feel more about the food than the business model (not unfortunately the case everywhere). Musicians know they can just drop into a local licensed premise and simply start to play, soon to be accompanied by some collective foot-tapping, while writers can find both solitude and inspiration in this bi-lingual hamlet that has a lyrical soul.

Dingle is a small town, with 38 pubs, that doesn’t take itself too seriously  (potentially related observations!). But it is clear that this is a town that is making the most of its assets. As a tourist town, it extends a welcome filled with genuine warmth.  The art of conversation is celebrated in many languages, but mostly with dry local wit and buckets of sarcasm. Despite its remoteness, there are ways in which Dingle is contemporary and multicultural. In other ways it is a slice of an Ireland of yore, where tradition is valued and heritage preserved.

I know this part of the world quite well so if tour guides and museums are your thing, this will be the wrong type of travel article for you. But if you like slow drives through stunning landscape, great food, local products and understated luxury then I just might have some tips for you.

I started my day in Tralee, in perfect driving weather. There was a chill in the air but pretty clear skies. I popped some music on the radio and followed the twists and turns of the road, high up over the ever-stunning Conor Pass. The narrow roads with steep drops may see hearts occasionally leaping into mouths but the views are a very worthy reward. Have a look…..

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Eventually, the road descends towards the sea, and before you know it you will be looking for parking and nourishment in the town. On a Monday lunchtime, I was lucky to find both with ease. Usually I research where I will eat in advance but this was a trip without a plan and so I just worked on instinct. It was a good move. I had one of the best lunches in a long time in the very welcoming Goat Street Social. It is a small space, channelling an industrial chic look. The menu is a compact mixture of some salads, a variety of hot dishes and a couple of sandwiches. There were a couple of specials on a chalkboard and I ordered one of these – haddock in a sesame and garlic tempura with sweet chilli and coriander mayo. This was served on a bed of wilted spinach with a side of skinny fries. It was exceptional!!!!!

Happily sated, I took a little stroll, shopped for some locally produced candles and a new book, before grabbing a coffee from Bean in Dingle. This very cool cafe has some great cakes to accompany some quality coffee, and the vibe is as much Williamsburg or Shoreditch as it is Dingle. And then it was back on the road….

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I have been lucky in life to have seen a lot of the world…. not as much as I would like…. but quite a lot nonetheless. I am not sure where I have been or could dream to go that would rival Slea Head when the skies are blue. The landscape is both welcoming and threatening. The sea sparkling and foreboding. The locals warm and weathered. The charm is in the contradictions. Again I will let the pictures do the talking….

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By late afternoon it was time to return to town and check into our lodgings for the night, the highly rated Castlewood House. It is an antique-filled, small hotel with a big heart. The rooms are spacious and each one is individually styled (this wasn’t my first visit).  It is full of little touches that make a stay feel special – a buck’s fizz on arrival, Lily O’Brien’s chocolate treats in the room, complimentary tea and scones served during the afternoon from vintage china and a takeaway coffee for the long drive home. The justifiably award winning breakfast has more choices than most dinner menus and the accompanying buffet stands out from the norm. For example, my fruit bowl had plums poached in a honey syrup and apples stewed with cinnamon. There was desiccated coconut, almonds, banana chips and chia seeds to sprinkle on top. All this was before a made to order Eggs Benedict for me and fluffy pancakes with berries and maple syrup for my slightly ginger travel companion. It’s easy to see why Castlewood House is continuously winning awards.

Based on several recommendations we dined at the Global Village, where food is presented with a nod to fine dining. The early bird is great value, but after that this place is definitely at the upper end of affordable. We were early birds!! The confidence and competence of the kitchen shone through, the staff were friendly and efficient and there was an impressive drinks selection. The menu had a good balance of land and sea, not always the case in this maritime town, and the food was definitely Instagram worthy. Having read and heard so much about this place over the last number of years, my slightly anti-climactic sensation was perhaps inevitable, but it was still a lovely meal. Definitely worth a try in Dingle.

Finally, even those who are teetotal are unlikely to leave Dingle without checking out some local watering holes and here is where humour, charm and local colour are most abundant. There was the cheeky local barman in Foxy Johns, who allowed the German tourist to sample two beers before choosing, but warned him that was his lot “because it’s not a feckin icecream parlour we’re running“.  Dick Macs had a man handcrafting products out of leather behind the bar, beside the barman who smugly informed the French couple that there was wine “both red and white”. And finally, in my new favourite pub (which feels like a farmhouse living room) Kennedy’s, we encountered a charming local girl who regaled us with the impassioned tale of how her very conservative parents sent her to an all girls convent, a boarding school in another part of the country, in an effort to get her to change her mind about her sexuality. Scary thing was this was since the year 2000!!!! It was also a bit like sending sand to the desert!!! But all ended well, she clearly emerged no less gay but her parents adjusted to this reality with time. Although it sounds like granny needs a little more time.

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So all in all, the verdict is that you should definitely find a place for Dingle on your travel itinerary. And maybe try and stay a little longer than me.