What with it being St Patrick’s Day and all – Ireland’s greatest celebration – it’s a good time to maybe redress the balance and talk less about Guinness, blarney, and those big leprechaun hats, and more about the rich food and drink culture of both the republic and the north. For this is a churning swell of incredible produce, traditional delicacies, burgeoning craft breweries and some stunning restaurants (and of course pubs).
It would be a heinous betrayal – nay a whiskey addled rabbit punch to the throats – of the Clancy’s of Donegal, Kilkenny, Cork and Tyrone, if this Clancy didn’t try to dispense with just some of the stereotypes, the four-leaf clovers, pots of gold and suchlike, to present a more considered vision of one of the most wonderful places on Earth. So here we go – this, in four short takes, is my personal alternative guide to Ireland.
#1. Dublin’s (and the World’s) Greatest Roast
After a heavy night on the tiles in Temple Bar, you could do much, much worse than landing, bleary eyed and overly emotional on a what seems like a write-off Sunday, at The Old Spot – a cavernous gastro pub in Dublin’s city centre. Once ensconced in its comfortably low-lit surrounds, the dual tonic of a welcomingly warm and spicy Bloody Mary and ‘Pat McLoughlin’s Dry Aged Sirloin of Beef’ – medium rare slabs of salted cow, cut thick like a docker’s hand, served with duck fat roast potatoes and a rich cauliflower cheese, are more than enough to wrest you from your malaise. At 24 euros, it’s not cheap, but after spending 20 times that the night before, only to receive mild amnesia, a regretful headache, mystery bruises and an acute case of ‘desert mouth’, it soon represents good value.
#2. Not Just Guinness
OK, so there’s a bit of a theme at play here, but my point is this; despite Guinness being Ireland’s national tipple (and it does taste better over there), countless fine microbreweries are springing up in both the north and south, offering viable alternatives to the black stuff. Waterford’s Metalman, the eponymous Galway Bay, Cork’s Eight Degrees and Dublin’s Rascal’s Brewing are just a few of note. Don’t worry if you can’t make it over to the old country for a fresh sample just yet – simply join one of our multiple beer delivery clubs and you too can yarn on like a beardy old beer badger about ‘collabs’, ‘cuvees’ and ‘octanes’, until everyone within earshot literally dies of boredom.
Is it a pancake? A latka? A flat bread, or something quite different? Whatever its true definition, there’s one thing we can all agree on, Boxty – a humble staple made with potato, flour, sometimes buttermilk and oft pimped with all manner of non-traditional embellishments – is a delicious and versatile addition to many dishes. From fry-ups to curries, the carrier for poached eggs on a brunchtime plate, the tortilla replacement in a quesadilla, or simply served with good quality smoked fish, it’s the pre-Brexit Ian Botham of foodstuffs, an all-rounder that you can count on to deliver. So good that someone once saw fit to write a feminist poem about it: “Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan; if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man”.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a second verse, so I have tried, with limited creative nous, to pen one myself in tribute; “Boxty in a curry, boxty in a stew, don’t eat too much boxty or you’ll need a massive…” What rhymes with lie down?
#4. Shucking hell?
Known by many as the ‘bogeys of the sea’ – oysters, though divisive for some, have a special place in many a foodies’ heart, and there’s nowhere better to enjoy this local delicacy than Belfast’s Mourne Seafood Bar. This laid-back establishment serves them in a few guises, including au naturel and Japanese style, alongside a menu of fresh delicacies including squid, langoustines, and a chowder to die for, hell, there’s even fish and chips if you want your catch to be properly dead before eating. Once all this Covid rubbish is over, a visit is highly recommended.