Sligo Food Trail goodies!

The Sligo Food Trail was officially launched on April 6th. I was delighted to work with Amanda McCloat, Head of Home Economic at St. Angela’s College in Sligo, and the Food Trail members in putting together the fantastic Goodie Bags that were distributed to key people on the launch night.

The producers and businesses showed typical generosity when it came to donations. The bags were packed full of delicious treats (both food & drink!), vouchers, books and, of course, copies of the Food Trail brochure:

The White Hag Brewing Company Ltd.
Café Fleur
Sweet Beat Cafè
WB’s Coffee House and Deli Bar
Shells Café and Little Shop
Beltra Country Market – Marguerite Quinlan
Fabio’s Homemade Italian Ice Cream
Prannie Rhatigan’s Irish Seaweed Kitchen
Clo’s Chocolate
Murson Farm
Seashore Veg
The Organic Centre
Aisling’s Home Cooked Food also to be found at the Grass Roof Café!
Bramble Lodge Foods
Eala Bhán / Trá Bán
Lyons Cafè
Pudding Row
Harrisons Gastro Bar & Restaurant
Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa

Some of these I’ve reviewed previously here on oonagheats.com or on the oonagheats.com Facebook fan page (Eala Bhan, Sweet Beat, Shells, Lyons Cafe, Radisson Blu, Aisling’s Home Cooked Food at the Grass Roof Café) but over the coming months, I plan to check them all out, painstakingly, one by one (poor me, LOL !) and give you the low down – watch this space!

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Best Children’s Menu in Ireland – Spring Review

In February, I set out to assess Children’s menus, for variety, healthiness, availability and appeal. I’ve checked out quite a few at this stage, some directly (with the Children in tow) and some indirectly, just from a look at the menus.

We were invited by Anthony Gray, President of the RAI and owner of Eala Bhán and Trá Bán restaurants in Sligo to dine en famille at Eala Bhán and try out his newly launched “Healthy Kid’s Menu”. With thanks to Anthony for his generous hospitality, this is an honest appraisal. Anthony told us that the menu was devised by himself and his team and with input from Olivia Collins of Food PR.

Kids — Eala Bhán menu

It was very nicely presented, with the usual colouring in / activities on the reverse, though my pair are a bit old for the colouring in at this stage. Everyone got a soup amuse bouche, which is always a great addition!
Amuse Bouche

A review of the Starter options showed that the healthy option for starters was Soup. The fish cake, though listed as “Super Healthy” was deep fried (at least I assume it was or it would have said “baked”) in breadcrumbs. The third choice was sweet potato chips (deep fried again). For Starters, he close the Fish Cake and she went for the soup (vegetable).

The fish cake looked lovely, however, for a child, the presentation and garnish was a bit too fancy to be honest. Many children are not keen on salad or dressing or anything touching the food that they don’t want to eat! I tasted it though, and it was really good. In fact, I ate nearly all of it!!

The soup was excellent – a generous portion, with well balanced seasoning and very nicely presented, with brown bread on the side.

Choices of mains included fish & chips (deep fried), beef burger (chargrilled), deep fried chicken goujons, or vegetable lasagna (sic). For mains, he chose the Chicken Goujons & Chips and she went for the Beef Burger. The verdict on the Chicken and Chips was that the chips were really good – chunky, fresh and crispy, but the chicken was just “ok”. Deep fried so not very healthy. The burger was really super. Lovely soft bap, fab beef from Sherlock’s Butchers, perfect portion size, generous but not too much, overall a winner.

Desserts were chocolate, chocolate or chocolate! There was nothing else. He is quite the connoisseur of the chocolate brownie and said that while this was indeed very good, it was slightly overbaked and so a bit too much like chocolate cake, i.e., not squidgey enough! That said, he ate every pick! She went for fancy, and she is inclined to do, and the Chocolate Fondue was indeed very impressive!

A healthy menu should offer a fruit plate, or fruit skewers or even yogurt. If the menu is supposed to he healthy, then there should be some healthy options for all courses.

Overall, is great to see a restaurant make an effort at a healthy menu, and despite being well presented and tasty, simply calling something “healthy” and listing local suppliers doesn’t make it healthy I’m afraid. Perhaps input from a Nutritionist would help. At the very bottom of the menu in small print, it told us that Child Size portions of all adult meals are available. Fantastic! But this should be front & centre! At the very least, it should really have been pointed out to us by the server. This is where a restaurant can score points and set itself above the others when it comes to beating the competitors in the healthy kids meal stakes. It’s an opportunity that should be capitalised on.

Other quick picks from my travels (and please excuse some very poor photography on my part):

Tyrellspass Castle Restaurant, Co.Westmeath – soup and choices of turkey, beef or ham with veg first followed by the usual deep-fried chicken,sausages etc…
Tyrellspass Castle

Rua, Castlebar – excellent menu, and not a deep-fried goujon or chip in sight, hooray! Will definitely go back here with the kids in tow.
Rua Kids Menu

Shells Cafe, Strandhill – nice little kids menu, great to see that its basically smaller portions of the main menu dishes, with a twist!
Shells Kids Menu

Donaghy’s Pub, Sligo – very very limited kids portions on the menu, just 2 dishes that we could see – chicken nuggets and chips, and Healthy Fish Gougons (sic) for Kids – we weren’t offered a kids menu, if there was one (we didn’t ask either mind you);

Sweet Beat Cafe, Sligo – no children’s portions on the menu so we usually end up splitting dishes between us;

McDonagh’s, Galway – recently visited, but no kids portions offered that we could see (no complaints from the kids though!).

Sheridan’s of Milltown, Co.Galway – a good range of healthier foods for kids here. Spaghetti, mash, chicken curry and rice…and the usual sausages / goujons & chips. Better than some though.
Kids Menu Sheridans Milltown310316

Restaurants would do well to appreciate that, during the day and early evening, parents can be enticed to dine more often with children, if the children were better catered for. Who decided that all kids want to eat is processed meat & chips? Sure, they’ll happily eat it, but its not healthy, as most people know by now. Oh, and P.S., run a spell check on your menus people! There is no excuse for bad grammar, stray apostrophes and spelling errors.

Tune in again at the end of the Summer for the next instalment!

The Draft House Gastro Pub opens in Strandhill using local suppliers

Its lovely when an invitation pops up in your InBox with an invitation to the opening night of a new Gastro Pub! So it was back on May 15th last when owner Daniel McGarrigle (he of 5th on Teeling fame) invited friends and neighbours to sample the craft beer and food of this new venue, The Draft House in Strandhill, Co.Sligo.

 Draft House logo

We were treated to a wide range and many samples of the foods and beers on the menu. While some of the branding might be a bit twee (a pig on a surfboard, really?) and some menu descriptions a little silly (Sand Witches – I know its by the beach in Strandhill, but still… Granny’s brown bread – who is Granny? Why not just say local or house…? Chicken Supreme, for bird lovers – hardly! and the Water was labelled as “Unicorn Tears”, give me a break) the food was undoubtedly very good.

The one quibble I had was that when I asked the F&B Manager if the bread was made on the premises, she answered “Yes! It was made fresh yesterday”. Yesterday. That explained why it was a little dry then. However, I have recently learned that a local baker (My Strandhill Bakery) will be supplying the bread imminently, and I know that will be great since the baker has recently returned from bakery training in Paris and spent 3 weeks at the Bakery Academy of Ireland in Dublin over the Summer…and I’ve tried it.

My Strandhill Bakery logo

Its far better to buy local, fresh every day, rather than serve day old bread made on the premises.

On foot of a very enjoyable launch night, I returned with the children a week later. The place was very busy, which is a good sign. However, everywhere we sat seemed to be right underneath a speaker which was playing music just a bit too loud for a family at lunch time. So we left.

Not to be put off, we all returned again a week later. The food was great, but the service really needed attention. Very uneven. Asked for glasses that came wet. Then came dirty. Then came with attitude. The salad special said “mixed baby leaves” – it was all spinach. Perhaps things will improve with time and I will try it again in the future, but not in a hurry. Good food is always a draw, but poor service puts me right off, especially when other nearby places can do both well.

Good Luck to Daniel and Team – its great to see new place opening with a real emphasis on food and atmosphere. The menu is really interesting and the decor certainly different (albeit a bit dark downstairs for daytime). Just be sure to train your staff really well and ensure standards are set, monitored and maintained. Next time I’ll have a go on the swing upstairs!

Recent Roundup

So many restaurants, just not enough time to report them all fully I’m afraid. I hope these photos give you a taste (!) to bring you up to date. It has been a very busy year so far working with more great food producers, visiting new restaurants and cafés, judging baking competitions….such activity in the food community, brilliant!

Finals of the Co. Leitrim Aldi / Foiróige baking competition – the cake won, so light, flavoursome, a great bake as they say – no soggy bottoms!

Lunch in The Oarsman, Carrick On Shannon – Atlantic Hake with a side of the best mashed potato I’ve had anywhere for ages. Thanks Conor Maher for the suggestion!

Duck starter and Sea Bass main course in The Cottage, Jamestown, Co.Leitrim

Beer Battered cod & chips in The Clubhouse Bar, Dromahair, Co.Leitrim – on my doorstep!
The Clubhouse cod & chips

If you haven’t been to the Sweet Beat Café yet in Sligo -why not?! Its just fantastic – tell Carolanne I sent you 😉
Sweet Beat IT feature

Wonderful marshmallow from Donegal, made by Artisan food producer Linda McClean of Mallow Mia! Brilliant for gifts or wedding favours.

KC Peaches, Dame St., Dublin – toasted brown bread with mashed avocado (very tasty even though it wasn’t actually mashed!). Food good though service was a little slow considering the only other person there was only having coffee!

Baba Ganousch in Luna Restaurant, Dromahair, Co.Leitrim – the village is growing its fab food status with Bernadette O’Shea’s incredible food.
Luna Baba Ganoush

Great to see new places opening on O’Connell St., Sligo – Knox is the place to try if you’re in town. Love the style and decor, food good too!
Knox coffee

Dromahair monthly(ish) Culinary Challenge Club – Mexican night!

There’s more to come – and I promise to post a lot more regularly from now on. If you’ve been anywhere great or awful, let me know and I’ll check it out!
Bye for now,
Oonagh

The Hungry Monk, Cong, Co.Mayo

I was in Connemara yesterday working hard (!) and the drive home took me through Cong Village. It really is a gem. Excellent eateries on almost every corner it seems (will try Pat Cohan’s Bar next time). Today I stopped in The Hungry Monk for lunch. I met Aisling Butler a few months ago when she was considering opening something in Cong, and we should be very glad she did!
Aisling

Today I had the Pork Belly, Tomato and Broad Bean stew. It came served with Sourdough Bread which would be wonderful for mopping up the sauce, but on Aisling’s suggestion, I had mash instead. Lovely, light yet creamy mash, perfectly seasoned. The pork had been slow cooked for 12 hours. Yes 12 HOURS I said! As a result it was so tender, it just fell apart with the fork. The sauce was what you might describe as rustic – chunky veg, plenty of beans, sweet, really flavoursome. A great combination of textures and flavours overall (as we say in the trade, ahem!).
Dinner

If you’re on the road from Ballinrobe to Galway, divert into Cong, and have your lunch here. I declined dessert, but the sweet treats looked really good – all homemade that morning.
Sweet treats

Keep up the great work Aisling and Jon! I’ll be back.
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Italian Nostalgia

Ciao Bella!

It seems like a long time ago since our visit to check out the food in Tuscany, especially now that Autumn is upon us. Gone are the mornings sitting out on the deck having a breakfast of freshly baked Italian bread from the campsite bakery, fresh cherries, yummy cheeses and salami, sweet sweet oranges, tasty tomatoes…..all of which definitely taste better in the sunshine.

Going back through this selection of photos brings back the tastes and smells of delicious garlicky marinara pizza in an authentic Italian restaurant on a back street called L’Antica Torre close to the piazza in nearby Filigne Valdarno, local pasta from Siena, chickens for sale in the CoOp Supermarket with their heads still on (eeeoow!), Lauderee Macarons in Lucca, gelato from Elmi La Gelateria at every opportunity, Panforte, Panpepato, Amaretti (Almond biscuits), Cantucci (brittle almond biscuits), Brutti ma Buoni, Ricciarelli, and Ossi di Morto (Almond and hazelnut biscuits), not to say anything about the Chianti…!

There was a lovely little wine shop on our campsite in Norcenni Girasole . The campsite was excellent, by the way, great facilities and brilliant staff. I could have done a cookery course one morning in the Villa la Palagina near by, but it was too hot to spend time baking bread! We would seriously consider going back again. We went with Kelair/Campotel.

There is far too much to cover in detail, but I am going to write a longer post about one experience at the Antica Macelleria Falorni, so tune in for that soon.

Buon appetito!

The Kelly Belly – its no myth!

Aerial Kelly'sWhen I was about 8 or 9 my parents would drive us out to Rosslare from Wexford town (where we lived for a couple of years) so we could play on the beach. As I recall, Summers were always sunny, and while we played, we saw people coming onto the strand from Kelly’s Resort Hotel, bringing their picnics, and generally looking well fed & relaxed. Even then I knew from listening to my mother that Kelly’s was THE place in terms of family hotels. Fast forward 25 years and my mother and I return for a short stay. This time I’m pregnant with my first baby, though still managed Crazy Golf and a boogie on the dance floor to the house band!

For 3 years in a row when the children were small, both under 5, we took our little family for a week at a time to stay in Kelly’s. We always went in September since this is their Focus on Sport month. It was tennis, crazy golf, table tennis, bowls, horse shoe throwing, table quizzes, you name it, from sun up to sun down. We loved it! And we could justify the near constant eating because of our strenuous exertions on the (Crazy) Golf course!

Apart from the activities and the brilliant (best in Ireland?) kids club, its the food and sheer pleasure and relaxation that people talk about. I’m pleased to report that in the spirit of checking that they’ve been consistent in their standards (well someone has to do it!), Mum and I returned last month after an absence of 6 years to check it out. At this time of year Kelly’s still has a variety of activities, and the week we were there Dermot O’Neill was giving gardening talks, and we attended two of these. Lots of notes taken, no action yet!

We took the train – she from Galway, me from Collooney, met in Connolly and so on to Rosslare Strand. This has to be the most scenic train journey in Ireland – the line hugs the coast down to Bray and then follows the Slaney. We were met at the station by the Kelly’s bus and so began 3 days of bliss.

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Our room was lovely – in the new part of the hotel, above the Spa, and with a sea view. There was a bottle of Kelly’s Blanc de Blanc bubbly in the room with a card wishing us a happy birthday! This trip was a treat to ourselves, falling between both our birthdays. So we started doing nothing, sitting about, relaxing, wondering how soon we could start eating.

Day 1 – Dinner

First of all, very unusually for a place like this and with only one exception, there was no food provenance on the menu on any night. An extreme oversight.

Starter A – Confit of Duck on a bed of savoy cabbage – this must be in vogue at the minute because its the third time I’ve seen it on a menu in the past month AND its one of the dishes I cooked at Neven Maguire’s Cookery School in January. It was good though, the fat all properly rendered, the meat falling off the bone. Really good according to Mum;

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Start B – Chicken Liver Pate with toasted brioche. A bit ordinary to tell you the truth. the pate was bland but was saved by the marmaladey side dish (that’s a technical term, btw). Salad was ordinary, toast a little dry.

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Main Course A – Turbot – a huge portion, but fresh and tasted good. Main Course B – breast of pheasant on a bed of (lacked finesse) – a big pile of food, topped off with a rasher for some reason. Looked like something you’d eat after a hard day working out doors. Not too good.

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Dessert A – Warm sticky toffee pudding (neither warm nor sticky). The sauce was a bit scarce and so more was requested – it came and was poured all over, now a little too much. Dessert B of Pistachio Creme brûlée with stewed apple and crumble. It was a bit thrown together looking, and again lacked that special touch.

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Overall, dinner on Day 1 was disappointing.

Day 2 – Breakfast 

We breakfasted in The Beaches dining room, table service, very nice, no complaints, nothing to write home about either though.

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Lunch

When it comes to lunch, you tell yourself that you’re still full from dinner the night before and the big breakfast you only finished at 10am, but then they serve lunch, so what’ll you do?! It’s a great buffet affair, fab range of salads and cold meats, at least 3 or 4 hot dishes and then an extensive spread of desserts (some left over from last night’s dinner). My dessert (at lunchtime?) was a lime jelly topped with vanilla creme – absolutely limey, light and lovely.

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Dinner

Tonight we were joined by my good friend Bernie who lives and works in Wexford. Starters included smoked salmon, roasted crab claws and mozzarella & tomato salad – thumbs up all round.

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Main courses of Monkfish with chickpeas for Mum & Bernie and Scallops for me were a big improvement on last night. However, my scallops were covered in a mushroom sauce for  some reason which overpowered them somewhat. Personally, I prefer my scallops just lightly fried and served without sauce, just a wedge of lemon. I had them recently in the Inis Meain Suites restaurant and have never tasted better.

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Dessert of chocolate tart was certainly chocolately but dense. It should have come with creme anglaise (I think) but instead a big squirt of vanilla icecream. I had lemon cake light, lemony, moist, yummy.IMG_3425

Day 3 – Breakfast 

Breakfast this morning was in the Ivy Room – a great buffet of a thing, and all the fruit, cereal, hot food, bread, toast and pastries you could eat. So we did!

Lunch – All I could manage was soup. I swore off dessert, but then ate almost all of Mum’s lemon cake (familiar from the night before).

Afternoon Tea – we declined this both days. However, the queue for the cakes snakes its way from the counter back through the Ivy Room. Its as if people have been starving for days! I remember when we were there a few years ago, and being in Wexford in the afternoon for a bit of shopping. My husband was getting very anxious about finishing up shopping and getting back to the hotel in case we would miss afternoon tea. Its amazing how the body adapts to accommodate volume. It would be a waste; after all, it’s included!

Dinner – getting better with each night – we should have stayed a week! We were joined by an old family friend from Wexford. Starters included melon (how presbyterian), smoked duck (fabulous) and salmon roulade. Main courses of halibut (huge, fresh, fantastic), some sort of casserole (sorry!) and roast duck breast. Desserts of chocolate bomb-thingy (really good description, I know…), vanilla cream slice, and I had cheese. When they ask you which cheese you would like and you say you’ll have them all, you know that you’ve totally succumbed.

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Kelly’s is great, it really is. There is no doubt at all that I’ll be back with the family. There’s just something about the service, the hospitality, the atmosphere. I felt completely relaxed and de-stressed at the end of 3 days. I hardly thought about work (and that’s really saying something). We met some lovely, interesting people. I haven’t even mentioned the Sea Spa, and all I’ll say is – go! And while I’ve had better food, perhaps I’m a bit fussy, because I ate everything that was put in front of me, everything!

Sea Spa

As for the infamous Kelly Belly – 3lb in 3 days, that’s all I’m saying!

hotel_logo_kellys

 Photos take by Oonagh except 3 from Kelly’s website www.kellys.ie