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!

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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.
Exterior

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!

Irish Quality Food & Drink Awards announce 2014 finalists!

I was delighted to have been invited to be a judge at this year’s IQFA Awards. I spent two days in Dublin with a range of really interesting people judging everything from Christmas puddings, mince pies, frozen desserts, ice cream, chocolates, gluten free sausages, bread, butter, spreads, cakes, cheeses and yogurts. Phew!! It was great! Such a range excellent of foods, so many wonderful producers and the quality was fantastic!
IQFA

And so, following a huge wave of entries and 8 days of tough judging, the shortlisted products for the Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards have been announced today. Check out the shortlisted producers here.

The 180 shortlisted food and drink products in 50 categories were whittled down from 606 entries and are now in with a chance to win one of the prestigious awards in a glittering ceremony hosted by TV Chef and author Catherine Fulvio on 11th September in the Round Room, Mansion House, Dublin.
IQFA Awards winners 2013

This year for the first time a panel of judges from Musgrave Retail Partners chose finalists for the Small Producer of the Year Award – designed to celebrate artisanal foods and drink in Ireland and sponsored by SuperValu. The winner will be offered a prestigious listing in SuperValu stores. Finalists are:

• Chicken Liver Paté with Garlic & Brandy – On The Pig’s Back c/o La Charcuterie Irlandaise Ltd
On teh pigs back

• Scotts Irish Cider – Big Hand Brewing Company Ltd
Big Hand Brewing

• Sweet BBQ Pulled Pork – Jack & Keith Molloy Bros. Ltd
Molloys

Organiser, Helen Lyons, is thrilled with the success of the awards so far and said the judging was a “fantastic 8 days which brought together some of the very best food and drink on sale in Ireland and many of the Nation’s top foodies”.

The Irish Quality Food Awards set out to recognise excellence in product development for food and drink producers, retailers and catering companies in Ireland only, with Q Awards being awarded across 50 different categories. The Overall Gold Q is awarded to the one product that stands out among all the other entries and is chosen from the winners of the main categories, representing the very best of the best.

The awards are open to all retailers, food producers, wholesalers and food service operators across Northern and Southern Ireland. They are a unique collaboration between Food and Hospitality Ireland and the UK Quality Food and Drink Awards (now in its 33rd year) and sponsored by top UK packaging manufacturer, Benson Group as well as Invest Northern Ireland and MLS Labelling & Printing Systems.

All excess food from the judging was given to The Capuchin Centre for Homeless People, which provides warm food each day and more than 1800 food hampers a week to vulnerable people in Dublin, and FareShare. Learn more about The Capuchin Centre for Homeless People www.capuchindaycentre.ie.

I love you Butter!

When I was about 17, the new trend was to try to cut down on eating saturated fat. Flora appeared on the market and even some of the most sensible people thought it best to start spreading it on their toast instead of butter. The only margarines available before then were Blueband and Stork (Stork! Imagine putting that on your toast, eeeuugh!). And so, the move away from butter commenced.

In our house, my mother went with that too, as per doctors’ advice. She tried everything to get me to eat Flora. Blind taste tests, disguised with jam, you name it, but I could detect butter a mile off. There is just no comparison. As far as I was concerned, and still am, its butter or nothing. In fact, if its not butter, then I’ll have dry toast, thank you very much. I will forego any spread unless its butter, and I’ve tried them all – fakeries, interlopers, chancers all. I was never convinced that polyunsaturated spreads could be good for you – they’re too processed. And as for the easy spreaders or low calorie spreads? Yuck! If you want it to spread easily, leave it out of the fridge for a bit (or see new innovation below!). If you want lower calories – eat less (rocket science, I know!).
TIME cover
Meanwhile, the market for spreads booms away – some people just have no taste! I was finally vindicated earlier this week when Time magazine published an article, reported also in the Irish Independent, debunking the bad rep that butter has been given over recent decades (they should have asked me!!!). What’s more, I heard Professor Eoin O’Brien, Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at The Conway Institute, University College Dublin on the Today Show with Sean O’Rourke a couple of weeks ago saying that its not as bad for your health as you might think.

How delighted was I last week then when as part of the Food Bloggers event for So Sligo Food Festival 2014, we were given a selection of Connacht Gold butters to try out. Such hardship!

So in the spirit of my days growing up in Barna, last night I carried out a blind taste test with my daughter Anna. (I should mention that Anna is very fond of cooking and food generally, not sure where she gets it!).
IMG_4001
IMG_4002

In fairness, Anna identified each of the four varieties without too much difficulty. But, and this is major, all of them were really buttery. I’ve an aversion to anything low fat, as it generally doesn’t taste as good as the real thing but the Low Fat butter (49% butter – can you call that Low Fat? I thought it has to be <3% fat to be legally Low Fat) tasted really good – no compromise there. The Spreadable Butter is excellent, truly.

I love simplicity in innovation and the Garlic and Herb butter meets that standard for me. When innovating anything, start by asking: What do people want thats not too fancy, but just a bit of hassle to do for themselves? Well, making garlic bread is one thing that people find a nuisance. Frozen garlic bread is big business but the standard out there is mediocre. Making your own is fiddly, mashing the garlic into the butter is messy, and then you need to chop the herbs really finely, if you’ve remembered to buy the herbs that is. So, this Garlic and Herb butter should go down a storm – spread it onto a white bread roll and pop it under the grill – simples! The Garlic and Herb flavours come through really well, not at all overpowering or strange tasting – we ate it spread on white bread and it was great!

Finally the real butter itself. Yes, the others are very good, and I’ll be happy to buy them, no problem. Connacht Gold’s Great Taste 2013 awards are very much deserved! But the real butter…that’s where its at. I’ll never leave you butter. I’m all yours!

Photos – Oonagh’s own or from Connacht Gold website and Irish Independent article