By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
It’s all about food and creative menus in Ireland these days. If someone tells you the food in Ireland isn’t good, they have either not been here for about 30 years or they have made some horribly poor choices in restaurants or pubs.
Irish food today is often amazing and can be as gourmet and delicious as anything you might find in Paris, anywhere else on the continent, or in the States. Many Irish chefs have trained elsewhere before returning home to share their skills.
Today, there are many well-known Irish chefs, including Darina and Rachel Allen, Neven Maguire, Derry Clarke, Ross Lewis, Oliver Dunne, Dylan McGrath, to name just a few. Excellent restaurants can be found everywhere from village to city, east to west, and north to south.
Every year since 2011, the Mulranny Park Hotel in Co. Mayo has hosted a gourmet dinner with a tasting menu that pairs the hotel chef’s culinary interpretation of products from local food and drink producers as well as wines that complement the cuisine. At the sold-out event in the hotel’s Nephin Restaurant, diners enjoy the creative expertise of Head Chef Chamila Mananwatta and his staff.
Each year, the menu changes, as does the theme. This year’s theme was “From the Land and Sea to you and me” and, clearly, Mananwatta and his staff had great fun creating delights from local ingredients such as Fennel Bavarois (lobster jelly, orange and Grand Marnier, focaccia crouton); Monochrome of Red (turf smoked Atlantic salmon, beetroot, pickle and sorrel leaves) and Back to Land (Panko-crusted Seaspray lamb shank, lamb liver, Kohlrabi, burnt eggplant, Ceylon spiced apple curry, wild garlic and olive oil powder.) The meal included special breads, a milk and dark chocolate dessert, a cheese course, lemon cake, and chocolate truffles.
Wines were supplied by Thomas Bassot and paired with each course. Included were Patio Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Fluerie, Cotes Du Rhone, and Graham LBV Port. Edward Leach represented the company, described each wine, its qualities and the area of France where the grapes are grown and harvested.
Much of the fun at an event like this is having a good group at your table. Seats were pre-assigned and a friend and I sat with a charming couple, Andrea and Fergal, who were celebrating their first anniversary (they married a year ago at the hotel), Jane and Michelle (Jane works events at the hotel and Michelle formerly worked there but now works in Galway), and Patti Moss, owner of A Taste of Days Gone By who provided chutney for the dinner’s cheese course. They were a lively group and a lot of fun to chat with over such a delicious meal.
The Gourmet Greenway Food Trail comprises artisan food producers along the Great Western Greenway, Ireland’s longest mostly off-road walking and cycling path built on an abandoned railroad track between Westport and Achill Island in Co. Mayo.
Longtime Mulranny Park general manager Dermot Madigan and his management team designed and organized the Gourmet Greenway in 2011 with six original members. The group has since grown to 20 members who employ more than 130 area residents and contribute some 1.5 million euros to the local economy.
Those who contributed to this year’s Gourmet Dinner, in addition to A Taste of Days Gone By, included Kelly’s Butchers, Keem Bay Fish Products, Murrevagh Honey, Carrowholly Cheese, Wildwood Vinegars, West Mayo Brewery, Achill Island Sea Salt, Achill Mountain Lamb, Café Rua, Croagh Patrick Seafoods, Marlene’s Chocolate Haven, and Helen’s Homemade Brown Bread.
The dinner’s guest speaker was Georgina Campbell, Ireland’s leading food and hospitality writer who said she is “a huge admirer” of the Great Western Greenway and the Gourmet Greenway and the leadership, vision, and hard work that created them.
She applauded the Gourmet Greenway Events Guide, which she launched at the dinner, and urged diners to support the special offerings by different members each month through the end of October. The next special event from the events guide is Beer and Seafood Week, May 9-15, at the award-winning Grainne Uaile Bar in Newport. Harry McMenamon and his team there will spotlight fresh local seafood and Clifford’s Ale from West Mayo Brewery in Islandeady.
The Georgina Campbell Guides, established in 1997, is a family-run guide and cookbook publisher specializing in Irish food, hospitality, and travel. Recommendations are based on independent and anonymous assessments, and inclusion is free and based on merit. See ireland-guide.com for more.
Also attending the dinner was writer Catherine Madden from Taste of Ireland, an online food review, who emailed later that she and her husband very much enjoyed the dinner. “It was a wonderful evening.”
The Mulranny Park offers a special room/gourmet dinner combination rate every year and if you are in the Mulranny, Co. Mayo, area, a stay at this 4-star hotel is highly recommended. For more information, see mulrannyparkhotel.ie
Are you coming to Ireland this month and looking to take a walk that’s more than just a walk? Then sign up to take part in Renvyle House’s walking weekend (May 6-8) with Michael Gibbons, a noted archaeologist and walking guide.
There are many reasons to do so – you’ll learn a lot about the history, area, and archaeology of the beautiful Renvyle Peninsula in Connemara, Co. Galway, during three guided walks (including a hike on an old smuggling path along Killary Harbor, Ireland’s only fjord.)
You can attend Gibbons’s introductory talk and slide show, experience the hospitality of the Renvyle House as well as evening entertainment there, and partake of the hotel’s outstanding food (the crab salad is highly recommended.) Visit renvyle.com for more details or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
RENTING A CAR
I am often asked about the age limit for renting a car in Ireland. Because I rent my car every year from Dooley Car Rentals (dooleycarrentals.com), I asked president Pat Dooley about his company’s policy.
“As far as we are concerned,” he said, “we will rent to any senior age visitor from North America under the condition that it is automatic only. This is for the safety of the client, our car, and any other party as it just takes the risk out of senior drivers having to drive and shift.”
I have always found Dooley cars to be clean and well maintained and the company to be extremely responsive to queries or problems.
Warmer weather is here at last and spring is a great time to be in Ireland. Be sure to check with your favorite travel agent or visit the Aer Lingus website for travel specials. And enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you visit.