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Lucinda's Lookback 2017

Lucinda's Lookback 2017

Thursday 21 December 2017

The restaurant industry forged ahead in 2017 with the ‘big boys’ competing with new food emporiums, restaurants, and even a cinema with food. This new boom has the hospitality industry crying out for chefs and front of house sta , as the ever more rare bird, the sous chef, takes flight to open a small hipster eatery, and the chef de partie finds himself elevated in jig time! It’s great to see food skills and young chefs on the rise, but hygiene and service are areas that need watching – I’ve had a few smartass experiences in 2017. However, overall it was a great year, and as we’re in the last 12 days of Christmas, here are my 12 hot experiences of 2017.

The old Silver Tassie pub, on the N11 at Loughlinstown, had lain forlorn and derelict until the delightful David Whelehan turned it into a destination winery with a small casual dining area. That was two years ago this month, and it has proved such a success, that the fab Nick Clapham is now Head Chef, the place has been extended to cope with demand, and it’s a hot destination not to be missed.

The Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny Castle Yard provides an amazing service to visitors and locals alike. A bastion of great food and a supporter of local artisan producers. The upstairs restaurant, separate from their all day cafe food-hall, set in the 1760s grain store, with its original oak beams, morphs into Anocht from Thursday to Saturday, where, in Feb, we feasted on Head Chef Rory Nolan’s wild fallow venison carpaccio with brown butter Jerusalem artichoke cream.

Cask hit the ground running on Cork’s MacCurtain Street in March, adding a much needed fresh vibe. Part of Hotel Isaac’s, with food by Chef Bryan McCarthy and cocktails by Andy Ferreira,
I had a Katty Barry cocktail, named after a legendary Cork character, along with Korean bao buns, salt cod brandade, and a showstopping Heston Blumenthal style liquid nitrogen ‘cooked’ dessert.

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Ireland’s only 2-star Michelin, reopened after a makeover that included the most amazing Moroccan style domed ceiling lavishly coated in 24ct gold. The food is unquestionably sublime and a good way to try it on a budget, as we did, is with their 2/3 course lunch at €50/€60. I had a superb featherweight Cevenne onion tart followed by roast monkfish with Sri Lankan influences.

The arrival of Rachel Allen’s first solo restaurant adventure had been eagerly awaited by Cork’s chattering classes and I hot-footed it to Cork in March to try her sassy cocktails and classy classical menu. I didn’t have the caviar, chowing down instead on Prosciutto di San Daniele, sprinkled with Ardsallgh goat cheese, onion confiture, almonds, and sweet Vino Cotto, which was ‘simply delicious’.

The pretty village of Malahide, home to comfortable commuters and the diminishing remnants of auld dacency, got a shot in the arm in April with the opening of the cool contemporary Old Street, serving new wave food. My Comeragh Mountain lamb, pink and perfect, was interspersed with elements of sheep yoghurt, wild garlic, wafers of baby turnip, pea and Middle Eastern za’atar.

When two great food professionals decide to combine their talents, its always going to make for an interesting scenario. Sometimes it leads to fireworks, but other times it’s pistols at dawn. This time it was a Franco-Irish entente cordiale between urbane patron Olivier Meisonnave and super-chef Graham Neville. The result in April was heaven on a plate as we delighted in their seared silky foie gras with split violet artichoke, Roscoff onion puree and nasturtium leaves.

We fell instantly in love with Conor Sexton and Jutarat ‘R’ Suwankeeree’s gorgeous Nightmarket in Ranelagh, serving food inspired by R’s childhood spent helping her grandparents on their food stall in Chiang Mai. “Bring it on”, I’d said, as I was asked how I like chillies. I was soon on fire and loving every rising degree! They’ve just launched the final part of their restaurant – a fab first floor dining area. If you think you’ve had great Thai food, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The ultimate domestic goddess that is Nigella Lawson caused heads to turn when she wheeled up to Rasam Indian Restaurant in Glasthule. In town to peddle her new book, At My Table, at signings and on the Late Late, she enjoyed a beetroot curry and kulfi and posed for pics with Rasam’s Nisheeth Tak (Pictured). Needless to say, it was the one week I wasn’t there!

I don’t know anybody that doesn’t love good Italian food, and the very creme de la creme of Italian cuisine is in the Marble City of Kilkenny at Ristorane Rinuccini, where Antonio and Marion Cavaliere, and their son Riccardo, having been operating this bastion of sublime food for the best part of 30 years. We couldn’t resist a visit in May to indulge in Antonio’s ethereally light handmade ravioli Gorgonzola e noci.

Forever traversing the M8, which is totally lacking in pit stops, we were thrilled with the 19thC pub Mikey Ryan’s in its new posh pub mode. Backing onto the Cashel Palace Hotel, which is being refurbished, both are owned by horsey honcho John Magnier – hence a horsebox bar in the garden. With Trish Conroy at the helm, it’s a stylish spot and a perfect stop off for M8 pilgrims, serving really good casual food, we loved our ‘meaty’ fish cakes topped with a just oozing poached egg.

Yes, you’re reading this correctly, The Malton Hotel is returning to its legendary ‘Great Southern Killarney’ name next month. Since becoming part of the Scally family’s Hayfield Collection a couple of years ago, the love, care and restoration that has taken place was obvious on our visit last month. It’s a glittering jewel in Irish Tourism and once again the Grand Old Lady of Killarney.

Happy Christmas and good eating to one and all. Lucinda