Sunday, 21 April 2019

Happy Easter





Happy Easter to you all! What extraordinary weather we’re having as we spring into summer and back into winter again. Just a few mornings ago there was a bitter frost and then a glorious summer day… The leaves of my poor little beetroot seedlings got frizzled in the garden so I hope they’ll recover…
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This weather ‘roller coaster’ is kinda spooky… Normally the pale yellow stalks of sea kale are in season in April but this year we’ve been harvesting them from under the cloches for over a month, in fact the crop is almost finished. Even more extraordinary is our asparagus crop usually in season in May. This year we ate the first meal at the end of February and have had several cuttings since.
Super charged, climate change whether cyclical or man-made or a combination of both is a terrifying reality, however as a consequence, this Easter we can enjoy not just the first of the rhubarb but both Irish asparagus and the last of the seasons sea kale.
In every village shop and on the high street, the shelves are groaning with Easter eggs, ever cheaper and if the truth be known, less good chocolate in many. As we scramble for the cheaper and cheaper food, I can’t help thinking about the poor cocoa bean farmers, who are forced to take less and less for their raw materials – price takers, not price makers…
As with Christmas, the blatant excess and consumerism makes me deeply uneasy and almost feel queasy. Somehow it makes me focus even more on the true meaning of the Feast of Easter, I vividly remember a time when we all fasted throughout Lent and took on a penance of our choice. We ‘gave up’ sweets or ‘the drink’ or some other secret obsession…and then there was the satisfaction of having kept to our resolution and the joy of the first bite of an Easter egg on Easter Sunday after Mass or Church – one lovely little chocolate egg that we ate morsel by morsel often over several days.
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Image: Briana Palma

The hens in our ‘Palais de Poulets’ have gone into overdrive, they hate the cold, wet Winter days, and only lay haphazardly but coming up to Easter they start to lay again with gay abandon so if you have a few hens and I hope I’ve managed to persuade you by now to have a little moveable chicken coup on your lawn - you can enjoy dipping those tender asparagus spears into a freshly boiled egg.



Pam has already made the traditional Simnel Cake with a layer of marzipan in the centre and 11 balls on top to symbolise the apostles. Yes, I know there were 12 but Judas doesn’t make it to the top of the cake…
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Image: Independent.ie
We’ll roast a shoulder of sweet succulent Easter lamb and enjoy it with the already prolific spearmint in the herb garden and then of course there will be a juicy rhubarb tart. This year I’m using the Ballymaloe cream pastry recipe, it sounds super decadent and is but it’s extraordinarily good and super easy to make so don’t balk at the ingredients – just try it!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Hot Spots on The New York Food Scene

I spent a week in New York over the St Patrick's Day festival. Even though the primary reason was to do events and interviews to promote Ireland and my latest book, Darina Allen, Simply Delicious: The Classic Collection, (quite a mouthful!), so it was also a brilliant opportunity to check out the New York and Brooklyn food scene. 

I am regularly asked to share my New York list so here are some of my favourite spots and new finds...
Brooklyn, just over the bridge from Manhattan has many tempting options, one could spend ones entire week checking out different exciting spots. I love Roman’s, Marlow & Sons, The Diner, Hometown Bar B Que and I also hear good things about Ugly Baby but we chose Chez Ma Tante (at 90, Calyer Street) this time, and had a super delicious Sunday brunch, in fact so good that I wished I’d been able to get back for dinner. We particularly loved the oysters with parsley oil and yuyu... 

As well as a 3-inch high kale quiche with a bitter leaf salad, chips with aioli, stracciatella with toasted almonds, raisins, preserved lemons and marjoram with sourdough toast.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/chez_ma_tante/

But the stand out dish was their craggy meltingly rich corn pancakes with maple butter. There are pancakes and there are pancakes but these were by far the best I ever tasted, sweet, salty, crisp and buttery on the outside, soft melting and irresistibly gritty inside. Definitely one of the highlights of the week with pure Vermont maple butter melting over the top.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/chez_ma_tante/

A tiny, Japanese panelled restaurant called Hall is another little gem in the Flatiron. The juicy washu (not wagyu) beef burger served deliciously pink on a brioche bun was particularly delectable and only $5.99.
Image: Superiority Burger Cookbook, Grub Street Press

You also need to know about Superiority Burger, a tiny cult café on 430 East 9th Street, in the East Village. It’s a veggie burger spot and to quote the forthright chef owner Brooks Headley “occasionally vegan by accident”! In this kitchen the produce is superb, don’t miss the must-get Superiority burger. Different specialities every day including homemade gelato and sorbet. There’s very little seating and often a queue but worth it. Unquestionably one of the best restaurants in lower Manhattan and surprisingly cheap for the quality.

I Sodi and Via Carota in the West Village are two of my enduring favourites. I love the simple rustic but always edgy food that much loved chefs, Rita Sodi and Jody Williams offer. Their version of cacio e pepe, the creamy peppery Roman pasta dish, is the best in New York and here’s the spot to also enjoy  a homey plate of braised tripe. No reservations at Via Carota, it’s open till midnight so is particularly worth remembering for late night dining.

King on King’s Street is wowing New Yorkers with their seasonal Italian menu - homestyle cooking with a daily changing menu. The light is particularly wonderful at lunch time in the chic but cosy dining room with the bonus of beautiful art on the walls.
Image: https://www.lamerceriecafe.com/
La Mercerie Café at the Roman and Williams Guild at 53 Howard Street in Soho and a luxury design store, super chic, expensive but worth checking out.
I also returned to both Café Altro Paradiso and Cervo’s, another favourite with lots of small plates, great salads and cocktails. I particularly loved the tortilla with butter beans and chorizo.

Image: https://www.instagram.com/dailyprov/

Daily Provisions
on East 19th is my all-time favourite breakfast or brunch spot, certainly the very best house-cured bacon and egg sandwich in New York. They serve it in a brioche bun, both the texture and flavour are totally delicious. Don’t miss the gougère filled with mushrooms or spinach scrambled eggs. 
The lively little Parisian style café, Buvette, on 42 Grove Street is also top of my 
list. Super coffee, viennoiserie and little plates
Image: https://www.instagram.com/maialino_nyc/

 And finally for now, there’s Maialino for many good things but if you haven’t already had their cacio et pepe scrambled eggs with sourdough toast put it on your bucket list.
This time I sat at the counter and had a few little snacks, loved the grilled organic chicken hearts on rosemary skewers and the white bean puree with sage pesto, espelette pepper and carta musica.

There’s lots more but all of the above are favourites of mine that I couldn't resist sharing with you…

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

A Food Lover's Weekend in Paris

The Paris restaurant scene has sprung back into life. 
That may sound like a bizarre observation considering its reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world. 

However, throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s, Paris sat haughtily on its laurels, ignoring the food revolution that was taking place from Sydney to LA. 

The Michelin-starred establishments continued to hike up their prices, serving predictable food with lots of foams, gels and ‘skid marks’ on the plates, plus liquid pearls, powders, swirls and fronds unaware or unphased by the change in millennial eating habits and taste.

Then Daniel Rose opened Spring in 2006 (now closed) and Greg Marchand followed in 2009 with Frenchie on Rue-de-Nel -  a breath of fresh air, simple fresh contemporary food made with superb ingredients. The media and customers flocked eager for change and the revolution was born and so it continues.
As criticism grows about the astronomical prices and poor value for money offered by many of the Michelin starred restaurants, a whole plethora of tiny restaurants, bistros, cafés and coffee bars have sprung up all over the city, serving small plates and sharing platters of simple delicious food. I squashed into as many as possible over a busy weekend in Paris recently – most don’t take reservations so you’ll need to be prepared to queue but all of the following are worth the wait.
Here are my top picks:
Image: https://parisbymouth.com/la-buvette-camille-fourmont-bar-paris-75011-travis-montague/
La Buvette on Rue Saint-Maur, not to be confused with another of my favourites, Buvette in Manhattan. This tiny restaurant chalks up the menus on a mirror on the wall – close to the tiny open kitchen. I loved the huge meltingly tender white haricot beans with cedre zest and extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt. This was followed by a tiny burrata rolled in mandarin dust and a super coarse terrine with pickled pears and some sourdough bread. I still had room for the pickled egg with black sesame and bonita flakes. I love this kind of food, edgy and delicious but possible to recreate at home.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/commealisbonne/

Sometimes you only need to be famous for just one thing… In the case of tiny Comme à Lisbonne on Rue du Roi de Sicile in Le Marais it’s their Portuguese custard tart. There will be a queue all along the sidewalk. They bake just 24 tarts at a time…they are snapped up like the proverbial hotcakes. If you are lucky there may be space along a tiny shelf in the shop to enjoy with a cup of espresso with your little treat.

Fed up and disheartened by ‘no shows’, many of the chicest places no longer take bookings. There was an hour and a half wait for Clamato, a seafood restaurant on Rue de Charonne. So we had a little plate of some saucisson and a couple of glasses of natural wine  from their superb list at Septime, a tiny wine bar across the road.
Eventually we gave up on Clamato and had dinner at Semilla, a much talked about and now super busy restaurant serving modern French food.
Veal sweetbreads with salsify confit was the stand out dish rather better than some of the more bizarre combinations like sea urchins with coffee mousse.
Watch Parisians shop, there are numerous markets around Paris, check out the nearest Farmers Markets to where you are staying by searching for Farmers Markets on Google Maps. On Sunday, the organic market on Rue Raspail is worth an amble, although quality didn’t seem as good as hitherto.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/tenbelles/

There are many coffee bars serving superb brews. Try Télescope on 5 Rue Villedo but it’s closed on Sunday. 
Farine & O on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoin  and Ten Belles on Rue de la Grange aux Belles are also worth a detour. As is Boot Café, a hole in the wall on Rue du Pont aux Choux.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/mokonutsbakery

Mokonuts
, on Rue Saint-Bernard is a definite favourite, can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch or dinner. It’s a tiny café run by Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem. Loved the labneh on toast with olives and the flatbread with sumac and melted scarmosa on top. They also make what is perhaps the best chocolate chip and oatmeal cookie I have ever eaten, plus superb coffee.
E Dehillerin on Rue Coquillière is like Hamleys or Smyths Toys for cook and chefs. Every time I visit, I feel like a kid in a candy shop surrounded by tempting cookware and gadgets in this ‘no frills’ store which has remained pretty much the same  since it first opened in 1820, narrow aisles, wooden shelves and  metal  canisters full of superb quality utensils. Just around the corner on Rue Montmartre, you’ll find M.O.R.A., another iconic cook and bakeware store, that also sells a huge range of cake decorations and baubles for pastry chefs  Both shops are geared towards culinary professionals but also welcome keen cooks.
Image: https://www.instagram.com/yanncouvreur/

Paris is full of exciting patisserie; swing by Yann Couvreur Pâtisserie, Courou in the Marais and La Pâtisserie du Meurice par Cédric Grolet on Rue de Castiglione
L’As du Fallafel on Rue des Roses is justly famous for its falafel.
Sunday brunch was at Racines, a bistro in the charming Passage des Panoramas Arcade
A whole series of little plates of real food from the chalk board, the least ‘cheffie’ but elegantly earthy comfort food. Loved his winter tomato salad with extra virgin olive oil or the pan grilled scallops on mashed potato and dill. No swirls, pearls, powder or fronds here, just real food and a superb natural wine list.
Breizh Café on Rue Vieille du Temple, is another good spot for breakfast or lunch….
A long weekend is nowhere long enough and I haven’t even mentioned chocolatiers, cheese shops or cocktail bars...

Monday, 1 April 2019

Irish Food Writers Guild Awards

How fortunate are we here in Ireland to have such an abundance of artisan products and more emerging virtually every week. This sector is incredibly creative and has helped to enhance the diversity and image of Irish food hugely, both at home and abroad. 

Declan Ryan of Arbutus Bread, Cork
Visitors to Ireland are thrilled to taste the farm house cheese, charcuterie, preserves, pickles, ferments, smoked fish and increasing real bread from the growing number of artisan bakeries who are making real natural sourdough bread free of the almost twenty additives, enzymes, improvers and processing aids, which can be legally included without being on the label.  No wonder so many people are finding they have a gluten intolerance.

In their 25 years, several awards recognise the efforts and creativity of this sector, Eurotoque, Dingle and The Food Writers Guild…

The latter awards were held recently at Glovers Alley restaurant in 
the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin. The selection process is meticulously conducted. Nominations are in confidence, received from Guild members, shortlisted, tasted and chosen individually to a carefully agreed list of criteria. An Irish Food Writers Guild award is much coveted by the recipients.

Image: Paul Sherwood
This year three of the eight biggest awards went to Cork – just saying! 
One of the awards went to Hegarty’s Cheese for their new Teampall Gael cheese. The Hegarty family are fifth generation dairy farmers in Whitechurch in North Cork. To add value to the milk of their large Friesian herd, they experimented first with yogurt and cheese and eventually launched a traditional cloth bound truckle of Cheddar in 2001.  
Image: Paul Sherman
Jean-Baptiste Enjelvin from Bordeaux in France joined them in 2015 and a Comté style cheese, Teampall Gael is the result of this collaboration. This sweet, delicate, nutty, alpine style cheese is made only from the raw milk of pasture fed cows (no silage). The huge 40kg wheels are matured for at least nine months - a really exciting addition to the Irish farmhouse cheese family. 

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Image: The Courtyard Dairy
Mike Thompson’s beautiful Young Buck Cheese from Co. Down also won an award. This raw milk, Stilton type blue cheese, comes from a single herd and was the first artisan cheese to be made in Northern Ireland.

The Irish Drink Award also went to Cork’s Killahora Orchards
near Carrigtwohill for their Rare Apple Ice Wine. A really exciting ice wine, delicious to serve with desserts or made into a granita. Andy McFadden and his team at Glovers Alley served it with a sheep’s yoghurt mousse, honey and lime.

Image: Paul Sherwood
David Watson and Barry Walsh of Killhora Orchards grow over 130 varieties of apple used to make craft cider, and 40 pear varieties to make perry. Look out for their apple port also... It tastes like the best white port, delicious to sip on its own or with a good tonic water.

Image: Paul Sherwood
The Community Food Award went to Cork Penny Dinners which was founded during the famine in the 1840s. This much-loved Cork charity provides up to 2000 nourishing hot meals every day of the year in a safe and nurturing environment for all those in need. 
Catherine Twomey and her team also run five classes a week, the Cork Music Dojo, High Hopes homeless choir, the Food for Thought mental health initiative for students, mindfulness classes and French classes. They are about to expand their facilities to include other educational opportunities, plus a clinic run by GP’s who donate their expertise for one day a year. A third accolade for Cork and a hugely deserving winner of the Community Food Award. If you would like to donate your time or money go to their website.
Image: 3fe
The Outstanding Organisation Award went to 3fe Coffee in Dublin. What most impressed the Irish Food Writers Guild about 3fe is not only the fact that the 3fe brand has become synonymous with the best quality coffee in Ireland, but also the company’s commitment to sustainability in the areas of waste and energy use, purchasing principles, staff welfare and community. Colin Harmon and his team have recently opened an all-day restaurant, Gertrude to add to their cafes, add it to your Dublin list...
Image: Paul Sherman
The Environmental Award went to Charlie and Becky Cole of Broughgammon Farm in Ballycastle, Co Antrim. The Irish Food Writers Guild recognises them for their exceptional commitment to the environment and for rescuing male kid goats who would normally have been put down at birth. 
Image: Broughgammon Farm
They now rear free range rose veal and seasonal wild game as well and make an exceptionally good rose veal salami. There’s also an eco-farmhouse, on-site butchery facility and farm shop that use solar thermal heating, low-flow appliances and photovoltaic solar panels.

The inspirational Workman family of Dunany Flour in Co. Louth have been growing heirloom wheat varieties and milling their own organic flour for four generations. Recently they recognised a gap in the market for spelt, a challenging crop to grow and harvest but nutrient dense and low in gluten, high in fibre and B vitamins and rich in essential fatty acids and amino acids. Dunany organic spelt grains are my new best find and we enjoyed a stunning spelt risotto made from it for lunch at Glovers Alley. I can’t wait to experiment more.

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Last but certainly not least the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Peter Hannan of Hannan Meats, near Moira in Co. Down, in recognition of his continued work as one of Ireland’s most dedicated food champions. 
Peter has dedicated his life to producing superb quality beef and is 50% stakeholder in the renowned Glenarm Southern Beef Scheme. Hannon Meats are dry aged in four Himalayan salt chambers for an average of 35-45 days but they provide an extra aged product for special clients who want 80-100 days. Peter was a worthy recipient of this award, one of numerous awards he has deservedly won over the years.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Incredible India

To celebrate Holi, the festival of colour and love - a piece on India. Recently I spent a couple of weeks in India in Ahilya Fort, a small heritage hotel overlooking the Narmada, one of the most sacred rivers in India. 

From dawn to dark, there’s endless activity below the fort on the ghats, along the river bank. Local devotees and pilgrims worshipping and offering prayers to the holy river which nourishes and waters their crops. They perform a variety of puja and aarti and bathe in the river to wash away their sins. 


Women wash their clothes along the waters edge, children feed the fish and dive into the chilly waters giggling with delight. It’s a riot of colour, women bath in their saris and then hold them up in the gentle breeze to dry. 

Little wooden boats with gaily painted canopies ferry people across the river to the Shalivan Temple in Naodatodi, a village of a few hundred friendly people who earn their living from basic farming, growing bananas, corn and cotton. There’s a brick works close to the village where it’s intriguing to watch the handmade bricks being individually made by both men and women then dried in the sun and baked in a hand built kiln.

The village is tranquil, with a wonderfully welcoming friendly atmosphere, children run out of their houses to meet us…another household invited us in to share a cup of chai. 
The little town is still deliciously rural, all the needs of the local community are catered for by the numerous small shops and stalls. But Maheshwari is most famous for its hand weaving industry both silk and cotton which employs over 5,000 people.

Women come from all over India to choose a Maheswari silk saree from Rehwra. Buyers from posh shops from all over the world order superb handwoven cotton scarves and fabric from Women Weave. 
There’s a tiny shoe makers shop at the bottom of the hill below the fort, close by the miller, where local farmers bring their corn and wheat to be ground, a pan maker, several little flower shops where chrysanthemum flowers, roses and other blossoms are threaded onto cotton to make garlands to embellish the temple gods or to welcome visitors. 

Several potters made utilitarian earthenware vessels both for the household and temple ceremonies. Many jewellers sell gold and silver, drapers sitting cross legged sell wildly colourful sarees and bolts of materiel side by side with tailors peddling away on old treadle sewing machines. Half way down the main street a man chats to passers-by while he presses clothes ‘en plain air’ with a heavy iron filled with hot coals – all the shop fronts are fully open and customers remove their shoes before they enter.

Barbers lather up their customers chins and snip their hair in full view of passers-by…It’s all very colourful and convivial. Hardware shops are packed from floor to ceiling with kitchen utensils, farm implements, rat traps, kari (metal woks), water coolers. Now more and more brightly coloured plastic is replacing tin, metal and earthenware.
Not a supermarket in sight, lots of little grocery shops also selling snacks, sev, namkin and lottery tickets.
The Fish Market is down by the river but the huge bustling produce market takes place on Friday. Fresh fruit, vegetables and roast water chestnuts are sold from street carts by women sitting cross legged on the ground surrounded by the freshest produce. Sadly, many of the older houses with their delightful timber shutters and balconies are being demolished to make way for soul-less cement structures all in the way of progress, none the less Mahesware is still utterly enthralling in a charming, chaotic sort of way. An enchanting mix of medieval and 21st century plus – There are even lots of satellite dishes and five ATM machines which occasionally deliver money.
 In the morning, stalls sell poha, a mixture of soaked flattened rice and spices sold on little squares of newspaper, nourishing wholesome food for a couple of rupees, I love street food and eat it where ever I go, with street food you taste the real flavours of a country…

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Inaugural World Restaurant Awards


The original idea was simple: try to do something different, something that celebrates the restaurant world in a new, more relevant and entertaining way…  Awards from the ground up but it took a whole decade to become a reality. These ground breaking awards celebrate the excellence, integrity and rich culture of the restaurant world.

So with much pomp and ceremony, the inaugural World Restaurant Awards were held at the Palais Brongniart in Paris on 18th February 2019. - 10 countries and 4 continents were represented. A glitzy, super chic event that celebrated not just the chefs that work their magic with foams, gels, skid marks on plates and liquid nitrogen, instead these awards celebrated many other aspects of the restaurant experience.

Over 100 judges from 37 countries made up a cosmopolitan, multicultural, globetrotting, gender balanced, panel of experts … chefs, restaurateurs, influential figures in old and new media, film makers, book publishers, food scientists, activists, campaigners. They chose from 18 different categories including …


No reservations required – for places where it is possible to turn up without a booking. This award went to Mocoto,  Sao Paulo Brazil.

House special , restaurants defined by one particular dish was won by Lido 84 on the edge of Lake Garda in Italy for their simple but iconic pasta dish, Cacio e Pepe en Vessie (cooked in a pigs bladder).

Multi-starred Alain Ducasse won the Tattoo-free chef of the Year.

The Tweezer-free kitchen went to Bo.Lan in Bangkok.

The Pop Up Event of the Year was awarded to the Refugee Food Festivals.

New arrival of the Year went to Inua in Tokyo.

Ethical Thinking, rewarding environmental and social responsibility to Refettorio – various locations. Food for Soul, an Italian not-for-profit organisation that addresses food waste, loneliness, and social isolation through community meals. 

Instagram Account of the Year was won by another 3 star Michelin chef, Alain Passard of Arpege in Paris.

Off map destination was won by Wolfgart, a 20 seat restaurant in a 130 year old white washed fisherman’s cottage on the edge of the ocean in Paternoster on the Western Cape.

Wolfgart also won Restaurant of the Year. Chef owner Kobus Van der Merve said ‘by keeping it small, we keep it sustainable’.

Red-Wine serving Restaurant - for those who shun current fashion by championing the red grape. This category was won by a cult London wine bar called Noble Rot.

Ireland was nominated in two categories and won both…

Collaboration of the Year went to Cork’s own Denis Cotter of Café Paradiso and farmer Ultan Walsh from Gortnanain Farm in Nohoval who has been growing beautiful produce for Café Paradiso for over 18 years. Denis accepted his award in beautiful, fluent Gaelic.

Much to our excitement, The Trolley of the Year Award went to Ballymaloe House. JR Ryle, who is the passionate young pastry chef and I proudly accepted the award on behalf of Ballymaloe and dedicated it to the memory of Myrtle Allen whose idea it was to have a trolley groaning with delicious desserts for her guests to choose from. She and her husband Ivan opened their home as a restaurant in 1964.


Everything about the ‘Oscars of Food Awards’ was super exciting. Chefs from all over the world flew in to give us a taste of their special little dish. The finest pata negra was carved off the bone into paper thin wisps, hundreds of oysters were shucked, tender abalone, black pepper soft shelled crabs, tantilizing tacos, chilli crab beignets and delicious coconut madelines, warm from the oven made by Cheryl Koh from Singapore, who promised me the recipe.

But perhaps what impressed me most was the short film by Perennial Farm shown at the beginning of the evening which reminded us cooks and chefs, what restaurants can do to combat climate change.

Chefs can help by:
  • Sourcing from climate friendly farms and ranches.
  • Going carbon neutral with zero ‘foot print’.
  • Composting.
  • Conserving energy and reducing consumption and waste. 
  • Spreading the message that food can be a solution… 
It’s sooo worth thinking about how we can all do our bit.