(Australian Associated Press)
There’s a great love affair taking over Ireland.
Yep, the Irish have fallen in love with their food again.
On my maiden voyage to the land of green pastures, I had visions of pubs filled with happy Irish men and women getting drunk on Guiness and whiskey. For getting drunk on Guinness while in Ireland is a “must”, I was told before leaving Sydney.
There was plenty of frivolity among the “friendliest people” in the world, but I didn’t get drunk on Guinness while in Ireland.
I was too busy gorging on food.
My pig-out started in Dublin, where pubs are what delis are to Manhattan: everywhere.
Yet hidden among Dublin’s more than 850 pubs are restaurants run by Michelin star chefs, French- and Italian-inspired pattiseries (like Dolce Sicily, where handmade coffee loaf is best “dunked” in an espresso), artisan chocolatiers and Murphy’s Ice Cream.
At Clever East by Michelin star chef Oliver Dunne, I enjoyed a dish of pan-fried sea trout, baby spinach, brown shrimp dressing with pork scratchings and smoked almond butter.
Just a few minutes walk away along Crown Alley is Klaw, a shoebox-sized seafood restaurant plonked in the middle of the popular Temple Bar area.
It brings a taste of the sea to the city. The owner Nial Sabongi wanted to take the “posh” out of seafood but not at the expense of taste and freshness.
Their oysters are caught locally from Galway Bay, Waterford, Dooncastle and the Flaggy Shore, and are served three ways: naked, dressed or torched. They are paired well with a glass of prosecco, or Guinness.
For lunch I enjoyed Klaw’s famous and delicious lobster roll.
On my way to a planned tour of St Patrick’s Cathedral, I took a detour to search out the lavender ice cream sold at Murphy’s after being told about it by my guide at the Teelings Whiskey Distillery.
Apparently the flavoured ice-cream pairs well with a good drop of Irish whiskey.
After traipsing the cobbled streets of Dublin for nearly an hour, I find it. I didn’t pair the yummy treat with whiskey; instead I added an extra scoop of caramelised brown bread, or “aran donn”, as said in Gaelic.
The shop sells “real” ice-cream made in Dingle from Irish milk and rain-distilled water. Passion and care is taken with every step of the ice cream-making process, a philosophy I learned is standard among Irish food makers now enamoured by the the produce their land has to offer.
Even better was a gin and elderflower marshmallow I discovered while in the town of Ballymena, in Northern Ireland.
Camran Artisan Marshmallows, sold at local farmers markets and a select number of cafes and speciality shops, was set up by two friends with a passion for producing high quality natural produce.
They had a desire to develop a treat their children could enjoy, yet not be affected by additives and colourings.
Their Gin & Elderflower marshmallow is one flavour pairing I can certainly vouch for. Devine.
The square, white, soft pillows of yumminess had my sweet tooth craving for more. I only wish I had tasted the other flavours, including strawberry and cream, lemon meringue, melting mocha, and mango and gin.
It is in Belfast that the art of food making really comes alive, in the form of Deidre McCanny, an award-winning chocolatier.
At her boutique shop Co Couture, McCanny’s love for chocolate is palpable as she personally tells us about the cocoa bean she sources from Madagascar to make her products.
Among the treats on offer is award-winning dark chocolate with biscuit and cranberry.
McCanny is one of Northern Ireland’s best-known artisan chocolatiers, having picked up a host of Great Taste Awards from the influential UK Guild of Fine Food. She says her palate has become so snobby it will only eat single-origin chocolate.
More decadent treats can be found at the famous St George’s Market, located not far from Co Coture, like the rich salted caramel truffles I bought for a gift but ate 10 minutes after purchase.
St George’s Market is the last surviving Victorian covered market in Belfast. It’s there I discovered dulse.
The edible purple Irish seaweed was described to me by one woman as tasting like “death” in your mouth.
But the owners of Abernethy Butter, who are passionate about making the best butter ever, have turned dulse into something to be enjoyed: dulse butter.
I gave this one-of-a-kind butter a whirl while dining at Coppi, an Italian-inspired restaurant at St Anne’s Square, in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.
The butter is so unique it is even used by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal – the master of gastronomy.
I am no master critic but if you go to Ireland you will surely fall head-over heels with their food.
And sleep well, too – because according to literary great Virginia Woolf “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”.
IF YOU GO
International carriers to Ireland include Qantas, Virgin Australia, Emirates, Delta, British Airways, Etihad Airways and Air Canada. There are four main international airports in Ireland. Most fly to Belfast International Airport in Northern Ireland.
There are many hotels to stay at in Belfast but if you are looking for something a little more luxurious or want to see more of the countryside, then opt for Galgorm Resort & Spa (www.galgorm.com) or the Culloden Estate and Spa (www.hastingshotels.com/culloden-estate-and-spa).
A Nothern Ireland food tour is a must while in Belfast. It gives you a chance to taste the produce and meet many locals at the same time. For more information visit tasteandtour.co.uk. A meal at beachfront restaurant Harry’s Shack in Portstewart is also recommended if you love good seafood.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Ireland.