I wish Ireland wasn't a 15 hour car journey away. Partly because it's quite nice, and also because the journey was hateful. I came home and immediately slept for 12 hours straight.
I've spent the last week lazing about in the Ballyhoura mountains, cooking roast chicken for 12, and having lovely, friendly Irish people being lovely and friendly to me.
For all those expecting a blog post about my various dinners out in high-class, traditional Irish establishments, I'm going to have to disappoint you. Unfortunately this was a holiday on a budget; which means this is a blog about excellent value-for-money lunches, visits to various butchers, and opportunistically grabbing as much free food as possible.
I like being invited to weddings. I like seeing people happy and in love and surrounded by family and friends. I like dancing and laughing and singing along to the DJ until my throat is sore.
I also like free food.
My whole purpose of being in Ireland was actually to attend the wedding of one of T's close, childhood friends. The reception was held in the 4* Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, Co. Limerick; and it deserves a monumental shout-out because the 4-course dinner we were served was OUTSTANDING.
Normally the food served at weddings is a bit hit and miss; sit-down meals featuring overcooked meat or undercooked vegetables which have been sweating under a heat bulb, or the soul-destroying Aunty's finger buffet with sausage rolls that you suspect shouldn't really be that grey colour.
But lo, the Dunraven Arms Hotel served us excellent quality, locally sourced produce all cooked in-house and with a range of dazzling choices all up to and surpassing the kitchen's 2 AA rosette status.
And special shout-outs go to...
...the starter of goats cheese strudel with orzo pasta. The breadth of textures was so gorgeous that I had to hold myself back from flinging my face into the entire dish. Inside the crispy strudel was not only creamy, tangy goats cheese but also soft Mediterranean vegetables. And I've never had orzo pasta cooked so well; perfectly al-dente to a fault.
...roast rib of beef with champ, puréed carrot, beef jus, and buttered sugersnap peas and green beans. The traditional Irish champ was just so tasty I tried to persuade my BFF to put the leftovers in her handbag for later. She refused. The beef was served to your request; I asked for medium rare, the resulting beef was almost mooing but I didn't care one bit because it was so tender I didn't even need a knife. And the beef jus was so super-concentrated, it was a pure hit of cow.
...a trio of desserts; chocolate mousse, a miniature berry tartlet, and vanilla icecream. In mind the star of this show was the miniature berry tartlet; the pastry was just the right thickness and crunch, and the crème patisserie in the centre was unctuous.
Post-Travel Burger Blow-out
The journey to Ireland from Northamptonshire by car is long, draining, and ferries are hideously noisy and uncomfortable.
Towards the end of the first-leg of our journey T was becoming increasingly frantic for a burger. All I wanted to do was sleep, but each to their own.
As we rounded the corner and spotted our hotel on the horizon T cried out in joy at the sight of a neighbouring McDonalds; "It's not perfect, but it'll bloody do!". As we got nearer to the hotel, however, we spotted something else...
1950's THEME DINER AHOY!
T was so excited he was practically paralytic and started banging his fists on the back of the driver's seat with sheer, unadulterated elation; "PROPER BURGERS!"
And so we ate at Eddie Rocket's, which was promisingly packed to the gills with locals and stashed full of 1950s charm. The ice-cream milkshakes were awesome; so thick that the straw stood to attention all by itself, and the best part was that you got the remainder of the shake in a metal jug to top yourself up!
The burgers were all served in a no-nonsense paper sheath and the best bit about them, unusually, was the bun. The bun was showered with sesame seeds and had an outside crunch paired with a soft middle.
The range of burgers on offer was incredible; I opted for a 1/3 pound pattie with swiss cheese, fried onions, and sautéed field mushrooms. And it hit the spot. The menu also offered American classics such as hot dogs, nachos, chicken wings, and fries smothered in cheese.
Perfect comfort-food for the end of a looong day.
The Irish are serious about their meat.
In every village, town, and street in a city you will find a butchers. Guaranteed. And that butchers will offer a mind-numbing range of locally sourced meat, poultry and game. Guaranteed.
I love a butchers and the plethora of butchers in Ireland made me love the country a little bit more.
I even found one in Limerick city which proudly declared itself as a...
Out of all the produce I tried I think the Irish pork was the best, and they're obviously passionate about it.
Take this bacon from McCarthy's of Kanturk:
It was expensive in terms of bacon, but really good value for a quality product. When fried it retained it's shape, there was no added water, and the taste was of 100% pig. A friend commented that it was the piggiest bacon he'd ever eaten.
A special mention for Cornstore at Home deli of Limerick city; a truly delightful place packed with local-produce. Their foccacia bread was the best I'd ever tried and they also offered a range of chilled ready-meals, provided by their sister restaurant, Cornstore. After experiencing a taste of Cornstore at Home I was desperate to visit the restaurant, but alas the budget didn't stretch that far :(
Layabouts who Lunch
We decided to return to the scene of the crimes against wedding dancing, the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, for lunch during the week. Mostly because the food at the wedding reception was so darn good and we thought we'd treat ourselves to a little mid-week sophistication.
We were the only guests, and I mean THE ONLY ONES, not wearing suits or pearls. Personally I had on jeans and walking shoes and in terms of sartorial style and social class I felt a little out of place. As we took to our table we thought we'd made a bit of a mistake and that we couldn't afford to be there.
But how very wrong we were. Two courses of lunch and drinks (mine being an Archer's and Lemonade, my tipple of choice since the age of 18) came to an astoundingly reasonable 12 Euros a head.
This hotel knows how to do soup. I had an amuse bouche of leek and potato at the wedding reception which was the best I'd ever had, and the trend continued with the vegetable soup I had for lunch that day. I still don't understand how they packed in so much flavour; must be witchcraft. I paired the vegetable soup with sandwiches of beef pastrami and roasted peppers. Gorge.
Unfortunately I was left a little cold by the dessert of lemon tart; the pastry was too thick and had an odd crumbly texture, and the filling could have packed more of a sharp lemony punch. But the presentation was delightful and the couple of sprigs of lemon thyme were a lovely addition. And for 12 Euros a head it was still amazing.
On a final note, here's me dancing with Paddy the Chicken...