Summer loving for the gourmet at heart
Fine dining at a special price is on the menu in a great initiative by 10 top restaurants, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
LIMERICK may well be a lady, as the old song says, but up to now it has never particularly shone on the foodie scene, and it has also had to endure a lot of bad publicity and unnecessary jibes.
It always seems to have to fight hard for recognition of so many of its fine attractions and cultural activities but all that is changing.
The recent renaissance of the Milk Market has brought a whole new enthusiasm and pride to the city. The Milk Market is an amazing place, with a vibe that makes you really want to hang out there as part of your weekend happenings. Friday sees the kick-off of the weekend with a City Market incorporating the 'Friday Flea', bringing together everything from artisan foods, to fashion and craft, bric-a- brac and antiques.
Saturday, however, is the major foodie event, where you are assailed from a distance by the wonderful aromas of spices and farmhouse cheeses, organic fruit and vegetables, freshly baked breads, pastries, and chocolates. There is everything from pigs' heads and trotters to artisan meats and fresh fish. There are shops and coffee shops, stalls and a mezzanine floor.
It's like one big exciting day out under the cover of Ireland's largest single-column support canopy. Here you will find the Adare Farm Shop, Lorge chocolates, Marie Murphy's cheeses, Country Choice, Piog Pies, Polonia foodmarket, the Gourmet Tart Company, Wilde Irish Chocolates, the Green Apron, O'Driscoll's West Cork Fresh Fish and Nora Egan's Inch House black and white puddings.
The enthusiasm on the food scene now in Limerick is infectious. The last 12 months have seen two great initiatives, the initial 2011 Love Gourmet Week where restaurateur Padraic Frawley, of the Cornstore restaurants in Limerick and Cork, assembled a band of restaurateurs to offer specialist menus at a fixed price.
The second significant happening on the food scene was Savour Limerick, which was in Thomond Park in March, in aid of the CARI Foundation, and sponsored by Pat O'Sullivan of Masterchefs Hospitality. It was coordinated by second year event management students from Limerick Institute of Technology, which was great experience for them, and attracted a huge crowd.
Next weekend is the start of the second Love Gourmet event (www.lovegourmet week.com), which runs from June 1-10. During Love Gourmet Week, which actually runs over two weekends, 10 prominent restaurants in the Limerick and Shannon region will be offering superb menus priced from €35 per person, promising outstanding value for unique culinary specials with locally sourced produce.
Midweek promotions will take place in all participating restaurants with wine deals, cocktail specials and seasonal menus on offer to celebrate the event.
Love Gourmet Week was officially launched with a spectacularly sophisticated dinner in the hallowed surroundings of the Hunt Museum, of which Love Gourmet chairman Padraic Frawley is a new board member, and of which he is equally enthusiastic.
Chefs from participating restaurants followed on a Bollinger champagne rhubarb bellini reception with a starter incorporating Limerick's famous ham, in a ham hock and organic chicken terrine, set off with a nettle cream and chutney. This was followed by a sleek presentation of panfried brill with pea puree and bacon jam. Guests were entertained by a performance of Pigtown -- hilarious, with much waving of carving knife and a pig's head.
The main course was carved fillet of rare beef, with organic spinach, Setanta potato gratin and grand-mere sauce. An assiette of Valrhona chocolate roulade, pistachio mousse, road pineapple and pina colada foam preceded a Munster cheese platter of oak-smoked Irish cheddar from Limerick, Bluebell Falls goats cheese from Limerick and Cashel Blue and Cooleeney camembert, both from Tipperary, to bring it to a close.
Accompanying wines were a Gerard Morin Sancerre 2010 and Chateau Trimoulet Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2005 supplied by the Wine Buff and Febvre Wines respectively.
It all augured well for the Love Gourmet week as Padraic Frawley told diners: "We're very excited about this initiative as it's a chance for diners to get a wonderful fine dining experience at an incredible price."
Hotelier Patricia Roberts, of the fabulously elegant No 1 Pery Square, in the Georgian Quarter, said "we have some fantastic suppliers in the mid-west and we are blessed that we can offer such high-quality, locally reared foods. We'll be using in our own 'Brasserie One' what's grown in our kitchen garden".
Also invited for the events were Celia Holman Lee and her husband, Ger. Celia has just finished filming for the TV series Come Dine With Me, which will reveal if Celia knows as much about food as she knows about fashion.
The Georgian Quarter of Limerick is stunning, and next morning we visited the fabulous new Limerick City Gallery of Art (www.gallery.limerick. ie) where the Eva International Biennial of Visual Art Exhibition runs until August 12.
We then went around the corner to the Frank McCourt Museum (www.frankmccourtmuseum.com), which is a step back into the Thirties and into the childhood life of the Pulitzer prize-winning eponymous author of Angela's Ashes. The museum is set in what was originally the Leamy School for Poor Protestants, which McCourt attended, having been turned away by the Christian Brothers.
It is quite incredible to see the old school classroom and to see a recreation of the appalling poverty and squalid conditions in which the family lived, including the old beds and bikes which featured in the movie. There is such a lot here to see including wonderful wall murals of the family and neighbours setting the backdrop.
Quite incredibly, this is all the work of one woman, renowned Limerick artist and curator Una Heaton. Looking at a tatty table scattered with tin mugs, jam jars, an oil lamp, a bottle of stout, candles stuck in a glass, a mock pig's head, and in the adjoining room old beds and blankets, I recalled British artist Tracey Emin's famous dishevelled 'My Bed' art installation which was sold to collector Charles Saatchi for £150,000.
"It's living art, I guess," said Una. "People would go to the butcher and say 'can you give me a pig's head and cut it as close to the tail as you can. People have come from China, India, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia to visit the museum. There is now an interpretive centre and a new creative writing centre. We have 70 Canadian ladies coming here to write for a week."
After all of that we were ready for a good lunch in the Limerick Strand Hotel, which is also involved in Love Gourmet Week, and where chef Tom Flavin is making a name on the foodie scene.
Irish Rail is running a Love Gourmet Week special extending its online seat sale of one-way fares between Dublin and Limerick from €14.99 on all train services between the two cities during the event.
Do note that you need to book these seats at least three days in advance. It is a great chance to nip up and down or to overnight in any of the excellent city centre hotels during Love Gourmet Week.