It's very seldom that we slide gently into autumn, but this summer has been a real cracker, which has raised our spirits and given us all more positive thoughts. We have had a summer of food festivals countrywide and now, as we approach the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the traditional time for harvest fests begins with celebrations of some of the longest standing iconic food festivals. So, let's get going!
Galway is always a fantastic city for festivals, nightlife, dining and culture. Next weekend sees the biggest party in the West, with the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, the oldest oyster festival in the world. Kicking off in September 1954, it was launched by Brian Collins, the then Manager of the Great Southern Hotel (now Hotel Meyrick), with an attendance of just 34 guests feasting on several dozen oysters each. Last year the festival attracted 22,000, and that's a helluva lot of oyster shucking!
The weekend gets going with the opening at the Festival Marquee at Galway Harbour on Friday next at 7 pm, where the newly crowned Oyster Pearl will present the season's first oyster to Galway's Mayor – a tradition ab initio. Tickets are €40 for this event and each Friday night ticket includes one token for a tasting dish from restaurants partaking in the Festival Food Village. Additional 'tastes' may be purchased at €5-€6. During the course of the evening the National Oyster Opening Championship will take place where Irish Oyster professionals will compete to represent Ireland at the World Oyster Olympics on Saturday. Music, seafood, party – it should be a blast. The weekend also sees the Oyster Masquerade 'Mardi Gras' Extravaganza on Saturday night. Tickets are €95 for this 'moveable' feast, which starts at 8pm at Galway City Museum with an oyster reception and traditional music, before you parade through the streets of Galway to the next venue for a seafood banquet, ending up at Hotel Meyrick for dessert and entertainment 'til the wee hours.
As well as the programme of events, there is a Seafood Trail of restaurants that will be serving the freshest of Galway oysters on menus that will also feature a wide range of local seafood. Restaurants on the Seafood Trail include Artisan, Brasserie on the Corner, Cava Bodega, The Malt House, Martine's, Creole, Cooke's, Restaurant Gigi's at the G Hotel, Oyster Grill at The Meyrick, WEST at the Twelve Hotel, and RAW Sushi at the Radisson Hotel.
Catch your breath during the week before you move further south to the magical world of Dingle. Was ever a town so perfect for mingling and mixing, making new friends, whilst wining and dining on the best of local produce? This is the 7th Dingle Food Festival, which will run from October 3 to 6, and, as always, all credit is due to the voluntary committee who organise all this good fun.
There will be the Festival's Food Trail which involves a gourmet safari of over 60 establishments including pubs, restaurants, art galleries, and so on, where you will be able to taste delicious foods from seafood paella to chocolate Guinness muffins, fresh crabmeat rolls to king scallops, Jack McCarthy's black pudding to Blasket Island lamb and Dingle Peninsula cheeses. Taster prices start at €2.
Children will be well catered for with falconry displays, an exotic pet farm in the park, cookery lessons on the Big Blue Bus and special demos, some 'as gaeilge', in St James's Church. The Irish language theme will also run through the adult programme, with several demos through Irish by local chefs such as Sile Gorman of Gorman's Clifftop House and Niall O'Conchuir from An Canteen. Other highlights of this lively programme include presentations from Kevin Arundel of Dublin's great Chop House Gastro Pub, JP McMahon from the Michelin-starred Aniar Restaurant in Galway and Martin Bealin from The Global Village Restaurant in Dingle.
Centre stage at the festival will be the finals of the Blas na hEireann, National Irish Food Awards, the winners of which will be announced at a gala presentation on Saturday October 5. This year over 2,000 products were entered into the Blas Awards, the largest number ever, so visitors can expect to meet with the finest producers in the country and sample their wares as the streets of Dingle become the biggest farmer's market in the country. In addition to the fun, there will be some serious business done in Dingle at various networking events, which will showcase this year's Blas finalists to retailers from all over Ireland and the UK.
An Canteen will host its annual craft beer and cider festival and there will be wine tastings at venues throughout the town. The town's own Tom Crean's Brewery will be highlighting dishes with its now famous brew, and Dingle's latest attraction, the Dingle Distillery will also be showcasing its excellent gin and vodka as well as selling whiskey by the cask!
The 37th Kinsale Gourmet Festival takes place from October 11-13 in association with Kinsale Good Food Circle. This is always a knockout weekend. It is so popular that the organised events are already sold out, but that does not mean that there will not still be a great atmosphere and fun around the town and in the restaurants – so book your table early. However, although the ticketed events are already fully subscribed to, festival organiser Maria O'Mahony says that patrons visiting Kinsale will be treated to a 'Surf 'n' Turf' with a twist with each of the 11 Good Food Circle member restaurants offering a Mad Hatter's Special for €20 for the month of September with a different variation of the dish in each premises. On the Friday afternoon of the festival, there will be a Surf 'n' Turf Cook Off between Martin Shanahan and Paul Flynn, with visiting national and international chefs lining up alongside them. This event will take place at Acton's Hotel and is completely free. Those who are lucky enough to have event tickets will move on to the Trident Hotel at 6.30pm for an eight-course Taste of West Cork Dining Experience and Black Tie Ball. Laurent Perrier will be providing the champagne, and Derek Davis will be providing the laughs as Master of Ceremonies.
Saturday is always a brilliant day, with the Mad Hatter's Taste of Kinsale kicking off at 11.30 with a sparkling reception before setting off on an Alice in Wonderland themed foodie walking tour of the four tasting venues where the restaurants showcase their food. It is unfailingly fantastic. Virtually everyone wears a Mad Hat and the craic is mighty. The grand finale to the festival is the Fruits de Mer luncheon on Sunday where members of the Good Food Circle present a stunning four-course lunch including lobster, oysters, crabs, prawns, and all the freshest seafood Kinsale has to offer.
Oh, by the way, Maria O'Mahony says they have had marriages, and maybe divorces, emanating from the Kinsale Gourmet Festival but never a book – until now. Caroline James, whom I met at the Gourmet Festival two years ago, says she was so inspired by the festival that she wrote a book about the high jinks of the food business in which she has been involved for many years. The book is aptly called So, You Think You're A Celebrity . . . Chef? and is published on October 4, by Thornberry Publishing.
The 7th Savour Kilkenny Food Festival will run over the October Bank Holiday weekend from October 25-28. The backdrop for the festival, the medieval city of Kilkenny, is awesome and this year Kilkenny's finest heritage buildings will throw open their doors to whet the appetite of food lovers with magnificent menus from medieval to veggie supper clubs. This year's programme also includes a buzzing food market on the Parade Plaza, cookery demos, street theatre, a medieval night market, and Irish craft beer and cider carnival, and wine tastings. Rothe House and Gardens, a Tudor building dating back to 1590, will host a stunning Medieval Night Market Feast on Friday, October 25, where emerging chefs, led by Masterchef finalist Clare Anne O'Keeffe, will cook up a storm. On Saturday, there will also be a Game Night in Kilkenny Castle with an eight-course tasting of game including guinea fowl, pheasant and other birds.
If that is not your thing, you might fancy a Pop-Up Vegetarian supper club hosted by chef Helen Costello at Butler House.
There will be cookery demonstrations by local and visiting chefs. Also of interest is a 'Focus on Fish' day at Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Thomastown on Friday Oct 25 with discussion, debate and demonstrations on all aspects of the fish industry in Ireland.