Sunday 11 December 2016

John Daly: A pint of plain may be your only man, but JP had the best ideas about last orders

John Daly

Published 28/11/2015 | 02:30

'Despite all the pubs that have closed, relics of grandeur remain'
'Despite all the pubs that have closed, relics of grandeur remain'

Never pass a bar that has your name on it. Taking this immortal command as his signpost, author Pete McCarthy embarked on a personal quest across Ireland's pubs that eventually emerged as the 1998 bestseller, McCarthy's Bar. Amongst his 'Rules of Travel', he advised: "When perusing a menu, never consider anything containing the words goujon, platter or cheesy." Hard to know, then, what the sadly departed Pete would make of today's Irish pub, a place where gastro cooking has almost elbowed aside gas craic as its guiding ethos. Though the venerable 'pint of plain' is still your only man, it is increasingly forced to compete for counter space with upstart blow-ins like penne, chorizo, rillettes and terrine. We've surely come a long way from pork scratchings and red lemonade, lads.

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Thirty-four Irish bars secured listings in the recent 2015 Michelin 'Eating Out In Pubs' guide. Cork and Down lead the field with six listings each, followed by Clare and Mayo, with four and three. Quality food and good hospitality are the key ingredients, according to the guide's editor, Rebecca Burr: "Simple food like crab claws, a pint of Guinness and the atmosphere that hits you as soon as you walk in the door. We still look for places with good home cooking and traditional recipes, that's what we are after."

Another small dark stranger who's become a regular at every vintner's counter is exotic coffee, with the hissing of Gaggia and Lavazza machines now part of any boozer's rattle and hum. "Publicans used to collapse like a Bateman cartoon if anyone asked for coffee, now they want to know if it's decaf or cappuccino you're after," observed Maeve Binchy of the brew battle now raging between caffeine and beer.

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