Top producers celebrate the best of the West
The G Hotel in Galway recently helped showcase five-star Irish produce, says Lucinda O'Sullivan
The spirit of the old Irish tradition of meitheal --supporting one another -- is alive again, and it is ever more important in the current economic climate that small communities band together in business deals and that people buy and support Irish products.
Hotels throughout the country have had to fight hard for business. Some offer incentives such as an extra night free or knock-down prices to attract customers.
The G Hotel in Galway hit the headlines when developed five years ago, as the interiors were designed by one of Galway's most famous exports -- the king of millinery, Philip Treacy. The G is spectacularly cool in a theatrical way, but the G is not all about glam, for it also has the excellent Matz restaurant. The head chef at the G is Regis Herviaux from Brittany, while the pastry chef is Shane Smith.
The hotel recently hosted a couple of foodie events showcasing artisan producers -- from whom the G's ingredients are sourced -- at a champagne reception, followed by a gourmet dinner in Matz, and a cookery demonstration by chef Herviaux.
G general manager Damien O'Riordan is very enthusiastic about the great hands-on relationship they have with their suppliers -- as is chef Herviaux, who tells me that their suppliers are more like friends than business associates.
"I never fax in an order or do it in advance. I ring them up each day, and chat with them personally about what is good on the day," he says.
From the other side of the 'counter', James McGeough of McGeough's Butchers in Oughterard, says, "They are just so nice to deal with at the G, even at the back door when we deliver, whereas some places are just so rude or offhand when deliveries arrive."
The reception was set in the elegant oyster and silver Grand Salon, with a backdrop of Breakfast at Tiffany's playing on the enormous floor-to- ceiling 'windows'. We then moved into Matz for the dinner, which was just superb.
We kicked off with a trio of smoked tuna dishes. Wines were by the Vineyard Wine Company on Quay Street, Galway, which paired the tuna with a Vistamar Pinot Noir Reserva 2008. This was followed on by a delicious chargrilled scallop sitting in creamy barley with fine mussels and fresh basil, accompanied by El Coto Blanco 2009. Then we had cream of shallot and mustard soup with cigarillos of McGeough's superb air-dried beef.
Next up was fabulous local lamb in three elements, pink rack, loin, and leg, on a tian of black olives and butter beans with thyme and green beans, paired with Chateau Charron Les Gruppes 2008.
We finished off with a stunning dessert of Bluebell Falls goat's cheese in four elements -- sublime -- with Granny Smith apple and lemon balm. This was paired with a heavenly dessert wine, Vistamar Moscatel Late Harvest 2009.
Graham Roberts of the Connemara Smokehouse in Ballyconneely tells me that the business was started originally in 1979 by his dad.
"I learned the business by following him around, and now I have taken over the reins. I am very hands-on with the fish, whilst my wife Saoirse was roped in as well behind the scenes with the website."
Graham's mum was born in Malawi, he says, but her family was originally from Cork and she was brought up in the UK. His dad was a fisherman in the UK, but used to come to his aunt's house in Connemara on holidays. When Graham was three years old, his parents settled here in the fishing business.
Supplying hotels and restaurants with smoked salmon is the core of their business. They also do traditional smoked salmon, as well as gravadlax with an Irish twist -- marinated in salt, sugar, dill, and Irish whiskey. They also produce a roast/honey roast smoked salmon, smoked tuna, peppered smoked mackerel, and old-fashioned kippers.
Connemara Smokehouse, Tel: (095) 23739; www.smokehouse.ie
No more than a dozen years ago, goat's cheese was regarded as exotic. Now it is widely available in many varieties and is on virtually every restaurant menu in the country.
Paul Keane of cheese producer Bluebell Falls tells me that about 15 years ago his mother "had a handful of little goats and started making cheese" on the family farm near Ennis, Co Clare. It just took off, he says, but he adds that it surprises him how few people realise that goat's cheese is such a healthy product, having low cholesterol and being easily digestible. They have a herd of more than 200 goats, and all of their cheese is made from milk produced on the farm.
Bluebell Falls produces a number of varieties. The main cheese is Cygnus, now available with garlic, honey and thyme, or with black pepper and garlic. It also makes a semi-hard cheese called Orion with a sweet nutty flavour, and a new one coming out in May called Pegasus.
Principal customers are restaurants, but its cheeses are available in Donnybrook Fair and Fallon & Byrne in Dublin, or direct.
Bluebell Falls, Tel: (065) 6838024; www.bluebellfalls.ie
Stephane Griesbach of Gannet Fishmongers came to Galway from Paris in 1997 and met his Galway wife, Caroline, there in 1998. They have a shop in the Eyre Square Centre and also sell at local markets. They supply many of the area's restaurants and hotels. Stephane has always been in the fish business, being a fishmonger in Paris before coming to Ireland to farm fish. He is very keen on buying local: "I just go down to the quay each day and see what is good."
He stocks a huge range of fish, including 'Sweaty Betty' -- also known as forkbeard -- a deep-sea fish caught off the West of Ireland. Stephane says it is a lovely fish which used to be thrown back by fishermen.
Gannet Fishmongers, Tel: 086 3488591
James McGeough has achieved quite a name for himself, not only as a butcher of distinction but as a producer of German-style charcuterie at the family business, McGeough's Butchers in Oughterard.
When James was 16 he came to Dublin to the College of Catering in Cathal Brugha Street to do a butchery course, also working in a butcher's shop in Camden Street on Fridays and Saturdays. He then went home to work with his dad for two years before heading off to Germany for six weeks -- and stayed six years! It was there that he met his wife, Krista, and studied for a masters degree in butchery.
They came back to Ireland, and James started making German products -- "but they never sold well. People didn't know them almost 20 years ago". He then read of a competition in Holland and entered his air-dried lamb -- and won. His business then took off. He now has a state-of-the-art factory at the back of the shop.
James says, "People do not realise that this is such a costly operation. The product is hung for 12 months, and handled 67 times from start to finish in the process, so there may be no financial return from it for 15 months. The units required to take away humidity cost €80,000 each."
McGeough's Butchers, Tel: (091) 552351, www.connemarafinefoods.ie
G Hotel Galway, Tel: (091) 865203; www.theghotel.ie