The last few weeks of the year saw a flurry of restaurant openings all over the country, as new businesses pulled out all the stops to get their doors open in the lucrative run-up to Christmas.
In his home town of Fethard, Co Tipperary, Richard Gleeson opened Dooks Fine Foods at the beginning of the month. Gleeson used to work with Yotam Ottolenghi, and with Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries in London, and is a tutor at The Dublin Cookery School. Gleeson was behind the Food Games pop-up in Ringsend a few years back, where the healthy Middle-Eastern-ish food hinted at his time with Ottolenghi, showcasing big, bold flavours. Early reports of what is, for the time being at least, a daytime-only operation, are excellent.
Another Tipperary man, Tom Walsh, is newly installed in the kitchen at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links, where there has been a multi-million euro refurbishment and there are plans afoot to turn the North Dublin country club into a food destination. Walsh worked at Aqua in Howth and Cruzzo's in Malahide before setting up the award-winning Samphire@Waterside in Donabate. Expect a focus on local seafood as Walsh takes over the entire food offering in what was once the home of the Jameson whiskey family.
Also recently opened is Greg O'Mahoney's Ember in Milltown, a suburb sorely in need of a restaurant to call its own. O'Mahoney, who has stints at Chapter One, Pichet and L'Ecrivain on his CV, ran The Milesian and Gregory's Garden in Castlegregory, Co Kerry, for the past 10 summers and earned a reputation for excellent contemporary Irish food with a southern European twist. O'Mahoney likes to cook on the plancha, and the menu includes dishes such as 'Embered Bone Marrow, Razor Clam, 63 Degree Egg, Black Garlic, Sourdough', which is definitely what I'm going to be ordering when I go to review in the New Year. The early bird menu is priced at €22 for two courses and €27 for three.
In Monkstown, Lobstar opened for business just before Christmas, just beside Goggins pub. No reports as yet, but let's hope that it's good because despite the number of places to eat on the Crescent, there's a shortage of really great food.
The talented Peter Clifford has been head chef at Fennel (below) in Drumcondra since it opened and will be taking over as proprietor in the New Year. Expect a few tweaks to the menu, better wines and a new 'upside down' tasting menu.
In terms of upcoming openings, there are few confirmed as yet, but it will be interesting to see where Rob Krawczyk ends up now that he has departed the kitchen at Tankardstown. Krawczyk is a fine chef - before Tankardstown he was at the Chop House in Lismore - and it would be good to see him cooking in a more accessible location.
Cork foodies will be hoping that Takashi Miyazaki, currently on the hunt for new premises, will be successful. Miyazaki's current space is tiny, and has just a few stools at the counter for customers to eat in, so most of his business is takeaway. Miyazaki has a legion of fans including chefs JP McMahon, Paul Flynn and Ross Lewis, and serves what many consider to be the best Japanese food available in Ireland (below). And Miyazaki's partner in the Ichi-e Ichi-go pop-up, Katie Sanderson, would like to find a permanent base for her simple rice bowl food offering, featuring lots of vegetables with her amazing peanut and chilli taberu rayu sauce.
Others will hope that Snapchat legend in his own lunchtime, James Kavanagh, and his partner, William Murray (main photo), will find a permanent base in which to open their first Currabinny café. Currabinny, named after the part of Cork that William is from, is the caterer of choice these days for smart launches and the pair are keen to find Dublin premises.
Meanwhile, serial restaurateur John Farrell (he already has The Butcher Grill, Super Miss Sue, Dillinger's, Luna and 777, and helped with the interiors at the new Hang Dai on Camden Street) has been hinting at a new opening in Stoneybatter. Does the picture of a fiery wood-burning oven on Farrell's social media mean that Farrell (pictured below) is going into the pizza business? And who'll be in the kitchen? Some of the smart money is on Keelan Higgs, formerly of Locks and now helping out at Luna.
In terms of what we'll be eating in 2017, expect the shift towards more plant-based eating to continue as restaurants come under increasing pressure to demonstrate their sustainability credentials. Food waste is a no-no, so expect menus to start telling customers how restaurants deal with it. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants will thrive, and seaweed is an ingredient that we are going to see an awful lot more of on Irish menus. Ancient grains such as amaranth and teff will gain in popularity, as people become more familiar with them. Expect to see more in the way of ancient cooking techniques too, and a lot more cooking over fire.
On the drink front, restaurants will offer more drink pairings with food, including sophisticated fruit and vegetable juices for those who prefer not to consume alcohol. Sherry will become even trendier than it is already and will be matched with food more often.
And while healthful eating is no longer just a trend - but simply the way that people want to eat on a daily basis, eschewing processed food products in favour of food made from scratch using good quality whole ingredients - the 'clean eating' fad is well and truly over, recognised as a cover for obsessive and dangerous eating habits and for perpetuating the guilt associated with 'dirty' food choices.
Turkey may be the traditional centre of the Christmas table, but there are times when an alternative main dish is just what the guests want to see. We thought we'd devise an alternative to the traditional fayre which you can use this weekend or keep it for the run-up to the New Year celebrations.
This year will be remembered as the one where we fell in love with Snapchat, and in particular, with James Kavanagh, its breakout star, and his boyfriend William Murray. The perception that the photo and video sharing app is just for kids got truly turned on its head, as A-List celebrities jumped onboard the microblogging train, giving us unparallelled access into their daily lives.