Tuesday 16 July 2019

The food review: Katy McGuinness's stand-out moments in 2017

Heron and Grey
Heron and Grey
Nightmarket in Ranelagh
Forest and Marcy
Fia Cafe
Katy McGuinness

Katy McGuinness

How was it for you? After more than 200 new-to-me restaurant experiences this year, ranging from cheap and cheerful cafeterias (Luncheonette at NCAD Thomas Street) all the way up the scale to a three-star Michelin (Osteria Francescana in Modena), I'm at the point when all I want to do is curl up in front of the fire with a mug of peppermint tea and a plate of dry crackers…

But there are so many intriguing new openings in the works for 2018 that I'll be raring to get out there again come January.

As food prices rise, I've noticed a tendency for restaurants operating in the middle market to cut corners when it comes to provenance, and service remains an issue.

For now, though, the end of the year is a good time to reflect on what Irish restaurants are doing well, and where they are falling short, and to acknowledge those that stand out.

Restaurateurs of the Year

For me, individual, owner-occupier, one-off restaurants are invariably more interesting than those that are part of a chain or a group. Of course, with success comes the temptation to expand, so the Irish restaurateurs that I most admire are the ones who manage to pull this off without resorting to a formula and never losing sight of the fact that the quality of the food and service deserve as much attention at least as the interior design. The award therefore goes jointly to Drigin Gaffey and JP McMahon of Cava, Aniar and now Tartare, three very different restaurants in Galway, and Joe Macken in Dublin, who somehow found the energy to turn Bear into Crackbird, Crackbird into Skinflint, the original JoBurger into Hey Donna, still keep running two other JoBurgers and be planning something new for the original Skinflint. Respect. aniarrestaurant.ie; joburger.ie

Newcomers of the Year

My two favourite openings this year were Old Street in Malahide, where the food is as accomplished as the décor is stylish, and Nightmarket in Ranelagh, where Jutarat Suwankeeree's fiery Thai cooking (pictured below) came as a revelation to those of us used to what customarily passes for Thai food in Ireland. oldstreet.ie; nightmarket.ie

Nightmarket in Ranelagh

Meal of the Year

Heron & Grey in Blackrock Market (pictured main) may have become a little more sophisticated in terms of its premises and accoutrements since winning its Michelin star a year ago, but lost none of its edge, dedication and - over-used word klaxon - passion in the process. Put your name on the cancellation list (or get ready for the next release of tables in the new year) to experience this tiny 22-seater, with its extraordinarily complex yet unpretentious food (and terrific wines, many natural and biodynamic) for yourself. The Runners-up: Fish Shop, Chapter One, Forest Avenue and Ox, all of which continue to go from strength to strength. heronandgrey.com; fish-shop.ie; chapteronerestaurant.com; forestavenuerestaurant.com; oxbelfast.com

Dish of the Year

Mickael Viljanen's Hare Royale at The Greenhouse. OMG. thegreenhouserestaurant.ie

Better Than Ever

The Tannery in Dungarvan has been in business for 20 years, and keeps getting better, reinvigorated by the opening of the Waterford Greenway. Talent, hard work, dedication - Paul and Maire Flynn make it look effortless. tannery.ie

Nice and Simple

Fia Cafe

Fia (above) and Meet Me in the Morning epitomise the new breed of modern café where skilful cooking lets great ingredients shine. Both will be starting to open in the evening in the new year. fia.ie; instagram.com/meetmeinthemorning

Settled in Nicely

One of my favourite newcomers of last year, Forest & Marcy, goes from strength to strength and now takes bookings. Don't miss Ciaran Sweeney's take on bacon and cabbage, with fermented potato bread (pictured below), or the great selection of natural wines. forestandmarcy.ie

Forest and Marcy

Pop Up of the Year

Robin Gill of The Dairy in London, and Luke Matthews (formerly of Mews in West Cork) put on an exceptional wild dinner at Airfield earlier this month. The game pie was outstanding, but guests also got to try sea urchins, cockles and Sika deer, and wines from Green Man. More dinners are planned. airfield.ie

Hotel Restaurant of the Year

The food and service at Sheen Falls in Kenmare are now a match for the dining room, with its spectacular views out over the river. Go in summer, and you can watch the salmon leaping as you eat. sheenfallslodge.ie

Food Activist of the Year

Any time this year that I became aware of a food issue that needed attention, Darina Allen had got there first. She's a dedicated campaigner, working on access to cooking facilities for refugees, food integrity and sustainability, education and waste, all the while growing and cooking and teaching and sharing her knowledge with a generous heart. Darina is the real hero of Irish food. cookingisfun.ie; ballymaloe.ie

Spending My Own Money

For the third year in a row, the award goes to the unassuming and always wonderful Etto. I make no apology for staying loyal to my absolute favourite Dublin restaurant, and am delighted that this year Yotam Ottolenghi and Nigella Lawson were just two of the international food luminaries to agree with me. Everyone needs a restaurant to call their own, a place where the staff will do their best to find you a table when it's busy and know you well enough to bring you food that they think you might like. Etto is mine. etto.ie

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