Foodies Fight Back
The Fish Box
In Dingle, the Flannery family are synonymous with seafood, with dad Michael having been a fisherman since 1975. In recent years, sons Micheal and Patrick stepped up to the plate with The Fish Box - Flannery's Seafood Bar, where mum Deirdre is head chef, and sister Eimear also works, and it's been a huge hit among locals and tourists alike, whether they're dining in or taking the fab fresh seafood takeout boxes down to the water's edge.
Micheal told me how they've been affected by the pandemic. "When we first learned of the Covid-19 outbreak, we closed our doors for two weeks. We analysed the situation, made a plan of the best safe practices, and decided to reopen on weekends initially, providing a takeaway service. We also have our own fishing trawler whose market completely collapsed. We only had one option - try to sell the fish through the restaurant."
Micheal is quick to credit the local community. "Dingle is an amazing town, full of amazingly supportive people, and we are currently open seven days a week from 12.30pm-9pm." The Flannerys are continuing to be proactive, planning for the new normal. "Our industry has changed, but when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We've created a brand-new mobile app in conjunction with Flipdish, offering our customers a safe, easy way of ordering, and keeping up with our latest dishes. Also, we wrote The Fish E-Book, which is completely free from our website."
Four generations of bakers have made Hickey's Bakery, in the shadow of the West Gate in Clonmel, what it is today. The current incumbent and local entrepreneur, Nuala Hickey, has been in the business for over 20 years, and, judging by the number of awards the bakery has garnered during her tenure, and my own experience, she's doing a fantastic job.
Their all-year-round rich, fruity barm brack is such a legend, it even had the Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry, come to Clonmel to investigate, which will be shown on the BBC later this year.
"When Covid hit, I knew immediately my business was going to change. However, those changes resulted in me going right back to the beginning in the most wonderful way. Even though I had to close the cafe, I was able to keep the bread counter open, which allowed us the time to connect again with our customers."
Hickey's Bakery has survived two world wars, and now this pandemic, Nuala says, and kept true to its values of quality and service. "Our locals have kept me busy wrapping barm bracks to send to their families abroad. They evoke memories, a sense of comfort, and a real taste of home. The bakery has never been busier and I've added a new local artisan corner supporting my friends in the Tipperary Food Producers group."
Change, Nuala says, has allowed her appreciate generations of hard work, a tradition she is determined to continue.
Derry and Sallyanne Clarke are probably the best-known duo in the Irish restaurant industry. Since 1989, their Michelin-starred L'Ecrivain has entertained the creme de la creme of high society in corporate, celebrity and society terms. They've been through recessions and personal tragedy, but, when it comes to their business, they've never flinched. They are the ultimate professionals. Earlier this year, they announced they were closing L'Ecrivain to pursue another venture but they are now staying open until December and say they are delighted to be back after a 13-week closure.
"Derry is not just a chef," says Sallyanne. "He power-hosed inside and out, painted and became a furniture mover. Our capacity has been modified from 120 to 52, with sharing tables on the terrace replaced with five tables for two. We ordered visors with our logo so as not to look like Darth Vader, and painted 'white feet' in the courtyard making sure there is no queue in our reception area."
They were extremely nervous on reopening, but guests were overjoyed to be able to dress up and enjoy a night out where they felt safe. "No one objected to having their temperature checked, and they loved the new table layout. We've implemented see-through dividers between side-to-side tables, even though we've just over one metre distance between each table." Front-of-house staff have the choice of a visor or face mask, for their own, and for our guests' protection.
"The reservations are pouring in and have exceeded our expectations." Do not miss the chance to dine at L'Ecrivain.
With its fabulous Hunt Museum, King John's Castle, Milk Market, proximity to the pretty village of Adare, not to mention Bunratty and the Wild Atlantic Way, Limerick city is a terrific place for a staycation. A new campaign, 'Limerick 50 Days of Summer', has just been launched, setting out 50 great reasons to visit the city and county this summer.
Ronan Branigan, proprietor of the superb five-star Savoy Hotel in Limerick city centre, told me how they'd been very busy during the lockdown, with extensive renovations of their 94 bedrooms, plus the addition of 13 new suites on its second floor, all with a 'Scandi-chic' inspired fit-out, including "the very latest technology".
The ground floor has also been totally reimagined, in a nod to the Savoy's swinging 1920s heritage, with Art Deco-inspired open-plan lounges, bars and VIP areas. "We've been tremendously busy behind the scenes getting our new offering just right. Obviously, it's been doubly frustrating getting a restoration completed during the shutdown," said Ronan.
They've also reopened The George Hotel on O'Connell Street, and their restaurants there, Da Vincenzo and the Alex Findlater & Co Foodhall.
The food is great, too, at the Savoy, one of the best breakfasts in the country, with the executive chef being Stephen Smith, formerly of the Hilton, Park Lane. Also, rather novel, and I know a lot of people will love this, the Savoy's Afternoon Tea experience is available from 10am-10pm, seven days a week, and they will be curating global afternoon tea interpretations every week from September.
"We employ close to 300 people right here in the city centre… all of those smiling faces await you on your next city staycation in Limerick, just 50 minutes from Lahinch and the Wild Atlantic Waves!"
"Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild..." WB Yeats
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