Over the years, in Ireland, we’ve regularly swung from bust to boom and back to bust.
We went from a very modest, uninspiring food base in the 1980s straight into the Celtic Tiger of the 1990s, when I started reviewing. It was an era of ‘flash the cash’ restaurants reliant on corporate business and over-the-top lifestyles.
This all came crashing down around 2008 with the global recession, but in time we saw a burgeoning of tremendous creativity from chefs and restaurateurs.
They came up with great-value early birds and deals, each competing and rising to the challenge of creating superb dishes from cheaper ingredients.
This period also passed as Ireland’s food scene grew again to extraordinary heights. Foreign visitors came and returned to their countries, spreading the word of our wonderful culinary skills — at a level they had not expected of ‘Irish food’.
Our young chefs were sought after in the kitchens of top restaurants around the world and brought back new ideas for their own establishments. Before long, we had great casual cuisines from all over the globe.
The hipster era saw the influx of Nordic influences, which have now settled down from the extreme ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ variety — one foam-covered snail under a lettuce leaf — to a more confident cuisine based on our terroir and our wonderful seafood and meats.
Michelin, which ignored Ireland for as long as I can remember, began to sit up a bit, making quick visits to different regions each year and doling out a few stars in its wake.
However, the UK-based, so-called World’s 50 Best Restaurants, whose policy I’ve challenged, don’t appear to even know where Ireland is.
Most of their 50 Best are now in the far reaches of Asia and South America. With Brexit, they’re even less likely to be able to find us.
We’ve had some outstanding new restaurants in the past few years, including Damien Grey’s Liath in Blackrock Market, Eamonn O’Reilly’s Greenhouse with Mickael Viljanen on Dawson Street, Barry Sun’s Volpe Nera in Blackrock, Rob Krawczyk’s Chestnut in Ballydehob, Co Cork, Ahmet Dede in Baltimore, Co Cork, and Danny Africano’s Lignum near Loughrea, Co Galway.
Just as all was going swimmingly, we were hit last year with a ‘bust’ that no one could foresee and it has left them all crippled. However, once again the desire to survive has seen their creativity come into play, with extraordinary measures from meal kits to takeaways from horseboxes, ambulances, shacks and more.
Visiting the aforementioned Lignum (Latin for ‘wood’), in Bullaun, in Co Galway, on its first night in September 2019, I was blown away. They won’t be reopening until indoor dining resumes, but I’ve just had their great value Lignum a Casa — a meal kit that is simple but sophisticated, and reflects the Italian side of Danny’s heritage.
‘Snacks’ consisted of two Dooncastle oysters sitting on a bed of hay — to be drizzled with a prepared dressing; and mini macadamia tartlets to be filled with a delicious Ballylisk cheese custard from a piping bag and topped with baby asparagus nibs tossed in ramson caper dressing.
The main course of capellini with brown crab was a five-minute doddle. I cooked the pasta in boiling water while heating the supplied bisque, to which the delicious crabmeat was added, all topped with bronze fennel fronds.
Sicilian setteveli (seven-veil) — individual light but luscious chocolate and hazelnut layer cakes — were ready to be plated, and a fun little extra to finish off the evening came by way of marshmallows to roast over a fire. The kit even included sticks, a sod of turf, and some fuel.
Remarkable effort and imagination was put into this and cost just €50 for two people. We had two boxes.
The menu changes regularly and there are weekly collection points in Galway, and delivery to Dublin collection points fortnightly.
Tel: (087) 330-0559