| 17°C Dublin

Lucinda O'Sullivan explores the Irish businesses putting their best food forward during the coronavirus crisis

Our restaurant critic celebrates new approaches and resilience at a challenging time

Close

The Food Box: Colin Jephson

The Food Box: Colin Jephson

The Food Box: Colin Jephson

This week I have talked to a food retailer, an adventurous food producer, a hot chef and the owner of one of Ireland's best-loved hotels, who have all adapted to new ways of doing business.

The food box

Ardkeen Quality Food Store, focusing on small-scale artisan producers, has been a leading light on Waterford's food scene for many years. Founded by Robert and Pamela Jephson in 1967 as a small grocery store with petrol pumps, it became a destination for lovers of good food and is now run by their sons, Colin, Gerald and Kevin.

"The store has always been a community hub; customers come for the chat as much as for their loaf of sourdough," says Colin.

"Since March, those chats have turned to nods and we no longer have huddles of animated discussion in the aisles but we hope we will see that return in the near future. For now, we consider ourselves lucky that we are an essential business and are able to keep trading, with some minor adjustments to our offering."

They acted early and swiftly with protective protocols, and because they are independent, were able to respond with flexibility, adding new lines of household essentials, creating pantry top-ups and vegetable delivery boxes, and offering a temporary contactless purchase and pickup service for older and vulnerable customers.

"Online food shopping has accelerated in an unprecedented way but our team have coped incredibly well." says Colin.

"Our veg boxes are very popular, without doubt freshness and provenance coming to the fore. And, of course, everyone is baking! So there's been a significant surge in the purchase of related products such as flour, yeast and specialist items."

Ardkeen's online store, which ships worldwide, features a huge range of the best Irish artisan food available.

ardkeen.com

The producer

In Baltray, Co Louth, Marita and Peter Collier's 100-acre Drummond House Farm deals in rather unique crops for this part of the world - growing fab fresh garlic and asparagus.

Having inherited the farm in 2008 from Peter's late uncle, the next six years were spent restoring the property and finding their own niche.

Close

The Producer: Marita Collierfuture. Photo: Johnny Bambury

The Producer: Marita Collierfuture. Photo: Johnny Bambury

Johnny Bambury

The Producer: Marita Collierfuture. Photo: Johnny Bambury

"On a trip to the Himalayas in 2012, I saw that certain varieties of garlic grew really well in cold, damp, wet and windy conditions, and I thought that's exactly like our weather in Baltray," says Marita. "We created the first ever garlic category on the Irish market, and also a Garlic Clove Pack, giving the consumer the choice of different varieties of loose garlic cloves in a packet. Overnight though, our food service business was completely gone, and I didn't know how the retail side would perform. But, after the initial gut-punching shock, we said, 'we've faced challenges and obstacles before, everyone is in the same boat'.

"Thankfully, luck, karma and great friendships all came up trumps. I'd been selling to Sean Hussey, of Hussey's Fruit & Veg, and he has been just unbelievable. He spoke to all the small growers and producers and was determined that he was going to find a way to get our produce sold. The fruit and veg boxes delivered to customers' homes have been just amazing for my business.

"I'm very hopeful about this new season. It will be different in lots of ways, but I certainly do see a future that perhaps six weeks ago I could not even imagine."

Drummond House has now launched its online store, delivering nationwide.

drummondhouse.ie

The restaurant

Snagging a seat in Damien Grey's Michelin-starred Liath restaurant in Blackrock, Co Dublin, has been on every foodie's wishlist. Grey, like an actor on stage, commanded the bijou space with an ease and charm that belied his steely professionalism, delivering dishes that excited and delighted. Now, his Liath to Go dinners attract the same attention.

Damien closed Liath on March 14, the day before its first anniversary and two weeks before the government lockdown.

Close

The Restaurant: Damien Grey

The Restaurant: Damien Grey

The Restaurant: Damien Grey

"Having worked in this industry for 27 years, closing Liath was not an easy affair," says Damien. "Through the initial two weeks of official lockdown, I watched with the nation as the frontline workers courageously fought an almighty battle.

"I was fighting my own battle to keep the restaurant solvent and my talented, loyal staff employed. During a restless night researching and proving to myself that Michelin quality home meals would be successful, Liath To Go was born. With financial costings completed and safety standards prepared, we nervously served 90 people - contactless - embarking on a journey to keep Liath afloat and financially viable for the future.

"This experience taught me that a flexible business model is essential to adapt, evolve, and create something new. There is a future for the restaurant and hospitality industry in post-Covid-19 Ireland. I truly believe that Ireland is one of the most hospitable nations in the world. Let's get together to provide this hospitality to the public and make available advice and support to those in business who've lost the Covid-19 economic battle."

liathrestaurant.com

The hotel

Once you drive through the gates of the 150-acre Renvyle estate, you're in a breathtaking world all of its own, right on the shores of the Atlantic. Once home to poet Oliver St John Gogarty (Buck Mulligan in James Joyce's Ulysses), it's an arty, stylish country house, known for its exquisite fresh seafood cooked by long-standing head chef Tim O'Sullivan.

First opened as a hotel in 1883, it has been in the loving hands of the Coyle family since 1952. "We're very fortunate in our location, as we are a self-sufficient destination for people to holiday," says chairman Zoe Fitzgerald, third generation of the Coyle family. "Our spacious ground floor allows us to comply with the two-metre social distancing in our dining room and kitchen."

Close

The Hotel: Zoe Fitzgerald and Tim O'Sullivan

The Hotel: Zoe Fitzgerald and Tim O'Sullivan

The Hotel: Zoe Fitzgerald and Tim O'Sullivan

Renvyle will reopen on July 20, but before that the hotel will be cleaned with antiviral disinfectant - which was also done when the hotel closed in March. Antibac units will be placed at every door and the taps in public bathrooms will be replaced with ones that are used with an arm or elbow. There are also stringent measures for staff, including temperature tests before work.

"We've used this closure period wisely," says Zoe. The kitchen gardens have been planted, and painting has been done inside and out. We're ready to welcome our guests through our front door, with all safety measures in place."

renvyle.com

Sunday Independent