On the good food trail in Waterford

 

GO IRELAND: There’s a new heaven for foodies in west Waterford. ALEX MEEHANgives it a taste and will be back for seconds

AREAS LIKE west Cork and Connemara have long been on the radar of Irish foodies. But with a growing cohort of artisan food producers, innovative chefs and top class ingredients, another area is beginning to make its mark on the country’s food scene.

Home to Copper Coast ale, Knockalara cheese, Crinnaughton apple juice and Baldwin’s ice-cream, west Waterford offers a feast for gourmet holidaymakers – whether they’re in the market for an innovative Michelin-starred meal at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, or a fresh baked blaa for the road from Barron’s Bakery in Cappoquin.

Whatever your budget, Dungarvan is a good place to start your foodie tour. Our home for our first night was The Tannery, where Paul and Maire Flynn run a stylish guesthouse and cookery school alongside the restaurant they first opened in 1997.

Dungarvan born and bred, Paul Flynn has just finished filming his first TV series with RTÉ Cork – Paul Flynn’s Irish Food Adventure– which is due to be shown in June. For him, the variety of eating experiences on offer in this part of the country is one of its main attractions.

“The nice thing about this area is that there’s quality at pretty much every level – you don’t need a ton of money to find something interesting and tasty, and there is so much going on. We have an extremely talented chef in Martijn Kajuiter at the Cliff House – his food is so cerebral and technical, it’s a million miles from anything I’d do, but it’s fantastic,” he says.

The area also plays host to the annual Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan, which this year saw Ross Lewis from Chapter One in Dublin, Mark Hix formerly of celebrity London haunt The Ivy and Ireland’s own Richard Corrigan cooking up a storm in public demonstrations along with scores of other ticketed and free events. Around 12,000 people attended this event, which has grown in size each year since it started in 2007.

“There’s a really interesting food culture in this area that ranges from long-established bakeries and restaurants, to cutting-edge stuff like microbreweries and cheesemakers. People really love this area; there are more than a few food producers who have made the effort to base themselves here, when there are other places that might have been easier,” says Flynn.

Local ingredients feature strongly on The Tannery’s menu, in dishes like seafood stew in a saffron and rosemary broth, and a slow-cooked daube of beef with wild garlic mash. And for breakfast in the townhouse, freshly-baked muffins are delivered to your room to compliment the local apple juice from Crinnaughton’s farm in Cappoquin, stored in the fridge along with yogurt and granola.

In the cookery school, Flynn offers courses in everything from the food of the Rhone, summer entertaining and cooking for teenagers. Beside the school, his fruit and vegetable garden not only provides ingredients for the restaurant but a great talking point for his students, young and old.

“The cookery school came about as a result of Darina Allen pushing us in that direction – she used to bring students here from Ballymaloe and ask me to teach them. Initially, I found that very difficult, but then I started to really enjoy it. I usually encourage people to read their recipes and then throw them away, though; I think it’s better to try to teach them to cook what they like, what’s good and in season.”

FROM DUNGARVAN we headed inland towards Lismore, stopping to top up our caffeine and sugar levels at Barron’s in Cappoquin. Established by John Barron in 1887, the bakery is still in the family, and still uses the same Scotch brick ovens Barron installed when he opened. In the small coffee shop you can sample a slice of Chester cake – a mix of dried fruits and spices sandwiched between two thin pieces of bread – and buy a copy of Our Daily Bread, the book produced to mark the bakery’s 125th year in business.

Fifteen minutes after draining our coffees in Barron’s we were driving into Lismore, and marvelling at the fact that such a stunning village doesn’t have a higher profile on the tourist trail. Dominated by Lismore Castle – the Irish home of the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753 – Lismore is mostly picture-perfect, although the sight of some empty shop units is a reminder that the recession has taken its toll on pretty much every main street in the country.

But when you’re sitting at the bar in O’Brien Chop House, enjoying a pint of one of the craft beers produced by the Dungarvan Brewing Company, all thoughts of economic woes are banished. Justin and Jenny Green, who own Ballyvolane House just over the border in Cork, opened the bar and restaurant in the summer of 2009. Passionate about local ingredients, their menu makes liberal use of the fruits and vegetables grown in their walled garden in Ballyvolane.

On the menu, there’s beef and oyster pie, roast supreme of Cappoquin chicken, and hanger steak with baked bone marrow which only has to travel a few hundred yards up the street from McGrath’s butchers. The sides of beef hanging in the window of McGrath’s had attracted our attention earlier that day; the owner even offered to show us his abattoir out the back, and you can’t get much closer to your food than that.

THERE WAS TIME for one more meal before we left Waterford – a breakfast served with French flair by Stephane Tricot at the Glencairn Inn, the guesthouse he runs with his wife Fiona a few miles outside Lismore.

Croissants still warm from the oven, eggs Benedict topped with a perfect hollandaise, and coffee so strong it could only have been made by a Frenchman set us up for the road. Our only regret was that we hadn’t had time to eat dinner in Pastis, Tricot’s on-site bistro; but at least we know exactly where our next foodie tour of west Waterford will be starting.

West Waterford where to . . .

Eat

Cliff HouseHotel, Ardmore. Tel: 024 87800 or see thecliffhousehotel.com. A five-star boutique hotel with sea views to die for, the Cliff House is also home to the only restaurant outside Dublin to hold a coveted Michelin star. Chef Martijn Kajuiter won his star in 2010 and kept it this year thanks to the innovative and impressive food served in his restaurant. Dutchman Kajuiter believes passionately in seasonality, and every dish he serves up includes fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers grown in the area.

The Tannery,10 Quay Street, Dungarvan. Tel: 058 45420 or see tannery.ie. Owners Paul and Maire Flynn have put together a complete offering of accommodation, cooking school and restaurant, making this a great stopping-off point for foodies touring the area. Courses on offer here include a five-day residential cooking course with Paul Flynn starting May 9th for €950 including accommodation.

O’Brien Chop House,Main Street, Lismore. Tel: 058-53810 or see obrienchophouse.ie. A definite place to visit for committed carnivores, O’Brien Chop House bills itself as an unpretentious Victorian-style pub and restaurant that specialises in chops, cutlets, steaks and pies, as well as seafood and fish cooked on the bone. Located across the road from one of the best bespoke butchers in the country, McGrath’s, the quality of meat and variety of cut on at O’Brien Chop House lifts this gastro pub well out of the ordinary.

Pastis at The Glencairn Inn,Glencairn, Lismore. Tel: 058-56232 or glencairninn.com. The Glencairn Inn is a small, family-run guesthouse built around a cosy French-style bistro called Pastis, and is located in a rural setting just outside Lismore. Owned and operated by Fiona and Stephane Tricot, it not only drips country charm, but also has a real foodie edge. Stephane Tricot is a classically trained chef who has worked in high-end French restaurants in New York and Paris, and now serves up classic dishes in this renovated 300-year-old cottage.

Barron’s bakery and coffee shop,Cappoquin, Co Waterford. Tel: 058 54045 or see barronsbakery.ie. It has been baking bread since 1887, and it’s one of the last bakeries in the country to still use Scotch brick ovens. Stop off to try the local speciality, the blaa – a kind of floury white bap found only in this part of the country and thought to have been introduced in the 17th century by the Huguenots – as well as range of cakes and breads.

Nude Food, 86 O’Connell Street, Dungarvan. Tel: 058-24594 or see nudefood.ie. Louise Clark’s Nude Food came about as a result of the popularity of her weekly food stall in Dungarvan Farmers’ Market. Operating as a cafe, bakery and deli, it’s a lively spot that prides itself on using as much locally sourced produce as possible.

Powersfield House,Ballinamuck West, Dungarvan. Tel: 058-45594 or see powersfield.com. Eunice Power has been running her own high-end catering service since 2001, and her small BB serves what many locals regard as the best breakfast in Dungarvan – expect treats like Helvick smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, and Greek yogurt with granola, bananas and Cappagh honey.