Best of food and drink to ease the worst of times


It’s the very worst sort of obsessive-compulsive behaviour. In fact, I reckon it borders on narcissistic personality disorder. And yet every year, at the same time, I fall for it. Reliable as a lemming.

I mean, of course, those infuriating, annoying “Best Of” lists that writers and critics feel they must share with the world every December. The favourite movie. The best compact disc. The best graphic novel. The meal of the year. The best hotel. Or the best gig of the year.

When I started contributing to these maddening themes more than 30 years ago, they seemed to have some sort of value. A consensus would eventually emerge. There was a canon. Today, any consensus is well-nigh impossible. The cultural and culinary worlds are too disparate, diverse and multi-layered to provoke any agreement.

That ought to mean that compiling your favourite people and places and events of the year is a waste of time. But, in fact, I think it means the opposite.

The more personal your list of favourite things and events is, the better it is. No one has to strive for accord. We don’t need to bestow the mantle of The Best on anyone, or anything. Your Best Of list is what was best for you and I think that is a very healthy thing.

It allows us to reflect on, for example, our favourite food events and experiences, and to value them without the need to compare. And to discuss them with your friends and family is a lovely thing to share, as the year draws to an end and you gather around the table and discuss the year that was in it.

The year that was in it, of course, has been very hard for the mental and physical health of many people in Ireland. So reflecting on those treasures, and recalling that place and time that made an experience special is a valuable, healing, heartening thing to do.

So, forgive my obsessive-compulsive-narcissistic behaviour, and treat these 10 special food memories as no more than a spur to your own food recollections for 2012. They are as follows:

Knockmealdown Porter from 8 Degrees Brewing:First tasted back in March and it stopped me in my tracks with the first sip. Stout heaven.

Tartine Bakery Rye Bread:Thibault Peigne is baking wonders up in Swords. Some of his breads are at their best a whole week after baking.

Ottolenghi’s rice and lentils:I can’t buy into the whole worship-Ottolenghi thing, but his recipe for the Levantine dish Mejadra transforms the simplest starches into the most sublime staple.

Goatsbridge Trout Caviar:The Tiffany of the Irish food world, from Co Kilkenny, and beautiful in every way.

Mayo Mezze Plate, Rua Café, Castlebar:All the choice tastes from the county on one board, from Carrowholly cheese to Cuinneog butter on Rua soda bread. Bringing it all back home.

Mick Healy’s Wild Irish Hare:The flavours of Mick Healy’s game birds and wild game are revelatory. Eating them is like taking a walk in the forest.

Ring of Kerry Quality Lamb:You can specify hill or mountain lamb when you order, and the butchering and delivery is second-to-none, just like the flavour.

Spanish Point Sea Vegetables:Ger Talty’s sea vegetables are collected by hand off the west coast, and are expertly dried and beautifully presented.

Tinahely Heather Ivy Honey:Another wild and exotic panjandrum of tastes that stopped me in my tracks, from Joe Nealon of Aspen’s Wood in Co Wicklow.

West Cork Haws:The fruits and apples of the season were absent, but the haws saved the day and our hedgerow ketchups should get us through the winter.

John McKennais author of The Irish Food Guide