Nobody would have put money on January and February being the busiest months of the year in the restaurant industry, but as the country nose-dived into lockdown and shuttered restaurants shed their employees, the only choice was to come up with fresh thinking. When we could catch our breath.
Amid the fear and uncertainty, resilience was the byword as people adapted, contorted, walked tightropes and did everything known to man to eke out a livelihood, or at least keep busy, in the face of unimaginable adversity. Huge community spirit and generosity was shown – our chefs turned up day after day to feed frontline workers, make deliveries, entertain and educate with free online cooking tutorials and plot out a way to adapt to the constantly moving target of changing restrictions.
This is a year we may all want to forget, but there are some things worth remembering. Restaurants did open, for at least some of the time, outdoor dining areas are here to stay, stunning meal kits were created, and most of us had a chance to improve our cooking skills
The past year shows how the industry can adapt, be supportive and survive, and the Food Oscars this year reflect the creativity, resilience and hard work of the incredible people in our food community.
We all hope we’re looking at brighter future in 2021.
Bravery Award (and new opening of the year)
11 Bow Lane East, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, 01-5222075, marlinhotel.ie/canteen.html
Anyone opening a restaurant in 2020 deserves an award, but when that restaurant is in a hotel, it’s a Herculean level of brave. James Sheridan’s menu at Canteen had many high points, but perhaps the most memorable was the very first morsel, a delicate onion tartlet, that combined skill and an understanding of flavour in one exquisite bite.
Dish of the Year
Fairgreen Road, Galway, 091-569727, loamgalway.com
Getting the meat course right in a tasting menu is not as easy as you may think, it is all about bringing a crescendo to the menu while maintaining balance.
Enda McEvoy’s cooking is clever and restrained and left me yearning for just a little bit more of the pink lamb loin that was served with a creamy turnip purée, and the summer flavours of broad beans and a mint sauce.
Richmond, 43 Richmond Street South, Portobello, Dublin 2, 01-478 8783, richmondrestaurant.ie
When you discover that there are five off-duty chefs tucking into the same menu as you on a Tuesday night, it’s a good indication that you’re in the right place. The €48 five-course Tuesday tasting menu on the first Tuesday of each month is low key but delicious, and the pies are phenomenal.
Best outdoor dining
39 Clanbrassil Street Upper, Dublin 8, 01-908 1955, bastebbq.com
Pitmaster Andy Noonan knows a thing or two about outdoor dining, and his set up in the yard of a former garage near Harold’s Cross Bridge is now covered to keep off the winter elements, but the advice is to wear warm clothes.
Serving low and slow barbeque, there is now a new wine bar area with cheese and charcuterie plates, wine on tap and a slew of interesting wines by the glass.
Best meal kit
101 Setanta Place, Dublin 2, 01-6170988, allta.ie
First to offer national delivery, those lucky enough to snap up an Allta box were treated to restaurant-quality food at home. Among the many, many highlights were gnocchi made with Rockfield sheeps’ cheese and Ballymakenny potatoes, which were served with fried maitake mushrooms and kale in a nutty celeriac sauce topped with a smoked-almond dressing.
Best food truck
Red Stables Farmers’ Market, St Anne’s Park, Mount Prospect Avenue, Dublin 3,
Herbert Park Farmers’ Market, Dublin 2; saltybuoy.ie
Restaurateur and fish wholesaler Niall Sabongi was quick to get his skates on, repurposing a vintage Citroen van and hitting the road with his blue food truck, selling lobster rolls, crab toasties, and his much-lauded fish Kievs, as well as rustling up a series of seafood suppers for delivery.
Sip ‘n’ Dip
Cúán Greene, Scéal Bakery and Neighbourhood Wine, 48 Leeson Street Upper, Saint Peter’s, Dublin 4
The sandwich game really picked up towards the end of the year, but the gong goes to Cúán Greene’s one-day pop-up at Neighbourhood Wine, where he served rare beef, pickled kohlrabi and fresh, fiery horseradish in a Scéal Bakery roll with a tub of warm beefy jus for dipping. Just what we needed on a sunny Sunday afternoon in November.
Can’t wait to see what they do next
Baltimore, Co Cork, 087 2128345, customhousebaltimore.com/dede
Everyone’s eyes have been on Ahmet Dede, the chef behind the now-shuttered Michelin-starred Mews restaurant, since he opened Dede after lockdown lifted. He’s taking his time and doing a three-course menu for now, but with a team of Turkish chefs and a focus on cooking over fire, this promises to be some of the most exciting food in the country.
Pudding Row The Grocer
Main St, Shannonspark West, Easky, Co. Sligo, 096 49794, puddingrow.ie
As most of the country headed to the west and the Wild Atlantic Way for holidays, some of our best socially distant meals were picnics in the countryside. Pudding Row in Easky opened a deli a few doors down from their shuttered restaurant, and their build-a-box picnics, filled with substantial sandwiches and homemade cakes, were on the must-order list for surfers and people visiting the area.
Cocktails of the year
Mulberry Lane, Donnybrook, Dublin 4, 01-2693300, mulberrygarden.ie
This year was the year when cocktails really came into their own, with many restaurants included them as an add-on option with food kits; but the sheer joy of being served an Adi’s old fashioned and a Pisco sour in the greenery of Mulberry Garden’s courtyard right after the first lockdown had lifted was the toast of the year for me.
This could be an everyone-up-on-the-stage award, but let’s spread it three ways.
John and Sandy Wyer
Forest Avenue, 8 Sussex Terrace and 126 Leeson Street Upper, Dublin 4, 01-6678337, forestavenuerestaurant.ie
Leading the way in the move from restaurant to neighbourhood greengrocer, the tables in John and Sandy Wyer’s top-end restaurant were rearranged and loaded up with baskets of organic vegetables from McNally Farm, their own sourdough, baguettes, and homemade pasta. A wine shop upstairs is a recent addition.
Gaz Smith and Talha Pasha
Michael’s, 57 Deerpark Rd, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin, 01 278 0377, michaels.i
Sheer resilience and boundless energy saw Gaz Smith and Talha Pasha of Michael’s bring us everything from outdoor dining, click-and-collect meals, a greengrocer and farm shop, to a pop-up in Higgins Butcher and a line of Christmas hampers.
Liath, 19A Main St, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, 01 212 3676, liathrestaurant.com
Following the lead of Alinea in Chicago, Damien Grey was first out of the blocks with a top-end click and collect meal kit. Then he switched tack to street food, and finished off the year with a gourmet food and wine pairing box with Cathryn Bell of Wine Rover.
Cooking technique of the year
6 Aungier Street, Dublin 2; 01-4758538, unomas.ie
Not everyone wants to make banana bread or sourdough, but a skill worth adding to your repertoire is how to make the perfect tortilla. The kit from Uno Mas includes a mini frying pan as well as all the ingredients and will make you an expert on the first go.
Cookbooks of the year
Nigella Lawson’s Cook, Eat, Repeat
Rory O’Connell’s The Joy of Food
It was a year when we wanted wholesome cookery books, something that spoke to us in a personal way. In her latest book, Nigella Lawson returns to the evocative writing style of her wonderful How to Cook bible; and Rory O’Connell captured our hearts with his collection of recipes, essays and drawings.
Best food television
Beyond the Menu Reset
Although Nigella’s double buttering of toast and the Great British Bake-Off may
have caused a stir on social media, for the year that was in it, Mark Moriarty’s
tightly edited look at how six young chefs have fared over the lockdown was insightful, supportive and a little bit heart wrenching.
Keeping the spirits bright
Michelle and Greg Bowe
The food and drink quizzes compiled by Michelle and Greg Bowe of the Greedy Couple website were a delightful culinary distraction, we loved their interesting snippets of food trivia, and especially the pat on the back when your final score landed the congratulatory “You are a head chef”.