A buzz about the Wild Honey
EATING OUT:Word of mouth has already established the Wild Honey Inn as the perfect place for a pub lunch in Clare and yes, it is as good as you’ve heardTHE GREAT Van Morrison spoken-song is echoing in my head as I look down at a perfect pub lunch. “Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?” It’s not just the food. It’s also the place: a tall old building, almost like a train station hotel, standing on a little hill above a town in the beautiful Burren. You walk in through a wooden porch which has biscuit brown-red and black tiles and a hug of residual warmth from the day. Inside it is handsome, high-ceilinged and authentic in a way that pubs so often aren’t. There’s a piano and a silent old Mitsubishi TV set in a nook in a wall. If you dreamt up the perfect place to tumble into after a long drive into the western sunset with a carload of tired people, this would be it.
We’re at the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, a place I’d received so many Twitter exhortations to visit when I was at the recent Burren Slow Food Festival that someone called a halt for fear of giving chef Aidan McGrath “a big head”.
The festival dinner was held there the night we arrived and it was everything you’d wish for in a meal at a journey’s end. To start, McGrath had turned Birgitta Curtin’s Burren Smokehouse smoked salmon into a gorgeous slab of marble, layered in a loaf with soft cheese and the sliced and served with sweet pickled cucumbers, and a perfect salad of new potatoes.
A bowl of pale smoked haddock risotto was heavenly with the crunch of fresh scallions stirred in just before serving and a perfect poached quail’s egg on top. Braised pork cheek with a wild mushroom and asparagus sauce took us from a delicate summer meadow into the earthiness of the woods. Juice-drenched summer berry domes finished everything with a bright pink pop of tangy flavour. But then this was a special meal cooked for the food crowd, so how could it not be good?
So we have arrived back the next day to see what a regular luncher would get. The place doesn’t take bookings so we worry on the way there that it might be crammed. It isn’t. I’m ravenous after a fascinating seaweed forage with my eldest son led by Ger Talty from Spanish Point Sea Vegetables, a fourth generation seaweed gatherer. We’ve spotted a sea urchin in a rock pool, eaten pepper dilisk straight out of the sea and seen the quantity and variety of food that floats in the ocean shallows.
Now I’m looking down at a better-than- good-restaurant plate of food. It’s the Wild Honey ham hock terrine (€8.50), a dome shaped slice of pressed pink meat with flecks of sliced green capers sitting on top of celeriac remoulade and surrounded with a swirl of salsa verde and micro greens. Liam gets a taste on a round of crisply fried wholemeal bread (but only on the proviso that he hands the toast back with just the merest nibble taken). It’s that good.
He has, meanwhile, eaten his open crab sandwich (€14.50) so quickly all that remains are a few thready bits of crabmeat to be mopped up with bread. The boys are eating fluffy fat chips and a large herby burger (which is dubbed a herbger) divided in three.
We go a bit mad on desserts. The Burren (already a Unesco Geopark) is now also designated a “you’re in your granny’s” zone when it comes to treats. My lemon posset has a spoon of perfect raspberry sorbet on top, which is distilled raspberriness without the pips. As the sorbet melts the pink swirls into the milky posset turning it to bubblegum pink. It’s a delicious dessert. The boys share an Eton mess and ice cream and there’s some warm toffee pudding that does what it should.
Wild Honey Inn is a gorgeous place, in every sense of the word. Fáilte Ireland should make food like this mandatory at regular intervals around the country to show what we can do when we do it right.
Lunch for five with a pint of Guinness, cranberry juice and two coffees came to €68.80.
Look out for the Responsible Irish Fish label
The three words you’re most likely to see on menus these days “local, seasonal, organic” are rapidly becoming meaningless.
“Local” can mean the chef orders his beef from his “local” meat man who picks it up from any one of the massive meat processors whose beef may come from the other side of the country. Who checks the organic credentials of every box delivered into the kitchen? And the “seasonal” claim is only too easy to debunk when you’re handed strawberries in January.
But there’s one label that I’d love to start seeing on menus as it carries genuine authority. Frank Fleming from Schull, a commercial fisherman for 26 years, has spent the past two years bringing more than 100 trawlers in under the Responsible Irish Fish label. The logo shows a blue trawler sailing over a green fish with a shamrock.
It is a guarantee that the fish on your plate was caught by an Irish vessel operating “in a responsible manner”.
The fish food chain is as complicated as they come, as Fleming explained during a recent debate on sustainable fishing. Put simply, we export 80 per cent of fish and seafood caught in Irish waters.
On the other side, we import 80 per cent of the fish and seafood eaten here, he said. So we send our best stuff to Spanish and French supermarkets, and eat something that’s a pale version of our own catch. The cod in your chowder could have been caught by a Russian trawler, beheaded and blast-frozen at sea and sent to China for filleting before it arrived here. If you’re happy with that, fine. If not, ask your restaurant to buy only fish with the Responsible Irish Fish label.