Now that Eddie Hobbs has set the whole nation a twitter about â€˜rip off Irelandâ€™, everyone it seems is ready to pounce on anyone who is perceived to be overcharging. Food prices, restaurant prices and the price of the pint are compared across Europe, Ireland rarely comes out on the bottom which is understandably where you really want to be on this particular issue
However, the â€˜bargain policeâ€™ rarely register the fact that Ireland has one of the highest basic wages in Europe.
We also have some of the highest indirect taxes on food and wine in the EU. Ireland applies a VAT rate of 21% and excise duty to sparkling wine and still wine. The comparative figures for VAT in Spain, Italy and Portugal are 16%, 12% and 12% respectively on sparkling wine and 16%, 20% and 12% on still wine. The excise duty on a standard bottle of still wine in Ireland is â‚¬2.05, â‚¬1.80 in the UK, â‚¬0.03 in France and nil in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal. The excise duty on a standard bottle of sparkling wine in Ireland is â‚¬4.10, â‚¬2.57 in the UK, â‚¬0.06 in France and again nil in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.
Ireland also has the 8th highest rate of VAT on food in restaurants in the EU.
Insurance costs have increased significantly in the past few years. Increases in the prices of public and employersâ€™ liability and other types of insurance cover have lead to increased costs for restaurants.
The waste disposal charges have also increased and the additional costs incurred by restaurateurs have also had to be passed on to customers.
Which is why we need to be careful to actually compare like with like, before we jump to conclusions.
I got to thinking about all this afresh this recently when I had lunch at a new just (14 week old cafÃ©) in Midleton, Co Cork, its called â€˜Fire and Iceâ€™. On Saturday lunchtime it was throbbing with hungry diners tucking in to appetizing looking plates of food.
Iâ€™d been looking forward to trying out the new arrival on the Midleton food scene â€“ a town that already has several toothsome eateries, including The Farm Gate, Finins, Oâ€™Donovans, Park Hotel, Raymonds, and the also recently opened Ryans on the Mall in Riverside Way.
Everyone seems to be talking about Fire and Ice the â€˜new kid on the blockâ€™. Chef owner Gary Masterson is from Coventry, he trained in the UK with De Vere Hotels and after that did quite a bit of travelling â€“ working in the Cayman Islands, Spain, on the QE2 and on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary 2, most recently he was working in Anguilla in the Cuisinart Resort with the New York Chef Daniel Orr. He also spent some time in Dublin working in the Mermaid where he met Winnie, now his wife and partner in the business.
Winnie trained with Michael Clifford in his restaurant Cliffords on the Mardyke in Cork and FinÃns in Midleton, and ran the restaurant at the Distillery. She spent some time in San Francisco working with Wolfgang Puck and Stars. Back to Dublin where she helped set up Eden with Eleanor Walsh, then some time at the Mermaid where she met Gary.
They took a year out to travel together and came back to Ireland to open Fire and Ice in Clifden, Co Galway.
Winnie (Lynch) who comes from Midleton, (her father owned Midletonâ€™s first hotel the Tara), then enticed Gary back to her home turf.
They found a premises in the Courtyard off the Main Street, and got started. Gary writes the menu every day and goes to considerable trouble to source local food, as much as possible from artisan producers. Winnie is responsible for the delicious cakes and desserts as well as running the floor.
There is no fancy art on the walls, no expensive flourishes, this keen young couple (who live in Cloyne and have just had their first baby), have had to get in and get started with what they had, so the dÃ©cor is minimal but adequate.
Our waitress was a cheery local girl whose teasing manner invited lively banter. She presented the menu and reeled off the specials from the blackboard.
The menu changes every day depending on the produce available in season. My friends chose a goat cheese and tomato tartlet, and a spiced grilled flank steak with green mango and herb salad, and I was tempted by the char-grilled pizza with smoked salmon, avocado and cucumber pickle, mint, capers and crÃ¨me fraÃ®che.
It was enormous and rectangular in shape and overhung the plate on all sides.
The thin pizza was covered with slivers of smoked salmon, chunky slices of avocado, pickled cucumber, crispy lettuce and tiny capers. The secret ingredients were thin slivers of pickled ginger and some crÃ¨me fraÃ®che zig zagged over the top. It was really good but I could only manage to eat a little more than half. The flank steak is a very undervalued piece of beef, Gary cut it into slivers across the grain and seared it quickly on the pan and piled it atop a green mango, chilli and fresh herb salad
The goat cheese tomato tartlet sat on a bed of onion marmalade, this was served with a rocket salad with a roasted pepper dressing.
Gary tells me that he seeks out really good quality ingredients and buys as much local produce as he can get his hands on, including vegetables grown in his garden by Winnieâ€™s father.
They soon hope to sell their own pickles, chutneys, relishes, jams and marmalades as well as rubs, seasonings and fresh tea blends at the cafÃ©.
All chefs know that good produce is what creates the wow factor on the plate but really good produce simply has to cost more money, hence the eternal dilemma between the chef and the accountant. Gary and Winne say the eclectic menu reflects their travels and mood and what they like to cook and eat themselves.
If you have room to squeeze in pudding, Winnie has a tempting selection of cakes and tarts, including a Banoffee tart, Chester Cake, a rich Chocolate Cake, a pear Tart. We managed to nibble a piece of Bakewell Tart between us, sweet and delicious. Gary and Winnie kindly shared some of their recipes with us
Fire and Ice, The Courtyard, Main St. Midleton, Co Cork, Tel 021 4639682 â€“ open 9-5 â€“ 6 days (not Sunday)
Every day at the CafÃ© we offer fresh-pressed vegetable and/or fruit juices, a selection of home made lemonades and lassies (sweet or salty)
Some days more selection than others!
This is a very refreshing drink
4 cucumbers cut into chunks (peel if you like but I like the extra colour the skin gives as well as the vitamins and minerals)
2 apples cored
3-4 mint sprigs
Juice of 2-3 limes (or to taste)
Sugar to taste (2oz/56 grams I find is enough unless you like it sweeter)
Put cucumber, apples and mint through the juicer, add remaining ingredients and blend well, pour over ice and garnish with mint sprigs and cucumber slices
Sometimes I cut back on the sugar and add about a quarter of a peeled ripe pineapple, sounds strange but believe me it is totally addictive and yummy.
We are at the moment experimenting on what to do with all the left over vegetable pulp when we make fresh veg juices.
This is a simple protein packed recipe, (using the scary white stuff) great for when friends are coming over for drinks, or as pre-dinner nibbles, leaving you free to be host as it is all done in advance.
Tofu and green pea guacamole & veggie dippers
Â½ kg frozen peas, cooked till skins are tender (but still green) and refreshed in ice cold water
Â¼ kg firm tofu
1 jalapeno chilli-roughly chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ginger minced
8 basil leaves
5 sprigs coriander (stalks and all)
Â¼ cup olive oil
1 tomato finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Puree all ingredients together except tomato in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little tabasco if you like it spicier and fold in chopped tomato.
Sometimes I blend in Â¼ kg fresh blanched dried spinach leaves for extra iron.
Serve in a bowl with a selection of organic veggies (whatever you fancy), cut finger size, also fresh veggie crisps, flatbreads and crackers.
If you have any dip left over it is also great used as a sandwich spread or let down with a bit of white wine vinegar and oil and used as a salad dressing, great with cold chicken.
Spiced flank steak, green mango and herb slaw
This salad is a real blend of hot, spicy, sour, salty & crunchy, so it works really well on its own without any meat or fish.
At the cafÃ© we use a lemongrass and caramel marinade on our flank steak but at home you can use your favourite spice blend/marinade or even some store bought green curry paste
1 flank steak marinated or 4 chicken breasts or 4 firm fish filets
2 mangos (hard and under-ripe), diced or cut julienne
We use under ripe fruit as a veg in the cafÃ©
1-2 finely diced red chilli pepper
Â½ pack red radishes finely sliced
Â½ head of Chinese leaves shredded
1 red pepper diced
1 carrot peeled and cut into julienne
1 tsp lime zest finely grated (zest only no pith, a microplane is great for this)
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
2 tbsp clear Saleen honey
Â¼ cup olive oil
2 limes juiced
1 lemon juiced
1 packed cup ripped mint and coriander leaves
Â½ cup freshly roasted peanuts
Salt & pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except herbs and peanuts and mix well.
Char-grill flank steak 3-4 minutes either side for rare (or chicken or fish if using)
Rest the meat, while resting add herbs to salad and adjust seasoning, adding herbs any earlier will cause them to lose their colour and flavour as the citrus juices in the salad will wilt herbs.
Place the salad into the centre of the plate, carve the meat and place on top.
Finish with roasted peanuts and sweet chilli sauce.
When using fish I add a little Thai fish sauce or chopped anchovies
Warm Irish breakfast salad
1 kg mixed rashers grilled then cut in to smaller pieces
Â½ black pudding ring, diced and pan fried
Â½ kg new potatoes steamed and sliced into Â½ cm slices and sautÃ©ed
6 free range eggs
Â½ kg your favourite sausages grilled and sliced into rings
Mixed salad leaves
Good ripe tomatoes cut into wedges
Thinly sliced red onion rings
Finely grated parmesan cheese
Good balsamic dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful oven roasted croutons
Reheat rashers, sausage, pudding, potatoes under grill.
Fry the eggs in butter until soft
Toss together salad leaves, tomatoes, and onion rings in balsamic dressing, then add warm breakfast items
Dress on the plate, top with fried egg, sprinkle croutons and parmesan over the top
Grated fresh coconut works best but if your tree in your garden has no fruit left on it dried desiccated coconut works well!
2 lemons, juice and zest
200g caster sugar
260g desiccated coconut
Line a 12 inch pastry case or 6 individual cases and bake blind.
Mix the eggs, lemon and sugar together.
Pour in the cold cream.
Add the coconut.
Pour into the pastry case and bake for 35 min. @ 165Â°c, or
15-20 min for individual cases
Allow to cool before serving.
Serve with passion fruit cream,
Make by mixing fresh passion fruit into cream or mascarpone cheese and whipping to soft peaks, adding icing sugar if you have a sweeter tooth.
If youâ€™re planning a shopping trip to Dublin or to a show, thought Iâ€™d mention a few of my favourite city centre spots.
Greatly enjoyed lunch at a new (to me) restaurant in Georgeâ€™s Street called Sixty Six â€“ (Tel 01-4005878) Rachel Clancy, late of Cookes is the brainchild behind this seriously busy cafÃ© deli which opens at 8 for Breakfast, 12 for lunch and 5 for dinner - Lots of variations on Sausage and Mash, great little starter salads, Panini, Chicken dish of the day, variety of fish dishes, spaghetti and meatballsâ€¦.tempting desserts like Amaretto Crumble, Bread and Butter pudding with Baileys, Raspberries and Natural Yogurt, Chocolate Milkshake with warm Chocolate Cakeâ€¦.
I enjoyed the Lamb Kebabs with harissa mayo and a superb cheese plate with membrillo.
Lâ€™Gueuleton, on Fade Street,(Tel 01-6753708) (round the corner from Hoganâ€™s Pub) has expanded so thereâ€™s now more space at this buzzy cafÃ© that doesnâ€™t take bookings and has no name over the door â€“ youâ€™ll probably have to queue but its worth the search and the wait.
A little off the city centre but worth the few minutes walk is Ely in Ely Place (Tel 01-6768986) - a wine bar and food, mostly organic. This place is comfy, the food is yummy and thereâ€™s a serious selection of wine to tempt you to abandon your shopping altogether.
At Oâ€™Connells in Ballsbridge,(Tel 01-6473304) Tom Oâ€™Connell encourages his chefs to use fresh naturally produced local food in season, and is a great supporter of the Irish artisan producers â€“ Oâ€™Connells has developed a loyal following and is still considered to be outstanding value for money â€“ best value in town.
Finally, not cheap but a wonderful treat â€“ afternoon tea at The Four Seasons- in Ballsbridgeâ€“ (Tel 01-6654000), beats afternoon tea at The Ritz hands down. The service is superb â€“ a selection of carefully judged sandwiches, warm scones served with Glenilen cream and finally a tempting dessert trolley with little tartlets that not only look good but really taste delicious - a really pleasurable way to catch up with friends before Christmas
More Eurotoque Cavan Crystal Winners
An award also went to craft butcher Hugh Maguire, who was recognized for his fresh blood black pudding; a traditional product which is fast disappearing. Alan Pierce and Mark Winterbotham of Gold River Farm in Aughrim, Co Wicklow â€“ an organic farm which provides a tailored service for chefs, so that they can always have the best produce of the season.
A special lifetime contribution award went to food writer Honor Moore for her writing over the past sixty years, which has encouraged a love for and pride in Irish food amongst chefs and public alike. A huge congratulations to Honor and all the other award recipients.
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