The Gastropub phenomenon

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The Gastropub phenomenon has been the most exciting development on the UK food scene in the past 10 years. According to Trish Hilferty in her recently published book ‘Gastropub Classics’ – “A gastropub is not just any old pub that serves food; it is much more than that. To qualify as a member of the dining phenomenon of the past decade, the surroundings, the atmosphere, the sounds, the aromas and, most importantly, the food needs to be spot on. The term gastropub was coined in the early Nineties to convey a style of eating out far removed from the formality of restaurant dining. The Eagle in Farringdon, set up in 1991 by Mike Belben and David Eyre, was the forerunner. An old rough and tumble boozer, with an open kitchen, mismatched plates and battered institutional furniture, it set the blueprint for egalitarian dining. It proceeded to blow away the neighbourhood with its relaxed, loose-limbed atmosphere and stunning, Southern European Food. It was quickly dubbed the first gastropub and it set the blueprint for egalitarian dining. All comers were welcome to eat good, simple food while enjoying a pint and a chat in the simple, unfussy ‘public house’ environment.
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This winning formula has led to gastropubs opening up all over London and throughout the country.” “Its runaway success has demonstrated the missing link between the lively social environment of pubs and the more restrained atmosphere of fine dining. Gastropubs are accessible, you should be able to just pop in and have a pint and a bite without any formality.” Asked how best to describe the Eagle after it first opened, Mike Belben said that it was ‘simply a pub, its what a pub should be’.

“The crucial element of a good gastropub is, of course, the food. “The relaxed nature of the pub environment is reflected in the classic gastropub menu. No room for the purist here, its all about mixing and matching. Rustic French and Italian dishes sit side by side with sturdy old-fashioned British offerings. It is precisely this freedom that defines gastropub cookery.

All dishes are only ever as good as their raw ingredients, and gastropub chefs are great champions of local British produce. We are all becoming increasingly aware of the origins and the nature of production of our meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and the ever-popular farmers markets are making buying great ingredients easy and pleasurable.”

The gastropub movement hasn’t quite taken off in the same way here in Ireland. Several pubs which market themselves as gastropubs are far from it, or don’t have all the elements that Trish Hilferty identifies. However, Deasy’s in Ring near Clonakilty, West Cork and the Ballymore Inn in Ballymore-Eustace, Co Kildare have gathered a loyal clientele.

Here are some recipes from Trish Hilferty’s book to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter day, I loved this book and she says herself that “ there isn’t anything here that you can’t make at home.

Gastropub Classics – 150 Defining Recipes by Trish Hilferty, published by Absolute Press.

Gypsy Eggs (Huevos a la Flamenca)

This may not be a gastropub classic in the broadest sense, but it is a classic dish from the first of its kind, the Eagle. This is the type of food that epitomizes what the Eagle is all about : simple, earthy and really, really tasty. Its also the sort of ‘smash and grab’ meal, using whatever kind of cured sausages you have to hand, so you needn’t follow the recipe slavishly. If you have no ham, use some extra chorizo. Don’t much like morcilla? Then leave it out and try another sausage. The possibilities are almost endless
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
100g Serrano ham, chopped
100g chorizo, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish sweet pimento
800g canned tomatoes, chopped
150g peas, or broad beans or both (frozen is fine)
100ml light chicken stock or water
350g potatoes, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
100g morcilla sausage, chopped
8 organic eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the ham and chorizo. Saute over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until they are beginning to crisp and the chorizo has given up most of its orange fat. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion, garlic and paprika to the pan and cook over a low heat until the onion has softened. Tip in the tomatoes, peas or beans, stock or water and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes,until the potatoes are tender.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Return the ham and chorizo to the pan and stir in the morcilla, being careful not to break up the delicate sausage. Warm through and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Divde the mixture between 4 individual ovenproof dishes. Make 2 little indentations in each portion and break the eggs into them. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 8-10 minutes until the egg whites have just set.

A Pint of Prawns and Mayonnaise
This is not so much a recipe as a few simple instructions on how to put together a snack that is enjoyed in pubs and bars the world over. The most important thing is the shopping; buy the best and freshest prawns you can find. I go for the larger ‘green’ or raw prawns in the shell. The best specimens are firm, with a good bright colour, and smell faintly of the sea. Never buy prawns with black heads or legs – a telltale sign of age. Frozen raw prawns make an acceptable alternative to fresh ones. Thaw them slowly in the fridge on a layer of kitchen paper and cook them as soon as possible.
Allow 8 large prawns per person

The ideal cooking liquid for all shellfish is seawater, but heavily salted fresh water makes a good alternative. Fill your largest saucepan with water, adding 50g sea salt to each litre of water. Bring to a rolling boil and drop in the prawns. When the water has come back to the boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer until they change colour; this should take 2-3 minutes. Check the prawns by lightly squeezing one just under its head – it should be firm but not too solid. Remove the cooked prawns from the water and leave them to drain thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature with a pot of mayonnaise and a loaf of crusty white bread.

Rump Steak Sandwich

No bar menu is complete without a juicy steak sandwich and the Eagle’s Bife Ana is one of the best.
Serves 2

500g rump steak, thinly sliced
2 large crusty rolls
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cos lettuce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the marinade
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 small red chilli, finely sliced
1 bay leaf, broken up
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a wide bowl. Add the slices of steak and leave to marinate for 2 hours or so – not much longer or the wine will draw too much liquid from the meat. Remove the steaks from the marinade, let them sit on pieces of kitchen paper for a few minutes to absorb the excess moisture, then drain the liquid and keep to one side.

Warm the rolls in a low oven. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan until it is very hot, almost on the point of smoking, then put the steaks in the pan. Fry them quickly on each side until sealed – it should take less than a minute per side – then transfer them to warm plate. Add the onion, garlic and chilli from the marinade to the pan with a pinch of sea salt and fry for 1 minute, until soft and lightly browned. Pour in the marinade and let it bubble until reduced by half.

Slice the rolls in half and lay a couple of Cos lettuce leaves on the bottom of each one. Place the steaks on top, season lightly with sea salt and black pepper and pour over the marinade. Pop on top of the roll and squish it down hard. Eat immediately, with plenty of napkins on one side to help mop up the juices.

Neck of Lamb and Barley

Serves 6
100g pearl barley
50g unsalted butter
A touch of olive oil
1kg neck of lamb fillet, cut into 2cm discs
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon tomato puree
200ml white wine
400ml light stock or water
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Rinse the barley under cold running water, then put it in a small pan. Barely cover it with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large cast iron casserole. Lightly season the lamb with a little sea salt, then add it to the pan and brown over a medium heat, being careful not to burn the meat or the butter. Transfer the meat to plate and set aside. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pan and sauté over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden. Return the lamb to the pan, stir in the tomato puree, then pour in the wine, letting it bubble for a minute. Add the drained barley, along with the stock or water, and bring to the boil. The liquid should cover the ingredients by about 2cm – if necessary, top it up with a little water. Tuck in the herbs, add another pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for one and a half hours or until the meat is tender. Check the casserole from time to time, as the barley has a habit of sucking up the cooking juices; if the stew looks as if its drying out, administer a touch more water.

Remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the Worcestershire sauce and chopped parsley. Ladle into deep bowls and serve at once.

Treacle Tart

Trish says “ I find this pudding almost tooth-numbingly sweet, but it’s a huge favourite on the pub menu. Sometimes, just for a change and to give the tart a little bit of extra intensity, I substitute black treacle for the golden syrup – it is treacle tart after all.”
Serves 6-8

140ml golden syrup
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
130g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the pastry
225g plain flour
50g caster sugar
115g fridge-cold unsalted butter, diced
2 organic eggs
40ml cold milk

To make the pastry, put the flour and sugar into a food processor and whiz until completely combined. Add the butter and pulse until it has just mixed in; you’re looking for a fine breadcrumb texture. Add one of the eggs and, with the machine running, pour in the milk. Stop the machine as soon as the pastry forms a ball. Scrape out the dough, pat it into a disc, then wrap in cling film and chill for 1 hour.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board and use it to line a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Return it to the fridge and leave to rest for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prick the pastry base all over with a fork, cover it with greaseproof paper and weigh it down with dried beans, or ceramic baking beans if you have them. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans. Return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes, until the base is firm and golden. Beat the remaining egg and brush it over the pastry base, then return it to the oven for 3 minutes (this will ensure there are no cracks).

Warm the golden syrup in a pan over a low heat until it has completely melted. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, breadcrumbs and ginger. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling has set and is a darkish brown colour. Serve warm or cold with thick cream.

Foolproof Food

Smoked Mackerel Pate

Serves 6
500g smoked mackerel fillets
250g unsalted butter, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon wedges, to serve
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the skin off the mackerel fillets, pick out any bones and place the flesh in a food processor with the softened butter. Whiz for 2 minutes or until the fish and butter are completely amalgamated and you have a smooth texture. Squeeze in the lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and give the mixture another quick burst. Scrape the paste out into a dish, cover and chill for about an hour. Serve with the lemon wedges and some hot rye bread.

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BurrenLIFE Project publishes second Annual Newsletter

The BurrenLIFE Project ‘Farming for Conservation in the Burren’- aims to develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve EU priority habitats such as turloughs, limestone pavements and species-rich grasslands. It is funded through the EU LIFE Nature fund, and is sponsored by National Parks and Wildlife Service in partnership with Teagasc and Burren IFA. To download copy of the newsletter visit www.burrenlife.com or write to BurrenLIFE, Old Schoolhouse, Carron, Co Clare for a copy.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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