The hottest restaurant ticket this summer wasn’t in Dublin, Cork or even Galway. It’s a little pop-up restaurant in Aughrusbeg out in the wilds on Connemara.
It’s in an old stone cottage which was used as a boat house on a sand dune close to the waters edge. The bright young chefs behind the project are Jasper O’ Connor and Katie Sanderson, (past Ballymaloe Cookery School Students) who last Easter gathered some pals around and started to renovate the fisherman’s cottage from an advanced state of dereliction. They scrubbed and white washed merrily, planted the garden, foraged and pickled. The tables and benches were assembled from old pallets, the candle sticks from wooden banisters and recycled wood. Salt and pepper is served in mussel and cockle shells. The resulting upcycled look is chic and contemporary.
The restaurant opened on 26th June and is booked out till the end of August. Lucky guests pay €50 – €55 per head for the 5 course menu which in reality is about 7 courses and includes a welcome drink. Guests can bring their own wine or craft beer.
Getting there is part of the adventure,- an enchanting drive through breathtaking Connemara. As you wend your way through the narrow boreens towards Claddaghduff. Montbresia, ragworth, loosestrife and fluffy meadow sweet are in full bloom in the hedgerows – a profusion of orange, yellow, purple and cream.
You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for a tiny painted sign on drift wood for Dillisk. From the car park guests walk past Jasper and Katie’s raised vegetable and fresh herb beds. The little lean-to green house is brimming with ripe Sungold and ? tomatoes, then we wander on through the long grass to the stone cottage where the lovely Emily greeted us with a beetroot gin and tonic sprinkled with marigold petals. Katie and Jasper, who love to forage, pickle, cure and smoked change the menu almost daily. Outside the kitchen door Sam Gleeson was grilling sprouting broccoli spears over Jaspers homemade Tandoor oven before he went on to cook the tiny Naan breads for guests to nibble with the aperitif. These were topped with chopped home grown tomatoes and freshly snipped basil. Japser passed around another board with beetroot cured mackerel wrapped in slivers of cucumber. Already there was a palatable sense of excitement and anticipation among the 32 dinner guests all of whom felt they’d won the lotto to have secured a seat at the long table. The view across the white sandy beach to the Twelve Pins in the distance in the early evening light was truly magical – reminiscent of a Paul Henry landscape.
When the breeze became brisker we wandered in to take our places at the long upcycled candle lit table. Little night lights were tucked into tiny niches in the stone wall. The food began to arrive, some served family style, other dishes were plated. First there was a smoked dillisk broth with Aitor’s garden greens, then bowls of freshly picked cockles with lovage, an extra treat that didn’t even appear on the hand written menu. Tandoori cooked fresh Pollack with fennel and sea beet from the boats at nearby Cleggan harbour came next with an oyster leaf (Maritima ) ? on the edge.
Cucumber snow with goat curd and Dingle Gin came next to flit across the tongue and clear our pallets. Main course was Achill Island lamb, both slow cooked shoulder and belly with sleabhac (seaweed) and bowls of roast new potatoes and aioli.
Honey carrageen moss, chocolate soil and wild sorrel, another inspired combination continued the foraging theme. But that wasn’t all there were two more surprises, a play on the American ‘pickle back’, two little shot glasses arrived, one with pickle juice, the other with Teelings whiskey and last but not least home made marshmallows with flaked almonds, a wild strawberry and a sorrel leaf to pop into your mouth all in one go completed the feast.
The guests were a mix of locals, holiday makers artists, farmers, restauranteurs , teckies, sailors, golfers, lawyers and musicians, among them sean-nos singer Norin Ui Riain and her equally gifted son Moley of (Owen & Moley) who jumped up spontaneously towards the end of the meal and sang an ode to Katie and Jasper and all their lovely friends who worked so hard and cheerfully to produce a feast from their tiny kitchen and a truly memorable evening and food experience for all of us.
Ireland surely needs more imaginative and talented young people like Jasper and Katie and their full loving imaginative friends to give our visitors a real taste of the local and foraged food of that place
Where did Katie and Jasper pop out of ?
Katie is already known to many through her previous creative projects – Living Dinners, the Hare Café at IMMA in Dublin.
Jasper honed his skills at Town Bar and Grill, the Cake Cafe, Ard Bia and an exciting stint in the US.
Beetroot Cured Mackerel with Courgette and Lemon Crème Fraiche
50 canapes, approx..
4 mackerel fillets
4ozs (100g) sugar
4 ozs (100g) salt
8 ozs (200g) raw beetroot, finely grated
3 small fresh courgettes
6 ozs (150g) crème fraiche
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Gut, clean and fillet the fish making sure that all the bones have been removed.
Mix the salt and sugar together, sprinkle 1/3 on the base of a small shallow dish, choose one just wide enough to hold the fish fillets.
Smear both sides of the fish fillets with the grated beetroot, then lay 2 fillets skin side down on the cure. Dust with more of the cure, then lay the other two fillets on top, skin side up, then cover with the remaining of the cure.
Cover the dish, refrigerate to allow the fish to cure for anywhere between 1 and 3 days depending on how strong you like it.
Grate the lemon zest into the crème fraiche, season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Slice the courgettes lengthwise into paper thin slices. Cut the mackerel into 1/2inch wedges. Dab with lemon crème fraiche and wrap in a thin slice of courgette. Serve as a simple canapé on some crackers or in a summery salad.
Ham Hock and Parsley Broth
Serves 10 -15
2 mild cure ham hocks
2 onions, quarterd
1 stick celery
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2ltr well flavoured chicken stock
handful of Dillisk
1 kg parsley
Crispy pig skin
Sea rocket flowers
Put all the vegetables, parsley stalks and the ham hocks into a large pot, cover with cold water, cover the pot and simmer for 6 hours or until the meat is almost falling from the bones. Strain the liquid, separate the meat, tear into small bite sized pieces and reserve some of the liquid.
Heat the chicken stock and pour over the dillisk and allow to cool. Season with black pepper and the ham hock cooking liquid.
Pick all of the parsley leaves off the stalks, blanch in boiling water for a few seconds then refresh in iced water. Blend in a high powered food processor until smooth.
Mix the parsley purée with the chicken and dillisk stock, add the ham hock and warm through. Season.
Jasper and Katie garnish the broth with broad beans, crispy pig skin and sea rocket flowers or fried cabbage.
Honey Carrigeen Mousse with Wild Sorrel Juice
Serves 25 – 30 people
2 ozs (50g) dried carrageen
½ cup water
1 Jar of Locally sourced Honey ( we used Cleggan Honey)
6 egg yolks
18 fl ozs (500 ml) cream
3 1/2oz (100g) castor sugar
Wild Sorrel leaves
1 green apple
1/8 teaspoon xanthan gum
In a small saucepan, heat the carrageen with 200ml water, simmer gently for 25 minutes.
Pour the contents into a sieve and press the jelly like carrageen into a bowl with your fingers or a spoon. Warm the honey in a pot and on a low heat for a minute or two to loosen. Whisk the cream and half the sugar until stiff and keep aside.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar and beat until pale and thick.
Mix the warm honey and carrageen together and pour slowly into the egg yolk mixture.
Whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak, fold into the mixture with sweetened cream. Cover and put into the fridge to set for minimum of four hours.
Juice a handful each of wild sorrel and spinach plus a green apple. Add some lemon juice if it needs more acidity. Blitz a 1/8 of a teaspoon of Xanthan gum into the juice (this will brighten and thicken juice). Serve the Honey Carrageen Mousse with sorrel juice and edible flowers.
The Autumn 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School is now over subscribed but check out the golden ticket raffle on the GIY website www.giyireland.com for details of an opportunity to win a place on the January 12 Week course. Draw will take place at the GIY gathering in Waterford on September 13th, 2014.
Irish plums are now is season – contact Kristen Jameson at Tourin, Cappoquin, Co Waterford – phone: 087 2361984. They freeze brilliantly and make delicious jam, compotes, desserts and sauces.