THERE is a “continuing boom” for Irish artisan food producers according to food critic John McKenna when he launched the 10th Irish Food Guide this week.
“There is no recession in Irish quality food,” he argues. “In fact, the best food producers, restaurateurs, markets and counties are enjoying unprecedented success. It may seem difficult to believe that things have never been better, but things have never been so good in Irish speciality food. Conditions are tougher than ever in the marketplace, but food producers who have the right product at the right price now have a devoted audience, who are more conscious than ever before about buying Irish foods.”
Limerick has done well in this particular outing with 48 entries covering produce, cafes and restaurants.
And while the bulk of the entries are in Limerick city and include the revamped Milk Market, the county has much to celebrate too.
In Ballingarry, The Mustard Seed, “one of the most pleasant houses to stay anywhere in Ireland” continues to thrive while Theresa Storey’s jams and chutneys garner a rave review. “Theresa Storey of Green Apron is a truly gifted artisan. In the same way that some people get music, or some people get the sea, she gets food. She just gets it,” says an enthusiastic John McKenna who co-authored the guide with his wife Sally and Caroline Byrne.
Rigney’s of Curraghchase, who produce speciality pork, ham, rashers and sausages, also get an excellent review. “There is a pristine quality to the work of Caroline Rigney, from the rearing of rare breed animals to the production and sale of these special meats,” he says. And elsewhere in the guide, John McKenna identifies speciality pork and bacon as one of the “drivers” of Irish artisan food production. The others are sourdough bread and beers.
Ponaire Coffee in Annacotty is another product which pleases the McKennas. “Ponaire is one of the cult brands in Irish speciality food,” the guide says. Other speciality producers named in the guide include Adare Farm Foods, both Twomey’s Bakery and Brudair’s Bakery in Dromcollogher, Wild Orchard in Hospital and Nature’s Bounty in Kilcornan.
Restaurants too get a look in, with two in Adare getting the McKenna treatment: White Sage and The Wild Geese. “Mr (Tony) Schwarz [White Sage] is ambitious and talented, his cooking is nuanced, and he has learnt with the best,” the guide says in praise.
The guide is particularly enthusiastic about the Milk Market. “The re-birth and re-invention of Limerick’s classic Milk Market has been the most significant public act of confidence in market trading, artisanship and speciality food in modern Ireland,” the McKennas say. The city list includes Café Noir, Copper & Spice, Cornstore, La Cucina, The Curragower Bar, René Cusack, Ducartes at the Hunt Museum, Fine Wines, Jim Flavin, Freddy’s Bistro, The French Table, Garrett’s Speciality Butchers, Gingergirl, Hampton’s, Ivan’s of Caherdavin, Jasmine Palace, Miss Marples Tea Rooms, Mortell’s O’Connell’s Butchers, Pat O’Connor’s Butchers, Olio & Farina, Michael O’Loughlin, One Pery Square, The River Bistro, John Sadlier, The Sage Café, Sallymills Artisan Cakes & Desserts, The Savoy Hotel, The Strand Hotel, The UL Market, The Wild Onion Bakeshop, Wine Buff and Burke’s Family Butchers.