Irish food is coming into its own, with exciting local artisan producers, and a new generation of chefs putting great taste on the map.
What do you think of when you think of Irish food? Once upon a time, visitors to these shores would expect bacon and cabbage, Irish stew, and maybe a bit of boxty – the quintessential Irish potato cake. Leopold Bloom may have dined on gorgonzola sandwiches with a glass of burgundy at Davy Byrne’s pub in James Joyce’s Ulysses, but with Ireland more famous for its Guinness and whiskeys, food had been in the runner up spot.
All that has changed, and Irish chefs are now at the forefront of a food revolution. Spurred on and supported by some brilliant producers and artisan makers, they are adding a wealth of tasty riches to Irish tables. A self-confessed magpie when it comes to the culinary, Ed Cooney is at the cutting edge of what’s new in Irish food. Executive Chef at The Merrion since the hotel opened, he has been following the developments with a keen eye.
What’s most exciting, he says, is the seasonality of Irish ingredients. Ed has been putting the finishing touches to the Autumn and Winter menu, which guests can expect to enjoy in the coming weeks, and is full of thoughts of just harvested peaches, apples, squashes and, of course, potatoes. Then there is all the wonderful fresh fish, including luscious oysters and scallops, plus a bounty of game. First comes wild grouse, then partridge and, later, pheasants as the season moves on. “As an independent hotel, we’re not tied in to working with any particular suppliers,” Ed explains. This means he has the wealth of small and independent producers to choose from.
So what is new and exciting from this island? We talk about cheeses, until my mouth waters (for a real Irish cheese experience, head to Sheridan’s Cheesemongers on South Anne Street, you won’t be disappointed! And it’s just near Davy Byrne’s, so you can pop in there for a literary sip too…). Then there are the intriguing flavours of Irish seaweeds. “We make all our own bread,” adds Ed. “But let me tell you my honey story…”
Alongside its own on-site bakery, it turns out The Merrion also has its own beehives. There are three on the roof, and within their five kilometre radius, the lucky Merrion bees can feast on the flowers in the hotel’s own garden, rich with lavender all summer long. Further afield, they find nectar in St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square and the Iveagh Gardens. “We just took ten frames out,” says Ed, conjuring images of dripping honeycombs.
All this bounty doesn’t mean that old favourites have been banished. Irish people are also very loyal to beloved tastes. So you’ll still find plenty of luscious smoked salmon, soda bread and creamy golden butter. Some traditional dishes are also recreated with a witty twist. Bacon and cabbage, that hearty staple, has been reimagined at The Garden Room as Country Terrine with Foie Gras, Ham Hock, Black Pudding and Lardo with Red Cabbage Slaw, Raisin and Caper Relish. Delicious!
A keen champion of young chefs, Ed has also been working with Holly White on the vegan menu in The Garden Room. “I don’t chase trends or fads,” he says. “But we do stay relevant. If there is a trend I follow, it’s artisan food.” And in that, right now, he’s spoiled for choice.