If not for the city sights, rich in culture and history, bite for bite, the countryside fares better for a true foodie experience. The grandeur of the pastureland and Old World architecture alone is worth the trip, but the food is much more than boiled cabbage and potatoes. I am in Ireland, in the greenest area I’ve ever set eyes upon (due to the island’s consistent rain) and where President Barack Obama recently visited, claiming he was there to find his apostrophe.
Following an afternoon spent shopping in the wondrous and price-slashed boutique stores in Kildare Village, one of the Chic Outlet Shopping Villages by Value Retail (a company that has cornered the market in developing and operating luxury outlet villages in Europe), lunch at l’Officina is in order.
A bowl of soup, with perfectly balanced ingredients of pureed parsnips and carrots, served with a side of soda bread and shared nibbles of smoked salmon and goat cheese is elegantly washed down with a sparkling glass of prosecco. And the latter sets the stage for more shopping. But not before an inquiry on the restaurant’s owner, Elaine Dunne Crescenzi, who is in Rome right now, where she lived before moving to Dublin in 1995. She’ll be back soon to man the four restaurants she and husband Stefano Crescenzi own, and to wrap up her publication of “Dunne Crescenzi,” the title of the couple’s first cookbook.
Although Dublin City is where tourists flock to explore St. Peter’s Cathedral and The Guinness Storehouse, and Trinity College, where they go to glance inside the glass table open to the pages of the illustrious Book of Kells, it is the countryside that beckons for dinner. Through the grand columned entrance to the long road that leads to La Serre, this must-stop restaurant is located in The Village at Lyons. A former flour mill back in the day, walking down the path to the castle-like structure involves crossing over a moat, past two lion statues on columns, and a large, fairy tale-like round glass window situated on the lower left, where one can easily peek in on patrons enjoying wine before and after dinner in the lounge.
Dinner in the giant beanstalk-sized atrium is a magnificent experience that tops the chart on dining ambiance. You quickly become mesmerized and visually satiated with the ultra-luxury that can be discovered in one single room that is seemingly stabilized by the stone fireplace reaching up to secure the scenery (the design was fashioned after a chateau in France – and it shows).
La Serre is where I taste my first brown crab, as well as the local white fish, hake. Every bite on my plate seems more delicious than the last; yet, I’m not willing to taste black pudding, a local side dish made with blood. Fortunately, I didn’t order a dish that included this local staple, but I did get to watch my dining companion, an Ireland native, enjoy every last bite.
Paul Quinn, head chef of two years, does a marvellous job creating menus unique to the area, showcasing his culinary cosmopolitan personality. While locals sometimes scoff at the idea of ordering caviar, sweetbreads and other delicacies that aren’t the “same old Irish dishes,” Paul has learned to incorporate his culinary favorites by secretly adding them to his dishes; he doesn’t list many of them on the menu. He says that way every diner can experience dishes from Australia, or his chili with pineapple, without bias. He’s not totally in left field, however; he does serve traditional Irish fare of lamb stew, utilizing every edible piece of the woolly creature that may be seen along the countryside roads. Aside from lamb, game meat is on the menu when in season, and fall diners can look forward to a well-prepared dish of venison or pheasant.
La Serre is huge in chef talent and architectural size, and after my dinner, a walk around revealed just how grand. I hadn’t realized a wedding was taking place in another area, and a peek inside confirmed the Irish really do know how to have a good time. All it takes is a few pints of Guinness.
Following a royal slumber at The Heritage, and a day spent in the countryside, I head to the city, to The Cliff House in Dublin city. This is a cozy spot where you can dine in the happening Grafton Street area, and order some tasty scallops, partridge, monkfish, guinea fowl and a perfectly blended dessert of panna cotta with rhubarb sorbet, or better yet, try the sheep’s snout, which has nothing to do with an animal; it’s a fruit and oat tart with a questionable name.
Back to the countryside, along a road lined with stucco homes and rock walls, I enjoy a lingering lunch at the Ballymore Inn, owned by Georgina O’Sullivan and her husband, Barry. This table, set near the roaring fireplace, is a great spot for a lunch that includes drinking a few glasses of sauterne to douse the flames of a pear and cayenne covered pecan salad with goat cheese. The fresh catch of the day is Plaice, a delicious flatfish that’s good to eat until Christmas, according to Georgina. But it is the bartender’s concoction that really gets my attention, as Brian has made me my first Irish coffee.
To make one for yourself, you’ll need an Irish coffee glass, 2 teaspoons Demerara sugar, 1 cup of strong hot black coffee, 1 ounce of Powers Whiskey and 1 tablespoon lightly whipped cream. To prepare: Heat the glass, then dissolve the sugar in the glass in a little hot water, pour in coffee, add the whiskey and stir well, then gently pour the cream over the back of a hot spoon on to the coffee.
By the time I left Ireland, my taste buds were soaring with memories of so many fantastic dishes that did not include boiled cabbage, but desserts such as The Ballymore Inn’s signature Wicklow Blackcurrant Fool, which is shared below so that you may also enjoy a taste of Ireland.
Carrot and Parsnip Soup
- Courtesy of Eileen Dunn Crescenzi of l’Officina
4 tablespoons EVOO
2 medium size parsnips, peeled and diced
3 medium size carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium size potato, peeled and diced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 stick of celery, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Slowly sauté the shallots in the oil over a low heat until they become translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables, stir and cover for a couple of minutes.
Add salt and 750 ml of water. Bring to simmering point, reduce the heat and cook on a low flame for 20 minutes.
Blitz with a hand blender and serve with freshly ground black pepper.
Another nice touch is to quickly pan fry a couple of fresh shrimp (peeled) in some olive oil and serve on top (2 per portion) Traditionally in Ireland, this soup is made with butter instead of olive oil and served with a dollop of fresh cream.
Wicklow Blackcurrant Fool
- Courtesy of The Ballymore Inn
2 cups blackcurrants, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
6 tall sundae glasses for serving
Cover the blackcurrants with the sugar in a heavy saucepan, place over low heat and cook until the fruit bursts – 5-6 minutes. Puree the fruit, and then sieve and measure. When the puree has cooled, add up to equal quantity of softly whipped cream. If you wish, reserve a teaspoon of the puree for the base of each glass before you add the cream. Top up each glass with the puree and cream mixture, sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and serve with shortbread biscuits.
Charlene Peters writes for the Marblehead (Mass.) Reporter.