Big news here in my camp! I’m holed up in foodie paradise, and will be until Christmas, but more on that tomorrow…
First of all… West Cork! My parents and I took off to Durrus for a few days to suss out the ‘Taste of West Cork’ festival. This part of Ireland is full of amazing food all year round and the event is designed to draw special attention to it with an emphasis on the local cuisine. Many different people, cafés and shops hosted events in venues across the region from the 9th to the 18th of September, and we joined right in.
One of the highlights was brunch in Café Cois Cuan in Schull. This sweet little café sits high up on the harbour in Schull looking out over the Atlantic. The day we visited they had a special brunch menu for ‘Taste of Cork’, which showcased ‘Willow Grove’ farm. The owner of ‘Willow Grove’ (Geralynn) was on hand to explain the product and provide tasters of the gorgeous ham and bacon made from her pigs. She outlined how she had recently moved to Ireland from New York, bought two sows and a boar, and set up a pig farm on a small patch of land. Her pigs are allowed to move freely outside between a wooded area and a field and are fed whey, left over from the chessemakers in Durrus, which gives the meat a beautiful flavour. This is a brilliant example of local suppliers creating a sustainable environment together, with one using a byproduct of another which would otherwise be disposed of. Geralynn is also a brilliant example of a proud, considerate farmer who cares about her animals. When Mum asked her how she copes with sending the piglets to the abatoir, she teared up, and explained how much that process creates respect for the animals and how we all need to appreciate and understand where our meat comes from.
Returning to the menu… The food was delicious! I had potato boxty with bacon and maple syrup, Dad had a traditional Irish and Mum had Eggs Benedict. All of our dishes were divine, perfect sized portions, including fantastic pork products. Needless to say, my parents were so convinced, they left Cork with half a pig in the boot.
You cannot talk about food and Durrus without mentioning ‘Blair’s Cove’. Although they didn’t host an official ‘Taste of West Cork’ event while we were there, you can’t taste West Cork without visiting this fabulous place for dinner. Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping back in time. White linen tablecloths hide the tables, there are candlesticks on every table and there is a man tinkling away at the piano in the corner. They have created the perfect atmosphere. The dining room in a converted barn is rustic but formal, the staff are polite and fun, the menu is traditional and modern. In every way, they’ve got it sussed. Starters and desserts are buffet style, but this is far from the carvery in the local pub. At the starter section, you can choose anything from green salad, to local shrimps, to freshly shucked oysters. There is a choice of main courses, with many of them cooked over the open fire at the end of the room. The highlights were a passion fruit cocktail before dinner, my rare steak cooked over the fire and the cheese board, showcasing local producers, and perched on the grand piano. In the evenings you can only order the set menu, but at €65 per person, it is money well spent.
Although the title ‘Taste of West Cork’ hints at a foodie slant, there were also many events that weren’t based only around food. They were designed to give you a small experience of the area. One of these was a guided walk on Sheep’s Head peninsula. On Saturday morning, approximately fifty people gathered outside Arundels pub in Ahakista to be met by Charlie, our tour guide. A true local, Charlie knows everything there is to know about the wooly peninsula (including where Graham Norton lives). He took us on a gorgeous stroll passing ring forts and stone circles, and telling us their history as we went. He also introduced us to some of the local plants, such as sphagnum moss, which was shipped to Europe during World War 1 to treat wounds. As usual, in this part of Ireland, the scenery was spectacular. This was a real treat for us as we learnt so much had a chance to chat to the locals and got to soak up loads of lovely sea air. We rounded it off nicely with a pint of Guinness and a bowl of chowder in Arundels. Charlie provided the tour free of charge as part of the festival, but you can book a private tour with him here.
Bantry is also a good spot for food! Mum and I shared the fresh seafood platter in ‘The Snug’, and it was great. Sweet juicy prawns, soft smoked salmon and flaky crab. It was a huge portion so would definitely do two, and was one of the best examples of fresh seafood I’ve experienced in a long time. Organico is another hot spot. They have a shop and café in the town and had events on every day during ‘The Taste of Cork’. Their café serves mostly organic food, and the shop has a huge range of healthy products.