2017 was another fast year for this greedy gobbling writer, and it's time to look back on my culinary highlights.
Some of the most fun I had eating out in 2017 was in Belfast. It’s a long way to go for dinner but, if you’re there for 24 hours, as I was (twice!) it’s not difficult to make the most of a short visit and the energy and fun in the city around food makes it hard to beat.
CHEF OF THE YEAR: Maggie Roche, Hugo's, Dublin
With a CV that includes working in The Waterside Inn, and The Merrion Hotel, in 2015 Maggie Roche took on the position of head chef in Hugo's Restaurant, on Dublin's Merrion Row. 2017 saw Ms Roche receiving plaudits from all quarters for her work in one of Dublin's most classic and lovable bistros. At Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic, Maggie joined Darina Allen, Jess Murphy and Audrey McDonald on stage, and showed herself to be as adept a debater as she is a cook. hugos.ie
CAFE OF THE YEAR: Hungry Monk Café, Cong, Co Galway
Aisling Butler and Jonathan Byrne run the sweetest café in Mayo’s sweetest little village. The baking in Hungry Monk Café is delicious; the savoury cooking is delicious; the drinks are excellent; and everything they do is unified by an exuberant passion for great food that raises every bite to its zenith. Pure darling. hungrymonkcong.com
SHOP OF THE YEAR: Strandfield, Ballymascanlon, Co Louth
You have to queue in Strandfield, Hannah Byrne’s inspired mash-up of artisan food/speciality flower shop and restaurant, at Ballymascanlon, a few miles outside Dundalk. Sometimes the queue is enormous; other times it’s a little more concise. But, no one minds the queue, because this is such a special shop, and such a special place to eat. strandfield.com
INFLUENCER OF THE YEAR: Elaine Murphy
Somehow, Elaine Murphy knows exactly what is buried in the Irish subconscious. And when she unearths it, she puts it on a menu, in a new venture like The Legal Eagle in Dublin, and everyone says: ‘How did you know we wanted to eat haslet? And crisp sandwiches? And jelly and ice cream?’ Ms Murphy just knows, and that’s why every one of her eating adventures is so successful, the Legal Eagle being just the latest. thelegaleagle.ie
MEGABITES AWARD: Colum Lanigan Ryan, La Rousse Foods, Dublin
The pantechnicon of artisan foods and food producers organised by Colum Lanigan Ryan, as part of the extraordinary Food on the Edge festival in Galway, was simply mind-blowing. The exhibition of great Irish foods, and the people who make them, sealed the deal on a truly great event, and Mr Lanigan Ryan’s generosity in involving producers who aren’t even distributed by La Rousse shows his generosity, and his brilliance, and his pride. laroussefoods.ie
No matter how often you cook, how well you know and love a subject, the aim of an ambitious cookery book is surely to take you to the next level. We’ve loved playing with Saturday Pizzas in an attempt to be able to make the complicated simple, to find a series of techniques that make creating pizzas something we can put into our lives with ease.
Two talented writers turn to the bivalve, and wring truly thrilling inventions from our national treasure. Ms Ui Chomain’s recipes are a joy – oysters in beer drop scones!; oyster and sausage bouchées – whilst Mr O’Meara’s scintillating recipes – oysters with pickled rock samphire and wild mustard flowers is his opening shot – represent a new benchmark for oyster cookery. Concise profiles of the guys who get the waders on all around the coastline to collect these treasures gives the book an added depth.
If the purpose of great photography is to take something that we regard as every day and unremarkable, and somehow manage to turn it into a piece of art - showing it in a new light, or from an angle you never thought to look – then Tina Claffey’s book, Tapestry of Light is great photography.