Driving into Dingle on Saturday afternoon presented a sight to gladden the heart. The view on the drive is always a pleasure, but the exceptionally beautiful weather and an enormous, buzzing crowd roaming the streets made the food festival truly special.
Having travelled from Cork after a busy week, we were tired and not really in the form – we thought – for a session. But no sooner had we checked into Benner’s cosy, welcoming hotel and decided to go for a stroll around the town before dinner than we were pulled into that legendary Dingle spot, Foxy John’s, by the cheer of the crowd outside and the promise of a cold bottle of Stonewell Cider.
With a food trail stretching the length and breadth of the town in all kinds of venues – even art galleries were not exempt – there was a profusion of craft beers, locally produced grub of all kinds, and the usual tourist favourites, being offered everywhere. I’ve been a fan of Stonewell Cider since a Munster Foodie Tweetup over the summer hosted by Cronin’s of Crosshaven presented us with a few bottles of the West Cork brew on the boat from Cork City, and it can be hard to get, so it’s wonderful to see large volumes of people ordering and enjoying it. Unfortunately by the time I ordered my second bottle, Foxy John’s had run out and I had to go back to Bulmers, but it was good while it lasted!
On the streets of Dingle we ran into old college friends, a former work colleague, friends of friends and even some of our old teachers. Half the country was there, and even after we left I spotted on Facebook that numerous other people we knew were there soaking up one of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced at a festival anywhere.
The Food and Wine Festival folks had kindly booked us into the Chart House restaurant for dinner on Saturday night and we sauntered down happily after a great chat and a few pints in Foxy John’s.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was absolutely fantastic, with chatty, friendly and obviously buzzing staff who were thrilled to bits with how well the festival was going, despite, from what they told us, having worked day and night all weekend.
But the food, the food. Chart House has a Michelin Bib Gourmand for a very good reason.
I started with Dingle Bay prawns on a bed of spicy, honeyed couscous and himself had a perfectly executed pork belly with apple sauce. Both dishes were exceptionally well put together and the ingredients were top quality – some of the most tender, juiciest prawns I’ve ever had were on that plate and I was sorry to see them go!
Despite a gorgeous array of fish (our friends, who also ate there that night, highly recommended the brill), we were both in the form for meat and my fillet of beef on colcannon mash was absolute perfection. Cooked beautifully to order (medium), it was a superb piece of meat. Brian had the venison, but gazed enviously at my plate for most of the main course, it has to be said. A small selection of al dente vegetables accompanied the main (we were offered more, but the meat had us both occupied). We had the Caldora Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo (reasonably priced at €25), which went down beautifully and was especially good with my beef.
After that feed I wasn’t in the mood for dessert but in the spirit of this review I struggled on and ordered the Chart House home made ice cream. A trio of chocolate, vanilla and blackcurrant ice cream (I think!) appeared, which was excellent quality – but I’m afraid my eyes were too big for my stomach and I struggled with it. Brian had a Baileys bread and butter pudding he pronounced delicious, and which disappeared so fast I barely got the chance to take a picture of it.
After an excellent coffee we were about to leave when we ran into some friends and decided to sit with them a while. Unfortunately for the poor staff, who probably wanted to leave at that stage but certainly never let on! Two orders of brandy later (a first for me, which I thoroughly enjoyed, once I got over the shock) and we almost had to be rolled home.
The Chart House is a real find. It’s friendly, unassuming, and casually decorated, and has no pretensions despite the absolute attention to detail and quality in the sourcing, cooking and presentation of its food.
The day after the night before…
And, surprisingly, it turns out that brandy really does work as a ‘digestif’.
Well, maybe. We were both hale and hearty the next morning, surprisingly enough after the amount we had to eat and drink on Saturday, and we were ready to face the Food Trail we’d missed on Saturday.
So, after a ‘light’ breakfast (good smoked salmon!) in Benner’s for me, and an ill-advised (excellent, but didn’t leave much room) fry for himself, we made our way around the town again. The crowd built slowly through the morning, and we managed to buy all manner of lovely things from the street market, including:
– Rhubarb syrup (imagine the cocktails), courgette chutney and nettle pesto from Wild About Foods
– Olives, from a stall with no identification!
– Vintage white cheddar, smoked cheddar and cheddar with walnuts from Old Irish Creamery Cheese [disclaimer: they are my cousins, but that doesn’t make their cheese any less amazing]
– Apple and blackberry compote from Clotilde’s Compotes (delicious on this morning’s porridge)
– Apple juice with beetroot from the Ballyhoura Apple Farm
… on the food trail and while wandering around the markets, we also tried out spinach and gruyere pancakes at Adam’s Bar and Restaurant (thumbs up!!), pulled pork sandwiches from BBQ Joe (likewise), a raclette / posh toasted cheese sandwich from a French woman who makes the cheese in Dingle (didn’t get her name but it was fabulous), and finished with an ice-cream from Murphy’s Ice Cream.
… The diet starts tomorrow.
And I’ll be there next year. Ready, with elasticated pants on.