It’s mid February and the sun is shining, standing outside Dublin castle and day’s like this make the Irish Food Trail extra special. Today’s trail is an interesting one, we are filming for a special on NBC which will air in the USA. Our group is a real mixture of cultures – Irish, Northern Irish, American, Australian and Brazilian. The group is buzzing with excitement we say our hellos as strangers shake hands for the first time (all soon to be friends).
Paul begins with an insight into the Irish Food Trail and explaining that the group will visit 3 uniquely Irish venues, sampling Irish cuisine, craft beer and wine. Each venue is kept a secret until we reach the door. This adds to the excitement for the group and part of the reason why the Irish Food trail has been named Dublin’s Best Food Tour. Paul tells the group a short history of Dublin City and Dublin Castle before leading us through Temple Bar to our first restaurant.
Gallagher’s Boxty House
The first stop of the day is Gallagher’s Boxty House, situated within the heart of Temple Bar. The Boxty House has been serving traditional Irish dishes with a modern twist for over 25 years and staff provide a truly Irish combination of food and service. Our experience starts with Padraic O Gallagher (owner and chef) providing us with the history of the Boxty whilst also making a Boxty pancake from scratch-table side.
As we chatted with Padraic we sampled dumplings in a mouth watering blue cheese sauce, Boxty fries with an aioli and boxty bread topped with St Tola goats cheese and sun dried tomatoes. Padraic told us of the 130 varieties of potato in Ireland, head chef Dave Power gave a demonstration of oyster shucking, accompanying the oysters is a sampling of trout caviar and Dingle vodka which goes down a treat.
After Boxty we happily strolled from south to north. Paul standing on the Ha’Penny Bridge with the sun dancing across its still surface, he tells us of the life returning to the River Liffey each year the water quality is cleaner and cleaner. Grey seals are spotted in the heart of Dublin City daily, its crazy to think in recent years Salmon have been caught in the river!
The Winding Stair
In recent years the Northside has really upped its food game, there are many restaurants popping up all over the place. Its hard to miss the beautiful Winding Stair restaurant with its welcoming green and yellow exterior, in the cool February sun it looks so warm and welcoming. The Winding Stair was a haven for musicians, artists and writers in the 1980’s as a bookshop/cafe; filled with books and overlooking the River Liffey.
It is easy to see how inspiring this local hot spot can be. In 2005 the cafe was destined to be closed, until current owner Elaine Murphy stepped in and had the vision to turn it into the beautiful restaurant it now is.
Leaving the busy street, we entered the Winding Stair and are met by the wonderful aroma of cooking. We begin with a brief history of the building and Elaine speaks to us with huge passion about her food philosophy, something that we learn follows through into the servings. We sample seafood chowder, which is paired with an Irish craft cider.
Next followed a fish board which held smoked mackerel, Gravlax beetroot infused salmon and the most delicious oyster pate, this was paired with two samplings of tasteful Porter. Lastly we were treated to charcuterie which contains wild Venison, cured lamb, beef and pork, this was matched with another delicate yet lovely craft beer.
My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
Upon the breathless starlit air,
by William Butler Yeats
Elaine talked us through each tasting, providing information on everything from the supplier, cooking process to pairings; it was a pleasure to hear her speak with great passion and knowledge. We were also treated to the experience of Sean ____ the onsite sommelier, who matched each of our tastings with a craft beer/cider. Sean has also handcrafted an incredible cocktail menu like no other in Dublin (we would recommend trying it!). The tasting was accompanied by chutneys and breads that had been freshly baked in the Woollen Mills.
The Woollen Mills
The Woollen Mills was to be our final stop, which Elaine also owns. Dating back to the 1800’s and is the oldest shop in Dublin to date, it is also believed that James Joyce was a sales rep for a short period. This venue has changed significantly since then, and now houses a vibrant restaurant, bakery and shop which sells artisan produce.
When ageing Irish Whiskey, at least 2% of the whisky in each barrel evaporates through the oak, this portion is known as the Angels’ Share. Well, we’ve always known that whisky is a heavenly drink!
The group sat down finally to a table full of cheese, breads and dessert paired with 3 delicious Irish Whiskeys. Again we are lucky to have Elaine talk us through the offerings. We sample three beautiful Irish cheeses with breads, followed by a sampling of four desserts-all beautiful and truly unique to the Woollen Mills. Sean provided us with a sampling of three whiskeys, whilst informing us of their origin and why they pair so wonderfully with the cheese and dessert on offer.
It’s clear to see why the Winding Stair and Woollen Mills are so special, when you have people like Elaine and Sean putting every ounce of effort into sourcing produce that is local, Irish and full of flavour.
A farewell to friends
As the evening draws to a close we stand saying our goodbyes to each other. We started the day shaking hands and now we end with hugs; earlier we started the trail as a bunch of strangers, we now end as a group of friends – something that is so important to us here at the Irish Food Trail. On days like this that we do truly count ourselves lucky to be doing this and working with people like Padraic, Elaine and Sean who are real pioneers & innovators within the food scene in Ireland. We want to thank everyone at Gallagher’s Boxty House, The Winding Stair and Woollen Mills for providing us with such an amazing day of food and drink.
Written by – Paul Kavanagh & Seana Cooke