11 August 2014
A leisurely arrival set the tone for Mat Follas’ culinary adventure in west Cork, which saw him forage for sea spaghetti and sample fresh smoked fish
Mat Follas samples local produce in Cork’s English Market. Photograph: Tom Parker
My easy-going arrival in Cork sets the tone for the rest of my stay in Ireland. It takes all of five minutes to collect my bags and I’m at the desk to get my rental car - I spend longer trying to get my satnav to recognise the town of Ballydavid where I’m staying that night. Heading off I realise how leisurely the traffic is, and during my whole stay in south west Ireland I notice that there are plenty of cyclists exploring the area too. It means you slow down and enjoy everything at a leisurely pace too. The towns, with their multi coloured houses and pubs and shops straight off a tourist postcard are stunning and the rolling countryside just shouts ‘slow down, relax’.
My afternoon tea stop, in Killarney is popular with visitors enjoying horse and cart rides, but I’m totally disarmed when I get out of my car, there is a sincerity and lack of cynicism that I’d normally associate with a tourist location that surprises me, a recurring theme throughout my visit. A fabulous ice cream at Murphy’s Parlour and a chat with one of the cart drivers who poses for a picture sees me away with a smile.
Dingle, one of the many picturesque towns along the Wild Atlantic Way, is not short on photo opportunities. Photograph: Mat Follas
I drive on to Dingle, and am literally stopped in my tracks by the stunning scenery as I approach the peninsular. It erupts suddenly into a mountainous land and I drive along a stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way - one of the world’s longest coastal driving routes - to Dingle, stopping to take photos and walk on the sandy beaches. It’s a Sunday night and, by the time I arrive at Gorman’s B&B, I am one and a half hours late for their 7pm dinner sitting, however my lateness isn’t mentioned and they offered to cook anything from the menu for me. What a wonderful welcome. I left it up to the chef to choose and she cooked me the best lamb stew I think I’ve ever eaten. Unsurprisingly, they’ve got a well-deserved AA rosette.
In Dingle the next morning, I’m met by Martin Bealin of Global Village Restaurant who generously spent most of the day with me showing me the sights. These include the local brewery where they make Tom Crean’s, a very good Pilsner style beer, then onto the Dingle distillery where they’re making a name for themselves producing an superb gin, originally produced to maintain the cash flow whilst their whiskey was maturing. It’s a few years yet before the whiskey will be ready but if it’s anything like the gin, it’ll be very good indeed. An hour with Maya Binder, a Swiss-trained German cheese maker who produces some wonderful soft farmhouse cheeses is heaven to a cheese lover like me.
Maya Binder of the Little Cheese Shop. Photograph: Tom Parker
Dinner at Martin’s restaurant that night is exceptional, better than some Michelin starred places I’ve eaten at. A few drinks with the local food fraternity in the pub next door, that also doubles as a hardware store, sees me agreeing to return for their food festival between 3-5 October and his new venture, the Dingle Cookery School.
I didn’t want to leave Dingle, it’s a special place; a town of 1800 with 52 food establishments, amazing producers and a happy, relaxed vibe, I look forward to returning.
The next stop, after an inspiring drive along another stretch of the coast and I’m searching for the famous Woodcock Smokery, winner of numerous awards including several three star awards from the Guild of Fine Foods. I find it, and the owner, the wonderful Sally Barnes, on a rough track in the middle of nowhere and within 20 minutes I know I’ve met a friend, we’re exchanging inappropriate jokes and stories of travels over a mug of builders tea in her kitchen. She’s an amazing lady and her passion for both the products she makes and conservation are an inspiration. It was a delight to learn from her and meet her granddaughter who works there too, her daughter is taking a break to climb mountains for charity, what a family!
A great dinner that night at Mary Anne’s pub in nearby Castletownsend, a really good fish pie and plaice stuffed with crab and leek, they’re packed full on a Tuesday night and I’m pretty sure I only get a table due to the owner loving MasterChef, and having a good memory.
My final day sees me heading into Cork to see the English Market. This is without doubt the best food market I’ve been too in the UK or Ireland. The produce is perfect, the prices are better than I pay wholesale in the UK and the stall holders know their products. The best way to experience the market is to lunch at Kay Harte’s Farmgate Cafe which sits on a balcony above the market watching a constant changing scenery below, all of her produce comes from the market itself and my lunch of smoked and cured Mackerel and Herring and a plate of the best liver and bacon leaves me full and happy for the rest of the day. A night of pure luxury at the wonderful Hayfield Manor in Cork sees me heading home to Dorset the next morning with fond memories and plans to return.
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