Food & Drink

Days in A Taster’s Life: 4

“I’m not into crosswords, or what’s it called, suduko? Nevertheless, I do recognise the importance of keeping one’s brain exercised so I occasionally invent some form of mental gymnastics for that very purpose. A few weeks ago I decided I would write down, in ten minutes flat, all the aromas and flavours I had ever found in a glass of wine. For the record the total was 158 and included such exotica as arbutus berries, oatmeal, mown grass, green sap, chicory, tobacco, eucalyptus, balsam, beeswax, quinine, soy sauce, molasses, sawdust, burnt toast, mildew, gun smoke, diesel, wet dog, soap, fish, steel, sauerkraut, sticking plaster, marigold, geranium, liquorice, ginger, bacon, offal, leather and, yes, shit, in addition to the usual suspects.”

Khoresh Bademjan – Persian Beef & Aubergine stew

In our garden we have a larch-pole pergola over which a tangle of grapevines drape. Running through them is a rambling clematis, Montana, I think. Underneath stands the big Aussie barbecue on which, in summer at least, I cook my home made sausages and burgers plus steak, chicken and whatever else takes my fancy. The vines provide a degree of shade and repel light showers. They also produce grapes, at least two of them do, the sauvignon blanc and the phoenix. The pinot noir (a vanity project) is perennially infertile. Any fruit rarely ripens - most years I end up with sour grapes (literally and metaphorically) that I chuck into the compost. Last year, faced with a bumper harvest, I cried “enough!” Half-remembering a dish I last ate at an Armenian restaurant in Manchester thirty-odd years ago, I went on the net to find it. Khoresh bademjan is a Persian beef-and-eggplant stew that involves a generous quantity of unripe grapes. As such, it’s proved the answer to this failed vigneron’s prayer. This, my own version, based generally on a traditional one, has evolved over time.


  • 8 small aubergines, halved lengthways (or 2 large aubergines, part-peeled – ‘striped’ then cut into chunks)
  • 1 kg beef.  Can be round steak, chuck steak or anything in between. Best bought in a piece and sliced into strips approx  80 cm x  30 cm  x 20 cm thick. No need to bet too picky about this.
  • 2 onions, 1 cut into quarters, 1 cut into thin slices.
  • 3 cloves garlic,
  • 3 corms turmeric (or 3 tsp powdered turmeric)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups sour grapes (ghoreh) I have read that verjus can substitute for the  sour grapes but have never tried it.
  • ½ teaspoon saffron 
  • olive oil and/or vegetable oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • fresh coriander, finely chopped, for garnish (optional)


  1. Blitz, briefly, the tomato paste, turmeric, garlic and cumin seeds in a food processor.
  2. Season and tenderise the beef according to your favourite method. Tenderising depends on the cut of beef – 1-3 hours in a pan, and on the method used – simmering/pressure cooker/sous vide or whatever your favourite method is. Drain and reserve the beef stock. Discard the onion.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200° C. When heated cook the aubergines as in 6 (below).
  4. Heat a little olive or vegetable oil in a large pan and caramelise the onion slices (10-15 mins). Add the tomato paste/garlic/turmeric/cumin ‘blitz’ and the finely-chopped onion and the beef and briefly ‘brown’ the meat.
  5. Add the tomatoes, sour grapes, the stock plus enough water to cover the beef. Add salt and pepper and cook for about 25 minutes. Top up the liquid if necessary and stir occasionally. Cook without a lid on the pan as you want stock to reduce and thicken.
  6. Place aubergines in a flat dish. Drizzle with olive oil then bake in oven for 20-25mins. Remove, add to beef and at this stage add the saffron if you are using it. Cook for a further 15-20 mins.
  7. Garnish with fresh coriander (if liked just before serving.
  8. Serve with rice or nan bread.

Serves 4-6

Five New Michelin Stars for Ireland

Altogether a good night for Irish gastronomy. Earlier in the week I was speculating, with a guy I'd regard as a dedicated diner-out, on the possible gains (and losses). The outcome more-or-less realised our every expectation - and I wish I'd had a bet on Aimsir going straight to two stars, might have got good odds. The task now is to link the restaurants and the producers and devise a coherent strategy to turn Ireland into a great food nation in the eyes of the world. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.


– Two new Two Michelin Stars

– Three new One Michelin Stars 

– Northern Ireland has one new One Michelin Star

– Galway restaurant Loam wins Michelin Sustainability Award 2020

– County Limerick establishment Adare Manor wins Michelin Sommelier Award 2020

Two new Two Michelin Star and three new One Michelin Star restaurants are amongst 18 Irish establishments to have been awarded coveted Michelin Stars in the 2020 Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland just published.

The two new Two Michelin Star recipients are Aimsir in Celbridge and The Greenhouse in Dublin City.

The three new One Michelin Star restaurants are The Oak Room at Adare Manor in County Limerick; Bastion in Kinsale and Variety Jones in Dublin City.

Other restaurants that hold their Michelin Star from previous years are the Two-Star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and the One-Star Chapter One and L’Ecrivain in Dublin City and Liath in Blackrock village. Elsewhere, other one-star restaurants are Aniar and Loam (Galway City); Campagne and Lady Helen at Mount Juliet Hotel (Kilkenny); Wild Honey Inn, Lisdoonvarna (Clare); House Restaurant at Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore (Waterford); Ichigo Ichie (Cork City Centre) and two West Cork restaurants – Mews in Baltimore and Chestnut in nearby Ballydehob.

In addition, Loam in Galway was honoured with the Michelin Sustainability Award 2020, whilst Juri Goecevic sommelier at Adare Manor in County Limerick won the Michelin Sommelier Award 2020.

In Northern Ireland, Belfast restaurant The Muddlers Club (Cathedral Quarter) has been awarded a new one Michelin Star while two other Belfast restaurants – Eipic (Howard Street) and Ox (Oxford Street) – have also retained their Michelin Star status.

Speaking at its launch, Rebecca Burr, Director of the Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland, said: “This is an amazing year for the Republic of Ireland, with five new Michelin Stars being awarded – two of them at Two Star level. This brings the total number of Starred restaurants in Ireland up to 18 and is just reward for the determination of young chefs who are keen to make their mark on the Irish dining scene.”

Published today by tyre manufacturer Michelin, the Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2020 is available at and in bookshops.

Restaurant Review: Aimsir

Today, Monday 7th October, social media is positively awash with speculation and anticipation concerning which (if any) restaurants in Ireland might be graced with the award of a new Michelin star. Several Dublin restaurateurs seem to  have gone missing from their posts; perhaps, having received invitations to the awards dinner, they are already on their way to London to clasp their newly won accolade to their bosom. Tomorrow, I'd imagine, they'll be back ‘at the piano’ grafting away, albeit with a severe hangover.

Aimsir, located at The Cliff at Lyons in Kildare, would seem to be a prime candidate for a star. Many gourmets (and a few critics) think it may get two. The restaurant, which opened only this May after a series of teething troubles is the brainchild of the young husband-and-wife team of Cornwall-born chef Jordan Bailey and Danish front of house manager Majken Bech Christensen. Jordan was previously head chef at Norwegian 3 star Michelin Maaemo where the two met; also a key member of Sat Bains’ eponymous “working class 2 star” in Nottingham. Majken honed her skills at 2 star Henne Kirkeby Kro in Denmark.  The ethos of Aimsir is deeply rooted in Scandinavia, a major culinary innovative force in recent years. A overview of Aimsir on The Cliff at Lyons website sets out the restaurant’s mission statement. “Celebrating what can be sown and harvested, fished and foraged on the island of Ireland, Aimsir is a passionate advocate for an authentic range of ingredients used in a sophisticated and inventive way.” And so ’twas.

Last week I paid what was my third visit.  The Michelin  organisation has defined a major  difference between a two and a three star restaurant by stating that the former is a restaurant “worth a detour” whereas the latter is essentially “a destination”. Contemplating Aimsir’s environment, albeit in twilight, it seems clear that the restaurant could easily be replaced in the three star category. This, however, is unlikely at present. I think, in the history Michelin there has only ever been one restaurant this has gone from no star to three in a single jump.

En route to the dining room we pass glass-fronted cabinets with joints of meat dry-ageing; another with wood-pigeons hanging. Rank-upon-rank of jars standing on shelves – all manner of pickled and preserved items, some of them that more conservative diners would classify as “weird”. To us, a medley of food writers, they heightened the anticipation. The dining room itself is about as un-country house as can be imagined. Seats for around 24, at widely-spaced tables; low-key décor, giving a clue, if one was needed, to Aimsir’s Scandinavian antecedents. At the far side, abutting the working kitchen, the scene was forensic, with silent chefs, tweezers-poised over an array of tiny intricate morsels.

From the off, I ought to stress that choice, when it comes to food at Aimsir, is not an option. The sole offering is the chef’s tasting menu, 18 courses of it on the night we visited. It would be an extreme omnivore (or maybe a liar) who will claim to adore every mouthful. The first course did nothing for me and, More than likely because the violetta potato trails far in the wake of the Golden Wonder, the Jersey Royal and the Maris Piper when it comes to my spud hierarchy. The next eleven courses, though, had me spellbound. As ever with tasting menus there are spots where I want to call a halt and spend the night gourmandising on the last morsel I’d eaten. Here it happened a number of times, notably with the Flaggy Shore oyster, minimally poached in roasted koji butter and the versatile Highbank Orchard apple balsamic, a condiment I use a good deal at home; the 81 day-aged Killenure Castle Dexter beef, encased in a lattice of its own tripe and enhanced with smoked Loch Neagh eel, mustard seeds and lemon thyme; the chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms from Ballyhoura mountain formed into an aromatic and palate-pleasing cigar; the wild wood pigeon cooked on the bone with lavender and aromatic herbs. One of the deserts offered “a taste of the landscape” and was clearly created to show us that the promise of foraged fare was for real, to whit, “split sugar-coated pineapple weed buds, sweet woodruff ice, blackcurrant leaf oil, wild thyme blossom meringue and foraged berries”.

With each dish, one of the battery of young chefs came to table to explain the philosophy, creation and workings. This and the perfect pacing of the meal were major factors in the enjoyment. Another huge plus point was the presence of Cathryn Steunenberg, recently voted Sommelier of the Year at the Food & Wine Magazine Awards. Formerly at Chapter One, Cathryn is the consummate professional. When it comes to wine, though I try always to keep an open mind, my tastes lean towards old-school and I am a determined opponent of those who deify non- intervention. Cathryn and I approach wine from opposite ends of the spectrum and both, I think, try and meet in the middle. I enjoy my jousts with her. On the night her wine pairings were laudably sound and that of the “Dannato” Teroldego Rotaliano with the two courses of wood pigeon was nothing less than inspired. There is an intriguing non-alcoholic option, too. In the shape of a Maijken inspired set of juice pairings, all of them showing identical thought-provoking character to match that of the food.

Overall, it seems pointless to put every single course under the microscope. Suffice it to say that in Aimsir, and like envelope pushers (I’d instance particularly Liath and The Greenhouse) we have restaurants fully capable off showcasing the wonderful raw materials farmed, fished or fashioned by Irish producers to the extent where they will force the culinary milieu worldwide to sit up and take notice of what is going on in this island. Some may cavil at the price – a couple, eating and dinking, are going to end up well the poorer by more than €300. But richer in experience of course. Anyone able to stump up the readies without feeling the pain should make a point of dining there. Others should contemplate selling the second car or taking the kids out of private education. Ha! You think I’m kidding…

Aimsir, Cliff at Lyons, Celbridge, Co Kildare Tel: 01-6303500

Wigan Bill’s Uppercut

In the UK Census of 1893 my paternal great grandfather, William Whalley, is listed as ‘Occupation: carter’.  His son, my grandfather, also William, is listed as ‘carter’s lad’. There are many gaps in my knowledge of our family’s history  and now alas, no one to ask.’Carter’ could mean he was, self-employed, a 19th century haulage contractor. Or, he could have been merely an employee, driving a railway float or a dray belonging to a local brewery. What the census also omits to say is that William the Elder was, at least according to my father, George, a wrestler and bare-knuckle boxer, celebrated in his home town as ‘Wigan Bill’.

Wigan is a town in South Lancashire, now raised to the status of Metropolitan Borough and absorbed into the Greater Manchester conurbation. It is famous for its pier and for Wigan Casino, spiritual home of Northern Soul, an era ably documented in ‘Blues & Soul Magazine’  by my ex-colleague and great buddy Mr.Frank Elson.

If you exclude members of the local rugby team, nowadays the Wigan Warriors, like Ellery Hanley, Shaun Edwards, Andy Farrell, Billy Boston, Martin “Chariots” Offiah et al, Wigan’s most illustrious son is George Formby, in his day Britain’s highest paid entertainer. Other noteworthy locals include Roy Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, The Verve, and of course, my great-grandad. 

I spent some time in my childhood there, staying with my mother’s sister Aunty Millie and husband, Uncle Jack. According to my dad, Uncle Jack would himself have been a rugby legend except “he was too bloody lazy to train.” Wigan, in those days, like most of the Lancashire ‘cotton towns’, boasted a fine market, to which my cousin Eric and I used to repair to spend our pocket money. Except that in those days of post-war austerity there was little to spend it on, sweets being ‘on the ration’ except for those that claimed to cure sore throats, influenza and hangovers. I do recall eating a whole bag of Fisherman’s Friend, along with a cold black pudding on the bus home. Treats in austere times.

Wigan’s signature products are pies – the denizens are known to those of  the surrounding “Cotton Towns” as “Pie-Eaters” – and a confection called Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls (slogan: ‘Keep You All Aglow’). *

Cheese stalls abounded on the market, all of them selling the traditional Lancashire which was for centuries a farmhouse cheese made from surplus milk by a unique method of blending three days’ curd of varying maturity together. Cut from a large block, it comes in three varieties, creamy, mature and ‘tasty’, ranked according to pungency and aggression. The tasty, used principally to make ‘Welsh rabbit’ (cheese on toast), would vie with Fisherman’s Friend when it came to curing the aforesaid ailments. 


Wigan Bill’s Uppercut, named for my great grandfather, is a fusion of French flair and Lancastrian aggression.**

You need about 250ml of tapenade, which might be bought from a delicatessen or made, in the following manner

150g stoned black olives

8 anchovy fillets

60g capers, drained

4 cloves garlic

125ml extra virgin olive oil

a generous grind of black pepper

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil, inside a food processor. With the machine running, add the olive oil in dribbles and blend briefly to make a finely-chopped but not ground-to-paste mixture. Those who see beauty and dignity in labour could, of course, grind all ingredients by hand in a pestle and mortar. This mixture will keep up to four days in a refrigerator.

To finish

200g ‘tasty’ Lancashire or other strong crumbly cheese.

400g ribbon pasta, tagliatelle or similar or spaghetti or macaroni.

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp milk

Preheat the grill. 

Put the pasta in a pan of boing water (a spot, no more, of olive oil will help prevent the strands from coagulating) and cook until ‘al dente’ ( which does not mean “chalky”). Drain, put into a serving dish and stir the tapenade into the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, mix the milk and mustard and drizzle lightly over the cheese. 

Crumble the cheese over the top of the pasta/tapenade and grill just until cheese starts to bubble. Serve.

Serves 4

* The Lancastrian folk singer Mike Harding wrote a rather fine song about Uncle Joe’s.

** Older rugby fans might think of this recipe as Jean-Pierre Rives-meets-Andy Farrell.

Blas na hEireann food awards 2019 – Donegal cheese voted supreme champion

Blas na hÉireann 2019, the Irish food awards, announce this year’s Supreme Champion as Green Pastures Donegal for their Green Pastures Donegal Soft Cheese with Burren Balsamics announced as Best Artisan Product 

Blas na hÉireann, the Irish food awards, announce this year’s winners of the 2019 finals which have just concluded in Dingle, with Green Pastures Donegal crowned Supreme Champion for their Green Pastures Donegal Soft Cheese and Burren Balsamics announced as Best Artisan Product.

Green Pastures Donegal, is a family run business based in Convoy, Co. Donegal, where they mix the tradition and craft of cheese making with modern technology to create a range of dairy products including their winning product, Green Pastures Donegal Soft Cheese. Championing a ‘Natural by Nature’ sustainability programme, Green Pastures Donegal work closely with family farms to advocate and support sustainable farming practices within their milk supply farms. 

Founded in 2014 in Richill Co. Armagh, Burren Balsamics set out to produce a range of fruit infused black balsamic vinegars. The initial range was so well-received that they developed a selection of white balsamic infusions and now have over 15 balsamic vinegars on offer. This is the second time Burren Balsamics have won the Best Artisan Product at Blas na hÉireann, having won in 2017 for their Blackberry & Thyme vinegar, this year they reclaim the crown with their Raspberry Infused Balsamic Vinegar.

Now in their 12th year, the Blas na hÉireann awards are the all-island food awards that recognise the very best Irish food and drink products, and the passionate people behind them. 

The biggest blind tasting of produce in the country, the criteria on which the product is judged as well as the judging system itself, which was developed by Blas na hÉireann with the Food Science Dept of UCC and the University of Copenhagen, is now recognised as an industry gold standard worldwide. Products entered are blind-tasted, meaning that all packaging and identifying features are removed from products before being presented for judging, creating a level playing field for products from both large and small producers. Judges come from a range of food backgrounds from chefs to restaurateurs, academics, journalists, authors, food champions, caterers and enthusiastic home cooks.

Scroll to top