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Thursday, 9 January 2014

a very good year...

This is no ordinary sandwich, this is a gCounter sandwich.

2013 was a fascinating year in the world of food. We met the Cronut, a delicious donut-croissant hybrid. We filled our boots with Korean Kimchi and pickled anything that could fit in a kilner jar. We munched our way through veritable bouquets of flowers strewn on our wooden platters and washed it all down with beer from the local micro-brewery. The biggest news of course was the food fraud of the 'Horsemeat Scandal' with food manufacturing companies finding themselves in deep manure as a Euro-wide problem was uncovered. There was a second blast of the stun gun to the meat trade with the Irish Farmers’ Association discovering that many Irish brands of sausages, bacon and ham are not Irish at all. But at least they are made from pork, folks, so that's something we should be grateful for, right? With consumers understandably more cautious, we can only hope that lessons have been learned.

RIP DaTang Noodle House
It's been a very good year for food in Galway, with just a few minor blips. Notably the recent sudden loss of DaTang Noodle house, a way of life for many people over the years. It will be sadly missed by myself and others I'm sure. But Chi is there now and I'm sure, while it is not the same, it will be equally as well received in that thriving little part of town. We also had the closing of Cava in Dominick Street. But proving that you can't keep a good restaurant down they bounced back a few months later. I've have dined deliciously at Cava's reincarnation Cava Bodega more than a few times since it opened this May. For its pork skin crackling and a wealth of other riches, this has become one of my favorite places for sending family and friends with kids. Never close again please!

There were great complete newcomers to the scene also. The very trendy G-counter opened at the end of April in Wellpark with good food in a fun, casual setting. Its menu consisting of a variety of oversized sandwiches, salads, rotisserie chicken and an on-site bakery with lots of sweet treats became popular from day one. Similarly, less than a year open is West37, down the busy road behind NUIG, teeny tiny, with student life coming and going. The Chicken Melt sandwich cost seven quid, lasted just seven minutes, but I think about it every day. Why can't all sandwiches be that good? Chez Azur with its stunning views out over the docks brought a welcome addition to the upscale, high-end side of things and the prawn, mint and petit pois starter I had there was one of the best dishes of the year without a doubt.

Chez Azur
Happily, also, Aniar managed the feat of keeping their Michelin star. The amount of hard work and pure dedication that goes into being awarded a star is an impressive feat, the collective stress then of keeping it under the watching eyes of your peers is another thing entirely, but they seem to have perfected the formula. Curiously, with the vagaries of TripAdvisor, Aniar currently has a ranking of 34 in Galway, outclassed seemingly by An Cupan Tea, The Front Door and O'Connors Pub amongst others. Ah TripAdvisor, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

The experts and trend forecasters have their lists all ready as they do every year. More chefs cooking invasive species? In 2014, they tell us, we can expect to see more locavore chefs doing their part to do away with invasive species by finding creative ways to cook with them. Grey squirrel with giant rhubarb anyone? The farm-to-table trend will continue to grow, with restaurants taking things to the max and continuing a trend pioneered long ago here in Ireland by the good people at Ballymaloe.

Here in Ireland we tend to like to do things our own way however, so while the rest of the world will apparently be sous-videing at home, devouring sunchokes, embracing beef as 'the new pork' and eating high-end Mexican food (apparently not the contradiction it might appear to be), here are my own predictions for the food scene in the West for the coming year. Yes, it's true! I can tell the future.

Craft ciders continue to rise.
So, if 2013 was the year of the pig, with pulled pork and suckling pig featuring on many menus, then 2014 looks to be shaping up nicely to be the year of the goat, with small producers popping up with artisan products from milk, yogurts and cheeses. As the microbrewery market in Ireland continues to rise, there’s still room in the market for great craft ciders. Be on the lookout for more variations like apple wine and a rather spectacular apple brandy now being produced in Ireland. And finally there will be a lifting of the smoking ban here in Galway restaurants. Yes, there will be smoked everything, from lamb to yogurt to fudge. If you can eat it, they will smoke it. So put that in your smoker and here's to lighting up 2014.

Published in the Galway Advertiser  2/1/2014

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