We all had to deal with the anxiety of a new virulent disease that, so far, has killed nearly two million people and debilitated many more. A disease that we are still learning about, including the long term effects for some who catch it, even those who may have had no symptoms. An illness that, despite what you might read on social media, is far worse than just the seasonal flu.
We have had to deal with wearing a mask, and worse than that, dealing with those too ignorant to wear a mask. I don’t care if your Aunty Mary saw a video on YouTube saying they don’t work, it makes the vulnerable feel more comfortable and protects us all, so feckin’ wear a mask….muppets!
We have seen the spread of misinformation on social media and the staggering number of people who think they know more about immunology, virology, data science and epidemiology than the vast majority of experts around the world. And those who source their information, news and ‘facts’ from attention-seeking, bloviating charlatans on the internet. Like some do with climate change, we can all sit on the sofa and scan the web looking on the fringes for opinions and interpretations of data to suit the narrative that we want to hear, a narrative that would rid us of personal responsibility, but it doesn’t change reality. I am sure the leaders of every country, that isn’t run by a lunatic, would love to go back to March and do things differently and we all have a democratic obligation to question our elected officials and hold them to account, but it needs to be done so with facts, and above all it needs to be done so with humility, as it is easy to govern through a pandemic on social media from the comfort of your sofa.
Despite anti-science rhetoric, it will be science that gets us out of this. The countries and districts that followed the science, generally fared better than others during the pandemic. We are going to have several different vaccines in a few months which is a fantastic achievement of human ingenuity (cue the anti-vaccine loons). The number of studies going on all around the world will, hopefully, leave us in a position to better handle the next pandemic and maybe we can protect the vulnerable whilst keeping other critical services open to those who need it.
One favourable by-product of this year was that I, like others, got out of the rat race somewhat, no longer commuting in an out of work on packed public transport and getting home just in time to put the younglings to bed. I see more of my family now and I am more productive away from an office environment, so it is a win-win.
Anyway, you probably came here to read about food, sorry…
Despite not being able to eat out for most of the year, we still had some memorable restaurant experiences. In Barcelona we had two very memorable meals, one in our regular haunt Bodega 1900, which never disappoints, and the other in Disfrustar, the innovate restaurant run by three elBulli alumni. It was a fantastic holiday, full of amazing food and wine and two very happy children who had a ball. We went home from this holiday, looking forward to two more that we had planned for 2020 – they didn’t happen.
We were lucky enough to eat in the brilliant Aimsir twice this year. Once in February before the madness and once in August. We have said it before but Aimsir is special and continues to get better. The food and the service are world class. A dish of pollock and fermented celeriac will never be forgotten. We were supposed to eat there again before the end of the year, but we had to postpone a few times because we couldn’t leave the county.
Just before lockdown we had a terrific Saturday night in Liath. It had a muted atmosphere as Chef Damien Grey was resigned to it being his last service for a while and didn’t know what would happen over the next few months. But it was still great fun, and the food and wine were both superb. Liath is a restaurant with a very bright future. It is convivial and jovial with great food and service. A meal there always seems to have a personal touch and it was a perfect place for our last supper before being locked away.
I have been extremely impressed by the restaurant industry’s reaction to having their business, and with it with their livelihoods, shut down. There was very little moaning or self-pity, which would all have been understandable, but instead there was a recognition that this is bigger than them and we all have to dig in. What is more impressive is how quickly they could pivot to a takeout business, whilst keeping the quality the same, almost. We have eaten many meals at home from some of our favourite restaurants and it definitely helped us get through the year.
Grey in Liath quickly setup a take away, managing to keep the innovation and identity of his restaurant in the dishes, even though they had to be finished and plated by eejits like me. I can’t remember the amount of times we drove down to Blackrock to collect a Liath box after work on a Friday. Grey provided another highlight of the year, when in December he collaborated with sommelier Cathryn Bell Steunenberg of Wine Rover (a new curated wine service) to create a tasting menu with wine pairings. Cathryn selected the wines first and then Damien matched food to them. There was no cooking involved and it was by far the best takeout meal of our year.
People joke that if they could go back a year they would buy shares in Zoom, but I would settle for shares in smoked almonds and Nocellara olives as they appeared on so many take-home menus in 2020 – simply an observation and definitely not a complaint. One of our favourite Dublin restaurants, Etto, started doing takeout around June, as did their equally brilliant sister restaurant Uno Mas. Both of them provided us delicious meals and included some of their best dishes. Barry Sun, formally of Etto, opened Volpe Nero shortly before covid-19 struck, and he also managed to quickly pivot to a delightful take-home service with menus clearly influenced by his former employer.
One of the consistently good take-home boxes of the year was from Allta. It was always delicious and came with a carefully selected wine. And, they delivered it to our door which is a great bonus, since I now have become a reclusive, Howard Hughes like, hermit. They even supply a Spotify playlist to accompany your meal.
Our craving for Indian food was brilliantly satisfied by Millie and Santosh in 3 Leaves in Blackrock. The cooking is fantastic and the palak pakora chaat may be the most addictive thing we ate all year. China Sichuan in Sandyford, which haven’t opened at all for sit-down service since March, supplied us with some lovely Chinese food on occasion, including Emma’s “most favourite” dish of duck pancakes with hoisin sauce.
We have always tried to eat well at home and buy great produce for our cooking, but before we were restricted to only being able to shop at the weekends. In 2020 that all changed, with great shops and producers delivering.
At the end of March we went to Forest Avenue, which had rapidly changed to be a grocers. They were stocking, among other things, their own creations and McNally Farm greens, but best of all, their sourdough starter. Michelle started making bread with their starter and it is still going strong today. We have been sourcing our flour needs from Kells Wholemeal, who have a great online shop.
A couple of weeks later the deliveries started. Since April our weekly fruit and vegetable intake is supplied by Hussey’s Farm, run by Sean and Jayne Hussey. The Husseys supply us with a wide array of produce that changes every week. Having to find recipes and ways of cooking these has really helped our cooking improve over the year. Hussey Farm also have some great Irish products on their website to order. For example, we always get a carton of the amazingly versatile Velvet Cloud yoghurt each week. Another must-have from Hussey is the wildwood vinegar range, which might just be our best find of the year. Since mid-summer we have been getting the most amazing heritage potatoes from Ballymakenny Farm.
We have two suppliers for fish. Gannet Fishmongers in Galway do overnight delivery and have really good pantry items like anchovies, tuna and oils. They are great value. At the moment we are mostly using Sustainable Seafood Ireland, run by Niall Sabongi. They supply a lot of the top restaurants in the city and now they can deliver terrific seafood straight to your home. We have had some amazing seafood at home this year, to fill the void of restaurants.
The carnivore in us is placated by two suppliers also. The fantastic Higgins Butchers, who supply meat to many a great chef around the capital, have a new online shop with a very speedy delivery. They work with some great farms, including Thornhill for duck. If you want something that is not on their website they will try their best to get it for you – just ask. Village Butcher in Ranelagh are also one of the best butchers around. They work with farms such as Andarl for the most amazing pork. They also have amazing customer service and are always happy to source what is needed. In the summer we supplemented our meat deliveries with the amazing Gubbeen, who for a time were delivering boxes of their finest meat and cheeses. After having some Achill Island Lamb in Aimsir in August, we went on to their website and ordered half a lamb, which cam butchered and ready to cook.
Our need for great Irish cheese for fulfilled by Hussey Farm, which supplies some great Irish producers such as Hegarty’s Cheddar and direct from St. Tola, who produces some of the finest goat’s cheeses you will find.
In a year of stress and confinement, the need for chocolate was ever-present. Thankfully we discovered two amazing producers in Arcane Chocolate and Bean and Goose. Both these chocolatiers will supply you with luxurious happiness that will gladden the soul. They are both a must try, trust me.
Since we have been put into lockdown and I’ve started to work from home, our wine consumption has risen, probably too much. We bought most of our wines from 64 Wine, who was our regular dealer before. It is one of the best shops around and our favourite. For wines in the twenty euro price range, they have a vast and delightful selection and are adding more wines all the time. We got one order from Greenman Wines during the year and it was a speedy delivery of some fantastic wines – we will definitely be using it again. An exciting prospect for the year ahead is Wine Rover which is run by one of the best sommeliers around, Cathryn Bell Steunenberg. She is running a curated, bespoke wine service that will deliver to your door.
We must give a mention to Gary in Imbibe Coffee, who has been kept our caffeine levels up throughout the year. Gary is passionate about coffee and it shows from the fine coffee that was delivered to our door regularly. Gary also donates a proportion of each sale to worthy chartities.
There was definitely a market for someone to setup a sort of online supermarket that would combine some of these fine products into one delivery. That is exactly what Weekl.ie is. They have setup an online business where discerning customers can fill their trolley with goods from producers like Gubbeen, St Tola, Denis Healy Farm, Sustainable Seafood Ireland, Bean and Goose, Macroom Cheese, Nutshed peanut butter, Imbibe Coffee, Mcloughlins Butchers, Regan Organic Farm. They are adding more producers all the time.
What do we look forward to in 2021? Well, Michelle has had the first of her vaccinations and I am looking forward to getting mine. We would love to get a holiday or two in this year, but will have to wait and see on that one. Food wise, we hope to improve our home cooking recipe repertoire and discover even more of Ireland’s finest producers. Hopefully post pandemic, the same shops and producers will still deliver. Above anything, we are looking forward to eating out again. There are so many Dublin restaurants that we cannot wait to get to. We only have one reservation, Aimsir in February, but that looks certain not to happen with the terrifying case numbers at the moment.
We have been lucky this year compared to what so many people have had to go through and we are very grateful for that. We are also grateful to all the fine restaurants, shops and producers in this country, we are very fortunate indeed.
You can see our full list of restaurants and suppliers we used during 2020 on our COVID-19 list.