Eating out in Ireland has come a long way. We would once struggle to recommend a place to eat to passing tourists and felt shamed by our take on “Oirish” cuisine. But that is no more. Now, every town across the country has a plethora of excellent eateries to choose from, to the point that simply serving good food is no longer the only requirement for an effusive recommendation. We now look for locally and ethically-sourced ingredients, beautifully curated interiors and an overall enjoyable eating experience to gain our seal of approval.
And Irish restauranteurs are listening. The inventiveness that continues to flow through Irish menus is now spilling onto the plate – quite literally. Owners and chefs of top Irish restaurants are now collaborating with local potters and craftspeople to create a dining experience where food and table combine for a culinary adventure that begins the moment you walk through the door.
“A lot of chefs are becoming aware of how much the dining experience can be enhanced by using bespoke or locally crafted ware in a restaurant”, explains Helen Ennis of Dunbeacon Pottery. Ennis often collaborates with restaurants to create bespoke tableware that complements and enlivens its individual menus. One such collaboration is with The Mews in Baltimore, Co Cork and its owners and head chef were heavily involved in the design process. “The Mews have a clear vision of the dining experience they want to give their customers, so the using local handmade pottery ties in completely with their ethos”.
Luke Matthews, the head chef at The Mews says that the dishes had to be, “robust enough to be passed around and shared from or used as cookware” and wanted local, handmade pottery to tie in with their ethos. They even modified their vision throughout the process, as Matthews explains that, “the main course plate was actually adapted from a flawed ‘seconds’, it came without a lip and we loved it”.
The Mews collaboration with Helen Ennis, Dunbeacon Pottery
Idás, the famous Dingle restaurant run by Kevin Murphy also recently joined forces with potter David Holden. Murphy wanted the ceramics to be kept simple and this merged beautifully with Holden’s use of locally-sourced materials and his emphasis on organic shapes and design, making for an eating experience that is both pared back and inviting, with an emphasis on favour and skill.
Idás rhubarb, Dingle gin, mascarpone served on a David Holden design (Photo: Michael Kelly)
Ceramicist Adam Frew has taken the potter’s plate phenomenon a step further. Frew and chef Paul Dalrymple of Sleepy Hollow Restaurant in Newtownabbey have just collaborated to design a range of plates that are specific to the dishes that he serves. Frew explains how passion is a driving force in the collaboration, “I am very passionate about food, and having studied ceramics, Chef Paul Dalrymple is equally passionate about pots. Working in this very direct way, of specific food for a specific plate is a new and exciting approach, bringing me even closer to the functional purpose of my work”.
What better way to enjoy a delicious, inventive meal, than on a beautifully-made piece of local craftsmanship. It’s a simple ode to all that creative Ireland has to offer. And, as Ennis says, “There really is no better showcase for functional pottery than that of being put to use with delicious food”.
Sleepy Hollow Restaurant Newtownabbey’s collaboration with Adam Frew Ceramics