Wild garlic, nettle and barley soup

[Serves 4–6] This uplifting soup demands a meander in your local parklands or wooded area, where you’ll find the slender garlic spears offering up its persistent scent to the breeze. The season can run from late spring to early summer, and wild garlic tends to be rampant wherever it grows. The white flower is easily recognised, though some aficionados prefer the milder flavour pre-blossom. Always forage sustainably.

INGREDIENTS 3–4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 250g wild garlic, washed 250g young nettles, washed (be sure to wear gloves!) 250g pearl barley, washed 2 large floury potatoes, peeled and diced 1 litre vegetable stock Salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat and gently sweat to draw out the moisture and sweetness.

Once the onion has turned opaque, you can add all the other ingredients and simmer until barley is soft and potatoes are cooked, about 15–20 minutes.

Allow to cool a little before blending with a stick blender and season well to taste. If you prefer, you could leave this as a chunky soup, or just blitz it a little to thicken the broth but to hold some of the texture.

If you picked the wild garlic while in blossom, their pretty white flower would make an attractive garnish scattered over the top.

HOME-TRUTHS… Always use gloves when picking nettles, and choose the young tender tips. It’s worth picking slightly away from pathways or roadsides, and avoiding the lower leaves which may have caught the scented spray of a passing dog or cat!


Ruby Wallis

 Photographs at Ard Bia

Art is fashionable, fashions in art come and go, the fashion world and the art world are clearly entwined at the moment, but it is only occasionally that fashion becomes the subject of art. In these photographs by Ruby Wallis the two worlds are playing happily together. Arising out of a publicity shoot for Triona Lillis’s “Props and Vintage “ specialist movie properties company, the pictures feature the exceedingly glamorous staff of Ard Bia and the photogenic location of Nimmo’s pier and the resaurant.

Ever since Cindy Sherman dressed herself up as a’B’ movie actor deliberatetly constructed photographs have raised interesting questions about the interpretation of pictorial identity. Here fictional scenes suggest  moments from movies not yet made: the Italian artist Marinetti about to embark on the crazy car chase that ended up in a ditch and from which the Futurist manifesto emerged in 1909, scenes deleted from Antonioni’s 1966 film ‘Blow Up’ where the photographer is the protagonist for the sexual revolution, a Tango dancer about to meet her lover somewhere in 1950’s Argentina before the Junta.

Fictions tell stories but these beautiful photographs also reveal their true subject, a group of contemporary people at ease with each other and at play in the world.

What else are we here for?

CJW Déardaoin 22 Nollaig 2011

Ruby Wallis is a practice-based PhD researcher with National College of Art & Design, Dublin (NCAD) and GradCAM. She has completed a M.A. in Documentary Photography at The University of Newport, Wales, holds a Degree in Painting at GMIT and has been exhibiting internationally since 2003.

Not Just About The Food...

There are so many amazing places to eat in Ireland and the food is just getting better and better. This is a list of my favourite places to eat, a personal choice based on how I like to eat, which is generally café-style and light. There are so many passionate and committed people producing not just stunning food, but exceptional spaces. This article is about spaces, people and food. Places where you are stimulated and excited on every level. All of these places are owner-run, and you literally see the owner running them. In a generic society, this is what makes them so special. So, in no particular order,here are the places I get so excited to visit.

Cafe Rua/ Rua Deli in Castlebar is not worth a detour, it’s worth a tour. I usually am in a panic of excitement by the time I get to Headford at the thought of their rhubarb pie. I could write a whole article on these amazing people - Aran and Colleen McMahon and the instigator of it all, their mother Ann McMahon. They tick every single box and consistently win all the awards for service, food and produce. The one I go to most is Rua Deli which has a deli downstairs and a café upstairs. This is a busy space serving from early morning till 6pm. All breads and cakes, and just about everything else are produced in-house...and boy does it look good. Stunning plates of locally-sourced produce served by attentive and informed staff.

Jessica Murphy has finally opened her own place, Kai on Sea Road in Galway, with her wonderful husband Dave. This is an adorable pitch perfect interior space with a cosy fire and Jess’s own quirky collection of art and a blackboard with daily specials, which is a work of art in itself. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with everything from the morning scone to a Castlemine meat platter and pumpkin soup to polenta with courgette flowers to frozen manuka honey ice cream. It is wonderful to have a place like this in Galway that satisfies us all at any hour of the day or night. Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara is a thing of legends. Walking through its doors to the smell of the turf fire and the welcoming ‘hello’ from the almost family-like members of staff, this really feels like coming home. Then like being at home, the scones and tea arrive with whipped cream. Or you can have a relaxed bite of food in the bar- venison stew, seafood platter, some homemadesoup and a glass of Guinness too. If you’re lucky enough to stay, then you can have the breakfast of kings with a view of the river that will have you sitting in silence long after you’ve finished eating. This place is consistently good under the watchful eye of the entertaining manager / man of the manor Patrick O’Flaherty and his warm,friendly staff. There is no sense of hotel chain here, just a pure sense of belonging.

Visiting Farmgate at the Cork English Market is like going back in time. The restaurant is situated on the balcony overlooking the market, which itself has such a draw with its bustling food stalls and amazing produce sold by charming producers. The Farmgate is all elegant old to accompany classics like corned beef and spring cabbage, lamb liver with bacon and tripe and onions finished off with the likes of apple and berry crumble with custard. Service is familiar and they always seem to remember you, even if it’s been a year. They have recently won the ‘Just Ask’ restaurant of the year and no place could more perfectly deserve that wonderful award.

Ballymaloe Cafe, Shanagarry, Co Cork is on the grounds of the iconic Ballymaloe House and if you have never been to any of these outstanding places, then you need to go. This whole world of through her children and grandchildren. I love eating at the main house and have had the pleasure many times, but it is the simplicity of the café that I love most. Dishes of game terrine with pheasant chutneys, hot alpine sandwiches peppered salamis and onion confiture or Henderson’s smoked mackerel plate...and then there are the cakes and the warm spiced apple drink. This little café is always packed; it’s a place I think about often and wish I could visit every day.

O’ Brien’s Chop House, Lismore, Co Waterford, run by Justin and Jenny Green, has a huge focus on meat. Housed in an old pub in the sleepy town of Lismore, this is the ultimate place for Sunday lunch; I’d even drive from Galway for it! It’s great every other minute of the day or night, but I’d like to single out the Sunday experience there. Ireland needs more great places for Sunday roasts and roasts done well. In O’ Brien’s, you get Englishtown free range chicken liver pate, Hereford beef 28 days aged with Yorkshire pudding and gravy or traditional fish pie. It’s all done so well here in a Farrow and Ball elegance of colour and style. Unique, international and yet intrinsically Irish in a James Fennel-inspired picture of Irishness.

I get asked so, so many times where to eat in Dublin and I just keep saying Pepper Pot Café, Powerscourt Town House, Dublin. There are some great places to eat in Dublin such as La Maison and Dillinger’s, but I just keep going back to the Pepper Pot. The place is run by two wonderful women, Marion and Dervela, who have worked so hard to get this great little spot up and running and thriving. All fabric flags, flowers, aprons, vintage teacups and oilcloth tablecloths, this is an effortless place which makes you feel at home. The food is stand-alone good – balsamic roasted beetroot and orange salad with hazelnuts, egg and land cress sandwich, lemon and poppy seed cake and organic porridge with roasted pears. Marion is always out front with a big smile and a big welcome, while Dervela is controlling what’s rising in the oven. Together, they have created a perfect and much-needed place in the centre of Dublin. There are so many others places I would love to mention like Dolls Café and the Cake Café in Dublin, which I so admire and Café Paradiso in Cork and Good Things Café down south. There are so many committed and inspiring people doing great things for our food culture; I love the thought of getting in the car and driving to any one of these places in the knowledge that I will be enveloped by the place and warmed by the food and the welcome.

Aoibheann x

Aoibheanns Christmas bread and butter pudding

[Serves 4–6] INGREDIENTS

4 old croissants (fresh is fine too) 50g butter 1 large bar dark chocolate, 70% cocoa (we love Green & Blacks) 300ml cream 4 tablespoons brown demerara sugar 3 eggs, beaten 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped 30ml (one shot) brandy


Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6. Generously butter a 900g loaf tin, or alternatively use individual ramekins.

Shave the chocolate with a small sharp knife or vegetable peeler (if this is tricky you could finely chop with a big cook’s knife or just break up into small pieces). Tear up the croissants and scatter in the tin or ramekins, layering the chocolate and croissants.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod. In a saucepan combine the cream with the sugar, vanilla seeds and pod, eggs and brandy and mix well. Bring to the boil, simmer for two or three minutes and remove the vanilla pod.

Pour over the croissants and chocolate and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with fresh cream.

Iceland: The land of Cool

The plane descends on what appears to be the moon. The old taxi man that takes us from the airport tells us Armstrong spent time here to practice the moonwalk before he did   the walk of last century. The landscape is volcanic and gigantic.  



Fresh from the airport, we’re dropped off at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal lake in the middle of  nowhere, and then suddenly, we’re at the bar drinking carrot juice with volcanic mud on our  faces, submerged in 42 degrees of turquoise blue water as the fresh northern air freshens the post  flight head. This is the first time I’ve been here during the  summer…when the sun barely sets and you have to wear your Ray Bans to bed if you want to get any sleep.


Reykjavik is a small town of red corrugated roofs and iconic contemporary architecture, sitting majestically on a most   stunning expanse of water and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its main artery is Laugavegur Street, which is a   catwalk of Icelandic cool. The Icelanders themselves have tired of this street but for us visitors it still has a deep hold. We stayed just off the main drag in a series of apartments called ‘Home’. The  apartment is fresh, quirky and contemporary. The   mattresses on the beds are made of ‘memory foam’, which was first developed by Nasa for its space shuttle programme. Galcier, the owner, sits with us and chats when we first arrive. He tells us

what’s newest and coolest in town and talks of his school days with Bjork. This typifies your normal welcome chat from an Icelander.





Reykjavik can only be described as a hybrid of Scandinavia and Portland Oregon with a little bit of Brooklyn NYC thrown in. It’s a uniquely evolved, fiercely independent little spot of 340,000 people. Its people are warm and full of humour, and are obsessed

with drinking, knitting and creativity. It’s these lauded qualities that make the Irish and the Icelandics so uniquely similar.

I was here to run the Icelandic Half Marathon - to experience running in the freshest air and crispest landscape in the world. It was a fantastic, easy run, with Icelandic children at every corner in pyjamas and clouds of white blond hair cheering us on. The day was stunningly bright in an almost supernatural purity. The marathon was the start of an exceptional day, August 21, the cultural day of Reykjavik and what a day it was to be. After a post marathon feed of trucker breakfast and American pancakes in the retro cool basement café of Grai Kotturinn, we hit out to the madness that was unfolding on the streets of this crazy town. The post-run abdominal dip was lifting. Jon Gnarr, the hilarious new mayor, was opening the cultural events at the new Harpa Centre down by the harbour. The black glass mausoleum is perhaps not too fond a nod to the pre-crash days, but it was, for me, a hugely memorable space as the sun glistened on this perfect day. We were there to see a concert of 20 of Iceland’s harpists play. The day continued with a skate boarding competition, with DJs set up on rooftops. Performance art took

place on every street, and we went to a poetry reading in an old bank.


Later, we had some rest from all the creative madness in Hostel Kex down by the sea.

Hostel Kex is housed in an old biscuit factory and is designed by Halfdan Pedersen, a movie-set-designer. The design is all to do with recycling and reusing up as many old things as possible. Its design makes you feel instantly at home and comfortable.

With old blackboards, found objects, leather beaten chairs and tables and old children’s toys throughout, the huge open area of the hotel is abuzz with people. Rooms are industrial and up-cycled, with found, framed, off-shot photos to lend some warmth and familiarity. The most surprising element of Kex though is its kitchen. Iceland, for me, is not at the forefront of a food movement and although I eat well there, I don’t get challenged in a food context. This is where Kex is so different  - they are totally on the pulse of food. Breakfast of pilsner jar preserves, cold meats and cheeses served on vintage plates is simple yet perfectly pitched. Lunch and dinner are a delight with salt cod, roast beef with new carrots and jus, chicken cooked in lemon with herbs, skyr (Icelandic yoghurt) brulee and Johnny Walker chocolate mousse. It’s all so simple; the

fewest ingredients are used, but it’s clever and served by the most exceptional staff. Needless to say, I moved out of Home and into Kex at the next opportunity. With its built-in barber unit and its plugged-in staff, it’s a space of endless possibility. Dragging myself away from Kex, I had some wonderful food in two places down by the harbour. Saegreifinn, an almost glorified fish shop is a place of legend. It serves the best lobster

soup and fish (whale, monkfish, scallop  - you name it) on a stick with Viking beer, all on plastic plates and cups. Cheap and unpretentious, bustling with people, zero interior design, disaffected uninterested staff…all this results in creating one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Around the corner is Hamborgara Bullan, aka burger joint. It is rammed with people and serves burgers and chips in a basket with coke. With music blasted from a 1980s getoblaster, it’s cheap, not chic, but brilliant. It was my pre-marathon last supper and boy, I enjoyed the calories.





Spend a few days in Reykjavik or the rest of your life - it’s up to you. But here is what I like to do when I am there - take some knitting classes and learn how to make the Lopi traditional sweaters; visit Kling n Bang - the crazy art space; read ‘The Grapevine’, the local cultural weekly in one of the cosy bars like Kaffibarinn; sit in Hallgrimskirkja the Lutheran church and then go to its peak and look out on the local 1940s airport; sit at City Hall and watch the ducks; take a trip to the Harbor House Museum where you’re likely to be the only person there looking at the art. Around the corner, visit the best gallery in the world…I8 gallery; maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see a Roni Horn exhibition, do a harbor walk and sit at Solfar, a breath-taking Viking ship sculpture. Dress up really cool and brave the coolness that is Boston Bar. Oh, and on Saturday night, head out out out and party anywhere, shop in Kron Kron, tonar 12, Sputnik and for the best antique shop in the world, Frioa Fraenka. Put on a 1950s swim hat and go to one of the main public pools - my favorite is Sundhollin, all 1930s cool and social

inclusiveness and all of that. This is just the tip of the iceberg - there’s everything outside of the capital to explore too. Glaciers, the library of water in Stykkisholmur, horse riding on the Icelandic ponies, golfing by the midnight sun, monumental landscape, hot springs and unending beauty.





Spending a long few days in Iceland is essential…try to stay at one of the many eco-hotels and feel the true extent of the nature.  I don’t understand why so few people go to Iceland but that suits me fine because I want to be the only person in a room full

of Roni Horn’s stunning art pieces entitled, ‘You are the Weather’. As the back of my neck tingles, I realise how lucky I am to know this country just a little bit and to feel its power. It is this power that has led it rapidly and independently out of a recession and back into the glowing light it belongs in.


Flights: http://www.icelandexpress.com

Home apartments: www.homereykjavik.is

Harbour house museum: wwww.artmuseum.ie

Saegreifinn: www.saegreifinn.is Boston, Laugavegur 28b

Grai Kotturinn, Hverfisgata 16

Hamborgarabullan, Geirsgata 1

Kaffibarinn, baergstaoastraeti 1

Kronkron, Laugavegur 63b

Sputnik, Laugavegur 28b

Frida Fraenka Vesturgata 3

Blue Lagoon www.bluelagoon.com

Sundhollin, Baronsstigur

Aoibeann recommends:

The Wallpaper guide to Reykjavik

For a taste of what’s extraordinary about Iceland, check out Bon Iver music video Holocene http://vimeo.com/27307766

Icelandic indie band Seabear, album ‘The ghost that carried us away’.

Aoibheann x

Retreat to Inis Meáin

Inis Meáin is the least frequented of the Aran Islands. But it typifies that which is truly the spirit of these unique islands. Psychologically, the islands feel far away even for us nestled away in Galway but they are very easily accessed from Rossaveal by boat and also very uniquely by airplane from Inverin - the flight being a mere eight minutes from Connemara airport. It is wonderful to experience both ways of getting to the islands as you can have different perspectives of scale. The flight is stunning and as you approach the airstrip, you really get a sense of place and time on these islands that are an exercise in anthropology and climatic diversity.




I had not been to the islands for years but the draw of the award- winning Inis Meáin Restaurant and Suites was too great. Ruairí and Marie-Therese de Blacam have created a stunning restaurant with four large suites attached. The building itself was designed by architects Blacam and Meagher and was directly inspired by the surrounding area. It is a monument in contemporary stone and sits in tandem with the local stonewalling. The build is much publicised for its unique aesthetic and design consciousness. It exists as a contemporary build with a total embodiment of all that is around it, from wool throws on the bed, Irish pottery, periwinkles to start with as an amuse bouche before dinner and fishing rods and bikes left outside for your amusement. This place presents something totally fresh but with the greatest respect for everything that it  has come from. This is what makes Inis Meáin suites stand alone as a sparkling gem of contemporary Irish hospitality both nationally and internationally.

The rooms are simple and yet luxurious with a view that would take your breath away. Egyptian cotton sheets in white with grey tweed furnishings and dark wood lend a simple tone that allows the space itself to shine. Breakfast in the morning is dropped off to the porch of the suite, homemade granola, fruit compote, traditional soda bread, jams and fresh boiled eggs from the house chickens. Breakfast can then be eaten on the  expanse of windowsill that is an unending table in and of itself. You are then well set up for the day’s activities; a detailed list of what to do is laid out charmingly and amusingly by the owners in an almost ‘things to do’ on the island. A walk to Synge’s chair on the precipice of the cliff past the writer’s house is a sublime and head clearing adventure, cycling all the lanes of the island, an afternoon in the local pub with a toasted sandwich and a glass of Guinness followed by a visit to the multi generational traditional knitters in a nearby house, a swim at the deserted beaches, and without fail a trip to Inis Meáin knit wear factory shop.

It seems all that these people do is spot on and done with such integrity. Inis Meáin knitwear supplies stores all over the world. Its commitment again to the local product is combined with an element of luxury that positions their products in stores as renowned as Bloomingdales in New York. The store itself is an old barn but houses a most extraordinarily diverse collection of knitwear. With bargain baskets galore, this is a chance to get your hands on some wonderful bargains and great finds. You can spend hours here looking at the old black and white photos and trying on endless combinations of knits and working up your appetite for dinner.

The simple stone dining room is really one of the most appealing restaurant rooms in Ireland. Large old black and white photos of the islanders subtly break up the room. The dark wooden huge windowsill again dominates and frames the landscape as if it were a photograph, light exists everywhere, it is almost like eating outside such is the openness of the space. Ruairí cooks in open plan in the centre of the room. The menu is simple; bearing in mind that all food has to be shipped or flown in, that alone is a huge achievement. There is naturally a strong element of seafood with the crab and lobsters caught daily by the local fishermen in their currachs. The vegetables come from their own garden and arrive simply buttered and seasoned, as they should be. There is cooking - here the ingredients are allowed to shine. You leave having had wonderful attentive service by Marie-Therese who fills you in on the local island activities and anecdotes, which further enhances this unparalleled dining experience.




After three days of blistering sun we leave revived and restored.Happy in the knowledge that we didn’t have to fly hours to have an exceptional holiday, knowing we were supporting a local community and staying with people who work to enhance not exploit as they create an exceptional time for their guests. This is eco tourism at its best and most integral. The Aran Islands are a stunning destination and if you haven’tbeen for a while, visit them again. The local community could do with slightly more tourism and coupled with that,  you will have some breathtaking peace and beauty. Aoibheann x

The Magic of the Manor

(March 2011) Aoibheann McNamara roams at home this time and embarks on a culinary ramble through Tipperary, Cork and Waterford.

I have travelled alot abroad and have enjoyed it all very much. These days I feel that perhaps I should consider holidaying more in Ireland. Staycations are the new thing to do and where better than Ireland as it is a wonderful country with amazing people. From an economic point of view, we should all be buying Irish and support everything Irish and this should extend to taking a holiday in Ireland.

With little time away from the restaurant, I managed a sneaky weekend off in February. I did a culinary meander through Nenagh, Co Tipperary and stopped off in the iconic Country Choice and delighted in their robust minestrone soup with big chunks of Limerick baked ham and homemade pasta served with traditional soda bread. Peter himself was there and we had an animated chat about Donegal tweed and then he was off. This place is wonderfully indicative of contemporary culinary Ireland. With energy, passion, gusto and style, Country Choice is traditional to the core with an amazing array of products, predominantly Irish and universally of great taste.

A lazy drive then down to Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co Cork, arriving just before dark so we could take in the full picturesque isolation of the place. We rang the bell several times to discover, after no one answered, that it was actually open; I thought this was brilliant. The owners, Justin and Jenny Green welcomed us warmly. We were given the tour, which appropriately started with the details surrounding the honesty bar. The style of the place is in tune with a house of its age but it is peppered with interesting design features from an Asian influence, which comes presumably from the time Justin and Jenny lived there. Also clearly visible is the incredible aesthetic and design awareness of people confident to paint a children’s playroom charcoal grey from Farrow & Ball and sure, ‘we’ll paint the door too!’ We were then shown up to our expansive room with sunken wooden encased bath with views of the gardens and the carpet of snowdrops on the lawn. Little features in the rooms like a bush radio, fireplace littered with interesting books and a kilner of homemade preserve made the bedroom introduction complete and perfect. This is definitely a home and so the style and space are welcoming and intimate almost. Books and art in the drawing room give a sense of the personality of the owners. Wellie boots in differing sizes are discarded at the door alongside croquet gear. This is a place to feel at home, in the vein of Nick Jones’ Babington House in Somerset, where both Justin and I had the great pleasure of working.

On the evening we arrived, we had a light supper in the drawing room of rock- et and parmesan salad, followed by lemon drizzle cake and some offerings of Riesling from the honesty bar. Justine and Jenny were heading out to their Chop House in Lismore to host the monthly curry and beer night and since a trip to the Chop House was also planned, the intrigue continued and the anticipation grew for our visit there the following night. Breakfast the following morning was on a communal table with many others. Justin’s father actually serves breakfast in between reading old French novels and does so with gentleness and care. Ballyvolane is Justin’s family home and it is certainly a family affair; along with three children and grandparents, it is a multi generational exercise in happy country living. Breakfast itself was superb with the finest local ingredients for the trusty fry, six different types of seasonal stewed fruit, homemade breads and preserves. Not being able to wait for dinner, we popped into the Chop House in Lismore for a late lunch after a wonderful few hours at Middleton market.

The Chop House is a traditional Irish pub with a restaurant out back and a garden dining area for the summer. But it is a traditional pub put in the hands of people who changed it into a space of rustic wood and blue grey paint and yet did so with commitment to the integrity of the original space. The old snug and stain glass still exists but it is refreshingly crisp, aesthetic and perfectly cosy. We had a light lunch of Jerusalem artichoke soup and treacle marinated smoked salmon. After getting repeatedly lost we eventually got back to Ballyvolane only to say a very brief hello to the babysitter and then happily turn on our heels and head back to the Chop House for dinner.

Justin entertained us over elderflower Bellinis at the bar and we chatted about food glorious food until our table was ready and then, as the name suggests, we ordered the carnivore options. Devilled lamb kidneys to start followed by hanger steak and lamb chops with varying sides of home grown potatoes and vegetables, all from the walled garden at Ballyvolane. Dessert was an exercise in joy with lemon posset topping the list, also Eton Mess of berries and something obscenely chocolaty, while a delicate New Zealand Pinot Noir made the night all the more (or less) mem- orable. The food is simple and brilliant, executed with confidence and style. The place itself reflects the perfect place for Ireland right now, a place that embraces the old and looks forward with class and commitment.

Lismore, a beautiful heritage town of only one thousand people is blessed with an offering like this, as are the bordering areas. People travel from Cork and beyond regularly to experience all that Justin and Jenny have created. On Sunday morning before 9am, Justin, Oni and I and three swirling dogs went to feed the pigs and the chickens. Justin knee high in muck and looking like Withnail in his long barbour coat looked the picture of happiness. He doesn’t just talk the talk on the ecology and cycle of food, he lives and breathes it. This was the perfect end to a magical weekend. Ireland is lucky to have people like these minding, developing and nurturing the culinary and hospitality of Ireland for today and for the future. One of strongest and oldest of our industries is tourism and food tourism is the key to that future. Justin and Jenny and their two exceptional places are leading the way and what an enchanted way it is. www.ballyvolanehouse.ie

Aoibheann  x

Visiting Varanasi

(February 2011) Mark Twain once said of Varanasi, “It is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.  It is also dirtier then all other places put together too! That aside, it is an iconic city that pulsates with life and is spiritual to the core.  Varanasi is a city situated on the banks of the holiest River Gangas. It is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world to  Hindus. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi.


In my youth, I was in Varanasi  ‘hanging out’ and watching the monkey steal bananas from our dilapidated hotel balcony overlooking the Gangas. It was so hot that ten minutes after showering we would be ready for another. But my memories of this place were good and I was delighted to return, this time with the additional huge pull of the Dalai Lama teaching in Sarnath, just 10km from Varanasi. In order to further ignite the Varanasi love in me, I had just finished reading Geoff Dyer’s recent novel, the wonderfully entitled ‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi’, and so I was drawn to return to this germ-infested, vibrating city! He had stayed at a hotel that is near impossible to get a booking in. ‘The Gangas View’ at Assis Ghat. Varanasi is positioned along the river and the ghat represent the funeral pyres where the bodies are burnt. To be cremated and your ashes deposited in the River Gangas is regarded as the ultimate culmination of life and death. So death is everywhere; you are constantly confronted with differing coloured tin-foiled bodies on their not so merry ways. This is not a holiday for the faint hearted and is a million miles from a week in the sun in Lanzarote. After some hard email wrangling, we got the booking and up the steep steps we went. Prakash, the main man, greeted us with no great enthusiasm, but the warmth grew as the days went on.


The hotel is from another time. In the main dining room was a movable antique fire, which warmed the heart and the toes after a 24-hour train trip from Delhi. The hotel sits proudly over four floors, with the top floor bedrooms richly decorated in a ‘Maharaji chic’ way. The art and furniture throughout is period Indian and impeccably sourced; you get the sense that the wonderful owner, Shashank, gets first dibs at all the best antiques around. Shashank drinks chai and chats while his merry three daschshunds, bedecked in maroon woolies, trail around his legs. He is delightful to engage with and you become aware that he is central to the fabric of the Varanasi cultural and intellectual life. Throughout our stay, there were art exhibition openings, documentary evenings and a wonderful series of lectures in the hotel on ‘Aspects of Varanasi’, which he co-ordinates and facilitates. Gangas View is a hotel like no other; a bit like being invited to a private party where you get to access and enjoy the cultural peaks of this intoxicating city through its protective embrace.


Gangas View had great kudos and this attracted the most interesting of people to stay. Tabla or sitar music classes, early morning boat trips on the Gangas just before dawn, a trip ‘to the other side’ (the far bank of the Gangas, an almost purgatory place where you can ride bare back horses for a euro), a frenetic night at the main Ghat, where you feel like you are crashing the craziest of parties, are just some of the most interesting things to do. Trips to the tailor to get apparel made with the famous Benaras silk is a must, as are walks along the riverin the morning to witness the ablutions of the people and the joyful coloured washing of clothes.


There is so much to do in Varanasi - all you need is to stay healthy, which will be your greatest challenge. If you can do this, you will be richly rewarded. In fact, as a photographer, I doubt there is a place that will reward you so richly, nor is there a place in the world that will deliver such a fantastic sense of frenetic life.  The 14th Dalai Lama was teaching in Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism, for four days during our stay. Sarnath turned into Tibet central with hordes of adorable Tibetan woman selling welcome woolly socks and ornate shawls. Sarnath, normally an antidote to the bustle of Varanasi, was now busily teeming with maroon-clad monks, thousands of Tibetans from all over India and a fair share of devoted Westerners. Transistor radios were given out for the simultaneous translation of his holiness’s teachings and a general sense of conviviality prevailed. Crisp cold days warmed up to sunnier ones as an uncharacteristic  ‘cold snap’ lifted and the heat was welcome on the long days of teachings.  Towards the end of our stay, we delighted in a festival of kites that engulfed the city with brightly colored home made kites lighting up the sky above the Gangas as the children and adults delighted in this affordable and endlessly fun pursuit. For me, this was a wonderful sight and on a lazy afternoon we sat on the highest roof of the Gangas View and watched this theatre of colour unfold, far away and protected from the madness of the place, sanitized by distance from the overpowering masses and softened by a series of papers playing in the wind.  Varanasi is difficult and challenging; it’s India in full throttle and overload in all its good and bad incarnations. It’s also hypnotically beautiful and otherworldly. It’s a once in a life time must see, like the Rio carnival or the Burning Man festival in Nevada - teaming with life, death, cultural and religious intensity and filth.  But it’s a place you’re not likely to forget; it will influence you and affect you for a long time afterwards

Aoibheann x


Indian Intrigue

Aoibheann McNamara hits the otherworldly shores of India India is a vast microcosm of craziness and mystifying order, of 1.3 billion people, of countless religions and endless sun rises and sunsets. India is my great love affair. I have endured and been deeply pleasured by this country over ten times since I first visited 15 years ago. It is very much like going home - a home of warmth, compassion and intense fascination.  I often start my trips in Goa, a place I like very much but which I almost don’t consider to be India as it is too easy. It was described very accurately by a friend as a real life version of the body and soul section at the Electric Picnic.

Since the 60s, Goa has been the focal point of the lost generation and those hippies with a lot of time on their hands. This mixes with a wonderfully rich Portuguese heritage, which has resulted in a beautiful region architecturally.  It is to Purple Valley Yoga Centre I keep returning to as it is, for me, one of the best yoga centres in the world. It is an oasis of calm in a busy enclave of North Goa and it stands alone as a dedicated Ashtanga yoga centre, with the world’s top teachers coming year after year.

I was there to do David Swenson’s two-week course over Christmas and was delighted by the teaching of this wonderful man who at 56, has been doing yoga since he was 13 and whose practice, tuition and deep under- standing was inspirational. The mornings start on the mat at 6am and a 90-minute intense practice follows - pure bliss. The focused consideration of the practice over the time in Purple Valley is second to none and your yoga moves forward in an extraordinary way. Purple Valley is unique in many ways - not least for the ease of the set up with three wonderful vegetarian meals provided daily, beautiful boho surroundings and exceptionally warm staff. It also attracts a very eclectic and interesting group of practitioners which keeps conversation fun at the dinner table.

It is difficult to  leave purple valley to explore North Goa, but you should rent a moped and really get the laid back feel of this busy, cool place. The main focus of the area tends to be Anjuna, a busy hub with a meandering beach with lots of busy bars and restaurants. Other highlights include the Saturday night market which has endured since the sixties and still has some interesting vintage finds. What sets this market apart from others in India is the exceptional European fashion designers who have escaped the cold of Europe and relocated to Goa for ease of living and inspiration. One of the most interesting designers by far is the German designer Miriam Strehlau who I buy season after season. She combines club cool with old Indian fabrics to create the most exotic of collections. She has a wonderful workshop beside the famous shore bar and it epitomizes the life-meets-work design space that so many of these artists/musicians/fashion designers inhabit here in Goa and it is inspiring to see.

Another designer is Akal, an Italian woman I first came across at the market when I saw a frenzy of woman around her stall. She designs amazing wool scarves which are very inspired by the Italian designer Missoni, but at a fraction of the cost. The quality is exceptional, the pieces are timeless and she is such a warm and gentle woman.  There are also countless places to eat. I love to brunch in Villa Blanch in Assagao; it is especially nice on Sunday when it draws an interesting crowd of the extensive group of Europeans that live here. Food is average, but the place itself is loungy and tastefully done - not like the aged hippy décor of most places. Another wonderful place where the food is amazing and yet the décor is challenging (we can never have it all?) is Jam Connection. Janet, the owner, is from Austria and makes everything herself. She knows her way around a Sacher chocolate cake and she knows how to welcome people so you never forget her.

Goa is a place of ease, with warm people and relaxed attitudes. It is very much not the real India, but it’s a great place to land first in order to acclimatise, settle the stomach, find your feet and have a great few days before hitting off to the vast crazy expanse of the real India. With body limbered up, bronzed and massaged, we fly to Dehli in the wonder- ful North India and prepare then for our 17-hour sleepy train trip to Varanasi and to the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Sarnath. Now the fun really starts and the magic is tangible as we enter the beating heart of India and we spend days looking at the holy River Gangas and let the drama unfold…

Aoibheann x

Follow Aoibheann’s adventures in Sarnath in part two of Indian Intrigue next month.

Heady delights of Marrakech

(January 2011) Marrakech, the unofficial capital and beating heart of Morocco is a short trip on Easy Jet from London, but a long stretch into the exotic.

Over many trips, I have grown to love its tonic of French colonialism and North African unfamiliarity. The merger of the two creates today a dizzying destination of sophistication, cool and intangibility. Divided into the old and new town, the city has almost two identities but the universal focal point of both is the main square, Jamaa El Fna. This is a place you will find yourself coming upon time and again as you try to negotiate your way around. Jamaa El Fna is almost like the greatest show on earth. The activity is frenetic with water sellers, snake charmers, medicine men and probably the largest open-air restaurant in the world, all vying for your attention. At night it really comes alive; it almost pounds with life, and so a retreat from all this is necessary in the form of a riad (Morroccan town house).

Like all trips, your most important starting point is to stay somewhere exquisite and that is what we did. Long since spoken of in almost hushed tones, we had heard lots about Riad El Fenn (Fenn meaning hip in the local dialect ) and it couldn’t have been hipper. This impeccable Riad is owned by Vanessa Branson, Richard’s sister. Her exceptional style with ad-hoc 1950’s furniture and commitment to contemporary European and Moorish art is a delight to experience. In addition to all that, there is an in-house Hammam, a personal cinema with an eclectic collection of films including Lars von Tier, which adds its edge, three pools for lounging, organically produced food from their gardens in the Atlas Mountains and 20,000 sq foot of breathtaking aesthetic. The personality of the place was everywhere to be seen and the exceptional staff, headed up by the manager Adrian, looked after ever element of our stay, from booking us into all the best restaurants to hot tips for the Souk, the renowned open air markets. This was a magical base from which to elate and retreat into the wilds of the Marrakech Souk.

The Souk itself can be a formidable place in which you need to be decisive, single minded and open to experiences. Everyone is out to rip you off but the point is you can get what you want and have fun doing it, and a sprinkling of French helps move things along. I’d suggest knowing what you want and negotiating hard. Riad el Fenn’s guide to the Souk meant we could, to a degree, know we were going to the best places for pottery, wooden boards, spices, tapestry and so on. Over time, the Souk became warmly familiar and we often retreated to the Café des Epices in the centre of the spice market for time away from the hustle and bustle. This was a busy cool cafe and my defining memory of Marrakech. It had a simple menu of fresh juices, Moroccan coffees, sandwiches and salads, but it was the heart of the Souk, it got the most gorgeous sunlight throughout the day and was the perfect place to people watch.

Our days were peppered with breakfast on the terrace of El Fenn followed by time in the Souk, lunch and then time by the pool. Our nights were spent in one or other of the restaurants Adrian had booked for us. I cannot describe how almost unimaginably cool Marrakech is and how it exists as almost an expat enclave in the wilds of Africa. To confirm this, the iconic La Mamounia hotel has been refurbished and re-launched and is the defining hotel of the region. I personally preferred it in its earlier incarnation and less flashy self. Today, you feel the money whereas before, you felt the style and history. Churchill, it’s reported, liked to paint in the gardens. That said, it is a great place for a pre-dinner drink and is certainly worth a look. Another great place for a drink is La Grand Cafe De La Poste, which dates back to 1925. We found the food disappointing but delighted in the colonial interior with swirling fans and rattan chairs. La Poste is an easy walk to our most favored restaurant in Marrakech, El Fassisa.

Let the white tablecloths and red roses not put you off – this was actually local food at its best. Run entirely by women, this stands out as my best meal of the year. We ordered a starter of mezze and were presented with 15 different small plates – a feast for both the eyes and mouth. The main was a slow cooked lamb with olives and cumin – the most tender meat I have ever had, which we enjoyed with a dry Moroccan wine. We finished with simple rose petal ice cream with honey, almonds and fresh mint tea. Service was impeccable as was the atmosphere and we were given warm orange flower blossom hand towels at the end of this perfect meal.

Another fantastic dinning experience was in the Beldi Country Club on the outskirts of the city, a short half an hour by taxi and a wonderful chance to see what lay beyond the imposing ramparts. Beldi has a unique style of faded Bedouin elegance. We were in very new terrain here with things a lot more quiet and slower. Lunch was a feast of sole on the bone, crisp Moroccan rose and bracing espressos. We spent the afternoon by the pool and then to the hamam for some exerting steams and massages. This is a great escape from the city.

Marrakech is diverse; you can live it up or be just as enriched by time in a simple riad off the main square of the ever-crazed Djemaa el Fna. Here you can absorb the atmosphere, have freshly squeezed orange juice and ripe dates with almonds from the stall sellers and just meander through the Souk stopping to write your black and white postcards. It almost feels like another time. It is a place like no other – intimidating and exhilarating – and a perfect few days away where all senses will be stimulated. If it all gets too much, which it can, and if that guy won’t sell you the pottery at the price you want, then you can easily escape. Rent a jeep just before sunset and head out as the sun is setting to the Atlas Mountains and into the true peace, beauty and vastness that is the essence of the richly memorable country.

Aoibheann xx

Brookyln Does Brunch

Heading to New York over Christmas, and looking for something unique? Brooklyn is a fantastically diverse area to explore and experience the relaxed vibe that can exist in New York. Try to make it your base from which to explore uptown and the east village…shopping here is vintage, retro chic with cool children  shops and small designer spaces. Aoibheann reports  back from this ‘uber cool’ spot, and gives the low-down on the best eateries in the neighbourhood.  Brooklyn’s  leafy residential streets lend a certain ease to your day.   This will be my third time in New York, and my most foodie yet.  The sole purpose of the trip was to eat great food, and to see the autumn leaves in New York City.  This is a beautiful time of year to visit, with crisp, cold, bright days. I was staying with a friend in Brooklyn and delighted to be away from the Manhattan madness in favour of the neighbour- hood feel of Brooklyn, which is a lot more relaxed with a two-year-old in tow. The neighbourhood restaurants and cafes are no-fuss and inexpensive - just the kind I love. 

Brooklyn is just over the bridge from Manhattan. Artists and creatives have moved here for cheaper rents and as a result, an interesting melting pot of humanity has emerged. Today, it is a hive of cool with an almost sleepy town feel. Here you’ll come across the most unusual stores, which have popped up through- out the neighbourhood… so different to the finish and polish of Manhattan. Brooklyn’s proximity to downtown is just a subway away or a $20 cab ride over the fantastic Brooklyn Bridge. All in all, Brooklyn is more affordable, easier and cooler then uptown.

Having just arrived in New York on a November’s evening, I paid a trip to ‘Eat’ in Green Point. Eat is a simple, paired down place with an Amish-meets-Japanese feel and a sense of perfect organic minimalism.

A simple black board lists everything that hey picked up from the market that day. I started with chickpea and cabbage soup, which was so simple; I doubt even salt had been added. The flavour of the produce just shined though. A side salad of green leaves and daikon was simply dressed and the main dish of corn (aka polenta), red beans and soy was an exercise in minimalism and health. ‘Eat’ would not be for everyone, the seasoning is subtle to say the least, but epitomises the quiet food revolution underway in Green Point… it is as close to the farm as Brooklyn gets. It defines the type of restorative food a generation of Americans need. The following morning we went to ‘Five Leaves’, again in Green Point, and we were thrust headlong into cool Brooklyn. The place was awash with people in plaid shirts and Malcolm X glasses - uber boho!

It defined the essence of the great New York brunch diner old school till and phone, pared-down wood and re-modelled lighting. It served the American breakfasts/brunch/lunch to perfection with classics like ricotta pan- cakes with honeycomb butter and blueber- ries stacked five high. All the food that floated by looked super, as was the service. They open also for dinner, which I hear is more French-style. I have to admit; I went there every morning of my stay and felt like a Green Point regular as the days went by. I met the owner, who had a wonderful pen- chant for winking. He’s opening another place soon - the more the merrier I say!

That evening we went to ‘Marlow’s and Son’, which is one of two restaurants with the same owner right beside each other. The second is called ‘Diner’ and is housed in what seems like an old American 1950s trailer with booths. This is where we started for dinner and moved onto Marlow’s for dessert so we could experience both places. There are no menus in either restaurant; the wait staff, who are fantastically informed, memorise the whole menu and write it out on the paper tablecloths. I opted for the all-American hamburger. I’m always in search of the perfect burger - so often bad and so rarely exceptional. The Marlows were perfect in every way. We drank Veneto Prosecco with beer bottle tops - very America-meets-Venice, and we were delighted by the apple turnovers with vanilla bean ice cream. It was contemporary American cooking at its best. The interior, clientele, merchandising and ethos were all pitch perfect, making it perhaps my best NYC dining experience. And from the chats I’ve had with other New York foodies, I’m not alone.

In order to properly celebrate my birthday, which just happened to fall while I was visiting New York, I decided to lunch in Balthazar, an iconic restaurant. It was packed, and completely abuzz when we arrived at 12.45pm.

Brilliantly handled by the staff, we were seated to a table with a bottle of Alsace sparkling in front of us. Without dropping names, the restaurant began to fill to the brim with dark-glassed customers; it was like a Vogue Christmas party! But…Balthazar is about this kind of people watching - it certainly isn’t about the food - sun dried tomatoes in a salad, chocolate mousse with milk, not dark chocolate and airplane coffee…so many culinary disasters in one sitting, it was too much to handle. But would I go back? In a flash…this place is all about the theatre, not the food.

Back to the bosom of Brooklyn and to a place called ‘Egg’, which I had been hearing so much about. The ethos of Egg is also very much rooted in the produce…and it shows. The interior is more industrial then other spaces, but very much with a heart. I had pancakes drowning in Vermont maple syrup with roasted autumn apples and a side of the classic 1980 gratin grapefruit, topped with cinnamon and brown sugar. This was life changingly good. I was so taken with Brooklyn’s ease and style. Towards the end of my stay, I felt a part of it all and was definitely sad to leave.

Aoibheann x

Dining in Dublin

Dining in Dublin

(November 2010)

So a couple of weeks ago I went on a bit of a food crawl around Dublin to check out some of the fab cafes & restaurants dotted around the city… Lunch with Marion in Pepper Pot (first floor powerscourt town house): bliss - chick pea cabbage soup and goats cheese red onion jam sandwhich on home made brown bread with lemon poppy seed cake…such a great experience then to Dillinger’s Ranelagh for rose prosecco and hamburger and chips (what a wonderful combo ). Place was great, worth the trip out - very NYC . Then breakfast in the Cake Cafe … homemade granola with banana compote and yogurt devine and such a great place. Lunch in Coppinger Row: felafal salad - simple but nice and another great on the button place. Then for the grand finale and the wallet cruncher ( for the shop attached dolls boutique and tres cool ) … smoked salmon , goats cheese spread with beetroot pate and landcress followed by iced pomegranante cake . I floated home on the train to Galway.

So much going on in Dublin; independent, interesting, passionate people creating beautiful affordable dinning experiences for all of us. Heading to New York for a venture round the eateries of Brooklyn, lots of stories to share on my return of the food & frolics from the world’s coolest borough x


Dining in Dublin

So a couple of weeks ago I went on a bit of a food crawl around Dublin to check out some of the fab cafes & restaurants dotted around the city… Lunch with Marion in Pepper Pot (first floor powerscourt town house): bliss - chick pea cabbage soup and goats cheese red onion jam sandwhich on home made brown bread with lemon poppy seed cake…such a great experience then to Dillinger’s Ranelagh for rose prosecco and hamburger and chips (what a wonderful combo ). Place was great, worth the trip out - very NYC . Then breakfast in the Cake Cafe … homemade granola with banana compote and yogurt devine and such a great place. Lunch in Coppinger Row: felafal salad - simple but nice and another great on the button place. Then for the grand finale and the wallet cruncher ( for the shop attached dolls boutique and tres cool ) … smoked salmon , goats cheese spread with beetroot pate and landcress followed by iced pomegranante cake . I floated home on the train to Galway.

So much going on in Dublin; independent, interesting, passionate people creating beautiful affordable dinning experiences for all of us. Heading to New York for a venture round the eateries of Brooklyn, lots of stories to share on my return of the food & frolics from the world’s coolest borough x


scary–by-scary is a pop up interactive series of events hosted at Ardbia at Nimmos, Galway.

From the 12th - 25th July 2010, this installation will take place over 14 days & nights introducing an smorgasbord of art, performance, photography, fashion, design, music, food and parties dedicated to scary. The scary-by-scary title is a tongue in cheek play on the Marc-by-Marc Jacobs fashion line. The show involves an eclectic crew of internationally sourced artists, designers and musicians making new work inspired by a personality known as scary. - The scary-by-scary collection will be provocative, ready to wear, ethical and hot off the scary runway of ideas. Brooklyn meets Berlin in a stylized homage to the world of scary. - scary-by-scary is curated by Mary Nally.

Festival Season

Upstairs in Ardbia Well its July in Galway which means one thing…Festival Season! And we say let the madness and mischief begin. After the craziness of last year we have decided that 12 months R&R was more than enough and we are ready to break out and do it all again. Those of you who remember last year didn’t party hard enough so get ready for some serious fun this year! To make the most of the festivities, Ardbia at Nimmos will open upstairs so that the ultimate house party feeling can be felt on both levels. We will have a chilled out area downstairs where you can enjoy some of the yummy rustic summer menu and a glass or two or three of wine.

Upstairs is the place to go to embrace the madness, grab a cocktail, and get ready to move as the decks will be spinning all night

Fine Dining Meets Underground Rave

sacry ..scary presents the ultimate dinner party..

Introducing the first of what potential could be many... A colourful night of surprises and madness in Ard Bia at Nimmos where the hot hot staff will be styled to the nines (make up by Smasha Kelly) and will spoil the fuck out of you - There will be fine wines and high food, there will be prosecco, there will be buckfast jellies, there will be dancing, there will be glasses broken,  and there most definitely will be a major buzz.

Nimmos chef Niamh Fox will be creating a special atmosphere fused menu - food that is high energy and visually stimulating. With propaaa tunes from Mike Smalle, Cane 141 and Cyril Briscoe, 110th St. our DJs on the night.


BOOK NOW or miss the party of the summer - fabulous dress essential and if ya gots nothin in ya wardrobe a box of props will be provided by vintage store Public Romance to help ya get ya schtyle on.

Saturday, July 17th, 9pm sitting.

ph. 091-561114 / 087-2620391 e. ardbia@gmail.com / scaryis@gmail.com

as part of the exhibition that is, scary-by-scary, july 12th-25th 2010.