July 12 2011
One of the most gloriously daft pursuits mankind has invented is fishing: specifically, standing waist-deep in a chilly Irish river in mid-April, casting optimistically towards salmon that have absolutely no intention of biting.
My companions’ efforts were similarly futile. We would not starve, however, since they were chefs Richard Corrigan and Mark Hix, who had been invited by Paul Flynn, chef/proprietor of The Tannery restaurant in nearby Dungarvan, to cook dinner with him as part of the annual Waterford Festival of Food.
Dungarvan en fête is a very jolly seaside town, and a few pints of local stout brightened the mood still further. Richard cooked a stunning starter of lobster with pig’s trotter and bacalao (salt cod), Paul followed with ox cheek braised in more local stout, and Mark rounded things off with a rhubarb jelly. I artfully scattered salad leaves and kept the glasses charged.
Paul and wife Máire’s culinary empire now encompasses a bright, modern cookery school and a 15-room boutique hotel, the Tannery Townhouse, as well as the original restaurant. He is a terrific cook, she is a perfect host, and they take food very seriously all year round, not just at festival time.
We had dined the night before in Lismore, its mammoth castle louring over the glorious Blackwater river. O’Brien Chop House is the top spot in town, its bar full of knick-knacks and pine dressers stacked with wine bottles, like drinking in a dissolute maiden aunt’s front room. It deftly combines rusticity with superb, simple food, a great wine list and charming service: owner Justin Green once managed Babington House, and standards are high.
Richard and I started with a creamy, soothing, subtly smoky fish chowder and then did our best to polish off an enormous hunk of beef from the famous Lismore butcher McGrath’s. It was well over a kilo, and we failed miserably. Chips, béarnaise and a bottle of burgundy were all spot-on, as was Mark’s turbot, while vegetables (including some tender sea kale on our visit) and fruit come from the walled garden at Ballyvolane, Justin and wife Jenny’s beautiful country house and estate nearby.
We stayed the night there – they rent out half a dozen magnificent old rooms – and in the morning, slightly bleary after a late-night whiskey sampling but fortified by an excellent breakfast, we were kitted out and packed off to the Blackwater.
Perhaps mindful of the vicissitudes of fishing, Justin also packed us a picnic. No tinned salmon in the sandwiches, which would have just been cruel; instead, some lovely, rare slices of beef, slathered in horseradish and perky with leaves from the walled garden. They were the remains of our steak from the previous night; it would have been a shame to waste it, and there was precious little chance of finding our lunch in the river that day. That, as a philosophical angler once remarked, is why the sport is called fishing, not catching.