Ahhhhh Ballymaloe House. Home to a thousand chutneys, purveyor of the ultimate breakfast of champions, cookery school par excellence and guardian of Ireland’s culinary flame when most of the country was stuck in the dark ages of cooking.
A fine Georgian country house outside Cork, especially picturesque behind a cloudless blue sky on a crisp Spring afternoon.
The first night an unexpected and rare treat, a guest evening by Sunil Ghai, longtime partner of Atul Kochhar. Cue Indian street food, curries and knockout breads, all delivered with irrepressible Irish charm and the finest local produce.
Overnight in a picture-perfect room overlooking swans and greenery, before rising for that breakfast. Wow, that breakfast. Everything – from the bread and butter to fruit compotes, yoghurts and cheese are made in house. If there’s a better full Irish to follow, I’m yet to find it.
A stroll through the 400 acre grounds to walk off a slice or two of black and white pudding before time with Darina Allen, the woman whose spirit, energy and passion defines Ballymaloe. I’ll be writing a couple pieces on Darina, both here and for other publications, but for now a quick word from her brother, Rory O’Connell on the forthcoming Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine.
“The whole point is that it’s free range, there’s no roped off area – as you’re walking around you’ll bump into Alice Waters having a glass of homemade lemonade or last year Rene Redzepi having a coffee on the lawn. It’s a celebration about food writing and drinks – especially wine and fermented drinks this year. Although there’s no particular theme, this is the international year of soil so we’ll be talking about that a lot – it’s the great unifier!”
If you’re lucky enough to be in or near God’s country from May 15-17, get there. With 45 speakers and 60 events including demos, tastings, talks, readings, debates, literary lunches and dinners, it’s the definitive weekend where the plate meets the page. Legends such as Alice Waters – whom I interviewed last year – join the English-language authority on Chinese cuisine, Fuchsia Dunlop. Sarit and Itamar from Honey and Co – still my favourite cookbook of 2014 – will be cooking and rubbing shoulders with April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig fame and Sam Clark x2 from Moro.
For poor souls like me who can’t be there, be sure to check out the podcasts of all the events at the official site: http://www.litfest.ie/
Our second night was the traditional Ballymaloe dinner service, where oysters on toast and the legendary cream-laden dessert trolley were most memorable. With five courses for 70 euros, it also represents spectacular value for money by Hong Kong standards, at around HK$600.