A new star on the Ir­ish food scene

Fethard has a rich food his­tory. Now it’s got a bril­liant food fu­ture

The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD -

There’s food his­tory in this town. On a freez­ing Fri­day morn­ing in Jan­uary 1947 Han­nie Leahy a nd Ol i v i a Hughes led a group of women set­ting up the first coun­try mar­ket in the old town hall. It was an iron- cold win­ter that still had months of cold left in it. A chicken run was re­pur­posed to dis­play cakes and bread, and a lo­cal car­pen­ter fash­ioned a Vic­to­rian work­box into a money box for the tak­ings. They sold out in 90 min­utes and took £ 9 in to­tal.

Han­nie Leahy’s el­dest daugh­ter, Alice, grew up at the cen­tre of a web of coun­try mar­kets that spread out from that first one, in Fethard in Co Tip­per­ary. Coun­try mar­kets gave women on farms their own in­come, at a time when the cream­ery cheque went to the man of the house. That spirit of so­cial en­ter­prise was one of the in­spi­ra­tions that led Alice to set up Trust, an or­gan­i­sa­tion help­ing home­less peo­ple in Dublin, in 1975. The Alice Leahy Trust, as it is now known, con­tin­ues its work to­day. We vis­ited Fethard when we were work­ing to­gether on Alice’s mem­oir, which will be pub­lished in Oc­to­ber.

Tonight I’m back on an early sum­mer’s evening. Dooks of Fethard has a Dukes of Haz­zard ring to it, but no one has jumped into a car through its win­dow to get here. In­stead we’ve driven calmly down beau­ti­ful coun­try roads full of new green­ness un­der a clear blue sky.

Dooks Fine Foods is the home­com­ing project of Richard Glee­son, who trained as a chef at Bal­ly­maloe and worked in Lon­don with Skye Gyn­gell’s Peter­sham Nurs­eries Cafe and at Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi’s Is­ling­ton restau­rant. I’m a card- car­ry­ing Yo­tamite who al­ways packs an Ot­tolenghi cook­book or two in the hol­i­day suit­case. And, yes, that’s prob­a­bly one of the most mid­dle- class sen­tences you’ll read to­day. But it all means I’m ex­pect­ing good things. Dooks is a bright, mod­ern build- grassy olive oil that nails every­thing to­gether.

Toasted hazel­nuts are the magic fin­isher on the next course, sweet chunks of pur­ple and golden beets with rib­bons of pick­led beets, Toons Bridge moz­zarella, and leaves that taste of the gar­den; those toasted nuts round it all out.

The next course is a potato risotto, its tiny cubes of potato cut as small as rice grains and fin­ished with crispy shal­lots, mus­sels and spinach. I can see what’s meant, but the creamy unc­tu­ous­ness of a risotto isn’t here, so it eats like a chow­der made by some­one with a doc­tor­ate in knife skills. It’s de­li­cious, just not as per­fect as every­thing else.

The “main course” plate is slices of lamb – al­most mut­tony in flavour, in a very good way – and rain­bow chard made so but­terly sump­tu­ous I could eat a plate of it. The last time I ate a leafy veg­etable this gor­geous it was spinach cooked by the three- Miche­lin- star chef Alain Pas­sard, dur­ing a visit to Ox in Belfast.

My v e ggi e opti on i s a parch­ment- thin slice of cele­riac filled with mush­rooms, a mas­ter­ful Parme­san- and- hazel­nut aioli, tiny cau­li­flower flo­rets and an equally gen­er­ous but­tery serv­ing of chard. There’s a fen­nel sauce the con­sis­tency of sin­gle cream over the whole thing that’s beg­ging to be mopped up with mush­room juices and that stel­lar may­on­naise with some house bread. Ei­ther that or we’re lick­ing the plates.

We fin­ish with a layer cake – start­ing at the bot­tom with a cho­co­late rub­ble, com­ing up through cof­fee par­fait and mas­car­pone, and end­ing in a thick blan­ket of cho­co­late sauce.

Mum and I float out of the door into the early sum­mer’s night. The meal has re­minded us of the first time we ate at Ox, as well as, for me, the joy and fresh­ness of the Mews in Baltimore. Fethard has a rich food his­tory. Thanks to Dooks it now has a bril­liant food fu­ture.

Din­ner for two with two aper­i­tifs, a glass of wine and tea came to ¤ 105.90

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