Savouring my birthday treat……

Have you ever been at a brilliant concert and returned home on a high? Or left a movie telling the world that they should go and see it? Sometimes we are so enthused by our pleasant experiences that we need to share them with others.  Savouring such positive experiences is a good idea. I often encourage people to remind themselves of the good times. Indeed, writing about them can lift the mood. This type of savouring has been shown by psychologists to be linked to enhancing our wellbeing.  I got a birthday present of a ticket for a food tour of Sligo. It turned out to be a real treat and I decided to write about it! I’m just practising some of what I preach with this article.

Hans and Gaby Weiland started offering this tour to the public a few months back. Natives of Germany, they fell in love with Sligo during the 1980s and made it their home. Their background is in food – producing organic vegetables, sourdough breads and artisan farmhouse cheeses for more than 20 years. They operate their own organic small-holding Neantog Farm, near Cliffony.  As a consequence of his background, Hans personally knows all chefs of the various venues of the tour and their perspective suppliers. His tour lasted approximately four hours and all venues were in the town. Needless to say one cannot visit every cafe or restaurant  during a short tour like this but it certainly whets one’s appetite for further exploration into the future. 

There were three of us on the tour which started in Lyons. Lyons is a bit like the old Bewleys of Grafton Street in Dublin – a refuge for busy shoppers and workpeople during the week. Gary Stafford took it over in 2002 and since then it has proven to be a huge success. Aisling’s enthusiasm for her workplace was infectious. She proudly explained its ethos in sourcing local produce and being innovative with ingredients. Lyon’s salad bar is second to none and we sampled some of the five grain sourdough bread from its in-house bakery and patisserie. The bread was particularly delicious with an addictive homemade pesto sauce made by chef Adrian. Lyons are providing loads of gluten free options and a firm favourite with locals is their organic pulled pork. We also sampled Kardemumma tea which is blended in Sligo from leaves sourced in Holland. Lime vanilla mouse on hazelnut sponge was gorgeous as was the chocolate opera cake with ganache on top. The bakery also offers vegan friendly breads. Lyons is famous for its eclectic daily lunch menu and opens at 8.30 am for breakfast.

Next stop was W.B.’s Coffee House. Aisling Kelly opened this lovely coffee house in 2014. Being married to an oyster farmer definitely influenced her decision to open Ireland’s first dedicated Oyster Experience bar at the back of her popular cafe. Emma Harte gave us a comprehensive breakdown of the whole production process before we ended up with oyster shells in our hands. I have to say that I am a bit of a chicken when it comes to food like this but downed it quickly. However, not everyone is a chicken and the osyter bar is proving a great success. You can also eat them cooked with a variety of sauces. 

Next, we visited Knox who offer the best tapas in town. Organic meatballs made with organic meat from Clive Bright’s farm in Ballymote were delicious in their tomato and parmesan sauce. Proprietor and chef Dave warmly welcomed us to this busy little spot and mentioned that they have expanded recently having opened the Flipside burger restaurant in town. 

Head chef at the Glasshouse hotel is Alan Fitzmaurice. His passion is chocolate. I was deeply impressed by his genuine love of his product and his sense of loyalty to it. He is reluctant to have it mass-produced.  Having won a Gold Medal at Catex (an event for Irish Food Service Suppliers) for his handcrafted chocolates, visitors to the hotel will find them in all hotel rooms. Lucky them. We were given a generous selection and thankfully allowed to bag the surplus for later on.

Osta Café is situated along the Garavogue. Chef Brid Torrades collected wild food since childhood so unsurprisingly Ósta’s menu features seaweed and hedgerow fare. We were treated to smoked mackerel and seaweed salad. Loved it. They also have their own seaweed food products on sale in the shop.

Sweet Beat is a plant based, vegan friendly café that opened in April 2015 by Carolanne Rushe. Initially, she ran a market stall on her own but nowadays she employs 15 people. Her efforts have attracted national attention and the cafe offers an extensive range of cakes, desserts – all developed in-house. There is an extensive variety of vegan meals with a menu that is changing and developing constantly. Fermented drinks and foods are also for sale and very popular. I really enjoyed the very refreshing lemon, ginger and seaweed flavoured Kombucha. We also had delicious brownies with a nice bite of nuts and  dates in the mix. Such products prove that we do not have to lose flavour to remain faithful to the ethos of cafes like Sweet Beat. 

I felt like an ice-cream and that was what followed. We made our way over to Fabios. It opened in 2012 and offers real Italian gelato. This means less cream and more milk so I enjoyed my hazelnut flavoured cone knowing that it had a remarkable 50% less fat than standard ice-creams. Fabio is from Tuscany. His ice-creams have no emulsifiers, no hydrogenated fats and are not made from pre-made industrial mixes. People often call in for a coffee there too. 

The tour finished with some drinks in Thomas Connolly’s pub. Sligo’s oldest pub. There has been a pub there since 1780, opening onto Holborn Street. First licensed in 1861Thomas Connolly himself became Mayor of Sligo in 1890. This is my local so it was like finishing off at home. Paul O’Donnell has made a real success of this pub since taking charge in 2015. It is very popular with locals and tourists alike and offers music most nights of the week throughout the year.  Staff are friendly and helpful and there are extensive menus of whiskeys and gins. Paul ensures that local beers are on draught with White Hag Session IPA and  Anderson’s ale (from the other brewery in Sligo – Lough Gill) very popular. For those with allergies, a range of gluten free beers and a range of non-alcoholic options are available. There is also speciality coffees such an Irish, Baileys or Kahlua coffee, served with fresh cream. They will also grind you a fresh espresso. We sampled locally produced Athrú whiskey (Lough Gill Distillery) and even got an exclusive sip of a new edition which has yet to reach the marketplace. With a glass of White Hag it was a perfect end to a perfect food tour. It was an afternoon to truly savour and congratulations to all concerned.

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