Luxury Index: Why We’re Having Oysters For Supper

A fridge accessorised with good, simple ingredients is the ultimate everyday luxury. Trish Deseine chooses carefully …


When it comes to luxury, I’m with Coco Chanel. And I’m not talking about my slightly beaten-up 2.55 from The Great Fancy Handbag Era, but rather her eternally wise definitions. They go much further than the superficial, and increasingly outdated, notion that luxury must be at once costly, sumptuous, rare and highly visible and, doubtlessly, still feed modern day musings on the subject. Attention to detail, craftsmanship and valuing unique experiences are slowly replacing more materialistic and aspirational concerns. Luxury has become more personal. It is freedom, time and informed choice – and all of these are more easily attainable as we slowly move away from mass consumption lifestyles.

“Luxury is a necessity which starts where necessities end,” is one of Chanel’s phrases which can particularly be applied to food, I think, and zaps all need to track down a $1,500 white truffle and wagyu beef hotdog, a £500 cupcake with gold leaf frosting or a diamond ring laced vodka martini (don’t swig it!).

Here in Ireland, many ingredients which would be considered mundane necessities in a normal weekly food shop, are elevated to luxury, thanks to the quality and integrity of their production. When I treat myself, my morning toast is buttered with sensational Cuinneog, and spread with small batch West Cork Honey from Skibbereen market. My milk comes from happy cows and in sustainable glass bottles from Gloun Cross farm just up the country, and my herbs from local growers at Levis’ Bar pop-up shop on Wednesday mornings in Ballydehob. The coffee is locally roasted Red Strand Costa Rica, made by my daughter, who has now gone full-on pourover nerd since a front-of-house summer stint at Rob Krawczyk’s and Elaine Fleming’s Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob. When you have this standard of flavour and production values at your fingertips, making the everyday more luxurious for just a few euros more soon dispels the need or desire for more ostentatious items.

And as I’ve already mentioned the newly Michelin starred Restaurant Chestnut, let’s bring our other local winner, Mews in Baltimore, into the frame too. Coco Chanel said, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.” Both these restaurants have moved sharply away from Michelin’s clichéed codes of straight-backed, stuffy, whispery dining rooms, linen tablecloths and snooty waiters. Rather they embrace the new luxury of hyper quality, local ingredients and ensure the comfort of their clients with warm, relaxed service. Restaurant Chestnut in particular, with it’s pared-back menu matching the sober, barely touched, old pub interior, feels laid-back and easy. As Michelin tries to modernise its own image, you could say that they need clever, edgy, out of the way places like the Chestnut as much as the Chestnut desires the accolade of a Michelin star.

Eating at Mews or Chestnut now they have those stars will undoubtedly put off some West Cork folk, who shun such perceived international glitz and glamour and, in Ballydehob’s case anyway, are concerned that the way of life in the once sleepy village will be changed forever as the stardust settles. It might very well be changed, but what a shame it would be if they stay stuck in the old, exclusive codes of luxury, and never taste (the dinner scene of Babette’s Feast comes to mind) this supremely accessible one – a unique experience of intense pleasure, right on their doorstep.

Sticky Skeaghnore Duck with roasted and raw radishes

Despite West Cork’s reputation, random off-season eating out can be severely hit or miss. We struck lucky, however, on a Tuesday night at Jim Edwards pub in Kinsale where the oysters were fresh and plump, the scampi the lightest I’ve ever tasted, and the Skeaghnore duck breast came with a side of its own confit leg. I hope Skeaghnore will continue to deliver quality as their product sweeps the country, for the moment, it’s a regular little luxury in this house.

For 2

10 minutes cooking

25 minutes preparation

2 duck breasts

1 tsp clear honey

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tsp five spice powder

Salt and pepper

A small bunch of radishes

Heat the oven to 180?C.

Wash, top and tail the radishes. Slice about a third of them thinly and reserve.

Cut into the fat on the top of each breast then rub in the spice mixed with salt and pepper.

Whisk the honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar and wine together in a small bowl.

Fry the breasts, skin first, in a hot non-stick pan or cast iron pan, then turn them over and brush them with the glaze.

If you are using a cast iron pan, put it directly into the oven for 15/20 minutes, turning the duck and spooning the juices and glaze over it a few times as it cooks. If you have a non-stick pan, transfer the duck to an ovenproof dish and cook in the same way.

About halfway through cooking, add the whole radishes and swirl them through the cooking juices before letting them roast alongside the duck.

Remove the duck from the oven and leave it to rest in a warm place for five minutes or so. Mix the roast radishes through with the sliced raw ones, season everything, and serve with the sliced duck and some crisp green leaves.

Roaring Water Bay Mussels with Gubbeen Chorizo, lemon and Tomato

Over the summer I was first disappointed, then poisoned by mussels served in restaurants right by the sea! That was before I stoically tried Jacob’s Bar in Baltimore (only because Glebe Gardens was closed, thank goodness, for the season’s end) with its unbeatable view over the harbour, out to Sherkin and the Mizen beyond. Fresh off the boats below every other day, the mussels are huge, hardly steamed, and with a slightly quivering texture instead of the all too common rubberiness you tend to encounter. The chips were perfect and the cooking liquor, creamy and fragrant with sweet onions, was a meal in itself. Heaven.

For 4

10 minutes cooking

25 minutes preparation

1 or 2 tbsps olive oil

2 shallots, peeled, finely chopped

100g chorizo, cut into small slices or cubes

3 or 4 very ripe tomatoes, skins removed, roughly chopped

150ml white wine

2kg spanking fresh mussels, debearded, scrubbed

A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil and soften the shallots, without colouring them. Add the chorizo and stir, letting the oil and flavour from the chorizo flow into the shallots.

Then add the tomatoes, stir well and turn up the heat to remove a little of the moisture and intensify their flavour. Cook for a minute or two.

Pour in the wine and stir again, and when it starts to bubble, immediately tip in the mussels, give the pan a good shake and put on the lid.

After just a minute or two, check the mussels, if they have all opened wide, remove the pan from the heat. If not, give them another 30 seconds or so.

Add the parsley and stir the sauce lightly through the mussels, letting some of the chorizo and tomato fall into the open shells. Discard any unopened shells.

Serve immediately with chips or fluffy bread.


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