It's a Thursday and Summer in Dublin. The blue skies and warm breeze had commenced the day before. Would we be lucky enough to have it hold out for 24 hours?!
Lucky we were. Thursday arrived, opening day of The Big Grill and Craft Beer Festival in Herbert Park Ballsbridge. The sun beat down in glorious unrestricted waves, an unmistakable upbeat atmosphere infecting the capital along with the surprising weather.
We bought our tickets on Living Social so we were told the festival opened (multiple times) at 4:00pm. With both of us being fortunate to be off that afternoon, that's the time we headed out for... And were then kept waiting for an additional half hour to gain entry. Apart from an apology from the hired security, no explanation was provided.
Desperate for our BBQ and craft beer (like the big hunga/alco) that the other half and I are, we found our patience was wearing. But all was forgiven upon entering this real-life mirage of paradise which had descended upon the suburb.
We were greeted by delightful sights and even more delightful sounds. All types of BBQ cuisine were on offer; from South Carolina smoked pork, to Pakistan spit-roasted lamb, slow-cooked meats on blah bread, sausages on skewers and everything in between.
We did a little reccy, taking in the offerings of food and drink trying to decide what our hungry bellies wanted to consume. But first, we had to get "Big Smokin's" i.e vouchers to purchase goods.
Given that it was a one euro for one voucher trade and they came in books of five or twenties, I'm not quite sure what the purpose of them was; a quirky touch or a way for the festival to take a cut from what the vendors were selling.
However, it did add to the carnival like atmosphere and reminded you of begging your parent to change their cash in ten p for you to play slots and tipping point out at the arcades in Bray.
As we were deciding what to eat, we noticed that Justeat.ie were offering a table service for certain stands, including two we wanted to order from. Score! For no fee, they took your order and delivered your food as I sat in the sunshine enjoying some chilled rose (5 euro for a glass) from O'Briens (who also were offering 3 samples for the bargain of a euro. Nom).
Chatting at our picnic table in the sun, our food arrived so quickly that himself had only come back with my rose before he went to get himself a beer, and the food had already been sitting there for a few minutes. We ordered from Asador, an Argentinian BBQ restaurant on Haddington Road that I had heard great things about and was on my Dublin Food list and 147 Deli at Parnell Square. One of them was superb, the other, quite disappointing.
From top: Beef Ribs and Pork Belly From Asador, Pork Neck Bun from 147 Deli
At a discounted price of what the dishes would normally be in Asador's restaurant, we were not expecting the full dining experience. But nor were we expecting what we got either.
We ordered the beef ribs - 10 euro - which were overcooked and pork belly - 8 euro - which was alright, except for the piece of crackling on the side which was the best crackling I've had in a while, both accompanied by some zingy salad. For a place I'd heard so much hype about... I was disappointed at how unremarkable the food was. If the aim of their presence at the fair was to inspire people to visit them at Haddington Road... It didn't do it for me. In fact, both of us agreed it was better we got to try it this way then go to the restaurant and pay their much higher prices if this was the standard they were cooking to.
For five euro (which was a lucky error we were gifted as we were one of the first to arrive and the price was soon correctly moved to seven) we got.... From 147 Deli.
It was heaven on a bun. The meat was tender, juicy and cooked to perfection. The hardworking mayo complimented the main attraction perfectly and the crispy onions were just that; crisped onions and not sad, soggy slithers of grease. It was by mutual agreement - 147's dish was our favourite of the day.
Apart from the food, there was plenty of other things on offer too. from all types of craft beers and ciders, to cocktails from Dingle Distillery.
As we meandered around, a drink in hand, we came across a demonstration from Johnnie of Living Wilderness Bushcraft School in Co Carlow. To an intrigued crowd, he demonstrated how to make fire out of nothing and myself and the other half spoke extensively with him about the bespoke bushcraft courses he and his team runs and are figuring out when we can head off on one ourselves. You should definitely check out their site here to get a feel for what they're about.
As the sun began to slither down the sky and those of us who's bellies had been filled took to the grass to soak up the atmosphere, listen to the DJ and enjoy some drinks in the sunshine.
While it is near impossible to try out all the food on offer at the festival, I do have a two other honourable mentions to make:
Red Dog Artisan Foods: Run by two eccentric Americans, such curiosities on offer included Raspberry Chioplte Sauce (seriously delish) and a wide range of hot sauces and flavoured sea salts. Have a gander at their site here.
The Dublin Cookie Co.: It was with great excitement that I spotted Jenny and Elaine's stall at the festival. I'd heard much about their delicious, chewy, American style cookies and had been dying to get my greedy mitts on them for months - and I was not disappointed. Opting for the selection box, I got to try their mouth-watering and classic chocolate chip, along with some more daring but equally delicious ones such as salted caramel and pecan and one with a bit of whiskey in it. They were munched happily in bed later on that night.
If you do one thing in the next week, try these cookies. And to thank me for introducing you to such glory, send some my way ;).