Il Porcetto, Loughrea, and McCambridges Food & Wine Fare

There was an amazing sense of nostalgia as I had dinner in this relatively new restaurant on the main street in Loughrea. The building was originally a private house owned by the O’Loughlin family and on many, many, nights in the early seventies I practised all my best moves and chords as we played hits by people like Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and many more in what we thought was the best rock band on the planet. The band had the rather unusual name of Skab Law. How the neighbours put up with the deafening levels of guitars and drums is a credit to their tolerance.

Nowadays it is a very very cosy Italian restaurant with a great atmosphere, super prices, nice décor inside, and on the snowy night we were there, oh it was so warm. Our hosts were the two Italian owners and they really do know how to look after their guests. Every seat in the restaurant was full and apparently you really need to book at the weekends. The menu is pretty comprehensive, however our decisions were made easier by the fact that our dining companions Pat and Claudia Lawless (ex Skab Law bass player and our number one fan ) has eaten every dish on the menu and pronounced the best as penne con pollo e broccoli (pasta with chicken and broccoli ), it costs €12.90 on the evening menu, €9 on the takeaway menu, and €7.70 on the lunch menu. I ordered a 12” pizza sulumedesa; oregano, mozzarella, pancetta, onions, garlic, black olives, and chili, €12.90, again you can buy this from the takeaway menu for €9 or at lunch time you can have any two toppings on a margherita for €8.

I watched some delicious looking bruschetta starters going to tables nearby, average price €4.80, however we had been advised that unless we were starving to stick with main courses only. This proved to be excellent advice, my pizza was more like a 15” or 16”, and it was perfectly cooked with loads of the advertised toppings and, try as I might, I could not finish it. The penne con pollo was also a big serving, however, much more importantly it was fabulous to taste. Perhaps one of the reasons I did not finish my pizza was that I kept helping myself to forkfuls of the penne con pollo. While the menu has plenty of choice — fish, chicken, pork and veal — I would be very tempted to order the same penne dish when I return, it really was that good.

The wine list is, of course, all Italian and practically every wine is €19.90, with glasses costing €4.90, and it was great to see that the glass size service would keep the thirstiest person happy, well done for that. Is it worth a visit? Most definitely, and if the owners can keep up the quality and the price down at this level it will be successful for a long time to come. Rock on Il Porcetto.

McCambridges Food & Wine Fair

Last Thursday was a busy night in The Ardilaun hotel with traffic jams all the way out to Taylor’s Hill, the number of people at the seventh annual McCambridge’s event was obviously a statement of how this has become one of these pre-Christmas “must do” events.

There were lots of suppliers giving out free samples and a few that caught my eye were:

• The Cupcakery from Moycullen. I can take or leave most cup cakes but these were delicious, stunning looking, mini and full size cupcakes and a big hit for parties and weddings. Have a look at the website, www.cupcakesonline.ie • James McGeogh from Oughterard had his air dried meats on display and tasting. I sampled a new product, large smoked pork sausages, and his Connemara air dried ham which will definitely be on my Christmas list.

• Clada Beers had some great boutique beers on display. My favourites were Hobbsons Town Crier and a fantastic crushed apple cider from Monteiths in the UK.

• Green Safron from Cork is generally accepted as having the best spices in Ireland. You can buy a small bag of all the spices needed for a dish like rogan josh, just follow the instructions and you have an authentic serving for six to eight people.

• For relishes and sauces there was the excellent Janets Fayre from Wicklow, although my local favourite is Builin Blasta from Spiddal. Try the Blueberry and Balsamic dressing with scallops.

Finally, do not forget that if you plan to order your turkey or goose from the Friendly Farmer you need to do so by December 10. Turkeys are €4.50 per pound and can be collected wherever you order, ie, at McCambridge’s or at the Friendly Farmer stall in the Galway Saturday Market or from his farm gate outside Athenry. Telephone (087 ) 6203765.

Another thing you could be doing now in preparation for Christmas is to stock up on wines and beers from the amazing offers that are everywhere right now.

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