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Published on : Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Toasting Hilden Brewery as a pioneer of the north’s resurgent brewing and distilling sector is a much deserved salute given the Lisburn-based company’s status as the oldest independent brewery in Ireland. Founded by Ann and Seamus Scullion back in 1981 the brewery is committed to traditional processes in hand crafting its range of beers.
Where it has also led the way however is with its associated restaurants, which marry the best of local brewing with the best of local cuisine. The Tap Room based at the brewery and the Botanic-based Molly’s Yard offer ‘superior but unpretentious, modern Irish cuisine’ which complement Hilden’s full flavoured brews.
That description could also be said to sum up the vision of Molly’s head chef Ciaran Steele whose philosophy, although straightforward, is built on exceptional quality. Having been in the kitchen at Molly’s Yard since a month after it opened a decade ago, the Belfast man and the Hilden team share a core belief.
“Like our own craft beers from Hilden and the cider, gin and whiskey we stock, we have always been committed to the small batch, high quality stuff,” says Ciaran.
“I try to keep our food as Irish as possible, we’ve such great produce, why wouldn’t you. We’ve the greatest lamb in the world, the best meat and the best chicken, and on top of all that we’re surrounded by water.
“In terms of using local produce James (Skeffington) our general manager is always researching and networking and if he comes across something of interest he’ll come back and say to me. I’ll go out and meet the farmers, the cheesemakers and the vegetable growers, we’ll get them in with the samples and if it’s good we’ll take it on.”
These relationships with local producers who share their passion and commitment has proven extremely fruitful, and not surprisingly says Ciaran.
“Nine times out of ten when you go to somebody who believes that much in what they’re doing the produce is unbelievable. We use Young Buck cheese which is brilliant and it’s the same thing with the fish man. Keenan’s are at the harbour in Kilkeel waiting for the boats in the middle of the night, it’s that fresh when it gets to me the stuff is still breathing.”
And Ciaran is no less enthusiastic about another recent discovery which he believes will become a staple on menus everywhere within a short period of time.
“Goat. Raised in the hills above Belfast. It should be promoted by Muhammad Ali, G.O.A.T, Greatest Of All Time. It’s the most sustainable meat in the world and the most eaten. This is kid goat that is slaughtered at eight months so it’s not a strong flavour, it’s lean, it’s good for you and it’s phenomenal. I have goat herders pie on the menu, goat loin, roasted shoulder of goat and goat carpaccio and it’s phenomenal.”
The move towards more sustainable meats is part of a wider ethical food debate and is supported by the move back to local produce and towards more adventurous tastes. The transformation in recent years is “like night and day” says Ciaran who attributes the food ‘revolution’ to a combination of factors.
“Ten years ago when I first started all you could sell was chicken, salmon and well done steaks. Big name chefs have helped to change that, like Raymond Blanc and others from Europe, and there’s a generational difference that we would see in the restaurant every day.
“But as well as that people have realised what we have here and I can’t see why that wouldn’t continue. We can be a foodie destination, we have all the produce on our doorsteps and once a movement starts it encourages people to see what can be done. You can see that with the brewers and distillers, craft beers and distilleries are everywhere now, ten years ago Hilden was the only one.”
The Hilden Brewery and Molly’s Yard have also blazed a trail in food and drink matched events and have embraced the Year of Food and Drink as an initiative that supports their ideas. Their regular Magnificent Gin Tasting event, which will take place on two nights this week, sold out immediately after being announced and has a waiting list for those who missed out. With dishes such as Seared Belfast Hills Kid Goat loin, wild garlic fadge, morel mushroom foam accompanied by Thin Gin it’s not difficult to see why. Previous events which have tied in with the Year of Food and Drink themes included a St Patrick’s Day menu as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) in Heritage and Traditions month.
“For Seachtain na Gaeilge we had our menu in Irish as well as English and served dishes such as rillettes of cured sea-trout with Molly’s Chocolate Stout, wheaten bread dill and buttermilk dressing or Slow roast flank of beef with Young Buck blue cheese boxty and Hilden sticky stout jus. The Hilden drink not only accompanies the drink -matched menus of great local foods but are also incorporated into them.”
Next up on the Molly’s Yard calendar as part of the Year of Food & Drink will be a five course tasting menu paired with craft beers from the Brewery.
“The next event is Molly’s 5 Course Beer Tasting Menu on Friday, April 22nd,” said Ciaran, “and like the rest of what we’re doing, that’s selling out fast. We are as busy as ever – if not busier – and are currently hiring staff. We need a chef, kitchen porters, front of house staff – across the board really. As a chef I try to make things that I would eat, keep it simple and let the food do the talking. That’s it really.”
Source:- Tourism North ernireland