St Patrick's Day: don't overlook food

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Related tags: St patrick, Saint patrick's day, Saint patrick, Ireland

Food? On St Patrick's Day? What are you, some sort of an eejit?That, give or take a few expletives, would almost certainly have been the reaction of...

Food? On St Patrick's Day? What are you, some sort of an eejit?

That, give or take a few expletives, would almost certainly have been the reaction of my dear old Galway-born granny to the suggestion that St Patrick's Day down at the pub is about anything other than several pints of the Black Stuff followed by a few whiskey chasers.

This is a woman whose kitchen always smelt of well-boiled cabbage and who, on the first Christmas following the launch of Bailey's, downed a full bottle before lunch and then blamed her delicate stomach on the turkey.

Ireland has some of the finest food in the world, from Galway Bay oysters to the sublime sausages and bacon produced by the farmers and butchers of Tipperary. However, the Irish have a healthily utilitarian approach to food, and Ireland's reputation as a nation of functional rather than flamboyant caterers has been hard fought and well earned.

All of which explains why St Patrick's Day has developed as a drinking rather than eating occasion, and why publicans can be forgiven for taking the view that the sensible approach would be to hide the menus, give the kitchen staff the night off and batten down the hatches. However, this might well mean pubs are missing out on maximising profits.

As always, turning to the experts pays dividends in terms of good ideas. Ben Bartlett, catering development manager with Marston's Pub Company and The Publican HQ Food Champion of the Year, says: "I suggest pubs hold an Irish Food Week rather than just a boozy St Patrick's night."

This approach should pay off not simply by extending the celebrations, but also in allowing pubs to have the best of both worlds. For every customer who heads out to the pub on March 17 determined to party hearty, there is almost certainly at least one more who stays at home with the doors locked just to avoid bumping into the revellers.

Those more sensitive souls might well be persuaded to attend a St Patrick's lunch or dinner, featuring some Irish food specialities matched with whiskeys and spirits.

Ben has developed an Irish menu for the Marston's estate which features easy-to-produce dishes to help extend the celebrations.

It is also worth pubs considering serving food on the night itself. The civilising effects of eating on what can be a pretty raucous occasion should not be underestimated. Advance ticket sales - say £7.50 including the first pint of Guinness and a buffet - is a way of adding value and locking customers into your pub on a night when they won't be short of choices of venue.

Easy-to-offer options might include a bowl of Irish stew, made with lamb, potato and onions; champ - potatoes mashed with onions; or potato farls - fried potato cakes. All these have the added benefit of being excellent blotting paper - something even my granny might have appreciated.

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