Advent-ilicious

Buyers of the 2020 Cadbury’s Advent Calendar have taken to social media in the last few days to protest at a less than appropriate message featured behind the 4th door in this year’s calendar.

In a year when physical proximity to pretty much everyone outside of your immediate household has – of necessity – been discouraged or forbidden, it’s hardly surprising that exhorting people to “Give hugs at Christmas” seems a little insensitive.

It got me thinking about Advent and the huge seasonal business that has developed around the count-down to Christmas.

Advent is the Christian season beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas which involves the annual preparation for the birth of Christ. There are quite a few traditions that mark the Advent season but the one that is simplest and most popular is the Advent Calendar, typically beginning on December 1st and counting down to Christmas Day.

The tradition began when Protestant German families in the mid-19th century started chalking their doors and walls to count the days down to Christmas. Homemade calendars began to appear and by the early 20th century, a few publishing companies produced simple printed calendars.

A German printer named Gerhard Lang then decided to introduce the now very familiar design element of little cut-out doors that could be opened each day to reveal a devotional picture or bible verse. By the 1950s many calendars had started to include simple gifts such as chocolate or a small toy.  

Now though, the Advent Calendar tradition has segued into modern consumerism in a powerful way. For children it’s all about the sweets (with children it’s always about the sweets), for adults it’s a way of self-gifting in the run up to Christmas. And who doesn’t enjoy the indulgence? For many people, it’s been an increasingly weary struggle as this year has worn on and the prospect of a few extra treats in the last lap is a welcome diversion.

We were a little late to the party this year and by the time I got to buying our calendars in the local supermarket, there wasn’t much choice left. I took to the internet to do some research on what might be ordinarily available (as I’m sure I’ll be more organised next year) and discovered that the selection of calendars and brands that offer them is actually quite mind-boggling.

Essentially any product that can be packaged and inserted into a neat-ish sized box is fair game. Beauty and skincare, cheese, gin, wine, chocolate, perfume, nail polish, clothing, even pet treats. Exclusive department stores such as Liberty, Harrods and Fortnum and Mason all have their own versions. Online forums debate the merits and demerits of the various offerings, and offer comparisons with previous years.

The attraction for both buyer and seller is clear. The seller has the chance to introduce a wide range of products (some of which might stick) to a receptive audience; while the buyer gets to try out lots of variety from a favourite brand, without committing huge sums of money. 

In an increasingly secular society, the religious side of all of this can feel somewhat sidelined. We try to broaden things out in our own household, encouraging a moment of contemplation or reflection before the race to open each day’s door. Invariably this is greeted with a groan or two, but it assuages my guilt a little about the extra confectionery being brought into the house and it does allow for extra chat about the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving, as well as receiving.

And this year, in particular, that can only be a good thing.

Literal Comforts

From mid March onwards, my phone pinged constantly with new Whats App messages. School, sports club and hobby group updates, friends and family checking in. A constant shared stream of communication which was a welcome distraction against a backdrop of increasingly depressing news and wall-to-wall pandemic coverage.

And there were the jokes.

Memes, videos, song parodies. Twitter responses to evolving events. Much of the humour was cathartic, tapping into the general Zeitgeist and downbeat mood, and in itself a coping mechanism.

The absurdities and anxieties of “Pandemic Living” have lent themselves almost-too-well to dark comedic observations which have both entertained and informed. These have provided a shared release and emotional connectivity at a time when the world felt like it was spinning out of control.

For my own part, I’ve collated a short list of my own favourite quotes & extracts from past and present literary greats which have helped to make sense of this strange period.

On Family Life

“We were together. I forget the rest.” – Walt Whitman

On Coping With Fear and Anxiety

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou

On a Child’s Perspective

“‘Where are we going, Pooh?’ ‘Home, Piglet. We’re going home because that’s the best thing to do right now.’” – A.A. Milne

On Resilience

“If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” – Seamus Heaney

On Isolation

“There are days when solitude is a heady wine that intoxicates you with freedom, others when it is a bitter tonic, and still others when it is a poison that makes you beat your head against the wall.” – Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

On Working From Home (and Home Schooling)

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – Theodore Roosevelt

On Community 

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on. Just call on me brother if you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on” – Bill Withers (unsurprisingly this song with its uplifting and pertinent lyrics has become an anthem for collective caring during the pandemic)

On Bereavement 

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. That is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey and Me: Fab Rides, Forgettable Food

To be very frank I was feeling less than magical and closer to a vague sense of grumpiness as we began our recent visit to the huge and sprawling Disneyland complex of gi-normous hotels and theme parks located about an hour northeast of Paris.

A mistake with our online booking had proven very problematic to resolve. Disneyland may do magic and fairy dust, but they don’t, apparently, employ human beings to man telephone lines to deal with customer queries. Or at least, not enough of them. One’s patience wears very thin when waiting in interminable queues for a customer service representative while the same annoying, upbeat music plays incessantly in the background.

Storm Dennis had gifted us the bumpiest flight I’ve experienced in a long time. Hat’s off to the Aer Lingus pilot’s aplomb as he calmly kept us informed about what lay ahead.

And finally, our Magic Shuttle (aka a coach transfer) had failed to materialise in Charles de Gaulle airport, leaving us shivering in a wind tunnel for over an hour.

But finally we arrived.

Our woodland themed hotel – the Sequoia Lodge – was warm and comfortable, if dated. We had upgraded to a Forest Club package which enabled early access to the parks and Fast Passes for selected rides (in my limited theme park experience this is essential to avoid death by queuing). In a nice touch, our package also included a buffet style afternoon tea in the hotel on a daily basis and free (non alcoholic) drinks from midday onwards.

As for the food in the wider resort area, I had been well warned in advance.

“Don’t expect to eat well.”

“It’s burgers and chips all the way.”

“Endless fast food, at really, really, expensive prices.”

All of this was indeed true. At least we were prepared, with our pockets stuffed with lots of healthy-ish snacks to fortify us as we queued for some of the more popular rides, and an acceptance that excellent gastronomy just wasn’t going to be a feature of our few days at the parks.

What is a little weird about the food on offer is that the restaurant facades within the parks are often different, so as to give the impression that there is some variety. Really there isn’t, with pricing and menus pretty much homogenous across the whole resort. There is a strong emphasis on menu deals consisting of drink, main meal and dessert at fixed price points.

Some of these are eye wateringly expensive such as in the Café Mickey, with menus priced at €65 for an adult and €35 for a child. This does however include a guaranteed meet and greet with Disney characters at your table. In truth the food is probably not the highest priority here. We did catch a glimpse of Minnie Mouse sashaying through the restaurant and high fiving some very excited children.

Here and there, there are pockets of hope in the form of street style vendors. Alas the queues were so long (and the weather so chilly) that we quickly abandoned these as an option.

As I mused over all of this, I reflected on the very different experience we had had in another theme park in France the year before. Puy de Fou is perhaps Europe’s best kept theme park secret. It is the second most visited park in France, but is virtually unheard of outside of the country. There are no rides, but historically themed shows or “spectacles” that are quite breathtaking – real chariot rides in a Roman colosseum, Viking invasions, feuding knights at the round table. And we found the food on offer to be far superior. Still expensive, but authentically French and more than decent quality.

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Le Signe du Triomphe, Puy de Fou

I’m also told that the food at Europa Park in Germany is reasonably priced and good quality. So too in Efteling Park in the Netherlands, the third most visited theme park in Europe. It’s clearly possible, with a little imagination and will, to provide good value and healthy food to the masses.

Disneyland please take note.

Tasting Tomatoes, Apples and Pears; Ancient Wisdom for a Modern Era

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Strive

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

― William Martin, Author of The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Jameson Serves up a Clever and Creative Pop-up

With just a few shopping hours to go until Christmas 2019, the Jameson Black Barrel Pop-Up Experience in Dublin’s south inner city is well worth a visit, particularly if you have a whiskey lover in your life.

No ordinary pop-up, Jameson has set out an impressive set of creative credentials with this effort, offering up a carefully curated series of artistic workshops, cultural commentary and whiskey tastings, as well as a performance space.

While you can certainly buy whiskey gifts here, any which way you want them (this includes a limited-edition bottle engraving experience), the emphasis is far more on a cultural “discovery” experience.

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Running since December 11th, the events focus on cultural connectivity and feature some of Ireland’s most prominent creative leaders including comedian Blindboy and spoken word performer Natalya O’Flaherty.

Additionally Jameson is facilitating local collectives, collaborators and creatives to use the space and host their own events. A master cooperage demonstration showing the sense of craftsmanship that goes into making the barrels completes the picture.

introducing-the-ultimate-whiskey-experience-the-brand-new-black-barrel-pop-upTickets to the various events have “popped up” quite literally at a variety of locations across Dublin city throughout the month of December, which has only served to add to the “boho” feel and sense of exclusivity associated with the series.

The Jameson Visitor Centre in Bow Street in Dublin is a key attraction in the capital, contributing a sizeable proportion of the more than 600,000 tourists who pass through Irish whiskey visitor centres every year to experience first-hand the heritage behind this time-honoured spirit and hear the stories of established and emerging distilleries. The Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy aims to treble this figure to 1.9 million visitors by 2025.

It might surprise but Irish whiskey is actually the fastest growing premium spirit in the world, with sales growing at more than 10% a year in more than 75 countries. Here in Ireland, the shift in image from it being perceived as a “dad drink” to a younger, cooler profile has been sure and steady.

The Jameson Black Barrell Pop-Up is open until 4pm on Christmas Eve, an excellent option for a seasonal toast.

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Happy Christmas

 

 

Food For Thought on Ireland’s Edge

The vibrant city of Galway in the west of Ireland recently hosted the 5th Food on the Edge (FOTE) event. It’s been on my radar for a while, but this was my first time to actively participate.

Food on the Edge is a coming-together of top international chefs for a two-day Food Symposium in Galway city on the Wild Atlantic Way; a not-for-profit conference seeking to make good food accessible for everyone.

The brainchild of JP McMahon, a Galway chef, gastronome and collaborator par excellence, the aim of the symposium is to challenge perspectives on food. The speakers – generally well known in the culinary world but not necessarily household names – are selected for their innovation and influence on food culture. The focus is on a collective vision for the future of food and how things can be improved.

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JP McMahon, Chef and Culinary Director, Eat Galway Restaurant Group

Opening the conference, JP spoke eloquently and poetically about how the themes at the symposium have evolved over its five year history, from food waste, to kitchen culture, to how we all of us need to assume responsibility for the food we consume. This years theme was about migration, the movement of food and people and what it means to be local.

Thoughts and stories were shared around food origin, communities, connections and identity. One of the most fascinating talks was delivered by Shinobu Namae who provided a unique perspective into the history of Japanese cuisine and how it has travelled the world.

What is different about Food on the Edge is that it is not overtly commercial. Chatting with a curious American tourist who enquired as to what “we were selling”, I explained that it was more about promoting: networks, relationships, conversations, the exchange of ideas. While the 50 odd chefs speaking over the two days mainly cater for fine diners in their restaurants, the issues they experience – sustainability, quality, education – are common to all who prepare and serve food in whatever the environment.

Fine dining is certainly having a moment in Ireland. A total of six restaurants across the island of Ireland received their debut Michelin stars this year, bringing the number of restaurants with the coveted food award to 18. This is double the number of new entrants last year and many in the industry say the Irish restaurant scene is finally getting the recognition it deserves. It all points to a confidence in cooking, a desire to experiment with ingredients and techniques and a willing audience who are eager, knowledgeable and engaged. Fine dining does not have to be formal dining.

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Salthill, Galway

Bohemian Galway

Co-incidentally this week Galway was named the fourth-best city in the world to visit by Lonely Planet in its new Best in Travel 2020 publication, ahead of heavyweights such as Dubai and Vancouver (the list was topped by Austrian city Salzburg.)

Describing Galway as “arguably Ireland’s most engaging city,” Lonely Planet mentions pubs and cafes as among the city’s key attractions. The bohemian and strongly independent character of Galway is at the heart of the appeal of this most westerly Irish city.

In 2020 Galway will become the European Capital of Culture, with a programme promising a year of extraordinary creativity and disruption and the themes of language, landscape and migration being brought to life. Structured around the old Celtic calendar of Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain, Galway 2020 begins in February 2020 and runs until the end of January 2021.

While Galway steams ahead as a boutique culinary powerhouse it is a pity to see the demise of some of the city’s more traditional food retailers in the past few weeks. Griffins Bakery, a bakery that I was very familiar with from both my student days and in more recent years on a professional basis, finally closed the doors on its Shop Street premises at the end of September, following a “challenging few years in business”. The bakery had a history dating back several family generations and the building itself is possibly one of Galway’s oldest, dating from the mid 1600’s. And across the road Deacy’s Fish Shop – another Galway institution – also recently called it a day, with the owner retiring. One hopes that whoever occupies these sites in the future will be sympathetic to their history and heritage.

A Campus Revisited

As FOTE took place in the Bailey Allen Hall – an impressive purpose built conference facility in the grounds of University College Galway – I also had a chance to explore the campus, which I found to be virtually unrecognisable since I attended as an undergraduate a few years ago. With many new buildings, it took a while to find my bearings, but thankfully the campus has retained its villagey, welcoming feel.

Passing the careers guidance office, I recalled visiting in my final year and leaving clutching a bunch of leaflets entitled “What to do with a degree in English and Philosophy”. While the array of options might have seemed bewildering at the time, I needn’t have been too concerned, as a grounding in logic, creativity and analysis has proven perhaps more useful than I anticipated!

Finally, a key message from Food on the Edge 2019 – “Gastronomy is Democracy”.

You really are what you eat.

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http://www.foodontheedge.ie

“The Ploughing” Comes Home

The dust has settled this weekend on a tumultuous week in Irish farming.

It was a week of extraordinary weather conditions (by Irish standards for this time of year) with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. The beef price crisis escalated with farmers growing increasingly militant in their protests about the prices received at factory gates. And record numbers of almost 300,000 descended on Carlow in the south east of Ireland for the annual agricultural love-in that is the National Ploughing Championships.

This year I too made the pilgrimage, keen to experience this unique event in a location just a couple of miles from where I grew up.

I must confess that the appeal of “the Ploughing” has been slow to unfold itself to me. I grew up on a farm and, while there was no shortage of agricultural events to attend, the most memorable of these was the Spring Show, which took place in the RDS venue in Ballsbridge, one of Dublin’s leafiest suburbs.

Our entire family travelled to the city for this annual day out, gawking at the latest tractors and machinery, eating sliced white bread sandwiches in the canteen (it might seem bizarre but it was a major treat for us to get a break from home made bread back then) and enjoying a catch up with whatever neighbours we happened to bump into.

And then suddenly, in the early 90’s, it was gone. There was some consideration given to reviving the show a few years ago, but a feasibility study carried out by the RDS showed that there was little demand for an urban based agricultural show.

In truth, at this stage, the Ploughing Championships had gone from strength to strength, adding more features and attractions and positioning the festival as a means for a diverse range of brands, businesses and media channels to connect with and sell to rural Ireland.

Visiting on the first day of the show, I allowed some extra time for my journey from the capital – normally an easy 70 minute drive – however I wasn’t quite prepared for the extensive traffic management plan in place. Two and a half hours later, I found myself still traversing the hilly back roads of Carlow before eventually arriving at the very scenic site – its slight elevation affording tremendous views of the countryside.

It’s a festival with something for everyone. From fashion (one for the ladies, as we were breathlessly told over the tannoy) to food and everything in between. It is honest and open and uncomplicated. There is simply nothing to not like here. And I can’t quite get out of my head the sight of grown men gazing longingly at brand new tractors which they can only dream of affording.

More seriously, farm incomes in Ireland are a significant issue with recent figures from agri-finance specialists IFAC showing that 38% of beef farmers are unsure if they will still be farming in five years – with the average beef farm loss excluding EU subsidies amounting to €116 a hectare. Many farm families require off-farm income to support their households; a trend that is steadily growing year on year. It’s a complex situation which has evolved over many years and has no quick solutions.

I have to admit to being a little biased here, but Carlow looked simply sumptuous this week, with a glorious view to Mount Leinster and beyond from the ploughing fields. I felt an inordinate sense of pride that my small county (the second smallest in Ireland – a fact which was drummed into us from age 5 in school) was hosting this enormous event with great style and substance.

While the location for 2020 hasn’t been confirmed yet, this will be a tough act to follow.

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More information on http://www.npa.ie.

 

 

 

 

Ireland – A Land of Saints and … Coffee?

Is Ireland “over-coffee-ed”?

I pondered this question recently (over a coffee).

Urban Coffee Culture

Coffee culture has well and truly taken hold in Ireland over the past decade. The capital city Dublin has a vast selection of cafés, from chains (both international and home grown), to independents (this including a broad spectrum of trendy to more traditional). It’s hard to imagine a part of the city where you can’t get good coffee. The rather amazing success of the beautifully located – and very busy – ‘Happy Out’ in Bull Island just off the eastern seaboard is a case in point.

But is the city saturated with bean culture? Drowning in cappuccinos? Overwhelmed by coffee granules? Dublin City Council seems to think so, advising a property investor earlier in the year that it would be difficult to justify opening another café in a property near St Stephen’s Green. Planners noted at the time that there was an over proliferation of places to have a coffee in this area. It’s not just expansion by chains like Costa and Starbucks either, with many independent coffee shops joining the fray.

Rural Pub Closures

This is playing out while pub closures in Ireland continue, albeit with a marked rural/urban divide. The latest figures from Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) show that 71 rural pubs closed in 2018. There are now 1,535 fewer pubs in rural Ireland than in 2005. DIGI analysis also shows that nearly 20% of rural pubs closed between 2005 and 2018, compared to just 1% in Dublin.

So will café society replace pub culture in a changing Ireland?

It’s an unlikely prospect actually, as the Irish psyche is naturally drawn towards the conviviality of a pub. Also, many pubs have reinvented themselves to meet changing market demands by incorporating a food offer such as a food truck, while others have focused on atmosphere and niche entertainment.

New Trends

The Virgin Mary on Dublin’s Capel Street, opened a few months ago, is Ireland’s first completely non-alcoholic pub while the new 1661 pub around the corner specialises in the once illegal white spirit poitin. Many pubs also now serve barista-style coffee.

The ones that are thriving – both urban and rural – have adapted their offer and work a little harder and smarter to attract clientele.

In the UK pubs have been increasingly café-like for quite a number of years, a trend which began mainly for commercial reasons, as pubs sought to attract customers throughout the day.

Follow Me Up To …

And so a few weeks ago I found myself in my home county of Carlow, in Ireland’s south east, checking out the new café developments with great interest.

I recall bringing my elderly parents for a pub lunch in our local town a few years ago. My father marveled at the newly introduced coffee “menu” on our table and slowly read the description of each type of coffee with some incredulity and amusement. A far cry from being asked if you had a preference for strong or weak as the publican switched on the electric kettle!

Picking up some tourist brochures I am reminded of Carlow’s impressive spiritual footprint. There are at least twenty two early saints associated with Carlow and some such as Columbanus and Laserian embarked from the county on great missionary endeavours in Europe.

But back to coffee. In no particular order my three café “picks” from county Carlow are as follows:

The Townie Trendsetter: Thrive Café, Market Square, Tullow, Co Carlow

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This is a gorgeous café in the centre of the market town Tullow, open since early 2018, which focuses on providing healthy food & drink. It’s a much needed addition to the town’s food/beverage offer. Tullow has a quaint feel to it and some wonderfully traditional shops like Johnson’s Tailors and Duffy’s Drapers all of which seem (and I am assured are) unchanged since my youth. The café offers a choice of unprocessed, sugar-free and nutrient dense breakfasts, snacks, smoothies and lunches.

The Social Local: Café de Mode, Church Street, Ballon, Co Carlow

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I was particularly keen to visit this café in my home village of Ballon. Located a little way up Ballon’s famous hill in a building which used to house the post office, it seems fitting that it is now one of the village’s main social hubs. Initially converted to a takeaway, the current owners took over the property in 2016 and have delivered a smart yet friendly and award winning neighbourhood café.

The Rural Retreat: Sugar and Spice Cafe, Altamont Gardens, Kilbride, Co Carlow

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This is perhaps my favourite. The gardens at Altamont are stunning and recognised as one of the most beautiful in Ireland. The estate gains much of its character from the rare trees, huge stone outcrops, beautiful woodlands and exotic specimens throughout the gardens. As a child I lived nearby and often visited the gardens – now expertly managed by the OPW – with schoolfriends. I remember the kindness of Corona North the former owner who cheerfully allowed us to roam freely.  The open air Sugar and Spice café is an absolute delight and sitting here during a rainy day I couldn’t think of a nicer place to be.

I relish the positive changes and new life that these cafes have brought to this ordinary yet not so ordinary part of my home county. And I foresee a peaceful co-existence of pubs and cafes in a changing, forward-thinking and multi-cultural Ireland.

7 Unique Dining Experiences

This article was inspired by our recent family holiday in the Swiss Alps, where I came across a unique dining concept (more on this later).

As the adage goes, people want experiences, not “things”. Creating memories and unforgettable experiences is the watchword of our time. In food, this can be a venue, a theme, a style of cooking (or fusion of styles), a type of food, a campaign that “cuts through”. Something unique – at least for a while.

I have been to a New York bar where the wait staff were all twins; a restaurant in Philadelphia where the courses were bookended by opera singers in full flow; a Swedish restaurant in London where everything, yes everything, on the menu was flavoured with liquorice (much loved in Scandinavia); and a revolving bar in New Orleans featuring an actual merry-go-round which has been revolving since 1949.

Quirky themes can come (and often) go, particularly some of the more out-there ones. Novelty will only get you so far; the food, beverage and service offer has to deliver and the business model has to be profitable. As a case in point, Dublin’s first cat café in Smithfield (a cat lounge with coffee and real cats) while fabulously original recently had to close its doors due to significant running costs.

The last two decades has also seen plenty of new and interesting venues in Ireland and beyond with banks being converted into bars, double decker buses put into service as casual restaurants and deconsecrated churches turned into upscale eateries.

It’s fun, it’s different, it appeals.

7 Unique Dining Experiences to Try Before you Die

(1) In the Mountains

Fondue is synonymous with all things Swiss. And in the Saas-Fee ski resort in the Swiss Alps during the winter months a quite unique fondue experience is offered on board your very own gondola (cable car) which slowly traverses the mountains while you dunk your bread and down Valais wine. Sublime!

Offered once every few weeks during the season about 30 gondolas are in action for this ride with a difference.

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(2) In the Water

There are a few undersea restaurants – mostly in the Maldives – however the Conrad owned Ithaa was the world’s first and is perhaps the most impressive. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant allows you to dine luxuriously five metres below the surface of the Indian ocean, in an “aquatic wonderland” with amazing 360° views of reef and marine life.

Ithaa

(3) In the Trees

The Treehouse Restaurant in Alnwick Gardens, Northumberland features wooden walkways, twinkling lights and a very unique dining experience.

Alnwick Gardens are one of northern England’s most beautiful attractions, rejuvenated and reimagined by Jane Percy, the current Duchess of Northumberland who took the gardens on as a project when her husband inherited the estate in the mid 90’s. Uniquely there is also a Poison Garden, which features 100 lethal plants and is used for drug education.

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(4) In a Cave

Grotta Palazzese is an exclusive restaurant created inside a natural cave. Located in Puglia, Italy the restaurant takes its name from the cave and has been used for parties and banquets since 1700, as evidenced by a 1783 watercolor by Jean Louis Desprez.

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(5) In a Tram

Although not strictly unique as there are similar cafes in other cities, The Tram Cafe in Dublin has made this list because of its fascinating history.

Originally built in the US city of Philadelphia in 1902, it started life as a horse drawn tram, then spending most of its working life in Lisbon as a refitted electric tram from the 1920’s to the late 1970’s. It was then moved to a tram museum in Wales and finally ended up in a field in Co Cavan where it was discovered by its current owner, refurbished and installed as a full café in 2016 on Wolfetone Square, Central Dublin.

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(6) In the Ice

The Ice Restaurant is the world’s only ice restaurant located precisely on the Arctic Circle in Finland’s Snowman Winter Resort. The Ice Restaurant features incredibly beautiful ice sculptures and a menu created from local ingredients.

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(7) In the Air

The brainchild of Hakuna Matata, an agency specialising in gourmet pleasures, and The Fun Group, which has expertise in amusement park installations deploying cranes, Dinner in the Sky is a flying dinner table which first took to the skies in 2006. Since then, the concept has criss-crossed the skies of 45 countries in Europe, Australia, Japan, India, the Middle East, South Africa, South America and North America, and even China.

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Not just featuring exclusive dinners, the events for up to 30 (carefully strapped-in) guests have experienced unique themes such as a Beach Bar, Opera and Poker Matches and some of the world’s best chefs including Heston Blumenthall. And, if you are so inclined, you can also exchange vows or host a business meeting in a highly original location at an altitude of 50 metres.

So no, the sky is not the limit…