Mark Moriarty, an award-winning Irish chef, talks to us about the rise of cocktail culture in Ireland's restaurants and bars

Irish gastronomer Mark Moriarty tells us more about the rise of cocktail culture in restaurants in Ireland. 

What are the changes you have seen over the past ten years that have caused spirits and cocktails to rise in popularity and prominence?

"I think a new generation of well-traveled, experience-hungry, open-minded diners has been the biggest change in recent years. While there will always be a place for fine dining experiences, more and more people are now looking for weekly, casual, ‘all-for-one’ restaurants, ‘the local’ as it’s called, where you go for a good night out with great food, atmosphere, wine, and cocktails, without having to leave to go anywhere else. This is how I’ve been seeing food and cocktail culture grow in recent years."

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Which spirit do you think is most popular in Ireland right now and why?

"Statistically, vodka and whisky are well-known favorites in Ireland, but for me, gin has seen the most obvious spike in popularity recently, like most places around the world. My drink of choice is usually something simple like a Tanqueray and tonic but with a bit of flavor, maybe a splash of grapefruit. Everyone noticed the gin craze kick off in Ireland and now gin is everywhere in all forms of serves, glassware and stories."

Do you expect to see more cocktails, instead of wine, enjoyed in restaurants going forward?

"I have seen spirits fitting into the customer’s experience more and more of late. Wine takes center stage at the restaurant table, however, cocktails and spirits, in general, are now growing in popularity before and after a meal. A lot of guests will start with a G&T before their meal, instead of Champagne or sparkling wine. I know of a few restaurants that are currently focusing attention on their cocktail offering, with the chefs even creating ideas and working alongside bartenders to better connect food and drink. While we as chefs will never be able to produce wine, it has been great to use different techniques from the kitchen to design cocktails. I think guests love the thought that goes into them, much like the dishes we make. The reaction has been excellent, with many guests taking time to have a drink before or after the meal, and really buying into the whole evening in the restaurant."

What tips would you give our readers on enjoying cocktails alongside food?

"I would definitely start thinking about how a cocktail can enhance your food, and vice versa. I like to have something fizzy in the glass to bring out the saltiness of a dish like chips. Or it could be adding something sour to help make a rich sauce that little bit lighter. You'd be surprised at how adding some bitters to a cocktail can level the sweetness of a chocolate dessert. Zacapa Rum does an incredible take on the Old Fashioned, using chocolate bitters, which I’m a big fan of alongside a rich chocolate torte.  

At the moment, I do a dish of very lightly cured salmon that I poach in smoked bone marrow. When you have it alongside a smoky Scotch and soda, the sweet smoke in the whisky really enhances the smoke of the bone marrow. All of a sudden you have really strong smoked salmon flavors going on on the plate, in an unlikely way. If you want to try something like this at home, or in a restaurant, I would recommend a Scotch-like Talisker, which has a delicious fruity undertone that I think works wonders with this dish. The combination just shows how the bar and the kitchen can work together to bring powerful flavors and surprises to the table."

Read More: Meet Orla Stafford from Jackford Irish Potato Gin

To learn more about Mark Moriarity, follow him on Twitter or check out his website.