Monday 13 April 2009

A glass of wine with your food? Isn't that what Jesus would do?

good-friday-drinking-cartoon
Easter, and Ireland is about once again to be gripped by Good Friday fever. The pubs will be closed for one day, and there will be only one topic of conversation: where is the booze, how do I get there and how much might I consume?
It’s ridiculous to assume that this is the behaviour of a nation of alcoholics doing their darndest to live up to their stereotypes. Ridiculous, yes, but then again, the frenzy that accompanies this one single publess day is absurd in the extreme.
In truth, it’s only the Irish showing how wonderfully fallibly magically human they are. God and the Law combine to take away a favourite toy, and all hell lets loose.
Back when I was an idiotic imbiber, there was more than pure hedonism in the Easter Galway air. The young Irish I was then befriending had had enough of being told what they could and could not believe in and wear on their genitals, so when informed there would be no drink taken, they all went teenage mental and drank as if there was no Judgement Day.
Thankfully, Ireland has come a heck of a long way since then. Last September, Judge Mary Fahy refused to fine several Galway City restaurateurs for serving wine to customers on Good Friday. Acknowledging that technically they had broken the law, she understood how ludicrous it would be to criminalise tourists and families who wanted a glass of wine with their meals in a modern city centre.
How refreshing was it to read a news story about a Judge who was actually in touch with what’s going on in the country, instead of the usual horror stories about Judges who think Peter Stringer owns a nightclub and Girls Aloud is a permission slip?
Most people probably believe Christmas to be the holiest Christian festival, but as a Jewish lad at a Protestant school, I became very quickly aware that Easter was Number One. A hot time for a Jew, at Easter some of the other kids used to have a go at the ‘Christ killer’, but I managed to avoid violence by using my Jewish skills, and talking them around.
“What are you on about?” I yelled at them as they made ready to do unspeakable things to my terrified schoolboy self. “He was a Jew, just like me. Don’t you see, if you hit me it’d be like hitting Jesus? No no no, I’m not saying I’m as good as Jesus, but when they put him on the cross he was Jewish, and all you Christians came later. So back off!”
To this day I’m still a bit confused about whether Jesus might at any point of his life be considered a Christian, or whether, by definition, the followers of the Christ came after his death.
Whatever, whoever, I understand that Easter is the holiest time of year for Christians, and I’m sure to those of true faith it matters not one minuscule drop whether in a different place, others of varied credes, orthodoxies and appetites are able to swig a glass of Cabernet with their carpaccio.
It’s not a matter of disrespecting the Christian Church, its traditions and the people that believe in them. Nothing can shake a strong true faith, and Ireland’s restaurateurs are not in the business of killing religion. They just want to make a living while offering a service and let’s face it, running a restaurant is a thankless task.
80% of new Irish restaurants fail within their first year, and to succeed you not only have to be open all the hours God gave you (apt and not intentionally offensive!) but also you have to maximise your income during those brief periods when the punters pack in.
In this 21st century you simply cannot tell a couple of tourists from Manchester that even though they’ve wisely decided to visit Ireland over the long Easter weekend, they’ll not be able to have a drink.
For weeks, nay months I watched the eager and exciting contestants on BBC’s Masterchef turn out new dishes, work under pressure in top-class kitchens and uniformly, as one, declare their dream was to open a little restaurant where they could do what they loved for a living.
It broke my heart every time I heard it. Why is it that, having found the one thing we most love to do, we assume that we can make a living out of it? Cooking good food and running a successful business are two totally different and very specialised skills, and unless you have excessive lashings of the latter you dare not dream of opening up a restaurant.
Once you know the business, you might proceed to create a special place, in a great building; of cultivating a unique atmosphere, employing talented chefs and building up a regular faithful clientele.
For all of the above, we in Galway City were very lucky a few years back to have Harriet Leander’s Nimmo’s. An exceptional place, marrying a genial almost clubbish ambience to the cosy woods, eclectic art and soft tones of the building, Nimmo’s chefs were excellent, the staff all true individuals, eccentric to the last, offering service as glorious as the fresh local ingredients in her cuisine.
Inasmuch as Harriet’s Nimmo’s offered a true alternative to the fairly formulaic menus on Quay Street, so now her colleague and friend Seamus Sheridan has opened a restaurant above his eponymous pub on the docks.
With a menu that changes monthly and a tremendous team in the kitchen, Sheridan’s restaurant is very much its own place, yet (along with much of the art and style that made Nimmos so great) it carries on Harriet’s ethos of improving the restaurant experience in Galway, of making eating out and drinking wine a real and special pleasure, for which we are truly grateful.
So whether you are contemplating your faith in God, and marvelling at the sacrifice Jesus made so that you might be saved, or simply enjoying a bite to eat and a drink with your loved-ones in a restaurant, enjoy your Good Friday and this Easter weekend.
After all, even as we approach the fast of Yom Kippur, our most holy day, we Jews still drink the blessed wine as we break bread together. And Jesus was one of us, like it or not.

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