An invitation to Chef’s Table at MacNean Restaurant

Since the juggernaught that is MND collided with my life five years ago, any type of normality is a distant memory at this point. Yet on this futile journey I have met some incredible people. Those who seem to ‘get me’ straight away, even though I’m at my worst; severely physically disabled and a shadow of my former self. Vulnerability is a very raw emotion, some people can’t or don’t want to deal with it, while others just wade in, wanting to help you in some way.

Ever since our paths crossed a couple of years ago, Ireland’s finest and best-loved chef Neven Maguire and I have remained friends. Recently he invited my family and I to Sunday lunch in his multi award-winning restaurant. The experience was too good not to share with you. I’ve always dreamed of being a food writer… this is my moment 🙂

I can barely eat anymore, approximately 80% of the muscles in my mouth and throat have wasted away by now; but does that stop me? – Hell no! I still eat one meal a day, but get most of my food, and all my fluids, through a feeding tube in my tummy. I’m under strict instructions from my Doctor to eat purely for pleasure. Yes Doc, I can do that!

The lovely Andrea liaised with us for weeks beforehand to ensure they could meet my every need and make this a special experience for me. The biggest challenge was suitable food. Here’s a *brief* summary of my limitations: I can’t chew anymore so food has to be soft and cut small. Textures are a big problem; I can’t deal with dry, crunchy or crumbly foods. My palette has completely changed; I can no longer tolerate strong flavours, spices or even my old favourite; black pepper. Apart from this, everything else is fine…!

The morning of our trip, everything went to plan. My carers had me looking spick n’ span and my husband had packed the car with my medical equipment to cover any ‘what if’ scenarios we could think of. An hour into the journey I needed medical attention – my MND monster wanted to remind me who was really in charge of my life – but after a brief diversion to Cavan Hospital we were on the road again.

Even with a legitimate excuse it’s embarrassing to arrive late to your own party, though needless to say, we received a warm welcome from Neven and his team. We were lucky enough to dine at the Chef’s Table which is their private dining experience. For me, this was ideal; safe and homely surroundings where I could eat at my own pace.

Neven presented us with a 7-course tasting menu [my menu was slightly different to cater for my limitations]. The very knowledgeable sommelier was on hand to offer aperitifs and recommend what wines would best complement our food.

Our first course was a chestnut and mushroom mousse with rabbit kataifi, served with a selection of breads. The mousse had a velvet texture and tasted heavenly. Our breads looked and tasted delicious; bacon bread, cheese puffs and pizza bread with pesto that my 8-year-old fussy eater demolished (along with the very more-ish rabbit wrapped in kataifi pastry!).s-with-hock-and-breads

My second course was orzo pasta with asparagus and red pepper puree. The orzo was cooked in saffron which added colour and a delicate flavour. The others were served a warm ham hock terrine with black garlic, pork crackling and an apple sorbet. The attention to detail with the presentation was incredible and it tasted amazing.ham-hock

The third course was a blackberry and apple jelly with natural yogurt on top. The jelly was delightfully tangy, whereas the yogurt was rich and creamy; a delectable contrast.

Our fourth and main course; gratin of cod with basil risotto, baby leek and a ponzu gel. The red meat-eaters had fillet of dry aged beef, cheek pie, glazed pearl onions and smoked celeriac. My pride and joy had already told Neven his favourite dish. He was promised the best chicken nuggets of his life and he got exactly that: Chicken goujons with panko bread crumbs, hand cut chunky chips, with a generous serving of the special red sauce on the side! A brief lull in conversation, followed by clean plates all round was conclusive evidence we fully enjoyed the deliciously exquisite mains.

Life is always better with a pre-dessert. Mine was instantly improved by a rhubarb puree with ginger ice cream and rhubarb jelly! The puree was a delight for the taste buds, I’m still dreaming about it. The ginger ice cream was a revelation, even for those suspicious of ginger.rhubarb

My main dessert course was coconut and malibu parfait with confit of mango and vanilla ice cream. It was refreshingly tropical. Sadly chocolate and I don’t get on anymore. Consequently I had to look on while the others got the very theatrical “Coole Swan” chocolate sensation with chocolate moose, pecan brownie, chocolate powder and Malteaser ice cream. It’s presented as a chocolate ball then hot chocolate sauce is poured over it, unveiling the hidden treats inside; it’s really got the wow factor. I’ve enjoyed the dessert before so knew only too well what I was missing – big sad face! To finish our sumptuous feast we refreshed ourselves with tea, coffee and petits fours – bite-sized pieces of heaven!

My days of eating are coming to an end so our lunch felt somewhat like my ‘last supper’ and what a way to finish up with such a memorable meal. We got the opportunity to watch Neven create culinary masterpieces right in front of us and then present each dish to us. We had a fun-filled afternoon in the company of our MacNean friends.

A heartfelt thank you to all the talented staff who make MacNean Restaurant an unforgettable treat. To the King of Kindness himself – Neven, thank you for making my foodie dreams come true. I’m a little old for a ‘Make-a-Wish’ experience but you gave me just that!

Sharon x

To find out more about Neven and get some delicious recipes, check out his fantastic blog: Anyone can cook with Neven Maguire


Author: Sharon Friel

In 2012 at the age of 38, I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease/ALS. A death sentence with an expected term of 1,000 days; I've since bypassed my expiry date. Although paralyzed from the shoulders down and voiceless, I am still here, still living my life. Wife, mother, daughter and sister; family is what makes this all bearable. Before MND hijacked my life, I was CEO/Manager of a Credit Union and loved exploring the outdoors - cycling, walking and kayaking.

9 thoughts on “An invitation to Chef’s Table at MacNean Restaurant”

  1. Firstly you look so young and beautiful in these pictures and secondly this piece is so well written and evocative and inspiring. You, my lady, are just a powerhouse. xxx

    On Sun, Mar 12, 2017 at 3:24 PM, Wheelie me – Still me! wrote:

    > Sharon Friel posted: “Since the juggernaught that is MND collided with my > life five years ago, any type of normality is a distant memory at this > point. Yet on this futile journey I have met some incredible people. Those > who seem to ‘get me’ straight away, even though I’m at my” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aww, brings back sweet memories. You certainly know how to enjoy life as it happens, no matter what. I am constantly in awe of you and all you achieve, and of your expressions of love toward S & C, to us your family and to all your friends.
    And yes, you are spot on calling Neven the ‘king of kindness’, what a wonderful, kind and admirable man.
    You deserved your treat, and I’m so grateful for his generosity.
    Love you,
    Niamh xo

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Sharon, you look amazingly young and it’s just lovely to hear about such a great day. Nevin is so taken with you and your spirit. I’m unlike you, and there is no writer in me so I won’t go on. Just lovely to see your photos of Murphy clan. Take care sweetheart. Vicky.💖

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great food writing. I was experiencing the tastes as I read except for the few interesting items I have never tried.
    Thank you for inspiring my eyes, taste buds and imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sharon you write so eloquently and in such great detail about the taste sensations that Neven’s food offers. I was lost for words to describe the food, thank you for so abtly describing everything. You have a great talent for moulding words and this piece would deserve a place in the best Foodie books/magazines. I am so glad to hear Senan had what was probably the best goujons ever made, when I did meet your lovely young gentleman ( briefly at the concert in Trim) he did mention goujons were his favourite food and probably the reason for his long legs and growth spurt.

    You photos are also brilliant. I had no charge on phone when there so thank you for those too. I especially loved the presentation in the eggshell and funky eggcup. You may be able to shed light on how they cut the top of the egg so skilfully.

    Dispite what is an unfadoamble journey that you are on, you are able to offer a piece of magic to everyone. It is with great gracefulness that you write amid all that you are experiencing, after a rotten journey you brought all together for a lovely evening. You create magic in your writing and attract the company and friendship of talented and kind people. A little bit of magic from a magic lady.

    Liked by 1 person

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