The first time I ate Andy Noonan’s food was at a Lens and Larder workshop (lensandlarder.com) held in Cloughjordan House in County Tipperary this September. The theme of this food styling and photography workshop was “Smoke | Feast | Fire” and when the organisers, Cliodhna Prendergast and Imen McDonnell, asked around for tips on the best pitmasters in Ireland, Noonan’s name was top of the list.
As part of the workshop, Noonan spent the better part of ten hours building a fire pit of stone, iron, charcoal and wood. He hung chickens and ducks sourced from the nearby Pat Whelan’s butchers and slow-cooked the birds until tantalisingly golden on the outside and juicy on the inside. His birds, alongside blackened onions and carrots cooked in embers, were the backbone of a spectacular feast.
Noonan is one of the founders of the Big Grill Festival, which had its third year of barbecue celebrations this summer in Herbert Park. He came to barbecue after he made the move from working in events and party promotions to pursue his lifelong love of cooking over fire. His barbecue joint, Fowl Play, is in the back of the Square Ball, a sports bar that is part of the Bodytonic family. Even without taking the epic levels of punniness in its name into account, Fowl Play fits in with the straightforward sports bar vibe and also offers those less interested in football a very good reason to visit.
We sit down to a tray of sweet, succulent ribs with a sticky house BBQ sauce. It’s a special of the day, and with two sides it’s €17.50, and there’s plenty for two people in it. We share a bowl of smoked free-range chicken wings (€7 for six wings), doused in Noonan’s signature Alabama white BBQ sauce, a diversion from the traditional ketchup-based sauce made with mayo, apple cider vinegar, horseradish, house rub and a few other secret ingredients.
Noonan’s head chef at Fowl Play, Ivan Garbino, recommends the frickles (€4.50), thinly sliced and deep-fried pickles coated in a house rub spiced batter. Simultaneously crunchy, salty, soft and sweet, I can’t think of a better bar snack being served in the city at the moment. We also grab a plate of the smoked turkey, a moist delight which is a far cry from the incinerated sawdust many of us suffer through at Christmas. Gem lettuce is thrown onto the grill, giving it a crisp texture and enhancing its sweetness. A green apple slaw (€4.50) is crunchy, sharp and bright, cutting through the sweetness of the barbecue sauce beautifully. The house fries (€4.50) are heavily seasoned with the house-rub, giving them a little extra something-something.
Noonan walked me through the petite kitchen, home to a wood-fired grill and a smoker, custom-made by Pitmaker in Houston, Texas. The smoked wings are cooked in the smoker, while the rotisserie chicken (a quarter chicken is €13.50 with two sides and one sauce) gets slow-cooked over the wood-fired grill. Apart from his chicken wings getting a flash in the fryer before serving, all the meat is cooked used wood and charcoal only, no gas or electricity. He sources natural lumpwood charcoal from BBQ legend Matt Williams at the Oxford Charcoal Company who specialise in ethically sourced, all natural charcoal.
Noonan talks about the challenges of finding really great quality chickens in Ireland on a commercial level. He sources his free-range birds from a co-operative in Northern Ireland, which he eventually found after a long process of research, testing and trialling different free-range birds until he found one that would help make his wings the best they can be.
If you thought barbecue in Dublin was a passing fad that had burnt out, eating Noonan’s food and hearing him talk about smoking and wood-fired techniques is enough to reignite a meat lover’s interest in the art of cooking over fire.
The Square Ball, 45 Hogan Place, Dublin 2
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Killian Broderick