From brunch to burgers, fine dining to street food, Joe McNamee has the pick of the top dining destinations across the country.
Bearing, as I do, a birth cert so dated, it might well have been drafted with quill on vellum, I get a tad huffy when the notion is floated that Ireland only ‘discovered food’ in the last decade or so.
I am long enough in the over-used tooth to have had my first Irish fine dining experience proper in the late, lamented Michael Clifford’s eponymous restaurant on Cork’s Mardyke, one of Ireland’s most creative and technically able culinary practitioners and a one-time Michelin star chef.
I can equally recall the energising jolt administered to the Irish hospitality sector in the early ’90s that came with the near-simultaneous restaurant openings in Cork of Seamus O’Connell’s Ivory Tower and Denis Cotter’s Cafe Paradiso, two funky young Turks who shook up proceedings with gleeful abandon, opening up a whole new vista of possibilities and alternatives to the then mainstream for young Irish chefs.
And even as I was relishing those new arrivals, there was already some 30 years of culinary innovation in the rear view mirror, stretching right back to the great Myrtle Allen’s decision to open a restaurant in the dining room of her home in Ballymaloe in 1964. No, good food, its production, cooking and consumption, have been around in Ireland for quite some time.
But then I look back over past versions of this particular feature which we first began in 2014 and do have to admit that the growth in the sector and its subsequent embrace by the Irish dining public is now accelerating at a phenomenal rate and the proof is to be found in the growing realisation and acceptance around the rest of the world that Ireland is not only one of the finest food producers in the world but that we now have a hospitality sector that is delivering that superb produce up on the plate to a standard that is equally world class — the list below is just a selection of a comparative handful of those fine operators, with many deserving of inclusion across multiple categories.
That food can be a blissfully sybaritic pleasure is undeniable but it is also essential to life and a fundamental human right. What’s more, the global system of food production is gravely compromised, even broken, and is in turn having a profoundly negative environmental impact on the planet that makes it increasingly hard when dining to isolate the pleasure from the pain.
This is why Irish chefs and restaurateurs are more and more operating with a conscience, endeavouring to reduce that negative impact in their own immediate sphere and, though I furnish two selections below of those who are currently excelling in this area, most others on the list are headed in the same direction; to do otherwise would not only be sinful but will eventually equate to commercial suicide because it is rapidly becoming the number one requirement for diners, that the food on our plates hasn’t come at the expense of our future. So, now that pleasure has found its conscience, do relish and support these very splendid examples of Irish hospitality.
Didn’t we used to be a nation of tea drinkers once upon a time? We still are but our veins must equally run thick with some of the finest coffee around, not least from some of those below who are all also excellent roasters.
Cloud Picker, Pearse St, Dublin — cloudpickercoffee.ie
Filter Cork, Georges Quay & North Main St, Cork — www.facebook.com/F-I-L-T-E-R
Soma Coffee Company, Tuckey St, Cork — somacoffeecompany.ie
Cork Coffee Roasters, Bridge St & French Church St, Cork — corkcoffeeroasters.ie
Arch coffee, George’s St & Peter’s St, Waterford — archcoffee.ie
No matter how much our food offering progresses, no matter how culinarily adventurous we become, you can’t bate the nation’s appetite for the ‘sangidge’, from the elemental pleasure of a simple crab sandwich on a summer’s day in Crookhaven to the exoticism that is Green Bench Cafe’s Chicken sandwich, complete with Irish free range chicken, Szechuan spices, wasabi mayo, avocado, slaw, pepper salsa, rocket.
Long Valley, Winthrop St, Cork — thelongvalleybar.com
Sonny’s Deli, Albert Road, Cork — facebook.com/Sonnys-Deli
O’Sullivan’s, Crookhaven, Co Cork — facebook.com/osullivanscrookhaven/
Green Bench Cafe 18 Montague Street, Dublin 8 — greenbenchcafe.com
The Sandwich Stall, English Market, Cork — facebook.com/thesandwichstall/
Superb renditions of finest Irish beef in a bun, including one of the finest burgers I have ever eaten, from Woodside Farm, using meat from their own cattle and eaten ‘on the hoof’ at the market.
Woodside Farm, Mahon/Douglas/Wilton/Midleton Farmer’s Markets, Cork — woodsidefarm.ie
Son of a Bun, MacCurtain St, Cork — sonofabun.ie
West Cork Burger Co, Washington St, Cork — westcorkburgercompany.com
Liberty Grill, Washington St, Cork — libertygrill.ie
Rick’s Burgers, 24 Dame St, Dublin.
Some old traditionalists amongst this lot but ‘fish and chips’ are becoming truly Hibernicised, employing our world class seafood and applying a native twist to a tradition first brought to England by Sephardic Jews as far back as the 16th century.
Add a cracking wine and sherry list, as they do in The Fish Shop, and it’s small wonder it was one of my best meals of the year to date.
The Fish Shop, Benburb Street & Queen St, Dublin — fish-shop.ie
The Fish Box (Flannery’s Seafood Bar), Green Street, Dingle, Co Kerry — thefishboxdingle.com
The Fish Basket, Long Strand, Castlefreke, Co Cork — the-fish-basket.business.site
Lennox’s, 137, Bandon Rd, Cork — facebook.com/JackieLennoxChipShop
The Golden Fry, Ballinlough Rd, Cork — facebook.com/GoldenFryCork
Fishy Fishy, Kinsale, Co Cork — fishyfishy.ie
Scoozi’s and Box Burger are specifically focussed on providing a special welcome for younger diners while the others are extremely kid friendly — and then you have Monk’s Lane, a pleasure for all ages but with an especially thoughtful kids’ menu, including fresh caught fried fish of the day and lamb quesadillas.
Blackrock Castle Cafe, Castle Road, Blackrock, Cork — castlecafe.ie
Scoozis, Winthrop Lane, Cork — scoozis.ie
Cucina Centro, Henry St, Limerick — lacucina.ie
Box Burger, Bray, Co Wicklow — boxburger.ie
Monk’s Lane, Timoleague, Co Cork — monkslane.ie
Creamed leeks, Corleggy goat’s cheese with Coolattin cheddar and mustard —what’s that? Well, just one of the finest grilled sourdough sandwiches I have ever put away, from Dublin-based The Market Kitchen, just one example of the superbly innovative cooking now available from the simplest, most basic of al fresco kitchens, not least the Dursey Deli, in remotest west Cork, next to the cable car station to Dursey Island.
And forgive me for cheating by including Eatyard, a conglomeration of excellent stalls all in the one location beside Dublin’s Bernard Shaw pub.
The Market Kitchen, Temple Bar, Dublin — www.themarketkitchen.org/market-life
Volcano Woodfired Pizza, Farmers’ Markets, Cork — volcano.ie
The Food Depot Gourmet Street Kitchen, Courtmacsherry, Co Cork — fooddepotireland.com
Dursey Deli, Beara, West Cork — facebook.com/Murphys-Mobile-Catering-Dursey-Deli
Eatyard, South Richmond St, Dublin — the-eatyard.com
We have come so far from the cellophane-wrapped toastie that this selection includes a Michelin star, at the Wild Honey Inn, while the Raven Bar must be the only place in the world to ever ‘hold’ four Michelin stars, recently hosting a charity fundraiser featuring four starred chefs with deep Cork connections — the stars may be gone but the good grub and really good wine list remain in situ.
O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill, Co Cork — omahonysofwatergrasshill.com
Wild Honey Inn, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare — wildhoneyinn.com
Toddie’s at the Bulman, Summercove, Kinsale, Co Cork — thebulman.ie
Cronin’s, 1 Point Road, Crosshaven, Co Cork — croninspub.com
The Raven Bar, North Main St, Cork — theravenbar.com
The notion of ‘going out to breakfast’ is still in relatively nascent stages for a nation that is fond of its late nights but brunch seems a pretty good compromise.
Good Day Deli, Douglas St, Cork — [urlhttps://www.gooddaydeli.ie/]gooddaydeli.ie[/url]
The Fumbally, Fumbally Lane, Dublin — thefumbally.ie
Ardbia at Nimmos, Spanish Arch, Galway — ardbia.com
Ali’s Kitchen, Paul St, Cork — aliskitchencork.com
Idaho Café, Caroline St, Cork — idahocafe.ie
This selection is perfect for those looking for a light lunch or even their ‘dinner in the middle of the day’.
The Farmgate Restaurant & Cafe, English Market, Cork — farmgate.ie
Nash 19, Princes St, Cork — nash19.com
Crawford Art Gallery Cafe, Emmet Place, Cork — crawfordartgallery.ie/dining
Toonsbridge Shop & Pizza, Inchegeela, Co Cork — toonsbridgedairy.com
Kalbo’s, North St, Skibbereen, Co Cork — facebook.com/Kalbo’s
A firm fixture on this list in previous years, L’Atitude 51 is greatly missed following a Paddy’s Day fire that left the premises badly damaged and L’At51 currently homeless.
Thankfully, these other superb establishments do an equally fine job, the effortlessly stylish yet always welcoming Black Pig remaining one of my favourite supping and snacking spaces of all.
The Black Pig Winebar, Kinsale, Co Cork — facebook.com/TheBlackPigWinebar
Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin — greenmanwines.ie
Ely Wine Bar, Ely Place, Dublin — elywinebar.ie
Loose Canon Cheese and Wine, Drury St, Dublin — loosecanon.ie
Sheridans Wine Shop & Bar, Churchyard Street, Galway — sheridanscheesemongers.com
I remain ambivalent about lumping all these restaurants into such a reductive category because much of the cooking on show here is increasingly influenced by engagement with finest Irish produce, distancing those cuisines from their original homelands and infusing contemporary Irish cuisine with exciting new influences, tastes and techniques — either way, it all makes for some splendid eating.
Miyazaki, Evergreen St, Cork — facebook.com/MiyazakiCork
Iyer’s Cafe, Popes Quay, Cork — facebook.com/IyersCafe
Izz Cafe, George’s Quay, Cork — izz.ie
Pickle, Camden St Lower, Dublin — picklerestaurant.com
Ichigo Ichie, Sheare’s St, Cork — ichigoichie.com
Vegetarian and vegan dining is no longer a niche interest or a fad and is now firmly part of mainstream dining, led as always by Cafe Paradiso; indeed, ANY restaurant without at least one very decent and considered vegetarian or vegan dish on their menu will soon find themselves slipping to the rear of the pack.
Cafe Paradiso, Lancaster Quay, Cork — paradiso.restaurant
My Goodness, English Market & Farmer’s Markets, Cork — facebook.com/MyGoodnessFood
OHK Cafe (O’Herlihy’s Cafe Kinsale), Kinsale, Co Cork — oherlihyskinsale.com
Beo Kitchen, Stoneybatter, Dublin — beokitchen.ie
Sweet Beat Cafe, Bridge St, Sligo — sweetbeat.ie/
Three of the five below also offer accommodation — four, if you include The Tannery’s guesthouse, around the corner — which might be a tad presumptuous for a first date but if gorgeous food in an equally gorgeous setting is the key to anyone’s heart let the wooing commence below.
The Tannery, Dungarvan, Co Waterford — tannery.ie
The Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick — mustardseed.ie
Deasy’s Harbour Bar & Seafood Restaurant, Ring Village, Clonakilty, Co Cork — facebook.com/Deasys-Harbour-Bar-Seafood-Restaurant
Gregan’s Castle, Corkscrew Hill, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare — gregans.ie
Longueville House, Killarney Road, Mallow, Co Cork — longueville.ie
All five not only excel with their offering of finest, local, seasonal sustainably produced food but they do with just about the lowest carbon footprint around, in several cases, bringing it in from gardens alongside their restaurants.
Grow HQ, Dunmore Road, Waterford — giy.ie/grow-hq
Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork — ballymaloe.ie
The Square Table, Blarney, Co Cork — thesquaretable.ie
Glebe Gardens in Skibbereen, Co Cork — glebegardens.com/skibbereen
Kai Café & Restaurant, 20 Sea Road, Galway — kaicaferestaurant.com
When time comes to kick out the jams, you need a venue with good food, a lively atmosphere and a genuinely hospitable old school Irish welcome — and that equally applies to Da Mirco, proprietor Mirco Fondrini learning his trade over 17 years in the Farmgate — and these all have it in spades.
Etto mightn’t have room in its bijou little premises for hosting enormous parties but such is the atmosphere and truly excellent food that even a party of two can constitute a full-blown fiesta.
The Spitjack Rotisserie Brasserie, Washington St, Cork — thespitjack.com
Jacques, Oliver Plunkett St, Cork — jacquesrestaurant.ie
Da Mirco, Bridge St, Cork — damirco.ie
Etto, Merrion Row, Dublin — etto.ie
Greene’s, MacCurtain St, Cork — greenesrestaurant.com
Dublin is now an entirely separate country when it comes to dining, such is the plethora of superb options available in the capital, so much so, I won’t even bother attempting to mangle my poor brain by settling on just one or two.
However, Cork has most definitely regained its mojo, snaring three new Michelin stars last autumn, the only new stars awarded in the country that year.
Mews Restaurant, Baltimore, Co Cork — mewsrestaurant.ie
Restaurant Chestnut, Ballydehob, Co Cork — restaurantchestnutwestcork.ie
Pilgrim’s, Rosscarbery, Co Cork — pilgrims.ie
Sage Midleton, Main St, Midleton, Co Cork — sagemidleton.ie
Loam, Fairgreen Rd, Galway — loamgalway.com