The finest places to eat in Ireland

Weekend food columnist and McKenna’s Guide contributing editor Joe McNamee is back with his annual accolades. Read on for his best in fine dining, pub grub, afternoon tea and much more, in Cork and around the country.

The finest places to eat in Ireland

FOR a body with a big belly and an even bigger appetite, there are few finer places to be in the world than Ireland in early summer, as tables groan under the weight of splendid native produce. Irish food is the one consistently good news story of the last few, economically-troubled years, and its international reputation continues to grow.&

As Irish chefs and cooks become more accomplished, the possibility of a distinctly Irish, new cuisine becomes more apparent. Dublin’s restaurant-based economy far outstrips the rest of the country, but in Galway every gourmand is slavering at the prospect of former Michelin-starred, Aniar chef, Enda McEvoy’s new restaurant, Loam, just off Eyre Square and due to open in August.

For economic reasons, restaurateurs in Cork have had to play a cagey game, but chef Kevin Aherne’s Midleton-based, Sage Restaurant continues to intrigue and excite. The country hardly needs another set of ‘food awards’, so let’s dub these the Irish Examiner summer food special ‘Accolades’, a celebration of the simplest street stall to the finest of fine dining.

This is not a ‘best of’ list; it is a random grab-bag of establishments that caught the eye (and the belly!).

The Gourmand’s Choice

The standard of cooking in Irish restaurants is rising, despite obstacles, many of them placed there by obtuse officialdom unable to grasp the importance of a vibrant restaurant sector to tourism.

Despite labour shortages in a time of high unemployment, despite the obstructionism of over-zealous health officials, and despite operating in one of the most heavily taxed hospitality environments in Europe, at the upper end we continue to produce food of a world-class standard using magnificent Irish produce.

Sage, 8 The Courtyard, Main St, Midleton, Co Cork

Mulcahy’s, Henry St, Kenmare, Co Kerry

The Tannery, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

The Greenhouse, Dawson St (off St Stephen’s Green), Dublin 2

Les Gourmandises, 17, Cook St, Cork

Chapter One, 19, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare

Coffee

On my last trip to Paris, the best cup of coffee I enjoyed was in the Cork Airport departure lounge. It was better than that offered in too many places in the French gourmet capital. Irish roasters and baristas are easily matching Continental counterparts. We are not hidebound by tradition and, so, are open to experimentation.

Filter, 19, George’s Quay, Cork

Cork Coffee Roasters, Bridge St, Cork

Canteen, 30, Mallow Street, Limerick, twitter.com/canteen

Third Floor Expresso (3FE), 32/34, Lower Grand Canal St, D2, and Twisted Pepper Building, 54 Middle Abbey St, D1

The Fumbally Café, Fumbally Lane, Dublin 8, 353 15298732; thefumbally.ie

The Roast House, 3, Denny St, Tralee, Co Kerry

Sandwich

The ease with which your average Gael reverts to the sandwich can display a lack of imagination, but when it is done right, using proper, handmade Irish bread, real Irish butter (dairy ‘spreads’ an instant disqualifier) and good, fresh local and seasonal fillings, ! you can see why it remains the national snack.

The Sandwich Stall, English Market, Grand Parade, Cork

The Wholy Grain, 2, Washington St, Cork

House Café at Cork Opera House, Emmet Place, Cork

Bison Bar & BBQ, 11, Wellington Quay, Dublin

Honest to Goodness, 25, Market Arcade, Georges St, D2

Mortell’s Deli & Seafood Restaurant, 49, Roche’s St, Limerick

Burger

The burger has hitched its star to the Irish food revolution, in a country that produces possibly the finest beef in the world. And with received wisdom about the role saturated animal fats play in heart health being radically revised, ensure there is a decent fat content (anything up to 20%) in with excellent minced Irish beef (or lamb, pork and even goat).

O’Mahony’s Butchers, English Market, Grand Parade, Cork

Liberty Grill, 32, Washington St, Cork

Gourmet Burger Bistro, 8, Bridge Street, Cork

Nude Food, 86, O’Connell St, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford

Rick’s Burgers, 24, Dame St, D2

Bunsen Burger, 36, Wexford Street, Dublin 2

Fish & Chips

One of the most controversial categories last time out (devotees of the fish-and-chip supper were outraged at the omission of their local chipper), but, remember, the list below is a personal selection.

Kettle of Fish, Cross St, Galway & The Square, Gort, Co Galway

Lennox’s, Bandon Rd, Cork city

The Fish Wife, MacCurtain St, Cork

The Golden Fry, Ballinlough Rd, Cork

Leo Burdock’s, 2, Werbergh St, Christchurch, D8 (see www.leoburdock.com for other Dublin locations)

Fishy Fishy, Kinsale, Crowley’s Quay, Co Cork

Street Food

Street food is one of the fastest- growing food movements in the first world, but Irish municipal authorities are struggling with the concept, making it awkward for quality vendors to practice their trade, and compounding the sin by randomly sanctioning occasional and ill-thought-out gatherings for the quick buck.

But Marcus Hodder’s ice cream is amongst the finest in the country, and while Golden Bean retail from the wonderful Filter coffee shop in Cork, the coffee served from their stall is superb. And few dining experiences can surpass eating a fried mackerel a bare 20 minutes after it has left the Atlantic, alongside the Dursey Deli, a little seasonal chip trailer parked up next to the Dursey Island cable car.

Yum Gelato, Ice Cream — www.facebook.com/yumgelato

Woodside Farm, Pulled Pork Sandwich — www.woodsidefarm.ie

Rocket Man, Salads — www.facebook/therocketmancork

The Golden Bean, Coffee — www.facebook.com/thegoldenbeancork

Green Saffron, Indian food — www.greensaffron.com

Dursey Deli, Dursey Sound, Beara Peninsula, Co Cork 086-79 9270

Bar food

Our consumption of alcohol hasn’t declined, but how we consume it has — the glory days of the Irish pub, where large crowds gathered to do nothing other than drink large volumes of alcohol, appear to be over for all but the youngest drinkers. Gastropubs, which treat food and beverages with equal respect, are bucking the trend. Better still, many of them sell genuine Irish craft beer, not industrially-brewed output.

Nick’s Restaurant & Piano Bar, Lower Bridge St, Killorglin, Co Kerry

Mary Ann’s Bar, Castletownshend, Skibbereen, Co Cork

EAT at Massimo, 10, William St. West, Galway’s West End, Ireland.

Blair’s Inn, Cloghroe, Blarney, Co Cork

L Mulligan Grocer, 18, Stoneybatter, D7

Annie’s, 89, Sunday’s Well Road, Cork

Afternoon Tea

The nostalgic revival of afternoon tea continues and while some may dismiss it as best left to maiden aunts with a passion for crust-less sandwiches in salubrious surroundings, a splendid scone, fresh cream and a fine local jam will have even Stephen Seagal simpering, especially if washed down with Barry’s Tea.

Miss Courtney’s Tearooms, 8, College St, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Hayfield Manor, Perrott Avenue, College Road, Cork

The Lemon Leaf Café & Restaurant, Kinsale, Co Cork

Idaho Café, Caroline St, Cork

Cake Café, 62, Pleasant’s Place, D8

An Fear Gorta, Tea and Garden Rooms, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare

Casual Dining

Casual dining is putting the wind up the old-school Michelin brigade. It offers good food in a casual, laidback setting with none of the silver service, starched, stiff napkins and stiffer service. It is driven by a new breed of younger, cash-rich diner, unencumbered by mortgages or children, who know their food but want to remain in their own comfort zone, which is why some establishments smack of the pub, even club.

The Fish Bar at The Electric, South Mall, Cork

Orso, Pembroke St, Cork

Fade St Social, Fade St, Dublin 2

The Cornstore, Unit 4/5, Shannon Street, Limerick

Pepper Brasserie and Grill, Bram Stoker Hotel, 225 Clontarf Road, Dublin 3

The Black Pig, 66, Lower O’Connell St, Kinsale, Co Cork

Late-night eating

It takes a large urban population to support late-night dining and that is why Dublin remains ahead, particularly when it comes to dining in situ and not at the bus stop on the way home.

Fast Al’s, Paradise Place, North Main St & Pembroke St, Cork

The Fish Hatch, Pembroke St, Cork

Panda Mama Chinese Restaurant, Parnell Place, Cork

Bóbós, 22, Wexford Street, D2

La Cave Winebar & Restaurant, 28, South Anne St, Dublin

The Good World, 18, South Great George’s St, D2

Ethnic

Again, Dublin has large enough populations to support ethnic restaurants, so lucky natives get to avail of the real thing, but the rest of the country is beginning to catch up.!

Iyer’s Cafe (Indian), 38, Pope's Quay, Cork

Ramen, 21, Anglesea St, Cork

Golden Elephant Thai Cuisine, Douglas West, Cork

Aroi, 1, O’ Connell Street, Limerick, Ireland

Rotana Café (Lebanese), 31, South Richmond Street, Portobello, D2

M & L (Szechuan Chinese), Cathedral St, D1

First Date/Romantic Restaurant

Cosy comfort can be as effective as high glamour, looking out to the sea from the down-home Deasy’s every bit as magical as gracing the Ballymaloe dining room by candlelight. You want a romantic setting to trigger a little offhand swooning, but a bit of life is just as necessary, to fill potentially awkward silences and divert attention, if necessary. The food must be good, but not fussy enough to distract from the main dish sitting across the table. The clincher, though, is when such a venue can instantly dissolve into the background, leaving you and your paramour alone to do plenty of staring into pools of limpid moonlight.

Deasy’s Harbour Bar & Seafood Restaurant, Ring Village, Co Cork

Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Co Cork

Blackrock Castle Café, Blackrock, Cork

Longueville House, Mallow, Co Cork

La Bohème Restaurant, 2, George’s Street, Waterford

Pichet’s, 14-15, Trinity St, D2

Family-friendly Restaurant

It takes more than overpriced, deep-fried lumps of processed chicken, and half-eaten crayons to pass the time, to be considered a child-friendly restaurant. So many establishments treat children as second-class citizens. The best child-friendly restaurants provide them with a decent child-friendly menu and do not immediately press the SWAT team panic button if an infant should cry, apparently a regular occurrence with your smaller class of human.

Scoozis, 2-5, Winthrop Lane, Cork

Luigi Malones, Emmet Place, Cork

The Cornstore, 40A, Cornmarket St, Cork

La Cucina, 5, University Court, Castletroy, Limerick

Bad Ass Café, 9-11, Crown Alley, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

Moloughney’s, 3, Vernon Ave, Clontarf, D3

Party Restaurant

The gastro-pub is becoming the de facto venue when Irish people wish to eat, drink and make merry, but there is still something to be said for the restaurant with that little extra bit of glamour and sparkle, a place where you can enjoy decent food at decent prices and no one will bat too many eyelids if your rousing version of ‘Happy Birthday’ turns into a full blown impromptu conga. Providing you sit down again, of course.

The Bodega, Cornmarket St, Cork

Soho, 77, Grand Parade, Cork

Ard Bia@Nimmo’s, Long Walk, Spanish Arch, Galway

Isaacs, 48, MacCurtain St, Cork

Coppinger Row, 1 Coppinger Row, off South William St, D2

The Bernard Shaw, 12, Richmond St, South Rathmines, D2

Dillinger’s, 47, Ranelagh, D6.

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