So how much do I love Dingle? Enough to pass up a week-long tour of Rioja so I could spend three days there helping to judge products at the Blás na hÉireann awards and to attend the Dingle Food Festival.
The judging of the 2,500 entries at Blás is a monumental task and the deserving supreme champion this year was Millbay Oysters from Kilkeel in Co Down. It can’t always have been so but it now seems entirely logical that a major food competition should be staged in food loving Dingle.
The Food Festival is one of the busiest and most enjoyable in the country and the streets literally become impassable due to the crowds.
One crowded stall was the Little Cheese Shop’s stand which offered melted Raclette cheese on sourdough and it was from owner Mark Murphy I got my tip to visit Solas which opened in April this year. From a tiny kitchen, chef Nicky Foley is creating delicious Spanish and Portuguese style tapas and small plates and seems to be sourcing almost everything he cooks from the Dingle peninsula. Foley is from Waterford originally and previously worked in Spain and more recently spent 15 years with Richard Corrigan in London.
Part of the success of Solas, I’m told, is that it operates as a casual drop-in spot as much as a restaurant — locals are loving the offer of €25 for three tapas and a glass of wine. Besides tapas, there are more substantial cheese and meat sharing boards and larger dishes such as rack of lamb and striploin steak.
We stuck to small plates however and first to arrive was pungent green olives and good bread followed soon after by chargrilled octopus (€12). Octopus needs careful cooking to show at its best but this was firm and packed with flavour and I loved the fine slices of marinated ‘carpaccio’ octopus which offered contrast as did the punchy squid ink aioli.
Sautéed Maharees potatoes with oyster mushrooms, chilli and garlic had a decent kick of spice and crispy edges. The contrasting textures of mushroom and crisp potato plus the kick of chilli lifted everything eaten with or after them. Maharees townland is near Castlegregory on the peninsula and famous for their potatoes, in case you wondered.
Seafood Chowder Croquettes (€9) intrigued us and I confess sounded like a dish that might not work, but it did, gloriously so. The two golden crumbed balls, the size of duck eggs, offered a rather joyous contrast between the outer crumb and the oozing creamy chowder encased within. Seaweed and mushroom croquettes were almost as good with tangy seaweed zinging out over the mushroom and soft potato filling.
Pil Pil prawns and chickpeas (€14) gave us a dozen curled crevettes straight off the pier in Dingle, sweet and tender they worked well with a pot of comforting chickpeas rendered sweet from slow cooked onions and confit tomato and given a lift with some cumin and coriander.
Service was charming and efficient and Solas is full of those small touches that can make a restaurant. Water is served in weighty Dingle Crystal carafes filled with fresh mint and lemon slices and there were frequent offers of extra bread and seconds.
The wine list is short but good value and sourced from an importer I hadn’t encountered before. In Dublin you can struggle to find a wine under €36; in Solas the list begins at €25 for a light, tropical fruit tinged Spanish Sauvignon (I was offered a taste) and has six wines under €30. Our bottle of Tudanca Ribera del Duero Roble at €34 was inky and full flavoured and a steal at this price.
For dessert we chose poached pear with a classic dark chocolate mousse (€5) and were gifted a bonus scoop of creamy homemade pistachio ice cream. We also ordered some petit-four chocolates (€8) to take away — 10 delicious morsels which all had a nod to the West with a Dingle Whiskey Truffle, a Bean-in-Dingle coffee truffle, an Achill Island Sea-Salt fudge and a Dick Mack’s Ale Fruit Pastille. There has long been a shortage of really good tapas in Ireland, particularly in Dublin and eastern counties. You used to have to head west to Cava Bodega in Galway but now you definitely need to go to Dingle.
- Solas, Unit 1, Strand St, Dingle, Co Kerry.
- Tel: 066-9150766;