Food columnist Joe McNamee is back with his annual foodie awards

Read on for the best in fine dining and street food, from where to get the best burgers to where to bring the family...

FIRST, the ‘Health Warning’: in an effort to forestall the presence of unwanted bees in certain bonnets and to leave ladies’ under-garments, for the most part, untwisted.

It is essential to point out this is not a definitive guide or a ‘best of’, simply random examples of fine Irish hospitality establishments this writer has happened upon in the last 12 months (and occasionally supplemented by suggestions from a few very trustworthy industry professionals).

If your establishment is not listed, this is not the result of any personal vendetta but rather the vagaries of chance and the limitations of space and if you’re striving to serve up fine food, ideally, featuring the very best of local, seasonal Irish produce, you’re bound to wind up in these pages sooner rather than later.

The past few years have been difficult for all, most especially those in the hospitality industry. 

 Kevin Aherne of Sage restaurant in Midleton, Co Cork, which makes the list of the best gourmand choice in Joe McNamee’s foodie awards.

Yet, be it a display of incredible bravery or simply astonishing foolhardiness on their part, it is impossible to feel anything but admiration for those in the Irish food business who continue to take such huge risks and press on regardless of the odds stacked up against them.

The hospitality industry is a massive employer in this country, a huge contributor to the national exchequer and a crucial part of our tourist strategy yet the State and local authorities can be found wanting when it comes to supporting this sector, imposing often highly unnecessary rules and regulations policed by over-zealous and under-informed officials.

The challenges don’t end with official Ireland: an economically chastened post-Celtic Tiger populace, many still armed with a newfound if unfortunately belated zeal for frugality, now expect the culinary equivalent of the cosmos for little more than thruppence ha’penny, convinced all restaurateurs are charlatans, out to gull poor unsuspecting customers. 

The reality is, when menu prices are stacked up against the cost of living, Ireland today is one of the best value places to dine in Europe. 

In other words, the restaurateurs have been the ones taking the big hits, doing everything in their power to shave prices even as their costs remain as high as ever.

And they continue to fight the brave fight, new businesses opening each day in what remains a still-fraught fiscal climate.

They continue to cook superb world-class Irish produce with vim, vigour and ever-evolving innovation, building up the foundation stones of a modern Irish cuisine and taking ever greater risks in so doing, often motivated by nothing more than the sheer love of what they do.

In West Cork, an area as hard hit as any in the country, chef Mark Jennings (formerly of the much renowned Ethicurean, in Bristol, and Café Paradiso), along with partner Sarah Jane Pearce, have opened Pilgrim’s, in Rosscarbery, Co Cork. 

It offers an intriguingly original menu, high on premium quality local produce, both cultivated and foraged, and some distance from the more usual safety net of ‘cooking by catalogue’, serving up whatever the food truck can deliver.

This writer has yet to visit but if it is half as good as two friends —both highly respected Irish food professionals — have suggested, then there’s no doubt they’ll feature in here next year and probably earn some substantially more important kudos elsewhere to boot. 

Best of all is the knowledge that there’s a growing band of likeminded chefs and restaurateurs out there, all charting a similar course.

Coffee

The moustache wax is now dried and cracked and ‘Peak Beard’ has long passed but the Irish coffee revolution continues apace and, why not, for it was never solely the preserve of hipsters despite the overstrained associations of recent years.

Possibly one reason for the astonishing rise in interest in coffee in Ireland is there was never much of a coffee tradition to begin with, so we started from scratch with a blank slate. 

Furthermore, much of the coffee we now drink comes from beans roasted by excellent independent Irish roasters, including four of those listed below: Golden Bean; Badger & Dodo; 3FE; and Cork Coffee Roasters.

Filter, 19, George’s Quay, Cork. www.facebook/F-I-L-T-E-R 

Cork Coffee Roasters, Bridge St, Cork. www.corkcoffee.com 

Third Floor Expresso (3FE), 32/34 Lower Grand Canal St, D2 & Twisted Pepper Building, 54 Middle Abbey St, D1. www.3fe.com 

Golden Bean at Rocket Man, 38, Princes St, Cork. www.facebook.com/thegoldenbeancork 

Badger & Dodo, Fairgeen Road, Galway. www.badgeranddodo.ie 

Alchemy, 123, Barrack St, Cork. www.facebook.com/Alchemy-Cork 

Sandwich

‘D’oul sangidge’ remains as popular as ever, still the nation’s favourite snack, whether at home or while out and about. ‘

The standard continues to rise in tandem with growing epicurean expectations and continual improvements in available produce, specifically, the growth in availability of ‘real bread’, something a hell of a lot more substantial than pappy white sliced pan. 

It almost goes without saying but another instant disqualifier is the use of ‘dairy spreads’ instead of far healthier and far more delicious butter, a heinous practice that has seen a former favourite temporarily suspended from this listing until good sense prevails once more.

The Sandwich Stall, English Market, 39, Grand Parade, Cork.

House Café at Cork Opera House, Emmet Place, Cork. www.facebook.com/House  Café at Cork Opera House

The Fumbally Café, Fumbally Lane, Dublin 8. www.thefumbally.ie 

Mortell’s Deli & Restaurant, 49, Roches St, Limerick. www.mortellcatering.com 

37 West, 37 Lower Newcastle Road, Galway. www.37west.com 

Twenty Sandwich Bar, 20 Anglesea St, Cork. www.facebook/twenty 

Burger

Food trends come and go but the burger, it seems, will always be with us, despite news of the recently falling Golden Arches, aka McDonalds, suffering a pronounced case of fiscal flat foot.

Rather it seems we are increasingly opting for a superior offering, ideally, made from the very finest of prime Irish beef and especial kudos to Dublin’s wonderful Woollen Mills for their lovely beef cheek burger.

The Woollen Mills, 42 Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1. www.thewoollenmills.com 

Liberty Grill, 32 Washington St, Cork. www.libertygrill.ie 

Gourmet Burger Bistro, 8 Bridge Street, Cork. www.gourmetburgerbistro.ie 

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

Bunsen Burger, 36 Wexford Street, Dublin 2. www.bunsen.ie 

Coqbull, 5 French Church St, Cork. www.coqbull.com 

Fish & Chips

Always one of the most controversial categories, for there’s nothing stirs a Gael’s ire more than the spurning of their favoured chipper.

Fans of The Golden Fry in Ballinlough may have endured a few nervous weeks last year when it changed ownership but new proprietor Wesley O’Connell has, if anything, improved standards.

Lennox’s, 137, Bandon Rd, Cork. www.facebook.com/JackieLennoxChipShop 

The Fish Wife, 45A, MacCurtain St, Cork. www.facebook.com/thefishwifecork 

The Golden Fry, Ballinlough Rd, Cork.

Kettle of Fish, Cross St, Galway & The Square, Gort, Co. Galway. www.facebook.com/KettleofFish 

Genoa Takeaway, 30 Grattan Square, Dungarvan, Co Waterford. www.facebook.com/Genoas-Take-Away 

Fishy Fishy, Kinsale, Crowley’s Quay, Co Cork. www.fishyfishy.ie 

Street Food

Here in Ireland, both the authorities and the traditional restaurant sector are still struggling to get heads around the notion of street food. 

They tend to view it with some suspicion and many restaurateurs going yet further in condemning it outright as unfair competition. 

However, in the US, where street food has exploded across the nation in the last decade and New York City authorities actually provide subsidised food carts, it is seen as a natural and complementary part of an industry that is the second largest private sector employer (14m workers) and is on course to hit record sales of $709.2bn in 2015.

With a little legislative tweaking to address the small handful of genuine hospitality industry concerns, a whole new vibrant sector could evolve in Ireland, further bolstering the onward march of the Irish food revolution but for the moment it remains a lot more about ‘food’ than ‘street’, mostly available in the farmers’ markets.

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

Volcano Woodfired Pizza. www.volcano.ie 

Lolo’s Kitchen. www.facebook.com/lelolokitchen 

My Goodness. www.facebook.com/MyGoodnessFood 

The Food Depot Gourmet Street Kitchen. www.fooddepotireland.com 

Pyke ‘n’ Pommes. www.facebook.com/Pyke-N-Pommes 

Bar food

We may still guzzle with gusto but there continues to be a marked and ever downward decline in our consumption on licensed premises. It is sad to see some of the great old institutions wither away for there are (were?!) few more pleasurable experiences than a night in a proper Irish pub, and we’re not talking about any of the plastic paddy kits set up around the rest of the world.

But change remains the only constant so often those pubs still thriving are the ones who’ve adapted, who’ve learned many Irish punters are as concerned with consuming nosebag as with sculling pints and have responded by offering increasingly good, sometimes truly excellent food. (Indeed, Rachel Burr, editor of the Michelin Guide for Britain and Ireland believes the Irish gastropub remains our most likely source of stars in the future.)

Better still are those offering equally considered liquid menus, most especially a decent selection of the wide, wonderful and ever-expanding range of Irish craft beers, a genuinely good wine list and a selection of spirits from the mushrooming independent Irish boutique distilleries.

Merry’s, Lower Main Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford. www.merrysgastropub.com 

Toddie’s at the Bulman, Summercove, Kinsale, Co Cork. www.thebulman.ie 

Deasy’s Harbour Bar & Seafood Restaurant, Ring Village, Clonakilty, Co Cork. www.facebook.com/Deasys-Harbour-Bar-Seafood-Restaurant 

Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. www.wildhoneyinn.com 

Packie’s, Henry Street, Kenmare, Co Kerry. www.kenmare.com/packies 

Cronin’s, 1 Point Road, Crosshaven, Co Cork. www.croninspub.com 

Café Culture

Though most of the establishments listed below are happy to include the word ‘café’ in their business name, they are all most decidedly restaurants and very good ones at that.

It’s just they are the class of restaurant that opens early in the morning and closes before nightfall truly sets in, that can certainly furnish ‘dinner’ but can equally offer ‘lunch’ yet also happily provide no more than a simple cup of tea and scone and the chance to rest up, gazing for a while upon the endless procession of humanity passing through.

Anyway, however you wish to slice it, for this writer, a delicious December lunch in the Farmgate Café, prolonged in the company of an old friend until the entire English Market was on the verge of closing, remains a more treasured ‘restaurant memory’ than several Michelin-starred dining experiences. Café? Restaurant? Who cares as long as it’s this good.

Good Things Café & Cookery School, Durrus, Co Cork. www.goodthingscafe.com 

Kalbo’s Bistro & Kalbo’s@Uillinn, Skibbereen, Co Cork. www.facebook.com/Kalbo’s 

Nash 19, 19, Princes St, Cork. www.nash19.com 

Farmgate Café, English Market, Cork. www.farmgate.ie 

Idaho Café, Caroline St, Cork.

www.idahocafe.ie 

Cake Café, 62 Pleasant’s Place, D8. www.thecakecafe.ie 

Casual Dining

Several years ago, casual dining was dubbed a new food trend but unlike most trends, this one is here to stay, the simple gist of it being an increasingly high standard of food offering and a correspondingly relaxed style of presentation with none of the uptight starchiness of old school silver service dining.

Orso Kitchen & Bar, 8 Pembroke St, Cork. www.orso.ie 

The Black Pig, 66, Lower O’Connell St, Kinsale, Co Cork. www.facebook.com/theblackpigwinebar 

Kai Café & Restaurant, 20 Sea Road, Galway. www.kaicaferestaurant.com 

The Square Table, 5, The Square, Blarney. www.thesquaretable.ie 

Jacques Restaurant, 23 Oliver Plunkett St, Cork. www.jacquesrestaurant.ie 

L’Atitude 51 Wine Café, 1 Union Quay, Cork. www.latitude51.ie 

Late night eating

Outside of the Dublin metropolitan area, late night dining options are invariably limited to a handful of variations on a deep fried theme and at that even those in the capital won’t be gunning for Michelin stars any time soon.

However, all listed below offer decent, honest grub at fair prices and in a true test of quality, a slice from Fast Al’s remains as welcome by day as it does at the end of a long night out on the tiles while Passion 4 Food’s kebabs are just about the finest this particular belly has ever hosted.

Fast Al’s, various locations, Cork city. www.fastals.ie 

Passion 4 Food, 27A, Clanbrassil Street Lower, Dublin 8. www.facebook.com/Passion4Food 

KC & Son & Sons, East Douglas St, Douglas Village, Cork. www.kcandsonandsons.com 

Yuan Ming Yuan Chinese Restaurant, 17 Princes Street, Cork, Ireland. http://www.ymy.ie 

Bóbós, 22 Wexford Street, Dublin 2. www.bobos.ie 

Di Fontaine’s Pizzeria, 22 Parliament Street, Dublin. www.facebook.com/pages/DiFontaines-Pizzeria 

The Good World, 18 South Great Georges St, Dublin 2. www.goodworldchinesedublin.com 

Ethnic

Completing this section in previous years was largely an exercise in envy, bemoaning Dublin’s unfair advantage over the rest of the country when it came to decent authentic ethnic restaurants and expressing a hope the situation might change in the future.

Last year, the first flicker of hope came with the arrival of a wonderful little South Indian vegetarian establishment, Iyer’s Café, but no one could have anticipated that Munster would then acquire not one but two new Japanese restaurants: the delightful Miyazaki takeaway in Cork; and the sublime Taikichi in Limerick, with several of my culinary compadres happy to stake their professional reputations on the latter being the best Japanese restaurant in Ireland.

Iyer’s Café, 38, Pope’s Quay, Cork. www.facebook.com/iyerscafe 

Miyazaki, 1A, Evergreen St, Cork. www.facebook.com/miyazakicork 

Dashi Deli & Sushi Bar, 11, Cook St, Cork. www.dashi-deli.com 

Taikichi Restaurant, 35 O’Connell St, Limerick. www.taikichirestaurant.com 

Rotana Café (Lebanese), 31 South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin 2. www.rotanacafe.ie 

M & L Szechuan Chinese Restaurant, 13/14 Cathedral St, Dublin 1. www.mlchineserestaurant.com 

First Date/Romantic Restaurant

It may seem especially presumptuous, even forward, to bring a potential paramour on a first date to an establishment as renowned for the beauty of its boudoirs as it is for the fabulousness of its food but for those beyond the first flush of romance, a visit to Ballymaloe, Longueville, Gregan’s Castle or Brooklodge will resuscitate even the most moribund of relationships.

An Port Mór, on the other hand, really is a splendid first date restaurant and just as good for myriad dates to follow, squeezed into this tight but delightful little space, it is intimacy compounded upon intimacy, the magic only heightened by Frankie Mallon’s cooking.

And Fleming’s is to be found somewhere in between, a hidden treasure, fine classical cooking and service without stiffness or starch.

Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, Midleton, Co Cork. www.ballymaloe.ie 

Longueville House, Killarney Road, Mallow, Co Cork. www.longueville.ie 

Gregan’s Castle, Corkscrew Hill, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. www.gregans.ie 

An Port Mor, 1 Brewery Place, Bridge St, Westport, Co Mayo. www.anportmor.com 

The Strawberry Tree Restaurant at Brooklodge Hotel & Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow. www.brooklodge.com

Fleming’s Restaurant, Tivoli, Cork. www.flemingsrestaurant.ie 

Family Friendly Restaurant

Certain of the restaurants below primarily target children and teens who then only return much later in life with progeny of their own, the Bad Ass Café and Captain America’s, in particular.

Others are for the ‘grown-ups’ but with plenty to attract the critters: in the case of Blackrock Castle Café, the family friendly menu and the observatory attraction across the yard; while L’Officina and The White Horse in Ballincollig are included for especially commendable decisions to treat young people with the same respect as adults by providing genuinely tasty and considered ‘kids’ menus.

Scoozis, 2-5, Winthrop Lane, Cork. www.scoozis.ie 

Bad Ass Café, 9-11 Crown Alley, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. www.badasscafedublin.com 

The White Horse, West Village, Ballincollig, Co Cork.

The Castle Café, Blackrock Castle, Castle Road, Cork. www.thecastlecafe.ie 

l’Officina, Kildare Village, Co Kildare. www.dunneandcrescenzi.com/lofficina/kildare 

Captain America’s, 4-5 South Main St, Cork. (also in Dublin) www.captainamericas.com 

Party Restaurant

Despite what certain overly precious chefs might believe, the restaurant experience is not entirely about the food. While all the restaurants listed below more than meet excellent self-imposed culinary standards, they do so with bucketloads of brio and a healthy sense of fun.

Ard Bia@Nimmo’s, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway. www.ardbia.com 

Isaacs, 48 MacCurtain St, Cork. www.facebook.com/Isaacs-Restaurant-Cork 

The Bernard Shaw, 11-12 Richmond St, South Rathmines, Dublin 2. www.facebook.com/thebernardshaw 

No 5 Fenn’s Quay, Sheare’s St, Cork. www.fennsquay.net 

Cornstore, 40A, Cornmarket St, Cork. www.cornstorecork.com 

Electric, 41 South Mall, Cork. www.electriccork.com 

The Gourmand’s Choice

With each passing year, the thrilling evolution of a new modern Irish cuisine continues apace, especially in the case of the superb practitioners listed below.

Firstly, it is produce-driven, using the very finest local, seasonal world-class Irish produce, an ethos first preached and practiced by one great Irish culinary pioneer, Myrtle Allen, over 50 years ago.

Five of the below are children of the new millennium, mere striplings alongside the 20-year-old veteran, Café Paradiso. Back in 1995, it was a rarity — anywhere in the world — to operate a vegetarian restaurant to Michelin standards; 20 years on, vegetarian food is no longer a niche market but resolutely mainstream.

Which brings us to the second aspect of the new modern Irish cuisine, the decline of ‘meat-and-two-veg’ cooking and the recognition that vegetables and fruit are every bit as important on a plate as meat or fish.

And much of that is down to another great Irish culinary pioneer, Café Paradiso’s Denis Cotter.

Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse, Oliver Plunkett St, Cork. www.elbowlane.ie

Sage Restaurant, The Courtyard, Main St, Midleton, Co Cork. www.sagerestaurant.ie 

Greene’s, 48 MacCurtain St, Cork. www.greenesrestaurant.com 

Ox, 1 Oxford St, Belfast. www.oxbelfast.com 

Restaurant Forty One, Residence, 41 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2. www.restaurant41.ie 

Café Paradiso, 16 Lancaster Quay, Cork. www.cafeparadiso.ie 

Idas, John St, Dingle, Co Kerry. www.facebook.com/idasrestaurant 



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