By Sarah Gordon
Seafood with a twist: hot and cold Harty oysters at The Tannery
Ireland is lapped by cold Atlantic waters teeming with shellfish, cattle and sheep get fat on rich grasses and herbs, a long monastic cheese-making tradition is still alive today and there are whiskey distilleries dating back to the 1700s. No wonder holidaymakers are extolling the virtues of the wonderful cuisine on offer in Ireland.
So if you want to celebrate some of the best food and drink on the island of Ireland, why not try one of these great experiences?
The English Market, Cork
This 18th-century covered market has been classed one of the best in the UK and Ireland by restaurateur and chef Rick Stein. Its stalls sell everything from local grass-fed beef and Lee river salmon to pork spare ribs and battleboard, a salted ling fish often eaten on Fridays and during Lent.
On her state visit to Ireland in 2011, the Queen unveiled a commemorative plaque at The English Market and spoke to a number of market traders including Sheila Fitzpatrick of the Alternative Bread Company, which sells up to 90 varieties of loaves.
Don’t miss On The Pig’s Back, famed for its farmhouse cheeses and homemade pâtés. Chat to friendly stallholders for foodie tips and recipe ideas, then head upstairs to the Farmhouse Café and Restaurant for Irish stew and warming bread pudding.
O’Dowd’s Seafood Bar and Restaurant, Roundstone, Galway
If you are looking for a relaxed setting where excellent, locally sourced food takes centre stage (along with great sea views), then this Roundstone favourite is for you. With views across the harbour and Roundstone Bay, O’Dowd’s has been run by four generations of the same family since 1904.
Its focus is on fantastic produce, with its own herb and vegetable garden, homemade bread and local crab, prawns, mussels and salmon in its seafood chowder.
The Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan, Waterford
Top Irish chef Paul Flynn and his wife Máire are the team behind this restaurant, townhouse and cookery school in the seaside town of Dungarvan.
Offering contemporary Irish cuisine with a French twist and the best Waterford ingredients, expect dishes such as hot and cold Harty oysters followed by Comeragh mountain lamb, and brioche and berry pudding. If you’ve over-indulged, you can head upstairs to stay in one of the 14 beautifully decorated rooms.
The Old Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Antrim
If you are driving the Causeway Coastal Route, one of Northern Ireland’s most stunning road trips, make sure you stop off in the pretty village of Bushmills. Set on the banks of the Bush River, you will find the oldest working distillery in Ireland.
Join a tour to learn more about its 400-year history and try its rich, smooth whiskeys, then head to The Distillers Arms, the former home of the Bushmills owners, for a delicious affordable meal celebrating local ingredients, from lamb shank to sirloin steak from traditional McAtamney’s Butchers.
The Green Man, Craft Village, Derry~Londonderry
Sometimes the best way to enjoy local food is with a picnic, and where better to pick up the ingredients than The Green Man deli? Whether you are looking for Donegal sea vegetables, honey from Sligo, hand-made sausages from the local butcher or black pudding from Fermanagh, you can pick it up here.
Owners Eileen Gallagher and Neil Hougardy are always on hand to give their advice on the best local produce to buy as well.
Burren Food Trail Mondays, The Burren, County Clare
Less an eatery, more a weekly foodie event, Burren Food Trail Mondays celebrates the best local food experiences in this beautiful area of limestone karsts, cliffs and caves.
There are so many wonderful local producers that a whole trail has been set up to celebrate them, taking you from Burren Smokehouse and St Tola Goat Farm to Aillwee Cave, where you can try Burren Gold cheese.
Each Monday, a different experience is on offer to visitors, such as a cookery class in a farm kitchen, before enjoying your meal by the fire – a game and paired wine evening at Gregans Castle Hotel, or Burren beer-tasting and dinner with a Master Brewer. It is a wonderful way to meet the locals behind this foodie pocket of Ireland.
Deanes Eipic, Belfast
Ireland’s second female chef to gain a Michelin star, Danni Barry is the talented woman behind Eipic. This sleek, understated restaurant is perhaps the most sophisticated of restaurateur Michael Deane’s eateries in Belfast.
Here you can expect the finest seasonal ingredients conjured into delicate dishes such as barbecue quail and Mourne Mountain lamb. The set menus are priced at £40 or £60, with the option of an additional wine-pairing menu.
Howth Castle Cookery School, County Dublin
A historic Irish house on the north side of Dublin Bay, Howth Castle is a spectacular setting for a foodie break. You will be based in the restored Georgian kitchen of the castle, parts of which date back to the mid-15th century, and classes include lessons in preparing and serving fish, and foraging to find the perfect ingredients for your meal.
Guest chefs, such as Michelin-starred Cormac Rowe, also give demonstrations and masterclasses from time to time.
Eithna’s By The Sea, Mullaghmore, Sligo
Situated on the Wild Atlantic Way in Sligo, this award-winning seafood restaurant makes the perfect stop-off after a day exploring the dramatic coastline.
Family-run and perched overlooking the harbour in Mullaghmore, Eithna’s By The Sea buys mackerel, hake, squid and clams direct from the fishermen, and vegetables from the local organic farm.
Eithna’s homemade bread, marmalades, pestos and cakes are also a delight, and on a sunny day you can sit outside and watch the world sail by.
The Winding Stair, Dublin
As a Unesco City of Literature, Dublin is not short of wonderful bookshops. But few come with their own restaurant. Named after the Yeats poem and overlooking the river Liffey, The Winding Stair was once a hub for writers and intellectuals before it closed in the 1990s.
Elaine Murphy re-opened the site as a restaurant serving wonderful regional produce while retaining the famous bookshop on the ground floor.
Expect beer from local microbreweries, hearty Irish dishes such as smoked fish plate, homemade potato dumplings, or Blackstair Mountain leg of lamb steak. And once you’ve eaten, stroll out to discover what makes Dublin such a wonderful literary city.