Food critic Lucinda O'Sullivan's best Irish restaurants of 2016
It’s been a busy, buzzy year on the dining scene, as eateries at all levels are opening apace
With a whole new wave of young chefs challenging the more staid establishment figures, we’ve now got restaurants and cafes in old train carriages and on buses, and we’ve had a tiny restaurant in a market, sans loo, awarded a Michelin star. As we’re winding down the 12 days of Christmas, here are my 12 hottest dining experiences of 2016.
Ticket to Ride
The train may not have left the station at Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Galway, but chef Alan McArdle’s food on board the Pullman Restaurant in January was Michelin standard. Set in two exquisite original carriages from the Orient Express, we sat in a dreamy carriage with inlaid wood panelling, antique lace curtains and fine china, dining on confit duck, foie gras and beluga lentil jus.
Room With No Loo
“Fine dining doesn’t have to be a stuffy affair; they are dishing up haute cuisine without any haughtiness”, I said, on reviewing Heron & Grey last February. Set in a tiny room with no loo, let alone a view, in Blackrock Market, Andrew Heron and Damien Grey served a tasting menu to die for, going on to win this year’s only new Michelin star for Ireland, with the resultant stampede seeing them booked out until August 2017.
Sunil Ghai brought a new energy to Indian street food with his Pickle Eating House on Dublin’s Camden Street in February, recreating the faded elegance of the old Irani cafes of Mumbai. Try tawa machi, fish & chips as you’ve never had it before — boneless sea bream with crab chutney, ‘micro-chips’ and pickles.
Big Apple Asian
With great cocktails, and food by chef Tao Trakoolwattana, Paul Cadden expanded from Clarendon Street to Baggot Street in April, with a stunning New York-style Saba restaurant and bar. Don’t miss the Vietnamese summer rolls.
Nisheeth Tak’s Rasam Indian Restaurant in Glasthule is the haunt of everyone from Miriam O’Callaghan to Chris de Burgh, and Pat Kenny to EastEnders star Jessie Wallace. The food and atmosphere is brilliant, with Saturday nights being a who’s-who of famous faces. The new menu has recently been launched — try the kokum fish curry from Kerala.
It has a no-bookings policy, so I sat outside John and Sandy Wyer’s new Forest & Marcy, on Upper Leeson Street, waiting for it to open. It’s a chic jewel, with exquisite contemporary Scandi-Irish food by chef Ciaran Sweeney. Expect lots of crispy-fish-skin tweaks. Try the whipped brandade, it’s wonderful!
You don’t actually expect to have your pizza cooked by a Michelin-starred chef, but the fact that Osteria Lucio on Grand Canal Quay is owned by Ross Lewis of Chapter One raises the bar. They also serve fabulous regional Italian dishes. Sitting out front, in July, with a cocktail and an Apis pizza of spicy salami, honey and basil, was wow.
Some chefs really do ‘flavour’ better than others, and Gareth ‘Gaz’ Smith, chef patron of Clonskeagh House, which opened in August in D6, just cracks it. As well as rib-eye burgers, Smith can turn out a daube de boeuf or a langoustine gratin that knocks your socks off.
Il Numero Uno Italiano
Attending Savour Kilkenny in October gave me the perfect excuse to visit the divine Rinuccini, located in the shadow of Kilkenny Castle. Run by the delightful Cavaliere family, there’s simply nothing like it in Dublin. Wines are imported from Italy, and the mouthwatering food is exquisitely executed. Antonio’s ravioli alla crema di Gorgonzola is ethereal.
The Maharajah’s Castle
In October, we also headed out Wesht to the Owenmore Restaurant in Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara, where superb chef Ultan Cooke delivers on food that is complex, contemporary and delicious. The castle, once owned by an Indian Maharajah, is just amazing and very different.
Forget jingly Chinese music and sloshy stir-fries, Karl Whelan and Will Dempsey’s new Hang Dai on Camden Street rocks. Hitting the ground running in November with lots of
Glam cocktails and a touch of Suzie Wong sassiness, it’s like sitting in a Shangai Metro with the cast from a Bond movie. Duck is the star of the show here, cooked on an open wood-burning oven.
Hotelier of the Year
From Kennedy to Obama, all American presidents have laid claim to the old sod, but Donald Trump is the only one who actually owns a spread here! He’s certainly winning the popular vote in Doonbeg, Co Clare, and they’ll love him even more now every Republican supporter in America is going to be flying in on their helicopters to be able to say they played golf at President Trump’s Hotel. The former Lodge at Doonbeg is a superb place, with wonderful decor and food, and a delightful, friendly staff, headed up by general manager Joe Russell. It was pure bliss sitting in the Ocean View Restaurant, looking out at the Atlantic, while enjoying a superb seafood risotto washed down by a fine Riesling.