Independent.ie and Sunday Independent readers share their favourite Irish restaurants
This really is a Great Little Country for restaurants, judging by the terrific response we got to our request for recommendations for good places to eat countrywide
Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30
If it is good food by the sea he is looking for, Brendan would be well advised to check out the Lemon Tree Restaurant in Dunmore East, County Waterford, during his travels. The hot mackerel and new potato salads we had there on Saturday last were delicious, and this was only one of the very many good fish dishes on the menu that day.
It is not easy nowadays - even in the so-called "best" restaurants - to get tasty, properly cooked, fresh fish that is not smothered in some ridiculous sauce.
Like Brendan, I cringe at the current adoration of food, cooking, celebrity chef programmes etc. But The Lemon Tree Restaurant meets a very normal, healthy need for excellent, fresh, tasty food, in one of Ireland's most picturesque, all-year around, very normal villages. Roisin Clarke
If you are ever in Letterkenny, County Donegal, there are two restaurants well worth a visit for their consistency and excellence. The Yellow Pepper and Pats On The Square. Both of these establishments employ welcoming staff, provide delicious food in a relaxed, cosy atmosphere and are family friendly. Although we have been a patron of both restaurants for years, we have never experienced any complacency. We are always treated with great respect and the staff are welcoming. Pasqueline Blake
As you make your way down the twisted walkway to the pier at Dun Chaoin in Kerry, you will see before you in the distance the most beautiful place on planet earth, An Bhlascaoid Mhoir or The Great Blasket Island.The crossing can be rough, very rough, but it's worth it. Your first encounter with life on the island will most likely be in the Island Restaurant and Tea Rooms. The food is served outside overlooking the island's little slipway and An Tra Ban.
I bring with me to the island every year for the past 35 years home-cured bacon or, as they call it on the island, 'hairy bacon'. Preparing the bacon takes some time with washing the salt off and it's evening time before cooking begins. Sue, the island's weaver, prepares the bacon and cabbage and the feast is set to take place. For starters we have fresh mackerel caught on the island, garnished with some fresh island herbs, straight from the frying pan and there's black pudding from Annascaul. Then it's on to the 'hairy bacon' and cabbage, accompanied by balls of floury spuds that have peeled themselves. Joe Queally
Check out Pilgrim's in Rosscarberry in West Cork. It's open a few months. You need to book Sunday lunch. Good for kids. Very reasonable. You will love it. Peter O'Flynn
My favourite restaurant is The Queens in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Chunky chips, hot spicy chicken wings and creamy seafood chowder all the better for coming with dip-in nutty brown bread. Throughout the 1970s, and even 80s, the Queens was my local; a great big expanse of a bar throbbing with trendy teens and twenties. Imagine my surprise, returning after years, to find it had gone all gastronomic. That's gas, I said to myself one November night in the noughties, when I copped everyone eating more than they were drinking. If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. Now, I can't beat the juice from a classic beef burger running down my chin, the hiss and sizzle of steak on a stone, strings of tagliatelle tripping off my tongue, frothy coffee sitting on my lips. Frances Browner
Café Rua on Antrim Street in Castlebar in County Mayo, and Rua Deli on Spencer Street are both great places to eat. The food is delicious and the service friendly. There's always a decent vegetarian option and children are well catered for - the children's menu is not the usual chips and nuggets/sausages. The salads that accompany many dishes are particularly good. Gráinne Treanor
Growing up in Donegal, a venture into the heart of Derry City was inevitable and years later, having ventured far and wide, The Exchange is still the best dining experience I've ever known. One can wait for an hour before acquiring a seat but I assure you, you will not be disappointed. Lively music and modern decor are part of the deal and the food is outstanding. But the greatest attraction is the feeling of warmth and cosiness. From elegantly dressed ladies to young families, no one feels out of place. Private conversations, moments of silence and laughing crowds are all equal parts of a night in The Exchange. So trust my judgement, acquired over the years, and if travelling through Donegal, take a slight detour. Rosaleen O' Donnell
Hunger is a great appetiser so after a day in the beautiful windswept Saltee Islands off Wexford we were ready for food. Arriving back to Kilmore Quay we needed food fast so hence we went to a fast food place, The Saltee Chipper.
There were lots of friendly faces sharing tables and benches in the evening sunshine, all chatting to each other; strangers mostly, but in the casualness of the holiday atmosphere all just being relaxed and friendly.
The background music was perfect - the sound of the water and the distant seagulls singing their own unique chorus. And the food . . . OMG! Who needs five star restaurants and white linen tablecloths? What could be better than fish and chips wrapped in paper with a wedge of fresh lemon, salt and vinegar?
The taste of hot crispy battered haddock melting in my mouth had me salivating and for once in my life totally silent (much to the delight of my husband). The chips, like the fish, eaten by hand, left me licking my fingers so as not to waste one bit of the flavour. The end result; a full and satisfied belly and isn't that what it's all about at the end of the day. A year later and the memory still lingers. Doesn't that say it all? Bernie Kirwan
Anocht is situated opposite Kilkenny Castle and is upstairs in the Design Centre. The views out front look to Kilkenny Castle and at the back to a beautiful courtyard and view of the workshops which were the stables for the castle. Butler House can be seen too.
The interior is very simple but welcoming. The staff are lovely and friendly with a warm welcome and pleasant, nothing is too much trouble. The food is top quality and locally sourced. The flavours, freshness and presentation are excellent. There is a very good Early Bird Menu. I can highly recommend Anocht. Nora Dooley
Imagine for a moment that you're in the midst of all the noise and chaos of a Vietnamese street. Feeling ravenous, you come upon a little stall that serves Khao Pad (chicken and rice) in a cardboard tray. You pay a pittance, dig in, pretend you're a local, and it's such a delicious, satisfying meal that you wish you could package up the whole experience and bring it home with you. Well, you need to try my local Asian street food restaurant/take-away, Aroi, an award-winning eaterie in Limerick which has since expanded to Cork. An unassuming little place, simple in its design, but it's the food that keeps drawing me back. Truly authentic, with the most amazing flavours and smells, it is a labour of love by chef Eddie Fong. Declan Heffernan
For days afterward you feel slightly superior, as the Mews Restaurant in Baltimore, County Cork, is quite small and hidden, so you feel you have discovered it. Now it's time to share it with Brendan.
Within moments of your arrival, a cider from Kinsale is being poured for you and your friends, and a little bowl of intriguing seaweed spaghetti is placed for you to nibble. You are caught unawares, in a good way, from the beginning. As it's a set menu, there are no choices to be made and yet, curiously, you feel that you are in good hands.
The just-out-of-the-oven brown soda bread and sweet butter accompanies a finely whipped salty fish paste, which in turn is followed by several small plates of surprises, the most gorgeously decadent being the Gubbeen scotch eggs.
When each little plate arrives, the waiter tells you what you are going to eat. Then you discover for yourself. He is genuinely pleased you like the food. When the roast pork arrives, like long-ago Sunday lunch, all meltingly tender and stickily delicious, you realise that yes, pork is actually your very favourite meat.
The best bit is possibly the candied early spring rhubarb and gorse-infused custard that appears before the cheese. What? Rhubarb and custard? Well, that's the point, really. Somebody actually went out and picked a bucket of the fragrant coconut-smelling gorse for that pudding, so only a restaurant could produce that dish. All the dishes on the Mews menu are like that, simply presented, old-school ingredients, but transformed with dazzling good cooking.
It's about eleven pm, and there isn't a taxi to be had in the village, but as you walk up the hill to your accommodation, all the talk is about the meal you have just had. Geraldine Timlin
Visiting the west of Ireland, close to Clew Bay in County Mayo, you'll find The Sheebeen. This is a unique pub/ restaurant serving a variety of locally produced food. With its thatched roof and open fires together with traditional music, it's a nice place to spend time.
Moving out to the next town and on The Greenway route, you'll find Kelly's Kitchen in Newport. It's the perfect place for homemade food, together with a selection of desserts and home baking.
Closer to Mulranny, don't miss a visit to Yvonne's Cottage and Tea Rooms. Like Kelly's Kitchen, it is a stop not to be missed, with its old-style memorabilia.
Hope these tips help someone along their way. Bernie Rose
It was in Feakle, Co Clare, we saw it. The sign said Café and we were gasping for tea and some food. We parked easily and into the cafe we went. We had to pass through a shop with an old- fashioned counter. An archway led us to the cafe, consisting of two tables, and eight plastic chairs. It was also an internet cafe and an undertaker's office.
The lady, after seeing to a customer, came in to welcome us. There was no menu, she just told us what she had. Cheese, ham and mayo on brown bread, plus tea were what we ordered. Two white mugs and a big pot of tea were placed on the table. Next the sandwiches, piled high on a paper plate. They tasted delicious, and the tea was just right.
We asked our hostess, called Anne, about Biddy Early, the herbalist, but she was a native of Carlow and didn't know. However, if we weren't in a hurry, she knew someone who knew all about Biddy. We had time, and very soon a lady complete with a shawl came to sit with us. She told us she was 88 years old, and had lived in Feakle all her life. She was a mine of information. Joan Patten
The Wildflower Café is the cutest little retro cafe homed inside Beechdale Garden Centre, Moneytucker, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. It is like a stage set, where you can be anyone or anywhere you want in your own play. Outside in the Mad Hatters Tea Party Garden you can transport yourselves to a lovely fictional sunny summer. A Brigadoon nestled in the busy garden centre. Crockery is china and nothing matches so it's like visiting a dearly loved auntie. There are paintings by local artists displayed on the fabric covered walls which are inset with internal windows. William and his staff are so unfailingly friendly and efficient. The food is delicious, beautifully served and reasonably priced. There is also a small wine list. A delightful little treat for locals and those touring the south east. Noreen Ryan
I have found my spot and it's called The Tap and is in Kilbride, County Wicklow, about a ten minute drive from Wicklow town. Up until recently this restaurant/cafe/bar, was bordering the busy N11 between Gorey and Rathnew but this roadway has been upgraded and The Tap lies peacefully on the now much quieter and subdued secondary route.
It is a long, two-storey building, painted white with black surrounds, resembling a tavern. The minute you step inside, you can feel the friendliness and you will be spoilt for choice as to where to sit. In winter the blazing fire will draw you into its embrace and in the summer you might choose to sit by a window and gaze out at the rolling hills and plush trees of the Garden of Ireland.
There is an unpretentious rustic/country kitchen theme throughout the building and homemade jams/chutneys sit cosily alongside dried flower displays. The toilets should be visited even if you don't want to use one because you could really eat your meal in these candle-lit pristine rest rooms. There is a delicious breakfast menu served from 8am to 12pm and their new main menu is not your usual boring three-course meal, which I find overwhelming, but a lovely selection of bites, salads, sambos, pizzas, lunches and homemade desserts. Prices start from €6.95 up to €16.95 for their delicious Dunmore East cod and chips.
The last time I was there, my husband and myself sat out under the moonlight in this pretty garden and sipped on our drinks, absorbing the peace and quiet of the Wicklow countryside. With all the main traffic having moved onto the new motorway, the only sound we heard was the trundling rumble of a brightly lit combine harvester making its way leisurely way home. Bernie Kearney
Top prize for best restaurant
We've teamed up with Discover Ireland to give a fantastic prize for the best restaurant. Congratulations to winner Joan Patten, who will receive a 2 night break, for 2 sharing, staying at the wonderful Bloomfield House Hotel, Leisure Club and Spa, in the heart of the magical Westmeath Lakelands overlooking Lough Ennell.
The fantastic prize at this 4-star hideaway includes a romantic dinner on one evening of the winner's choice. It is an ideal getaway location, close to Dublin. Check out www.BloomfieldHouseHotel.ie
There will also be fabulous prizes for reader's suggestions in the forthcoming categories of great pubs you keep going back to, and great free attractions.
Entry details for this week's A Great Little Country competition are available on page 13, at the bottom of Brendan O'Connor's column.
For year-round inspiration and loads of special offers, find Discover Ireland on Facebook, @discoverirl on Twitter or check out www.discoverireland.ie #this is LIVING.
Sunday Indo Living