independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Our Irish top ten

John and Sally McKenna, authors of the new ‘Bridgestone 100 Best Guides to Ireland’ have scoured the country in search of their favourite places to eat and stay

Hotel Europe, Killarney

They're doing the right thing in The Hotel Europe: over the June bank holiday, more than 300 guests stayed, an impressive figure that tells its own story for this smartly refurbished Killarney icon.

There's an alliance of comfort and good cooking, and the spa and the pool are pretty much the best you will find anywhere in Ireland.

It's a great family hotel, but without that family-hotel feeling. It's like an ocean liner: check in and you won't want to step outside this cocoon of relaxation.

Contact: Michael Brennan, Fossa, Killarney, Co Kerry. Tel: 064 667 1300; theeurope.com.

Average price: Rooms €220 B&B.

South Aran, Inis Oirr

Enda and Marie Conneely do pretty much everything in their restaurant and rooms on Inis Oirr. Powerboating? Yep. Pilates? Why not? Cookery classes? Check. Eating lovely food and just chilling out on lovely Inis Oirr? For sure.

South Aran is simple and lovely, a place to lose yourself that may also be the place in which to find yourself. Banish memories of Irish classes when you were a kid, and come and see another side of this special island.

Contact: Enda and Maria Conneely, Fisherman's Cottage, Inis Oirr, Aran Islands. Tel: 099 75073; southaran.com.

Average price: €35pps B&B; main courses €17-€21.

Kilcolman Rectory, Enniskeane

There is only one word that will do for Sarah Gornall's manor house near to Enniskeane in West Cork: perfect. And when you learn that Ms Gornall has trained as a chef, designer and gardener, you can understand exactly how that expert eye blesses and graces everything in this most gorgeous getaway, from garden and drawing rooms to bedrooms and dining room.

Kilcolman may be perfect, but it's in no way fussy or stuffy, and you can invite us to a house-party weekend here anytime you like.

Contact: Sarah Gornall, Enniskeane, Co Cork. Tel: 023 882 2913; kilcolmanrectory.com.

Average price: €75pp B&B; dinner €45.

O'Brien Chop House, Lismore

The toast of lovely Lismore is the O'Brien Chop House, an aesthete's delight that also happens to be a food lover's paradise.

Run by Justin and Jenny Green, a husband and wife team who also oversee Ballyvolane House in Cork, the Chop House is a restaurant that does everything right and it has been a success right from the day they opened the doors.

Just make sure you have a reservation, don't miss the devilled kidneys and try the Sunday lunch.

Contact: Justin and Jenny Green, Main Street, Lismore, Co Waterford. Tel: 058 53810; obrien chophouse.ie.

Average price: Lunch from €23, dinner €35.

Pembroke House, Dublin

Dublin should have a score of great private houses offering accommodation and wonderful service, but the truth is that it doesn't.

That lack makes Fiona Teehan's Pembroke House even more valuable as a city address, and here you will find superb service in a beautiful Georgian house that has the feel of the city.

It's the feeling that they are really looking after you that makes Pembroke House special, starting with the tea and homemade biscuits when you arrive.

Contact: Fiona Teehan, 90 Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Tel: 01-660 0277; pembroketown house.ie.

Average price: €99 per room B&B.

Viewmount House, Longford

When Gary O'Hanlon was a youngster learning his craft up in Donegal, he wanted to be Conrad Gallagher. You could argue that by being the chef who has put Viewmount House on the map, and in doing so finally put Longford on the culinary map of Ireland, O'Hanlon has achieved more than his fellow Donegal chef.

Viewmount is reason alone to go to Longford, both as a terrific place to stay and enjoy splendid service and hospitality, but especially as a great dining destination with a singular style of modern Irish food.

Contact: Beryl & James Kearney, Dublin Road, Longford. Tel: 043 334 1919; viewmounthouse.com.

Average price: Lunch €29, dinner €53; B&B €50-€60 per person.

Knockranny House, Westport

Mayo has a slew of excellent places to stay, but Knockranny's ace in the hole is chef Seamus Commons, a local man whose cooking is among the most assured and distinctive of any of this generation of Irish cooks.

This is the sort of food that will simply blow you away, a series of essays on individual ingredients that is finessed, intriguing and scrummily delicious. Just make sure that you have more than one night to try what is probably the hottest cooking in the west.

Contact: Adrian and Ger Noonan, Westport, Co Mayo. Tel: 098 28600; khh.ie.

Average price: €59-€79pps; dinner €54.

An Cruibin, Cork

Only in Cork would you get a restaurant as funky, surreal and inspired as An Cruibin. This smart newcomer fits like a glove in this city of idiosyncratic cooks, and you won't find food like the cooking in the Silk Purse restaurant anywhere else.

If you had your favourite tapas bar from Barcelona re-styled by a hip designer and then dropped down by the River Lee, An Cruibin is what you would get. A whole new way of being a Celt.

Contact: Paul Lewis and Frank O'Connell, One Union Quay, Cork. Tel: 021 431 0071; themeatcentre. com.

Average price: Meals €15.

Blair's Cove, Durrus

Never mind the fact that the dining room in Blair's Cove is arguably the most beautiful in the country, because even before you step into this gilded palace of perfection, you will have been wowed by its location, jutting out into Dunmanus Bay in West Cork.

All you need to do then is add in fantastic service from Antje Gessche and some demon cooking from Richard Milnes, and you have one of the most magical evenings which food and wine -- and West Cork -- can offer. It's the sort of place where folk can get carried away, and wind up proposing marriage.

So, be careful. You've been warned.

Contact: Richard Milnes and Antje Gessche, Durrus, Co Cork. Tel: 027 62913; blairscove.ie.

Average price: Dinner €45-€58.

Castlewood House, Dingle

It's the professional polish that Brian and Helen Heaton bring to their waterside guesthouse that sets Castlewood apart.

The marriage of five-star service with a sublimely comfortable house means this Dingle getaway is run the way boutique hotels should be, but so rarely are.

The Heatons are emblematic of a dynamic sense of engagement and professionalism which is quickly making Dingle ultra-impressive as a place to stay and eat, so pack an appetite along with that surf board.

Contact: Helen and Brian Heaton, Dingle, Co Kerry. Tel: 066 915 2788; castlewooddingle.com.

Average price: Rooms from €75 B&B.

Irish Independent

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