Thursday 19 September 2019

Ireland's top 30 food experiences - the meals you'll rave about

They're the meals you'll rave about, the dishes you'll order time and again, the ingredients you'll never be without - and the tastes that will change your mind about 'boring' Irish cuisine. Katy McGuinness guides you through the country's unmissable eats

Kai, Sea Road, Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes
Kai, Sea Road, Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes
Katy McGuinness

Katy McGuinness

1 The Seafood Platter at Michael's, Mount Merrion

Chef Gareth 'Gaz' Smith of Michael's in Mount Merrion is a one-man seafood marketing machine, on a mission to get us all to eat more of the magnificent fish and seafood from our native waters. The Lambay crab and lobster are unparalleled and the portions beyond generous. Have whatever Gaz tells you to - and drink whatever front-of-house man Talha Pasha suggests - you won't regret it.

2 The Cote de Boeuf and Red Wine Prunes at Etto

Etto is the Dublin city centre restaurant that chefs go to on their day off - handily it's open on Monday when many other restaurants are closed. Ask any regular what to eat and, while they may hum and haw because everything is good (the mussels the malfatti, the stuffed olives!), in the end, when push comes to shove, it'll be the côte de boeuf (served with dastardly Lyonnaise potatoes) cooked medium rare, followed by the red wine prunes with whipped mascarpone. All washed down with a bottle of something smooth, red and Italian.

3 White Mausu Peanut Rayu

Katie Sanderson is a Ballymaloe-trained chef who has worked at The Fumbally, puts on innovative food happenings (such as the very special Dillisk in Connemara) and pops up at festivals. Her White Mausu food company makes Peanut Rayu - an intensely peanut-y, garlicky condiment with more than a hint of chilli - and it's sensational. Eat it with your morning eggs and greens, on a chicken salad at lunchtime and with grilled meat or fish for dinner. Or straight from the jar. Other products are in development - watch out for the walnut miso and chilli ginger pickle.

4 Dooncastle Oysters at Klaw

Irish oysters are among the best in the world, up there with those from France and the Pacific North West. Natives are back in season this month, but you can eat Dooncastles from Connemara all year round. They have a slight residual sweetness thanks to the land that drains into the bays in which they are grown having been used for sugar beet farming in the past. Try them at Klaw and the Seafood Cafe in Temple Bar, where Niall Sabongi is all about spreading the love for native Irish fish and seafood - and he'll pop an oyster virgin's cherry for free - or at JP McMahon's lovely Galway wine bar, Tartare.

5 The Kaiseki menu at Ichigo Ichie

Chef Sunil Ghai pictured with his goat curry at his restaurant, Pickle on Dublins Camden Street. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Chef Sunil Ghai pictured with his goat curry at his restaurant, Pickle on Dublins Camden Street. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

When Takashi Miyazaki opened his fine-dining Japanese kaiseki-style restaurant in Cork city earlier this year, it was the realisation of a long-held dream. The name means 'for one time only', and those who have eaten the no-choice tasting menu with matching drinks - including a selection of sakis never seen in Ireland before - confirm that it is indeed a once in a lifetime experience, but one that they'd happily repeat straight away. The menu changes twice each season. For those not lucky enough to secure a booking, the 'everyday food' at Takashi's tiny casual Miyazaki, also in Cork city, is just as delicious, but in a different way.

6 Wine and Cheese at Loose Canon

We can expect to see a flurry of natural wine bars opening in Dublin and elsewhere over the next few months, as we catch up with other cities (in Paris, you'd be hard pushed to find a wine bar that doesn't serve natural wine). Loose Canon at the corner of Georges Street Arcade (the Drury Street end) comes to you from the lovely people behind Meet Me in the Morning and serves a selection of Irish and continental cheese and charcuterie, and a terrific selection of wines by the glass. There are toasties at lunchtime too. (Be still my beating heart.)

7 Fumbally Eggs at the Fumbally

Products from Sheridans
Products from Sheridans

It's hard to remember a time before The Fumbally, which is such a part of the fabric of Dublin now. The ethos may have filtered out - simple, healthy, tasty food made with high quality ingredients - as Fumbally chefs move on and open their own places, so that The Fumbally is no longer quite as unique as it was when it first opened, but it is still the mothership. Really everything at The Fumbally is delicious - I've never been disappointed - but if there is a signature dish then it has to be Fumbally Eggs, 'lightly scrambled with olive oil, Gubbeen cheese and garlic, with fresh tomatoes and basil on toasted Tartine multigrain organic sourdough'. Doesn't that sound good?

8 Crab Crème BrulÉe at The Tannery

If Paul Flynn were ever to take the Helvick crab crème brulée served with ribbons of cucumber pickle off the menu at The Tannery in Dungarvan, there would be riots. No kidding. The rest of the food is pretty fabulous too, and the rooms at The Tannery Townhouse down the street are stylish and comfortable. If you're someone who needs to justify a big dinner - and the portions at The Tannery are country-generous - think about signing up for a stretch of the Waterford Greenway cycle route by way of alleviation.

9 Frank Hederman's Wild Smoked Salmon

We Irish are good at smoked salmon, and there are a number of excellent producers around the country. But for my money Frank Hederman's from Belvelly Smokehouse in Co Cork is the best, and if you want to push the boat out, go for wild fish caught on the Lee. Hederman's salmon is a little oilier than some others, and the smoking over beech wood imparts tremendous flavour. Hederman suggests cutting down rather than across the grain of the fish, and serving it in slightly thicker slices.

10 Fish and Chips at Reel Dingle

The best fish and chips are always eaten within reach of the sea, and Reel Dingle's location just a few hundred metres from the water could not be better. It's not just a choice between cod and plaice either - Reel Dingle usually has ray wing, monkfish, haddock and squid too. Great batter, great place. The hand-cut chips are the business too.

11 Limerick Milk Market

Lucky Limerick, home to one of the two best food markets in the country - the other being the English Market in Cork. Would that Dublin had something similar. So many delicious things to choose from, but the heart of the Milk Market is Peter Ward's Country Choice, as fine a specialty food shop as one could wish for. There's another branch in Nenagh, and the fruit for Christmas baking for which it is (justly) famous, should be coming in any day now.

12 Sheridans Cheese

Products from Sheridans

The country owes the Sheridan brothers some formal recognition for services to cheese - give those men a medal. Irish farmhouse cheese is one of the great food successes, with stalwarts such as Gubbeen, Milleens and Durrus still holding strong. A new generation of cheesemakers has developed gems such as Shepherd's Store, Boyne Valley Ban and Rockfield (from the people behind Velvet Cloud Sheep's Milk Yoghurt), and now that Sheridans are in selected branches of Dunnes Stores, there's no excuse for sticking to bog standard red cheddar.

13 Scéal Bakery pastries

Ah, Scéal Bakery. The stuff of dreams. The bakery specialises in sourdough breads - the sesame and miso, and the super seeded sourdough are my favourites - and handmade 'morning' pastries that include twice-baked croissants and irresistible cruffins, topped with seasonal fruits. You'll find Scéal goodies in cafes, and also at the Stoneybatter Market on Saturday mornings.

14 A Bunsen Burger

A Bunsen burger is an essential Irish food experience. The patties are drip-down-your wrists juicy, the meat full of flavour thanks to a perfect ratio of meat to fat, and they come with pickle, onion, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mayo and mustard. The hand-cut skin-on fries are perfection. A double cheeseburger will knock any hangover stone dead.

15 The Toastie at Market Kitchen, Temple Bar on Saturday

Sarah McNally and Liadain Kaminska's Market Kitchen stall, which you'll find in the Temple Bar Market on Saturday, and at festivals around the country, serves the best toasties in the country. Fact. The fillings vary from week to week, but they're made with ingredients that you'll find in the market itself, such as Corleggy cheeses and seasonal vegetables from the McNally Family's organic farm, supplemented by pickles from the Market Kitchen larder, served on fabulous Le Levain bread.

16 Le Levain Bread

See above. Rossa Crowe is a bread genius; you'll find his exquisite sourdoughs at the Temple Bar market on Saturdays, on the menu in Etto and other good restaurants and cafes, and in shops such as Lilliput Stores, Terroirs in Donnybrook and Sheridan's on South Anne Street.

17 Abernethy Butter with Dulse Seaweed

Hand-rolled Abernethy butter is a delight, one of the shining stars of the exciting and energised food culture of Northern Ireland. My favourites are the smoked version, and the one with dulse seaweed.

18 Pi Pizza

Pizza is pizza is pizza, right? Er, no. Pizza in Ireland has seriously upped its game in recent years, and there's no excuse for the stodgy, greasy offerings that we had to put up with in the past. You definitely want your pizza cooked at a very high temperature in wood-fired oven, for one thing, and you want it made with excellent ingredients. Pi Pizza on George's Street in Dublin is one place that's doing everything right, as are Sano in Temple Bar and Dough Bros in Galway.

19 Lunch at Assassination Custard

The tiny and lovely Assassination Custard on Kevin Street in Dublin, which seats no more than 10 people (and that's a squeeze) is one of Dublin's gems, with a daily changing menu inspired by the street food of Spain, Italy and the Middle East. It's cheap as chips, and totally charming.

20 Brunch at Kai Galway

Kai, Sea Road, Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes

There's lots of good eating in Galway these days, what with Michelin stars at Loam and Aniar, and top-notch sushi at Wa Cafe, but for brunch the place to head for is Kai, where Jess Murphy's hearty, flavoursome food and gorgeous cakes are just the ticket for lazy weekends.

21 The Spice Bag at Duck

If the UK's national dish is chicken tikka masala (not something that exists in India), then Ireland's is the spice bag. One of the best is at Duck on Fade Street in Dublin, which features duck rather than chicken, and uses Kwanghi Chan's special spice bag mix as the seasoning. Kwanghi also recommends the version of the dish served at Ly Garden in Tallaght.

22 Murphy's Ice-Cream - Dingle Sea salt flavour

Murphy's ice-cream has grown from humble beginnings in Dingle to a mini-chain with branches in other parts of the country, including Dublin. The ice-cream is made with the milk of the Kerry Cow, and Dingle Sea Salt is the most popular flavour. Delicious.

23 The Smokin' Butcher's Black Pudding

Why did nobody think of this before? Smoked food is always tastier than unsmoked, and we all know that black pudding is one of the best Irish food products there is. Hugh Maguire combined the two to produce a delicious, innovative smoked black pudding - one of the few in Ireland to be made with fresh pig's blood - that was named Supreme Champion at last year's prestigious Guild of Fine Foods Great Taste Awards, taking home the coveted Golden Fork.

24 Hare Royale at The Greenhouse

Mickael Viljanen is cooking some of the most exciting food in Ireland at The Greenhouse on Dublin's Dawson Street, and there are many who think that he deserves a second Michelin star. The food is always excellent, but eat there during game season and you might be lucky enough to try his sublime version of the classic French dish, Hare Royale.

25 The tasting Menu at Mews, Baltimore - cod/seaweed signature dish

Ahmet Dede is the new chef at Mews in Baltimore, Co Cork, wherwe an elegantly sophisticated contemporary dining room is the perfect backdrop for a tasting menu based on hyper-local ingredients, many of which are wild and foraged. The food is outstanding - be sure not to miss eating the cod and seaweed (eight different types!) dish that is a signature - and the place has a calm sensibility that is at once cosseting and zen-like. Unmissable.

26 Gubbeen bacon and salami

The Ferguson family of Gubbeen are true Irish food heroes, and if you are not already familiar with Fingal Ferguson's outstanding bacon and charcuterie products, you need to remedy that right away. Although the core range is widely available, be sure not to miss the opportunity to buy from his stall in the farmers' market in Schull, Co Cork, on Sundays, where you'll sometimes find 'limited edition' products.

27 The Kid Goat Mince Curry at Pickle

When Sunil Ghai was in charge of the kitchen at Ananda, he elevated Indian food in Ireland to a French-influenced fine-dining level. At his own Dublin restaurant, Pickle, he applies his prodigious talents to Northern Indian-inspired street food. The flavours are explosive, the goat mince curry the standout dish.

28 Dinner at Heron & Grey

Yes, it's tricky to get a table but if you familiarise yourself with the booking system and make a note in your diary of when each month's reservations go live, then you too can go to Heron & Grey, tucked away in Blackrock Market, south Dublin. It's worth setting an alarm for, because this is food unlike anything that you will find anywhere else in Ireland, served with dynamic wine pairings. The tasting menu changes every couple of months, and dishes are never repeated.

29 Fish tasting menu with natural wine pairings at Fish Shop

At the lovely, modest Fish Shop, on Queen Street in Dublin, you'll find a tasting menu of simple, delicious wild fish and seafood prepared by Jumoke Akintola paired with mainly natural wines selected by her husband, Peter Hogan. Around the corner, their other Fish Shop on Benburb Street does excellent fish and chips, and a lot more besides. Both are excellent.

30 The sweet trolley at Ballymaloe

At Ballymaloe, the death of Myrtle Allen earlier this year was the end of an era, but her legacy carries on - and no more so than on the sweet trolley, where pastry chef JR Ryall showcases the fruits of his labours, many of them based on local, seasonal fruits, many grown on Ballymaloe's own organic farm.

Irish Independent

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