Sunday 22 April 2018

Ireland's Best of the Best: 10 hot tips for your Little Black Book

Short Breaks in Ireland

Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites
Inis Meain Restaurant & Suites
Cakeface, Kilkenny. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Vintage Tea Tours. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography
Georgina Campbell's Best of the Best
Karen Nixon of Vintage Tea Tours. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography
Bervie, Achill Island
Nightmarket in Ranelagh
White Cottages, Skerries
Marquis room at Virginia Park Lodge, Co. Cavan
Heat and flavour: Nightmarket in Ranelagh. Photo: Frank McGrath
Marlfield House
Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry
Marlfield House. Photo: Ireland's Blue Book

Online Editors

'Ireland: The Best of the Best' is Georgina Campbell's latest gift to the glovebox, a guidebook crammed with mouthwatering places to eat, drink and stay.

Georgina's name is, of course, synonymous with independence, quality and an keen eye for uniquely Irish food and travel experiences.

'The Best of the Best' (GC Guides/Epicure Press) brings a personal selection hand-picked from her travel guides - "the perfect digital detox" as she terms it.

Here's a taster of the treats in store. Where will you go next?

Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites

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Inis Meain Restaurant and Suites

This wonderful place on the most tranquil and least visited of the Aran Islands has earned an international reputation as one of Ireland’s most desirable destinations. Chef Ruairí de Blacam, a native of Inis Meáin, and his wife, Marie-Therese, offer a unique experience, serving beautifully simple seasonal food in a modern restaurant with a panoramic view of the island (pictured above and top). Suites are designed to help guests discover the peace and quiet of the island, with fishing rods, bicycles and books instead of TV or a spa. A place apart.

Details: Inis Meáin, Aran Islands; 086 826 6026; inismeain.com.

More: The Irish Foodie Bucket List: 30 dishes worth travelling for

Vintage Tea Tours, Dublin

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Karen Nixon of Vintage Tea Tours. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography

If an Afternoon Tea bus tour of Dublin appeals, this should be just the ticket - traditional three-tier afternoon tea fare served on a genuine 1961 Routemaster bus named Pauline. It’s a fun atmosphere with everyone taking photos - of the food, themselves, the interior of the bus - but when they finally turn their attention to the outside, they find that Pauline, not surprisingly, is the centre of attention in the city streets. Children wave and passengers wave back, parents smile as everyone sits and nibbles while Pauline goes through the Phoenix Park, taking in Áras an Uachtaráin and the American Ambassador’s residence; she drives slowly through Georgian Dublin, O’Connell Street, and past the Jeanie Johnston sitting proudly in the Liffey… Magic.

Details: Tours from €40pp. Meeting Point @ Epic The Irish Emigration Museum, CHQ. Call 01 526 6961 (Mon-Fri) or visit vintageteatours.ie.

Cakeface, Kilkenny

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Cakeface, Kilkenny. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Although it’s on a quiet street and a little out of the way, what a great destination Laura and Rory Gannon’s patisserie and café has turned out to be. The wittily named cakes and pastries (aka “Quirky and Unusual Desserts”), are simply stellar. Anything but classical, each has its own name and personality, including favourites such as The Passionate Tart, The Zesty Nutcracker and FIGure it Out. And, while simple, the savoury food - including deeply flavoured soups, and sandwiches made with gorgeous breads from carefully selected craft bakeries, is delicious. Superb coffee too - the best in Kilkenny they claim, and they could be right. Small but mighty, Cakeface is a little treasure.

Details: 16 Irishtown Gardens; 086 601 7045; cakefacepastry.com.

Marlfield House & The Duck, Co. Wexford

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Marlfield House

Often quoted as ‘the luxury country house hotel par excellence’, this impressive house was once the residence of the Earls of Courtown, and is now an elegant oasis of unashamed luxury offering outstanding hospitality and service, where guests are pampered in sumptuous surroundings. Opened as an hotel in 1978 by Mary and Ray Bowe, their daughters Margaret and Laura are now continuing - and developing - the family tradition of hospitality. As well as the main house, they now also operate a lovely informal café-restaurant, The Duck, alongside the kitchen garden - and also Duck Lodge, a contemporary self-catering cottage.

Details: Courtown Road, Gorey; 053 942-1124; marlfieldhouse.com.

More: Buy Georgina Campbell's 'Best of the Best' here.

The White Cottages, Co. Dublin

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White Cottages, Skerries

A stylish bed and breakfast on the Skerries shore, with unbroken sea views of the harbour and the Cooley and Mourne Mountains, this boutique hideaway is owned by Jackie and Joe O’Connor who offer guests the warmest hospitality. The four bedrooms are all charming and individual and the crisp décor is like a breath of fresh sea air. This unusual B&B serves up delicious breakfasts and even lobster lunches and afternoon tea by arrangement. Nearby Dublin seems a world away.

Details: Balbriggan Road, Skerries. 01 849 2231; thewhitecottages.com.

Bervie, Achill Island

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Bervie, Achill Island

The ultimate escape for its many happy guests since 1932, John and Elizabeth Barrett’s magical beachside house was once a coastguard station. A little wicket gate gives direct access to the beach, and there’s an other-worldliness which is very rare these days. Elizabeth was born here and, aside from the location and the charm of the house, the sense of continuity is very special - and she has the ‘hotelier’s gene’, which makes hospitality come naturally. Comfortable, compact rooms, a cosy fire, great food (at both dinner and breakfast) and delightful staff all add to the charm.

Details: Bervie Keel Achill Island Co Mayo ; 098 43114; bervieachill.com.

Virginia Park Lodge, Co. Cavan

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Marquis room at Virginia Park Lodge, Co. Cavan

Beautifully located overlooking Lough Ramor, this 18th century sporting lodge charmingly combines informality and grandeur. In 2013 a famous local man, chef Richard Corrigan, bought the property and lost no time in renovating the house and establishing productive gardens, which now also supply his London restaurants in season. A desirable private venue for weddings, corporate events and sporting weekends, it also opens as a pop up (book online) and makes an elegant and atmospheric setting for Richard Corrigan’s famously direct seasonal, ingredients-led cooking.

Details: Virginia, Co Cavan; 049 854 6100; virginiaparklodge.com.

More: Ireland's Blue Book reveals four new members for 2018

The Muddlers Club, Belfast

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The Muddlers Club, Belfast. Picture: Elaine Hill Photography

Opened in 2015 by top chef Gareth McCaughey and tucked into an alleyway, The Muddlers Club is named after a secret society that met around here two centuries ago, yet it is the true essence of a contemporary restaurant. It feels exciting on every level - from the bespoke wooden floors and tables to the scorched herbs, smoky aromas and intense seasoning of Gareth McCaughey’s food. Based on hand-selected seasonal ingredients, the bold dishes are plated with a maturity of spirit and the flavours pack a punch - and the excellent cooking is backed up by perceptive, knowledgeable and friendly service.

Details: Warehouse Lane, Cathedral Quarter; 028 90313199; themuddlersclubbelfast.com.

More: The Causeway Coast in 12 Giant Steps: Our ultimate driving guide

Nightmarket, Dublin

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Heat and flavour: Nightmarket in Ranelagh. Photo: Frank McGrath

Restaurateur Conor Sexton and his partner Juturat Suwankeeree (aka R) have brought deeply-flavoured and intense regional Thai cooking to Ranelagh in their exciting restaurant, Nightmarket. Combining the best of Irish produce with traditional recipes learned from her grandmother, R’s dishes sing with authentic Thai flavours – fiery chillis, fish sauce, lemongrass and fresh herbs – each fragrant with memories of her homeland. Lively and relaxed, Nightmarket is a firm favourite with local diners, and with a warm welcome, good wines and cocktails, and delicious dishes that transport the diner to Thailand with one mouthful, it’s easy to see why.

Details: 120 Ranelagh Dublin 6 ; 01 538 5200; nightmarket.ie.

More: Review - Nightmarket: 'Delicious, authentic Thai food, full of heat and flavour'

Bishops Gate Hotel, Derry

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Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry

Formerly a Gentlemen’s Club, this atmospheric boutique hotel is an interesting place to stay within the historic city walls. It brings luxury, style and service to the Cathedral Quarter and offers a choice of dining options on site. Although a popular meeting place and at the heart of everything - just a short walk to the impressively restored Guildhall, and then over the Peace Bridge to the stunning Ebrington Square Parade Ground - it’s also a luxurious retreat from the everyday and the charming staff are full of warmth, enjoying nothing better than sharing the hotel’s history with guests. A very special destination - and a great asset to Derry City.

Details: 24 Bishop Street; 028 7114 0300; bishopsgatehotelderry.com.

More: 24 hours in Derry: A flying foodie break in the Maiden City

Georgina Campbell's Ireland: The Best of the Best (GC Guides/Epicure Press; €20) is on sale now in all good bookshops and online at ireland-guide.com.

Read more:

Ireland's hotel of the year named at Georgina Campbell Awards 

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