The best of Ireland
From coffee shops and cupcakes to bistros and butchers, John and Sally McKenna have scoured the country to bring you their top choices in a new guide. Here's a sneak preview...
Pandora Bell, Limerick
If you want to make a great lollipop, you have to think big.
At Pandora Bell, Nicole Dunphy's lollipops (above) look as though they have sprung from the oversized imagination of movie director Tim Burton, magnificent, hallucinogenicall coloured creations that have a phantasmagoric quality.
If Ms Dunphy only made lollies, her fame would be assured.
But she also makes the most sublime nougats and the best salted caramels we have ever eaten.
Want a true test of character? Eat one of them and stop yourself from having a second (or even a third).
Believe us, your will power is not that strong. No one's is.
Details: Killonan, Ballysimon, Co Limerick. Tel: 086 824 1823; pandorabell.ie.
BEST COUNTRY SHOP
Gleeson's of Roscommon
Mary and Eamonn Gleeson's artisan food and wine shop is the herald of a new age in Roscommon. Their mix of the traditional -- freshly baked breads and cakes, baked hams -- and the best Irish artisan foods served in a swish and glam space in the centre of town has brought a breath of much-needed energy and ambition to Roscommon.
Details: Market Square, Roscommon. Tel: 090 662 6954; gleesonstownhouse.com.
A Slice Of Heaven, Kilkenny
Cupcakes are suddenly all the rage, from Dublin's buns.ie and Belfast's Lavender Cupcakes to the lovely creations of Lolly & Cooks and many more. But of them all, Mary McEvoy's Slice of Heaven cupcakes from Co Kilkenny take our breath away. From the sweet hit of the icing to the crumbly warmth of the cake, Ms McEvoy's incredible skill with sugarcraft is legendary. She'll even decorate your cake with a Kilkenny hurling shirt.
Details: Ballygowan, Piltown. Tel: 087 953 3870; asliceofheaven.ie.
HOTTEST ADDRESS IN THE EAST
On a Tuesday evening in the third week of January -- the very week of the entire year that represents the graveyard shift for virtually every European restaurateur -- Nick Munier had to tell no fewer than 20 people that he just couldn't accommodate them in Pichet (right), because the place was packed with the 100 lucky souls who managed to get a table.
Stephen Gibson's cooking has hit the mark not just because it is good, but also because it is exactly the sort of food people crave in a recessionary winter, with dishes such as Castletownbere crab with chorizo and mussels à la Greque; monkfish with oxtail, field mushrooms and Savoy cabbage; or suckling pig with Toulouse sausage, Puy lentils and sauerkraut. A cuisine of powerful, direct and delicious cooking.
Details: 14-15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2. Tel: 01-677 1060; pichetrestaurant.com.
MOST EXCITING FOOD COUNTY
When we wrote the 8th edition of the Bridgestone Irish Food Guide, Co Mayo took up nine pages. Jump forward two years and suddenly Mayo needs 15 pages to accommodate the restaurants, shops, cheesemakers and wine merchants that are fast becoming the glory of the west.
From Castlebar's Café Rua and Westport's Knockranny House Hotel to Ballina's Ice House and Newport's Kelly's Butchers, there are superstar food folk all around Croagh Patrick.
BEST FARMERS' MARKET
Mahon Point, Cork
There are now superb farmers' markets all over Ireland, but Mahon scoops the gong for several reasons. Firstly, it is superbly well organised, and the diversity and variety of stalls is second-to-none.
The market is so charismatic that it overcomes its hopeless location, close to an industrial estate. But Mahon goes further than any other market in that it's a great place to eat. Come noon, most people are here to get lunch: brilliant vegetarian curries, the best steak sandwiches, Mexican tortillas to die for, and the coffee is as good as it gets. They even bring in musicians to play as you enjoy ginger beer and a falafel or two.
Details: Mahon Point Shopping Centre, Mahon, Cork. See mahonpointfarmersmarket.com.
Jane Russell's Black Pudding
It's been more than 20 years since the late Edward Twomey's Clonakilty Black Pudding made the great Irish speciality not merely respectable, but also highly fashionable.
In the meantime, Irish puddings have got better and better, with recent creations from Inch House in Tipperary and Gubbeen Smokehouse in west Cork to Annascaul Pudding in Co Kerry showing just what a serious, delicious food this is. But Jane Russell, who is otherwise best known for her artisan sausages, has begun to fashion a pudding that fuses the Irish style with French boudin noir. The result is one heck of a black pudding, quite unlike anything else made before.
Details: Link Business Park, Kilcullen, Co Kildare. Tel: 045 480 100; straightsausages.com.
BEST FISH 'N' CHIPS
Dingle Reel Fish and Chips, Co Kerry
Mark Grealy's fish and chip shop was one of the most-talked about places when we were working on the new Bridgestone Guide. Mr Grealy keeps it simple, getting spanking fresh fish from day boats. He treats it right, cooks it right and makes great chips. What more do you need?
Details: Holy Ground, Dingle, Co Kerry. Tel: 066 915 1713.
Green Saffron, Co Cork
There is no other breakfast cereal like Green Saffron's Granola. When he first made it, Arun Kapil rewrote the book, using clarified butter and jaggery -- unprocessed organic sugar -- for starters, then adding in garam masala and grade A+ vanilla.
The fruit mixture of goji berries, dates, apricots, crystallised ginger and raisins is soaked in fresh lime juice, and toasted seeds are added to make the most epicurean morning treat imaginable.
Details: Knockgriffin, Midleton, Co Cork. Tel: 021 463 7960; green saffron.com.
BEST NEWS FOR LONGFORD
Viewmount House, Longford
Co Longford has always been the puny kid of Irish food, struggling to merit even a few entries in the Bridgestone Guides. But Beryl and James Kearney's country house and restaurant, Viewmount, with Gary O'Hanlon at the stove, is changing that.
Viewmount is a destination for smart luxury and smart, modern cooking, and has established itself as the star of the county. The house has twin personalities, thanks to the perfectly preserved style of the Georgian house itself and then the modern coolness of the VM restaurant, housed in the meticulously converted stables, with stone walls, modern paintings and some ace cooking: Slaney Valley lamb two ways; a dish of quail, squab and guinea fowl; salt-fried Angus sirloin with olive oil colcannon.
Details: Dublin Road, Longford. Tel: 043 334 1919 or seeviewmounthouse.com.
BEST BOUTIQUE HOTEL
No 1 Pery Square, Limerick
Patricia Coughlan's boutique hotel is the best thing to have hit Limerick in years. The swish, slick knowingness of No 1 Pery Square, its hip design, cool cocktails and super cooking have added an element to the city that has been missing up to now.
Limerick citizens are apt to describing Ms Coughlan as nothing less than a "hero" for what she has achieved in this gorgeous Georgian destination. The rooms of the 20-room hotel have just the right note of modern, clean-lined minimalism mixed with Georgian ornamentation to create a sense of luxurious escape.
Whether you're on business or a getaway, this is one of those places that feels right, from the moment they open the door for you.
Details: Georgian Quarter, Limerick. Tel: 061 402 402; oneperysquare.com.
BEST FARM SHOP
Castlemine Farm, Co Roscommon
Brendan and Derek Allen have joined in the running of the family farm at Castlemine with their dad, Sean, and part of their innovation has been to open a farm shop that sells their own beef, rare-breed pork and lamb.
Thanks to limestone-based pastures, the animals are grazing on sweet grass, which gives the meat a delicious flavour. It's in recognising the importance of this regional specialisation and taking control of selling their own produce that Castlemine represents such a breakthrough for Irish farming. You don't even have to trek to Roscommon to buy it: online ordering will bring Castlemine meats to your door.
Details: Four Mile House, Castlemine, Co Roscommon. Tel: 0906 629 886; castleminefarm.ie.