Ireland has shifted its culinary gaze far beyond potatoes and Guinness in recent years. An explosion of artisan food and drink, along with a fresh generation of keen chefs and an economic boom has sent the country soaring on the map of next-big food destinations.
Michelin stars are popping up like a clear night sky. Farm-to-table philosophies mean plates are adorned with natural Irish bounties: Kilkenny duck, fish from the north-west coast, dry-aged Ballina beef, foraged celeriac and wonderful Wicklow game. The country isn’t following trends, but reviving its traditions and reshaping them to form one of the finest gastronomical hubs in Europe. Here are some of the best places to eat in Ireland to experience its culinary renaissance:
1. Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud: Dublin
Ambitions don’t end at two Michelin Stars for Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud. A former 18th-century townhouse neighbouring the five-star Merrion Hotel, the restaurant first opened its doors in 1981. Since then, its unique blend of classical French and contemporary Irish cuisine has set the mark both nationally and internationally. A surprise four-course menu is available from Tuesday to Thursday, which is probably a good idea because the dishes are simply too alluring to choose from. Celtic Sea black sole with prawn and saffron butter, slowly caramelised veal sweetbread, lacquered Skeaghanore duck and poached Annagassan blue lobster are just a few dishes that will blow your mind.
2. Viewmount House: Longford
You’re in the true country here. A 17th-century house with uninterrupted views of the tranquil four-acre gardens that surround it. Viewmount Restaurant has been transformed by its head chef Gary O’Hanlon – who has created a smart and sophisticated menu which pairs classical cookery with modern twists. The superior ingredients don’t travel far to get to your plate: the seasonally-shifting menu works around the restaurant’s impressive larder, with an astonishing wine cellar to complement your candlelit dinner.
3. Browns Restaurant and Champagne Lounge: Derry
Chef Patron Ian Orr is at the heart of this sophisticated north-west restaurant. Browns Restaurant and Champagne Lounge is the place to sample his exquisite fish stew with tomato and fennel broth, or the tasting menu graced with plump wood pigeon and buttered leeks, baked king scallops with pork belly, hazelnut and wasabi, or turf-smoked beef with pickled vegetables. You won’t find these seasonal dishes in the recipe books. Paired with the perfect wines, Browns is luring foodies to Derry from around the world for true gastronomical elation.
4. Campagne Restaurant: Kilkenny
Thanks to its geographic centrality, Ireland’s cuisine has been redefined by its European neighbours. Kilkenny-based Campagne Restaurant takes influences from French cuisine and pairs them with top-drawer Irish produce in a historic setting under the old railway arches on Gas House Lane. The Michelin restaurant serves up superb seasonal dishes such as tender Challans duck breast with foie gras and duck sausage and stuffed cabbage and turnips, and glazed veal cheek with spinach and ricotta ravioli, mushrooms and crushed celeriac.
5. The Library Restaurant at Belleek Castle: County Mayo
Belleek Castle is a place to eat lots, sleep well and slow the pace right down. Here seasonal ingredients from the land, sea and air are executed with award-winning finesse. Ingredients are impeccably sourced: beef from Ballina farms is aged in-house, pork comes from Andarl Farm, the fresh crab is straight from Donegal, mussels are picked at Achill Island and the woodcock, pheasant and venison on your plate was caught in wild Wicklow. Breathe in aromas of forest and hedgerow soup, knowing the mushrooms and wild spring garlic were foraged on Belleek’s doorstep, and savour ‘The Famous Drunken Bullock’ – a prime fillet of mayo beef flambéed in Jameson Whiskey served with confit of sweet potato and mild pepper jus.
6. Chapter One Restaurant: Dublin
One of the best places to eat in Ireland for contemporary regional cuisine, Chapter One Restaurant blends old-style cooking with modern twists. With a menu based on seasonal and organic produce, Chapter One takes its food seriously and packages the dining experience together with a paired-down setting that lets the flavours do the talking. The endearingly honest eatery couldn’t have a more authentic Irish history: the building is the former home of John Jameson, founder of Jameson Irish Whiskey.