IRELAND has a well-deserved reputation as a land of craic and Guinness. It’s practically impossible to spend time on the Emerald Isle without getting both in large doses. Having spent a week touring the country, however, it’s clear food should also be added to the list. Escaping London and horse-meat hysteria, a delightful time was had discovering castles, unique pubs and enjoying plenty of fresh and locally sourced food.
First stop was Dublin, where if I’m being perfectly honest, tasty meals were not on the top of the list given our only full day in the city was taken up with Saint Patrick’s Day festivities. The less said about the number of kebabs and convenience store sandwiches consumed, the better. However in the search for a much-needed caffeine fix we stumbled across The Bald Barista, run by Buzz Fendall, a expat-Kiwi who has spent 10 years in the city. A smooth flat-white and warm panini were perfect for lining the stomach ahead of the epic session that was to follow.
After a breezy drive from the east coast to the west, our next stop was Galway, where we were in desperate need of nutrition. Thankfully we were in luck. Located next to the somewhat underwhelming Spanish Arch and on the banks of the River Corrib was Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, a cute cafe/restaurant promoting itself as a mix of Mediterranean, Irish, Middle Eastern, New Zealand, Lebanese and Indian cuisines. Don’t let that bewildering mix confuse you. If I was on death row I would be ordering their seafood chowder, packed to the brim with fresh white fish, mussels and clams from Galway Bay, its rich tomato and fennel base finished off with creme fraiche. My girlfriend Rosie’s lentil soup was almost as good, and the meal was rounded off with a generous slice of carrot cake. If that wasn’t enough, we struck it lucky for dinner as well, ignoring the dizzying array of pubs for the more humble looking Quay Street Kitchen. Its vegan-friendly menu was complimented by some stunning meat options, with lamb shanks a bargain at €12.50 and Irish venison sausages an inspired choice. Happy to lay off the black stuff for one night at least, I ordered a Howling Gale Ale, a refreshing brew from Eight Degrees Brewing, based in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, a business part-owned by another Kiwi, Scott Baigent.
Our trip to Dingle to see Fungi the resident Dolphin was blown off course by high winds and some horizontal rain. Instead, we sought out some warm and friendly hospitality. Away from the main drag and up the hill we found The Garden Cafe , another establishment championing locally sourced produce. It’s specialty is the Dingle Dog, featuring sausages, bread and greens all produced in the area, and should not be missed. The steady stream of locals that entered was testament to its quality in a popular tourist destination. Close by on Greene St was Dick Mack’s, a former leather shop which is still crammed with old equipment, boots and nick-knacks. It has been visited by the likes of Julia Roberts and Billy Connolly, but still retains a welcoming attitude, with the barman happy to yarn and suggest beers crafted in the region.
Cork was our final destination, where after a morning spent kissing the Blarney Stone we were keen for one last memorable meal before heading back to London. It being too cold to grab a bite from the famous English Market and sit in the neighbouring park, we took a punt on Cafe Gusto. Despite its decidedly ordinary name, the food was exceptional, and its interesting wine and snack list meant we were sad not to be staying another evening so we could indulge. My lamb tagine was perfectly tender, while Rosie’s chickpea and spinach stew was full of flavour. It was the perfect way to round off a great trip, but made us thankful it was only our baggage, and not belly, that was weighed for excess weight on the flight back home.