Recently finished a 10 day trip around Ireland and Northern Ireland. Had hardly a bad meal in both countries, big emphasis on locally sourced, "Farm to Fork" cuisine. Tip when ordering: "Rocket" = Arugula, "Champ" - Mashed potatoes usually with green onions. Those orange tiny tomatillo-looking fruit they use to garnish everything from mains to desserts are called "Physalis" and can be eaten. Don't let the misplaced apostrophes that show up everywhere bug you, it will drive you crazy otherwise. Here are my recommendations:
Winding Stair (http://www.winding-stair.com/ - Lower Ormand Quay, near Ha'Penny bridge) - The menu changes daily. My travel companions and I dined on hearty yet not heavy barley risotto, delicious seafood chowder, perfectly cooked hake and salmon dishes, and pork Wellington. Cozy, intimate atmosphere along the Liffey River and attentive staff. I was impressed by the kitchen's organization and timing of the food was perfect. A bit on the pricey side.
Gallic Kitchen (http://www.gallickitchen.com/ - 49 Francis Street) - I didn't actually eat at the restaurant as I was sick when my travel companions dined here, but they brought me back a lovely lamb pie with tomato relish. It was hands-down the best savory pie I've ever had. My companions, all food aficionados, all loved their lunch here.
Sheridans Cheesemongers (http://www.sheridanscheesemongers.com/ - South Anne St./Dawson) - Irish cheese heaven. A great place to sample greate cheeses from different parts of Ireland. Grab one of the ready made gourmet sandwiches in the back of the store or some olives, ham, bread along with your cheese and have a picnic at St. Stephens Green.
Saving for next trip to Dublin: Gruel - Passed by many times and the menu looked inexpensive and inventive.
Hit or Miss: The Larder - I tried both vegetarian option here (cannoli and stuffed pepper) and both were disappointing and tasted bland. Those who ordered the fish and rabbit were happier with their meals.
Barking Dog (http://barkingdogbelfast.com/ - Corner of Malone Road and Eglantine) - Favorites dishes include the Mackerel on toast w/ cherry tomatoes and basil and Grilled chicken w/ chorizo, potato, and white bean salad. The herbed gnocchi were flavorful but a bit too salty. The cod w/ white bean cassoulet lacked inspiration.
Pubs: Madden's and Kelly's Cellars. Raucous lively company, great music. Both Catholic pubs with traditional Irish music.
The Nook (at the entrance to the visitor's center) - Not bad for an essentially tourist driven restaurant. The locals recommend it as well. The locally made pork sausages w/ mashed potatoes, onion gravy and fried onion topping were delicious and the cod fish and chips and side of garlic fries were terrific.
Pax House B&B (http://www.pax-house.com/ - Upper John Street) - I have to put a plug in for this place because it was my favorite place to stay in during my travel through Ireland and I could have easily spent a good week at this B&B. Breakfast was delicious, the beds were comfortable and the hospitality was first rate. And the view of Dingle Harbor was awe-inspiring!
An Canteen (no website yet - Dykegate Street next to Hideout Hostel) - The secret is definitely out on this restaurant only open since June and recommended to us by John, the proprietor of the Pax House, who said it was "Excellent. Excellent. Excellent". We dined here on a Monday night and it was filled with return diners raving about the bread and seafood soup. The seafood soup here is amazing, thinner and lighter than the chowders I've had in Ireland, and masterfully flavored with coriander seeds and star anise. The accompanying bread was outstanding, hearty and studded with pine nuts and pumpkin seed. They could make a business out of the bread alone. Chorizo croquettes, hake, roast pork, 16-hour braised beef... all wonderful and very reasonably priced (no dish cost more than 15 euros). The lemon tart was divine.
Tig Slea Head - This is a cafe on Slea Head drive with a great view of Slea Head and the Blasket Islands. Stop in for an incredible view while you sip your cup of tea.
Cloisters B&B (http://www.cloisterskinsale.com/ - directly across the street from St. John the Baptist church) - Beautiful hospitality from Mairead (rhymes with "parade") and John. Mairead is known to have the best breakfast in town, if not all of Ireland, and indeed her black pudding, goat cheese, tomato basil omelette does put a happy tear in a foodie's eye. I sampled the raisin French toast and it was very good as well.
Jola's (pronounced "Yola", http://www.jolasrestaurant.com/ - Lower O'Connell Street) - Kinsale has plenty of restaurants to choose from so it was difficult to settle on the one restaurant which would define our Kinsale dining experience. We were not disappointed by Jola's. The atmosphere is sensual and inviting, like the food. Loved the black pudding perogies and seafood soup. My companions enjoyed the grilled vegetable/goat cheese appetizer. The entrees were also good. The wild mushroom sauce served with the pork tenderloin was incredible.
Shanghai Express - I didn't go here, but John at the Cloisters B&B says it's one of his favorite restaurants. Just down the street from Jola's, it's supposed to be innovative asian small plates made with local produce and seafood. Can't wait to go back to Kinsale and try it.
Lemon Tree Restaurant (no website, Blarney Castle Hotel) - Good for light, inexpensive lunch. Menu changes with seasonal specialties.
OTHER: Ok, so these are not food recommendations, but I had to mention that the Hawk Walk at Ireland's School of Falconry at the Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo was the highlight of our vacation. Highly recommended!!! Ask for Fiona to be your instructor. She loves all the birds like they were her children. There's nothing like walking around with a hawk on your arm and flying it around the beautiful castle grounds. Also, don't bother with the Ring of Kerry. The drive around the Dingle Peninsula/Slea Head Drive is just as stunning and much shorter. Remember to drive clockwise like everyone else as there are times when the road narrows just enough for only one car to fit through. Connor Pass into Dingle is a must do, but shouldn't be attempted in inclimate weather or by fearful drivers.
by Jen Wheeler | At Christmas time, there are cookies galore, but true dessert lovers still crave something more substantial...