A recent trip to Ireland saw my husband and I enjoying many wonderful meals. I'll be trying to post reviews of all of them here within the next few days.
Overall, the Ireland eating itinerary was:
The Pig's Ear (Dublin)
Bruxelle’s (lunch, Dublin)
The Tea Room @ The Clarence Hotel (Dublin)
Brasserie 66 (Dublin)
The Winding Stair (Dublin)
The Lime Tree (Kenmare)
The Boat House (Dingle)
The Chart House (Dingle)
Global Village (Dingle)
The Roadford Restaurant (Doolin)
Dock No. 8 (Galway)
Kirwan’s Lane Restaurant (Galway)
Kylemore Abbey (lunch, west of Galway)
Dunguaire Castle Medieval Banquet (south of Galway)
The Scotland eating itinerary was:
Cavens Arms (Dumfries)
Martin Wishart at Cameron House (Loch Lomand)
The Boat House (Loch Lomand)
Three Chimmneys (Isle of Skye)
Cluanie Inn (lunch, Highlands)
The Filling Station (Edinburgh)
A few things that were true throughout our trip: we generally made reservations for when the restaurant opened, or arrived fairly soon afterward. So our meals were usually had while being the only people in the restaurant for the first 30-60 minutes. All of our dinners were at places that were recommended, usually by CHs. While we may not have liked every dish presented to us, we both agree we didn’t ever have a bad meal. (But there are a few places we would never go to again.) I’m pretty certain that every meal (except maybe a lunch) came from chef’s interested in working with locally sourced, seasonal, organic purveyors. The quality of the ingredients was very high.
Ireland restaurant review: The Pig’s Ear
Our first dining experience was the well-regarded The Pig’s Ear, an award-winning gastro pub. We were pretty jet-lagged, and not in the best frame of mind for an adventurous meal, which turned out to be the perfect situation to be in.
We started with a mixed green salad, lightly dressed with lemon juice. The greens were tender and just the right mix of plain and unusual. While we enjoyed our sparkling mineral water, we chatted and people watched. Our main course arrived, very hot. I had the (always-on-the-menu) Lough Erne Milk-Fed Lamb Shepherds Pie. The meat was tender, the potatoes creamy and buttery without being fatty, and the peas were a miracle of tenderness while still retaining just the right amount of crispness. Sweetie had Lemon Roast Chicken Breast with roast potato, toasted hazelnuts, sweet corn, mushrooms & grilled scallions. It was delicious! A simple dish elevated by perfection and a superbly interesting combination of support ingredients. For dessert we shared the Vanilla Cheese Cake with Berry Jam & Hob Nob Biscuit, which came in a charming mason jar and was just the right amount of sweet to cap off the meal.
The setting is very simple, stripped down. Lots of light from the windows, and although the tables and chairs are plain, and a bit crammed in, there was room to get in and out of one’s table, and we didn’t feel like we were forced to listen to our neighbor’s conversations.
The entire meal, including two glasses of wine and two diet cokes, came to 86.50 eu.
Ireland restaurant review: Fire
We’d originally intended to eat our second dinner in Dublin at Pearl Brasserie, but after looking at the menu, we cancelled our reservation. It felt too ‘french’ for us, still so early in our vacation. We wanted something that felt more local.
Fire was recommended to us by several people, so we gave it a chance. Right in the heart of Dublin city, next to the Lord Mayor’s house, the interior is gorgeous. Vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows gives the restaurant a feeling of being a converted church. But the walls are tiled in a beautiful dark red and orange pattern that echoes the restaurant’s name perfectly.
Sweetie started his meal with the Fire-Roasted Cauliflower soup which was served with gruyere crumbles and chives. I had the Moroccan-spiced Lamb Skewers which came with a coriander & lime crème fraiche and dressed mixed greens. The soup was delicious – velvety and rich without being bitter. My lamb was also delicious, the charred outside complimented the sharpness of the spices, and the crème fraiche cooled everything down just a notch.
For our main, he had the pork tenderloin: a filet of Irish pork, buttered herb pesto stuffing, rolled in parma ham, green beans and decadent mash. I had the 6oz. filet of Prime Hereford certified Irish Beef with chunky chips and a green salad. The salad was not memorable, but the beef was wonderful. It was my first experience with Irish beef, and I was intrigued by the difference in texture and flavor as compared with American (grass fed) beef. Sweetie’s pork was an incredibly rich combination of flavors, all delicious.
Dessert was a slice of raspberry cheesecake, which was fine (but not outstanding). We had a bottle of mineral water, a glass of scotch and a bottle of Tempranillo. The check came to 123.80 eu.
Ireland restaurant review: The Tea Room @ The Clarence Hotel
The Tea Room is a bit hard to find, if you aren’t walking in through the front door of the Clarence Hotel. It was also very different in looks and feel from what I expected – lots of space between tables, plain furnishings that somehow felt like the were bought in bulk from an office catalog. The napkins were paper, and the atmosphere felt more like ‘cafeteria’ than ‘tea room’, and certainly not at all like the luxury restaurant I’d been expecting. *This* was U2s’ vision?
We were both very underwhelmed by the menu. It felt pedestrian and uninteresting. Fortunately we were both able to order off of the ‘Early Bird’ menu – two courses for 14.95 eu (each)
Sweetie started with the soup of the day: a creamy asparagus that was light and refreshing but perhaps a bit salty. I had the duck spring rolls, fondly remembering the first time I had them at Wolfgang Puck’s Indochine in Marina del Rey (CA, USA). They were very good, full of duck and not fatty. The accompanying crunchy veg ‘salad’ was refreshing and the sauces (a typical sweet chili and hot mustard) complemented the richness of the duck rather than overpowering it.
For his main, Sweetie decided to go with the Tea Room’s version of fish and chips: battered filet of Haddock with chips, peas, and tartar sauce. The fish was fine, although I thought the batter was a little heavy, but the peas were awful. We were there in May, and I would have thought the spring peas were available, but these tasted mealy and far from fresh. Blech. I had the Chicken Tagliatelle, which was a grilled breast with asparagus in a white wine cream sauce. It was ok, but pretty bland and the chicken was just barely done.
With two glasses of apple fizz (a non-alcoholic drink) and two glasses of Chateau La Coste, Cuvée Lisa 2008, our bill came to 64.40 eu.
This was probably the most disappointing meal of our entire trip.
Ireland restaurant review: Bruxelle’s
Lunchtime found us wandering around the streets fairly close to our hotel and we made a snap decision to stop in at Bruxelles “Dublin’s Cosmopolitan Pub”.
It’s got a great interior, lots to look at (loved the chandeliers), and was full of people. Being hungry, we sat at the bar and got into a conversation with the bartender/manager. The staff was great, very friendly, and FAST. There is also a number of tables outside, good for smokers and those who want fresh air, even in bad weather. One note: they do not take credit cards, cash only.
We ordered the combo special of the day: a salmon quiche with greens and a cup of leek & potato soup and the Ploughman’s Platter. The food came and was hot when it needed to be and cold as appropriate. The soup was fantastic! The best I’ve ever had (and I make my own to rave reviews). The portions were large and satisfying, and the diet coke bottomless.
Our check came to 23.20eu.
Ireland restaurant review: brasserie sixty6
We had a few extra hours to kill before our play, so we went to brasserie sixty6, mostly because it was open all day. But the menu was great, and the food just as good.
We shared an order of calamari, which was lightly breaded and crispy thick cut rings of squid. The accompanying sweet curry and coriander aioli was piquant, and added a nice note to the otherwise sort of bland calamari. Once I added lemon and salt, it was delicious, tender and mild. We also shared an order of mozzarella and risotto balls with basil pesto and slow roasted cherry tomato. Very tasty.
Sweetie had the ‘surf & turf’ – A char-grilled 9oz sirloin of beef, pan roasted queen scallops, accompanied by spicy potato wedges, and guacamole. The steak was tender, the scallops perfectly cooked, and the sides delicious.
I had the prix fixe menu – 3 courses for 33eu – the first of which was the risotto balls. For my main, I ordered their special garlic, lemon and thyme rotisserie style chicken with herb stuffing balls, mash potatoes, peas, broad-beans, radish, pancetta and lettuce. The chicken was meltingly tender and perfectly seasoned. I wanted more of the stuffing balls and mashed potatoes. Once again, the peas were mealy and tasteless, however, and I didn’t care for the broad beans.
To finish, we shared a cheese plate of three cheeses, and I’m sorry to say I don’t remember which ones they were. They were tasty and I enjoyed them, but not enough to want to write them down to have in the future.
Including a bottle of wine, 2 mocktails and a diet coke, our bill came to 113.25eu.
Ireland restaurant review: The Winding Stair
Our final meal in Dublin was at the well-regarded The Winding Stair, on Ormond Quay, near the Ha’penny Bridge. The stairs are wooden, and a bit steep (be careful if you’ve had a bit to drink!) and lead you up and into a charming open space, decorated much like The Pig’s Ear with sturdy wooden tables and chairs. The walls are lined with shelves, some of which hold wine, one holds the menus, which are placed on clipboards. They offer a ‘pre-theatre’ menu of two courses and a glass of wine for 25.95eu or three courses for 30.95, which is a good deal, although you must vacate your table by 8pm.
Sweetie started with Keeling’s stuffed cabbage parcel with pearl barley, wild mushrooms, Silke Cropp’s mature cheddar and plum chutney. I had Ted Browne’s Kerry prawns on toast with garlic and lemon and mixed leaves. Both options were spectacular. Tender and flavorful, cooked perfectly. We immediately felt we were in good hands.
For his main, Sweetie ordered Kilkeel blossom fillet with creamy mustard and caper crust, Irish soft stem broccoli and asparagus, potato crisps and herb oil. Blossam is a fish we’d never heard of before, and asked about it. The description sounded fine, so he went for it. For my part, I was tired of protein, and ordered the Irish boxty potato pancake with Portobello mushrooms, wilted spinach and Crozier blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese, so I asked for a substitution of anything else, and the kitchen happily complied. Again, we were in heaven. The fish was delicate and perfectly seasoned. My boxty was a delightful blend of vegetables and was not awash in cheese, letting the flavors of the food shine.
For dessert I had the cheese plate, which came with homemade crackers and a plum chutney. I remember enjoying this dish, but not enough to write down the names of the cheeses. Sweetie ordered the rich chocolate pudding with caramel cream and pistachio praline. The pudding was dense and very rich. It was incredibly good.
The cheese plate cost a bit more than our 3-course prix fixe, and there were two more glasses of wine, and two diet cokes adding up to a total bill of 85.30eu.
This was, hands down, the best meal of our trip.