Not Just About The Food...

There are so many amazing places to eat in Ireland and the food is just getting better and better. This is a list of my favourite places to eat, a personal choice based on how I like to eat, which is generally café-style and light. There are so many passionate and committed people producing not just stunning food, but exceptional spaces. This article is about spaces, people and food. Places where you are stimulated and excited on every level. All of these places are owner-run, and you literally see the owner running them. In a generic society, this is what makes them so special. So, in no particular order,here are the places I get so excited to visit.

Cafe Rua/ Rua Deli in Castlebar is not worth a detour, it’s worth a tour. I usually am in a panic of excitement by the time I get to Headford at the thought of their rhubarb pie. I could write a whole article on these amazing people - Aran and Colleen McMahon and the instigator of it all, their mother Ann McMahon. They tick every single box and consistently win all the awards for service, food and produce. The one I go to most is Rua Deli which has a deli downstairs and a café upstairs. This is a busy space serving from early morning till 6pm. All breads and cakes, and just about everything else are produced in-house...and boy does it look good. Stunning plates of locally-sourced produce served by attentive and informed staff.

Jessica Murphy has finally opened her own place, Kai on Sea Road in Galway, with her wonderful husband Dave. This is an adorable pitch perfect interior space with a cosy fire and Jess’s own quirky collection of art and a blackboard with daily specials, which is a work of art in itself. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with everything from the morning scone to a Castlemine meat platter and pumpkin soup to polenta with courgette flowers to frozen manuka honey ice cream. It is wonderful to have a place like this in Galway that satisfies us all at any hour of the day or night. Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara is a thing of legends. Walking through its doors to the smell of the turf fire and the welcoming ‘hello’ from the almost family-like members of staff, this really feels like coming home. Then like being at home, the scones and tea arrive with whipped cream. Or you can have a relaxed bite of food in the bar- venison stew, seafood platter, some homemadesoup and a glass of Guinness too. If you’re lucky enough to stay, then you can have the breakfast of kings with a view of the river that will have you sitting in silence long after you’ve finished eating. This place is consistently good under the watchful eye of the entertaining manager / man of the manor Patrick O’Flaherty and his warm,friendly staff. There is no sense of hotel chain here, just a pure sense of belonging.

Visiting Farmgate at the Cork English Market is like going back in time. The restaurant is situated on the balcony overlooking the market, which itself has such a draw with its bustling food stalls and amazing produce sold by charming producers. The Farmgate is all elegant old to accompany classics like corned beef and spring cabbage, lamb liver with bacon and tripe and onions finished off with the likes of apple and berry crumble with custard. Service is familiar and they always seem to remember you, even if it’s been a year. They have recently won the ‘Just Ask’ restaurant of the year and no place could more perfectly deserve that wonderful award.

Ballymaloe Cafe, Shanagarry, Co Cork is on the grounds of the iconic Ballymaloe House and if you have never been to any of these outstanding places, then you need to go. This whole world of through her children and grandchildren. I love eating at the main house and have had the pleasure many times, but it is the simplicity of the café that I love most. Dishes of game terrine with pheasant chutneys, hot alpine sandwiches peppered salamis and onion confiture or Henderson’s smoked mackerel plate...and then there are the cakes and the warm spiced apple drink. This little café is always packed; it’s a place I think about often and wish I could visit every day.

O’ Brien’s Chop House, Lismore, Co Waterford, run by Justin and Jenny Green, has a huge focus on meat. Housed in an old pub in the sleepy town of Lismore, this is the ultimate place for Sunday lunch; I’d even drive from Galway for it! It’s great every other minute of the day or night, but I’d like to single out the Sunday experience there. Ireland needs more great places for Sunday roasts and roasts done well. In O’ Brien’s, you get Englishtown free range chicken liver pate, Hereford beef 28 days aged with Yorkshire pudding and gravy or traditional fish pie. It’s all done so well here in a Farrow and Ball elegance of colour and style. Unique, international and yet intrinsically Irish in a James Fennel-inspired picture of Irishness.

I get asked so, so many times where to eat in Dublin and I just keep saying Pepper Pot Café, Powerscourt Town House, Dublin. There are some great places to eat in Dublin such as La Maison and Dillinger’s, but I just keep going back to the Pepper Pot. The place is run by two wonderful women, Marion and Dervela, who have worked so hard to get this great little spot up and running and thriving. All fabric flags, flowers, aprons, vintage teacups and oilcloth tablecloths, this is an effortless place which makes you feel at home. The food is stand-alone good – balsamic roasted beetroot and orange salad with hazelnuts, egg and land cress sandwich, lemon and poppy seed cake and organic porridge with roasted pears. Marion is always out front with a big smile and a big welcome, while Dervela is controlling what’s rising in the oven. Together, they have created a perfect and much-needed place in the centre of Dublin. There are so many others places I would love to mention like Dolls Café and the Cake Café in Dublin, which I so admire and Café Paradiso in Cork and Good Things Café down south. There are so many committed and inspiring people doing great things for our food culture; I love the thought of getting in the car and driving to any one of these places in the knowledge that I will be enveloped by the place and warmed by the food and the welcome.

Aoibheann x