Irish Eats and Pints
In a country known for meat and potatoes, Ireland has done a lot in recent years to shed that image and innovate its food scene. When I visited Ireland four years ago, I was in awe of the food revolution. This time I was well prepared with reservations to try some of the country’s best cuisine. And while there certainly are some “meat and potato” options on the menu, (I’ll never complain about French fries being plentiful), there is a well-established farm to table movement going on in the country, bringing local meat, fish and vegetables to the table in simple yet innovative ways. So for those who think going to Ireland is full of heavy stews and boiled vegetables – there is so much more to experience!
A couple of tips when eating out in Ireland:
- Book tables ahead of time (especially in high season): Most restaurants in Ireland are small which means they have a limited number of tables and almost all of the popular ones are booked in advance. I cannot even count the number of times we would see people come into the restaurant we were in, only to be turned away since they did not have a booking.
- Utilize your hotel to make restaurant bookings that require you to call: Many restaurants allow you to book your tables online, but it is not quite as widespread as American restaurants. In the event you have to call to book a reservation, email your hotel with the relevant details and ask them to do it for you. They are always happy to oblige and save you an international call!
- Remember many restaurants book in “seatings:” Unlike many US restaurants where you can book in 15 minute increments (do you want 7,7:15,7:30?), Irish restaurants usually book tables in 2 hour seatings and expect the table back within 2 hours. For example, I had requested a 7:30 reservation at a restaurant and they told me they could only do 8pm because that is when their 6pm tables were due back. They also do it to coordinate their kitchens sometimes.
- Tipping is not always allowed on credit cards: There were multiple restaurants which did not allow us to add tip to our credit card so make sure you have cash on hand to leave for your server.
Most of you know one of the main reasons I travel is to try different cuisines and find innovative restaurants around the world, so it should come as no surprise that I did extensive research on where to eat in the Emerald Isle. And I can say with certainly (and proudly) that we did not have a bad meal the entire time! Another reason many people travel to Ireland is to take part in the lively “pub culture” and the country delivered with many memorable pints while listening to local music.
So without further ado, here are my highly recommended spots for your next visit (or lunch time reading):
As the country’s capital, there are plenty of places to eat in Dublin. Check out my most recent post for some of my favorites!
Kinsale, County Cork
This little fishing village in the south of Ireland has long been known as the “Gourmet Capital of Ireland”, and for good reason! I visited here for lunch four years ago, and I knew I needed to stay here next time I visited – partially to have better access to the large concentration of restaurants! Fishy Fishy is a mainstay on the Kinsale restaurant scene and is a must-visit for for freshly caught seafood and a sparkling rosé that is to die for! Our second night was spent at none other than Max’s, partially for the name, partially for the great reviews it got. It has a French twist and delicious local seafood as well. The restaurant is homey and feels like you are eating in someone’s dining room.
For pints, look no further than Dalton’s. We were lucky enough to catch the Potbelly Band that night in this small and cozy pub. By far the best live music we heard on our trip, these six musicians played from the heart and had everyone tapping their toes. They also won the honor of playing at the beginning and end of our Ireland video!
Kenmare, County Kerry
One of Ireland’s rising foodie towns, Kenmare has all the makings to be the next star. What I loved about County Kerry is that they put significant emphasis on sourcing ingredients from their county – and they are very proud of it! You weren’t just getting lamb in Kerry, you were getting “Kerry Lamb.” The town center has two main streets which form a “V”, making it easy to explore the restaurants on foot.
The only repeat of restaurants from my trip four years ago and this one was Packie’s – and it still remains one of my favorites! This was one of the restaurants the stimulated the Irish restaurant scene with its opening in the 1980s and still delivers fresh and high-quality food today with its handwritten menu. Our second dinner was at the amazing No. 35, a small two-story restaurant with creatively paired dishes (go for the hake and lamb specials!). I loved how cozy and small this place was!
The only ice cream which competed with Murphy’s on our trip was Kenmare Ice Cream. Located right downtown on Henry Street, this was a convenient two minute walk from our hotel (thank goodness!) and served countless flavors. County Kerry has so many activities, it is not somewhere where you really have time to sit down for breakfast. Early mornings call for quick breakfasts and Jam, also on Henry Street, delivers great scones to take on your drives through Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park or Ring of Beara.
Kenmare is another great music town and you just have to follow you ears into one of the bars on Henry Street playing music. Most bars here feature a one-man band playing guitar and singing. O’Donnabhain’s was our location of choice and a great spot to grab a beer and relax after long days of driving.
Dingle, County Kerry
Dingle comes highly recommended as visitors’ favorite place for live music, but unfortunately the timing was not right on this one. After 9 days on the road, we crashed hard in Dingle and could not muster up the strength to go to the pub after dinner. Even though we didn’t make it, we felt like we were there with the liveliness streaming through our hotel window.
We did make it to dinner at Idás Restaurant though, which was another highlight. The dishes were expertly and beautifully prepared, again focusing on all things County Kerry. The mussels were our favorite!
Other favorites in Dingle included another stop at Murphy’s Ice Cream, where the brand got it start as well as lunch at Goat Street Social – a simple café with fresh sandwiches and salads.
Galway, County Galway
Galway remains one of my favorite cities in Ireland with its young university vibe and stunning coastal views. It’s most famous food is still its oysters, hosting the annual Oyster Festival every September. And while Galway oysters are a must for those who like them, the city boasts some fun and creative places to enjoy all things Irish.
A trip to Ireland would not be complete without a proper Irish breakfast. Luckily for us, our B&B in Galway, the stop, serves what could be the best Irish breakfast in all of Ireland. You cannot just pop in though, which gives you all the more reason to stay in Russ and Eimhear’s charming place.
A spontaneous lunch on a sunny Galway day brought us to il Vicolo, an old mill on the river serving light Italian fare. It was the perfect spot for a caprese salad and charcuterie and we couldn’t beat the view and private dining!
The star of Galway for us was Ard Bia at Nimmos. Located steps from the Spanish Arch, this came highly recommended by my Irish colleague as the first place she eats every time she is in Galway. An eclectic mix of wooden tables, it feels cool, yet subdued. And while the focus is still on Irish ingredients, the output has a global focus – especially Mediterranean. We couldn’t recommend this place more!
No trip to Galway would be complete without a trip to The Crane Bar, where you can squeeze in upstairs to listen to the 10-piece band playing everything from the flute to the hand drum to the guitar and fiddle. Get there early, it can get pretty crowded, but feels as about authentically Irish as you can get in one of Ireland’s “most Irish cities.”
Similar to the Irish breakfast, no trip to Ireland would be complete without a proper tea and scones. And what better place to do it than a castle? Our last stop in the Republic of Ireland was a relaxing stay at Lough Eske Castle where we were happy to partake in tea for two with a beautiful view of the grounds. There are many places where this tradition lives on, so make sure you indulge at least once when you visit!
I love when a culture and a cuisine intertwine and Ireland certainly does that. Until I return to the Auld Sod, I’ll be content dreaming of Murphy’s ice cream!
What are some of your favorite food experiences? Have you visited any of these restaurants in Ireland?