10 of the best restaurants in Ireland and Northern Ireland
Whether it’s Michelin magic or cutting-edge casual food, here’s where to sample some of the best Irish menus… from Belfast down to Cork.
When the book of Irish food is written, the early decades of this century will be described in almost revolutionary terms. Not even a pandemic has halted the gallop of a food scene that’s finally found its voice — stepping from the shadows of global cities and trends, falling properly in love with the island’s beef, breads, seafood and cheeses, and propelled to the next level by a new generation of chefs and restaurateurs. From the fine dining rooms of Dublin to a crossroads pub in Donegal, here’s a tasting menu for your travels...
1. Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen, Dublin
The jewel of Dublin’s north side is also the North Star for Irish fine dining. For three decades, Chapter One wowed food lovers while tickling the tummies of well-heeled regulars, and a recent reboot under chef Mickael Viljanen moves the dial deliciously. He’s a Finn who knows Irish food inside out, a technical wizard who composes like an artist, and madly ambitious (many expect this will be Ireland’s first three-Michelin star restaurant). Served in a coolly atmospheric basement sparingly hung with original art, dishes range from a hand-dived scallop served with kosho, pickled cucumber, grilled cream, horseradish and pike roe to a complex medley of hare the chef dubbed a ‘hug on a plate’ on our visit. Expensive, but essential.
2. Pilgrim’s, Co Cork
Pilgrim's is a deceptively simple restaurant; a hymn to its hinterland. Menus change daily, featuring the best local produce the kitchen can get their hands on (a high bar, given that this is West Cork). Dishes on set menus might include a light but agreeably autumnal pork belly served with apple, blackberry and pickled beetroot, or albacore tuna pinging with tomatoes and crispy kale. White walls and wooden tables are lifted by pops of wildflowers and curated touches — an old branch over the fireplace here, a Patrick Scott print there. On our visit, even a basic side of oak-smoked potatoes with wild garlic mayo brought smiles of pleasure.
3. The Muddlers Club, Belfast
Belfast’s buzzy Cathedral Quarter feels both on and off-grid; chef Gareth McCaughey’s Muddlers Club like a gourmet geocache hidden in its backstreets. Named after a secret society that met here over 200 years ago, it’s a social space, with a post-industrial feel softened by lovely ceramics, big windows and a small cocktail bar. The open kitchen, meanwhile, serves up a slick balance of confident, Michelin-starred cuisine that never feels overbearing — think Mourne lamb with aubergine and dukka, for example, or duck with charred carrot, miso and almond (you’ll be asking how they cook those chips, too).
4. The Olde Glen, Co Donegal
The Olde Glen, a cosy bar and restaurant sits at both a foodie and an actual crossroads — to which Donegal native Ciarán Sweeney returned from Forest & Marcy in Dublin. The room is a former dancehall; the pub right next door; and the chef elevates ingredients like house-smoked Atlantic salmon, oysters or market fish — for example, fillet of Greencastle cod or hake paired with cauliflower and coconut, crab fregola and a light curry velouté. Don’t miss his fermented potato bread with bacon and cabbage — it might sound a touch stereotypically Irish, but it arrives as a trio of bread, a ramekin of crispy cabbage and bacon bits, and a little copper pot filled with bacon essence. They gobbled it up in Dublin, as they do here.
5. Kai, Co Galway
Galway is a peach of a city — small yet cosmopolitan, layered like baklava, a feeling as much as a geographical location. And Kai is a perfect restaurant for it. Homely interiors, a chalkboard menu, jars of delight pickling and infusing on shelves and friendly staff pinballing between wooden tables… it all sets the scene for fiercely seasonal and creative food. Dishes include Roscommon lamb chops with beetroot picada and tahini, or Rossaveal hake with burnt butter cauliflower (there’s a burnt butter ice cream on the dessert menu, too). Chef Jess Murphy is from New Zealand, and Kai is a Maori word meaning “to eat, consume, feed (oneself), partake, devour”; you’ll be doing all of that here.
6. Beach House, Co Waterford
A faded seaside resort, heavy on fish and chips? Nope. Tramore is rebooting its reputation and one reason is Jumoke Akintola and Peter Hogan’s Beach House. Open for lunch only in a Victorian townhouse, you may detect a hint of St. John’s in its restrained feel, though the daily menus are songs to Irish seafood — with short, tantalising descriptions of torched mackerel, say, mussel ravioli, or an oyster served with shallot and fennel pollen (two to three plates are advised per person). Along with rising stars like Seagull Bakery and Mezze, it’s got Tramore trending again.
7. MacNean House, Co Cavan
Before ‘destination dining’ was ever a thing, intrepid foodies were setting their Satnavs for the tiny border village of Blacklion. Twenty-one years later, the welcome is as warm, the food as accomplished, and the famous dining room continues to push on — now with chef’s table, cookery school and townhouse rooms. Neven Maguire is one of Ireland’s best-known chefs, with oodles of TV shows and cookery books to his name, but remains disarmingly enthusiastic and… well, just plain nice. The dining room is a formal affair, layered in white linen; the ‘Prestige Menu’ is an Irish classic skilfully anchored in French technique — from a ‘Study of Shellfish’ marrying seared scallop, prawn kataifi and crab ravioli to the braised short rib sliding in jus.
8. Aimsir, Co Kildare
Jordan Bailey and Majken Bech-Bailey spent months travelling the island before opening at the restaurant at this luxury, village-style country resort. The 18-course tasting at the two Michelin star Aimsir [pronounced am-sheer] is a meticulous testimony to what they found. Biting into a simple heritage potato from Ballymakenny farm reveals a delicious squirt of Boyne Valley Bán cheese tinged with garlic, for example. Galway mussels might be smoked over hickory wood and served with fermented cabbage and roasted kombu dashi, with finishing touches applied by Bailey on an island at the centre of the room. A small farm and gardens have been added, too.
9. Pyke ‘N’ Pommes, Derry
You won’t meet the rubber tyre man at Pyke 'N' Pommes, but you will get to tuck into a magnificently moist Legenderry Burger made from local wagyu beef, market fish cooked in a charcoal oven, or tacos topped with treats like porter braised brisket or battered pickled cauliflower. It began with a food truck and evolved into a container and a double decker bus (which both remain on the Foyle riverfront). But now there’s also a bricks-and-mortar edition on Strand Road, with Kevin Pyke bringing serious foodie chops. Expect bare bulbs, school chairs and student discounts — as well as can-do spirit and artery-clogging bliss.
10. Mae’s, Dublin
Climb the stairs, pass a compact open kitchen, take your seat at either a small table or the zinc-topped counter bar and get ready for a four-course tasting menu that oozes refinement without ever losing its comfort or fun. Service at Mae's starts with three elevated snacks — a rich, pillowy piece of chicken thigh on a skewer with surprising discs of cornichon, perhaps, or a crumbed taste bomb mixing lamb, date and gruyere. Irish produce like Durrus cheese and Abernethy Butter take pride of place, and dishes are brought by chefs who may add a spoon of sauce (or sweet Calvados syrup for head chef Gráinne O’Keefe’s signature tart tatin). Offering diners their choice of artisan knives adds a touch of theatre, too.
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