Each week this fall, The Daily Meal will highlight the best restaurants in various regions in Europe, culminating with the debut of our first list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Europe in December. The Daily Meal presents the 10 Best Restaurants in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Here at the last remaining holding of Northern Ireland's original celebrity chef, Paul Rankin, Paul Waterworth and Dave O'Callaghan have created a stunning, moderately priced menu that is just as bold as Cayenne’s orange and yellow interior. The à la carte and three-course set menu may include Fermanagh chicken and mushroom terrine with rocket salad; seafood linguini made with locally sourced courgettes, tomato, lemon, parsley, and olive oil; and miso salmon with pickled ginger, carrot and radish salad, and sticky sesame rice balls.
Darina Allen, who runs the celebrated Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork, once said that she'd eaten at Cafe Paradiso three times before realizing that it was a vegetarian restaurant. But indeed it is, and a very casual one with a coffeehouse look and informal service — but food that is not only unfailingly delicious but also not like anybody else's. Owner-chef Denis Cotter is an original, conceiving of such satisfying combinations of flavor and texture as carrot, almond, and feta terrine in vine leaves with mango and cucumber salsa; chard leaf timbale with roasted tomato, grilled haloumi cheese, and quinoa with saffron-hazelnut butter and crisped potato; and chickpea-flour crêpe with black kale, Puy lentils, and eggplant, with minted yogurt, fried capers, fava beans, and purple potatoes. Cotter makes particularly good use of many of Ireland's best cheeses, and his Crozier Blue with medjool dates, honey, and oatcakes is a splendid way to end a splendid meal.
In a gallery looking down on Cork's busy English Market and in a small enclosed dining room at one end, Kay Harte's Farmgate Café serves simply but perfectly cooked traditional Irish fare, much of it made with ingredients sourced from the market itself. From breakfasts of porridge with West Cork honey and cream or scrambled eggs with Old Mill House smoked organic salmon to lunches that might offer Farmgate fish chowder, lamb's liver and bacon, market butcher's sausages with champ (potatoes mashed with leeks) and onion gravy, or tripe with onions and optional drisheen (a Cork specialty, a sort of pudding made with congealed blood serum, not for the faint of palate), Farmgate provides a true taste of real Irish cooking. (The restaurant is not open for dinner.)
Garrett Byrne was executive chef at Dublin's Chapter One before returning to his native Kilkenny, in southeastern Ireland, and opening Campagne, a sleek contemporary bistro in 2008. Wood floors, earth-tone banquettes, and a Frank Stella-ish mural depicting local country life by Kilkenny artist Catherine Barron give the dining room a friendly but sophisticated feeling. Byrne's food is, too, with such offerings as porcini risotto with caramelized chicken, cured local beef with red onion chutney, black sole stuffed with smoked salmon in lobster sauce, loin of venison with ceps and bacon, and port-roasted figs with walnut cream.
Before young Irish chefs started creating good modern food of their own, the best restaurants in Dublin were French — most notably Jammet's and the dining room of the Russell Hotel (which guidebook author Egon Ronay called "one of the best restaurants in Europe"). There are those who would say that the island's finest eating place is still French — Patrick Guilbaud's, affectionately known to locals as Paddy Giblet's. Guilbaud and his longtime executive chef, Guillaume Lebrun, have a beautiful restaurant, downstairs at Dublin's top-of-the-line Merrion Hotel (like the hotel itself, the restaurant is full of good Irish art). Here they serve complex, refined French dishes based on Irish raw materials. Sample fare: suckling pig croquettes with fried quail eggs and foie gras, chilled organic salmon ballotine with wasabi crème fraîche, roast chestnut and artichoke soup, poached Annagassan blue lobster with savoy cabbage, glazed Wicklow red deer with caramelized endive and orange, and green apple parfait with pistachio ice cream.
Run by JP McMahon and Drigín Gaffey, the duo behind Galway's Cava Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar, Aniar — which just received a coveted Michelin star, one of only a handful in Ireland — menu around the principles of terroir. Chef Enda McEvoy crafts the menu around the seasons, drawing from Galway’s bucolic ancient woodland, abundant farmlands, and bountiful shorelines. The à la carte and four-course tasting menu change daily, but items like wild mallard with beetroot, hazelnut, spruce, and apple; and rosehip parfait with elderflower jelly and honeycomb make regular appearances.
Set in the verdant Burren region overlooking Galway Bay, The Restaurantat Gregans Castle serves modern Irish fare. Owners Simon Haden and Frederieke McMurray’s country house restaurant is decorated with antique furniture and jugs of flowers. The Restaurant serves lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner. Head chef David Hurley has created seasonal multi-course menus that include such offerings as potato velouté with honey roast quail, egg yolk confit, and sobrasada creamed cheese; olive-oil-poached cod, with asparagus and caper, and raisin dressing; and raspberry soufflé with mandarin sorbet. If local lobster is on the menu, don't miss it.
It might be an exaggeration to say that good modern-day Irish cooking was born at this delightful country hotel, but it wouldn't be much of one. It was here, in 1964, that Myrtle Allen, wife of a local orchardist, opened a small dining room serving solid home cooking made with produce from her property and neighboring farms and seafood from the small fishing a few miles away. She didn't try to be fancy or French (in fact, she later ran a restaurant for several years in Paris bringing Irish cooking to the French), just honest and consistent, and she ended up inspiring two generations of Irish cooks, purveyors, and artisan producers — the core of the thriving Irish food scene today. The restaurant and hotel have flourished and grown, and today those who make the pilgrimage to this corner of East Cork will feast on such fare as onion and thyme soup, smoked salmon rillettes with pickled cucumbers, poached Ballycotton monkfish with scallops, Gubbeen ham braised in white wine, Irish farmhouse cheeses, and seasonal fruit tarts.
There’s nothing fishy about the food at Fishy Fishy, which procures all its seafood — from cod, John Dory, and haddock to lobster, squid, and crab — locally and serves it pier-side overlooking Kinsale Harbour. Preparations are simple and the quality of the raw materials is impeccable. Run by husband-and-wife team Martin and Marie Shanahan, Fishy Fishy began as a fish and chip shop with a deli that supplied local catch to area restaurants, then turned into a full-scale restaurant of its own. Fishy Fishy also has a fish market that sells seafood for home preparation and — back to its origins — the Fishy Fishy Chippie, which sells, yes, fish and chips.
In a warm basement dining room below the Dublin Writers Museum, its walls hung with superb contemporary Irish art, Cork-born Ross Lewis produces superb contemporary Irish food, based on first-rate ingredients prepared with imagination and a practiced hand. Lewis doesn't hesitate to work an occasional foam or emulsion into his food, but keeps his feet firmly planted in Irish soil. Typical dishes at Chapter One are mushroom consommé with smoked potato and buttermilk foam, crab salad with pickled seaweed, charcoal grilled monkfish with razor clams, pig's tail stuffed with smoked bacon, and cheesecake made with Irish buffalo-milk ricotta, with crushed oat biscuits, lemon curd, and strawberries.