This wonderful place on the most tranquil and least visited of the Aran Islands group was our Newcomer of the Year in 2008, and it has since earned an international reputation as one of Ireland's most desirable destinations.
Ruairi de Blacam is a native of Inis Meain and a chef; he and his wife, Marie-Therese, who is from Cork and has a business and fashion background, decided to create a business on the island that would allow them to live in this peaceful landscape of terraced limestone and traditional culture.
The island is just 3 miles across and supports 150 inhabitants who appreciate this unique and special place. Old traditions of farming, sport, and music are a large part of daily life here, and the de Blacams are true to this in creating a haven of fine food and a peaceful place for rest. Although very modern, the long, low cut-stone building, designed by de Blacam & Meagher architects, blends into the surrounding limestone landscape.
The dining space and kitchen are almost one and diners are given a view of the open simple kitchen, or an amazing panoramic view of the island, sea and sky. The room is contemporary and spare; a great black and white photograph of a fisherman easing a periwinkle out of a shell, with a pint of stout beside him, gives real feeling to the whole place.
The ingredients used are mainly sourced on the island: lobster and crab are caught by fishermen who use the local currachs, other fish comes from Rossaveal and is now also landed at the new pier on Inis Meain; periwinkles and carrageen moss are picked from the shore by Marie-Thérèse and Ruairi.
Potatoes, vegetables, fruit and herbs are home-grown on the restaurant site – an amazing range including spinach, broad beans, peas, scallions and onions, carrots, parsnips and radishes, fennel bulbs, rocket, lollo rosso, masses of herbs, rhubarb, pears and soft fruits like raspberries, strawberries gooseberries and blackberries – and even the elderflower cordial is handmade in Cork by Marie-Thérèse’s mum, Breda Leahy.
The island is a fox-free zone so they’re adding free-range chickens too. Ruairi’s dinner menu offers a good choice and might include crab salad with aioli (freshest crab imaginable); steamed lobster with chilli garlic & coriander butter, fresh spinach and boiled potatoes (local potatoes in their skins), cheeses, a magic crème brulée... it will be a very simple meal - each course has just two elements and Ruairi calls it Elemental Eating - but presented and cooked superbly. Everything about a meal here is designed to emphasise the clean environment and simplicity of life on the island.
Catch of the day might very well be ling, once a staple food in these parts, simply fried with tiny macedoine of red and yellow peppers sprinkled on top.
To drink with this wonderful food, there's a short, carefully selected, list of six white and six red wines (from €22, €5,50 per glass), and the homemade elderflower cordial.
And Marie Thérèse is a wonderful host – a visit here is sure to be a memorable experience.
Seats 18; restaurant & toilets wheelchair accessible; broadband wi/fi. D 7.30 for 8pm, €65. House wine €22. Reservations: suite guests Mon-Sat, non-residents Wed-Sat. Closed Sun; Oct-Apr.
The suites are designed as large open spaces with a hall, living area, en-suite sleeping area, exterior door and outside sitting area. Fishing rods, bicycles and books of interest are provided instead of TV to help guests discover the peace and quiet of the island. A fifth suite apartment has been added more recently; it is very large (130 sq m) and has a huge open plan living area with a wood burning stove and panoramic views of the island, Galway Bay, and Connemara. An Inis Meáin Breakfast Box, HotPot Lunch, and Exploration Kit are delivered to each suite, so that guests have everything that is needed to make the most of their stay without decision making. Simply magic.