Set in pretty gardens on the edge of Lisdoonvarna town, this old hotel was re-opened by Aidan McGrath and Kate Sweeney in 2009. They renamed it The Wild Honey Inn, and the world wasted no time in beating a path to their door.
A well known chef, Aidan has worked at top establishments in Ireland and abroad and now, together with Kate (who runs front of house and oversees the accommodation) and established forces in the town like the Sheedys and the Curtins of Burren Smokehouse, they have made Lisdoonvarna a destination for food lovers.
The Wild Honey is a true inn, offering rest, relaxation, refreshment and good company. But good food is the main focus and deciding against opening a formal restaurant was a key decision, reflecting a wish to be seen as a pub offering high quality food in an informal setting.
So Aidan’s superb meals are served in the attractive high-ceilinged bar – a pair of rooms with open fires, partly divided by the bar/serving area and comfortably set up for dining – and you can also eat outside in fine weather.
The place is full of character and there’s a sense of anticipation when reading the encouragingly concise menus – short at lunchtime, a little more expansive in the evening when there might be half a dozen dishes to choose from on each course, plus seasonal blackboard specials in both cases.
There will always be a soup of the day – a deeply flavoured potato soup with flaked smoked haddock perhaps, served with very good breads –and then starters might include sautéed Liscannor crab claws with garlic & chilli butter sauce, a pretty salad of St Tola organic goats with hazelnuts, roasted organic beetroot and hazelnut cream, or an unusual speciality of black pudding and foie gras terrine.
Among the main courses you will find the excellent house Fish and chips - breaded fillet of haddock, pan-fried in olive oil and butter and served with sauce gribiche (egg sauce with capers, an alternative to tartare sauce) – and perhaps a special of rare breed pork belly with morels à la crème, spring greens, leeks & crackling.
Delicious desserts offer a nice balance of the homely (tart tatin for two, with Glenilen organic clotted cream) and the sophisticated (pavé of chocolate with poached raspberries & crème fraiche).
Aidan - who was our Chef of the Year 2012 - describes his food as bistro style, ‘informed by living on the rugged West coast of Ireland where there is an abundance of local produce from land and sea’ and there is a clear commitment to using locally sourced and organic ingredients where possible, with local foods named in dishes and suppliers listed.
But this is no ordinary bistro cooking, and what marks Aidan’s food out as exceptional is his unique combination of finesse and simplicity – the legacy of his classical training and many years in fine dining establishments, together with a philosophy of showcasing the superb seasonal foods of the area in an accessible style.
A short, well priced wine list offers a good choice of bottles carefully chosen to match the food, with most available by the glass – and smart and friendly staff complement this sassy food perfectly.
Well pitched for our times and delivering on quality, service and atmosphere, this is a place that is enjoying well deserved success.
Banqueting (40). Seats 45-50. L Thu-Sun, D Thu-Mon (L1-5, D 5-9). A la carte. House wine from €18. Children welcome (high chair, children’s menu, baby changing facilities); reservations recommended for groups (8+).Restaurant/bar closed Tue; L Mon & Wed, 24-26 Dec, Early Jan - mid Feb.
Very comfortable, reasonably priced accommodation includes three large rooms on the ground floor overlooking the lovely gardens at the back; with direct garden access via little private patios, full bathrooms (bath and overbath shower) and WiFi, one of these would make a great base for anyone staying a few days to explore the Burren and the beautiful Co Clare coast.
The other bedrooms are high-ceilinged rooms with period features in the original 19th century building, and have en-suite showers and views of the surrounding countryside.
A very tasty cooked-to-order breakfast is served by cheerful and efficient staff in a bright dining room opening onto the gardens – an enjoyable meal and a very pleasant way to start the day.
This would make an ideal base to explore the walking routes or enjoy a cycling holiday in this unique landscape - Lisdoonvarna is very close to The Burren National Park. Walking and cycling maps are available, and there are facilities to store bikes. Guided walks can also be arranged, with advance notice. However, if making any special requests do bear in mind that the Wild Honey Inn is a restaurant with rooms, not an hote,l so don't expect hotel level service.