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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide

NEWCOMERS - TEN OF THE BEST

It has been an exhilarating year in Irish food and hospitality, with visitor numbers surging and a host of exciting new openings - sometimes hard to keep track of in fact, in the cities especially. Here are just a few of the new places that we particularly enjoyed this year, some a little newer than others but all well worth a try.

Nook Café & Restaurant, Collooney Co Sligo

Nook Café & Restaurant, Collooney Co Sligo

Opened in May 2016, Ethna Reynolds has created a seriously impressive menu in this little gem of a café, which has fast become a popular spot for breakfast and lunch. The first thing you’ll notice about the menu – besides how tempting every dish sounds – is the focus on fresh, local artisan ingredients, from the meat to the cheese and right down to the beautiful salad leaves. A real highlight at Nook is the kids’ menu, which reflects the focus on quality and freshness, and even the drinks are special, with a homemade lemonade made with local rhubarb, gooseberries, loganberries and lemon basil on offer, and the coffee sourced from Art of Coffee in nearby Carrick-on-Shannon. It’s an absolutely delightful addition to Collooney and well worth a stop on your way to Sligo town or even a destination in its own right.

 

Noble, Holywood Co Down

Noble, Holywood Co Down

A genuinely warm welcome, terrific seasonal cooking and superb service are the reasons for the success of this quietly stylish first floor restaurant in the heart of Holywood. Space is at a premium in the L-shaped room but, once tucked comfortably in at your table, everything feels just right - and, from a corner window, you might even glimpse ships heading up the lough to dock in Belfast. The first solo venture for business partners Pearson Morris (Chef, formerly of Eipic at Deanes) and Saul McConnell (Manager, formerly of Deanes) there's an air of quiet customer-focused confidence to every aspect of Noble and it's easy to see why it has become one of the hottest meal tickets in Northern Ireland. Worth a detour.

 

Pickle, Dublin 2

Pickle, Dublin 2

Casual dining may still be the big story, but the restaurants that are performing best are those with chefs grounded in fine dining. Pickle, Sunil Ghai’s new Indian restaurant on Camden Street, ticks the box perfectly: an attractive casual ‘eating house and bar’ serving traditional food that has been beautifully finessed. Ireland’s first regional Indian restaurant, multi-award-winning chef Sunil (arguably Ireland’s finest Indian chef) chose to leave the formality of Ananda in Dundrum to cook the dishes of his childhood and those from the Northern provinces of the spicy sub-continent. Diners looking for take-away classics will have to go elsewhere. Like the atmospheric décor, Pickle’s menu is a thrilling combination of new experiences - but, despite the casual setting, there’s nothing laidback about the cooking Sunil’s immense experience shines on the plate. From guinea fowl masala to tiffin lunch boxes his fine dining roots see this exciting cuisine finessed for a new audience. Casual dining at its best.

 

CakeFace, Kilkenny Co Kilkenny

CakeFace, Kilkenny Co Kilkenny

Situated on a sleepy almost forgotten street in Kilkenny City, you could easily walk past CakeFace as the facade blends in with the many greys of the streetscape. However once you walk through its doors you are met with a veritable feast of patisserie heaven. Owners and pastry chefs, Sarah and Rory Gannon, make delectable mini cakes and pastries for you to indulge your sweet tooth. CakeFace also offers a simple lunch of sandwiches, but it’s the unique and funkily named pastries and desserts that would bring you here time and time again - patisserie is its raison d’etre and it’s a place to order that special occasion cake, or wedding favours, to buy a special gift or indulge in a masterfully made dessert. A great place to meet a friend, to come and work, (they offer free WiFi) or take away a few delights to have on a picnic in the Castle park - or, if you can resist devouring them on the way home, give a treat to someone special.

 

Boqueria, Howth Co Dublin

Boqueria, Howth Co Dublin

Stoneybatter's loss has been Howth's gain since Matt Fuller and his team moved Boqueria out from the city to its scenic new location overlooking Howth's ancient Abbey in November 2016. Traditional tapas elevated to fine dining is the USP, as people come to enjoy the high end cooking in a casual setting. Quality ingredients, beautiful presentation and seasonal flavours are complemented by a good wine list and friendly, interested service - and, aside from offering an outstanding experience for evening diners, Boqueria is also an excellent lunch and weekend brunch destination. Think simple but exceptionally tasty dishes like black pudding salad with smoked pancetta, croutons and poached egg, or a 5oz steak with eggs, hollandaise and New York fries, and also - unusually - a 5 course Brunch Tasting Menu, beginning with honey roasted granola with organic yoghurt & fruit, and rounded off with American style pancakes, hazelnut chocolate and vanilla ice cream, taking in plenty else (including a fish course) along the way. Another smart choice in a village that is particularly well endowed with good eating places.

 

Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar, Sallins Co Kildare

Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar, Sallins Co Kildare

Josef and Nicola Zammit's terrific little restaurant and wine bar overlooks the boats moored in the canal at Sallins. However, it's not just the charming location that has people flocking here, but the exceptional 'fine dining without the fuss' experience - and the outstanding value for money. A tasting menu is offered - five courses, with the option of matching wines - or a two/three course dinner menu with just three choices on each course. Descriptions are brief but there is great finesse and depth of flavour in the cooking and an excellent kitchen is backed up by well trained and informative staff. Menus move with the season, with fish and vegetable cooking especially strong, and memorable details will include homemade sourdough bread, a complimentary amuse bouche, and the rich chocolate truffle that comes with the locally roasted coffee. Downstairs, the rustic wine bar offers a casual alternative with a tapas style blackboard menu.

 

Kitty Kelly’s, Killybegs Co Donegal

Kitty Kelly’s, Killybegs Co Donegal

Heading out west on the scenic road towards Glencolumbkille, you can’t miss this smartly presented former farmhouse, now a destination restaurant run by well known French chef Remy Dupuy, formerly of nearby Castle Murray, and his wife Donna. Whether for a lunchtime bite in summer or an evening meal in the (surprising) restaurant, Remy's take on local produce is always a treat. Killybegs seafood tops the list and fans will be delighted to find an old favourite taking pride of place among the starters - Prawn & Monkfish in Garlic Butter, which has been Remy's best selling dish for the last 20 years. And, like many of the best French chefs cooking in Ireland <http://www.ireland-guide.com/> today, Remy has great respect for the quality of the produce in his area and he is proud to list a range of local suppliers. Fish and seafood, for example, comes from Albatross Seafood in Killybegs, Starcrest Seafood in Donegal, and local fishermen, while the butcher is Byrne’s Meat in Dunkineely and other main ingredients come from Donegal Creameries, Patton’s Eggs of Ballyshannon and McGinty’s Fruit & Veg in Donegal Town - not too many food miles on this menu.

 

Bishops Gate Hotel, Derry Co Londonderry

Bishops Gate Hotel, Derry Co Londonderry

Formerly a Gentlemen's Club, this atmospheric boutique hotel and restaurant is an interesting place to stay within the historic city walls - and, from some rooms, you can see right down to the impressively restored Guild Hall, and the Peace Bridge beyond. It brings history, luxury, style and service to the Cathedral Quarter and, as well as being a wonderfully romantic destination for a short break, this delightful hotel lost no time in finding its niche in the heart of the city, with The Wig and Gown Champagne Bar and Grill soon establishing itself as the place to meet for a drink or a bite. Offering informal all day dining, and live entertainment on some evenings, it’s easy to see why it has become the place to see and be seen - and you can also do more formal dining in The Gown restaurant, or traditional Afternoon Tea in the Edwardian inspired Hervey Library. Intimate weddings too, in the lovely old Northern Counties Ballroom. All round it’s a great asset to Derry City - and the whole of the North-West region

 

Good Things @ Dillons Corner, Skibbereen, Co Cork

Good Things @ Dillons Corner, Skibbereen, Co Cork

Having earned a national reputation as a leader in the local food revolution at the small café and cookery school that she had run on the outskirts of Durrus village since 2003, Carmel Somers recently moved her business to Skibbereen. A chef, teacher and author, Carmel probably does more than any other chef in the region to promote local produce and her menus at this restaurant in the centre of Skibbereen reflect this. The local producers who are hailed as heroes on the Good Things menus and website include many famous names, and seasonality is a byword here: roasted summer vegetables, sea beet, lightly boiled, Kilcrohane new potatoes, the tartness of gooseberries with mackerel and the same fruit in a dessert ... Simplicity and fresh flavours are the essence of the cooking style - it’s the kind of place where even the most demanding know they are in safe hands - and you can learn how to do it yourself too, at the Good Things Cookery School.

 

The Wheathill, Bangor Co Down

The Wheathill, Bangor Co Down

An impressive first venture for husband and wife team Cameron and Amee Carter, who have both worked with some of Northern Ireland's most interesting restaurateurs - experience that shows in a quietly welcoming air of confidence. 'Fine dining without the fuss' is the style here, so expect deep, gutsy flavours in food that seems simple yet has real finesse. Menus evolve with the season - and with the day, as this is an equally appealing venue for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch. Specialities include a lightly spiced seafood linguine starter, great beef mains and pretty desserts - a local variation on classic olive oil cakes with seasonal fruits, for example. Outstanding wine and drinks list, great service - and good value too. A lot to love.

 

Pullman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey, Bushypark Galway

Pullman Restaurant at Glenlo Abbey, Bushypark Galway

No, not really a newcomer, but the welcome return of an old friend as the refurbished Glenlo Abbey recently reopened under new ownership - and, now under the management of Rory O’Sullivan (formerly at Park Hotel Kenmare), it has settled down well and offers a delightful all round experience. The Pullman is perhaps the country’s most novel dinner venue - four carriages, two of them from the original Orient Express that featured in scenes from “Murder on the Orient Express”, filmed in 1974. It was our Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year in 2005 and it is cheering to see it back in top form. Background ‘clackity-clack’ and hooting noises lend an authenticity to the experience and the view from the windows is of a coiffeured golf course, Lough Corrib and the Connemara hills in the distance. The setting is certainly wonderful - and, happily, Head Chef Alan McArdle and the team provide excellent ingredients-led food and engaging service to match. A real treat.

 

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