Ireland's Most Exciting New Restaurants - 10 of the Best

Quality informal dining may still be on the rise, fine dining is far from dead - and, while different, the new fine dining is finding a ready niche. Many of the most exciting new Irish openings are small - perhaps less than two dozen covers - the USP for several is fire pit cooking, and all have warmth teamed with professionalism and a strong sense of place. Here are just ten recent openings from around the country that have quickly claimed ‘must-visit’ status - they demonstrate just how far Irish restaurants have come in the last decade and a meal at any of them is sure to make a lasting impression.

Celbridge Co Kildare
The most keenly anticipated Irish restaurant opening in recent years, the arrival of chef Jordan Bailey (from Cornwall and formerly head chef at top Scandinavian restaurant Maaemo, in Norway) and his Danish wife, Majken, and their restaurant Aimsir was a first for Ireland. It is a huge compliment to Ireland and the quality of its produce that they chose to settle in Co Kildare. Aimsir, meaning weather in Irish, is dedicated to "Celebrating what can be sown and harvested, fished and foraged on the island of Ireland" and Jordan’s exquisite 18-course tasting menu is 95% sourced within Ireland. Everything about Aimsir is meticulously planned and just right. And what lingers in the mind is not just the sheer creativity and skill, or even the deep flavours and extraordinary attention to detail - but, especially, the warmth, friendliness, enthusiasm and charm, including drinks service, that make for a memorable dining experience. It’s a one off - and Aimsir’s many well deserved accolades include our award of Restaurant of the Year 2020.

Blackrock Co Dublin
Dinner at Liath, in Blackrock Market, is one of the finest dining experiences in Ireland. With just 22 seats, this stylish little restaurant offers a sense of escapism and exclusivity. Serving an exquisite ten-course tasting menu, Damien Grey and his superb team, spearheaded by the ebullient Niall O’Connor, deliver a fairy tale experience underpinned by seasonality, excellence and genuine warmth. The ten-course offering unfolds like a well directed movie, with a gripping opening, compelling narrative and sublime cast. Each dish has a star ingredient with supporting cast of textures, the flavours developing with each course. It is, quite simply, a sensational restaurant. Small? Yes. But perfectly formed.

Balloo Co Down
Ronan and Jennie Sweeney's famous 19th century coaching inn has oodles of character and a great reputation for outstanding pub dining in the old kitchen bar... And now it has the gorgeous Overwood restaurant upstairs, with its cool tented terrace and brilliantly simple menu showcasing the best of local produce. It’s all about fire at Overwood, and not just for cooking - the beguiling scent of woodsmoke greets guests in the bar, where a smart glass-fronted log-burning stove is a welcoming presence, and - the pièce de résistance - a huge woodburning stove on the terrace which provides an ever-changing focal point and great atmosphere, as well as a cosy spot to enjoy a drink. All that and a magic wand casting its spell in the kitchen, transforming apparently simple grilled dishes into a very special dining experience. Enchanting - and an obvious choice for our Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year 2020.

Howth Co Dublin
A first restaurant for chef Killian Durkin (formerly of Chapter One) and Jess D'Arcy (Etto), Mamo caused quite a stir when this little place opened on Howth's harbour front. Not an inch of space is wasted in the compact room and the kitchen, where you can watch Killian and his small team working quietly away, is hardly more than a sliver taken off the back - yet, while Killian's menus may not long, the range and quality of dishes that cross the pass would be remarkable in any setting. Proudly named produce from North County Dublin - mainly fish, of course, given the location, but also a great game offering in season - is the main starting point for the beautiful and exceptionally tasty dishes that come out of this small kitchen. This, together with a warmly efficient front of house team, meant that Mamó soon captured the hearts of local diners with an eye for quality - and, for everyone else, it's yet another good reason to head out to Howth. Mamo is a class act - and lunch is a snip.

Restaurant Lady Anne
Castlecomer Co Kilkenny
Set in the old Creamery House (now owned by local entrepreneur John Comerford, who has given its painstakingly authentic restoration a vast amount of TLC), this atmospheric restaurant is named after its original owner, the much-loved Lady Anne Wandesforde, Countess of Ormonde (1754-1830). Its restoration gave gifted Chef Keith Boyle and his wife Carmel (formerly of The Bay Tree Bistro Waterford City) an opportunity to bring elegant dining to this handsome town - and, from the outset, it has been a highly professional operation, with the passionately immaculate cooking and presentation of superb local produce at its heart. It’s a one-off and a must-visit destination for food lovers when in Co Kilkenny

Variety Jones
Chef Keelan Higgs’ new restaurant on Dublin’s Thomas Street ,Variety Jones is cool, original and fun. The chef’s chef, Keelan is serving thoughtful and exciting food, with many ingredients cooked over an open hearth in the kitchen. With only around eight dishes on offer, plus a single dessert or cheese, the menu is original and unusual with a focus on hearth-grilled family style dishes. Everything served up in the small, low-key dining room is thoughtfully conceived and delicious. The wine list offers a short selection of carefully sourced bottles and the front of house is run by Keelan’s charming and chilled-out brother, Aaron. Variety Jones is exciting and different, serving real food with vision in a relaxed and fun space.

Loughrea Co Galway
Whether by chance or design, Danny Africano's East Galway restaurant Lignum opened shortly before this autumn’s Food On The Edge Food Symposium in Galway city and, having been visited en route by several big beasts of the international food world, it was the talk of the gathering. Formerly Slatefort House, the whole house and grounds have had an exceedingly sophisticated makeover and have been reborn, phoenix-like, as Lignum. The word is Latin for wood and most of the food is cooked over adjustable fire pits with local woods - ash, birch and oak - used to create unique flavours. The result is not rustic but exceptionally refined and deeply layered, reflecting the quality of the ingredients, which are mainly locally sourced with pride. The care lavished on every aspect of the restaurant is outstanding so it’s not surprising that food lovers are already blazing a trail to this rural spot.

Skerries Co Dublin
The arrival in Skerries of Cathal Leonard (former head chef at Dublin's Chapter One, no less) and his front of house partner, Sarah Ryan, was always going to be a culinary milestone for this delightful seaside town - not least because Potager is in the former Red Bank premises, originally opened by the legendary Terry McCoy in 1983 and always a beacon of innovation and pride of place. Potager opened in May 2019 and quickly established a reputation as a fine dining destination - but it also aims to be a neighbourhood restaurant, and the extremely keen pricing is sure to encourage local diners to make a visit here a regular treat. The focus is intensely seasonal and local, and an impressive list of suppliers - notably nearby growers and suppliers of fish and seafood from Skerries and nearby ports - highlights the produce that underpins the day's menu, indicating the care that's taken with the foundations of Cathal's excellent cooking. A worthy successor to the local culinary pioneer.

No 14 The Georgian House
Comber Co Down
A fine building which dates back to 1722 is the setting for the highly-regarded chef Jim Mulholland’s first restaurant venture. Previously Head Chef at establishments as varied as Ballyrobin Country Lodge and Restaurant Novelli at the AC Hotel in Belfast, this admirable operation on the square in Comber is unusual for a chef this calibre. While offering the very best of fine dining, No. 14 is accessible to all and open for breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week. Very community-focused, it’s a place where you can pop in for freshly baked scones and coffee, have a casual lunch or experience an outstanding fine dining experience at dinner. The breadth of the chef’s experience with his solid grounding in classic techniques and creativity in showcasing Irish produce make No. 14 a must-visit destination.

Oar Doolin
Doolin Co Clare
You’ll find longer menus but you’ll travel a long way to get better food, as the best of local produce is well flagged at Oar Doolin, and the carefully sourced ingredients are cooked and presented with flair. Formerly the highly regarded Roadford House, it was taken over in 2018 by Kieran O’Halloran of 'Kieran's Kitchen' at The Roadside Inn in Lisdoonvarna (our Pub of the Year 2020), given a stylish revamp and re-opened the following summer. 'Rustic fine dining' is the promise and "We love what we do and we hope you do too!" is the disarming message from Kieran and the team - so, once the elegant room with its white clothed tables and deliciously refined cooking begins to work its magic, it would be hard not to enter into the spirit of the endeavour. Another bucket list destination for food lovers when in Co Clare.

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