Memorable Meals in 2023 - Ten of the Best

The first year of spontaneous travel since the beginning of the pandemic, 2023 may have had its ups and downs - including some challenging weather - but overall it was a joy, thanks to the freedom to move around, re-visit old haunts and discover a surprising number of new ones. Standards were also up and down, with disappointment and delight both found in unexpected places. Some of the highlights featured in our 2023 Awards but there were many more, including the small selection below - ranging from high-end fine dining destinations to pubs or little bakery-cafés, the places that linger in the mind all share a common denominator: genuine hospitality, honest food and a lovely way of putting happy customers before ambition or convenience to themselves. This is just a sprinkling of the places around the country that made travelling a pleasure this year – and there are plenty more to come another time. 

Library Street

Well located near the Nassau Street entrance to Trinity College, this is a very interesting restaurant and wine bar and well worth seeking out. Chef Kevin Burke, former head chef at The Ninth, London, and on the founding team at Allta (due to re-open in permanent new premises soon, after two previous moves) re-imagined the original Allta premises to open his first restaurant, Library Street, here. The vibe is buzzy with a big central high table surrounded by smaller tables, and an open kitchen serving up contemporary dishes from a compact menu. The focus is on great flavour and encouraging interaction between guests with sharing plates, and the food is all about seasonal and local (for which read ‘Irish’) with frequently changed menus designed around what’s best from suppliers at the time – and an extensive drinks list to accompany. Great music and fun service make
this an exciting dining destination – and it was the perfect venue for the Irish Food Writers’ Guild ‘Christmas’ get-together in January, giving us an inspiring start to the year with its innovative cooking and engaging service - and accommodation is available too, at Trinity Townhouse, with breakfast served at the restaurant.

Rathsallagh House
Dunlavin Co Wicklow

Converted from Queen Anne Stables in 1798, the O’Flynn family’s large, rambling country house on the Wicklow-Kildare border is just an hour from Dublin, but it could be in a different world. Famously insistent that it is ‘not an hotel’, it has a classic country house atmosphere – but, while summing up their focus on welcome and hospitality very well, the family’s insistence on informality can be deceptive, as Rathsallagh is very professionally run and has excellent amenities for every type of guests, including the many who attend weddings here. Accommodation varies from spacious rooms with great views in the old house to cottagey rooms in the stableyard and a newer block tucked in behind, all very comfortable. Good food is central to Rathsallagh - starting with an excellent breakfast, through casual daytime bites (for residents, but non-residents are welcome at the golf club next door) to delicious flavoursome dinners, chef Michael Thomas’s focus is very much on seasonal food, including produce from the farm and beautiful walled garden. And then there is the team - so well-trained, so kind and welcoming. Arriving at Rathsallagh on a cold, wet, dark late autumn evening reminded us of a similar experience several decades ago, on our first visit to Ballymaloe House, when all the tensions of the week and the journey (no joke in those days) fell away as soon as we got through the front door. Irish food and hospitality at its best.

The Long Dock
Carrigaholt Co Clare

Loop Head is always worth a visit, if for no other reason than the magnificent cliffs, which can rival the nearby Cliffs of Moher, without the crowds. But perhaps the best reason to head down this far is to have a bite at Tony and Imelda Lynch’s classic 19th century pub. The Long Dock, which has earned a well-deserved reputation for its friendly efficiency and good food, especially local seafood. Well cooked and tasty, the menu features great seasonal local produce and there’s nothing too fussy – a welcome sign of confidence. And, with its rugged stone walls, stone-flagged floors and open fires, it’s an atmospheric spot too, making a lovely setting for a good meal. Behind the pub you’ll find a café, extra outdoor tables in a sheltered courtyard for sunny days, a Tourist Information Point and a shop selling their own products – usually including the ‘Famous Chowder’ and an irresistible range of homemade ice creams - and those of other like-minded producers. It’s a one off and, as were reminded by a visit last summer that’s still lingering in the mind, it’s a lovely experience that will have you leaving with a spring in your step.

Skerries Co Dublin

When Cathal Leonard (former head chef at Dublin’s Chapter One) and his front of house partner, Sarah Ryan, opened here in 2019, it was a culinary milestone for this delightful seaside town - not least because Potager is in the former Red Bank premises, a beacon of innovation and pride of place, run by the legendary Terry McCoy since 1983. Honouring that legacy, Potager quickly established a reputation as a leading fine dining destination - but it aims to be a neighbourhood restaurant too, and the keen pricing of their tip-top food and great service has ensured that local diners also make a visit here a regular treat. The focus is intensely seasonal and local, so the (refreshingly short) menus change frequently - often on a daily basis, depending on what's available from a list of trusted Irish suppliers, which is perfect to keep the experience fresh for locals. The carefully selected suppliers indicate the care that's taken with the foundations of Cathal's excellent modern cooking and, having kept their team together through the pandemic (unlike most restaurants), both the cooking and service from the friendly and engaging front-of-house team are better than ever. Accommodation is available at Red Bank House too (under separate management).

Ballymore Inn
Co Kildare

A benchmark destination for the quality of its food, ambience and service for over 30 years, this stylish pub restaurant was the ultimate Irish gastropub long before the term was familiar here – and ‘Guided by principles of sustainability’ was its motto. In December 2022 Barry and Georgina O'Sullivan passed on the baton of the wonderful place that had delighted so many - and, while sad to see them retire, customers were also excited by the handover, as the new owners were none other than Paul Lenehan, Ronan Kinsella and Sean Forde, proprietors of those other Kildare gems Hartes of Kildare; Firecastle, Kildare; and the Dew Drop Inn and Brewhouse in Kill. So it's still a great success story - and the continued policies of using only the very best ingredients, careful cooking and providing a relaxed ambience with excellent service are still a winning formula. Super service too - and the small artisan shop established by Georgina O’Sullivan now also includes speciality products from Hartes.

LIGNUM GCG Restaurant of the Year 2022
Loughrea Co Galway

Loughrea side of Bullaun village (M6
Dublin-Galway road, Exit 16, Loughrea).

Since opening in 2019, food lovers have blazed a trail to Lignum, which we visited (and fell in love with) at an early stage and have been delighted to follow its progress since. Formerly Slatefort House, owner-chef Danny Africano’s family home, the house and grounds were reborn as Lignum, Latin for wood - which is central to the simple yet sophisticated makeover and the special character of the food, which is cooked over different woods to get the best flavours, notably local ash, birch and oak. The result is creative, beautiful and seriously delicious - and the quality of the ingredients is absolutely outstanding, as is the personal care lavished on every aspect of this restaurant and its customers. Danny and the team, including his front-of-house partner Molly Keane, used the pandemic period well in order to reconfigure internal space (gaining a beautiful bar area and an impressive wine room) and up-skill, and the experience is more enjoyable than ever – and accessibly-priced for the quality, with a choice of menus offered including weekend lunches.

1826 Adare
Adare Co Limerick

Just across the road from another of our favourite destinations, The Dunraven Arms, leading chef Wade Murphy and his wife Elaine’s rustic chic restaurant is in one of this postcard-pretty village’s most charming cottages. The restaurant is in three rooms and never fails to delight. With its lovely combination of the traditional themes that go with the territory in Adare - the old spinning wheel in an alcove, the black cast iron kettle beside the fire - alongside the stylishly simple modern, it has great charm. Having opted to move away from his fine dining background, Wade offers keenly-priced, elegant comfort food. As would be expected of a Euro-Toques chef (and former Commissioner General), valued suppliers are detailed on menus and many are name checked on dishes too. The monthly-changing menus are built on this super-fresh seasonal produce, with daily blackboard specials offering extras such as whole sole on the bone and deeply flavoursome braised meats. Topnotch classically based cooking in a relaxed style - seriously delicious food, and at a very fair price, matched by warmly efficient service by Elaine and her team. Always a must-visit destination in Adare.

Land to Sea
Dingle, Co Kerry

Julian and Katia Wyatt brought an international sensibility to the excellent value menu at their relaxed smart-casual Main Street restaurant when they opened there in 2019 and – while it wasn’t long before they had the opportunity to move to spacious new premises on nearby John Street – they had a following of happy diners who enjoyed their style. The produce at the heart of Julian’s skilful cooking is (almost) pure Dingle, with just a sprinkling of impeccable sourcing from beyond the peninsula, such as the excellent Andarl Farm Velvet Pork. And what a fine natural larder Dingle offers, with suppliers like Sully the Kid crab and lobster, Iasc Ui Mhathuna Teo fish and Dingle Distillery all on their doorstep. Confidence exudes from every plate here, and ambition too, with a great handling of flavour and textural balance and (given the moderate menu prices) some surprisingly elaborate flourishes. A summer visit to John Street found a happy ship well-packed with diners from far and near (including one couple who said they had been married that day), all enjoying the flavoursome, colourful and generous food, relaxed ambience, pleasing service from friendly young staff – and the good value. An early dinner menu, in particular, is very attractively priced to be accessible to all – a rarity in restaurants post-pandemic, it’s good to see this is still offered at Land to Sea.

Eala Bhán
Sligo Co Sligo

Attractively located beside the Garavogue River, the lovely Eala Bhán (‘White Swan’) is the original restaurant in Sligo town centre owned by well-known restaurateur Anthony Gray and his wide, Eilis – a sophisticated sister to its more rustic brother, Hooked, nearby. Although strong on seafood and local meats (from Sherlocks of Tubbercurry - try the rack of Sligo lamb, or perhaps venison in season), menus offer plenty of choice, with upbeat versions of many popular dishes including vegetarian and children’s choices. Offering delicious local, seasonal food, pleasing surroundings, great staff and value for money, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular – and especially, as we found on an early season visit, if a good dinner is combined with other unique local attractions. In our case, visiting as group (also with a private visit and lunch at Lissadell House on the programme) we made sure to head to Thomas Connollys heritage pub across the bridge before dinner, where a wonderful music session was in full swing and the lovely people magicked seating up from nowhere. And there’s so much more to this place too - so yes, Sligo is Surprising.

Table Forty One
Gorey Co Wexford

You could easily miss narrow the street entrance to Table Forty One, which is in Gorey town centre, near the junction of North Parade (R741) and Main Street (R772) although not very obvious. But it is well worth seeking out as Chef Andrew Duncan brought experience at top kitchens around the world (and some local ones too) when he opened here in 2018 - so no surprise, perhaps, that this pleasing restaurant was a hit from day one. He is the sole chef and, while the menu is tight, it changes often, and includes interesting vegetarian options. Local, foraged and home-produced foods provide the background story - and the cooking, presentation and service are excellent, in a relaxed ‘fine dining without the fuss’ style. It offers something a bit different from other dining destinations and gives terrific value too - no wonder it’s so popular. The Irish Food Writers’ Guild summer outing this year was a trip to north County Wexford and a fascinating day of foodie visits culminated with a tasting of the superb Redmond Family Farm beef at Ashdown Park Hotel and then a terrific dinner at Table Forty One. Happy memories all round - how lucky are we.

Montalto Estate
Ballynahinch Co Down

Set in rolling countryside just outside Ballynahinch, Montalto Estate has a colourful history dating back to the early 17th century. The current owners, the Wilson family, now open it as a very special visitor destination offering beautiful gardens, trails and walks, a shop that sells quality items you won’t find easily - and a really lovely café. ‘Reconnect with nature’ is the theme behind everything here, and they do it with style. With its constantly evolving seasonal menus showcasing produce from the estate and the local area, the café is not just an add-on to a visitor attraction but a destination in its own right and it's a draw for regulars from around Northern Ireland, as well as a wonderful discovery for travellers from further afield. All the baked goods are made in-house (try the speciality bake, blueberry and white chocolate scone) and they have free-range hens, and an apiary - all of which is reflected on their menus. All round Montalto is a brilliant place and you won't find a better local food offering anywhere. A recent visit was delightful – definitely one to remember when you are heading to County Down.

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