The 'local food' movement was pioneered in Ireland in the 1970s, notably at the world-famous Ballymaloe House. Since then the movement has gone from strength to strength, with dozens of farmers markets showcasing the best of local produce, and restaurants all over the country highlighting locally sourced ingredients.
Booking ahead is recommended in cities and larger towns; same-day reservations are usually fine except for top-end restaurants – book those two weeks in advance.
- Restaurants From cheap eats to Michelin-starred feasts, covering every imaginable cuisine.
- Cafes Open during the daytime (rarely at night), cafes are good for all-day breakfasts, sandwiches and basic lunches.
- Pubs Pub grub ranges from toasted sandwiches to carefully crafted dishes as good as any you'll find in a restaurant.
- Hotels All hotel restaurants accept non-guests. They're a popular option in rural Ireland.
Finding the Best of Irish Food & Drink
www.bordbia.ie Irish Food Board website, with a comprehensive list of farmers markets (enter 'farmers markets' in the search box on the homepage).
www.goodfoodireland.ie Listings of top-quality Irish food and drink suppliers.
www.irishcheese.ie The Association of Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers, with every small dairy covered.
www.slowfoodireland.com Organisation supporting small producers, with social events across Ireland.
Year in Food
Freshly picked fruit and vegetables, such as asparagus and rhubarb, make an appearance.
West Waterford Festival of Food Three days of local produce and fine food in Dungarvan, including a seaside barbecue and a craft-beer garden.
Taste of Dublin The capital's best restaurants combine to serve up sample platters of their finest dishes amid music and other entertainment.
First of the season's new potatoes appear, along with jams and pies made with gooseberries, blackberries and loganberries.
Taste of West Cork Food Festival Skibbereen brings together its best producers to put on this week-long festival.
Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival The last weekend in September sees plenty of oysters, washed down with lashings of Guinness.
October is apple-picking month, and the main potato crop is harvested.
Kinsale Gourmet Festival The unofficial gourmet capital of Ireland struts its culinary stuff over three days.
Meals of a Lifetime
- Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
- Mews, Baltimore, County Cork
- Nash 19, Cork city
- Campagne, Kilkenny city
- Wilde's at the Lodge, Cong, County Mayo
- Jacks' Coastguard Restaurant, Cromane Peninsula, County Kerry
- Olde Post Inn, Butlersbridge, County Cavan
- Restaurant 1826 Adare, Adare, County Limerick
- MacNean House & Restaurant, Blacklion, County Cavan
- Aniar, Galway city
Dare to Try
Ironically, while the Irish palate has become more adventurous it is the old-fashioned Irish menu that features some fairly challenging dishes. Dare to try the following:
- Black pudding Made from cooked pork blood, suet and other fillings; a ubiquitous part of an Irish cooked breakfast.
- Boxty A Northern Irish starchy potato cake made with a half-and-half mix of cooked mashed potatoes and grated, strained raw potato.
- Carrageen The typical Irish seaweed that can be found in dishes as diverse as salad and ice cream.
- Corned beef tongue Usually accompanied by cabbage, this dish is still found on a traditional Irish menu.
- Lough Neagh eel A speciality of Northern Ireland, typically eaten around Halloween; it's usually served in chunks with a white onion sauce.
- Poitín It's rare to be offered a drop of the 'cratur', as illegally distilled whiskey (made from malted grain or potatoes) is called here. Still, there are pockets of the country – Donegal, Connemara and West Cork – with secret stills.
How to Eat & Drink
When to Eat
Irish eating habits have changed over the last couple of decades, and there are differences between urban and rural practices.
- Breakfast Usually eaten before 9am, as most people rush off to work (though hotels and B&Bs will serve until 10am or 11am Monday to Friday, and till noon at weekends in urban areas). Weekend brunch is popular in bigger towns and cities.
- Lunch Urban workers eat on the run between 12.30pm and 2pm (most restaurants don't begin to serve lunch until at least midday). At weekends, especially Sunday, the midday lunch is skipped in favour of a substantial mid-afternoon meal (called dinner), usually between 2pm and 4pm.
- Tea Not the drink, but the evening meal – also confusingly called dinner. This is the main meal of the day for urbanites, usually eaten around 6.30pm. Rural communities eat at the same time but with a more traditional tea of bread, cold cuts and, yes, tea. Restaurants follow international habits, with most diners not eating until at least 7.30pm.
- Supper A before-bed snack of tea and toast or sandwiches, still enjoyed by many Irish folk, though urbanites increasingly eschew it for health reasons. Not a practice in restaurants.
Where to Eat
- Restaurants From cheap 'n' cheerful to Michelin-starred, Ireland has something for every palate and budget.
- Cafes Ireland is awash with cafes of every description, many of which are perfect for a quick, tasty bite.
- Hotels Even if you're not a guest, most hotel restaurants cater to outside diners. Top hotels usually feature good restaurants with prices to match.
- Pubs Pub grub is ubiquitous, mostly of the toasted-sandwich variety. A large number, however, also have full menu service, with some being as good as any top restaurant.
The Irish aren't big on restrictive etiquette, preferring friendly informality to any kind of stuffy to-dos. Still, the following are a few tips to dining with the Irish:
- Children All restaurants welcome kids up to 7pm, but pubs and some smarter restaurants don't allow them in the evening. Family restaurants have children's menus; others have reduced portions of regular menu items.
- Returning a dish If the food is not to your satisfaction, it's best to politely explain what's wrong with it as soon as you can. Any respectable restaurant will offer to replace the dish immediately.
- Paying the bill If you insist on paying the bill for everyone, be prepared for a first, second and even third refusal to countenance such an exorbitant act of generosity. But don't be fooled: the Irish will refuse something several times even if they're delighted with it. Insist gently but firmly and you'll get your way!
Vegetarians & Vegans
Ireland has come a long, long way since the days when vegetarians were looked upon as odd creatures; nowadays, even the most militant vegan will barely cause a ruffle in all but the most basic of kitchens. Which isn't to say that travellers with plant-based diets are going to find the most imaginative range of options on menus outside the bigger towns and cities – or in the plethora of modern restaurants that have opened in the last few years – but you can rest assured that the overall quality of the homegrown vegetable is top-notch and most places will have at least one dish that you can tuck into comfortably.