West Cork is a place of extraordinary beauty, and one of the jewels in its crown is the elegant harbour town of Kinsale. Tinkling sailboats and glimmering waters, an echo of the Middle Ages in the buildings and streets, and a truly stunning location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean give Kinsale an enduring charm that forms a delightful backdrop to one of the best foodie experiences on the entire island.
Kinsale’s stellar reputation reaches back decades, too, as Tom Kay, owner of The Supper Club explains. “A group of restaurants set up the Good Food Circle in 1976. And it’s still in operation today.”
Wander around town and you’ll be wowed by the quality of restaurants here, from the local favourite Saint Francis Provisions (proud possessor of a Michelin Bib Gourmand) to the artisan-focussed The Black Pig Wine Bar, home to over 80 organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
“The buzz is eclectic,” says Tom, “with everything from family-run restaurants that have been open for over 50 years to the newer Michelin-star restaurant Bastion. The emerging café scene is also exciting with some great places doing really different things.”
West Cork is famous for its excellent natural produce, so keep your eyes out on menus for local cheeses, smoked fish and salamis from the likes of Ummera and Durrus. Seafood fans are well served, too, with spots such as Fishy Fishy Café and the beautifully situated Bulman bar overlooking the sea at Summercove.
Don’t miss: The Kinsale Food Festival takes place every October and includes a Chowder Championship, a restaurant week and an epic foodie walking tour.
Dingle’s got its buzz on when it comes to food and drink experiences. A new generation has injected a lively vitality into the town and it shows. “Even though Dingle will never lose its old self, it now has a new twist on things,” says Michael Flannery of The Fish Box, “it’s an exciting time for the town.” From third-wave coffee shops to independent craft bakeries and local craft breweries, this edge-of-the-Atlantic hotspot makes a brilliant destination for a food-based break.
Of course, given its location, top-class seafood dominates – walk down to the harbour and you’ll smell the briny tang from the fishing boats, with catches that are landed daily. And if you’re after super-fresh seafood beautifully served every way from tacos to straight-up fish and chips, then head for The Fish Box; the restaurant has its own fishing trawler so you’re guaranteed a boat-to-plate experience.
Dingle also does a good line in relaxed fine dining, with superlative plates at The Chart House and Land to Sea, or try something different with tapas Irish-style at Solas. And in a town where having a good time is baked into its DNA, it’s no surprise that some of Dingle’s most enjoyable local food experiences are simple: a Dingle gin and tonic in a gastro pub by the harbour, a brown bread ice cream from Murphy’s in the summer sunshine, and a butter-rich pastry from Beatha Bia. “I always tell people to grab a coffee from Bean in Dingle or My Boy Blue and drive around Slea Head and just chill out,” says Michael. “When the weather is bad, when it’s really bad, it’s really special.”
Don’t miss: The Dingle Cookery School is a perfect hands-on way to engage with the town’s food scene. Try a Catch and Cook experience to perfect your fish-cooking skills…
With the silky grey-blue waters of Lough Erne, an impressive castle and amazing island adventures on its doorstep, Enniskillen is a deservedly popular destination with those in the know. But over the last decade or so, it’s become as well known for its food as its idyllic waterscapes. “People have moved back to Fermanagh after working away, and have set up businesses,” says Mark Edwards of the Enniskillen Taste Experience food tour.
“It’s vibrant, there’s a whole generation – young, talented, skilled people working in the food scene and have opened up restaurants. There’s Joe the Baker making sourdough bread, Marty McAdam of The Street Kitchen, who represented Northern Ireland for the Great British Menu, and Glenn Wheeler of 28 At The Hollow.”
Part of all of this is, of course, fuelled by the excellent produce that Enniskillen and the beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands with their rich green pastures and clean waters are famous for. Wander around town or glance at a menu and you’re likely to see ingredients such as Black Bacon, from pigs reared on the herb-rich island of Iniskcorkish, Boatyard Gin, from a gorgeous lough-side distillery, and there’s the locally made Tickety-Moo ice cream.
“It’s very diverse,” says Mark, “you’ve coffee shops, unpretentious bars and restaurants and cafés and then there are fine dining experiences, too.” Add to all that a touch of classic Fermanagh hospitality and warmth, and you’ve got a mouth-watering food break to remember.
Two more to try…
The Burren, County Clare
This beautiful part of County Clare is known for its wildflower-strewn limestone landscape, and also for its food. You’re spoiled for choice here, from the elegance of the dining room at Gregan’s Castle in Ballyvaughan to the Michelin-starred Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna.
Sit in the idyllic garden and laze the afternoon away at Burren Fine Wine and Food, enjoy seafood at the edge of the ocean at Vaughan’s Anchor Inn, or enjoy tea and cake in the stunning surrounds of The Burren Perfumery.The Causeway Coast, County Antrim and County Londonderry:
The Causeway Coast has been on the up food-wise for a number of years now, but this incredible stretch of coastline keeps on surprising. There's a lot happening in the busy market town of Coleraine, where you’ll find Lir housed within an old boat club and serving whatever the fishermen bring in fresh.
It’s also where you’ll find Lost and Found – a buzzing little café serving an all-day menu of salads, eggs and pancakes, with locally made Ursa Minor bread. Along the coast Harry’s Shack in Portstewart (where you’ll also find another Lost and Found café) still attracts the crowds thanks to its right-on-the-beach location and excellent seafood while if it’s down-home cooking you’re after, hotfoot it to Morton’s Fish and Chips in Ballycastle, for the best chipper fish and chips around.