Eating for Ireland in Waterford

IT’S TIME TO escape, and the prospect of giving some of our precious hours to Dublin airport is not alluring

IT’S TIME TO escape, and the prospect of giving some of our precious hours to Dublin airport is not alluring. So the bike is on the back of the car and we hit the road on a gastronomic grand tour.

“Off to Waterford to eat our heads off,” I text a friend to explain the West Waterford Weekend package of two nights, two dinners and a lunch in three of the country’s top restaurants. My Mamil (middled-aged man in Lycra) companion will be cycling one leg of it.

At our first stop, Paul and Maire Flynn’s Tannery Restaurant in Dungarvan, the handsome stone building still looks great 14 years after the Flynns opened it as a restaurant. There are wide-plank floors and old industrial roof supports are finished with bling wallpaper and interesting paintings. It’s been five years since we last ate here, although Flynn’s crab crème brûlée is a staple starter in Liam’s book of tricks.

My gravadlax of sea trout starter is luscious, small bits of fish tossed on a glass plate with toasted almonds and a creamy diced beetroot, scattered over with fresh peppery leaves. Liam has the crab crème brûlée (how can he not?). No toasted sesame seeds, but a deeper, creamier version. “Is it better than mine?” he asks dangerously. “A smidgeon,” I have to say, although I do miss the sesame seeds. The pickled cucumber partner is sweeter and more like gherkin so we ask the waiter how it’s done and get a handwritten note from the kitchen explaining it in detail. Food nerd heaven.


Liam’s main is his standout dish of the trip, a quail and foie gras pie. It comes as a pretty dome of egg-washed brioche baked to a toasty brown. When he lifts the lid, a tiny, perfect, boned quail rests underneath. The bird has been stuffed with foie gras and diced quail meat. The sweetness of the brioche, the tang of the bird and a punchy gravy make this a fantastic kitchen feat.

The next morning, Liam works off the feast in Sean Kelly cycling country on a 60km route to Lismore, taking in the challenge of the Vee Gap in the Knockmealdown Mountains. We arrange to meet for lunch in O’Brien Chop House in Lismore. By the time the cyclist reaches this cosy spot the rain is washing down the main street in brown streams and he is soaked. I’ve been sipping the house elderflower fizz. Made from a syrup from the abundance of last summer’s elderflowers, you can taste the buzz and droop of a hot, green hedgerow in this. I love it.

The Victorian pine, white marble and brass fitted former pub is gorgeous, with a snug that is properly snug. The restaurant stretches out in a series of rooms behind all the way to a town garden.

Our shared plate of six oysters with a shallot red-wine vinegar is everything oysters need to be: fresh, fat and juicy. There is a just-baked lemony yellow soda bread, reminding me of childhood fistfuls of still-warm bread. The best main is a hanger steak, chewy as promised, with delicious roasted Jerusalem artichokes, sliced length ways in their skins, and a butter-laden stuffing roasted in the marrow groove of a large beef bone. It’s 4pm when we leave and the long Friday lunch sitting is still swinging.

After a 40-minute drive to Ardmore past mossy stone walls, ploughed fields, and a sorry lack of road signs, we arrive at the Cliff House Hotel. We do the obligatory jaw-drop at the view of Ardmore Bay and I almost go for a dip in the sea but then shrink back into the warmth of indoors.

Dinner is a memorable experience but the dining room is surprisingly bland. On a dark night it’s a bit like dining in an empty theatre with the stage (that stupendous view) behind closed curtains. My starter gets my standout dish of the trip award. There are two silky and pink poached pigeon breasts and a tiny confit leg. The lavish detail is in the trimmings. If Phillip Treacy was a chef, it might look like this. Dotted around half the large rim are tiny red cabbage meringues (that disappear with a puff when bitten), compressed apples, and a homage to Heston in the form of a meat fruit. (Blumenthal’s nod to the medieval kitchen in his new London restaurant Dinner.) Here it’s a green jelly apple that reveals a soft, moussey foie interior.

Liam’s Bantry smoked salmon comes in the trademark glass dome of peat-scented smoke. The waitress wafts it up and the dining room fills with the smell of old ghosts in wet Aran jumpers. The fish is soft and gorgeous.

The mains of halibut and monkfish are simpler and a relief from all the culinary jazz hands. Then all the stops come out for dessert. My “local rhubarb” is a plate of sweet-shop nostalgia. A layered concoction tastes like a tenpenny sweet bag that someone’s jumped on, aniseed lacing it with Bulls’ Eye flavours. The wrapper is there too in the form of an edible silver foil on top. There’s a trail of sweet crumbs, a square of cucumber jelly that ends in a splodge of rhubarb sorbet at the end. It’s a witty bit of magic performed by kitchen conjurers. Liam’s chocolate plate is simple indulgence with an olive oil ice cream the passing nod to les Monsieurs Michelin.

The West Waterford road trip has passed without a single duff note. All three of these very different places have a kitchen garden supplying fresh ingredients and it shows. It’s not cheap. But for the price of flights to cities where we may have been stiffed as tourist fodder, we have eaten food to make us swoon and smile and enjoyed a corner of Ireland where doing things brilliantly is the order of the day.

The West Waterford Weekend package costs €575 for two people sharing. The price includes one night at the Tannery Townhouse with dinner and breakfast, a two-course lunch at O’Brien Chop House and one night at the Cliff House Hotel with dinner in the House Restaurant and breakfast. A midweek package costs €465 for two with dinner in the Bar Restaurant at the Cliff House. Contact each venue separately to book. Wines, beers and spirits cost extra.


The Tannery Cookery School hosts a Three Chefs' kitchen supper on Thursday, April 14th with Martijn Kajuiter from the Cliff House, Eddie Baugio from O'Brien Chop House and the Tannery's Paul Flynn cooking a three-course supper.

Dinner costs €55 per head and places are limited to 30 people.

Tel: 058-45420 to book.

The Tannery Restaurant, 10 Quay Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, tel: 058-45420

O'Brien Chop House, Main Street, Lismore, Co Waterford, tel: 058-53810

The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore,

Co Waterford, tel: 024-87800

Music: Muted background in all

Service: Excellent across the board

Wheelchair access: Yes in all three, though restricted room in the Chop House

Food provenance: Ballyvolane House garden supplies veg in season to the Chop House, Glenilen farmhouse butter and well-sourced fish are a feature. The organic garden at the Tannery in Dungarvan is also providing ingredients and the cheeses are local. The Cliff House makes use of a garden in Cork for some of its fresh supplies including new pea shoots the night we ate.