Pizza on the side of a cliff, lobster rolls overlooking the sea; it’s safe to say there is no shortage of delicious and mouth-watering food options on our island.
Whether it’s a food pilgrimage to west Cork or day trips to the sunny south-east, holidaying in Ireland for many is not only focused on great scenery and beaches but also where you can spend an evening dining on the best of produce in Ireland, pit-stop for a scenic toastie, forget about your schedule over a glass of wine, and decide to move out of the city over a bowl of mussels.
While the hospitality industry may have just come through its most difficult time yet, with ongoing challenges throughout, Ireland’s food renaissance is still continuing to thrive with new and innovative businesses popping up countrywide.
But where do the people behind these great places choose to spend their downtime? We spoke to some chefs and front-of-house members about their favourite places to visit in Ireland, what influences their holiday destination and where is on their hit-list this year.
Sinéad Foyle, co-owner, The Sea Hare Café, Cleggan, Co Galway
Alongside her business partner Philippa Duff, Sinéad Foyle started The Sea Hare Café as a seasonal pop-up restaurant in the seaside town of Cleggan, Sinéad running the show at the front-of-house, while Philippa was the brains behind the delicious food that was served daily, as well as a host of pop-up dinner evenings with close friends Jeni Glasgow and Reuven Diaz.
During the winter season, the two created their now famous Tamarind Sauce, which has become a cupboard staple for many.
Having recently relocated to a new space in Clifden, the two have been collaborating with local businesses and chefs for exciting pop-up lunches and dinners.
A must-visit when in the area. Although arguably living in the best place to take a holiday in Ireland, Foyle is on the go during peak season so doesn’t wind down until later in the year.
“Summer is our busiest season, but I love November along the Wild Atlantic Way. Phillipa Duff and I say we need to do a week-long tour of eating our way around the country, roll on November! I’m dying to go to Ballycastle to Ursa Minor to name just one of several I can’t wait to get to but looking forward to doing a pop-up with her in October as well,” she beams.
Her favourite Irish holiday memories are in Waterford in Dunmore East, as she has family there and “wonderful memories of drinking and eating in the sun, especially ice cream.”
She also speaks very highly of Ennistimon and Lahinch, both popular spots in Co Clare, feeling like they have “really come into their own over the years.”
Foyle may plan her holidays around food, but she firmly believes that Ireland is becoming a top destination for food lovers worldwide. “The quality of small Irish producers is just so high and they have such passion,” she explains.
“It’s just amazing. We, particularly in Connemara, may have poor ground but the quality of soil with so many years of seaweed and manure added makes the simplest of potatoes/leaves etc come alive.”
Hilary Quinn, baker & manager, No Messin’ Bakery, Dublin
Hilary Quinn has been working in the food industry for many years, creating a name for herself with the iconic Dublin Doughnut Company, and is now behind the infamous Cardi B Buns amongst other delicious baked goods coming from No Messin’ Bakery at Proper Order in Smithfield, Dublin.
When it comes to holidays for Quinn, it is largely about the food. “I plan my eating and drinking around my holidays! Depending on the journey, the planned route will either take us by a must-try pitstop or bring us to a foodie destination. It’s sad to see the amount of poorly made food being consumed at forecourts around the country when such good food and produce are within easy reach.”
When it comes to staycations, the west of Ireland is a firm favourite for Hilary, with Mayo, Galway and Clare all favourites: “I’m originally from Foxford in Co. Mayo so I have a strong affinity with places along the west coast. We would have spent long summer days as children day-tripping out to Achill and Belmullet, paradise on a good day if you ask me. It’s no lie when they say the west is best.”
Quinn has no shortage of suggestions when it comes to good food in the west including Fadó Pizza near Clifden, Misunderstood Heron in Lenaun, and O’Connor’s in Doolin, but her favourite holiday memory is in Cleggan.
“I visited last summer with a friend for a pop-up in The Sea Hare, hosted by Jeni Glasgow. The whole evening was just magical. We sat by the pier eating the most delicious food, all sourced locally. The standout dish for me was the Killary Fjord clams with orzo. Cleggan has plenty to offer as a base in Galway. There’s a ferry to Inishbofin, great food & drinks and plenty of quiet beaches for a dip.”
Quinn’s love for the sea and swimming also plays a huge part in her trips – that and a good pint at the end of the day. “There’s something about a perfect pint of Guinness in the west after a day of spinning around looking for the best swimming spots that hit differently. It’s hard to describe it but that for me encapsulates an Irish summer holiday, with just the tiniest twinge of sunburn to boot!”
While the west truly has stolen her heart, she’s still eager to explore more of what the country has to offer. “County Kerry has been on my list for some time now, and I’d like to give it a good few days for touring around given its sheer size and the number of places to visit around the county. The scenery, trails, swims, food, Guinness and craic all look incredible and there’s always so much on from hikes to Other Voices in Dingle.”
John Mount, head chef & owner, The Baker’s Table, Lismore, Co Waterford
For chef John Mount, holidays happen after the busy season in Lismore. Mount opened his restaurant in the middle of lockdown, originally starting as a bakery stall at the farmers market in Lismore on the weekends, before finding a permanent spot in the town serving brunch in the daytime supper club in the evening, and traditional Sunday lunch and bakery on a Sunday.
“With the restaurant open Thursday to Monday in the summer, our holidays don’t normally come until mid-September which in turn is perfect as the tourists start to disappear and we get to enjoy everything a little more as well as have the nice weather,” John says.
When it comes to holidays, food is at the forefront for Mount and his family. “Whether it’s Galway where the food scene is formidable or whether it’s Kinsale, I think food and drinks is one of the first things I look for when booking. Ireland is really on the map when it comes to food and for me, it all comes down to the produce – it’s phenomenal.”
His favourite Irish destination is also in the west, where he heads to Westport for “the mountains, the water and everything in between,” as well as the exceptional food from chef Eoin McDonald at JW Brasserie.
“I normally go to MJ Hoban’s for cocktails as it’s always a crowd pleaser, but for pints, there’s nowhere better than Matt Molloy’s where the craic is always mighty and there’s always music to be had!”
Closer to home, Mount speaks very fondly of Dungarvan as a holiday destination, highlighting the Greenway and many great food options available in the town as good a reason as any to visit. “The outstanding place has to be The Tannery. Paul and Máire Flynn have been nothing but excellent, they set the standard for sure, and then on the takeaway side of things, Eunice Power’s And Chips sitting on the quay on a summer’s evening is the ultimate! I’m so lucky I live only thirty minutes away so I get to experience this a lot more than most!”
Where’s next on the holiday list for Mount?
“I would love to visit Lisburn and one of the main reasons is The Square Bistro has been on my hit list for a few years now, so it’s a must!”
Dee Kelly, co-owner, Grálinn Café, Fethard-on-Sea, Co Wexford
Having started Grálinn as a food truck in Dublin with her partner Matteo, hosting occasional supper clubs from the idyllic Elmhurst Cottage in Glasnevin, the couple came across premises in Fethard-on-Sea, Wexford which is now the permanent home to Grálinn Café, and more recently Lumi Bakery on the beachfront in nearby Duncannon.
As a barista, as well as owner of the café, holidays for Kelly are based around coffee: ‘I think everyone interested in food will follow their belly, either a detour or completely planned around whatever they value the most. To me it will always be coffee, I may not know what we would be doing every day but I’ll know where my first cup of the day is coming from, what roaster they use and the machine they work from.”
And where is Kelly’s morning coffee coming from on holidays?
“Recently we took a weekend away in Kilkenny, while I grew up there I’d never been on a getaway and it was really lovely to see it from a different perspective. There are some great food and drink spots which makes rambling around the city a delight. What kind of barista would I be if I didn’t suggest starting with a coffee and pastry from Cakeface in Irishtown, having a mosey through The Gourmet Store on High Street and La Bottega on James’ St. for some interesting snacks and sauces to take home. A pit stop to Low Lane on Kierans Street to refuel on brunch and coffee or for cocktails in the sun, Bridies on Johns Street has a vintage sweet shop front but as you venture further back you’ll find a beer garden with a comprehensive cocktail menu and lots of great options on tap.”
With Fethard-on-Sea being a tourist destination, Dee and Matteo don’t get much time to take off during the summer months but use the off-season as their time to explore. “I am dying to soak in the views and food of Misunderstood Heron at Killary Fjord,” says Dee. “Ideally we’d stop off at Little Fish in Letterfrack and head to Gort to see Emma at Wild Garlic Kitchen. We’re also hoping to do a couple of day trips to Glengarriff and Antrim if we can.”
Dan Guerin, head chef, Cush, Ballycotton, Co Cork
Having grown up along the coastline of glorious east Cork, and now running the kitchen in Cush Restaurant – which was awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for 2022 –that overlooks Ballycotton Lighthouse, Dan Guerin has no shortage of holiday recommendations close to home but the food is always the main focus. “Ireland has been a food destination for many years at all levels. For example, just strolling around the English Market in Cork to look at how much Michelin has added to the guide in the last 10 years, most notably we now have four 2-star Michelin restaurants around our island, which is a huge accolade for any country around the world never mind a small little island.”
When it comes to holidays in Ireland Guerin likes to change the places he stays, but will always have homework done on the best food options in the area, highlighting a recent weekend away in Kildare and dinner in The Morrison Room at Carton House as a standout memory.
Guerin tends to wait until things quiet down in January to take time off, at which point he tends to spend some time overseas before squeezing in a few trips around Ireland. As for where is on his bucket list?
“Donegal is an area I have never been to so that would be high up on my bucket list. From what I’ve seen the Donegal food scene is very good and the Olde Glen Bar will be the first port of call.”
Clair Dowling, chef/owner, Tiller & Grain, Dublin
For Clair Dowling, holidays in Ireland are not solely driven by food: “It would definitely play a big factor, but I also would be driven by the surroundings, landscape and activities such as yoga and walks etc. I am delighted to live in Dublin - so when I travel I do love being in the countryside and taking in the green of the land and the blue of the sea.”
Tiller & Grain is open twelve months of the year – serving exceptional salads using only the highest quality Irish ingredients – so Dowling’s holidays are taken during the off-season, once things are quieter in Dublin, and everywhere else is a little less crowded. “I like to avoid crowds and I enjoy sitting in the rain as much as walks in the sun.”
It’s west Cork that has most recently stolen Dowling’s heart: “After YEARS of eye-rolling at people emphatically saying West Cork, and now see the attraction. Pilgrims was a pure treat, and by far one of the most enjoyable places I have been to recently was St Francis Provisions Kinsale.
“I can’t describe how up my street it was - the vibe, the wonderfully talented Barbara who is the chef there, and the menu was just delicious!”
West Cork may be a firm favourite but Dowling also recommends trips to the north which include dinner at Ox in Belfast as well as fish and chips on the Antrim coast. Food may not be her main priority when it comes to holidaying in Ireland, but the incredible produce and producers in the country is something that she thinks is very important to recognise.
Next on the hit list is a trip to Co Clare to Pot Duggans. “I have been following them in the last few months and I know some of the chefs that have cooked for some guest spots down there - again - it seems right up my street! But this is just one of many, many food destinations on my Irish Food Hit List - our food game is so strong right now.”