Every year The Sunday Times compiles a list of Ireland’s 100 Best Restaurants, and each year it has become more difficult to select the best of the crop as the standards are so high across the country.
Ireland is experiencing a true food renaissance, with new and established restaurants attracting loyal customers and receiving praise in the media.
Having recently moved to Athlone, County Westmeath, I was leafing through The Sunday Times’ list with trepidation, rooting for my newly adoptive city. I was glad to see The Fatted Calf featured in the list of 100 best restaurants, however I was hoping to see at least three Athlone restaurants included among the 100. I still haven’t dined at The Fatted Calf but it is on my to-do list.
Ireland’s 100 Best Restaurants: Where I Have Dined
During the latter part of 2018 I travelled around Ireland, mostly within Dublin’s commuting radius, looking for a house. I relocated from England and settled in Athlone permanently in December 2018.
My love of food took me to several restaurants and cafes, some of which are award-winning and some that are featured in the Michelin Guide.
Here is a short summary of my dining experiences; I am grateful to the locals who recommended their favourite restaurants, and I am glad I used Google Maps to scan through customer reviews. I found this latter method to be very efficient for your decision-making: you can quickly look through food pictures taken by the diners and read about what they have to say. I am also a contributor on Google Maps (Local Guide) because I have realised that some places, particularly newly opened ones (e.g. Jalan Jalan), may need more visibility.
Olive Cafe, Skerries, Dublin
Going through the list according to The Sunday Times’ order of appearance, the first place is an honourable mention for the best scones. Olive Cafe is always busy and packed with locals, especially at lunchtime. It has tables outside on the pavement where you need to guard your food with your life to protect it from peckish birds.
The lunch menu offers informal options like sandwiches. I thought the Olive Cafe could take a few more risks with the menu but then again you don’t want to upset regular customers, I guess.
This was a recommendation from food photographer Jennifer Opperman and I was so pleased I discovered it. Popular with both students and more mature locals, Shouk manages to have a homely feel while blowing your socks off with flavour. The shawarma is excellent with authentic smoky and spicy flavours.
Ard Bia, Galway
Ard Bia doesn’t need an introduction (it was even briefly featured in Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl video) but if you are unfamiliar with it, it’s a small cafe in the Spanish Arch, a historic building in Galway opposite Galway City Museum.
I only went there for a chai tea and a mince pie in the afternoon because it’s better to book at lunchtime. Ard Bia has a wide selection of teas and cakes, everything is delicious and the atmosphere is relaxing with beautiful views over the river Corrib.
The Dough Bros, Galway
As a self-appointed “pizza nerd” I simply had to visit The Dough Bros in Galway. It came highly recommended and, after a quick search on social media, I discovered how much this place is loved by locals and critics.
The menu is inventive, paying homage to traditional pizza toppings but giving them a modern and truly Irish twist. I had the “proper ham and mushroom” pizza which came with an aromatic drizzle of truffle oil. Everything tastes better with truffle oil, really. The dough was perfect with beautiful air pockets and charring.
Even if you are not a Galway native you may have heard of Kai: head chef Jess Murphy has a regular column in The Irish Times Food every Saturday where she shares her favourite recipes which you can recreate at home. Kai is featured in the Michelin Guide.
I had a gorgeous monkfish lakhsa at Kai, with a divine coconut sauce, crunchy broad beans and charred Pak Choi. The combination of flavours and textures was unforgettable. The cafe is quite informal with Shoreditch-like décor; expect queues.
Brown Hound Bakery (Eastern Seaboard), Drogheda, Louth
While I haven’t dined at Easter Seaboard (yet), I did have coffee and cake at the bakery next door, Brown Hound Bakery, which is also owned by Glasgow and Diaz, the minds behind Eastern Seaboard. The bakery has a vintage-style interior opulent with dark colours. I had the Bowery cookie, a huge disc of deliciousness packed with pistachios, chocolate and candied fruit.
Restaurants I’d Like to See Featured in Ireland’s 100 Best Restaurants
I admire the people (John and Sally McKenna, Eamon Barrett, William Barry, Ali Dunworth, Caroline Hennessy, Leslie Williams) who compiled the list of 100 best restaurants because it is challenging to boil down a longlist to only 100 places.
I would like to suggest a few places that didn’t make it to the final list.
The Green Barn at Burtown House, Athy, Kildare
The Vintage Kitchen, Dublin
San Sab Thai Restaurant, Dublin
The Yacht Bar and Restaurant, Dublin
Kin Khao Thai Restaurant, Athlone
Jalan Jalan, Athlone
Smoke BBQ, Athlone