The island of Ireland is all about charm, great local produce and unique foodie experiences, making it the perfect break for a food lover. Explore Belfast’s delightful bistros and lively pubs, Galway’s artsy coastal vibes and seafood spots, or the green pastures inland, home to cider orchards, friendly farmers and even buffalo herds.
There’s never been a better time to visit Ireland, with harvest festival celebrations in full-swing, native produce in abundance and fires lit in cosy, charming pubs. Taste the Island, a 12-week–long celebration of Ireland’s food and drink, kicked off in September and runs to the end of November. It celebrates the seemingly limitless skills of the island’s chefs, producers and hosts.
BREWING PERFECT PINTS
Ireland knows how to make a good brew. As well as its iconic drink, Guinness, the island has seen an influx of independent craft breweries in recent years. Try Rascal’s zingy Fruitopolis Pale Ale or lively Big Hop Red craft beer at its vibrant Dublin taproom, alongside wood-fired pizzas.
World-famous hospitality means there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the brewers. Match eight house beers with artisan snacks at Walled City Brewery in Derry/Londonderry; touch and smell barley and hops, tour the brewery and try Ireland’s most popular at Smithwick’s Experience in Kilkenny; or sip on Irish craft beer on the banks of the River Shannon after an interactive tour at Dead Centre Brewing (located, as the name suggests, bang in the middle of the island, in County Westmeath).
MANNING SMALL CITY BISTROS
Working wonders in a small space is Jess Murphy, kiwi chef-owner of Kai café and restaurant in Galway. Despite the limited kitchen space (Jess and French pastry chef, Fabien Dufraisse, take it in turns to use the stove), you can order everything from silvery pickled mackerel on burnt hispi cabbage to Roscommon lamb chops with beetroot picada and green tahini. Desserts include nectarines arranged in a rose-shaped sablée tart, mountainous winter citrus and caramel meringue pie, and Conference pear and burnt butter frangipane.
In Dublin, Bastible serves Sunday roasts (as well as fabulous midweek tasting menus) in an innovative way. Homemade sourdough and soft cultured butter arrives before an array of sharing taster dishes, including tiny venison puff pastry pies, smoked beetroot and pumpkin seed mole, and hot chicken chilli. Roast of the day might be a generous slice of local beef or confit duck with hen–of–the–woods mushrooms and salted gooseberries.
INNOVATING WITH ANCIENT GRAINS
Bread-making is such a treasured art form on the island that there’s a support network, Real Bread Ireland, that encourages artisans to bake with ancient Irish grains. Dublin’s organic bakery, Bread 41, has caught the attention of bakers across the world due to its excellent sourdough, including original Great British Bake Off winner Edd Kimber and New Orleans-based Joy the Baker. Here grains are milled in-house and sourdough loaves are spruced up with local cheeses, new-season Carola potatoes and garlic.
Further down the east coast in Tramore, County Waterford, Sarah Richards’ Seagull Bakery uses Kilkenny stoneground flours, Einkorn, purple wheat and spelt, all grown within a few miles’ radius, to make her heritage loaf of the week. Naturally leavened loaves are laced with Gubbeen chorizo, mature Irish cheddar and caramelised red onion.
Zac’s Bakehouse in Belfast was one of the first sourdough bakeries on the island. Zac uses a stoneground flour starter and stone-floored oven to make his signature Breckenhill loaf in cafés across Northern Ireland, including Established Coffee, Middletown Coffee and General Merchants. His bread also crops up at the Maegden food truck, which dishes out cheese toasties in a field just down the road from Giant’s Causeway.
WORKING WONDERS WITH BOTANICALS
Of course the island of Ireland is home to great whiskey experiences; however, it’s also making waves in the gin world, boasting more than 50 distilleries. Distillers make the most of unique botanicals to craft inimitable gins: Dingle Original Gin is infused with fuchsia and bog myrtle, while Donegal’s Sliabh Liag distillers make Irish Maritime Gin in a handmade copper still using foraged seaweed. On the Wild Atlantic Way, County Cork’s Clonakilty distillery provides tours and tutored tastings of its citrusy rock samphire-infused Minke gin, while Rademon Estate in County Down teaches you how to make the perfect G&T with its vibrant, floral Shortcross Gin.
SERVING TOP STREET FOOD
Turn a trip to the mythical Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s north coast into a foodie one, with a pit-stop at Maegden food truck. This cute 1950s caravan sells sourdough toasties stuffed with Irish cheese and clever combos of ’nduja, fennel salami, roasted red chilli hot sauce, jalapeño mayo and beer-pickled cucumbers. Warm up with a bonfire hot chocolate (topped with toasted marshmallow), or a brew from Belfast-based Bailies Coffee Roasters. Due to its windswept location, Maegden has seasonal opening hours – so check before you go.
Over on the west coast, Julia Hemingway travels the Wild Atlantic Way with her turquoise lobster truck, serving lobster rolls with hand-cut chips, Flaggy Shore oysters, super-fresh fish and chips, and hot steaming mussels in coconut and coriander broth. Catch her on Saturday nights outside Daly’s Bar in Bellharbour, County Clare, or on Thursday evenings outside Tully’s Bar in Kinvarra, County Galway. In Cork, Japanese takeaway Miyazaki specialises in bento boxes, sushi wraps and noodle soups. The latter is run by the chef-owner of Michelin-starred Ichigo Ichie, so expect concoctions such as lemon ramen with slow-cooked beef ribs and tempura prawns in dashi broth.
CREATING UNIQUE CHEESES
It’s no secret that the island of Ireland is good at dairy – and farmers here are doing innovative things with the stuff. Toby and Jenny work wonders with buffalo milk at Toons Bridge Dairy in County Cork, creating their own mozzarella and burrata. It crops up at restaurants across the island, as well as on Toons Bridge Dairy’s pizzas at the farm’s weekend pizza nights. County Galway’s floral, gouda-style Killeen farmhouse cheese is made using milk from Dutch-born Marion Roeleveld’s goats, while a short boat ride away on the Aran Islands, Gabriel Faherty creates silky goat’s cheese infused with seaweed.
Try these unique, artisan cheeses at the island’s celebrated cheesemongers, including Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Belfast, Dingle’s The Little Cheese Shop (where seaweed cheese is a speciality), Indie Füde in Comber, County Down, or at one of Sheridan’s four branches.
WINNING MICHELIN STAR ACCOLADES
The island of Ireland has an impressive 21 Michelin-starred restaurants. Pint-sized Galway city restaurant Aniar ferments and pickles produce solely from County Galway, including seaweed and vinegars (order the Atlantic cod topped with pepper dulse and pickled pine needles). And a few streets away at sustainably-focused Loam, Enda McEvoy grows his own herbs for the menu.
In Dublin, Chapter One combines good old-fashioned Irish hospitality with contemporary surroundings and plates rich in Ireland’s produce. The Greenhouse offers a great-value set lunch of, say, wild sea trout tartare followed by suckling pig with truffle, broad beans and cauliflower, and vacherin of blackcurrant, parsley and lemon.
When in Belfast, visit EIPIC and OX. The latter serves dishes such as hay-baked celeriac with black garlic and chanterelles, or scallop bisque and monkfish with lardo and burnt lemon, all with a view of the River Lagan. Pop in for lunch for the great-value lunch menu.
THRIVING FOOD MARKETS
Cork’s English Market is a warren of stalls, offering everything from olives and oysters to chocolate mousse. Don’t miss the lively Farmgate Café, where you can enjoy a traditional fry-up with a view of the bustling activity below.
If you’re in Belfast on a Saturday, pop into St George’s Market for a Belfast Brew from Suki Tea, Barnhill apple juice from Armagh, and Young Buck cheese from Tom & Ollie’s. Also on Saturdays, foodie folk flock to Galway’s quaint street market for The Bean Tree’s madras curries, Greenfeast’s Irish vegetable-packed Vietnamese banh mi, and BoyChik’s freshly made donuts.
CELEBRATING UNIQUE FOOD FESTIVALS
Join the island of Ireland in celebrating its passion for produce and varied cuisine with one of its many food festivals. Try a niche, product-specific celebration, such as the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival in the coastal village of Howth, or Galway’s Oyster Festival.
Many take place in autumn to make the most of the harvest season. Savour Kilkenny celebrates the region’s famous cheese (try Knockdrinna farmhouse) as well as local businesses. Traditions are upheld at the Fire of Samhain Festival and the Púca Food Festivalin Ireland’s Ancient East, where you can enjoy foodie trails and a magical atmosphere.
This year, the island of Ireland has gone one step further to put on the ultimate island-wide celebration, Taste the Island. The first of its kind, this 12-week celebration showcases the island of Ireland’s culinary scene with guided trails, distillery tours, chef demonstrations and unique foodie experiences (including foraging for seaweed, oyster shucking and intimate supper clubs). Join Taste the Island at the Twilight Market at St George’s Market in Belfast, where more than 100 artisans offer everything from cheese to charcuterie and gin, plus a helping of live music and a friendly Irish atmosphere.
You can even join a Georgian banquet at Armagh Georgian Festival, which takes place in a palace nestled in the cider-making region of the island. Taste the area’s refreshing cider with local food and merry music.