final thoughts on ireland
I’ve posted a grand total of 8 posts on our trip to Ireland. And that was just about the food.
My two sentence response when people ask about our trip is: Ireland is a really easy country to travel in. The people are very helpful and the whole country is exceedingly kid-friendly. Which helps when you are travelling with a kid.
Ireland has a bad rap with their food – potatoes anyone? The fact is, while the country might not be known as a culinary destination, if you do a bit of research beforehand, you can travel the country with some very good nuggets of information about restaurants to choose. Good Food Ireland helped me a lot, as did googling ‘Irish Food Blogs’ – mind you, these are rather scarce. I had a couple of travel books which were rather useless. I wonder sometimes if those folks just get paid from the restaurants – it is like picking up a tourist magazine. We went to one place recommended for breakfast in Dublin, and it was a too-brightly lit cafeteria chain restaurant.
Anyhow, research before helps, as does being open to spontaneity (not one of my stronger suits). For instance, Farmgate in Cork was highly recommended – we went there and the food was solidly tasty:
But the even better find was a Farmgate in Midleton, just up the road from Ballymaloe where we were staying, and we ate there our final night. It was a really magical experience – all candlelit, with perfectly attentive service, stone walls, local food, modern Irish – I eat all of that stuff up. I did not take one photo there because we went to a pub afterwards and I didn’t want to be hauling around my big camera. But it was my favourite restaurant meal in Ireland.
We searched for Irish food in Ireland, but there are a lot of ethnic choices in restaurants, too. It isn’t like Italy, where 99% of the restaurants are Italian and serve pasta. There are lots of eastern Europeans living in Ireland, and that reflects in the restaurant choice. I liked that a lot…but we stuck with the ‘when in Rome’ adage for eating Irish.
But this meant we ate in some clunkers…and sometimes starving and desperate to eat, we made some missteps. We ate a lot of pub food. Which was, for us, deep fried fish or chicken and frozen chips. I have written in my journal, on day three out of Dublin:
I cannot bear to eat deep fried anything. I have reached my capacity.
After that, I stuck with scones if I was desperate to eat.
So, without further ado, my top memories in Ireland:
1. Favourite city? I especially adored Dublin. It was a surprisingly busy European city – crowded, but very walkable. The abundance of buskers is especially charming.
It was pouring rain when we visited both Galway and Cork, so it isn’t really fair to compare the cities. We had good weather in Dublin, and believe me, that really affects an experience. Aaron was homesick and wet in Galway, so we took him for some comfort food:
2. The best food I had was the afternoon demonstration food at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Funny that – it was stripped of the whole restaurant experience – I ate it standing up in the demo classroom. But I think watching all the work and love that went into that meal – that’s what made it so fabulous. It was like having a homemade meal cooked just for me.
3. Favourite restaurant experience? Farmgate in Midleton, as above. You know, I don’t even recall what I ate. I think it was spaghetti with seafood. I do recall a goat cheese and beet salad. What I do remember is that our bus boy had lived in Vancouver and Toronto and he chatted excitedly with us about Canada. And the servers obviously loved what they did and believed in the food. And there was a beautiful upscale-casual ambience there that really appeals to me. And each table had a drippy caldelabra. And there was a little gourmet food store attached to Farmgate that that staff let me browse in the dark. All those little touches actually trumped the food, which speaks to the elements of a restaurant experience, doesn’t it? No matter how good the food is, if the setting and service suck…well…so does the memory of a place.
4. Best scones? Queen of Tarts in Dublin. With homemade jam. And the butter in Ireland! Bright yellow and delicious. Those Irish dairy cows must be happy cows to produce such great butter.
5. Best drink? Not Guinness, which was my husband’s drink of choice. Guinness is not a beer for those of us who do not drink beer. I’d say the Flirtini, a 12 Euro masterpiece at the Octagon Bar, The Clarence Hotel. But I also tried Jameson’s whiskey with cranberry juice at a pub, and that was surprisingly drinkable. And I tried a Bramble, which seems like a favoured Irish drink – but it contained gin. I had a very bad experience with gin and mellow yellow at a pig roast when I was about 20 years old. Enough said. The Bramble looked pretty, though:
Recipe for a Bramble
1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounces fresh lime juice
3/4 ounces simple syrup
3/4 ounces creme de menthe
Mix together and serve over crushed ice.
6. Best restaurant meal I scarfed down? The Mermaid Cafe in Dublin.
Now, the Mermaid Cafe is the sister restaurant to Gruel, and on the same Dame Street in Dublin. It is also the kind of restaurant I am a sucker for – white walls, local art, pine tables, soft lighting. When our little boy fell into a deep jet-lag sleep, we thought: FREEDOM FROM FRENCH FRIES! We can go to an adult restaurant.
What do you think happened when we settled into our seats in The Mermaid Cafe? That’s right. Our little friend woke up.
This ended up being the fastest-eaten meal we had in Dublin. It is hard to scarf down foie gras, but I did it. We kept Aaron busy eating white bread with butter and then got the hell out of there. I am sure under better circumstances, The Mermaid Cafe lent itself to a leisurely dinner.
7. Best restaurant experience I wish I had? The strip of restaurants along the harbour in Howth.
We took the DART train out to Howth, the last stop on the north line of Dublin’s transit system. Howth is a lovely seaside Irish town, and because it is seaside, it rained. And rained and rained. And because we did not have a car to give us shelter, we got really really wet. So we walked past some lovely looking restaurants along the harbour, but we did not venture in because we were like soaking wet rats. We went for pub food instead. But look at the views in Howth! Gorgeous.
6. Best coffee? I was surprised at the accessibility of the cappuccino in Ireland. Every morning we were at The Clarence Hotel, I called down for two cappuccinos to be delivered to our room.
7. Best hotel? I raved on about The Clarence. So much so, that I emailed the link to the manager at the hotel so he could pass along what a great job his staff is doing. Which he did, by the multitude of hits I’ve received from Dublin. Despite the fact I called his hotel exhorbinant, he sent back an exceedingly gracious letter that just fed into my five star feelings about the hotel.
We also stayed at:
The castle was over-the-top extravagant, and filled to the brim with tourists. Service bordered on snotty, except for the very gracious concierge. But what did we expect for staying in a castle? We stayed there for the castle experience.
We changed course on our plans and ended up on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway, which was truthfully a bit of a bust because of the sheets of rain and also because we were told – oh, no need to book somewhere – just drop by a hotel and they will have room for you.
Well, such is not the case in Galway on a Saturday night. We drove around fruitlessly – Mike running into hotel lobbies only to get turned down. By the time we found Park House in Galway, we were desperate and bickering in the car. It was a bad scene. I was just glad to have a bed to sleep in, although this place was like a huge Irish B&B, complete with overstuffed printed armchairs and gaudy wallpaper. I think it was a traditional Irish hotel that way.
I already talked about Ballymaloe House and we stayed our final night in a Marriot south of Dublin which was ironically our worst customer service in all of two weeks which culminated in testy phone calls and other things I wish to block out of my memory. Serves us right for staying at a chain hotel, although we needed to be closer to Dublin to catch an early flight.
And now we have returned to Edmonton right at the cusp of autumn. Kids are back in school, we are back at work, and I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about our trip to Ireland. Thanks for listening folks…
Next up? A work trip to Halifax in mid-October, where I have booked an extra night to, well, eat and drink in Halifax because I’ve never been. I’ll be asking for advice in future posts…