Where can you get the best in Irish food?
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Many tourists ask that same question when visiting Ireland for the first time.
And to be sure, it’s a tough question to answer given that there are so many great places to taste authentic Irish cuisine these days.
Despite its small size, there’s a clear diversity in the type of food that’s available in Ireland given the nature of its varied landscape.
For chefs working in counties that straddle the Atlantic Ocean, it’s about taking the freshest catch of the day and getting it from tide to plate in short order.
It’s also about going back to the traditions that make the West of Ireland different from say, the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Dublin.
This is the second in a series of posts on food offerings and food experiences along the 1,600-mile Wild Atlantic Way, a popular tourist trail that begins at the most northerly point in Co. Donegal and ends in Cork.
This is not to say that you won’t get the best in Irish food from other regions of Ireland.
You most definitely will.
In certain parts of Co. Mayo, you can ditch the rental car and visit the Great Western Greenway and in the process discover some of the best Irish food along the way.
In Galway city alone, there are enough quality restaurants to keep you satisfied for weeks, but if it’s locally sourced cuisine you’re looking for, you’ll get plenty of that in the City of the Tribes.
Tradition and Innovation Combined
There’s a definite respect for Ireland’s past and its somewhat forgotten traditions in this new breed of artisans and food producers that you’ll find all across Ireland, including the West of Ireland.
It is in many ways the essence of tradition combined with innovation that makes the food scene all across Ireland incredibly exciting.
In addition to presenting the freshest catch of the day, restauranteurs across Ireland are also eager to experiment with other ingredients from the sea, such as seaweed and other plants that grow in and around the coast.
Chef JP McMahon, the owner of Aniar, a Westend Galway restaurant that places a heavy emphasis on local ingredients, takes his inspiration from the West of Ireland’s natural environment.
There are exciting developments happening further inland, too, such as the growth of ethical farming practices that produce some of Ireland’s tastiest pork, lamb, and beef.
Some great examples include the Andarl Farm in Glenamaddy, Co. Galway, which produces a variety of “velvet pork” and bacon products, Calvey's Achill Mountain Lamb in Achill, Co. Mayo, which provides artisan lamb meat sourced from sheep grazing on Achill’s seashore, and McGeogh's Artisan Butchers in Oughterard, Co. Galway, which puts a modern twist into the ancient craft of curing and smoking meats.
McGeogh’s is famous in Ireland for its air-dried Connemara lamb, which is used in many local restaurants.
Walk on the Wild Side Foraging
Have you heard of foraging? It is gaining in popularity throughout Ireland and Mayo is no exception. Archaeologist and expert food forager Will Williams of Walk on the Wild Side is one of the foraging experts you’ll find in Co. Mayo.
With over 50 years of experience, Will takes groups on walks identifying plants that can be used in various recipes.
Also, an expert in seaweed foraging, the majority of his walks are held in and around Louisburgh.
However, he frequently travels to other locations around the Wild Atlantic Way and beyond to enlighten others about this emerging culinary niche.
It is important to note that foraging alone and then eating what you find is not recommended, especially when it comes to mushrooms as some may be dangerous.
It’s always best to take guided tours to become familiar with mushrooms and other plants growing in the wild.
Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours
If you’re in the North Mayo area, specifically around Killala, check out Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours, run by Dennis Quinn.
Dennis is a certified Failte Ireland local marine and countryside guide who offers wild food foraging tours, as well as outdoor feasting, giving you the opportunity to taste some of the best in Irish food.
He invites participants to learn about the flora and fauna of the North Mayo region, as well as the “fruits of the sea,” including cockles, mussels, seaweed, roots, stems, herbs, shrimp, periwinkles, and more.
Afterward, you’ll get to taste what you’ve gathered.
In addition, Denis also offers historical tours of the region. For more information, go to the website above or email Denis at [email protected].
The Gourmet Greenway
The Gourmet Greenway food trail compliments the Great Western Greenway, an off-road trail suitable for cyclists and walkers. It covers approximately 26 miles and begins in Westport and ends in Achill.
It also highlights the best Irish food in the West of Ireland.
It was created by Mulranny Park Hotel and showcases the artisan fare that is available in the local area.
As you make your way around this part of County Mayo, here are some culinary hotspots and unique experiences you shouldn’t miss.
Achill Island Sea Salt – if Achill Island is one of the pit stops on your Wild Atlantic Way journey, be sure to stop at the Achill Island Sea Salt Visitor Centre.
There you’ll learn about the process of salt production, watch a demonstration of brine being crystallized, view behind-the-scenes hand-harvesting, and much more.
There is also a gift shop selling pure and smoked sea salt and other products that include this popular sea salt. You can also order online (they ship to the U.S.).
Check out their delicious recipes too using Achill Island sea salt of course!
An Port Mor, Westport, Co. Mayo – Award-winning Chef Frankie Mallon is committed to sourcing local and artisan produce at this popular Westport eatery.
All bread and desserts are made from scratch on the premises.
House specialties include pot-roasted pigs’ cheeks with black pudding and apple and vanilla sauce, as well as a 21-day, dry-aged sirloin with red onion marmalade gravy.
There’s a big emphasis on local seafood, including lobster, crab, scallops, and langoustines caught in nearby Clew Bay.
An Early Bird 2-course dinner menu for €24 is available from 5 to 6 p.m. Reserve beforehand by emailing [email protected]
Blue Bicycle Tearooms – before you hop on your bike to tackle the Greenway, you’d be wise to get a little sustenance at this charming tearoom, which is housed in the 18th-century de Bille House.
The home was built by the Danish government in memory of Captain Mathias de Bille, whose frigate was shipwrecked off the coast of Newport in 1782.
Today, owners Frank and Phil Chambers offer a menu that includes many local ingredients, highlighting the best in Irish food.
Don’t forget to try the Blue Bicycle Princess Grace Orange Cake, which is served with orange and cardamom syrup and fresh cream in memory of the late princess’s grandfather, who grew up in Newport.
Cafe Rua, New Antrim Street, Castlebar, Co. Mayo – everything is made from scratch in this popular Castlebar eatery that serves up breakfast and lunch every day, including two batches of freshly baked bread and scones.
Dinner is available on Friday nights only. Reservations are recommended by emailing [email protected].
A second location, the Rua Deli and Café, is located on Spencer Street. Open also for breakfast and lunch.
Expect to find lots of goodies on the menu, including the “Mayo Mezze Board,” a selection of artisan and locally sourced ingredients from across the county.
Kelly's Kitchen, Newport, Co. Mayo – here you’ll have the opportunity to taste the “Putóg,” an award-winning traditional black pudding that is based on the Kelly family’s secret pudding recipe.
Newport’s famous artisan butchers, located next door, have been in Newport for more than 80 years and sell carefully sourced local meat, which is processed at the family’s own abattoir behind the shop.
Shauna Kelly, who runs the café, serves up the best in Irish food in the form of her father’s tasty homemade sausages and rashers, as well as a variety of other wholesome dishes.
The menu also includes a number of gluten-free choices.
Helena Chocolates, Ltd., Castlebar, Co. Mayo – the bakery creates an award-winning brand of chocolate goodies.
Owned by the Belgian-born Dirk Schonkeren and his wife, Elaine Schonkeren-O’Mahony.
The Chalet Seafood Restaurant, Achill, Co. Mayo – the owners, Julie and Gerald Hassett, also own Keem Bay Fish Products, a premiere agri-fisheries business that supplies fresh-farmed organic Clare Island salmon, which is available on Chalet Seafood’s menu.
The Grainne Uaille, Newport, Co. Mayo – the McManamons have been running this great pub and restaurant for over 100 years. Everything is locally sourced.
Food Festivals in Co. Mayo
Food festivals are becoming increasingly common in Co. Mayo and other similar events around the country highlight the best in Irish food.
The most popular ones include the Cong Food Festival and the Mayo Street FoodFest. See more details on the other food festivals in Co. Mayo here.
Galway is a big county and there’s a lot to explore in it, not least the culinary experiences that you can get there.
Galway Food Tours
No visit to Galway is complete without sampling some of the great food that this eclectic city has become known for.
Galway Food Tours is run by Sheena Dignam and Gosia Letowska. Both women offer various culinary tours around the city, exposing visitors to local producers and noteworthy restaurants.
Some of the stops include McCambridge’s, Galway’s oldest food store, and the French bakery Le Petit Delice.
Tours include the Daytime Food Tour of Galway, the Whiskey Tour of Galway, the Evening Food Tour of Galway, the Food & Cycling Tour, The Art House Cinema & Food Tour, and the Sweet Tooth Food Tour.
Irish Food Trail Experience Galway – this 3-hour tour explores Galway city’s popular and sometimes hidden restaurants.
Explore the products that local artisans make, taste three delicious dishes paired with an Irish craft beer and compare traditional Irish cuisine with the modern version and then see what takes your fancy.
When you’re in the City of the Tribes, check out these great restaurants that place an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
Kai Restaurant –With a focus on organic or wild locally sourced ingredients such as locally-caught crab, pink onions, hen’s eggs, and yummy brown bread, you know you’re in for a treat at this Westend eatery. Lunch and dinner are served daily. Take a look at the restaurant’s website for sample lunch menus.
Oscar’s Seafood Bistro – also located in the Westend, this restaurant offers a selection of locally sourced food, including fresh seafood caught off the coast of Co. Galway. There’s an Early Bird Menu offered Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. You can get two courses for €19.50 per person.
Marmalade Bakery – you won’t get a full Irish breakfast in this boutique bakery and cafe, but what you will get is freshly baked bread and other goodies made lovingly by bakers dedicated to their craft. While sourdough bread is this bakery’s signature product, other types of bread are also available every day. They include white yeasted loaf, brown treacle soda bread, and focaccia.
Ard Bia at Nimmo's – in Gaelic “Ard Bia” means “high food” and top-quality cuisine is exactly what you can expect at this fun, artistic café/restaurant. How about Galway goats’ yogurt for breakfast with a seasonal compote or the Ard Bia Fish Platter complete with Burren smokehouse mackerel, Connemara crab, and other organic ingredients for lunch (noon to 3:30 p.m.)? All bread is baked in-house each morning. Brunch and dinner are also served each day.
John Keogh’s Gastropub – this award-winning pub/restaurant serves up a delicious mix of dishes that take advantage of Galway’s proximity to the ocean. Try the West Coast Seafood with Irish soda bread and Cuinneog butter, premium-quality Irish steaks, and more.
The Dough Bros – If you’re looking for healthy, affordable food in Galway, do not discount this fantastic pizzeria, which now has two locations in Galway city, and another one just recently opened in Dublin. Take a look at what goes into their mouth-watering pizzas and you’ll discover and much of the ingredients are Irish, such as the Five Mile Town Goats’ Cheese from Co. Tyrone, Slieve Aughty Honey from Leahy Beekeepingin Loughrea in Co. Galway, The Wooded Pig in Co. Dublin and much more.
Farmers Markets in Co. Galway
Farmers/country markets are popping up all over Co. Galway thanks in part to the growing emphasis on sustainable farming and good, healthy Irish food. Here is a list of some of them from across the county.
- Ballinasloe Indoor Country Market, Town Hall Theatre. Fridays 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You’ll find free-range hen and duck eggs, organic vegetables, home-baked treats, crafts, knitwear, and much more at this weekly market.
- Clifden Farmers Market, The Square, Clifden. Fridays 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Expect to find organic vegetables, homemade bread and pies, herbs, fruits, plants, and a lot more.
- Galway City Market, beside St. Nicholas Church, Galway. Saturday and Bank Holidays 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays 12 to 6 p.m. You’ll find hundreds of stalls selling everything from fresh produce, baked goods, and handmade crafts at this great market, which is one of Galway’s oldest street fairs.
- Kinvara Farmers Market, The Square, Kinvara. Fridays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Only open from Easter through Halloween.
- Moycullen Country Market, An Fuaran (opposite The Forge Pub), Moycullen. Friday 1 to 6 p.m. This award-winning market has a bit of everything, including fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, a selection of fresh bread, jams and relishes, seafood, sushi, curries, pizza, honey, and lots more. Find crafts there too, including woodwork, pottery, candles, and soaps.
- Roundstone Country Market, Roundstone. Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Lots of variety here, including fresh vegetables, bread, quiche, free-range duck and chicken eggs, Irish cheeses, jewelry, wood products, pottery, handmade soaps, stained glass, furniture, and more. Runs from May through October.
Galway’s food festivals include the International Food & Craft Festival held in July each year and the wildly popular Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. More information can be found here.
Additional Food-Related Experiences in Galway
Bee Tours – Slieve Aughty Honey/Leahy Beekeeping in Carrowmore, Co. Galway offers tours of their beekeeping facility. The Leahy family invites you to put on a bee suit and see the inner workings of their successful business, including a close-up look at their bees during the process of honey-making.
You will have the chance to sample their honey, which is also on sale from the website above. Tours are €50 per person. To book, email [email protected].
Have you experienced the best in Irish food in either Galway or Mayo? If so, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below.