Ireland report, part I (Dublin)
- Beth Pizio
My husband Peter and I were in Ireland from 3/20 to 4/1, first in Dublin, then traveling northwest to Kilcar in County Donegal and finally going west to Coleraine in Northern Ireland before returning to Dublin for the flight home. This post is about the Dublin portion, and hopefully within the next few days I'll get around to writing up the Donegal and Northern Ireland portions.
In Dublin we stayed at The Parkway B&B, 5 Gardiner Place (01 874 0469). Seamus is the owner, and he's a doll. A full Irish breakfast (tiny glasses of lousy orange juice [typical for Ireland], cereal and milk, white toast, 2 pieces of bacon, 2 sausages, 1 egg, tea or coffee) was served every morning. (You could also get beans and Irish brown bread on request.) Meat was not the highest quality, but was certainly edible. Rooms were small but cheap (E44 a night for a double w/ shared bath). We were on the unfashionable side of the river, but Dublin is small enough that walking everywhere was no problem.
3/21-- Lunch: RED HEN in Temple Bar, on the main street that runs perpendicular to the Liffey (can't find it online, sorry). We had stumbled into Dublin on the red eye, and while it was morning there, it sure felt like 3 am to us. Most places were not yet serving lunch, so we stumbled into this place mostly because it was open. P got a full Irish breakfast (which in this case included black and white pudding and fry bread as well as eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, tomato and mushroom). Pretty tasty. I ordered an egg mayonnaise and bread, thinking I was going to get an egg salad sandwich. But no. I got a sliced egg, a HUGE mound of mayonnaise, a heap of potato salad (made, in the Irish way, with floury potatoes, so that it's really just potato mush rather than potato cubes), a heap of macaroni salad, some pickled beets, some shredded carrot, a few stray lettuce leaves and cucumber slices and two slices of Irish brown bread. Peter got the better end of the deal on that one. Inexpensive-- entrees are about E5.
Dinner: STAG'S HEAD pub (1 Dame Court off of Dame Street, 01 679 3701). This was recommended in World Food: Ireland as the best pub grub in Dublin. P got fish and chips (very good) and I got hamburger with onion gravy and chips, which I expected to come on a bun. But no. It was just two hamburgers, gravy and chips. Despite again not getting what I expected (are we seeing a theme here?), it was very good. Burgers were hand-formed, chips were great (in that mushy Irish way) and the gravy was deeply flavorful. If I had it to do again, I would have ordered my burgers rare, but I'll know for next time. This was good, honest, filling food, and we washed it down with Guinness. (Interestingly enough, locals I spoke with had never gotten food at Stag's Head. Some of them didn't even know they serve food.) Inexpensive-- entrees are about E7.
3/22-- Instead of lunch, we had hot drinks and scones at the TEA ROOMS in Phoenix Park (01 671 4431) prior to exploring the zoo. I had just had tea for breakfast and went for a macchiato instead. The woman at the counter confirmed my request four times, then took out some kind of manual to teach herself how to make my drink. Peter said (smirking a bit), "Guess people don't order that much." "No one's ever ordered it before," she replied. It wasn't bad, actually. And the scones were quite good. Inexpensive.
(I highly recommend the zoo, by the way. You can get incredibly close to most of the animals, yet they still have spacious habitats.)
Dinner: CHAMELEON (1 Fownes Street, Temple Bar, 01 671 0362). I read about this Indonesian place here and had wanted to try the Rijstaafel, so we ordered Rijstaafel 1 and Rijstaafel 2 and split them. We got about 20 little dishes to share, most of which I don't remember all that well. Overall, I would give it a B. Some dishes were very tasty (one vegetable dish in particular was terrifically sour), some were merely okay. The greens in the gado gado were kind of brown and limp. Great atmosphere, though, and friendly service. Moderate-- I think we paid about E50 for the whole shebang, including drinks and tips.
3/23-- Lunch: LEO BURDOCK'S (2 Werburgh Street, 01 454 0306), proclaimed by World Food: Ireland to be the best fish and chips in Dublin. We both got hake and chips. Simply delicious. Fresh, fresh fish with a thick crust that stayed crispy through the entire meal. Fries were great as well. This was also the meal that introduced me to Club Orange soda (see What's My Craving board). Imagine my surprise when instead of the normal, neon-colored, sickly-sweet drink that bears no resemblance to any fruit, I find great orange flavor and bits of pulp between my teeth. (And in Ireland, no less, where orange juice still mostly comes from a can.) This place is takeout only, but the grounds of Christchurch Cathedral across the street make a great picnic spot. Highly recommended. Inexpensive-- E6 each, including drinks.
Dinner: INDIAN TANDOORI (14 Dame Street, 671 9488). It wasn't our first choice. It wasn't even our second choice. But it was open and had available tables and we were hungry. We started with vegetarian spring rolls (this is Dublin, a place where Chinese restaurants serve curries and Indian restaurants serve spring rolls), chicken tandoori, lamb balti, a mixed vegetable dish I can't remember the name of, Chef's special rice, aloo paratha, Indian beer and chai (which we had to ask for three times before they would believe that we really wanted spice tea and not regular tea). Everything was okay but sort of tame. (Though I think we earned the waiter's respect immediately by getting rice instead of chips-- we were, as far as we could tell, the only people in the whole restaurant who didn't order chips.) The chicken was unexpectedly tender and good, the special rice was extremely tasty and the rest was just sort of eh. Dont get the aloo paratha. Blech. Inexpensive-- we spent E40, but we over-ordered.
3/24-- Lunch: BEWLEY'S (I swore it was on Grafton St, but I can't find a listing). Peter wanted to try this because it's such an institution. We had the afternoon tea spread for two-- chicken and egg finger sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and a variety of sweets. It was very tasty, but we're suckers for afternoon tea, so keep that in mind. Anyone, though, would appreciate the people watching from the mezzanine level, though the air-headed servers are certain to annoy. Moderate/Expensive (at least the parts with wait service were-- there's a self-serve cafeteria on the ground floor that's probably less expensive)-- I think we paid about E40.
Dinner: THE PORTERHOUSE (16 Parliament Street, 01 679 8847), one of only a few microbreweries in Ireland. It was packed, but we managed to find seats. We started with the beer sampler, which allows you to try miniature portions of all the beers they make themselves. (It's not on the menu, but luckily we knew about it from Let's Go. And one sampler is more than enough for two to split.) All interesting, but the highlights were the Plain Porter and the Wrassler's. The Plain Porter is like Guinness, only better, and the Wrassler's is the thickest, densiest, maltiest beer I've ever tried. People who call Guinness a meal in a glass would call Wrassler's a banquet in a glass. The most unusual beer they make is the oyster stout. An interesting drink for sure, but not something I would go out of my way for. They also have an excellent selection of bottled beers from around the world.
The food at Porterhouse was quite good. I got half a dozen oysters to start, and they were outstanding-- huge and fresh, and they flinched when I squeezed on lemon. Then I got the Irish Stew, which was very tasty. Peter got Beef in Stout, which was also good. We ended with a plate of Irish cheeses, none of which really impressed. Inexpensive-- 2 pints, one sampler, 6 oysters, 2 entrees and one cheese plate cost only E45.
That night we went out to hear some trad at O'DONOGHUE'S (15 Merrion Row, 01 676 2807). Tiny place, but the music was great. They pour a good pint, too.
Skipping ahead to 3/31-- Our last night in Ireland was spent in Balgriffin, just south of Malahide (a posh northern suburb of Dublin). We were there because it was close to the airport and we had an early flight and a rental car to return. Our B&B was Belcamp Hutchinson (Balgriffin, 01 846 0843), a house with gorgeous grounds (including a fountain and resident ducks and cows) built in the 1700s, beautifully maintained and elegantly decorated (no overly flowery, frilly, kotchke-filled rooms here). It feels, in every way, as though you're an honored guest at an English country estate.
Doreen, the owner, will serve breakfast at any hour in order to ensure guests get to the airport on time in the morning, and she provides great maps of the town of Malahide (including restaurants) and of the route from her house to the airport. She's also the only person in Ireland who gave me decent directions. (Actual transcription of someone directions to their B&B: "Go through the village to the factory. Then go up until you're over the bay. We're the big house on the side of the road." HUH? It doesnt help that, outside of Dublin, there's not a single street sign anywhere in the Republic.)
The breakfast at Belcamp Hutchinson was easily the best I had in Ireland, and very close to the best I've ever had (top honors, though, still goes to Chez Madeline on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townshead, WA). The orange juice was fresh squeezed (almost unheard of in Ireland). There were fresh mascerated berries and fresh custard to top them with on the sideboard. Waiting on the table were hard boiled eggs (still hot), rolls of excellent ham, several different kinds of bread, four homemade jams, and a fantastic selection of Irish cheeses (eight in all, I believe). Even the cereals on the sideboard were upscale (a barely sweet granola with expertly dried strawberries, for example).
Doreen gives you just enough time to fill your plate and wonder whether you've got enough room to sample everything before she comes out and asks if you're ready for the hot breakfast. The hot breakfast includes eggs any style, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, fried bread, toast and tea or coffee. If I had any plans to live in Ireland, I'd call her up and ask her where she buys her meat. It was incredible. Even the black and white puddings were scrumptious, and I'm not normally a fan.
The only downside is the price: E130 per night, ensuite (all rooms there are ensuite). Still, it was worth it for a single night's splurge, especially considering that the airport is 10 minutes away. If you've got money to burn, it would be an excellent base from which to explore Dublin, since the city center is only 20 minutes away.
(Note: we ate lunch on 3/31 in Northern Ireland, so that will be covered in the next part of the report.)
We ate dinner that night in Malahide at SIAM THAI RESTAURANT (Gas la Malahide, 01 845 4698), in part I think because I had really wanted to eat Thai in Dublin and didn't get the chance. We both had tom yum gai to start. Surprisingly, it was absolutely delicious-- sour and salty and quite spicy, with generous amounts of fresh lemon grass, lime leaves and galanga. So my hopes were high for the entrees, but I was disappointed. We both opted for duck dishes-- I ordered crispy duck with crispy noodles in tamarind sauce, and Peter got duck in red curry sauce. The first dish was certainly crispy, but way too sweet, and the second dish was also overly sweet, and not even interesting textually. Somehow in both dishes the duck managed to be tasteless. I'd go back in a heartbeat for that soup, though. Moderate/Expensive-- we spent about E60.
Things we loved in Dublin: Stag's Head, Brazen Head and Porterhouse pubs, Leo Burdock's, Dublin Zoo, Viking Splash Tours (a totally cheesy tour, but how can you resist an amphibious vehicle?), Christchurch and St. Patrick's Cathedrals, Jameson tour (be sure to volunteer at the end for the whiskey tasting), St. Stephen's Green, Trinity College (and the Book of Kells), the Archeological Museum, the Georgian architecture.
Things we could have skipped: Guinness tour (except the view from the Gravity Bar-- don't know if you can get up there without paying, though), Dublinia (though it definitely had great kitsch value).
Things we wanted to do but didn't have time: visit Ceol Traditional Irish Music Center, pet the tame deer in Phoenix Park, see Dublin Castle, taste cheeses at the Big Cheese Co. off of Dame St., see more museums, visit more suburbs.
Restaurants we wanted to try but didn't the chances: Bangkok Café (106 Parnell St., 01 878 6618-- recommended here and in the NY Times' recent article on Dublin); Tea Room at the Clarence Hotel; the restaurant (forget the name, but it's got a number in it) on Parnell St. below the Dublin Writer's Museum (menu looked great, with lots of fresh game).
Beth, Thank you for that evocative report about a country I love visiting. I didn't spend much time in Dublin, but I did stay in a wonderful B & B just outside the city, and your description of the really good Irish breakfasts made me want to go back right now. I loved the little "squishy" sausages.
A silly memory I have is that I missed seeing squirrels in the parks. Trinity College was amazing, the Book of Kells, etc.
Can't wait for your next installment. Pat
Thanks so much for Part 1. The last two times I went to Ireland, i didn't touch foot in Dublin. I have rather unfond memories of the food there, but that was 30 years ago.
Absolutely, my best meal there then was at a fish and chips place in a Dublin survey. Cost of haddock and chips or cod and chips? 7 pence.
As someone who travels several times a year to Northern Ireland and the Republic the one thing I have found consistently is that the food is reliably bad. I would LOVE to find out about some unknown eatery (especially in N. Ireland) that I have yet to try that would knock my socks off. Somehow I just can't believe (or don't want to believe) that there is such an indifference to food on the emerald isle.
Certainly from an anthropological point of view I have noticed an entirely different attitude towards eating in Ireland than I have experienced anywhere else. My husband (who is Irish - and fortunately a chowhound) and I have discussed this at length on many ocassions. We joke that the 5 Irish food groups consist of: potato, butter, sugar, pork products, and tea. You'll be lucky if you get any meal which doesn't include at least one of those ingredients.
The Irish are not, from my experience (though, of course there are exceptions) enthusiastic eaters. Because the country has been steeped in poverty for so long people just learned to shut up and eat whatever was on their plates. It wasn't a case of being choosey. As a result, food isn't given a priority in life as it is in other countries. Historically (and I speak from and English perspective) in the 18th and 19th centuries the most expensive foodstuffs were butter, sugar and meat - therefore when one did have money they would tend to include more and more of these things in their diet (to the detriment of other things such as vegetables). I think this tradition of eating still prevails in Ireland.
From my experience, not very many people are as aware of food and health issues. Its not as if people don't have access to healthy eating information but they choose to ignore it. I know several people in their 20s who won't eat vegetables, for example. My father-in-law tells me that Ireland has one of the largest fishing industries in Europe but as an Island they consume less fish then anywhere else. I have found that as a matter of pride, people are suspcious of any food they don't recognise -on numerous ocassions I have heard people bragging that they won't eat anything that 'isn't Irish' even when they go on holiday. I don't really understand this attitude but I suspect there are numerous historical reasons for it.
Things are starting to change in the past couple of years in Belfast. The introduction of 'trendy cafes' serving risotto cakes and salads with sundried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar are a far cry away from the old reliable egg mayonaise sandwiches on white bread heaving with mayonaise. People still seem to have a mortal fear of garlic though. My husband and I were taken last Saturday night to Belfast's latest Italian restaurant. It was packed full of people (a very good sign) but as we were walking up the stairs I heard two separate squeals of ' oh my God look at all that garlic!' and 'I can smell garlic!' - perhaps the restaurant's popularity will eventually mitigate suspicion surrounding this most heavenly herb. The food by the way (sad to say) was nothing to write home about - lots and lots of fried things: fried mushrooms, fried calimari, fried cheese, fried escalope of chicken breast in a thin sauce - all served with chips. oh well.
Hopefully things are on the up and up in Ireland (both north and south) and changes in attitude towards food with be forthcoming.
I just wanted to add that I enjoyed the report and look forward to more.
I do have to agree with Ham, though -- the Dublin you visited was a little too dependent on "Let's Go".
One restaurant I'll recommend: the Lord Edward (upstairs from the Lord Edward pub, which is next door to Burdock's). It's great for lunches, and it specializes in seafood.
Dublin's been changing so fast that some old favorites are gone and I'm not entirely sure about others....
Well, wait a minute. I appreciate your kind words, cls, but I want to set the record straight about something.
I really have no idea why you and ham think the places I ate were recommended in Let's Go. I only mentioned that guidebook because I wanted give credit where credit was due about the beer sampler that's available at Porterhouse. It's not on the menu there, and it's worth knowing about.
I *never* use Let's Go for food recs. Their slant is mostly on cheapness, and they'll overlook a lot of wrongs if the price is right. I do use it for lodging info though, since to me a bed is mostly a bed.
The food tips I got were from Chowhound, the Lonely Planet's World Food: Ireland guide and through talking to friends who are from Dublin or visited recently. We also spoke to locals whenever we could. (It was a local we spoke to at Burdock's who told me the food at Porterhouse ain't bad. And she was right.)
I would never suggest that the places I ate belong in Dublin's top ten-- not even close. They're just places I ate. Traveling is full of caprice. Sometimes I have to balance the things I want to do with the places I want to eat. Sometimes I get hungry when nothing's open or when the places I want to try are packed and I don't feel like waiting. And sometimes the places people recommend just don't seem all that appealing for one reason or another. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
I'm no expert on Dublin, but I figure that any and all honest info is helpful to others. That's the spirit I posted in, and that's the spirit I hope others read along in.
Next post: Donegal and Northern Ireland
re: Beth Pizio
my stomach used to be able to take burdocks but they fry in 100% lard and reckon heart and tum need a break.restaurant under writers museum is chapter one-it is ok has one michelin star-pre theatre menu is ok,but features the now bloody ubiquitious belly of pork.dublin food coop is a good place to meet eat and buy-only daytime saturday.
Well, Hallie, as an expat American in London, I think that the "oh no, GARLIC" problem is pervasive here, as well. I, on the other hand, have never met a garlic I didn't like. One of my life regrets is not getting to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and trying garlic ice cream when I lived in the San Jose area.
And there are LOTS of native English speaking people who won't eat anything that isn't familiar. I suspect that it's not just an English language speakers problem however - I just can't understand the others!!
And no veg? Well, lots of people are like that. Can't say that I understand 'em, just they won't try anything that isn't white (bread, potatoes, rice, milk), yellow (butter, cheese, etc.), or brown (bread, meat - overcooked, etc). Yuck is all I can say. LOL!!
Here's to Chowhounding and food experimentation.
The Bucks Belly
re: Paula Sindberg
I havent found garlic-phobia so much in London, but then again my friends are all chowhounds so who knows. I think that the world abounds with fussy eaters, I just noticed them in particularly high concentration in Northern Ireland. God knows there are Americans who won't touch anything that looks vaguely 'suspicious'-growing up I had two friends who would only EVER eat meatballs and spaghetti - to the point that they were nick-named 'the spaghetti twins' by dismayed members of my family...but I digress.
London seems, from the 7 years that I have lived here not only to have become more open minded about food but now is teeming with places that serve garlic in profusion (praise be for that!) I have also lived in Leeds and Norwich - both cities are slightly less progressive but are certainly catching up taste wise with the capital.
As for the Gilroy Garlic Festival...one day I will make my pilgrimage there...sounds FABULOUS!
re: Paula Sindberg
why do Americans always seem to think their eating habits are better than everyone elses?!? Ireland has changed incredibly in the past few years, and NO, im not afraid of garlic, in fact i love it,.. i dont eat rashers (bacon) or sausages+ rarely drink tea. i quite enjoy having a cafe latte, mocachino,etc & im a big fan of italien,chinese,indian food. i actually have found i have less choice of meal in american restaurants than in irish ones.
I also cant believe Americans think that we're unhealthy eaters. it seems to me most americans think McDonalds cook wonderful food. Most things i was served in the states was either fried or covered in sauce, and Americans as a nation are the most overweight i have ever witnessed
As an Irish person who has lived in Ireland(republic of) all my life, I was fascinated by the outdated opinions on this thread about Irish eating habits!
Irish people have graduated from a sole diet of rashers and tea a long time ago. People are very cosmopolitan in their eating habits - Dublin has thousands of ethnic restaurants, garlic is as common as onion.
I regret that people feel thay have to perpetuate this American attitude of Ireland as being all about Leprauchans, aran jumpers and sweet friendly people.
A lot has changed. fast growing economy in Europe and all that.
Clodagh,thanksbetogod another voice in the wilderness!amazing isn't it? and we think that our image is right up to the minute. clearly a lot of work to do,amongst chowhounds anyhow. how wonderful to be getting married in rome.can't help you with any suggestions but I'm sure everyone else will.you'll probably get a thread as long as your arm.
I hate to do it, but I have to agree (partially) with the assessment of Ireland's food groups, if only on the basis of one dinner in Ballsbridge, Dublin, at an Italian restaurant with two friends (one Irish, one Dutch). The restaurant (Stella??) was only fair, but even so what amazed me was that all the entrees came with potatoes (boiled or fried--our Irish friend went for boiled, her Dutch husband went for fried, my Italian-American partner and I abstained, to their surprise) and most dishes on the menu were fried.
In further travel around the country we were, however, pleased with the cuisine, though we did not stray from Irish cooking. (One does not go to Galway to have veal scallopine, I figured.) And many of my U.S. friends are similarly picky about what they will and won't eat, so aspersions should not be cast at the Irish and others with the same idiosyncracies.
Jaysus! About the only reaction I can muster to previous postings on Dublin. When did you guys visit?
The Eucharistic Congrress in 1932? Shure sounds like it.
If you're going to rely on guides like Let's Go then I'm afraid you're chowhoundery is going to be a bit of a hit and miss affair or a miss amd miss in your case.
Yes we had our problems and there's still a lot to do but you can do a lot better than the tourist schlock that you've ha d to survive on. Bewleys is increasingly horrible and the quality is fallimg as the prices are rising.It has become just a big catering operation with fake heritage around the edges.
The Porterhouse is for DRINKING in, not eating.
Places you should have gone to include in no particular order:Sheridans one of the best cheese shops in these islands..make a picnic in Stephen's Green. Talbot 101 a stone's throw from your B and B in Gardiner St and serves flavourful reasonably priced food in a buzzy warm enviroment,Mermaid cafe on Dame St., Eden just round the corner in Temple Bar,The Saturday food market in Meeting House Square all sorts of food, breads of every description, oysters, organic meats, sushi, crepes etc.cakes choclates cheeses etc.
Chapter One is the restaurant with the number by the way. have to stop now but anyone wants more just ask. Ireland is full of good food -and fresh orange juice- you just have to work a little harder to find it.
Oh by the way we stopped eating our young as well
I have learned a bit about things food in Ireland from reading the McKennas, having found out about them when they were featured on the nytoday.com site months back. Mostly I focus on reading about what they have to say about Irish food products which I might have a chance of tasting in the states, since I have no travel plans. But I was interested to read about some restaurants with emphasis on fresh produce and fish and their flavors.
Being an unknowing neophyte, perhaps others can comment on whether their reviews are to be trusted.
I'm not sure I understand your criticisms of the McKennas and I'd like to. Is it their style you object to or the substance? I'm truly interested because I agree with virtually all of your recommendations as far as Dublin eating and drinking go (except for your omission of Toner's ;-)).
Outside of Dublin finding a good place to eat is even more of a crapshoot, and that is where I found them the most helpful.
A perceptive question. Yes, you're right it is more the style than the substance that i have a problem with because finally I would agree with say 60% of their 100 Best restaurants. But that style is so dreadful;inflated meaningless waffle.A few examples.PI in Cork is designed so that when you enter "you are conscious of having stepped into a world so perfectly designed that it takes over your consciousness" cooks chefs and owners provide good food because this is what
they "understand"The Corncrake in Carndonagh is an "utterly darling restaurant"" "Sue Holland is one of that small troupe of cooks whose work can achieve a transendence that leaves you speechless" Jaysus. And all I wanted to do was eat some good food.
A little experiment. Use a Bridgestone guide to chose one place over another. Difficult isn't it? When everything is full of the same breathless prose you just think to hell with let's get some fish and chips. Except when you go there you find they're rhapsodizing about them as well.
This kind of writing fetishises food. It gives food lovers a bad name.It's all far far too cosy. And unfortunately aside from some of the newspapers there isn't any other decent food criticism in Ireland.
So there you have it.
Good point about the style. I didn't recall it being so overblown. As I said, it was more of a help in rural areas where it wasn't uncommon for there to be only one or two places rhapsodized over. It always seemed a better bet to try their recommendations than take my chances if my time was limited.
I'm not too bothered about the fetishizing (please don't take that out of context ;-)). If it increases Irish people's curiosity about different cuisines and awareness of the unique foods available to them, then that's a good thing.
I don't get a chance to see the Irish papers much now, so who is doing the good food criticism and where? Sunday Business Post, Sunday Tribune?