Dublin & County Clare Report (long)
We just returned from eight days in Ireland and had culled many opinions from the boards, so I thought I would report back on our findings....
Chameleon in Temple Bar Dublin - don't discount this place just b/c it's in Temple Bar! We found it to be pretty serious about its' food, the atmosphere convivial and the service polite but not overbearing. We're originally NYers, currently residing in Boston and missing good ethnic grub and this hit the spot after five days of eating in the French countryside!
Cornocopia in Dublin - we had a wonderful lunch at this veggie place before driving out to County Clare. Very refreshing, well-made and interesting salads. A madhouse at lunchtime! Highly recommended.
Moran's Oysters on the Weir in Kilcogan - WOW! We were worried that this place had been overhyped, but it hasn't. Picturesque site, fabulous oysters... FYI the oysters are the really meaty, briny variety, which I love but is not to everyone's taste. The smoked salmon was fine, though not necessarily any better that what we had numerous other places.
McDonagh's in Galway - unlike Moran's this IS totally overhyped. We found the fish fine, but the batter was WAY greasier than others we've tried. We tried the haddock and the plaice, and also had mushy peas. Everything was sorely lacking in salt. Bummer, given all the rave reviews.
An Teach Bia in Ennistymon - this place doesn't look like anything special from the outside, essentially a diner that serves all three meals. BUT! There is someone in the kitchen that really cares... I had a wonderful salad with smoked salmon and my husband had a 'Racket Pork' which was huge and juicey. It was like a pork chop on steroids! We enjoyed it so much for lunch, we returned again for a late breakfast - they offer the full Irish breakfast, as well as a 'vegetarian' option that leaves out the meat and adds in tomatoes and mushrooms which were sauteed perfectly. It's right on the main street across the bank - definitely a 'don't miss!'
St Tola's Cheese in Inagh - We randomly decided to visit this goat farm/cheesemaker and were glad we did. We bought far too much cheese to consume while there...so I have to admit I smuggled some back to the States. Yum! We got a crottin of their fresh (really! just 1 week old!) soft cheese, some of their aged crottin which was wonderfully creamy with a great tang, as well as one of their older, harder cheeses. If you can't get to them, their cheese is also sold at both of the Sheridan's (in Dublin and Galway)
O'Connor's in Ennis - Sean O'Connor is the chef/owner of this place on a small side street off O'Connell. He makes essentially updated Irish food, ranging from traditional fish & chips to lamb to whiting to veggie pastas. Everything is made with incredible care & love - you can tell this guy loves what he does! We had a dinner and a lunch there and almost went back for another dinner. One warning - it is Sean, a prep cook and two women in the serving area, so things move pretty slooowly, just be prepared. The girls out front weren't great with menu questions, but Sean will happily come out to chat & let you know how stuff is cooked. All the side vegetable dishes were out of this world - broccoli & cauliflower steamed just perfectly, roasted potatoes.... yum!
Black Oak in Rineen (Milltown Malbay) - this place came highly recommended by many people, and we had to make reservations a month in advance... unfortunately it was by far the biggest letdown of the trip. The location is fabulous - up on the hill overlooking the ocean, the house was wonderful, but nothing else lived up to the billing. The food is essentially french, but not necessarily done very well in french fashion - maybe the easiest way to describe it is someone's idea of a 'fancy' restaurant if you're overloaded on the basic Irish fare. Boring and blah - their house speciality is the 'Seafood Pot' and given all the fabulous fish and shellfish I had had in the previous week, I was looking forward to it, but it was a few pieces of fish, some jumbled mussels and clams in a thin tomatoey broth. Very little flavor and ALL the fish was cooked beyond taste. The smoked salmon & smoked trout pate starter was fine, but not special in any way, and the rhubarb & strawberry crisp was mostly pastry topping and mushy, sugary gel inside. Ugh. The onion soup was the one thing that kept us from going over the edge! One last note - although everyone was perfectly pleasant, the service was not up to par with the location and feel of the place. After being given a pitcher of water, it was not poured into glasses, and after the first round of wine pours the waitress never came back to top off or refill. We were left for at least 20 minutes with empty plates in front of us after the main courses, and two of the three desserts appeared immediately and we never saw the third one until I got up to ask about it 10 minutes later. No explanations, no checking in, nothing. Really unfortunate, given all the great reports and kudos.
All in all, we really enjoyed our trip - and even had four sunny days in a row... Almost unheard of!
We also stopped in An Teach Bia during our June trip. It didn't look very impressive from the outside or inside; we went in because we were desperate for something to eat. The food was very good; it was a really nice surprise. We just ordered sandwiches but everything had a little twist on it, which brought it to a different level.