Ireland is known for great music, great art and great literature – not so much for great food. However, Dublin’s best traditional restaurants are fighting back against the cuisine’s bland reputation with exceptional local produce, innovative cooking techniques and a liberal serving of the country’s trademark creativity.
Hearty, warming and wholesome – that’s Irish food in brief, but its detractors would say there’s little more to it than stewed meat and potatoes. According to local restaurant owners, including Elaine Murphy, director of The Winding Stair Group of restaurants, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “I believe we have come incredibly far as a post-colonial nation, in terms of confidence in our own product,” she says. In Dublin, you’ll still find traditional classics such as coddle (a jumble of bacon, sausage and potato) and Irish lamb stew, but you’ll also find exciting Michelin-acclaimed chefs taking the cuisine to new heights.
Although few restaurants can boast of receiving a Michelin Bib Gourmand, even fewer can claim to have been name-checked in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Camden Street’s Delahunt celebrates both, with food focusing on honouring traditional Irish cooking techniques – home curing and smoking, pickles and preserves – with the occasional nod to mainland European cuisine. Its menu – limited to four selections for each course – changes regularly; current offerings include home-made black pudding with apple, quail’s egg and frisée, and market fish with mussels, seaweed potato and smoked brandade. The decor is delightfully Victorian, with moody teal walls, mahogany furnishings and stained-glass details.
The menu of this traditional pub reads like a guide to the best of Irish dishes, with an emphasis on seafood, red meats and root vegetables. Highlights include the roasted loin of Limerick bacon with cabbage, the west coast seafood chowder, and the Irish beef and Guinness stew. Traditional breakfasts are also available, including a vegetarian option, which replaces meat with a potato hash brown. Ireland’s distilling heritage is embraced too, in whiskey-infused chicken and Bailey’s cheesecake. If you’d prefer to sample the alcohol in its purest form, the pub offers a great selection of local beers and whiskies; find your favourite, sit back and enjoy the live Irish music played here on weekends.
Since opening its doors in 2001, The Exchequer Dublin 2 has won numerous awards, including Best Gastropub in Ireland in 2010. Produce is all-national, including fish from Irish waters, meat from the Irish countryside, and cheese and dried meats from local producers. On the menu is a warming oxtail broth with pearl barley and root vegetables, and a hearty fish pie with a potato and cheddar topping. For an authentically Irish communal meal, try its Sunday roast of beef, pork or chicken – each heaving platter serves four people.
While this down-to-earth gastropub may be located in trendy Stoneybatter, there’s no pretension to be found here. Regulars mingle over a pint at the traditional wooden bar, and seasonal menus are an impressive list of local fare. Featuring gems such as Goatsbridge trout and Mr Jeffares blackcurrants, the offerings include all-Irish dishes such as melted Gubbeen cheese with Ballymakenny potatoes, and pork collar with colcannon (potato and cabbage) mash. Each dish comes with a suggestion for a – usually Irish – craft beer or cider accompaniment, and each dessert is similarly paired with a whiskey. There are also Irish gins served with Poacher’s tonic water. Head here for its regular tasting events or the most traditional of bar activities – the pub quiz nights.
“Ireland has some of the best raw produce from land and sea in the world today,” says Stephen McAllister, chef-owner of The Pig’s Ear restaurant, which specialises in honest Irish fare with a modern touch. “We pride ourselves in having the finest dairy products – butter, in particular. When we first opened The Pig’s Ear 12 years ago, we wanted to open an Irish restaurant – we believed that Ireland could be known for fantastic food and great service.” The Michelin Guidebelieved it too, awarding The Pig’s Ear its first Bib Gourmand in 2009.
Named after a Yeats poem, this one-time bookshop-café was bought by Elaine Murphy, who converted it into a top restaurant (while retaining the bookshop) committed to showcasing the best of Irish cuisine. “We can stand tall and look back to our own traditions and methodology in food production – from our incredible cheese making to our fish smokers, our charcuterie industry, our vegetable growing and pickling and our sustainable seafood,” says Murphy. A glance at the menu confirms the emphasis on provenance; Ballymakenny Pink Fir Apple potatoes, Connemara mussels and Clogherhead crab are just a few highlights.
Deep into the city’s Northside, this restaurant lies in the basement of the former home of George Jameson (of Jameson whiskey fame), but it doesn’t feel like a basement. It’s a modern Irish fine-dining space with minimalist black-and-white decor and starched white tablecloths. Chef-proprietor Ross Lewis’s commitment to home-grown produce is best experienced with the Chef’s Table tasting, beginning with onion and Hegarty Farm cheese soup and highlighting Irish meat and seafood along the way; the artful presentation is inspired by Lewis’s travels in France and Spain. It’s not cheap, but with a Michelin star, this is a traditional Irish dining experience elevated to dizzying, and delicious, heights.
Cafe, Deli, Restaurant, Wine Bar, Wine, Irish, Contemporary
Fallon and Byrne has an atmosphere perfect for intimate gatherings or larger groups | Courtesy of Fallon and Byrne
Spread over four floors, the Exchequer Street branch of Fallon and Byrne is many things: an atmospheric wine cellar, a food hall selling local produce, a top-floor ballroom and a sophisticated dining space. Head to the latter for beautifully presented Irish food with a continental twist. The Irish lamb rump comes with a side of gnocchi, while parisienne potatoes and champagne fumé accompany the pan-seared Goatsbridge trout. There are also fine Irish beef steaks, served with bearnaise sauce. Tall windows allow the Dublin sunshine (what there is of it) to stream in, creating a bright, airy ambience.
This casual bistro in Harold’s Cross serves locally sourced modern Irish food, with dishes as smart and polished as the interior. Chef Philip Yeung’s plates are contemporary works of art that honour traditional ingredients; try the pork chop from Salter’s free-range farm, served with black pudding, or the Kildare lamb rump with smoked yoghurt and mint. For experiential dining without the price tag, try the pre-theatre “Neighbourhood” menu, which features many of the same options as the main menu. Yeung’s attention to detail and dedication to modernising Irish cuisine hasn’t gone unnoticed – he received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2018 and 2019.
Mulberry Garden is pure Irish, from the food and linen tablecloths to the lotion in the restrooms | Courtesy of Mulberry Garden
Mulberry Garden in Donnybrook lies in a converted cottage, originally constructed in 1911. Built on the concept of “everything Irish,” it uses Irish linen tablecloths, Newbridge silver cutlery and native wooden breadboards – even the hand soaps in the bathroom are from Irish makers. Diners can enjoy a new menu every week, made only from seasonal ingredients and prepared in a modern Irish style with continental flourishes. Example menus include a Castletownbere scallop with octopus, romesco sauce and cauliflower, and Sheelin beef with a lovage and hazelnut pesto. You’ll be planning a return visit before you even pay the bill.