Ireland 'going crazy' for good food -- where to go

 Maureen O\'Hare

Ireland is awesome," says Melbourne-born chef Damien Grey, co-owner of Dublin's Heron & Grey restaurant. "Ireland is going crazy for food right now. There's so many young chefs coming up right now, breaking all the rules." Restaurants across the island have been awarded 15 new Michelin stars since 2011 -- already three times as many Ireland earned during the culinary doldrums of the 1970s. There's a new-found confidence abroad as the nation's chefs take their place on the world stage and a new generation of restaurants have been popping up north, south, east and west.

Those famously green fields and a coastline lapped by five bodies of water are the perfect conditions for what Grey describes as "an abundance of produce. We have amazing beef, lamb, produce from small artisans, cheeses, seafood is ridiculous good." Grey and his business partner Andrew Heron opened their tiny 24-seater restaurant Heron & Grey in the Dublin seaside suburb of Blackrock in 2015. Within a year, it'd had won its first Michelin star. "We're very serious about the product, but we don't take ourselves too seriously," says Heron. Service is intimate and "very informal," he adds.

And for a Michelin-starred establishment, prices are pretty down to earth, too. The summer tasting menu is a reasonable 63 euros ($73). It's no wonder it's become one of the most talked-about restaurants in the country. It's already booked out for the rest of 2017. Luckily there are plenty more new restaurants in the country to please palates. Here are nine more that've got Ireland's tongues wagging and mouths watering.

1. Mulberry Garden, Dublin

Named Best Restaurant in Ireland by TripAdvisor users in 2016, Mulberry Garden is only open three nights a week, allowing it to concentrate on maintaining those much-loved standards of food and service. It's located in the Dublin suburb of Donnybrook.

2. Forest & Marcy, Dublin

This ain't your grandmother's bacon and cabbage. Forest & Marcy reinvents an Irish classic with its signature dish of fermented potato bread (lending the traditional bread a hip sourdough tang), served with Savoy cabbage and crispy bacon bits. It doesn't take bookings so expect to wait for a table -- or try sister restaurant Forest Avenue.

3. The Greenhouse, Dublin

Finnish-born Mickael Viljanen, formerly head chef at County Clare's gorgeous country house hotel Gregans Castle, delivers Nordic-edged cuisine in a chic setting on Dublin's Dawson Street. Dishes such as hare royale have a northern European drama that encapsulate the best of the Irish and Scandinavian traditions.

4. Loam, Galway

Enda McEvoy has been racking up the awards since opening restaurant and wine bar Loam in Galway's city center in 2014. Loam earned its first Michelin star in 2015 and last year McEvoy was named Best Chef in Ireland at the Irish Restaurant Awards. The daily changing menu relies on local seasonal produce which in summer could include dishes such as monkfish liver and peas, and woodruff and yoghurt.

5. Kai, Galway

The fishfingers with buttermilk and panko crumb are the signature dish at this laid-back restaurant run by Kiwi chef Jessica Murphy and her husband David. The puddings menu also offers tempting reminders of an Irish childhood, such as the chocolate Angel Delight and grapefruit.

6. Ox, Belfast

Alain Kerloc'h and Stevie Toman's Ox earned its first Michelin star in 2015 -- the same year as one was awarded to its Belfast neighbor Deanes EIPIC, headed up by Danni Barry, named Best Chef of 2017 by the Restaurant Association of Ireland. But while the Deanes group is rightly a Goliath on the Belfast scene, with prices to match, Ox offers some of the best-value Michelin-starred cuisine you'll find in Europe.

7. Harry's Shack, Co. Derry

A former lifeguard's hut at the edge of Portstewart Strand, Harry's Shack has been delivering mighty burgers, pitch-perfect fish and chips and rip-roaring Atlantic views since 2015. Sister restaurants include Harry's Bar & Restaurant -- over the border in Bridgend, Donegal -- and the newly opened Harry's of Derry.

8. Good Things, Co. Cork

In the picture-perfect West Cork town of Skibbereen since 2012, Carmel Somers' Good Things Café serves up simple, fresh food such as crab tart with soda scone and Munster cheese place with spiced, fermented beetroot. There's a cookery school too, with upcoming courses on wholesome winter cooking and vegan cuisine.

9. 1826 Adare, Co. Limerick

Often described as Ireland's prettiest village, Adare scores a hat-trick with its thatched cottages, medieval monasteries and premium golf courses within easy reach. Husband and wife team Wade and Murphy serve modern Irish cuisine in a rustic cottage built by the first Lord Dunraven in -- you guessed it -- 1826.

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Domain: Afterhours
Category: Food & Wine
Maureen O'Hare
30 April, 2017
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