Ireland is in the midst of a food revolution — farm to table dining. This back-to-the-land trend is exciting — dining in Ireland isn’t just meat and potatoes anymore. Chefs all around the small island country are embracing locally grown and produced foods and their menu are soaring to new heights as a result. It all started in 1964 when Myrtle and Ivan Allen opened Ballymaloe House on their Cork farm. They served foods, produced on site or by neighbors, which Myrtle cooked in the family’s kitchen. Today, Ballymaloe is a dining destination. Traveling around the Emerald Isle you’ll discover farm to table restaurants all over, from cities to small towns.
Forrest Avenue calls itself “a neighborhood dining room” set on Sussex Terrace, about a 15- minute walk from Grafton Street in the center of the city. Husband and wife team John and Sandy Wyer (he’s the Executive Chef and she’s the Pastry Chef) started serving their sophisticated, contemporary Irish fusion cuisine in November 2013 and they’ve been busy ever since.
“We got off to a great start,” says Sandy. “I think people really like what we are doing.”
She credits the combination of fine dining and a laid back ambiance at the restaurant named for the Queens, New York street she grew up on for their success. The menu changes about every two weeks, the constant: their house-baked potato and caramelized onion breads.
“For us the produce is the most important element of the restaurant,” Sandy shares. “It all starts with very good produce and everything else follows.”
John visits the Temple Bar market on Saturdays and they also source directly from local farmers. In 2014, they were named “Best Newcomer” by the Irish Restaurant Association.
Chef/owner Kevin Aherne’s Sage Restaurant in Midleton, County Cork is “hyper-local.” Opened in 2008, Sage has a strong commitment to fresh and locally produced foods. Originally, the menu offered “a 12 mile tasting menu,” featuring foods grown within that distance from the eatery. When they remodeled in 2013, Aherne hanged his culinary focus.
The entire menu went to what he calls “our 12 mile ethos.” Now almost all the food is sourced using this principle. Vegetables, fruits, herbs, meat, poultry and fish are all from within this proscribed area and Aherne is always looking for new sources. The menu changes a little each week due to seasonal food availability. Recently they opened The Greenroom, a casual café and wine bar serving breakfast, light lunch and evening tapas.
Finn’s Table in Kinsale is owned and run John and Julie Finn. He’s the chef; she welcomes guests and oversees the front of the house. All their beef, lamb and pork and venison come from his parents’ butcher shop in Mitchelstown about 40-minutes northeast.
Fish, lobster, crab and prawns are fresh off boats docking at the end of their street. Vegetables and eggs are from local farms. Ninety per cent of their food is sourced from within Cork. Finn calls his cooking “simple classical with a twist.” He cites his take on Sole Veronique which substitutes pickled grapes for the traditional fresh ones and adds ginger and samphire cream (sea asparagus).
The menu (especially the fish offerings) changes almost daily and the only dish always on the menu is the Crab Tasting Plate offering a crab fritter, crab mayonnaise [crab salad] and crab bisque. Two things are key here: keeping the food fresh and simple while offering a warm welcome and good service.
The Chart House sits a stone’s throw from the harbor in charming Dingle (voted the 2014 Best Food Town in Ireland). The restaurant, opened in 1997, is the only Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant in Kerry (there are only 12 in Ireland). Restaurants with this designation offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less.
They’ve sourced much of their food locally since the beginning. It’s a no-brainer in a town where the fish comes right off the boats and the local butcher shop has a board out front saying which farm the lamb comes from. The menu, showcasing contemporary Irish cuisine, changes seasonally.
Diners will always find The Chart House’s signature Annascaul black pudding hash, and oven- baked wild mushroom cream. Dishes created with locally-sourced foods are marked with an “L” on the menu.
Kai Café, a relative newcomer to the Galway City dining scene, was opened by Chef Jessica Murphy and her husband Dave (who runs the front of the house) in 2011. Its unusual name is the Maori word for “food.” New Zealander Jess arrived in Ireland to work for Chef Kevin Thornton, holder of two Michelin Stars at the time.
Her fusion food, which she calls “simple and elemental”, changes daily. It features cuisine inspired by traditional New Zealand and Irish cooking; all sourced locally. Chef Jessica’s developed strong relationships with her suppliers who are listed on the restaurant’s website.
This restaurant tour is just a start. You’ll find farm to table restaurants just about anywhere you visit in Ireland. A return to sustainable dining makes sense to this new generation of chefs. The island nation’s farmers, fisherman and artisanal food producers are working with them to supply the growing demand and ensuring their traditions are preserved well into the future.
Have you been to Ireland? Where was your favorite meal?