Gillian Nelis – My favourite Wild Atlantic Way foodie spots
As a committed townie, I never saw myself as someone who longed to eschew the city and make a break for the coast. But there are places along the Wild Atlantic Way that have made me question that.
In Strandhill, a village in Sligo famed for its surfing, is the seaside cafe of my dreams. Shells is itself the product of a dream – owners Jane and Myles Lamberth, she from Dublin and he from South Africa, wanted to run a food business somewhere where they could also spend plenty of time in the surf, and settled in Strandhill in 2010.
Shells serves breakfast and lunch, coffee, baked goods and snacks, and while the emphasis is on healthy and nutritious food, eating here is no sacrifice. Expect the best eggs and avocado you’ll ever eat (a drizzle of homemade pesto is divine), gorgeous salads, great coffee and – for the days when the weather isn’t great – warming soups.
Further down the coast in Kerry, on the three kilometre sandy spit to the north of the Dingle peninsula known as The Maharees, is Spillane’s; a long-established pub which has been serving food since 1975. This long history is evident from the minute you cross the threshold, with generations of families, locals and visitors alike, packing the place out.
The food is simple, local and delicious: Crab claws fresh from the nearby pier served with a Marie Rose sauce; perfectly-cooked calamari with zingy pickled cucumber on the side; generous portions of scampi, and a fish curry for colder days.
Desserts change regularly and might include rhubarb crumble, chocolate brownies with Guinness and hazelnuts, or strawberries and cream. Too full for any of that? The fantastic, friendly staff can send you off with a 99.
In the heart of The Burren, Gregan’s Castle offers a place to stay and eat that will have even the most stressed-out among you as relaxed as a sleeping baby. Set in beautiful gardens, this small, family-run hotel counts JRR Tolkien, Seamus Heaney and Sean Scully among its previous guests, and its restaurant is a special place to experience a true Irish fine dining experience.
Chef Robbie McCauley’s menus use ingredients like locally-caught rabbit, crab from Doonbeg, Wexford strawberries, and the finest Irish cheeses. Wild boar pudding, smoked salmon from The Burren Smokehouse, and sausages from Fingal Ferguson in Cork are all on the breakfast menu and are guaranteed to send you home happy.
Gillian Nelis is managing editor of The Sunday Business Post (businesspost.ie) and edits the newspaper’s food coverage.