The rise of the gastropubs
The classic Irish combination of a drink and a bit of craic has been winning fans since humans learned how to beat a rhythm
And sure, if you were feeling peckish along the way, you could always tuck into a packet of crisps or a penitential toasted cheese sandwich, before heading back to the shindig. But those days are over
Not because there’s no more craic, but because Ireland’s pubs have turned to food and made it a thing. Gastropubs have sprung up all over the country, serving delicious food that is worth celebrating in its own right and giving fine dining restaurants a run for their money
Ireland’s pubs are genuinely unique. The atmosphere, character and characters you’ll find in them simply can’t be bottled and reproduced in any way anywhere else in the world. They stand for centuries of tradition, but in today’s fast-changing world, they also embrace dynamism and innovation.
The bare stone walls and warm fires that have sheltered the Irish for hundreds of years as they tell tall tales, talk of rebellions and make the air ring with their song, sorrow and laughter, now house comfortable, stylish bars that are as welcoming to a solo female traveller as they are to a happy-go-lucky group. But nowhere are the recent changes more evident than on their menus.
Even the Michelin Guide has noticed. This year, the global foodie bible listed 30 Irish pubs in its selection.
From Toddies at The Bulman in Kinsale, to Hardagans in Sligo, you’ll find half of Michelin’s pub selections sprinkled along the Wild Atlantic Way, or certainly within a short detour of it. They offer a cosy respite from your journey while serving up all the flavour, and less of the fuss, of ‘smarter’ establishments.
One of them — the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare — has even won the most highly coveted prize of all, a Michelin star.
But Michelin is not the only standard. Ireland has a huge number of gastropubs that are turning out inspired food mixing fresh, modern takes on high-end cuisine with traditional pub fare such as scampi — don’t miss this at Clonakilty’s An Sugán — smoked Irish salmon served with rich soda bread, crab claws, juicy Irish beef burgers, hearty sandwiches and chowders that are the subject of fiercely fought national competitions.
The beef & Guinness pie at Flanagan’s Townhouse, or Mike’s baked fish pie at John Benny’s in Dingle are surely not to be missed and you’ll even find a prawn cocktail at Moran’s on the Weir in Galway. You can’t get more classic than that.
Some take a creative spin on traditional dishes, such as the Mad Fish Soup at the award-winning Cronin’s in Crosshaven — a Mediterranean style soup of house-made shellfish stock and a mix of market-fresh fish enriched with brandy and cream — or the organic spiced salmon with couscous, cucumber, radish and a lemon dressing at The Glasshouse in Sligo.
Meanwhile, others blend tradition with a fresh new level of creativity. Tune in to Deasy’s in Clonakilty for a taste of salt ling with celeriac and caper salad; tuck into a pigeon and Parma ham salad at Cronin’s Shebeen in Co. Clare, or drop by The Derg Inn on Lough Derg, Tipperary, where you can enjoy a monk tail scampi in kataifi pastry with garlic mayonnaise and chilli jam.
This is but a small taster of the delights that lie in store along the Wild Atlantic Way. It would take a book to describe the world of delicious possibility waiting for you out there.