The Next Great Meal Goes International: Ireland
Welcome to the first international restaurant series from The Next Great Meal. I spent a week in Ireland, mostly in the outskirts of Dublin in County Wicklow. Below you will get a brief taste of the highlights. Maybe you won’t make it to Ireland in the very near future, but should you find yourself in the country’s capital or the luscious green countryside here are some places to keep in mind!
This restaurant by the well-known Gordon Ramsay is situated in the Ritz Carlton hotel on the Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. The setting is beautiful as you get panoramic views of Sugar Loaf mountain in the distance. There is a lovely terrace for when the weather in Ireland permits you to enjoy a peaceful dinner outdoors. As I am sure many of you have experienced, hotel dining can be very hit-or-miss. Some hotels know how to do it right, but others struggle to create ambiance and character, so while the food could be exceptional the restaurant ends up lacking in energy. With Gordon Ramsay’s Powerscourt location I felt more the latter. The wait staff, however, was friendly and I found this was mostly the case in Ireland. They also knew how to make the customer happy. After a fly had flown into my glass of wine for the second time there was no charge on the bill. Now that’s what I’m talking about! The menu composed of fresh, local ingredients from the region which is something I always appreciate. I started with a beet salad with fresh, local goat cheese followed by a diverse lamb medley which included tenderloin, crispy bacon-like slices and sweetbreads garnished with baby artichoke and cherry tomatoes. The main course was delicate, light and succulent. I did, however, pass on the sweetbreads. The best way I know how to describe what came next is as a chocolate bomb (see the picture. … you’ll understand). All I can say is it was pretty darn good. Then the meal was over. And while I did enjoy the food and it was clearly of high caliber, I was really hoping for character and Ramsay has still yet to find it here.
This was a special place we visited in County Wicklow. It’s situated in a small town called Stepaside Village and couldn’t be more charming. With a seating area outside lined with pots of bright yellow flowers, and a charming wine bar next door, I was able to tell from the entrance that this was going to be a serene evening. The Box Tree does receive accolades for being and Eamonn O’Reilly establishment, who is one of the acclaimed chefs in Ireland. O’Reilly also owns a successful restaurant in Dublin, One Pico, that I did not have the time to try but looked appealing as well. We were seated in a banquet in front of the semi-open kitchen. Above our heads, the walls were lined with all sorts of wine bottles organized and encased by glass. There were a number of creative dishes on the menu, such as the Poached Egg and Grilled Asparagus appetizer that came with Kellys Black Pudding, Capers and Bacon and Grain Mustard Hollandaise or the Butter Roasted Chicken Breast with Spinach, Mushroom Ravioli, Crispy Wing and Sweetcorn Cream. I ordered the latter and started with the Ardsallagh Goats Cheese and Pickled Beetroot salad. I almost did not get the salad because the server initially brought out the wrong goat cheese appetizer, but just as I was sticking my fork in the phyllo-wrapped cheese (and don’t get me wrong. … I was confused about the dish, but was going to go along with it anyway) he realized his mistake and pulled it out of my grasp. Oops! When I finally did get the correct salad, it looked more like a work of art than something I should be eating. There were three statues of soft, coiled goat cheese sandwiched between two thinly sliced beets, garnished with greens and candied walnuts. Something about the goat cheese in Ireland (and the butter) is just a notch above the rest, but this rendition in particular was quite tasty. It was light, flavorful and very fresh. Then came the (first) rich part of the meal. … the chicken. From the description, I was not quite sure what to expect from all the ingredients but they surprisingly worked very well. The spinach lay at the bottom with the one large mushroom ravioli placed on top, which was surrounded by the buttered chicken breast and crispy baby chicken wings. Then the sweetcorn cream to finish it off. That was home style cooking in the most gourmet way possible. I really enjoyed this dish. I think the chef did a very good job of making each piece of the meal work together. The chicken wings were definitely a creative touch. The finish touch wasn’t disappointing either. The chocolate walnut brownie bites with dollops of chocolate mousse and a scoop of Bailey’s ice cream were a great way to the end the meal. It may sound overwhelming, but the brownies were dainty and the mousse not overpowering, so it actually was quite a nice way to end a filling meal. Overall, great place with character and innovative cuisine. The location is a little out-of-the-way so it’s not a touristy spot which gave it a lot of charm. The service is friendly and accommodating. We heard that some have had problems with it being spotty and slow, but we just had the appetizer incident!
Campo De Fiori is a quaint Italian restaurant in the coastal town of Bray. Bray is one of the larger towns near where I stayed and the most vivacious. There was an Italian festival going on that week and the night we were in town the entire town seemed to be in the streets cheering on the local Olympic heroes during the opening ceremonies. It was a fun scene. Campo De Fiori is situated right across from the water so you can get some picturesque views if seated at the right table. When we walked in it seemed like a one-man show. The manager was acting as hostess then waiter then bus boy and anything else in between. He was running it all. The whole experience felt quite intimate and felt closer to a trattoria in Italy than one in the middle of Ireland. And like most people do at Italian restaurants we ordered a bit too much. It was nothing fancy, but the simple ingredients worked and made the meal enjoyable. The Antipasto appetizers are a must. You cannot find many places that really do antipasto well in the U.S. (if you know of some please let me know) and this one had all the right stuff. Just make sure if you’re a table for two to get the small one. I got the Black Sole as my entrée, which was very simply prepared fish with boiled potatoes and vegetables. We also got the Mixed Grilled Fish which is probably the best way to get a sampling of all the fish offerings. You’re in a coastal town. … you should really order some fish. There was one snafu with a prawn that wasn’t fully cooked, but otherwise we enjoyed the meal and there wasn’t much left over on our plates. If you haven’t figured this out yet, I am a sucker for sweets but I wasn’t impressed by my chocolate mousse. Worth stopping by this Italian gem if you’re visiting Bray. And if you are not in the mood for dinner, there is a wine bar next door.
The Fern House is rustic cafe attached to the Kilmacanogue location of the well-known Avoca stores. After you’re done picking up your hand-woven blankets, socks and scarves you can take a breather at this lovely cafe for a leisurely breakfast or lunch. The servers here were some of the most friendly I had during the trip. The setting was peaceful and it almost felt like you were in a massive green house with lush gardens surrounding you. The space is enchanting and the food tasted farmhouse fresh. I had a lovely crab and apple salad that was a refreshing summer treat. We also ordered a vegetable antipasto plate (another great antipasto!) that had an assortment of marinated vegetables, falafel, cheeses and more. The only disappointment was my Smarties cookie that was a little stale. But the other baked goods looked delicious, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
From the outside you wouldn’t think much of this Dublin charmer. The yellow building blends with the others on the city block, and it’s hard to spot from afar unless you look way up and see the intricate letters that read “The Winding Stair.” The second-story restaurant sits above a book shop in the center of Dublin and looks over the river. The wooden loft space is simple, cozy and warm. The menu has plenty of options and I would love to come back and try some more. I ordered a special lamb shank they were serving that night that was tender and fell off the bone. Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be enjoying themselves and I was having a good time observing the food that landed on their tables. It all looked just as delicious as mine tasted. The desserts were the real kicker. They are known for the Bread and Butter Pudding with Whiskey Sauce. It really does melt in your mouth. You shouldn’t leave without at least having a bite. Another phenomenal dessert was the Apple and Rhubarb Crumble. It’s actually very hard for me to describe either of these desserts because I won’t be able to do them justice. The skillet crumble was mouth-watering good and so perfectly warmed that the cinnamon ice cream formed a river throughout the dish. I would venture to say that if you venture to Ireland there is a high likelihood Dublin would be part of the trip. If this is the case and you have some time, this restaurant is worth a trip. I hear their lunch is great as well. It’s high quality with not a lot of bells and whistles in an inviting and relaxed environment. I could have sat there with a bottle of wine for another hour enjoying the setting. Too bad we had to drive back to County Wicklow!
Those four restaurants represent the highlights of my culinary adventures in Ireland. There were some other places I went worth making quick mention of as well. The Wicklow Heather (Glendalough), The Powerscourt Arms (Enniskerry), McGill’s (Powerscourt) and Elephant and Castle (Dublin. … and yes, the sister restaurant to the one in the West Village). If you want more information on any of the restaurants I have highlighted feel free to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contrary to what I expected from its former reputation, Ireland cuisine consists of more than meat, potatoes and Guinness pints. I enjoyed some great meals here and, for the most part, at a reasonable price.