Galway and County Clare: Ireland’s most exciting foodie destination

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Galway is Ireland’s alternative city – more boho and leftfield than Dublin and Cork, a place that draws buskers and artists, dreamers and schemers like a magnetic force.

It’s the home of Macnas, the country’s most spectacular street-theatre company, and an arts festival that has featured Marina Abramovic´ and Philip Glass. Lately, it has also become a fizzing foodie hub, with a community as tight-knit as a village, so that finding one person who’s doing something interesting will lead you, as if following a trail of breadcrumbs, to someone else equally fascinating.

The most high-profile is chef JP McMahon, who earned the city’s first Michelin star and is behind the Food on the Edge gathering, which brings big names such as Albert Adrià and Skye Gyngell to Galway every year. He sees no reason why this town can’t emulate the restaurant revolution ignited in Copenhagen some 15 years ago. This fervour for catching, growing and cooking the West of Ireland’s outstanding produce has spilled out into the hinterland.

Less than an hour’s drive south of Galway is the Burren in County Clare, a crazy-paving, karst-limestone landscape that changes colour from shell pink to silvery grey, depending on the clouds that roll overhead. Foragers, cheesemakers, brewers and fish-smokers form a network that makes a big deal about small batch. Combining city and country, this is one of the most exciting places in Ireland for the food-obsessed right now.

THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN GALWAY AND COUNTY CLARE

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    ANIAR, GALWAY

    At Aniar, McMahon’s tiny Michelin-starred restaurant, where dried seaweed and gorse hang on the walls, highlights of the tasting menu may include oyster ice cream or fermented potato foam with pollock and egg yolk served in egg shells. A dessert of wild strawberries and woodruff is up there with the eye-opening flavours of Noma (woodruff tastes like marzipan).

    Pictured above: Preserved woodruff at Aniar.

    Address: Aniar, 53 Lower Dominick Street, Galway, Ireland


    Website: aniarrestaurant.ie


    Price: Tasting menu from about £65

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    LOAM, GALWAY

    While Aniar seats only 24 people, the city’s other Michelin star, Loam, is a vast restaurant in a former office space. But despite its size it feels cosy, divided by Japanese-style paper panels, and the wine bar does a lovely cheese board.

    Pictured above: Whiskey and smoked-peat ice cream at Loam.

    Address: Loam, Geata Na Cathrach, Fairgreen Rd, Galway, Ireland


    Website: loamgalway.com


    Price: About £90 for two

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    TARTARE, GALWAY

    Tartare, the latest of McMahon’s clever openings, was originally conceived as a place for oysters, tartare and natural wine. It has all three but also serves bread-and-butter staples including corned-beef and cheddar sourdough sandwiches and charcuterie boards.

    Pictured above: The interior of Tartare restaurant.

    Address: Tartare, 56 Dominick Street Lower, Galway, Ireland


    Website: tartaregalway.ie


    Price: About £25 for two

    KAI CAFE, GALWAY

    New Zealander Jess Murphy opened Kai in the West End in 2011 when the area was still considered gritty. Located ‘between the church and gay bar’, as its first ever TripAdvisor review neatly put it, the rustically styled restaurant (stone and timber-clad walls) serves top Irish produce with an international twang: stout, beef and venison chilli with pimento cheese and a spelt and lentil pilaf.

    Address: Kai Cafe, 22 Sea Rd, Galway, H91 DX47, Ireland


    Website: kaicaferestaurant.com


    Price: About £30 for two

    COFFEEWERK + PRESS, GALWAY

    For the best coffee in town, head to Coffeewerk + Press, a three-storey café/design shop, where as well as a single-estate espresso you can pick up enamel homeware and a scratchable world map to mark the countries you’ve visited.

    Address: Coffeewerk + Press, 4 Quay St, Galway, Ireland


    Website: coffeewerkandpress.com

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    ARD BIA, GALWAY

    There’s always a queue on weekends at the lipstick-red waterfront door of Ard Bia restaurant – it dishes up the most interesting breakfast on the west coast: sweet-potato hash with Gubbeen cheese and chorizo; quinoa cakes with kale and tahini dressing. The staff are brilliant and take time to chat to everyone, even as the queue at the door gets longer, from the visiting young Americans who are back for the third time in 24 hours to the 60-something local who comes every Saturday morning for apple tart and cream.

    Pictured above: Ard Bia

    Address: Ard Bia, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, H91 E9XA, Ireland


    Website: ardbia.com


    Price: About £25 for two

    GALWAY SATURDAY MARKET

    There are a lot of delicious things to eat around here, but up in the top three are the Boychik doughnuts from the Saturday Market. They cost 80 cents, and come straight out of the hot oil, dusted in sugar, cinnamon or cocoa. Other traders peddle Burren wildflower honey, Venezuelan empanadas and Vietnamese bánh mì. But really, it’s all about the doughnuts. Galway Food Tours give an excellent bitesize overview of the city’s producers – try Irish cheese, craft beer, whiskey, chocolate, oysters, crab and a whole lot more.

    LITTLE FOX, COUNTY CLARE

    The foodie community in the west of Ireland is small, and the latest place they’re buzzing about is Little Fox in the equally buzzing town of Ennistymon. Run by Niamh Fox, formerly of Ard Bia and London’s Rochelle Canteen, this new restaurant serves lunches of tarka dal with seasonal greens and brunches of herby goat’s curd with dukka on tandoor flatbreads. Across the road is The Cheese Press, where Sinéad Ní Gháirbhith will sell you Gouda-style Burren Gold and locally roasted Anam coffee. Cementing Ennistymon’s profile as Clare’s coolest, under-the-radar corner is Pot Duggan’s, a revamped pub with fresh white-wood panelling and a fairy-lit riverside beer garden from the team behind Dublin’s hit Bodytonic bars, dishing up house-made pickles, ham-hock terrine, stews and the best chocolate-Guinness cake.

    Address: Little Fox, Main St, Ennistimon, Co. Clare, Ireland


    Phone: +353 87 466 4382

    THE BEST BARS IN GALWAY AND COUNTY CLARE

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    AMERICA VILLAGE APOTHECARY, GALWAY

    Behind a beautiful black-glass Thirties shop front with dried herbs strung like washing across the window is the coolly smart America Village Apothecary. Not your average cocktail bar, it has a menu of tipples made using the elixirs, tonics and tinctures created by owner Claire Davey in Connemara. Try a turmeric Martini with sake, vermouth and lemon balm, or anything with wild-gorse syrup (it has a coconut and almond kick).

    Pictured above: America Village Apothecary

    Address: America Village Apothecary, 31 Dominick Street Lower, Galway, H91 WC04, Ireland


    Website: americavillage.com

    THE UNIVERSAL, GALWAY

    The Universal is a low-lit space with caramel-brown, bentwood-style tables and chairs that’s popular with the West End’s arty crowd, who sip drinks such as the Fog Cutter, a heady mix of rum, Pisco, gin and sherry (warning: strong).

    Address: The Universal, 9 William St W H91 H5R9, William St W, Galway, H91 H5R9, Ireland


    Phone: +353 91 728 271

    TIGH NEACHTAIN, GALWAY

    It’s hard to stand out among the paint-box buildings of Cross Street but blueberry-bright Tigh Neachtain manages it. Once inside, the pub is a higgledy-piggledy space of hidden snugs and table tops stripped of varnish from decades of spilled Guinness. There’s an open fire and a selection of craft beers, including Kinnegar Inquisitive Hare Hoppy Lager, which is brewed especially for the pub.

    ROADSIDE TAVERN, COUNTRY CLARE

    The county is known for its traditional music. Hunt down a session at the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, an old bar with an uneven floor that’s also home to the Burren Brewery – try the malty-chocolatey stout. On any given night there could be musicians with accordions and flutes, and a man with a mop of grey curls who plays the spoons on his knee.

    Address: Roadside Tavern, 17 Rooska, Rathbaun, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, V95 X5Y6, Ireland


    Website: roadsidetavern.ie

    WHERE TO STAY IN GALWAY CITY AND COUNTY CLARE

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    ARD BIA AND B, GALWAY

    Ard Bia and B, across the river from its namesake restaurant, is the funkiest place to stay in Galway. A two-bedroom annexe to owner Aoibheann McNamara’s townhouse, it has a colour scheme of grey and white, with splashes of green from a large display of cacti. There are quirky touches everywhere: a glass-fronted dresser with babushka dolls on the shelves; an antler-shaped bread knife in the galley kitchen; a He-Man Pez dispenser in the bathroom. Most important is the list of Top 10 Things to Do, designed as a paper cutout and framed. Number 10: jump in the sea! Breakfast at Ard Bia is included and McNamara, co-founder of fashion label The Tweed Project, is the friendliest host who knows all the best neighbourhood spots.

    Pictured above: A bedroom at Ard Bia and B

    Address: Ard Bia and B, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, H91 E9XA, Ireland


    Website: ardbia.com


    Price: About £135 per night

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    GREGANS CASTLE HOTEL, COUNTY CLARE

    Nowhere has better grandstand views of the grey-pink landscape of the Burren on a fine day than Gregans Castle Hotel. An ivy-clad 18th-century house surrounded by gardens of hydrangea and fuchsia, it’s an elegant yet cosy place to stay. The interiors have a touch of Kit Kemp’s maximalism, with tiger-print chaises-longues, botanical-motif curtains and lots of green and purple.

    Pictured above: The Burren

    Address: Gregans Castle Hotel, Corkscrew Hill, Gragan East, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, H91 CF60, Ireland


    Website: gregans.ie


    Price: Doubles from about £215

    WILD HONEY INN, COUNTY CLARE

    In Lisdoonvarna (known for its annual matchmaking festival), Wild Honey Inn is Ireland’s first Michelin-star pub. It’s low-key, with a gentle welcome from co-owner Kate Sweeney. This place has earned its reputation for classic cooking with dishes such as smoked eel with beetroot, fennel and apple, and silver hake with lobster velouté. Upstairs in the old-school rooms are comfy beds with tweed throws handmade in Donegal.

    Address: Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Rd, Rathbaun, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland


    Website: wildhoneyinn.com


    Price: Doubles from about £110

    THINGS TO DO IN GALWAY AND COUNTRY CLARE

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    HAZEL MOUNTAIN CHOCOLATE FACTORY, GALWAY

    Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a bean-to-bar factory and shop deep in the Burren where chocolatiers roast and crack cacao beans and melt slabs the size of dictionaries. The café at the front is a great spot for coffee and cake (almondy friands with raspberry sauce poured over the top), with a wood-burner, polka-dot pottery and patchwork-covered chairs.

    Pictured above: Hazel Mountain Chocolate Factory

    CHARLIE BYRNE’S BOOKSHOP, GALWAY

    It’s comforting to smell the 100,000 or so new and second-hand books stocked in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop when you walk through the door. In this warmly lit warren of rooms, poetry anthologies are displayed alongside vintage Ladybird classics with faded orange spines.

    Address: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, The Cornstore, Middle St, Galway, Ireland


    Website: charliebyrne.com

    THE BURREN PERFUMERY, COUNTY CLARE

    Stick with the satnav as the roads get narrower through rolling green Hobbit Shire country (Tolkien was a visitor to these parts), passing abandoned castles and trees bent double from the wind, to reach the Burren Perfumery. Set in a 19th-century stone farmhouse, the tiny shop sells top-quality skincare and fragrances, including citrusy Man of Aran cologne, all cooked up by the noses on site. Wander around the gardens, split into sections for herbs, vegetables, balms and teas, where the plants’ healing properties are chalked up on pieces of slate. There’s also a little café and a soap room that smells of roses.

    Address: The Burren Perfumery, Fahee North, Carron, Co. Clare, Ireland


    Website: burrenperfumery.com

    SEAWEED-FORAGING WITH WILD KITCHEN, COUNTRY CLARE

    A seaweed-foraging walk with the wonderfully engaging Oonagh O’Dwyer from Wild Kitchen will clear any morning-after-the-pub-before fuzziness. On a deserted beach south of Lahinch, she shows how to sustainably gather and gives tasters of kelp, sea spaghetti, wrack and pepper dulse (called the truffle of the sea, it has an incredibly umami flavour), followed by a picnic on


    the rocks.

    Address: Wild Kitchen, Callura South. Lahinch. Co.Clare


    Website: wildkitchen.ie

    For more information about Galway and County Clare, visit ireland.com

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  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Beetroot and seaweed ice cream at Aniar restaurant

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Stout and treacle bread at Aniar restaurant

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Sea-buckthorn meringues and fermented Jerusalem artichoke tartlets at Aniar restaurant

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Ard Bia restaurant

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Restaurateur Aoibheann McNamara at Ard Bia

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Sausages and black pudding at Tartare restaurant

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Ard Bia and B

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    The Tweed Project studio

  • Galway and County Clare: Irelands most exciting foodie destination

    Detail in the Hazel Mountain Chocolate café