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The new Heather Restaurant at the Gap of Dunloe is at once a celebration of the past and a confident step into the future. It is also backing local producers and the food, including provenance, cooking and presentation, is really excellent, and that can only be good for tourists and locals alike.
Fifty years ago, the enterprising Moriartys opened a small gift shop close to the entrance of the renowned Gap, a spectacular valley, with cliffs and lakes and a huge echo, created in the dim and distant past by ice on the move.
Their warm welcome and quality goods proved a successful combination and bit by bit they expanded the shop, so much so that the family had to leave and find a new house! Husband and wife Michael and Margaret Moriarty started that wee store in 1964 and it predominantly operates in the coach tour market, welcoming visitors as they enjoy The Ring of Kerry tour.
Smoked Mackerel Salad.
The shop, offering high quality Irish goods, including a great selection of clothing and gifts, is still going strong. A new generation, Denis Pio Moriarty and his wife Ailish (who showed me around in midweek), has taken up the reins and the couple are guiding the new venture, playing a pivotal role in the interior and exterior designs.
It is not just a restaurant. Five acres of multi-level gardens, with great views of the McGillacuddy Reeks, have been set out and will be spectacular when in full flower. Not all the ground is given over to the ornamental planting. They will be growing their own salads and vegetables, mostly under cover, and Ailish hopes to have some on the menu in Heather in the coming summer months.
The bright and spacious restaurant, set alongside the River Loe, is a great spot to start or finish your tour of the Gap or before or after any of the many walks in the area. Here you will be well fed with the best that the artisan producers of Kerry and Cork provide.
Gorgeous Hake dish.
And if you want a genuine local drink, then that is what you’ll get. You can sample the craft beers by Mountain Man Brewing, the lovely ciders of Stonewell and some smashing apple juice drinks from the orchards of Ballyhoura Apples. It is open from 11.00am until 6.00pm daily, telephone 064 6644144.
The menu for Heather comes on a brown paper, reminiscent of the old brown paper bags, and it takes quite a few sheets. Watch out too for the daily specials. And they also do a Kids Menu that includes half portions of the adult dishes.
Lots of non alcoholic drinks too. Teas from Barry’s and Solaris (Galway) and Skelligs Chocolate Hot Chocolate and coffees specially roasted for Heather. The wine list may be short but again the quality comes through. And not just the regular varieties. You can of course have your Sauvignon Blanc and Rioja but maybe you'd like to try the Gruner Veltliner (Austria) and Zinfandel (California).
We “worked” our way through the menu on Tuesday and it was a pleasure from start to finish. I enjoyed my Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad, with orange, fennel and fresh as could be garden leaves (€8.00) while CL was more than pleased with her Smoked Mackerel Salad that came with Candied Beetroot, Rhubarb Chutney and Rye Croutons (€7.50).
We were tempted by the Spring Lamb Stew (€15.00). In the event, CL choose the Wild Atlantic Hake, with red peppers, fennel and Salsa Verde. The Hake was fresh, just out of the Atlantic, and the whole combination was light and appetising. Really superb.
She was very happy but I must say I was thrilled with my quiche. This was a rather special, almost melt in the mouth, quiche, described as Wild Nettle and Feta Quiche, with Parmesan, Mixed Garden Leaves and, yes, an outstanding homemade Tomato Chutney. I could go on about this but will simply recommended that you do try it if you get the chance. My mains cost €12.50 while the other was fifty cent less.
We had walked for over an hour in the Gap earlier and so felt we deserved dessert, one each this time! We got a generous slice of an Orange and Cranberry cake and another of Rhubarb Tart and two cups of Maher’s coffee to bring the curtain down on an excellent lunch in lovely surroundings.
Comfortable too and spacious and some nice touches, such as the elevated glass fronted fire (not in use on Wednesday!), the exposed stone on one section of wall and the sally saplings craftwork backlit feature that rises up the full height of its wall. This was crafted, the saplings still young enough to be pliable, by a local man and Ailish says it has already become quite a talking point.
Indeed, the Heather Restaurant, in a stunning location and with high quality cooking and presentation of the best of local produce, looks all set to become a talking point itself.