Showing posts with label Donegal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donegal. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Best Steaks & 3 Best non-Cork Restaurants 2016

Best Steaks 2016

Aubrac Steak at The Harbour Donegal Town

Macroom buffalo steaks from Eoin O'Mahony English Market

Irish Piedmontese Beef from their stall at Cork Summer Show

Three Best Restaurants Outside of Cork 2016

I've dined around the country this year, including Donegal, Limerick, Kerry, Meath, Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Louth, Galway, Mayo and so on and these, in no particular order, are the three non Cork restaurants that I enjoyed the most.
I'll be on the road again in 2017. Any tips?

Cistín Eile - Wexford
La Boheme

La Boheme - Waterford
Turbot at The Mews

The Mews - Kenmare

Monday, August 29, 2016

Food Festival and Amazing Cliffs. Donegal Day 1

Food Festival and Amazing Cliffs
Donegal Day 1
The cliffs
Early last Friday - well, about 8.00am,- we leave Cork on a five hour spin to Donegal, an uncertain forecast on the horizon. The trip, via Gort and Tuam, goes well and we land in Donegal at 1.00pm, on schedule. Just touchdown though as the weather is pretty good and we decide to continue to Slieve League, the highest cliffs in Ireland and less than an hour west of Donegal.

Soon, we pass the famous fishing town of Killybegs and close in on the cliffs. A cup of coffee and a scone at the Tí Linn Café boosted us as we headed for the cliffs. You come to a car park and, if you can walk at all, leave the car here and enjoy the walk up and down (timed it down at 25 minutes).
Higher & higher. Many walks near the cliffs.
If time is short or the legs aren't what they used to be, open the gate at the end of the car park (it opens down the slope towards you), drive through and close the gate and drive carefully (road is comfortably wide enough) to the viewing point. Plenty of room to park up there.

The viewpoint itself is at quite a height, so much so that you don't really hear the waves crashing in below. The cliffs, part of Slieve League mountain sweeping down into the Atlantic, are, at 609m (1,998 feet), nearly three times as high as those at Moher. They are the highest in Ireland and, according to Wikipedia, among the highest three in Europe. Spectacular.

Painting of wall
of a Killbegs cafe.
 There are many walks in the area. And I was told time and time again that the best way to see the cliffs is by boat and that can arranged locally, as can a local guide for some of the walks.

After the exhilaration of the fantastic cliffs, we drove back to Donegal town, stopping to check out the huge fishing trawlers in Killybegs, the only place we got rained on during our stay but that heavy shower was over in a few minutes.

Checked in then to our gorgeous, if relatively expensive, accommodation at Ceol na Mara in Summerhill, about two miles from the centre of Donegal Town, quite a small town indeed but packed because of its famous annual festival, A Taste of Donegal.

We checked the festival website for parking areas and soon found one to suit us. Then it was off on foot to find our restaurant, The Harbour on Quay Street. It is an excellent restaurant, serving local food and craft beer. Highlight was perhaps their Aubrac Steak. By the way, The Harbour changed hands on Sunday, taken over by current chefs Patrick and Mary. Debbie and Jo, behind The Harbour for the past 15 years, are moving this week, with "the same food and the same crew", to a spanking new restaurant further up the street called Quay West.
Aran Islands Goats Cheese by Gabriel Flaherty is delicious!
 With our early dinner finished, we walked across to the busy Festival site. They had opened at four and, by seven, the place was abuzz, with top chefs demo-ing and crowds sampling the food from dozens and dozens of stalls. Fast food (Bad Boys BBQ were prominent - just follow the smoke!) at the start for those who hadn't been to the Harbour!

Some amazing displays in the stalls, including one from Eddie Walsh, the local butcher who supplies the Aubrac steaks to The Harbour. We enjoyed roasted marshmallows, Aran Island Goats Cheese, Roscommon Chocolate, and much more. Lots to drink too, beers and ciders (including a limited edition from Longmeadow that has been matured in oak barrels).

Flavoursome Aubrac Steak!
And we enjoyed a drop or two of Coole Swan and a chat with Kenny Maguire who had also dropped in and we also had a chat and a laugh with Melanie Harty, up all the way from Kerry with her spicy jellies! Couldn't get near the folks in Ballymaloe Relish, they were so busy.

Another familiar face, up by the demo marquee, (where he would do his stuff on Sunday morning) was chef Zack Gallagher, well known to most of you as the Irish Food Guide on Twitter. He introduced us to Brian McDermott (The No Salt Chef) and Kevin Dundon, all enjoying their busman's holiday.
Bad Boys
 The local hotels were out in force as well with competitions and samples to beat the band. Perhaps the most impressive sample came from the nearby Harvey’s Point, a pancake with a most delicious apple and cinnamon filling.

The darkness, not long fallen, was banished for a while with a spectacular firework display over the tented festival village and the harbour alongside. Time for us then to head back to Ceol na Mara and get ready for the second day of this friendly festival.

See also:

Castle, Crafts and Super Food. A Taste of Donegal Day 2

Eddie Walsh butchers

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dine by the Water!

Dine by the Water
Superb food and superb views
Ostan Gweedore at Bunbeg, Donegal
I’ve been very lucky this past few months to have dined in some well placed restaurants, restaurants from Cork to Donegal that have a dining room with a view over water. Sometimes over a river, maybe over an estuary, and then sometimes over the ocean. I was lucky too to have brilliant weather in most of the places.

Let me start with river views. One of the best is from the newly opened Fish Bar inElectric. From the first floor of the South Mall building, you have fine views of the southern channel of Lee to the west and to the east. But have you been to Indigo Brasserie on Washington Street? Here too you have a fine view of a bend in the same river. 

Bunnyconnellan's Myrtilville (Cork)

And another excellent river view is to be found at the Market Kitchen restaurant, above the Murphy Brothers bar in Ballina. It wasn't quite warm enough to dine outside on the balcony but the Moy looked very well from the inside.

Time to move on now, nearer to the ocean, to the bays and estuaries and places such as the Rising Tide and Marlogue Inn in East Cork and further east you have the WalterRaleigh Hotel. You have no shortage in Cobh where you’ll find The Quays and The Titanic Bar. The Boathouse at Dromquinna, near Kenmare, is also well situated, right on the northern flank of the bay.
The Boathouse, Kenmare Bay

No shortage of seaside restaurants in Donegal. One of the best is the Seaview Tavern in Malin Head village but the view to the sea is somewhat interrupted by the cars parking across the road. No such problems at the Rosapenna Golf Hotel, whose dining room overlooks Sheephaven Bay and the beach at Downies. Further west along the same bay, the bar at the Cove at Portnablagh, another top restaurant, overlooks a different part of the same bay.

Back to Cork and to Baltimore and Le Jolie Brise where I’ve sometime enjoyed a dish of mussels as the day drew to a close with the island of Sherkin out in front. Locally, perhaps the best ocean view is that enjoyed from your table in Bunnyconnellan’s, a very pleasant view and very enjoyable food here. Hard to top that. One view that comes close, maybe level, maybe even better, is from the restaurant of Ostan Gweedore where there is the most fantastic view over the beaches and the waters of the Atlantic.
Rosapenna Hotel, Downies (Donegal)
Views are pleasing but you need good food too,
like this platter at the Seaview Tavern in Malin.

Have you a personal favourite view over water while dining? If you'd like to share, please use the Comment facility below.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Farewell to the Donegal den

Very comfortable window seat, with a view!
Farewell to the Donegal den
The cottage is the middle of the three buildings.
Horn Head is to the left.

For the past week we have stayed in a “charming and romantic cottage that has been tastefully restored and updated over the years as a comfortable and cosy home. The kitchen is a spacious, light-filled room, with an Aga, lots of natural wood, and a south-facing window seat, where you can sit and look out at the scenery, read, or relax in the sun”.

We were lucky with the sun in Donegal and that helped us see the county, especially its northern regions, at its best, but it was lashing rain when we left Baile an tSléibhe and drove down to Downies for the last time. Yet when we reached Donegal Town the sun was trying to break through and it was blue skies as we passed Bundoran.

The cottage is at the end of the road and not even a tarred road at that. It has great views out over Sheephaven Bay and Horn Head. Not easy to reach but the views coming down each sunny morning were stunning.

Then you had the birds coming to the feeders every day, all day: sparrows, robins, even the odd magpie, but most of all the greenfinches (never saw so many of them together). The cottage has a lot going for it, the helpful owner, the AGA, the box bed and the four poster and so on. The only thing that wasn’t great was the bathroom – very very small. A six foot 14 stoner would find it impossible methinks!

In fairness, the location is not really that remote. Downies, just a few minutes away, has two hotels and golf courses and more while there is a hotel and a cafe in nearby Carrigart.

Dining out in Donegal is excellent but, this time of the year, book ahead, as quite a few restaurants are open only at weekends. The likes of La Fantasia in Letterkenny, The Cove in Dunfanaghy and the Olde Glen in Glen would give the best Cork restaurants a run for their money. And the people are very friendly, much the same as ourselves, as one hotel receptionist in Downies said to us. You’ll be at home in the hills of Donegal. And in its glorious peninsulas. We certainly were and will be back.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Feed the birds and tales of wealth at the castle!

Feed the birds and tales of wealth at the castle!
Donegal. Day 4.
Finch feeding frenzy
“I ask of you two^ things...Please feed the birds. They will probably bully you until you do anyway...It’s in the yellow tins to the right of the Aga.”

Normally when you hire a property, you get a long list of dos and don’ts. But our lady had a very short list. And that first request was easy to comply with, especially since we feed our bunch at home in the city. Much the same mix of birds here with the notable addition of a posse of greenfinch.

The Aga too comes in handy, especially today after the weather changed. A bad morning followed by an okay afternoon and now the fog is in!

Still we had quite an excursion to Glenveagh National Park and Castle. The Park covers over 16000 hectares close to Letterkenny, a beautiful stark wilderness of rugged mountains and pristine lakes. Prices are very low, about half what you’d be paying in the continent for a comparable attraction.

There is an office close to the entrance and here you pay three euro for a shuttle bus to take you the four kilometres to the castle where the entrance fee is a fiver. It is a guided tour and our genial host was Vincent.

There were about six or seven tour buses parked there so the shuttles were busy. Don’t know how the midges arrived but there were zillions of the pesky feckers and I reckon there were people scratching in public that never scratched in public before.

The estate of Glenveagh was created in 1857-9 by the purchase of several smaller holdings by John George Adair, a wealthy land speculator. Adair was to later incur infamy throughout Donegal and Ireland by ruthlessly evicting some 244 tenants in the Derryveagh Evictions of 1861, the “sad side” of the story according to Vincent.

There were better times under its most recent private owner Mr Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia who bought the estate in 1937. Henry McIlhenny was an Irish American whose grandfather John McIlhenny grew up in Milford a few miles north of Glenveagh. After buying the estate McIlhenny devoted much time to restoring the castle and developing its gardens.

Eventually McIlhenny began to find travelling to and from Ireland too demanding and the upkeep of the estate was also becoming a strain. In 1975 he agreed the sale of the estate to the Office of Public Works allowing for the creation of a National Park. In 1983 he bestowed the castle to the nation along with its gardens and much of the contents.

Glenveagh National Park opened to the public in 1984 while the castle opened in 1986. The Castle  is a super visit, all the more so if you have Vincent to guide you. He will tell all about the famous people who were wined and dined here and, among so much more, will point out the decanter that McIlhenny received as a present in the 1950s, a decanter that holds no less than eight bottles of whiskey!

There is much to see and do here in the park, including many walks. After viewing the castle gardens, including the walled one, and also the lakeside swimming pool (alas no longer heated as it was in the good days), we confined ourselves to just one walk and that was about four kilometres back to the entrance. To find out more about the walks, the gardens, the many events, please check out the park’s website.

There is a tea rooms at the castle and a brilliant restaurant at the entrance. We popped in there after our walk and had a terrific choice and enjoyed great service as well. The circular place is really bright and spacious and has a shop alongside. I absolutely enjoyed my Chicken curry with rice but was surprised that my bottled water, Prince’s Gate, came from Wales, not that I’ve anything against the Welsh, but would have thought a state run park would have had one of the many Irish waters, maybe even a Glenveagh water, for sale.
Swimming pool with a view!
Still time for another castle before returning to our hillside haven in the fog! This is under the office of public works and, called Castle Doe, is on the edge of Sheephaven Bay. Doe Castle is situated about one mile off the Carrigart-Creeslough road.

Built in the 16th century, this MacSuibhne castle is one of the better preserved in the north-west of Ireland. It was here that Owen Roe O'Neill returned in 1642 to lead the Irish Confederate Army during the Wars of the three kingdoms.

From history to trivia. Brian McFadden proposed to his (now ex-) wife, Kerry Katona at the castle in 2001.

^ The second thing was also pretty easy to comply with.
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Monday, June 10, 2013

Fabulous Fanad!

Fabulous Fanad!
Donegal. Day 3

Welcome to Fanad
The roads called again today, this time those of the fabulous Fanad peninsula.

But first let me tell you that we have had a spectacular drive down from our cottage on the hills above Downies every morning so far, the golden sands of Sheephaven Bay and the blue of the Atlantic waters filling the view. So there was no trace of temper at all today when we had to slow down as a farmer drove a half dozen cattle to a nearby field. Just relaxed and enjoy the view.
Some fine views too as we left Carrickart behind and drove over the Mulroy Bay Bridge, our entrance to the Fanad peninsula. Mulroy Bay is unexpectedly large and its waters accompany us for much of the journey towards Kindrum which has its own lake.

Soon we came across the first of the day’s spectacular bays, this a very long one called Ballyhiernan Bay where we were greeted by another bunch of cattle (see pic). Fanad Head was now within easy reach and it, with its lighthouse, looked so well in the morning sunshine.
Walk (under golf course)
to access Portsalon beach
But even better sights awaited as we drove down the east coast of Fanad. Stopped at Portsalon and reached the beach via a passage sunk into the golf course, the beach trekkers protected by an overhead net, the golfers facilitated by little bridges overhead.

The beach is huge but we didn’t realise how big it is nor how beautiful the beach (and Ballymastocker Bay) is until we reached the heights of Saldanha Head. Took our breath away, the camera going click, click, click! 
Fantastic beach at Portsalon
Not so nice though for the British frigate after which the head is named as it was lost here in 1811. There were no survivors out of the estimated 253 aboard, and some 200 bodies were washed up on shore.

Called then to Rathmullan (from where the ferry crosses Lough Swilly to Buncrana) and then Ramelton. Up then to Milford and the listed St Peter’s Church, with its separate bell tower. The church was built as recently as 1961.
Old docks at Ramelton
Almost got into a panic about dinner as we realised how many of the local restaurants were closed on Mondays, indeed quite a few opening only Fri-Sun at this time of year. But, the Rosapenna Golf Hotel, perhaps the closest to us, came to the rescue.
St Peter's Church (1961) at Milford, a listed building
Sipped an aperitif in the bar as we waited. All the pictures and most of the conversation, aside from some political, currency and culinary strands, were golf orientated in the very pleasant surroundings. The restaurant, with a stunning view, over the local beach, was equally luxurious, the service Donegal soft and Donegal friendly.
Caviar Muscovite 
And the food was excellent. Starters of Caviar Muscovite and Orange Segments in Kirsch got us underway. The mains, served with lots of vegetables, were also excellent. CL was delighted with her Escalope of Veal Viennoise while my Grilled fillets of Hake with a sun-dried tomato and basil dressing was also top notch. Add in tea or coffee in the lounge and the lot, with two glasses of wine and an included 12.5% service charge, came to €79.87. Not a bad end to another brilliant day. Drops of rain now but fingers crossed for tomorrow!
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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The ring of Malin. Of forts and crabs and a chef that fed Mrs Thatcher!

The ring of Malin. Of forts and crabs, 
and a chef that fed Mrs Thatcher!

Donegal Diary - Day 2
Quite often on holidays, I've been lucky with the weather. Today, I was privileged. The weather gods were at their collective kindest as I did the circle of the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula in the North East of Donegal.
Fish too played a major role today. Firstly at the SeaviewTavern  in Malin Head, the tavern found only because we took a wrong turn. 

Here the Head Chef was none other than Roland Heuston. During the Thatcher reign, Roland spent five years at the head of the House of Commons chefs and House of Commons chefs and later played a similar key role in Stormont. Must say his platter of local seafood (see pic) was divine as was the starter of Crab Bisque (€4.50)
The Seaview platter!
Proprietor Michael had time for a chat with all his lunchtime tables and he called twice to us. The food was class and so too were the staff in this excellent restaurant, well equipped inside, even if it has a corrugated roof.

Crab was also the final meal of the day as our hostess at our cottage had too much for her own needs and handed us a pot of them - and the hammer to crack them open. A bottle of Campo Viejo Reserva (2007) was put to good use as we tucked into the claws while sitting on a long stone seat facing the sun.
Mamore Gap
The sun had been with us also as we passed through beautiful Buncrana earlier in the day and then when we arrived at Fort Dunree that once guarded Lough Swilly against the French but is now  a military museum. Pity that it wasn't open until 1.00pm and quite a few customers were disappointed.

On the way to Malin Head, we passed through the spectacular Mamore Gap with great views out to the ocean. Strange offerings at a small collection of religious statues just below the pass, everything from socks to a toothbrush, even an Elvis Presley cigarette lighter. Don’t know the story there.
Malin drive
We had decided to do the Malin trip because of the possible change in the weather and we got some terrific views by following the Inishowen 100 signs. The head itself, with no facilities and the ugly remains of some old watch towers, wasn’t the greatest and we didn’t linger too long there. But the village below and its beaches, not to mention the Seaview, were fantastic.

Indeed, the lunch at the Seaview was the highlight of our trip down the eastern side, which overlooks Lough Foyle. Moville was another little town that we called to and here the people were making the best of the glorious weather, walking along the seaside paths and paddling in the pleasantly warm waters.

Grianan of Aileach
Soon we, almost without knowing it, ended up in Northern Ireland – the 40 mile per hour limit signs gave it away. But it was the briefest of moments and soon we were heading away from the Foyle Bridge towards Grianan of Aileach, our second fort of the day.

This was open. It is situated in a place called Burt, just off the Derry-Letterkenny Road. It is 800 feet above sea level and gives great views of the Foyle, Lough Swilly and the nearby countryside. It seems that there has been a fort on this site for about 1500 years but substantial restoration work was carried out in 1870. Today, the site is a National Monument and a tourist attraction and entrance is free.

Visit finished, we soon rejoined the main road and arrived in Downies an hour later to be surprised by the gift of crabs. Surprised and delighted. Another long day. Reckon tomorrow’s post could be much shorter – but you never know!
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Saturday, June 8, 2013

500 kilometres to Donegal haven!

Donegal Diary
Day 1
Three o’clock had been the target arrival time at our cottage in the hills above Downies in County Donegal. And, after close to five hundred kilometres, we met our hostess bang on time. 

There had been a few interesting stops in between, one at Drumcliffe Churchyard, just north of Sligo, the burial place of William Butler Yeats under the shadow of Ben Bulben. Cast a cold eye on death.... But here too is a lovely cafe serving sweet pastries and Bewley’s Coffee and they also sell quite a few high quality souvenirs.
On then to a tweet-up with chef Zac Gallagher at the Leghowney Community Centre, our first stop in Donegal, where he is part of the regular Country Market every Saturday. James McCuddy is a main driver in the movement here – he has a great admiration for the way the local food movement has developed in Cork and hopes Donegal can learn from it. We had quite a chat before heading off for Downies and our three o’clock appointment.
Bridge to Fanad
This cottage is not in the middle of nowhere. It is at the end of nowhere but comes equipped with fantastic window seats, a box bed by the fire and a four poster bed upstairs and loads of other innovative touches. But is has all the modern gear needed for a comfortable holiday including Wi-Fi. Even a welcoming bottle of wine!

Sheephaven Bay
But that is not all. Being high above Downies it has fantastic views over Sheephaven Bay –just waiting now for the sun to go down. Actually, just after we had settled in we were driving again, this time taking the trip around the Rosguill peninsula, the one to the west of Fanad. It is the one we are on, small but beautiful.
Back from the drive, it was time to eat. Had nothing all day except a gorgeous Almond slice at the Drumcliffe Tea Rooms and a very tasty Goat Cheese Tart from Zac

Window seat at cottage
Down in Downies, also known as Downings, the beach was packed, with people and cars, just like Redbarn in the good old days. Had a walk along there to add edge to the appetite and then strolled over to the local hotel, only to be told the restaurant was booked up until 8.30.
No good for a starving Corkman but the receptionist cheered us up by telling us they were doing bar food. The service was very friendly but rushed and a little hit and miss - understaffed! On the other hand, the food was rather good.

Cottage window
Started with a Warm Duck Salad and then tried the Sirloin Special. The meat was class, the mashed potato, well it was mashed potato. CK’s Salmon was one of the best she’d had and the Pak choi went well with it. She also had a mound of the mash.
A bottle of Valpolicella completed the picture and now we are ensconced in the cottage, supping the hostess’s Merlot and waiting for the sunset. To see it at its best we’ll probably have to stumble up the hill by the garden and no doubt stumble down again!