The one thing I was pleasantly surprised about, in regards to my perception of Ireland, was the food. I know that British food had a bad reputation, so I assumed that Irish food would be just as bad. I’d like to admit today that I was completely wrong. The food I had in Ireland actually ended up being the highlight of my trip! Before I give you insight on the Patricia-recommended Michelin star restaurants I dined at, I’d like to rave about the Irish breakfast. Most of the Irish hotels we stayed at had breakfast included, and I always opted to get the Irish breakfast; which consists of bacon (not like the American kind but more like a way better version of Canadian bacon), sausage, black or white pudding, eggs, cooked tomato (or a vegetable), and toast. It’s very meat and bread heavy, but I loved it. And speaking of bread, I fell in love with Irish soda bread (also known as brown bread). If you are either a carb fanatic or a lover of bran, this bread is definitely for you. I think I had 5-6 slices of that bread for every meal!
Now, let me start with the two hotels we stayed at while we were in Dublin. The first part of our stay in Dublin was at the Clarence Hotel, which was formerly owned by Bono and Edge of U2. But it had just changed ownership a few months before our arrival, so there were some unexpected changes to the hotel that happened due to the switch. Patricia had recommended having afternoon tea at its Tea Room Restaurant or Study Cafe, but those no longer existed when we visited. The Octagon Bar was still open, but it wasn’t as impressive as I would have imagined a rock star’s bar to be. It really was just a bar that had eight sides to it (as you can see in the picture). The room wasn’t anything to write home about either, but I did think the balcony area was a great place to have morning coffee while enjoying the views. Even after considering the buy-out, I think this hotel may have already been on its descent to being an average hotel. I really didn’t feel any urge to stay here again, and most likely will not. The hotel location was convenient to the Temple Bar district (where the pubs are) and right by the river. I didn’t extensively research and price out other hotels in the area, but I think this hotel is probably priced higher than other hotels in the neighborhood.
The Merrion Hotel, the second hotel we stayed at on our return back to Dublin, was a much swankier (and definitely more expensive $500+/night) hotel on the other side of Dublin. This hotel is a block away from the Natural History Museum of Ireland (which I totally recommend going to) and a short walk to the Book of Kells (another place I recommend visiting). As you would imagine at a posh establishment, the service and decor were great. The room we had was very spacious and the floor to ceiling marble bathroom was to die for. They even had a complimentary box of chocolate truffles waiting for us in our room. As I mentioned before, most Irish hotels have breakfast included in the hotel price. However, don’t forget that you don’t always have to eat breakfast at their restaurant. You can also utilize room service to bring breakfast to you without any additional charge. You don’t have to be afraid of room service charges and gratuity like you do in the U.S., cause it’s all included here. And because of that, we almost always partook in getting our breakfast delivered to our rooms. Plus, I think they give you more pastries through room service than when you’re actually sitting at the restaurant.
In addition to staying at this hotel, Patricia recommended attending their Sunday Art Tea. Art Tea at the Merrion is essentially an art-themed afternoon tea. And, on Sunday’s, there’s a harpist in the foyer playing music. Yes, its fancy. The afternoon tea session we had at the hotel was great timing on our part because our room was not ready for check-in when we arrived. So, this was a great way to relax but also pass the time while our room was getting ready. You should make OpenTable reservations prior to arrival like I did, because it seemed walk-in’s were not as welcomed. This afternoon tea is somewhat unique in that it is more art centric than usual. You are offered a nice Artist’s book of some of the art that is showcased throughout the hotel. You’ll have some of the staple items like jam, scones, and tea sandwiches; and you’ll also be given 3 pastries that were inspired by certain pieces of art (also shown in the Artist’s book). But I wasn’t blown away by the food. It actually tasted like any other tea service I’ve had in the past. I thought the pastry art was inspiring and original, but it seemed to be more of a gimmick in my view. There was more emphasis on aesthetics and less focus on taste. And it comes with a high price tag. So skip it if you weren’t impressed by the pictures.
Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, a two star Michelin restaurant, was also located on property at The Merrion. But it also happened to be on the List of things to do in Dublin. So, in essence, I was killing three birds with one stone by staying at The Merrion. Out of all the restaurants we had tried in Dublin, this obviously was the fanciest of them all. With two Michelin stars behind its moniker, how would I not think it would be the fanciest place we would be trying. We opted for the 3-course menu since it was our last night in Dublin and we wanted to go out with a bang. The dining room was pretty simple but elegant, and we were seated at a great spot where we were able to people watch others while dining. Our French waiter had very dry humor and I wasn’t really into it until closer to the end of our meal. You know how there’s a stereotype of French people being snooty? Well, this guy epitomized it. I was not amused at first, but just gave into it and decided to enjoy his sarcastic quips. My favorite dish, to no one’s surprise, was the apricot and honey tart dessert. I wish the ice cream scoop was much bigger, because I could have eaten a whole pint of it. Dixon’s favorite part of the meal was when they strolled out the truffle cart. We already noticed it happening at another table, and he started getting excited about it. The waiter would open the top cover to showcase a mound of truffles stacked on top of each other with chocolate shavings as the bedding. A couple seated at the table next to us requested to have several truffles more after they noticed the waiter had placed only one for each person on the table. When it came time for us to receive our truffles, I could tell Dixon wanted to ask for at least 5 pieces. But, in true polite fashion, he said nothing and settled for the one piece. Actually, remembering back, I think he ate mine before I even got a chance to pick it up.
Another fancy dinner we had in Dublin was at Chapter One Restaurant, a one star Michelin restaurant. It’s located right below the Dublin Writers Museum and across from the Garden of Remembrance. When you walk downstairs to the entrance, you’ll notice a lot of awards they received that have been framed onto the wall. And as I walked into a cavernous hallway, it kind of felt I was inside an Irish version of Alinea (in Chicago). The vibe of the restaurant felt very similar to what I had felt at Alinea, except it wasn’t as showy. There were only set menu’s listed at the restaurant, but I have a feeling you can order a la carte if you desired. One tip of avoiding the high costs of prix-fixe dinner menu’s is to try and do a lunch seating instead to help reduce costs. Unfortunately, due to our time constraint, we had to schedule out most of our expensive meals for dinner time. Plus, most of these Michelin starred restaurants only operate during dinner hours. However, on Fridays, Chapter One Restaurant does serve lunch. I thought every dish that came out was delicious and proportioned very well. At the end of the meal, I felt I had the perfect amount of food in my stomach. We started off with a light summer salad and frothy Irish onion and cheese soup, preceded by an amuse bouche. Then came the bread! I didn’t want to look too greedy with the bread, so I only stuck to 2 slices this go-around. For my second course, I went for the smoked salmon and crab cake. The smoked salmon, which I really enjoyed, was warmed up and accompanied by a fluffy crab cake. For my main course, I opted for the pork rib with mushroom tart. The mushroom tart was a bit overpowering and it was probably my least favorite item on the menu that I tried. And for dessert, I got the Irish strawberries with sorbet, mousse, and soda bread crunch. Then the petit fours to finish off the meal. It was all delicious!
Last up on the List was The Winding Stair restaurant. This was the only restaurant in Dublin that we dined at that didn’t have a Michelin star. First world problems. But it was actually this restaurant we dined at that I felt we received the most value out of a meal. The pricing, at the time of writing, was a 1 course meal with glass of house wine at 24.95 euros, 2 courses at 23.95 euros, and 3 courses at 28.95 euros. You can mix and match your courses to your own desire, whether it be an appetizer and dessert or entree and dessert. We opted for the 2-course entree and dessert, cause we knew dessert had to be one of the courses we picked. For my main entree, I got the pork belly. The portions were huge. Honestly, we could have probably shared this one dish. Or at the very least, three people could’ve been full after having the 2 entree’s we chose. And I found out that I’m not a fan of crispy Jerusalem artichoke, which it came with. The dessert I got, Jubilee strawberry crumble with vanilla ice cream, did not disappoint. You can’t really go wrong with a dessert like that. And Dixon got the chocolate and peanut tart with whipped cream, which I thought was just OK but he absolutely loved. But then again, he’s a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter desserts and I am not.
So, all in all, the food in Ireland has come a long way from its potato famine days. The country has had a bad reputation with food for quite some time and I’m happy to say that it no longer is the case.