Crème de la crème: The top 30 of Lucinda O’Sullivan’s 100 Best Restaurants

Sunday Independent 3 April 2022

Trophies, fancy plating or hip credentials are not enough to earn a spot on my list, says Lucinda O’Sullivan, who, in curating her culinary champions, has considered all the ingredients needed for the very best dining experience

How do you allocate places on a 100 Best Restaurants list? It’s not easy, particularly when nowadays there are far more than 100 great places to choose from on our little island. Let me start by saying that every restaurant on the list is a cracker!

I was pondering on all of this when I was recently invited to visit Noma in Copenhagen — rated the No 1 Restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I’ve sat on most of the recognised judging panels in Ireland, as well as internationally, including The World’s 50 Best, and the UK’s Great Taste Awards, and I’ve learned one thing for sure: you’re never going to please everyone.

I don’t judge restaurants merely by the artwork on a plate, or whether or not they’ve won a rubber tyre award. I’m not particularly into sitting in overly precious, hushed rooms in silent worship, cooing over foraged fiddlehead ferns. For me, it has to be more than that, it’s the whole package — atmosphere, attitude, good food, service, and how they serve their customers and community through thick and thin — that warrants them a place on my 100 Best Restaurants list.

We have so many good restaurants all over the country nowadays. The competition between chefs is huge, which has benefitted the customers and, in many cases, there’s very little, if any, difference in quality between restaurants in their own genre.

I’m not easily seduced just by the latest hip or hot spots, and accordingly, my list also features many longstanding restaurants. Why? Because they’re fantastic at what they do, which is precisely why they’ve stood the test of time.

And so, without further ado, here are my selections for Ireland’s 100 Best Restaurants, followed by my top 10 in Northern Ireland.

I only wish I could have done 200!

1 Chapter One By Mickael Viljanen 

 The joining forces in the longstanding Chapter One on Parnell Square of Ross Lewis and Mickael Viljanen, with Viljanen taking over the stove, has proved to be a match made in heaven. Together they’ve conceived a sleek elegant restaurant reaching stratospheric heights on all fronts, garnering them two Michelin Stars this year. The precision and culinary vision of Viljanen delivers on a series of sensual flavours and artistry, each with its own composition of textures, colour, circles, rectangles, squares, foam, mousse, silky, cold, hot… But, what’s also wonderful is the relaxed formal feel and Dublin sense of humour as the waiter passing with the drinks trolley asked us, “duty free?”

Where else would you get it?

chapteronerestaurant.com

Mount Juliet Estate

Mount Juliet Estate

2 The Lady Helen

The exquisitely refined 1-Star Lady Helen room at the Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, is a joy. I’ve stayed at Mount Juliet many times down the years and remember occasions when Tiger Woods was quietly fishing from the River Nore, or the visit of the late Albert Roux to cook a special dinner featuring the Queen Mother’s favourite soufflé as the grand flourish. However, the cuisine nowadays is at a different level with, on my visit last month, John Kelly’s Tasting Menus delivering on tantalizing, ethereally elegant, contemporary dishes. Foie Gras had Franco Japanese influences with dashi, walnut, pear and treacle brioche; Turbot was with celeriac, lovage, pickled gooseberries and chicken jus; while Tipperary organic veal had asparagus, morels and wild garlic.

mountjuliet.ie

Dishes at Lignum. Photo: Lucinda O'Sullivan

Dishes at Lignum. Photo: Lucinda O’Sullivan

3 Lignum

Danny Africano built his stunning purpose-built Lignum restaurant on the grounds of his family home in the somewhat remote village of Bullaun, East Galway, known locally as ‘Loughrea 4’, due to the propensity of big houses in the area. I first reviewed it on its opening night in 2019, and we were blown away, to use the popular colloquialism.

A Damien Hirst style glass cabinet with hanging birds, lambs’ legs, and other victuals, is the first thing that hits you on, before you pass the big wood fired kitchen, leading into a big atmospheric airy room with bare wooden tables and exposed beams overlooking the gardens. The menu changes constantly but I particularly remember the raw seasoned shrimp in a hay-smoked bisque. Lignum has been a star in waiting.

lignum.ie

The chefs team at Cashel Palace Hotel

The chefs team at Cashel Palace Hotel

4 Cashel Palace Hotel

With the stunning backdrop of the Rock of Cashel, the setting couldn’t be any more dramatic for this exquisite Palladian Manor, once the Bishop’s Palace in the heart of Cashel town. Subsequently it operated as a hotel for many years but sadly closed in 2015. But hark, two years later, along came Coolmore Stud magnate John Magnier who, happily for all, ploughed in the necessary millions to revitalise and re-launch it. General Manager Adriaan Bartels and Executive Chef Stephen Hayes have been in situ for the past couple of years, overseeing and preparing for the big day, which came last month. Served in The Bishop’s Buttery, Hayes’ food is just about as classy as we’d anticipated in such a setting. Seared foie gras was with rhubarb, pain d’épices, Amaretto, pistachio, and Pedro Ximenez. Beef tartare with a cured egg – no not a curate’s egg – crispy shallot and pickled mushroom. Castletownbere crab was tweaked with caviar, while seared scallops had Lardo di Collonata, but oh the Black Sole Grenobloise with caper, lemon, brown shrimp and beurre noisette was simply sublime.

cashelpalacehotel.ie

Gaz Smith of Michael’s (Pic John Murray) (2)

Gaz Smith of Michael’s (Pic John Murray) (2)

5 Michael’s of Mount Merrion

No one could’ve imagined, when the gregarious chef Gareth ‘Gaz’ Smith rode up the roads of leafy Mount Merrion to take over a quiet inoffensive Italian style neighbourhood restaurant, that with enormous shellfish platters and endless Twitter banter, he would turn the place into the phenomenon it is today. Now famous for its fish and fun, a second restaurant ensued, plus a best-selling cookery book ‘And for mains’, and the indefatigable Gaz is now about to open a large restaurant and food store in the former Clodagh’s Kitchen in Blackrock Shopping Centre. Oh those lobster balls…

michaels.ie

Chef-proprietor Damien Grey of Liath. Picture by Frank McGrath

Chef-proprietor Damien Grey of Liath. Picture by Frank McGrath

6 Liath

Damien Grey’s superb Liath at the Blackrock Market has been elevated to 2 Michelin stars this year, to further add to its glister. This bijou restaurant is where showman Grey conducts the long narrow room from his raised hi-tech sleek bed-sit size kitchen where you don’t have room to swing a cat but miracles somehow arrive on the table. I challenge you to go to Liath and not come out mesmerised and in high spirits. Think maybe charcoal dumplings, year old dried ceps with ginger, chilli and walnut jus over which is poured mushroom tea, or ‘catsup’ as they used call it when I was a kid.

liathrestaurant.com

Mohamed Ouchbakou, Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle

Mohamed Ouchbakou, Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle

7 George V at Ashford Castle

On the lifting of Covid restrictions, Ashford Castle tweeted rapturous diners in its George V diningroom celebrating the by vigorously waving white napkins to the rousing strains of Verdi’s Drinking Song from La Traviata. It was such perfectly fin de siècle exuberance in this glorious room beneath oceans of crystal chandeliers, where crowned heads have sat, including the eponymous George V in his day. The wonderful Robert Bowe and Martin Gibbons command the room with aplomb, while Executive Chef Philippe Farineau, whose motto is French heart-Irish produce, and Head Chef Barry Lynch, deliver Dooncastle oysters, scallops, mushroom agnolotti, and Achill black faced lamb in a classic French style.

ashfordcastle.com

 

DAX restaurant on Dublin's Pembroke Street. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

DAX restaurant on Dublin’s Pembroke Street. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

 

8 Dax

Named for his home town in South West France, Olivier Meissonave’s Dax Restaurant in a Georgian basement on Upper Pembroke Street is a mecca for Francophiles. The Head Chef is the superb Graham Neville who has been awarded Best Chef in Ireland and indeed Best Chef in Dublin. It should have had at least 1 Michelin star years ago. Think of warm foie gras with preserved and fresh citrus fruits with spiced bread plus a fine wine list that will have oenophiles in tears of joy.

dax.ie

Stephane Robin, manager at Patrick Guilbaud. Pic: Mark Condren

Stephane Robin, manager at Patrick Guilbaud. Pic: Mark Condren

9 Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud

With a Breton Cognac background, Patrick Guilbaud was enticed to Ireland by businessman Barton Kilcoyne to open his restaurant in 1981. It was initially just off Baggot Street, before moving to the Merrion Hotel where it has held 2 Michelin Stars since 1996. It’s everything one expects of a luxurious well-oiled high-end restaurant; tastefully glamorous, with faultless food and service from the long-term team and partners Chef Guillaume Lebrun and Manager Stephane Robin.

restaurantpatrickguilbaud.ie

Chef Jordan Bailey of Aimsir and his wife, general manager Majken Bech-Bailey. Picture by Fran Veale

Chef Jordan Bailey of Aimsir and his wife, general manager Majken Bech-Bailey. Picture by Fran Veale

10 Aimsir

When I reviewed Aimsir in the Village at Lyons in 2019, the knockout 18-course Tasting Menu was €105 and came with a seamless performance worthy of Marcel Marceau’s mime artists, with each supporting player, tweezers in hand, moving silently in sequence and harmony, as Jordan Bailey conducted proceedings. I advised people to get there fast before the stars arrived and the prices trebled. Well, 2 stars arrived tout suite, and luckily the prices have only doubled. So, before the third star….

aimsir.ie

11 Volpe Nera

Barry Sun Jian is an extraordinarily talented Chinese chef who arrived in Ireland 20 years ago aged 19 to improve his English. He took part-time restaurant work and a talent was born. He progressed from being kitchen porter in Dylan McGrath’s former Mint restaurant to the kitchens of Patrick Guilbaud’s and L’Ecrivain, going on to become head chef in Etto which saw him winning RAI chef of the year 2018. He opened Volpe Nera in Blackrock just before Covid, where his inspirational Italian style food has wowed everyone since. From Brandy Bay oysters to veal carpaccio, cipollini onions, anchovy and Pecorino. Altogether stunning.

volpenera.ie

Rasam Restaurant, Gasthule, Dublin. . Arthur Carron

Rasam Restaurant, Gasthule, Dublin. . Arthur Carron

12 Rasam

Nisheeeth Tak was at the forefront of the lighter modern Indian food revolution here some twenty years ago and he’s still ahead of the posse. You won’t get better Indian food or service in Mumbai’s famous Taj Hotel – where Nisheeth once worked – and where everyone from Jacqueline Kennedy to the Prince of Wales to Hilary Clinton has stayed. Nisheeth has created a wonderful vibe and atmosphere in Rasam with nothing ever being too much trouble. No wonder it’s the favourite restaurant of personalities such as Chris de Burgh, Pat Kenny, Miriam O’Callaghan, countless actors, journalists, sports stars, and Government Ministers. Even Nigella Lawson gave it the thumbs up. I’m a sucker for the haldi jhinga – jumbo prawns marinated mint, turmeric and chilli and cooked in the tandoor oven.

rasam.ie

Neven Maguire of MacNean House

Neven Maguire of MacNean House

13 Macnean House

Neven Maguire is perhaps our best loved chef, never off our TV screens, entertaining and educating us with his travels. With considerable vision he developed the family business creating a superb destination restaurant and stylish guesthouse in the small village in Blacklion, North Cavan. It always reminds me of being in the Dordogne, and should have had a Michelin Star years ago. Sadly, Michelin never travelled widely in Ireland and certainly don’t seem to have found the North West. The superb Tasting Menu includes dishes such as seared scallops, shellfish tortellini, pak choi & Thai broth.

nevenmaguire.com

14 Osteria Lucio

Having stepped back from the kitchen at Chapter One, Ross Lewis’s hands-on involvement with his second restaurant, Osteria Lucio, under the Malting Tower and bridge at Grand Canal Quay, has seen it become one of the best restaurants in Dublin, nay, the country. Lewis has long had a love affair with Italy and this is top-notch Italian fare in a sophisticated setting with a buzzy atmosphere attracting all the high fliers and glamour brigade. Try the gambero al forno bathed in spiced garlic butter and crostini with ‘Nduja. See and be seen at Osteria Lucio, it’s hot hot hot.

osterialucio.com

Chef Antonio Cavaliere of Rinuccini;

Chef Antonio Cavaliere of Rinuccini;

15 Rinuccini

In a wonderful Georgian house in the shadows of Kilkenny Castle, for over thirty years the Cavaliere family have been delivering exquisite high-end Italian food in an atmosphere that almost has you believing you’ve discovered somewhere special in Rome. Chef Antonio’s ravioli is as fine as silk, his fresh Kilmore Quay Black Sole on the bone grilled to that nano second of perfection and finished with white wine, lemon, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh parsley.

rinuccini.com

Campagne. Picture Dylan Vaughan.

Campagne. Picture Dylan Vaughan.

16 Campagne

Foie gras ‘crème caramel’ with fig chutney, caramelized walnuts and golden raisins is just one of the stalwarts of Garrett Byrne’s French-inspired Kilkenny kitchen that will leave you drooling. The atmosphere is sophisticated, professional and welcoming, and Byrne has never been pretentious about his Michelin star. Worth the detour as they say. Do ask to see the Speedos.

campagne.ie

Ahmet Dede of the Customs House Baltimore. Picture by Claire Keogh

Ahmet Dede of the Customs House Baltimore. Picture by Claire Keogh

17 Dede

Turkish chef Ahmet Dede only discovered his true culinary heart when he came to Ireland. Following his calling and developing this talent, he worked at the likes of Chapter One, Patrick Guilbaud’s, The Greenhouse and Maaemo in Norway, before moving to the former Mews restaurant in Baltimore, which won a Michelin star during his tenure. That may have closed, but Dede has gone from strength to strength with his eponymous restaurant at The Customs House, which now has a Michelin Star of its own, and where it’s all about cooking fantastic local produce in a way that combines his Turkish heritage with contemporary Irish cuisine. His Tasting Menu changes but think along the lines of barbecued langoustine, fermented butter milk crumpet, crème fraiche, langoustine emulsion with sorrel & Isot pepper.

customshousebaltimore.com

Peter Everett of Everett’s.

Peter Everett of Everett’s.

18 Everett’s

When Peter Everett returned to his native Waterford in 2018 to open his bijou restaurant in the historic former Wine Vaults, he hit the ground running, raising the culinary bar in the crystal county. Everett had spent many years in Dublin working in Chapter One and subsequently at Restaurant Forty One with Graham Neville in the former Residence on St. Stephen’s Green. His food is faultless and extraordinarily good value. Think ethereal Castletownbere crab with fennel, cucumber and grapefruit. This year Michelin found this gem and awarded a Bib Gourmand.

everetts.ie

19 Beaches at Kelly’s Hotel

The main restaurant of Kelly’s Hotel at Rosslare Strand is quite extraordinary. Adorned with wonderful paintings by Irish artists from Kelly’s renowned art collection, Beaches is always dressed in its best attire of white napery and gleaming flatware, with exemplary friendly service by their amazing staff. Recurring generations of visiting families are always made feel special by Bill Kelly and his daughter Laura, who like Bill’s father before him, visit each table every night, and again at breakfast. The kitchen under Executive Chef Eugene Callaghan is always spot on, from their foie gras & duck terrine with toasted brioche & orchard relish to their Kilmore seafood platter, to baked halibut with Jerusalem artichoke, pea & smoked bacon broth. Bill’s wife Isabelle is French and wines are imported directly from her family’s vineyard offering terrific value and an immense variety.

kellys.ie

20 Chestnut

I remember battling my way through Storm Callum in October 2018 to visit Rob Krawczyk and Elaine Fleming’s then new restaurant in Ballydehob in what had been a cute little old pub. It was an exquisite experience of foraged and local foods superbly executed in an unpretentious fashion in a delightfully intimate setting. Now 1-Star Michelin, Krawczyk has a penchant for creating charcuterie, an art he learned at an early age from his father. The formula is still a multiple course, no choice, Tasting Menu.

restaurantchestnutwestcork.ie

Staff at Library Street

Staff at Library Street

21 Library Street

About as hot is at gets right now, Kevin Burke came to the fore when he opened Library Street in what had been the former Allta off South Frederick Street, where he had been in the kitchen ab initio. It’s a room he loves, having got engaged and married there as well. Backed by the Singapore-based investors Stanley Quek and Peng Loh, who also own Sheen Falls, Castlemartyr Resort and Trinity Townhouse, Burke and his fine culinary touch are really going places. Think chargrilled porcupine bank langoustines, roast saddle of lamb, kalamata olive and Jerusalem artichoke. Another Michelin gaff this year, they should’ve dropped off 1 Star here.

librarystreet.ie

22 The Oak Room Adare Manor

The former home of the Earls of Dunraven trotted along for many years as a manor style hotel until local billionaire and horsey honcho JP McManus transformed it into a world class destination worthy of the super-rich. To do that, he needed a top-notch restaurant and, happily no one was put out to grass, for in 2019 chef Michael Tweedie at The Oak Room brought home a 1-Star Michelin winner. With two Tasting Menus available, think Oscietra caviar, duck liver with Sauternes, turbot with Champagne sauce.

adaremanor.com

Peploe’s owner Barry Canny. Picture by Kyran O’Brien.

Peploe’s owner Barry Canny. Picture by Kyran O’Brien.

23 Peploe’s

Barry Canny’s plush bistro at the heart of Dublin’s ‘Golden Mile’ on St. Stephen’s Green, is a tour de force of excellent French style food, comfort and great wines. It’s classy and it’s timeless. Take a look at the guest book of the iconic Jammet’s Restaurant of yore on display, featuring many famous names – Peploe’s own guest book is probably every bit as prolific by now. Their all-day menu features Scampi of Dublin Bay Prawns with tartare sauce, mango and chilli relish, while fillet of JJ Young’s beef is paired with spiced aubergine puree, croquette of braised beef, pomme rosti, red pepper & black olive split jus.

peploes.com

24 China Sichuan

Opened by Kevin Hui’s parents, the China Sichuan celebrated 50 years in business last year. Smart, sophisticated, serving exquisite high level fine dining cuisine and attracting a regular clientele that includes captains of industry and rock stars alike, the China Sichuan is without question not only the best Chinese Restaurant in Ireland but one of the best restaurants here full-stop. The golden fried soft shell crab is divine, as is the steamed whole black sole with ginger and scallion, not to mention the fresh Irish lobster with ginger & scallion.

china-sichuan.ie

25 Suesey Street

Long before Covid hit and outdoor dining became de rigueur, the stylishly plush Suesey Street already had the best terrace in Dublin. A hidden gem in the Georgian Quarter,s and with the irrepressible TV host John Healy leading the team as GM, it’s always buzzy and always has fantastic food too. Think seared foie gras with pear, almonds, and toasted brioche, or soup de poisons aux fruit de mer, while cote de boeuf to share might have mushroom cassolette, fries and peppercorn sauce.

sueseystreet.ie

26 Mikey Ryan’s

Hitting the ground running on Cashel’s main street in 2017 after a major refurbishment, this historic 19thC pub now boasts a light-filled dining extension and large terraced walled garden. Owned by John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, and the recently opened Cashel Palace, the food is chic contemporary casual in a sophisticated setting. Have a drink in the horsebox and follow up with pan-fried Atlantic halibut, caramelized onion puree, wild mushrooms, Puy lentils & Beurre rouge.

mikeyryans.ie

Adridge Lodge

Adridge Lodge

27 Aldridge Lodge

Don’t think of rocking up to Billy Whitty and Joanne Harding’s delightful Aldridge Lodge on a whim because this place is so good it gets booked out months ahead and reservations are essential. But, don’t let that deter you. Set in the picturesque village of Duncannon, Co. Wexford, making the effort in advance will be well worth your while. They also have three bedrooms. Billy’s dad is a lobster fisherman so a nod’s as good as a wink…. Think too of dry aged striploin steak with field mushroom, truffle, whiskey black peppercorn.

alridgelodge.com

Potager Restaurant Skerries. Picture by Kyran O'Brien

Potager Restaurant Skerries. Picture by Kyran O’Brien

28 Potager

Terry McCoy’s longstanding Red Bank Restaurant in Skerries was taken over by Cathal Leonard in 2019 and became Potager. Leonard came with a good pedigree having been a former Chapter One Head Chef and, with a fresh eye, he created a cool modern and quite serene space. His food is faultless, light and perfectly judged, and he has a wonderful eye for colour and presentation. His set multi-course Dinner Menu will include perhaps crab with tapioca, dill and lemon, while guinea fowl might be with parsley root and sprouts. Don’t miss out on the extra petit fours. 

potager.ie

glenlo abbey pullman train

glenlo abbey pullman train

29 Pullman at Glenlo Abbey

Set in two exquisite historic Orient Express dining carriages, one of which was used in the movie of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, you might not leave the grounds of Galway’s 5-Star Glenlo Abbey, but it’s still the most unique and romantic dining journey ever. Think scallops with Goatsbridge roe, pancetta, wood sorrel, cauliflower Inishmore. I’ve taken the ‘journey’ twice and can’t wait to go back again.

glenloabbeyhotel.ie

30 White Horses Ardmore

Seafood, sunshine, and sand are what most people want in the summer. Ardmore, Co. Waterford, being one of the most beautiful seaside villages in Ireland, has it all. Here, White Horses, with its very cool cross between Cannes and the Hamptons vibe, serves simply the best Dublin Bay prawns in garlic butter, lobster salads, sizeable sole on the bone, succulent steaks for the carnivore, and their famous desserts which have even famous men mesmerized. “A little of each, Sir”. Glorious al fresco dining too in the garden.

 
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