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  • Writer's pictureKaryn Farrell

An Ode to Food: places I loved to eat in 2023

Updated: Jan 12



Happy new year to all my readers. As an end-of-year wrap-up, I’ve compiled an overview of all the cafés and restaurants in Ireland that brightened up my world in 2023. Some are casual, others more high-end, but the one thing they all have in common is a love of food, and a dedication to providing the best possible experience to their diners without fuss or pretensions. Apologies in advance for the Dublin-centric slant but as this is where I live and spend most of my time, it will feature a little more predominantly than other counties.


As the cost-of-living crisis pushes prices up across the board, we’ve all become a little more discerning when it comes to where we’ll spend our money. With price-points becoming increasingly blurred between fine-dining establishments and trendy-but-average hipster joints, it can be tricky to find real value for money and not walk away feeling unsatisfied and / or totally ripped off. With all that in mind, below are some of the places I deemed worthy of my hard-earned cash in 2023. I’ve purposely excluded my all-time favourites like BoCo, (best pizza), Grano and Il Vicoletto (best Italian), Ananda and Konkan (best Indian). These are the spots I return to again and again as they are consistently excellent. So here’s my lowdown of new(ish) discoveries and rediscoveries in 2023…


CARLOW:

Café Thyme, Carlow


2023 was the year I discovered the joys of Co. Carlow (full write-up here). While visiting the fantastic Delta Sensory Gardens, I popped into the lovely Café Thyme, their popular on-site café, serving up excellent coffee and cakes, as well as a wide-ranging breakfast and lunch menu focused on fresh, locally sourced produce. I arrived too late for lunch but can highly recommend their sweet treats.


Delta Sensory Gardens, Strawhall Industrial Estate, Strawhall, Carlow, R93 Y959

 

Altamont Garden café, Tullow, Co. Carlow

One of the nicest places to visit in Carlow is Altamont Gardens. After you’ve walked the loop of the grounds, make sure to stop off at the lovely Altamont Garden café, serving up good coffee and some tasty home-baked treats. I'd highly recommend the cherry Bakewell. For colder days, take advantage of the covered-over seating area which comes equipped with cosy blankets. Or if you're feeling brave, wrap up and sit in the delightful garden terrace, its pathways lined with colourful blooms while a friendly fat robin hops from table to table, scavenging for crumbs. The manager informed me that he literally rules the roost and doesn't let other birds infringe on his territory. He gets away with it as he's super-cute.

Altamont Gardens, Tullow, Co. Carlow, R93 N882

 

DUBLIN:

 

Apetito, Terenure, Dublin 6

2023 got off to a good start with bubbles and tapas in Apetito, one of the most popular additions to this neighbourhood’s ever-growing food scene – an authentic taste of Spain in Dublin 6. Tucked away down a laneway behind Brady’s pub, the atmosphere is cosy and inviting with low lighting, stripped brick walls and lively Latin tunes playing in the background. Ask for one of the booths or high tables close to the bar to fully absorb the ambiance.

The food is excellent, some of the best tapas on offer in Dublin. Expect the usual favourites such as padrón peppers, patatas bravas, gambas (prawns) and albóndigas (meatballs), alongside other delights such as ham croquettes and deep-fried cod. Their standout dish is the Pollo Marbella, chicken and chorizo in a creamy sauce. Just to note – you won’t want to share this one. Order some of their delicious chargrilled toast to wipe the dish clean. The wine list is predominantly Spanish, as you would expect, with reasonably priced options by glass, carafe and bottle. I recommend the smooth and easy to drink Solaz Bio Tempranillo, a snip at €28 per bottle. Come for the food, stay for the buzzy atmosphere. One of our most frequented spots in 2023, and not just because it’s a twenty-minute walk from our house.


Apetito, 5-9 Terenure Pl, Terenure, Dublin 6W, Co. Dublin, D6W TX40

 


Avant, Terenure, Dublin 6

Another great addition to Terenure village. A café by day serving breakfast and lunch (brunch at weekends), it opens late Thursday to Saturday with an enticing dinner menu. Menus are seasonal combining a strong Mediterranean influence with an Irish twist. My go-to brunch dish is the Lambay Irish Crab Salad, a fresh and zingy combo of asparagus, avocado, mango, cucumber, greens and a basil dressing, topped with the finest melt-in-your-mouth crab. To counteract the healthy vibes, order a side of their Parmesan fries. Expect to spend more than your average café on lunch or brunch, but trust me, this is no ordinary café and it’s totally worth it. It all balances out in the evening as their dinner menu is very competitively priced.


Avant, 97 Terenure Rd E, Terenure, Dublin, D06 T3K4

 

Gigi’s, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

As an unashamedly enthusiastic Italophile, I’m very fussy about Italian food. Some of the best meals of my life have been eaten in Italy, simple and unfussy with the best ingredients, so I’m always wary of places offering what they claim to be ‘authentic Italian food’. Yet here, in the heart of Ranelagh, we find a little gem of a place. A family-run restaurant, it offers an inviting selection of traditional dishes using high quality ingredients which shine through in every dish.

For antipasti, we love the Burrata and Arancini dishes. My go-to main is the exceptional Tagliatelle Rococó with King tiger prawns, chili and white wine, bisque, cherry tomato and samphire. You’ll have to restrain yourself from licking the bowl. A marker of a good Italian for us is how they fare with the simple traditional pasta dishes. I’m happy to report that their Penne al Arrabiata was pretty much perfect (I don’t say this lightly). All dishes are beautifully presented and served with a smile.

The atmosphere is youthful and buzzy with friendly staff, and though it’s a little pricier than your average Italian, it’s worth it. Their predominantly wine list is also excellent and good value for money. We were very happy to see a Bardolino making the cut at an affordable €32 per bottle.


Gigi’s, 53 Ranelagh, Dublin 6, D06 X3Y6

 

Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6

Saturday nights are best spent in our favourite cosy neighbourhood wine bar Green Man Wines. Just how we like to spend an evening - surrounded by delicious wine. We’ve been coming here since it opened many years ago and with their new food menu, it’s better than ever. Come for the cosy ambiance, stay for the conversations. Staff are warm & friendly (we love Bryce…) and always have a story to tell about the wines on offer. And as for the food. Oh my! Crispy light-as-air croquettes filled with Gubeen cheese, scotch egg, chargrilled leeks with whipped ricotta and hazelnuts, and trout rilette. Every bite was a delight. Monte da Cal, a Portuguese wine, is a stunner, and far too easy to drink.

 

Green Man Wines, 3 Terenure Rd N, Terenure, Dublin 6W, Co. Dublin, D6W PY04

 

 

Kinara Kitchen, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

 

Renowned as much for its hospitality as for its food, Kinara Kitchen offers a warm welcome and some seriously excellent Pakistani and eastern cuisine. For starters, order the tandoori lobster tail and the Tandoori Jhinga (jumbo prawns); for mains try the Palak Paneer (vegetarian), while meat lovers will be bowled over by the lamb chops. Make sure to order a side of Tarka Dal – you’ll want to drink it out of the bowl. The Naan bread is sensational.

 

The wine list has something for every price point but I’d highly recommend the Primitivo di Manduria (available by the bottle only) €36.50.

 

Kinara Kitchen, 17 Ranelagh Rd, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, D06 FP82

 

 

Lucky Duck, Dublin 2

In two bright, art-filled dining rooms above the Lucky Duck bar is one of the city's coolest concepts - Indian tapas. I love this idea - Indian food is amazing but I always want to sample a bit of everything. Here, you can do just that. Perfect for pairing with their innovative cocktails but they also have wine and beer. Worth noting - they can make any of the cocktails on the menu as a non-alcoholic version, or just tell them what you like and they'll make you up something unique - just for you. Staff are friendly and fun and everything on the menu is good. I heartily recommend the Babycorn Temp-kora and the Masala Fries (you may not want to share these though...) Food is excellent value for money too

The Lucky Duck, 43 Aungier St, Dublin 2, D02 E983

 

 

Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6

We were lucky enough to bag a table here for Christmas Eve lunch, our second visit in 2023. Described as a ‘casual neighbourhood restaurant’, the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, the food and service outstanding. This is everything I want in a restaurant – cosy and intimate with excellent attention to detail but entirely unfussy.


They make a mean cocktail to start, and their ingredients are top notch. My Kilmore Crab starter was light, fresh and oozing with flavour – a welcome respite from all the stodgy food consumed over the festive season. Martin’s short-rib lamb got a massive thumbs-up, while my gnocchi with oyster mushroom and Coolea mousse was another absolute winner.

Always worth pointing out – they offer refillable still and sparkling water for no additional cost. I really wish more restaurants would take their lead.

Orwell Road, 8 Orwell Rd, Dublin 6, D06 H2Y5

 

 

Richmond, Portobello, Dublin 2

Consistently one of the best restaurants in Dublin and one of our favourites. With a Michelin Bib Gourmand under its belt, this is fine dining without the hefty price tag. Classy and cool, the service is friendly, effortless and unintrusive, the atmosphere relaxed and unpretentious. As you would expect, the food is exceptional and seasonal produce is king. You know you’re onto a good thing when warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread rolls are brought to the table on arrival, with a pot of golden swirly butter.

The menu is short and concise, with innovative starters such as yellowfin tuna carpaccio. A sample vegetarian main course is celeriac & comte cheese pie, cep cream, crispy kale and truffle – no roast vegetables and goat’s cheese on offer here. And if you see this dessert on the menu - date pudding, toffee sauce, salted peanuts and gingerbread ice cream – don’t hesitate and just order it. It’s one of the greatest desserts of all time. Fact.

Their wine list is also excellent: carefully chosen and reasonably priced. Special shout-out to their staff who clearly have excellent taste in music – their playlists are eclectic and seriously cool. No annoying piped music here - expect to hear anything from Talking Heads to Radiohead, subtly playing in the background.


Richmond, 43 Richmond St S, Portobello, Dublin 2, D02 X499

 

Wild Goose Grill, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

A stylish modern bistro located above McSorley’s pub in Ranelagh village, this is special treat territory with the best of Irish ingredients served with an innovative twist. Seafood is king: starters include dishes like tuna sashimi, seared scallops and the delectable Kilkeel crab duo, while mains include more traditional offerings such as chargrilled halibut, rib-eye or fillet of beef and cote de boeuf. The colours are vibrant, and everything was beautifully presented - like a work of art.

Make sure to order some peppercorn sauce, no matter what you’re eating. I almost drank it out of the jug. Perfect for chip dunking. They weren’t even my chips, but real love is allowing another person to eat half of your dinner. Isn’t it?

Wild Goose Grill, 1 Sandford Rd, Ranelagh, Dublin 6, D06 E2H7

 

 

 

GALWAY


Cava Bodega, Galway city


This used to be my go-to restaurant in Galway city but I haven't been in years. I'm happy to report that it's still as good as ever. Popular with locals and tourists alike, it offers a broad range of regional tapas dishes made from locally sourced ingredients. As you’d expect, the seafood is particularly good, but the vegetarian options are also varied and excellent. Shout-out to the aubergine fritter with walnuts and honey – it’s mouth-wateringly good.

The Spanish wine list is extensive and interesting, with lots of good options by the glass as well as by the bottle.


Cava Bodega, 1 Middle St, Galway, H91 AF89


 

MEATH


Sheridans Meath Shop & Café, Co. Meath

Welcome to cheesy heaven! I made a pitstop here on a road trip to Leitrim. In addition to a beautiful shop with the most delectable goodies like Irish farmhouse cheeses and a huge variety of artisan foods, you’ll also find a fab little café. Serving tea, excellent coffee and sandwiches, they also have a fab range of homemade cakes. I recommend the apple, cinnamon and olive oil – sounds weird, tastes incredible.

Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and café, Old Virginia Road, Pottlereagh, Co. Meath, A82 PC42

 

 

WESTMEATH:


FINE:

One for the coffee lovers - the artistry of their baristas is a joy to behold. And it’s not just great coffee. The food is seriously good, and everything is made with love and attention to detail. From delicious veggie sausage sambos to Buddha Bowls; from Meatless Subs (unbelievably delicious) to all-day breakfast... - each dish is top notch and just a little bit extra. It also doubles as a deli with well-stocked shelves of delicious artisan food, and natural and bio wines.

 

Fridays are for fun… Opening late (until 10:30pm), FINE marks the weekend by turning into a wine bar, serving wine by the glass or bottle and cheese and charcuterie boards. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes wine tastings. On other evenings they run a book club. The vibe is always friendly and fun, and it’s fast becoming one of the most popular cafés in the midlands. With all this in mind, it's no surprise that this little spot on the main street in Athlone won two awards this year in the Leinster Regional Finals of the Irish Restaurant Awards 2023 - one for Best Café and one for Best Wine Experience. As the sign says: 'Coffee and Wine - what's not to love? I couldn’t agree more.

 

Keep an eye out for their daily Word of the Day, scribbled on a clipboard beside the till. My recent favourite: “Circumbendibus - an answer or argument so convoluted and evasive that it isn't really an answer at all".

 It’s worth noting that this little café is tiny with only a few tables and window seating. It gets very busy so time your visit carefully, outside peak lunchtime hours if possible. Walk ins are welcome at the wine bar but a reservation is recommended.  

 

FINE, 17 Church St, Athlone, Co. Westmeath, N37 H6Y7

 

 

Moran’s Gastro pub, Moate, Co. Westmeath


I was very happy to discover that my hometown of Moate has a fab new restaurant, and enjoyed a gorgeous meal there during the summer. Located at the The Gap House, a historic building dating back to 1710, it stands at the entrance to the town. New management and a creative chef has brought new life to the place, and his innovative menu takes traditional pub food to a new level. They also have a short but carefully chosen (and well-priced) wine list which ticks all the boxes.

 

They’re also open for breakfast & lunch at weekends, something that’s been missing in this town for a long time. I’d highly recommend it so check it out if you’re in the area. It’s only a short detour from the Old Rail Trail greenway. Booking is recommended.

 

Moran’s Gastro pub, The Gap House, Church St, Moate, Co. Westmeath

 

 

Savoury Fare, Athlone

 

This year I finally made it to Savoury Fare and I now understand why people rave about it. The café is secreted away at the back of the lovely Fernhill Garden Centre and gift shop It’s a little gem, offering up delicious homemade food in a gorgeous café surrounded by nature. Breakfast is freshly cooked to order, and the lunch menu is varied, including home-made soups, salads, sandwiches, rolls, wraps and paninis, in addition to a range of hot food options. And as for those cakes and desserts…. How could a person resist? All sweet treats are home-made by their in-house pastry chef and look absolutely delectable.

 

Savoury Fare, Fernhill Garden Centre, Ballymahon Rd, Cornanmagh, Athlone, Co. Westmeath


If you visit any of these places over the next twelve months, let me know what you thought. I'd also love some recommendations for new places to try in 2024 so please keep me posted xx

 

 

 

 

 


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