West Cork is undoubtedly the best place in Ireland to have one epic foodie experience: the region is home to two of the world’s newest Michelin starred restaurants (Mews, Baltimore and The Chestnut, Ballydehob); was voted Ireland’s No.1 Foodie Destination for 2017 by the Restaurant Association of Ireland and is home to Ireland’s largest food festival, A Taste of West Cork.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! West Cork is home to more artisan food producers than the rest of Ireland put together and more stunning views that you can shake a stick up – river deep, mountain high; ocean views, island living and rugged pastoral beauty. Add to this some genuine one-of-a-kind experiences of the non-foodie kind, (Mizen Head, Fastnet Rock or Dursey Island Cable Car), and pretty soon you realise that is going to be a real treat!
24 hours isn’t enough time to visit West Cork; there is simply so much on offer that creating a shortlist is a really hard task – but not an unpleasant one! Here is my very best effort at taking you by the hand on a whirlwind tour of the (some) of the best eats and drinks in Wonderful West Cork.Glebe Garden’s Café, Skibbereen
O’Neill’s Coffee Shop, SkibbereenO’Neill’s you get to sample them all, prepared by expert barista’s who really love their coffee served without a single note of pretentiousness. Stock up on great coffee and healthy handmade chocolates by The Hungry Crow.
The Coffee Shop, Union Hallcoffee shop has a loyal and dedicated local following for their excellent breakfast, brunch and lunch options including vegetarian and vegan too. Everything scratch made, fresh daily and with the warmest of service.
The Stuffed Olive, Bantry
Gourmet food from a food truck on the beach? It must be The Food Depot, the brainchild of power foodie duo Diana Dodog (Masterchef Ireland champion and author) and her husband Michael O’Donovan who is an exceptional barista. Literally, everything, right down to the dressings and sauces, are made from scratch daily with ingredients that often come from their organic veg patch. Mixing up great West Cork ingredients with a flair for Hungarian soul food, and you have some of the most exceptional food being prepared in West Cork served in a takeaway carton under the hatch.
EAT @ The Castle, Castletownshend, SkibbereenCastle Townshend. The view out over the bay is stunning, and chef Andy Illsley’s posh café food hits many nails on the head for quality, flavour, volume and price. On a sunny winter’s afternoon when it’s just still warm enough to sit outside, this is a must go place for Sunday lunch, or choose a cosy seat beside the fire inside. The perfect place to while away a few hours.
Toons Bridge Café, Toons Bridge
Jacob’s Bar, BaltimoreJacob’s Bar. Lobster, crab claws, oysters, clams, mussels, prawns – you name it, it’s all there along with a vat of house-made mayonnaise for dunking. Grab a pint of locally made West Cork Brewing Company beer and take in the famous view over Baltimore Bay and out towards some of West Cork’s most famous islands. Deasy’s, Clonakilty
Mews, BaltimoreMews was recently gilded with its first Michelin Star in October, and not without surprise. Ahmet Dede and his team are more like adventurers than chefs: the outdoors is their larder and they are influenced heavily by it as well as working with processes to deliver flavours and textures that mess with your mind and then make you fall in love with its beauty. The food here is joyful, a pure reflection of head chef Ahmet Dede and his hard-working team who do what they love and love what they do.
Restaurant Chestnut, BallydehobRestaurant Chestnut in sleepy Ballydehob. Rob’s food is all about great Irish produce, doing little to them to show them off to their best potential. Of course, that simplicity comes from a lifetime of experience cooking at the highest level. At the 18 seater restaurant on the site of a former pub, Rob serves up simply great attractive plates of food that are power packed with flavour. Signatures of fermented foods alongside charcuterie, of which his family’s name is synonymous with; fresh off the boat fish, grass-fed meats and locally grown vegetables delivered to his front door. I once described the interior of the restaurant as “puritanical glamour” by which I meant a tastefully stark simplicity. So follows the cuisine – it is a gem of a place. DeBarra’s, Clonakilty music bar in Ireland, and a firm local favourite. The cosy front bar can get pretty snug on a Saturday night, but push through to the back bar where things open up into a galleried stage that has seen everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Sharon Shannon to Des Bishop and the late Howard Marks tred its boards.
Levis’, BallydehobLevis’ Bar has experienced something of a renaissance since it was taken over by former Fred front man Joe O’Leary. It has become one of the most loved music venues in West Cork hosting intimate gigs with musicians acclaimed both internationally and nationally performing behind the original bar in front of a bewildering array of grocery items. Yes, you did read me right. It’s the kinda place where they ask you to “use the back door” when gigs are on, and all manner of musical whimsy takes place. It’s mad, Fred.
The Jolly Roger, Sherkin Island
The Tin Pub: it is rustic. It is also where the most random of things can happen; where a sedate darts match with locals can turn into the most audacious hen party in a mere moment and no-one even blinks an eye.
Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, Clonakilty
Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa. Situated over the gorgeous blue flag Inchydoney Beach with endless sea views warrants the extra splurge on a sea facing balcony room. The Thalasso Spa and onsite Gulf Stream restaurant are all highly recommended, and the breakfast buffet is one of the best to be had in Ireland. Work it all off with a stroll on the beach or enrol in a surfing lesson perhaps.
With the effort it takes to get out here, may as well spend the night. From Baltimore, take the ferry crossing to Sherkin Island and head to the Jolly Roger. If you are looking for a legendary Irish Seísun, this is the place to get it: the drink flows and there is mighty craic. There is also one amazing view and one short walk to Silver Strand where you can dive in the crystal clear waters to refresh the head from the night before.
The Tin Pub, Ahakista
Liss Ard Estate, SkibbereenLiss Ard Estate. A traditional mansion house that has been given a modern twist whilst holding on to its old world charm. Boasting an array of walks through woods and gardens; a lake for fishing and boating, and the impressive Sky Garden – a man-made grassy crater from where you can lie and watch the ever changing sky landscape. The hotel is also home to a wonderful chef in Danny Barter whose food follows the house: classic with a tasteful modern twist. Opt for a grand room in the house, or one of their dog-friendly mews cottages.
Eccles Hotel, GlengarriffEccles Hotel sits overlooking the sheltered Glengarrif Bay exuding buckets of old world charm. Currently undergoing a huge renaissance, the hotel is also home to Northern Irish chef Eddie Attwell who is busy reimaging the hotel’s restaurant with outstanding results. Book into a sea facing room to appreciate the majesty of the hotel’s position, or take up one of the hotels’ kayaks and paddle out into the clear waters of the bay where you may encounter seals and otters along the way.
Beara Coast Hotel, CastletownbereBeara Coast Hotel is the perfect spot for exploring the Ring of Beara with its breathtaking views of a landscape shaped by waves and winds and peppered with unique histories. Gorgeous sea facing rooms, and a restaurant serving outstanding food by Mark Johnston (formerly of Kenmare Park Hotel) and his team are cherries on an already fabulous cake.
Kate Ryan is an established food writer, blogger and founder of Flavour.ie, a website that is dedicated to promoting West Cork Food through writing, events and tours. Kate writes regularly for the Evening Echo and The Southern Star newspapers, The Opinion Magazine, TheTaste.ie, Headstuff.org and has been featured in the Irish Examiner and Irish Times. Kate was commissioned by A Taste of West Cork Food Festival to author an “Artisan Food Guide” published in June 2017.
Her blog, The Flavour Files, is recipe driven showcasing the best of West Cork produce and encouraging everyday cooking with it at home, as well as the best places to eat in the region.
Keep up with Kate’s food adventures on flavour.ie, and via her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Sign up to the Newsletter for previews of upcoming events, exclusive offers and news round-up.