There is one road in and one road out, so you just don’t ‘happen’ across Dingle – you either want to go there or you don’t. God forbid that anyone would ever not want to visit the Co Kerry town, however – Dingle has been the cause of many people paying a visit and not returning from whence they came. The reason for this could be as simple as succumbing to the call of the wild.
Or it might be that while during the summer the town welcomes the footfall of tourists, from October to April it mostly breathes at its own tempo. Natives, workers, and business people alike have relative downtime to reflect on the previous several months with their families, friends and colleagues.
The archetypal levels of hustle and bustle (accompanied by frequent cries of ‘let’s get Dingled!’) are replaced with consideration and calm. No matter what time of the year you arrive at, however, there is always the abiding Dingle greeting. The other area where matters are constant? The town’s restaurants, cafés and pubs. What follows is a personal selection of food and fare, of where to go and what to do when you visit this magical, cultured and geographically alluring place. Two words of caution, though: pace yourself!
First, the truth: I’ve never had breakfast in a café or restaurant in Dingle because the B&B I usually stay in (The Lantern Townhouse, Main Street; lanterntownhouse.com) has great morning grub. Let us, then, start with mid-morning coffee choices. Bean In Dingle, opened in the summer of 2015 and hasn’t stopped since.
A family business overseen by head barista Justin Burgess, the compact café makes sure to use local bakeries (Bluirini Blasta, and Bácús) in order to keep the dainty pastries as fresh as possible. There is also an on-site baker toiling over loaves of bread and doughnuts just in case. Coffee is available in whole beans, coarse, medium and fine ground, is roasted in-house twice a week, and is especially zesty. Unusually for such a young coffee shop, the owners have a persuasive online merchandise presence, from which you can purchase various Bean In Dingle coffee blends (house blend, Aguilera Brothers Micromill, Costa Rica, and Kathakwa AA, Kenya), Keep Cup, t-shirts, and – wouldn’t you know it – beanie hats.
Lunchtime pops up too quickly, needless to say, but there are loads of options. If you’re in Dingle for a few days you will undoubtedly get to experience several of them, but one of my favourites include Pantrí Café. Open almost two years, the vegan-friendly eatery is winning the battle of the stomachs with its blend of really terrific food and beverages.
Previously a wholefood vegetarian place, Pantrí Café mixes the best of both worlds with an ethos that blends life-affirming juices and vegetables with quality meat. Virtually all food is sourced locally – and they have even secured the services of a local herbalist that creates outstanding tea blends.
Of course, as we’re in Dingle, there is no end to fish and chip options, but The Fish Box is unquestionably the one to choose. It opened in the summer of 2018, a family business based around two primary constituent parts of a great fish’n’chip shop: knowledge of cooking and experience of catching fish. The Flannery family have been in the business of both for decades, and so the younger members Patrick and Micheál decided to combine the valued wisdom of their parents by opening The Fish Box.
Aside from the food, there is something brilliant going on here, and that is its eco-awareness. The family trawler, Cú Na Mara, catches not only fish but also any litter it is able to take on board; its napkins are 100% recycled; its cutlery is 100% compostable (the latter is perhaps the most eco-friendly strategy I’ve ever seen in a restaurant or café). Local is key here – desserts are made by mother Deirdre, all fruit and veg are sourced from West Kerry, the fish is fresh’n’slippy straight off the family trawler, and the beverages on sale include Dick Macks Beer, which is produced in the pub of the same name about 100m down the street.
And the food, I hear you ask? Served either ‘On The Plate’ (eat in) or ‘In The Box’ (eat out, with an extra euro or two for the eat-in choice), the food on the superb menu is exceptionally reasonable. In The Box options include The Fish Box (deep-fried prawns, monkfish, calamari, fish of the day, with homemade chips and sweet chilli jam; €16/€14). On The Plate options include Cajun salmon and pineapple burger, with pickled cucumber and lemon mayonnaise, brioche bun, homemade chips or salad; €13). What a quality, earthy place: no fuss, no frills – just the best fish you’ll ever sink your teeth into.
Before you know what has happened, the day has run away from you and it’s time for dinner. There are too many restaurants to list in any cohesive way, but the following should provide many enjoyable moments. A pivotal slice of Dingle’s erudite consideration of cuisine, Global Village Restaurant is a wholly inviting space of tranquil service, award-winning food, great wall art, meticulously traced produce, and Michelin-recommended cooking from chef and proprietor, Martin Bealin.
The fundamental values of The Chart House offer an impressive dining experience. Masterminded by Jim McCarthy, this multi-award winning restaurant has retained a Michelin Bib Gourmand since the late 1990s, and is a must-visit for anyone who cares about food provenance, presentation and taste.
Around the corner is Lord Baker’s, a deceptively sizeable family-operated favourite that is presided over by the host with the most, John Moriarty. Past Lord Baker’s, further down Main Street, is Doyles Seafood Restaurant. This smart spot is compact, suave, and the kind of place to wind down in after a day trekking across the outlying land. Having a comprehensive wine list helps!
Tucked into narrow lanes, away from the relative bustle of Main Street, are two little gems. Grey’s Lane Bistro is a family-run eatery that blends Dingle culture and commitment with an ambience that could be in somewhere cool in Upstate New York or in downtown San Francisco. A relative newcomer to Dingle’s culinary offerings is Random (Dykegate Street), a much hipper choice than many of the town’s more traditional or conservative dining options. Open less than two years, and located on the site of a former hostel, there is a really varied menu here for those that don’t like to be hemmed in by lack of choice.
And what, I hear you ask, about the pubs and bars? In Dingle, tradition is used as a nail to not only snag you but also to wind you down in the best possible way. In short, the pubs are genuine and unique, and if you don’t find something to love about An Droichead Beag, Curran’s, Foxy John’s and Kennedy’s (all on Main Street), Dick Mack’s (Green Street), John Benny Moriarty (Strand Street), and O’Flaherty’s (Bridge Street), then may we respectfully recommend you arrange an immediate appointment for a brain scan.
Tony Clayton-Lea is a freelance pop culture/travel writer. His primary aim when travelling is to avoid obvious tourist traps, to make sure an intriguing laneway never goes undiscovered, and to unearth the perfect place for people watching.
Stay up-to-date with Tony’s writing by visiting his website, tonyclaytonlea.com.