A big thank you to Ireland.com for providing this yummy adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.
Before arriving on the Emerald Isle, our idea of eating in Ireland fell in the corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew, meat and potatoes line of thinking.
Nothing wrong with that, we love a good, hearty meal as much as the next guy, but out on the wild western edge of the island they’ve been cooking up something very different.
In the little town of Dingle, foodies have arrived and the gourmet fare they brought with them is causing quite a stir.
Sure the basics — pub food and fish & chips –are still around but several top-notch restaurants, and even a cooking school, have sprouted up.
It was our good fortune to give a few a try.
Staying at Benner’s put us right in the heart of Main Street, an easy walk to almost anywhere in town.
After the drive from Dublin, we were more than ready to give one of those gourmet establishments a try, and it couldn’t have been more convenient.
Ashes Bar & Restaurant was right across the street. From the name — and the storefront outside — Ashe’s didn’t have the look of fine dining, but looks can deceive.
The casual atmosphere was welcome after our journey, and the food incorporated local flavors and ingredients that went way beyond our meat and potato imaginings.
For one thing, seafood is often the meat of choice out here on the peninsula, so we started with an amazing bowl of mussels.
That was followed by a buttery hake fillet joined by a cockle.
We have heard about warming cockles, and silver bells and cockle shells, since our nursery rhyme days, but this was the first time ever to eat one.
After trying them, we had to wonder why cockles aren’t more famous as a food. They seem to be stuck in a sad rut as an obscure star of old adages. They deserve better.
Unwilling to completely abandon our love of meat (or David’s anyway!), we also tried some homemade pasta with lamb, local mushrooms, and spinach.
The dish took comfort food to a new level; perhaps we should call it lap of luxury food.
How the Irish start their day
The next day, after discovering a traditional Irish breakfast at Benner’s Hotel, we hit the streets again.
To market, to market
We met up with Chef Mark Murphy at the local farmer’s market.
He was there to gather some produce for our upcoming cooking class, and show us around a bit.
We were more than happy just to soak in the ambiance and watch the denizens of Dingle doing a little morning shopping.
We even joined in, buying lovely handmade knits at the booth of a nearby cooperative that works with folks with special needs.
Turned out we found the perfect gift for our sister-in-law, the wonderful mommy of our special needs niece, who had asked us to snag her a Irish woolen scarf.
We also couldn’t resist a lamb sausage.
After all, the sign on the stand clearly read: It’s never too early for a sausage and it had to have been at least an hour since we ate (wait, that rule is for swimming. Oh well).
From the market, we walked over to The Little Cheese Shop for a taste of some of proprietor and cheese artisan Mija Binder’s award-winning creations.
The selections are all organic, made right at her nearby dairy, and some are incredibly innovative.
Using techniques she learned in Switzerland, she experiments with unlikely regional ingredients such as seaweed and truffles.
We sampled several while Mark bought a few for our post-class cheese plate at the school.
Honestly, we could have happily stayed in Mija’s shop snacking for the rest of the day, but we had other fish to fry.
Fresh fish that is, as fresh as it gets.
At Dingle’s harbor, we followed Mark aboard the Sarah Ellie to check out the catch of the day.
Pollock, just caught that morning, would be on our menu and we would be learning to fillet it too.
With our supplies all procured, we headed over to the Dingle Cookery School to get started.
Cookin’ Dingle style
At the school we absorbed a wealth of information in a short time, much of it involving the proper — and safe — use of incredibly sharp knives.
First we sliced, chopped, julienned, and otherwise hacked up all sorts of vegetables for salads and roasting, all the while filing away the knowledge gained for future use. Avoiding Finger Removal 101.
With that information tucked away in our craniums, we proceeded to tackle the task of filleting a large fish.
Pollock is in the cod family and has plenty of meat for filleting. Chef Mark demonstrated, and then allowed us to give it a try.
By cutting down the backbone and then slicing along the ribs we managed to remove some fairly nice pieces of meat.
We couldn’t claim to be experts by any means, but there was enough to fill a couple of frying pans.
With a quick sear and a sizzle, lunch was ready.
Afterwards we topped ourselves off at Murphy’s Ice Cream because there’s always room for ice cream, are we right?
As with the cheese shop, Murphy’s likes to experiment with unusual flavors.
Usually these have ties to the area such as sea salt, Irish coffee, caramelised brown bread, and Dingle Gin.
We sampled them all, and they were much like Lucky Charms, magically delicious, but they seemed to be better in small quantities (not unlike the cereal), so we settled on the lighter raspberry and black currant sorbets.
We’d been seeing Dingle Gin as an ingredient all over this foodie town, and felt the draw of the Dingle Distillery.
Gotta have Irish whiskey, sort of
Nearly three years ago, they proudly opened as Ireland’s first all-Irish owned distillery in over 200 years.
Considering how folks around here feel about Irish whiskey, that’s a pretty big deal.
We got to check out the entire process, from mash to aging, and learned a whole lot about exactly what is involved in producing premium spirits.
An interesting tidbit – whiskey begins almost identically to beer, as a fermented grain mixture.
Whiskey is then distilled down to nearly pure alcohol and aged in barrels for several years, whereas beer is flavored with hops and ready for consumption in just a matter of weeks.
Irish law dictates that whiskey must be aged at least three years so we couldn’t sample any of the finished product.
Instead they let us try how it tastes before going into the barrels.
This was the raw, colorless, close-to-130 proof stuff.
Wow! Nearly blew our heads off. Luckily the aging process will take the edge off, and it is diluted down to 80 proof for bottling.
They also allowed us a taste of their vodka and gin, which are allowed to be sold because there are no aging rules for them.
We are not experts by any means, since we generally stick to beer and wine, but they certainly went down smooth.
As for the whiskey, the three years are almost up, so there’s fixin’ to be a big ole party in Dingle this winter.
Fungie, the famous dolphin!
The following morning found us back at the harbor, this time to take a short cruise with Dingle Bay Charters on the Lady Breda.
The first order of business for Captain Tom Hand was to take us to the spot where Fungie is known to hang around.
From the looks of things around the harbor, Fungie must be the most famous bottlenose dolphin since Flipper.
According to local lore, he has been making regular appearances in Dingle Harbor since 1983.
True to form, he did not disappoint on this day either, coming up to frolic beside our boat and several others that came out to visit him.
Headed out to open waters… and a bit of folly
From our Fungie encounter we made way toward the mouth of the harbor while our host for the morning, Mike Dooley, pointed out the points of interest.
Hussey’s Folly was hard to miss, and he explained why this tower stood all alone.
A folly refers to a structure built with no particular purpose beyond decoration.
They were common among elites in 18th century England, but this one, and many others throughout Ireland, had an objective. Many were built by prominent families, such as the Husseys, during the potato famine to provide employment for the poor.
As we passed outside of the protection of the harbor, the wild Atlantic crashed against the cliffs.
The endless assault has carved out a stark and stunning landscape where the stone fights to hold the sea at bay.
It is a valiant effort, but we could see where the rocks are slowly but surely losing the battle and falling into the briny deep.
Big ole brew
Windblown and sea sprayed, we made way back to the docks and then on to the Dingle Brewing Company for a chance to taste what just might be our new favorite beer.
No doubt Ireland is known for her Guinness, but for those of us who prefer a little lighter brew, Crean’s stands out.
They bill it as a fresh Irish lager, and we were sampling it right at the brewery so we couldn’t have found it any fresher. But even the bottles that made the flight back to the states in our suitcase were crisp and clean when we cracked them open.
The final, epic feast
For a farewell-to-Dingle dinner we chose the Global Village Restaurant.
Everywhere we went in Dingle was committed to using fresh, local ingredients, but Global Village takes it one step further by growing their own vegetables in a chemical-free garden.
To try as much as possible, and for a little extra fun, we went with the special tasting menu.
Every night, Chef Martin Bealin prepares five separate small dishes, giving us the chance to taste our way across much of the menu.
It’s almost as good as sharing bites off of each other’s plates.
For a starter we were served crab bisque with an apple salad, crab & duck mousse, and Dingle Gin gel.
That was followed by pan fried scallops with a poached egg and rapeseed mayo.
Next we sampled a fillet of turbot on a bed of pea puree along with cockles.
To top things off, we had a skewer of various grilled lamb cuts known as Nose-to-Tail paired with whipped carrots and a mini shepherd’s pie served in a shot glass.
Dessert came as its own little cross section of the menu. From left to right we had a peanut butter pie, yogurt custard, white chocolate sorbet, orange flan, and a rhubarb cake, all served on a plate drizzled with caramel and sprinkled with mint dust.
At that point we really had to throw in the towel – or napkin – and head back to Benner’s to call it a day… or two… or three.
We know how to quit while we’re ahead.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
A big thank you to Ireland.com for providing this yummy adventure. As always, all opinions are our own.
YOUR TURN: How would you like to eat YOUR way through Dingle?