There’s a lot which goes into providing a great restaurant experience - and it’s so much more than just the food. Ambiance, hospitality, service - all of these things and more are occurring behind the scenes before your fork even hits your first plate of the evening. With this in mind, the Irish Country Living editorial team came together to celebrate some amazing Irish restaurants and round up some of their favourite dining experiences of 2022.

Janine Kennedy

Restaurant: The Green Acres, Wexford, Co Wexford.

Type of dining: High end, French technique with a firm focus on Irish ingredients.

Ambiance: Old world comfort – this restaurant also serves as a (daytime) wine and fine food shop. There are lots of natural wood tones, dark, cosy spots to dine and relaxing music.

Service: Attentive, but unintrusive. I was dining in a private room as part of a larger party, and space was very tight. Our servers were excellent at squeezing through tight spaces when bringing out our food, topped up drinks without you even realising, and were knowledgeable regarding the menu.

Food: Rich, decadent and delicious. Chef Richie Trapp takes local ingredients and transforms them into something completely satisfying. Having a great dining experience isn’t about reinventing the wheel – great food and warm hospitality will always go down well. I indulged in pan-roasted Wicklow pidgeon (perfectly seared and cooked to medium) with jus to start, following by Irish suckling pig (with caramelised black fig and hazelnuts) so tender I barely needed to chew. We washed our meal down with big celebratory bottles of a specially selected Cotes du Rhone and I finished my meal – as I always do – with a well-selected Irish and French cheese plate; though the dessert menu looked tempting.

Price: This was a public relations dinner and I attended as a guest, but this wasn’t my first time visiting The Green Acres. Prices range from €9-15 for appetisers and €22-39 per main. Desserts are €9.50-14. For the quality of the food and excellent service, this – to me – is worth the money.

Niamh Devereaux

The 28-day 7oz prime fillet of beef at Fire & Salt Restaurant, The Johnstown Estate.

Restaurant: Fire & Salt, at The Johnstown Estate, Co Meath.

Type of dining: Relaxed fine dining with thoughtfully designed dishes and lots of local produce. One such dish is its signature: hand-picked beef, dry-aged for up to 36 days in Himalayan sea-salt – the restaurant’s name comes from the fire that seals and caramelizes the steak and the salt which seasons it (pictured).

Ambiance: Sophisticated but unpretentious. It would be an ideal option for celebrating a special occasion, as it feels glamorous, but it’s not at all stuffy.

Fire & Salt Restaurant at the Johnstown Estate

Service: In a word, excellent. Personable, warm and friendly, I felt well looked-after throughout my meal. Whether that was keeping my water topped up or recommending cocktails from the adjacent bar (I tried the ‘Fire & Salt Kir Royale’: Rose Liqueur, Plymouth Sloe Gin & Hibiscus topped with Champagne), I couldn’t have asked for more.

Food: A joy to look at, as well as eat. Every plate is beautifully presented, as well as bursting with taste. To start, I ate slow-braised shoulder of pork, which fell apart at the touch of my cutlery. Paired with a filo crust, marinated plums, baby carrot, shallot and bacon crumb, it was a perfect marriage of flavour. Next, I went all out and ordered the 28-day 7oz prime fillet of beef, with braised oxtail and cheek tortellini and gratin potato. Upon my first bite of this charred, juicy steak, I had one of those moments where you close your eyes and exhale in a whistle; a bite you don’t want to end but you simultaneously rush for your next forkful. Every element was indulgent and moreish. For dessert, I had the white chocolate and cardamom cheesecake, with raspberry jelly, white chocolate crémeux and raspberry sponge. Pretty as a picture, it was fresh, light and just the right amount of sweet to end the meal.

Fire & Salt Restaurant at the Johnstown Estate

Price: Considering the quality of the food and the level of service you experience, I think it’s very reasonable, especially if you opt to celebrate a special occasion there. Starters were €11.95, mains were in the €19.95-€32.50 range and desserts were €8.95, with a farmhouse cheese plate costing €12.50.

Caitríona Bolger

Restaurant: Mulcahy’s, Kenmare, Co Kerry.

Type of dining: Wild, free-range, seasonal and local produce which is then cooked with modern and classical techniques to ensure the quality of ingredients are the focus of attention.

Ambiance:‘I was sitting outside Mulcahy’s

Restaurant on Main Street, Kenmare on a warm June evening catching up with friends. As the silage tractors and trailers passed up and down the street, any feelings of guilt they induced

in me for indulging on a midweek evening evaporated when I caught sight of local peak, Gortamullin. I cheered myself for walking the Kerry Way from Sneen to Kenmare earlier in the day, ticking Gortamullin off my to-do list of hills to walk. My meal out was well earned!’

Service: Excellent. Prompt delivery of drinks and moreish fresh warm treacle bread with tapenade butter tempered the enormous appetites awaiting Bruce Mulcahy’s excellent cooking. Once the dishes were served, we were left to savour one another’s dishes and Kenmare’s evening atmosphere.

The beef wellington at Mulcahy's in Kenmare, Co Kerry, is to die for, according to Caitriona Bolger.

Food: I must admit to not needing a menu. The thoughts of Beef Wellington in this establishment kept me going through many a dark winter’s evening. The pastry glistened golden, the mushroom duxelles seasoned deliciously and the beef pink through the middle with the white onion puree bringing it all together sweetly! I believe it was a glass of Merlot that was the beverage of the evening on this occasion.

Price: The Beef Wellington was €33. The memories made? Priceless.

Naomi Hamilton-O’Donnell

Restaurants 2022

Restaurant: The Huntsman Inn, Galway.

Type of dining: High-end, with an assortment of menu options.

Ambiance: Well-lit and spanning a large area, but still cosy when seated. My visit to the Huntsman was in January, at the tail-end of COVID-19 restrictions. Guidelines were maintained to a high standard. I was with my mum, who was having a mini-break in Galway over the Christmas holidays, and she absolutely loved the atmosphere, as did I. Everyone was just happy to be out mixing, and the place was filled with laughter. A group of women sitting near us were celebrating a birthday, and the craic from their table was infectious. It was a truly enjoyable experience.

Service: Absolutely brilliant. Staff were so attentive and regularly checked in to see if we needed anything, even though they were run off their feet with customers. They were polite, warm and friendly. Even though service had to finish by 9pm, we definitely weren’t rushed out the door and the staff were willing to chat.

Restaurants 2022

Food: Everything was delicious, high-quality and rich. I had fish pie with a side of truffle chips. The pie had a beautiful mix of flavours, with pieces of salmon and prawns in a creamy sauce. I’m not usually a mash person, but the mash covering this pie was smooth and delicious. The truffle chips had a gorgeous distinct flavour. I had a slice of cheesecake for dessert, Malteser if I remember correctly, and it was full of chocolatey richness. I was completely stuffed after the meal, and I went home with a very happy tummy!

Price: Being a student, this was a bit more bit more on the expensive side than what I would usually go for (€19.95 for the Seafood Pie), but - my goodness - is it worth it. Even though that was way back in January, I can’t think of any experiences this year that topped it! Everywhere I looked inside this restaurant, everyone was happy. It was a real treat.

Maria Moynihan

Restaurant: Aroi, Limerick city.

Type of dining: Casual and comforting Asian-style street food.

Ambiance: Informal with a friendly buzz. Clients range from students making the most of the lunch meal deal to old friends enjoying a catch-up.

Restaurants 2022

Food: I holidayed throughout Asia in my 20s and have long craved the kick and complexity that you get with street food, especially in the more low-key family-run restaurants. Aroi was actually recommended to me by a chef who formerly worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant, so I think that says something. Despite the extensive choice, I couldn’t resist the green chicken curry, which came with a generous portion of grilled chicken as well as fresh greens, zinging with lemongrass. It also came with a three chilli spice rating though, which did challenge me a little towards the end; but it was worth the sweat! Milder menu options are available too, such as classic pad Thai, yellow vegetable curry and nuea pad khing (beef strips with broccoli, onions baby corn and other vegetables).

Restaurants 2022

Price: Wait for it; just €10 as part of the Aroi express lunch deal, which is available from noon to 5pm. This also includes a scoop of gelato. I have had the opportunity to eat in more expensive or fine-dining venues this year, but it’s this surprise recommendation that stands out for me from 2022. If you can’t get to Asia, Aroi is definitely worth a visit.

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