Travel

Explore Munster, Ireland: Cork’s fine-dining trail

The southwest province of Munster is home to no fewer than three Michelin starred restaurants, making the most of the region’s natural larder

Words: Sinéad Smyth

Travel southwest from Ireland’s capital city of Dublin and you’ll find yourself in County Cork. As the largest county in Ireland, it is often referred to by locals as the ‘real capital’. Situated in the province of Munster, Cork is also part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km route of rugged coastline that spans the length of the west of Ireland to Donegal in the north.

Cork city, the capital of the county, is a vibrant place, full of shops, bars and restaurants – the melodic sing-song of the Cork accent fills the air, and the people are jovial and friendly. However, journey west of the city centre and you will reach the wilds of West Cork.

Kinsale town. Credit: Andrei Nekrassov/123rf

There’s something special about this region. Parts are extremely remote, and feel totally removed from the buzzing city. The west of Ireland is renowned for its natural beauty, attracting visitors from across the globe. West Cork in particular is home to a large number of expats who have felt its pull.

The area is home to a rich food culture, which in recent years has become a huge draw for tourists and locals alike. Visit in September and you can attend the A Taste of West Cork Food Festival, an annual food event that showcases the region’s stellar food. There are currently three Michelin starred restaurants in County Cork and you can visit them all on one stunning fine-dining trail.

The English Market, Cork. Credit: Tourism Ireland

First up, there is Ichigo Ichie, located in Cork city itself. The self-described “Japanese haute cuisine” at Ichigo Ichie has provided Ireland with its first ever Michelin star for Asian cooking.

With the name Ichigo Ichie meaning ‘once in a lifetime’, the restaurant certainly lives up to its name. The zen-like dining room seats just 25 guests, adding an air of exclusivity to the space. Chef patron Takashi Miyazaki once worked in an Irish bar in Hiroshima, whipping up cottage pie and typical Irish dishes. A far cry from the elegant Japanese cuisine he is renowned for now.

The relaxed ambience complements the delicate and well-thought out flavours of the food. Book a seat at the chef’s counter and see Miyazaki up close and personal as he serves his multi-course Japanese meal.
Following your fine-dining Japanese feast take a short spin to your next destination, the coastal town of Kinsale, just 25km south of Cork.

Japanese haute cuisine is cooked up at Ichigo Ichie

Certainly one of west Cork’s prettiest towns, Kinsale is recognisable by its colourful shop fronts and bustling harbour. Translated from Irish, the name Kinsale means ‘Head of the Sea’, so it should come as little surprise that this fishing town is highly regarded for its fabulous seafood.

When you want a seafood spread, Fishy Fishy on Crowley’s Quay is the place to be. The restaurant is run by Martin and Marie Shanahan, who started out with a fish shop and deli, which regularly had queues out the door. The shop’s popularity led to the pair opening up the restaurant and they’ve been racking up the awards ever since. As the restaurant’s head chef, Martin is super passionate about using the freshest fish available, and his background as a fishmonger gives him a distinct advantage when picking the best local produce – he knows all the fishermen by name. During the summer, book yourself a table outside and enjoy alfresco dining.

Kinsale harbour. Credit: Tim Thompson/Tourism Ireland

Most foodies visiting Kinsale, however, make a beeline for Bastion, a small town-centre restaurant that was awarded its first Michelin star in 2019 and which is renowned for its delectable modern Irish cuisine.
Bastion’s chef proprietor Paul McDonald is a Scotsman who, like many others in the area, has succumbed to the charms of west Cork.

Along with his partner Helen Noonan, who manages the front of house, McDonald offers tasting menus filled with local produce. The cooking has flashes of French flair, with dishes parading the best Irish ingredients, such as lamb (one of Paul’s favourites) and heavenly breads and butters.

This is an extract from Ireland’s Best 2020, an annual guide to Irish travel produced by the makers of Scotland magazine. You can buy the 116-page guide from £9.95, here.

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