Ireland, a land full of culture and history, was a wonderful travel destination. It was refreshing to visit a country that valued and promoted the use of local produce and livestock. I admired the respect and appreciation the Irish have for what mother Ireland provides them. Here, cows were fed grass, not corn; chickens were free-ranged and not pumped full of antibiotics; and sustainable farming practices were a commonplace rather than a luxury.
After arriving in Dublin early morning and getting some much needed rest following the plane ride, we decided to find a nice spot for some late lunch. Walking along Nassau St. by Trinity College, we happened upon Coffee Angel, a small cafe with a modern feel serving simple yet tasty food. I had the chicken wrap with a side of chips (or crisps as they say). The chicken was surprisingly tender and the mayo reminded me of the spices from butter chicken curry. Potatoes were known to be a big staple in Irish cuisine and its importance was reflected in the difference in the chips. They were flavourful, but not very salty. I couldn’t put my finger on what was different, but it could be the potatoes and the oil they used that added extra umami flavour. I loved the serveware as well, especially the adorable little stump teapot.
The National Archaeology Museum of Ireland was the first stop in the itinerary after filling our tummies. Much like in England, entry to all National Museums of Ireland were free of charge. There was a particularly interesting exhibit on display about bodies of prehistoric humans that were discovered in the peat bogs of Ireland. Collectively called bog bodies, there were three on display, each very well preserved by the anaerobic environment of the bogs. It was suspected that each was a person of status who had met a brutal death, possibly through ritual sacrifice and back then, it was common practice to hide treasures and food in the peat (usually to keep them from being stolen during viking raids). Often, these were left buried and forgotten until they were discovered more recently. One incredibly unique find was a block of butter dating to be about two thousand years old, which was incorporated into a cuisine by an Irish chef, Kevin Thornton.
Continuing our exploration of Dublin, we made a trip to the shopping district along Grafton St. and furthered our journey along O’Connell St, the central avenue of the city. As many stores closed early in the evenings on Sunday, we started to head towards restaurants and pubs that were still open. Crossing over the River Liffy on the Ha’penny Bridge (so named because it used to cost a half penny toll), we found ourselves in the lively Temple Bar district. As we drifted further away from the district, we stumbled upon a random find: The Hairy Lemon Pub.
While we were reading the menus on the window in front of the pub, a young teen seated in the restaurant gestured that the food was good and invited us in. We followed suit. Without a doubt, the food was very hearty. I ordered the cottage pie, which was shepherd’s pie with the mutton replaced with beef. Jo ordered the braised lamb shank, which he loved because it was fall off the bone tender. We wanted to compliment our meal with a local drink. Smithwicks was recommended to us by the server as an alternative to Guinness. Unfortunately, after our mains we were too full to try the Guinness-infused chocolate mousse, but we would get another chance to do so later in the trip.
On our second day, we headed towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This iconic landmark would not be here today, if not for the restoration in the 1860’s funded by Guinness. Although the modern St. Patrick’s Cathedral remained true to the original for the most part, there are some influences that were added during the restoration period by its benefactors. Most notably, the boar tiles depicting the crest of the Guinness Family. Among the individuals who laid at rest in St. Patrick’s, most were wealthy people of power. Others, such as, Captain John McNeil Boyd, were honoured here after death for their selflessness in life. He died trying to save his crew at sea and a monument was erected in his memory. Further inside the cathedral was the Tree of Remembrance, an exhibit on display to remember those in who have died in various conflicts. Above the tree, hung the flags flown on the battlefield of wars fought by the Irish. They remained slowly disintegrating.
Queen of Tarts was highly recommended on yelp.ca for breakfast and I definitely wanted to try their food. However, we woke up a tad late for breakfast and instead had another late lunch after visiting the Chester Beatty Library and Dublin Castle. The room was filled with the aroma of the flaky, buttery goodness and my mouth salivated as the waitress brought our tarts to our table. To our surprise, the portions were larger than anticipated. I was actually expecting mini-tarts for the both of us. Nonetheless, the warm tarts were very rich and delicious. And with my sweet-tooth, I had to try their dessert menu as well. I ordered the apple crumble tart; the sugary crumble was the best part as it balanced the tartness of the apples, and the ice cream added the richness to the dessert.
We had returned to our hotel in Dublin for some rest afterwards and decided to dine at Chez Max for our evening meal. Jo had the special of the day, steak tartare, and I had ordered the mussels and fries. The mussels were steamed in a white wine broth. The broth was disappointing as it did not have a strong depth of flavour and there was very little of it. Service on the other hand was attentive and prompt.
The next day we visited Glasnevin cemetery. It was the largest cemetery in Ireland, where many of its important historical figures are buried, such as Daniel O’Connell who was known as The Liberator. He earned that title because he was working towards improving the rights for the people of Ireland, especially those who were Roman Catholic, like himself, who were living under the harsh penal code. I was pleasantly surprised how much I had learned and appreciated the historical tour. This cemetery had a different feeling from other cemeteries that I’ve visited. I wasn’t afraid or scared. In fact, I was in awe. The atmosphere felt serene and bright, not dark and gloomy. Daniel O’Connell wanted the cemetery to be a burial site for everyone with no restrictions. It was welcome to all. It was definitely a place worth visiting to learn more about the rich history of Ireland and the importance of the individuals who paved the way for Ireland’s independence.
Returning to Temple Bar district by bus, we tried a restaurant named Boxty - The Humble Spud Made Beautiful. The food here reflected their strong culture and history. We had ordered some local beer along with a prix fixe two-course meal. First course, we both had the seafood chowder, which was very meaty and filling, along with some homemade corn bread with seaweed. For the main course, I had the chicken pancake, and Jo had ordered the bangers and mash. Both tasty and fresh and exceeded our expectations. I loved the pancake and decided to buy a couple boxes of pancake mix as souvenirs.
Of course we always think ahead, and had pre-screened the menu of Elephant and Castle the night before which was next door to Boxty. We had brunch here and noticed that the spicy chicken wings was a popular dish ordered at several tables. We had decided to opt for a sandwich and burger to start our long day. Again as expected, food was locally sourced and fresh.
Kilmainham Gaol was a highly recommended site to visit and to learn more about Ireland’s history. The tour allowed us to walk through the corridors and peek into cells of the prison as the tour guide described the living conditions back when the facility was operational. This jail was originally designed so that each prisoner had their own cell. During the great famine, because the rate of crime increased, there would be as many as five people in each cell, including children as young as five. There were also political leaders who were imprisoned, such as Charles Parnell, who had his own room and was able to wear his own clothes instead of the prisoner's uniform. Charles Parnell was working on the land reform acts, where his ultimate goal was to allow farmers to own their land. He was also in support of Home Rule, which would allow Ireland to be more independent from Britain in terms how of they were governed. It was partly because of the political prisoners once held here, that this jail was a such popular attraction today. Unfortunately, not all parts of the gaol were open due to construction.
The Guinness Storehouse was close by to Kilmainham Gaol, only slightly more than half hour walk from there. It was a wonderful learning experience about beer. There were 7 floors in the storehouse. Each level had a dedicated topic about Guinness, starting with their ingredients and led up to the tasting. It was probably the most enjoyable portion of the tour. You would start off walking through a dark hallway that would lead you into white room with a bar at the back wall. It felt like you had walked into a sci-fi movie upon entering the room. At each corner of the room there were four columns with the center of each column blowing a cool mist. Each contained a different aroma: beer, malt, roasted barley and hops. You would then be asked to walk around each column and to smell each aroma. Guinness beer was a combination of all four of these flavours. After receiving a chilled sample, you would be instructed to move into the Velvet Chamber to learn how to fully appreciate all aromas of the beer. The entry ticket included a pint of Guinness, where you could either learn to pour your own perfect pint or head up to the 7th floor and have someone serve you. Jo and I decided to go to the academy to learn how to pour the perfect pint. It was a great experience. After which, we headed up to the 7th floor for the spectacular view of Dublin with the pint of Guinness in our hand. This was probably the only location in Dublin where you would be able to get a beautiful 360 view of the city.
After the long day, we took the bus back to the city center for dinner in the Temple Bar district. The Old Storehouse provided free live music every evening. We wanted to try the food here the first evening, but the line-up outside was packed. This time, we still had to wait a little bit, but was able to get a seat fairly quickly. I had ordered a steak burger and Jo ordered the Guinness and beef casserole. Like all Irish dishes, the Guinness and beef casserole was hearty and the sauce was rich and multi-dimensional in flavour. It served as a great dip for my fries as well! To end the delicious meal, I ordered their apple crumble for dessert. It was delicious and I loved the cold vanilla ice-cream juxtaposed with the warm apple crumble.
We had started the day early with a day trip with Wild Rover Tours that we had booked the night before. We followed the tour to the Belfast Titanic Experience, Giant’s Causeway and Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge. It was a jammed pack itinerary. Even the tour guide had warned us that there wouldn’t be any time for lunch and suggested to purchase food at the service stop for breakfast and later in the day. The Belfast Titanic Experience was a self-guided tour through different levels of the museum describing the history of the Titanic from how it was built to its unfortunate demise. It was a fun experience with some interactive exhibits. We had ample time of about two hours at the museum before the tour bus drove us to the next destination. I thought the best part of the tour was the Giant’s Causeway. We were able to climb up and down the distinctive rock formations that was formed from volcanic activity millions of years ago, looking across the beautiful scene from both the top cliffs and down closer to the shore. We were given roughly one hour, which was tight on time, since we had decided to follow the long-tour route for different views of Giant’s Causeway. Close by was the rope bridge, about half-an-hour away, which was first erected by fishermen. Crossing the bridge allowed us to get a spectacular view of Scotland and Giant’s Causeway coast. I was very fortunate to see these breathtaking sites with great weather conditions.
It was a long drive back into Dublin, where they dropped us off near the Temple Bar district. We decided to to return to The Hairy Lemon Pub. Jo wanted to try their famous Irish stew and we also wanted to taste the Guinness-infused chocolate mousse. I ordered the Dublin coddle, which was a sausage, bacon, root vegetables and potato stew boiled gently in a herb broth. I thoroughly devoured the mashed potatoes along with my coddle. For dessert, we shared the chocolate mousse. It was a chocolate mousse base (infused with Guinness stout, of course), layered with crumbled biscuits and topped off with whipped cream. You had to have all three layers of the dessert on your spoon simultaneously to fully enjoy the experience. The light, fluffy whipped cream followed with the crunchy textures of the cookie crumbs in the middle and then the thick, rich mousse. It was delectable!
Our experience the previous day with Wild Rover Tour was such a positive one, we decided to book another tour with them for the following day. We elected to follow the Cliffs of Moher, Burren Coastal Drive and Galway City tour. I was thankful for great weather throughout our trip allowing for wonderful views of the cliffs and the ocean. My favourite part of the tour was the Burren Atlantic coast walk. Unfortunately, I slept through the majority of the scenic tour of rural Ireland, as I was still sleep-deprived (since we had to wake up at 5:30 for the 7am departure). But whenever the bus made a stop, I was ready to explore. The dark rocks of various formations surrounding the coast were scary as I walked towards the shore. I had to maneuver up and down uneven and jagged rocks to get close to the edge for an astonishing view of the gorgeous blue, green Atlantic ocean against the light blue sky on top of the dark rocks. It was well worth the scare.
For lunch, the tour bus headed towards Galway City. Our tour guide had recommended a few restaurants for us to go for lunch. One was McDonagh’s (which is not “McDonald’s” said with an Irish accent as I originally thought). McDonagh’s served quick, fresh, and cheap fish and chips in a semi-cafeteria setting. If you wanted to have more of a sit-down meal, he recommended The Dáil Bar, which also served fish and chips. With the limited time we had in Galway of about two hours, we opted for former. The fries portion was too large for me to have, so I decided to get white beans on the side. The beans were delicious and reminded me of a typical British breakfast. I ordered hake as my fish protein, as it seemed to be quite a popular special-of-the-day dish in Dublin. It was a light white fish coated in a crispy, light batter. Jo wanted to try something different, so he ordered ray. It was quite a surprisingly large portion of meat for that price but also had a lot of cartilaginous bones.
Saturday was our final day in Dublin. There were many local markets that opened on Saturday, such as the book market, food market, and designer market. We headed towards the food market in the Temple Bar district. Although, it was a cold Saturday morning, the experience at the food market was delicious. Wonderful pastries, artisan cheeses, gelato, beverages, seafood and meat dishes were all on display. We started with something sweet in the morning. The cronut with whipped cream in the center was creamy and sinful. At another stall, they were selling meat pies. We got one that combined two of Jo’s favourite things: pie and duck confit. It was served warm for us. The filling was composed of potatoes and duck meat in a creamy gravy sauce and housed in a buttery, flaky pastry. It was an explosion of flavour in my mouth.
Still in the district, we had a late lunch or early dinner at The Shack Restaurant. I had cravings for mashed potatoes throughout the trip, ever since I tried how soft and buttery they were on the first night at Hairy Lemon Pub. I ordered the bangers and mash. This was hands-down a better bangers and mash dish than what I had in London. I loved the depth of flavour in the onion-sauce. It was a good last sit-down meal before our flight the next morning to return home.