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Food Oscars 2022: The best restaurants in Ireland this year

From a lunch spot with just two tables to a Michelin star restaurant, and a trattoria in a truck to a wine bar with a tasting menu

If you were to generate a word cloud for the restaurant trade this year, it would probably go something like this: closures, celebrity chefs, wine bars, no-choice menus, Cantabrian anchovies, Michelin, staff shortages, grower Champagne, côte de boeuf, crumpets, spiralling energy costs, sharing plates, and where’s open on a Tuesday?

So, here goes, my food Oscars for 2022.

Memorable meal of the year

Assassination Custard review

Assassination Custard, 19A Kevin Street Lower, Dublin 8;

Perhaps it’s the love you feel the minute you walk in the room, or maybe the thrill of actually getting a seat at one of the two tables, but for me, there was something quite special about lunch at Gwen McGrath and Ken Doherty’s Assassination Custard. Every dish is like a snapshot of the season, with an Italian sensibility guiding the restrained approach to cooking. Pickled tomatoes, labneh, and confit pig’s cheek and jowls – it all sounds so simple, but it’s truly magical.


Newcomer of the year

The Park Café, Number 1 Ballsbridge, Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4;

Just as we came to the end of a year of celebrity chefs, Richard Corrigan rode into town, very quietly as it happens, opening the doors of The Park Café without an influencer in sight. With a menu that is classic yet refreshingly different from anything around town, his philosophy of skilful cooking using top quality produce underpins every dish. The omelette with Inis Escargot Bordelaise has already reached signature-dish status.

Sustainability award

Goldie Fish & Ale, 128 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork;

Fans of Aishling Moore’s cooking in Goldie in Cork will know that her gill-to-fin menu is driven by a commitment to a whole catch approach. It sounds straightforward but try planning a menu when one day it’s ling, pollock and hake, and the next it’s just one species of fish. Her creativity, with dishes such as crunchy fish spines, haddock karaage and fish kofta, is getting noticed, and increasingly this unassuming chef is being called upon for mentoring roles and headlining at chef exchanges.

Best first bite

Chapter One, 18-19 Parnell Square Nth, Dublin 1;

While the foie gras with eel is one of Chapter One’s most recognisable dishes, the starter at a recent lunch had my head spinning. Light, technically perfect and so delicious, quenelles of Dover sole with slivers of truffle were served in a vin jaune sauce. What makes this even more remarkable was this was on the €75 lunch menu.

Best meat dish

Lignum, Slatefort House, Bullaun, Co Galway;

A meat course on a tasting menu? Surely not. But Lignum’s Connemara lamb was a real standout. The meat had been aged for a week, cooked on the bone and gradually lowered down on the grill so that the fat rendered, the skin crisped but the meat was still pink and succulent.

Best vegetarian dish

Bastible, 111 South Circular Road, Dublin 8;

Few restaurants take vegetarian food as seriously as Bastible, where they offer a separate tasting menu which can be adapted for vegans. A dish featuring hen of the woods, pairing the savoury mushroom flavour with poached salsify, pureed Jerusalem artichoke, pine vinegar and crispy artichoke crumb was inspired and skilful.

Best of the sweet things

No Messin’ Bakery, Proper Order, 7 Haymarket, Smithfield, Dublin 7;

It may be seasonal, but the mince pies here make Christmas extra special each year. Those in the know sign up for No Messin’ Bakery’s newsletter to find out when Hilary Quinn’s mince pies are due to land and go on sale in Proper Order coffee shop. They are the most perfect combination of buttery, flaky pastry, filled to the brim with delicious mincemeat.

Best casual restaurant

Rúibín, 1 Dock Rd, Galway;

CN Duck, 12 Ranelagh, Dublin 6;

This is a joint award, for very good reason. In Galway, Alice Jary and Richard Kennan have brought something special to the city with their global flavours in a relaxed room. Flaggy Shore oysters are dotted with pickled rhubarb, battered fish is served in a milk bun, and fermented potato flatbread is loaded with Middle Eastern flavours.

At CN Duck, the €6 corkage is obviously going to be a big attraction in a breezy restaurant where two large communal tables just beg to be filled with your friend group. Dumplings and spring rolls are made fresh each day, and the roast meats are spectacular, particularly the Chinese duck which is cooked in a bullet oven.

Best value

Margadh RHA, RHA Gallery, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2;

Surprise! It’s another tasting menu, but in reality, it’s a €42 parade of interesting bites at a wine bar. The cooking is precise and seasonally led, with the quality of the produce at the heart of each dish. Do not miss the Cantabrian anchovy on toast, one of the best snacks in the country.

Best wine bar

Note, 26 Fenian Street, Dublin 2;

Frank’s, Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2;

Another joint award in a very vibrant category. My first visit to Note went well, my second was a revelation – Essa Fakry’s food had really kicked up a notch. I later discovered that most of the dinner dishes are available on the very accessibly priced lunch menu. This, along with the low intervention wine list, is worth checking out.

Frank’s epitomises what you expect from a wine bar, and tops that with very precise cooking from the talented chef behind the stove, David Bradshaw. The wine list has plenty to love, and they now take bookings as well as walk-ins.

Best cafe

Pota, An Tulach, Baile na hAbhann, Co. Galway;

There are times when you accidentally stumble across some place special, which I knew I had the minute I walked into Diarmuid Ó Mathúna’s smart café in the heart of the Gaeltacht. It is truly the template for the perfect restaurant, where local produce is central to simple, tasty dishes. Handpicked crab, landed in Inis Mór a few kilometres across the water, is always going to get my attention, as are top quality salad leaves from An Garraí Glas, the organic farm across the road. Daily changing menus are chalked on the board, as Gaeilge, with translations for those of us who didn’t pay enough attention at school.

Best pizza

Bambino, 37 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2;

Another pizza joint? We didn’t think we needed one until Bambino landed on Stephen Street, with its New York-style crispy-based pizza by the slice. You can grab a stool and eat your pizza from a narrow counter top, washed down with a beer, glass of wine, or grower Champagne if you’re feeling flush. Or sit on the bench outside on a fresh dry day.

Best food truck

Pastiamo Truckttoria, Albert Court East, Grand Canal Street Lower, Dublin 2;

It may have taken a pandemic but it looks like we now have a food truck culture, and Andrea Conti and Marcela Castillo have embraced it with their wonderful trattoria in a truck. Everything is good, but the highlight is their spaghetti carbonara which is finished in a large wheel of Pecorino Romano, stirred so that the pasta, egg and guanciale combine with the cheese to make the perfect sauce.

Sommelier of the year

Jonathan Jønsson, Adare Manor, Adare, Co Limerick;

Jonathan Jønsson, the sommelier at Adare Manor, not only manages one of the country’s most incredible cellars, he also hosts wine tastings there. He instinctively knows what level to pitch things, and threads fascinating anecdotes through a huge level of knowledge. Nothing at Adare Manor is at the budget end of the scale, and the private wine tastings are no exception, but they are particularly interesting.

The best bet award

For gastronauts who are fond of a flutter, all eyes will be fixed on the three-star category when the Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2023 is announced next year. After eating in both Chapter One in Dublin and Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons in Celbridge this year, I am even more convinced that both of these restaurants are at three-star level, it just remains to be seen what the inspectors think. There is much talk about a second star for Dede in Baltimore, Co Cork, at least one star for new restaurant, Terre, at Castlemartyr, and everyone in the industry is putting their money on Lignum in Bullaun, Co Galway, landing a gong.