National Vegetarian Week begins on Monday – a week where we're all encouraged to forgo our carnivorous tendencies and to lean towards eating green, so we've dug up some of the country's best vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
Starting in the south with one of the country's best known veggie cafes: Denis Cotter's Café Paradiso (16 Lancaster Quay, Cork, tel: 021-427 7939, cafeparadiso.ie). This lovely, relaxed café sources much of its produce from Gort na Nain farm in nearby Nohoval and the menu reflects what's in season in the fields. Open for dinner Mon-Sat, the menu offers two courses for €33, three for €40 and two with ice cream for €36. Dishes include coconut confit of cauliflower with pumpkin rasam dip, sesame spinach and baked paneer cheese; or Gort na Nain asparagus and nameko mushrooms with carrot, hazelnut crumb, tarragon oil and potato-pea cakes; the paradiso chips with truffled aioli (€5) are a must. You can also stay upstairs, where there are two comfy rooms and you're treated the next morning to a delicious breakfast (€100pp for dinner, B&B).
For something a little spicier, Iyer's (38 Pope's Quay, Cork, tel: 087 640 9079) is a tiny spot serving South Indian food such as masala dosa, €6.95 (rice flour crepes stuffed with potato, fried onions and spices and served with coconut chutney and spicy sambar), street food such as samosa chaat, €6.50 (a mix of chickpeas, onions, coriander, herbs, spices, dried sesame noodles and chillis) and thali meals, €12.50 – a traditional tray with basmati rice, a lentil stew (sambar), seasonal sauces and dishes such as a chickpea curry (chole), mutter paneer (paneer cheese with pease and tomato), a pappadam and salad. Owner Gautham Iyer also makes kulfi, €2.50 – an Indian take on ice cream– which he infuses with Irish flavours such as gorse and clover. You can get authentic Indian chai tea (€2) and creamy chilled lassis (€2.50) to drink. Open for lunch Wed-Sat and dinner, Thurs-Fri. There's a supper club on the first Saturday of the month.
In Galway, the Light House (8 Upper Abbeygate Street, Galway, tel: 087 921 3003) is a cute little tea house that serves vegetarian lunches such as thai curry with mung bean noodles (€10), chickpea burgers (€10 or €11 with salad), quiches and stews – the burger is particularly good. They make an organic raw caramel slice (€5), plus vegan options for drinks such as vegan lattes (€2.80) and soy milk with tea.
Also in Galway, Wa Café (13 New Dock Street, Galway, 091-895850, wacafe.net) is a good sushi joint that serves fresh veggie and vegan sushi. The nori maki rolls are great value – €4.50 for turnip, spinach, carrot, mushroom and dried tofu maki. A vegetarian bento box (€10) includes rice, a fried tofu and vegetable patty with grated ginger, and pan fried lotus root with spicy sauce and Brie. Vegetarian sides include edamame (€2), the addictive steamed soy beans, and kimchi (€3), spicy Korean pickled cabbage.
In Limerick, Grove Veggie Kitchen (11 Upper Cecil Street, Limerick, tel: 061-410084, groveveggiekitchen.com) is a family-owned restaurant, run by Kay Whelan and her daughter Sue Hassett, serving organic and locally sourced vegetarian food for nearly 35 years. The menu includes items such as falafel and roasted vegetable pizzas (both €9 with a selection of salads), daily soups, casseroles and curries, such as pui lentil and sweet potato (€9 large, €6.50 medium) and trays of takeaway salads for €6. Try the Ballyhoura Brew, a local kombucha tea (€2), to help with digestion and to boost your immune system.
In the capital, Cornucopia (19-20 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-677 7583, cornucopia.ie) serves a wide range of vegetarian, vegan and raw food. Open from 8am to 9pm (Mon & Tues) and 8.30am to 10.15pm (Wed-Sat) and 12-9pm Sundays, it serves breakfasts such as vegetarian sausages with roasted chilli mushrooms, homemade breakfast beans and roasted red onion (€9.25) or piperade, a Basque red pepper and tomato stew with scrambled eggs (€7.55) – both include tea/coffee, bread/ toast and vegan spread, jam and ketchup. The afternoon and evening menu has a great selection of salads sold by plate size (€4.95, €8.95, €10.95) and a rotating menu of mains (€12.50-€13.95, including two salads) such as a butternut squash and cashew cannelloni with Gran Moravia, or cashew-baked aubergine with smoked paprika mash and pea sauce.
Blazing Salads (42 Drury St, Dublin 2, tel: 01-671 9552, blazingsalads.com) is a wholefood vegetarian deli with a takeaway salad bar. You pay by weight (expect €7-€8 per box), but ingredients are fresh and very healthy and they have a great selection of dressings. There are lots of superfood salads, some very tasty artichoke hearts and roasted tofu with ginger and shoyu (a type of soy sauce). Hot specials include spiced broccoli and roasted potato with Blazing Salads paneer, plus savoury dishes such as pizza slices and spring rolls at the counter, and sugar-free cakes and organic sourdough made on site.
Finally there are two good falafel places facing each other on Dame Street: Umi Falafel (13 Dame Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01- 670 6866, umifalafel.ie) and Falafel Lounge (68 Dame Street, Dublin 2, 01-670 8244) offer good value in healthy, veggie fast food. Try Umi's Lebanese falafel (€6): warm Lebanese bread stuffed with tasty falafel, tomato, cucumber, pickles, parsley and tahini. Over in the Falafel Lounge, they serve Lebanese pizzas (made on flatbreads). Try the half 'n' half (€7) with one half a cheese combo, the other dried herbs and olive oil.
If that piques your interest, there's also World Vegetarian Day on October 1st this year – see vegetarian.ie and for more places to eat, see happycow.net/europe/ireland