There was a time when it seemed like the only Irish restaurant/ hotel using a wide range of fresh, seasonal, organic produce sourced from its very own kitchen garden was Ballymaloe House in Co Cork.
But how times have changed. Examples now include Harry's Bar & Restaurant on the Inishowen Peninsula in Bridgend, Co Donegal, where owners Donal and Kevin Doherty have founded a thriving restaurant using seasonal produce that their head gardener, Noel Doherty, grows for them in a nearby, restored walled garden.
Over in Co Mayo, Mount Falcon Hotel's French-born head gardener Alex Lavarde also works closely with the hotel's executive head chef Daniel Willimont in tailoring the choice of unusual vegetables, fruit, micro-greens and herbs grown in their new kitchen garden to suit the hotel restaurant's menu.
Examples of some of the more experimental food crops that he’s growing include oca, mashua, Chinese artichokes, sea lettuce, scorzonera and chanterelle mushrooms. Also in Mayo, Belleek Castle’s award-winning restaurant is making intensive use of its little kitchen garden and especially its polytunnel to grow a wide range of salad crops and edible flowers, proving that even a small growing space can make a huge difference to a restaurant.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, west Cork, diners at Glebe Gardens restaurant can take a stroll through its adjoining, organic kitchen garden where the Perry family grow a mouth-watering range of produce to supply the busy restaurant kitchen. The restaurant is particularly well known for its delicious range of heritage-type tomatoes, a specialty of its 'head gardener' Jean Perry.
Over in Virginia Park Lodge, Co Cavan, Richard Corrigan's kitchen garden also focuses on the production of many unusual, hard-to-get or heritage varieties of vegetables, from the famously delicious Pink Fir Apple potato to home-grown apricots. And in Dublin, chef Graham Neville of Residence's Restaurant FortyOne grows a lot of the award-winning restaurant's vegetables in an organically managed walled kitchen garden at Kenah Hill, Killiney that's owned by proprietor Olivia Gaynor Long. He personally harvests the produce fresh every morning before bringing it (by motorbike) to his busy kitchen.
What all these restaurants share in common is an impressive commitment to growing their own ingredients, allowing them to create food that's truly in tune with the seasons and a million miles away from global methods of industrial food production. The fact that modern advances in crop protection have made the business of growing food in Ireland a whole lot easier and more cost-effective than it was just a few short decades ago means that's there's no reason why many more restaurants/ hotels shouldn't follow suit.