Update: 20-May 2016
I really wanted to write about my second favorite subject right after the Pubs of Galway -- the restaurants of Galway, but a little more background is needed; so I still need to discuss more about Irish restaurant Ins and Outs. This blog attempts to describe my opinions on the general restaurant fare of Ireland. This may help you decide what to order and not order while on holiday (vacationing) in Ireland. Remember this is my opinion, and a generality…. Your mileage may vary depending on your tastes and the specific restaurants you visit.
All the seafood is great, particularly mussels and the fresh fish.
Salmon is found in virtually every restaurant; both cooked and smoked (more like lox). There are other varieties of fish that are not so common in North America like Monkfish, Hake, and Sweaty Betty … yes you read that correctly. My favorite is the Monkfish, but I haven’t had a bad fish dinner in Ireland. Monkfish is my favorite but many times I’ve eaten salmon three times in one day. (Salmon and eggs for breakfast, a smoked salmon sandwich for lunch, and a Salmon darn or fillet for dinner). Of course you can also get Fish and Chips in almost every pub and at the Chippers. This is the “value meal” for Ireland. You will always be full when you order fish and chips … and despite how they look, the mushy peas are great.
The mussels are the best. Mussels come in .5 kg and 1 kg portions, a starter or a main portion. They come with a bowl on the side for the empty shells. The broth is great, so ask for a spoon if they didn't give you one. Galway and the West of Ireland are very proud of their seafood chowder; a white creamy chowder that contains at least mussels and salmon. The chowder is served with Irish soda bread and is a great lunch or dinner starter.
Lamb is served in almost all Irish restaurants. After you’ve traveled in Ireland for a few days, you will see why. My favorites are the lamb cutlets/chops; very tender and tasty. The comfort food or “pot roast” for Ireland is the lamb shank. It is not always available even when it is on the menu, but I have never had a bad lamb shank. It typically comes with mash; is always tasty; and has a good portion of gravy. I like the Shepherd’s Pie (minced lamb or lamb cubes in a dark gravy with vegetables and topped with piped mashed), but it is usually only available at the more touristy restaurants. I don’t really care for the lamb stew as it has a thinner lighter gravy…. just not my preference.
Chicken and Poultry
Chicken and Poultry dishes on Irish menus are common. I typically like the chicken in Ireland better than North America. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that it is free range and corn fed. My favorite is the Chicken Supreme. The recipe varies, but it generally consists of a baked chicken breast filled with cream cheese and spices, and wrapped with bacon …. Very Good! You can also get turkey (or turkey and ham) as the “roast of the day”. It is pretty good … see more about the roast of the day below. Duck dishes are a lot more common than North America and reasonably priced. The Irish do not cook duck like the French, you will need to ask for medium or medium-rare, otherwise, it will come well done.
In general the Irish pork is very good, but the dishes offered in restaurants vary. The pork chops are good and very filling. Bangers and Mash is sausages served on mash with gravy and is generally good. Bangers and Mash goes great with a beer. The sausages in Ireland are very good, but have a different consistency; I think because of fillers. After talking with Irish friends, they expect sausage to have fillers. This is not bad, just different.
Bacon and Cabbage is another comfort food in Ireland and comes with a parsley sauce. The story I’ve heard is that this is the original corn beef and cabbage. When the Irish landed in America, Corned Beef was the closest thing to Irish Bacon, thus it became associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. BTW, Irish Bacon seems to be a cross between ham and Canadian bacon. I like Bacon and Cabbage, but not everyone does. Pork also comes as the roast of the day, usually with stuffing and some gravy and is a safe dish
I have a "beef" with beef in Ireland. This is based on the price and how it is cooked. In general, the beef and beef dishes in Ireland are relatively more expensive and not a good value. I like my beef rare or medium-rare. It is very tough to get a steak or a roast cooked correctly to my tastes in Ireland. I’ve had a cook/chef refer to my preferences as a French style. I’ve also had my request for a rare streak referred to as a “blue steak”. I’ve found restaurants that actually fulfill my request for rare or medium-rare, but they are few. Beef is very common as the roast of the day. It will come well done … not medium-well. Think shoe leather. Hamburgers in Ireland are also different from North America. The hamburger in Ireland is closer to North American meat loaf and contains breadcrumbs and spices … pretty good, but not what you might be expecting. If you don’t see a bun or “bap” on the menu description, don’t expect one. The beef stew is good and filling. Cottage Pie contains minced beef (hamburger) and is topped with piped mashed potatoes similar to a Shepherd’s Pie. Of all the pies and stews, this is my favorite.
There are a few more terms and customs about Irish food in restaurants that you might find helpful
Roast of the Day
In Pubs and some restaurants you will see a “roast of the day” option. If the server does not give you the specifics, then you should ask. The roast of the day can be beef, turkey, ham, or pork loin. There is also a variation that is ham and turkey that seems to be a turkey breast wrapped with ham and comes with stuffing. These are not the best dishes in Ireland but are very edible and relatively inexpensive.
I could probably write a complete blog on breakfast. So, I will only write a few quick notes here. "American" pancakes are usually not American pancakes, but thinner, more crepe-like. Omelets are for lunch and dinner. The porridge (oatmeal) is very good. Scones are to-die-for. Savory scones are like biscuits. ("Biscuits" are cookies.) Toast is brown or white; not whole wheat or white toast…. It’s all made from wheat. If you want your yoke to be liquid, you will need to ask for the eggs to be cooked soft.
Two breakfast dishes demand more attention: Salmon Benedict and The Full Irish. Various versions of Eggs Benedict are on most breakfast menus. My favorite is the Salmon Benedict. Smoked Salmon, poached egg, bread (not an English muffin), and Hollandaise sauce. This dish is always excellent.
The full Irish is typically available anytime of the day or night, and is the preferred big breakfast for the Irish. It also has legendary powers to cure hangovers. The full Irish varies slightly. It consists of fried eggs, rashers, sausages, black pudding, white pudding and a fried tomato and is accompanied by toast and coffee or tea. The Full Irish can also come with potatoes, beans, or mushrooms. Don’t ask about the black or white pudding. It is great dipped in the egg yoke. Just eat it!
Soup of the Day
Every pub or restaurant will have a soup of the day and 9 times out of 10 the soup will be vegetable or potato-leek. It tastes good on a rainy day, and is mostly vegetarian. The vegetables will not be recognizable since they have been pureed and the soup is served with soda bread and butter; a great light lunch.
Here are some miscellaneous tidbits that might be helpful.
Many times there will be a reduced menu on Sunday, so you need to eat relatively early in some restaurants or villages. A Carvery is cafeteria style service and usually happens around lunchtime. Lunchtime is 1:00 pm. Stay away from sweet chili sauce if you want salsa. The pizza is generally American style (vs. Italian style). Chips will be offered with everything including pizza and lamb shank that is already served on mashed potatoes. It is possible to get three different styles of potatoes with your meal without making it a “special order”. Salads are light on the greens; bigger on other herbs and veggies; and come pre-dressed. These are just a few of the tidbits.
Next week, I get to write about the restaurants of Galway.
See You In The Pub!
Jet Lag Jack
[20-May 2016: added a few links and cleaned up some of the English]