The Wild West

My husband and I spent last week travelling along the north-west and west coasts of Ireland. What an amazing area! We cannot recommend it highly enough. Non-foodie highlights included the ‘Cup of Tae’ festival in Ardara (this is a trad music festival and has nothing to do with tea), the beautiful beaches around Glenties, the Blue Stack mountains, Lough Eske, Yeats’ grave, Cong village, Galway city and the Burren.

Lough Eske in Donegal

Lough Eske in Donegal

River Corrib in Galway city

River Corrib in Galway City

We also encountered some great restaurants and food producers on our travels. Nancy’s in Ardara was a particular favourite, where we had delicious seafood chowder and prawn sandwiches. It’s a bar specialising in seafood, beer and live music, and seems to be the centre-point of the village.

We sampled more chowder in the bar at Harvey’s Point hotel . This is a stunning hotel, situated right on Lough Eske. The location was amazing, as was the decor, and the staff were ridiculously friendly. I’d love to come back for a night sometime. We were so impressed by the place, we asked our waitress about it’s history and she happily informed us that it was owned by Swiss brothers. She said they pride themselves on providing a mixture of Swiss efficiency and Irish hospitality. They’ve nailed it!

In Galway city we stumbled across a gem in Ard Bia at Nimmos. Apparently, this place has been on the foodie map in the city for a long time, but it was our first encounter and we were bowled over. It’s in a lovely old house on the banks of the Corrib, and is made up of a series of small rooms. They have a small menu, and some great specials. We had the hake special, served with mashed leeks, mushrooms and potato and poached egg with avocado. It sounds simple, but do not let that fool you. This was top-notch food, cooked perfectly and served with panache. we finished up with amazing cardamom coffees and a slice of spinach cake (which was inspired). The lunch menu is good value too. We paid €30 including a tip for the hake, eggs, two coffees and spinach cake.

 

Eggs with spinach and pesto

Eggs with Spinach and Pesto

Hake with mashed Mushrooms, Leeks and Potato

Hake with mashed Mushrooms, Leeks and Potato

Cardamom Coffee

Cardamom Coffee

Spinach Cake

Spinach Cake

We also visited the famous ‘Moran’s on the Weir’ where we had some delicious seafood. This place has been famous for it’s oysters and Guinness for decades. It’s not particularly fancy, and isn’t the cheapest, but if you want some straight-up, unadulterated seafood, it’s the place to be. About a 20 minute drive outside Galway city it’s especially nice on a sunny day, where you can sit outside by the water. We had 6 oysters, another seafood chowder, the seafood special (a selection of cold, gorgeous fish), mussels and chips, one pint of Guinness and two coffees, and it came to €70.

Oysters and Guinness

Oysters and Guinness

seafood special

Amazing seafood special with smoked salmon, Atlantic prawns, crab claws and crab meat

The last place that really impressed us was the ‘Hazel Mountain Chocolate’ factory and shop. We stumbled across this place completely by chance. Driving through the Burren, we saw a sign saying “Chocolate – 2 kilometres” and couldn’t resist. This is an incredible small-scale chocolate producers right in the middle of the countryside. The land and some of the buildings were inherited by two brothers, who, along with their wives, set about building this amazing company only two and a half years ago. What’s so special about this place is that they are one of the few producers around the world making ‘bean to bar’ chocolate. They purchase beans from Madagascar, Cuba, Venezuela and Costa Rica, roast them on site, and then create the most delicious bars, truffles and hot chocolate. They roast the beans quickly at a low temperature, which means that even the 70% chocolate tastes sweet, and lacks the bitterness of other dark chocolates. They do interesting combinations, such as coffee and cardamom (already our favourite after Ard Bia) but the beauty is in the simplicity of their chocolate. The dark chocolate only contains beans and raw cane sugar. The milk chocolate only contains beans, raw cane sugar and fresh, Irish milk.

Roasting room and beans

Roasting room and beans

They also have a gorgeous little café here, which is in their grandparents’ converted cottage. They have a small lunch menu, made from food out of their polytunnel. They also serve amazing home-made cakes, the best hot chocolate ever (even Nigella Lawson agrees) and delicious cocoa tea. I can’t recommend this place highly enough!!! Wonderful people, in a gorgeous setting with delicious chocolate. The Swiss are famous for their chocolate, but I’m pretty sure this place has outdone them!

The Café at Hazel Mountain Chocolate

The Café at Hazel Mountain Chocolate

Cake at the Café

Hot chocolate, bean-to-bar bars of chocolate, chocolate coffee cardamom cake and cacao tea

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