Harry's Restaurant, Bridgend, Inisowen, Co Donegal
It's the infrastructure, stupid. Some folk think the infrastructure of a restaurant is its POS system, the staff rota and the layout of the kitchen. If only it were that simple. The infrastructure of a restaurant is actually the network of people from whom the restaurant sources its food. The more diverse and local the supply chain is, then the more powerful the restaurant's signature style can be. Right now, Harry's Restaurant at Bridgend in Donegal may have the most potent signature of any restaurant in Ireland.
That's a fine achievement. But to achieve it in Donegal is an extraordinary feat, because Donegal artisans are scarce: we walked around the Supervalu in Carndonagh and the paucity of local foods would break your heart. But then, Donal Doherty isn't a man to let that fact stand in his way. he has winkled, ferreted, unearthed and shuck out an array of gifted people to bring their food to his restaurant, and then chef Ray Moran wields the kind of magic that these brilliant Inisowen foods deserve. To taste that crab pannacotta, the shellfish caught by Robert McKinley, or that gurnard from the Greencastle Fisherman's Co-Op is to ascend to culinary heaven. The symbiosis between the ingredients and the kitchen's creativity is almost instinctual, and it runs right through the menu, from stupendous squid stuffed with couscous to a warm chocolate fondant that is one of the modern Irish masterpieces. In between times, of course, is the celebrated Harry's beef, hung in their own cold rooms for 28 days. The beef tastes like beef ice cream – it simply melts in the mouth. The lamb tastes like lamb ice cream – it simply melts in the mouth. These meats are so good that no description of their taste and tactility can do them justice, and they are rightly the core of the Harry's offer.
The staff, of course, are fleet and friendly, the room is glam, and the value for money is staggering: Mr Doherty has, in effect, cut the middle-man out of his supply chains, so he can offer prices that you simply don't see anywhere else in Ireland, and that value includes a brilliant wine list. Overall, Harry's is currently the most complete Wow! experience in Irish food.