Coopershill House, Riverstown, Co Sligo
Some cooks know when a dish is as perfect as perfect can be. To finish dinner in Coopershill House, chef Christina McCauley served gooseberry tart with gooseberry and elderflower ice cream. It was… as perfect as perfect can be, which was just as well, as the preceding courses – smoked venison salad; garden spinach soup; roast hake; fillet of lamb; brilliant vegetables amongst which a cauliflower gratin was meticulous, then farmhouse cheeses – were simply sublime.
It's always marvelous to see a country house reanimated by a new generation and Simon O'Hara and Christina seem set to propel Coopershill to a new level of achievement and acclaim. This has always been one of the most pristine of the Irish country houses, and the housekeeping and comfort gladden the heart. Every aspect of their endeavour articulates a straining for the perfect, from the roses on the dressing table to the precision of the turn-down, from the gleam of the cutlery to the unpretentious grace with which they both inhabit this big monolith of a house. Sligo has been dozing for the last several years, with few outstanding destinations, but you must put Coopershill on your “must go” list of destinations. Here is a house where everything shines.
Lyons Café, Sligo
Gary Stafford knows his beetroots. He knows that if you want the maximum sweetness from a beetroot, then you must roast it. And so when you bite into that beetroot salad which comes with a range of other salads as part of lunch in Lyons, you get not just sublime sweetness, but also the measure of someone who really understands cooking: the beetroot has been roasted, to perfection.
The room in Lyons is long, lean and lovely, old-style without a hint of fatigue, beautifully maintained, with a lively crowd who know something good when they eat it. The idea is Avoca-ish – a range of dishes, collected by yourself on a tray, and great value for money – but the style is not a pastiche of Avoca, and is very much Gary Stafford's own, the work of a man who can make a burger, make a tagine, make a steak sandwich,and make a bowl of soup, and not only make them right, but give them authenticity. A cracking place.