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Sally's blog

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

Manorhamilton’s W8 complex is one of the most ambitious and audacious food and tourism concepts ever created in Ireland.

It’s the audacity of Manorhamilton’s W8 Centre that takes your breath away.

At a time when rural decline is fast becoming a major problem throughout Europe and the wider world – there are parts of rural Spain which are more underpopulated than Siberia, and some Italian towns will sell you a house for €1, if you would only move there to live – it would be easy to give up on little Manorhamilton.

Like so many Irish provincial towns, Manorhamilton was battered by the bank crash of 2008, leaving a debris of empty shops and ghost estates.

Glamping goes luxuriously lunar at Finn Lough’s amazing Bubble Domes.

In the middle of the night, as you lie in your bed in your Bubble Dome at Finn Lough estate, you feel that you need only stretch your arm up, and you could take charge of The Plough, and cut a swathe through the Milky Way. The agriculture of the stars is, suddenly, your dominion.

That’s the feeling you get on a clear, starry night, as you exult in the comfort and the extraordinary concentrated viewscape of the out-of-this-world bubble domes, in west County Fermanagh.

A Lisnamulligan burger in the beer garden of Dicey Reilly’s is some sort of Donegal manna.

On his farm at Castlefin, County Donegal, Thomas Hughes rears the Angus cattle that his butcher makes into the signature Lisnamulligan beef burgers.

He rears the pigs that become the Lisnamulligan pork and apple burger. The smoky bacon on the Smoky burger comes from those happy animals. And the potatoes he uses for his excellent skin-on fries? Yep, he grows the Roosters himself on the farm.

And, he’s not finished yet.

Yoshimi Hayakawa’s cooking in Sushi Wa has incredible emotional power.

“My nigiri tells a story”, says Yoshimi Hayakawa, the chef-proprietor of Wa Sushi, in Galway’s Docklands.

In fact, Ms Hayakawa’s sushi tells many stories, not least the tale of how her restaurant has crafted something unique in the creation of Galway-Mae sushi, which means that Wa Sushi only uses fish and shellfish from Galway Bay.

In Browne’s Restaurant in Tuam, Stevie and Amanda are turning sow’s ears into culinary silk purses.

We visited Brownes in Tuam for their Friday market lunch, an informal mid-day menu  that gives some hints of the kitchen's magic.

It sounds simple: ham hock and truffled Hegarty’s cheddar cheese toastie on sourdough bread. It sounds exactly like the sort of thing you can buy today in every good coffee shop and lunchtime destination. Chances are you might have a flat white with it, or a glass of kombucha.

Dermot Madigan, The Mulranny Park Hotel

Dermot Madigan has always been one of the great Irish hotel managers. He has always had all the skills – the ability to do 10 things at the same time, whilst making it look easy, and being able to sort out whatever issue you have right now, with a smile.
But the story of the Mulranny Park over the last decade is not just the excellence of Mr Madigan and his team. If you have had the luck to stay here, then you know that already. No, the story of the MP is the fact that the hotel gets better and better, and keeps getting better and better.

Edward Joyce, The Mustard Seed

“I hear you bought a horse,” says John Edward Joyce to the jodhpur-clad man from Belgium who had just walked through the front door of The Mustard Seed.
That’s the thing about John Edward: if you’ve been out and about in County Limerick, buying a show jumper, he will know all about it.
It’s not just his instinct that gifts him with this skill: it’s a form of wise telepathy, a wisdom that let’s him know exactly where to pitch the conversational tent, every time.

Conrad Howard, Market Lane Group

Running a posse of restaurants is not the same thing a running a single restaurant. How do you manage to maintain the individual character of each destination, whilst at the same time sharing resources and staff in the hope of keeping costs down?
There are people who manage it, of course: Niall McKenna in Belfast; Jp McMahon in Galway; Ross Lewis, Erik Robson of Ely, Colin Harmon of 3fe.
But one of the finest restaurateurs in this regard is Cork’s Conrad Howard, who directs a quartet of the city’s best places to eat.

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