Brian and Brenda McDermott’s Foyle Hotel, on the square in little Moville on the edge of Lough Foyle in Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, offers a masterclass in contemporary savoury Irish cooking.
Dishes that you might think of as domestic staples - lamb pie; pumpkin soup; chicken breast with champ; mussels with cider - are rendered here with such professional elan that they emerge newly birthed.
Those mussels, for instance, have barley along with the cider, and they eat so cleanly that they deliver the equivalent of a culinary blood transfusion. The lamb pie is so finessed that it sends a straightforward dish into the stratosphere, whilst the John Dory with pork belly is so soulful that you have to kick yourself to remember that you are eating in an hotel.
But Mr McDermott has not simply opened an hotel: he has also reinvented the idea of hotel food here in the Foyle, for it’s the food that comes first, and you walk off the street straight into the restaurant and bar, with the reception area tucked away on the first floor. Getting a table has been a hard ask, right from the moment they got the doors open during the summer season, but at the end of dinner, where the pleasure of the food is amplified by the excellence of the service, you can see why the Foyle has been a runaway success: everything works like clockwork, and everything serves Mr McDermott’s mantra of clean, moreish, delicious, modern Donegal cooking, not least his unforgettable dark brown soda bread, surely one of the finest loaves in Ireland. A new star is born.
Donegal Detours: it’s a long way to get up to the far north of Donegal, so make time to tour the peninsulas. Here are some don’t miss! Donegal destinations for your winter break and to plan for in 2019:
Chef Gordon Smyth's jeweller-like attention to detail is creating sparks in the hotel's Water's Edge Restaurant. Magnificent views.
Beautiful food from chef Garry McPeake is just one of the charms of this elegant, simple coaching inn. Nice rooms, great music sessions, and one of the best bars in the country.
Rathmullan House & The Tap Room
If you only know the splendid food and hospitality of the Wheeler family thanks to their food cart at music festivals, you owe yourself a visit to their elegant country house.
The Red Door
The location will take your breath away and the cooking is imaginative and creative.
A design statement that succeeds like few others. Cathrine and Niall’s house just has to be on your travel agenda for 2019.
A Donegal standard bearer for 20 years, and Derek Alcorn is a splendiferous cook whose choice use of local foods is benchmark good.
The Rusty Oven Pizzeria
A local treasure, at the rear of Patsy Dan’s pub, and featuring a magnificent bricolage style. And who doesn’t love a pizza called The Grill From Ipanema, even if it does feature pineapple.
Arnold’s Hotel & Cafe Arnou
Their famous seafood pie is a fine dish worthy of its acclaim.
The cafée is just beside the hotel, and is a good choice for breakfast and for some imaginative burgers: lamb burger on naan; pulled pork with red cabbage slaw.
Downings & Carrigart
Fisk@ The Harbour Bar
Donegal locals are given to describing Tony and Lina’s seafood cooking in Fisk, adjacent to the Harbour Bar and overlooking the beach at Downings, as the best thing to have happened to the county in yonks. Sublime fish tacos, and the smoked haddock and tarragon pie, enjoyed at the table outside with a glass of Picpoul, is as good as it gets.
The Goose & Gander Pizzeria, Logue’s Pub
Excellent wood-fired pizzas from Chris and his team are just what you need in Carrigart, when you’ve finished touring Rinnafaghla and Rinmore Point.
The Crepe House
Emma’s savoury and sweet crepes, with a cup of good coffee, are just the ticket after a big beach walk: go straight for the blue cheese, pear and walnut, or maybe the Golden Oldie, with bumper hot chocolates for the kids.
Port na Blagh
A roadside wooden hut overlooking Marble Hill beach, one of the finest beaches in the North West, with splendid coffee from Tom, and branches of sea buckthorn to forage at the edge of the beach.
Classic pub, an absolute legend and landmark in this part of Donegal. Seafood chowder, fish pie, beef and Guinness stew with a pint of Kinnegar. Must visit.
Richard Finney is one of the most dynamic food people in the country, never mind the county, and The Counter is a precious destination. Their posh sausage roll (“Quite possibly the greatest in the world”) is a legend, but then everything here is extra good. You will spend a ton of money in the Deli, but that’s ok, because everything is expertly curated.
The Lemon Tree
Excellent cooking and service from the five Molloy family siblings powers this fine Donegal institution.
Castle Grove Country House
On the shore of Lough Swilly and just outside Letterkenny, chef Paul Brady is making waves with some fine cooking.
Browns on the Green
Chef Ian Orr is one of the big players in the North West, his enterprises straddling the border between Donegal and Derry.
The Olde Castle Bar & Restaurant
A pivotal Donegal town destination, with excellent seafood cookery from chef Marco Letterese.
The Blueberry Tearooms
Twenty five years young and a place to enjoy delicious, true cooking and kindly service.
Quay West Restaurant
Debbie and Jo have a gorgeous new room overlooking the waters just down at the quay, so enjoy the views whilst you enjoy Donegal braised lamb and char-grilled seafood.
Charming cafe in Donegal Craft Village - don't miss the brown bread and the Tunisian orange cake.
Harvey’s Point Hotel
A few miles outside Donegal town, Harvey’s Point has been a landmark destination for many years, home to considered cooking and excellent service.
Benny & Co
Joe and Brenda O’Hora are doing the good thing in Ballybofey, and they are quietly but quickly emerging as special talents: don’t miss their signature bitter chocolate torte.
Dicey Reillys Bar
Brendan O'Reilly is one of the most dynamic figures in the world of Irish pubs, and here you'll find a lovely traditional bar, a brewing company and one of the best off licences in the country.
Laura Hardaker's wickedly good sweet baking is the best reason to visit surf central.