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Megabites Awards - Cafes, Bars and Destinations

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

Cafe of the Year - The Farmhouse Cafe
If it wasn’t enough that the Farmhouse Cafe is serving their own farm pork, vegetables and salad leaves and making soups and casseroles from scratch in a corner of a Safety Superstore on the Longmile Road, Susan O’Sullivan’s cafe has expanded and today includes a bakery, with weekly sourdough, daily batch loaves and – honestly – some of the the best sandwiches in Dublin. The Farmhouse is an unexpected treasure in the concrete and tarmac morass that is the M50 and it’s environs. They don’t miss a trick.

Pub of the Year - The LockKeeper
Galway’s strength as a food destination is not just its starry chefs, but instead it is its strength in depth. And this is where John Keogh’s – The Lockkeeper comes into the picture. Chef Joe Flaherty’s cooking in Matt Hall’s bustling pub has won every possible award, and for a simple reason: this is real, West Coast, modern Irish cooking, and it is so much better than your expectations that its impact is enormous: slow roast lamb shoulder with champ and green peas; Gilligan’s char-grilled sirloin with smoked bacon butter; ravioli with Cashel Blue cheese and pesto cream; peanut butter parfait.

Sandwich of the Year - Green Bench Café
We did good when we last ordered sandwiches at the Green Bench, on Montague Street. We only had to queue for, like, 15 minutes, maybe 20 minutes, which was pretty good, given that the GB breeds bigger queues than anywhere else in Dublin. Thing is, of course, that nobody in the queue minds in the slightest, because we all know we are going to get sublime food, in particular the beef brisket sandwich with tarragon mayo and onions. Bliss between two pieces of bread.

Food Cart of the Year - Misunderstood Heron
The blackboard menu at Kim and Reynaldo’s Misunderstood Heron food cart offers mussels and lamb; smoked salmon with pickles; pasties and quiches; coriander felafel with yogurt; and sweet things like blueberry cake, or apple pies, and Cloudpicker coffee. And here’s the thing: whatever you order will be delightful and delicious and will demonstrate exactitude and instinct, in abundance. You sit outside at a picnic table, staring down the mouth of the fjord, and you thank your lucky stars that you are in Connemara, eating cooking of such excellence. You could call it Fjord Food but, really, what you get at Misunderstood Heron is simply Fantastic Food.

Breakfast of the Year - Armorica
If you love the French concept of the restaurant-with-rooms, then you will love Natasha and Nicolas’s Armorica, on the main street of little Oranmore. But, if you love a classic French rolled omelette more than anything in the world, then this is where you find it: nothing quite like perfection first thing in the morning.
Destination of the Year - Breac.House
The only way to describe the work of Catherine and Niall, of Dunfanaghy’s Breac.House, is to say that they are artists of living, and artists of life. Their experience of living and travelling has been distilled, element by element, into the magnificent creation that is Breac.House, and they convert the prose of that experience into the poetry of hospitality. Staying at Breac is something magical which the great food writer Richard Olney once summarised in the adjectival triplet of “sensuous-sensual-spiritual.” Breac.House is a sensuous, sensual, spiritual – and joyful – experience. There is nowhere like it.
Country House of the Year - Killiane Castle
Killiane Castle is a pure treat, an unpretentious, warm Wexford home, which also happens to have a medieval castle tower. Paul Mernagh and his family have created a cocoon of comfort in this fine house, and of special note is the scrummy cooking, both at dinner and breakfast. You won’t taste better potatoes and carrots anywhere else: the pure taste of the county.

Hotel Room of the Year - City Pods
In the basement of the McGill family's Iveagh Garden Hotel, on Harcourt Street in Dublin, there are a series of City Pod rooms, and we managed to bag the last one on a trip when our car broke down and we had to stay the night in the city. The rooms are 10 square metres in size, into which the designers have pushed a queen-size bed against the wall, then slotted in a rain shower and loo room which is behind a glass wall which has stencilled tree patterns on the glass. A window up above the bed lets in light. We really liked this imaginative use of a very small space, and slept the good sleep, though we can see how some will hate the fact that the bathroom is on view. Decent breakfast the next morning, in Elle’s Bar & Bistro, and we’re hoping on our next trip that the concierges might bother to catch our eye.

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