Irish Food and Restaurants | Oh! Those Pesky Flavours!

Cape to Cork South Africans Ireland Fish and Chips

I feel compelled to start off this post with not so much a warning about Irish food and restaurants, but rather simple heads-up about the how much you will be longing for the deep, rich and warm flavours of home.

If I may quote the Irish novelist Marian Keyes on the subject: “Ireland is famed for its crap cuisine; we are known the world over for boiling our vegetables until all flavour has been bet right out of them. It’s almost a national slogan – ‘Guaranteed! No pesky flavours present in our food.’”

As South Africans we were very much spoilt for choice when it came to food and restaurants. South Africa is well known for the excellence of our hospitality sector. In particular our vibrant food and wine scene. A great variety of restaurant choices are available in SA from traditional, cultural restaurants to fine dining experiences with wine tastings thrown in. And those are only your choices for Saturday evening.

Cape to Cork South Africans Ireland Wine

In contrast, on the whole we have found the Irish menus, or more to the point, Cork menus, generally a bit unoriginal. We mean this in the sense that you seem to get the same basic menu choices across the board. We keep seeing the same items turn up at every establishment we go to. Dublin seems to offer more choice in terms of food and wine, but we have not dined there often (yet). Overall, whether it is the local pub or one of the quaint bistros in town, you are guaranteed to find the staples everywhere: Fish, chips and mushy peas, a hamburger or two, a chicken salad, a pasta dish, a curry option and the ever-present sirloin steak. Not very inspirational stuff.

Cape to Cork South Africans Ireland Wine Cocktails

That being said, we have always found the ingredients used are incredibly fresh. The portion sizes are also generous. The local produce is simply lovely and we have never been let down by quality. Cork is not called ‘Ireland’s larder’ without reason. And after you have tried, tested and tasted most of the restaurant or pub meals you can lay your hands on, and you simply cannot face another ham sandwich or plate of curry and chips, you learn to search a little harder for the good stuff. There are indeed great meals out there. You just need to do some research. For Cork especially, look online for restaurants that have received awards, fusion food or smaller farm-to-plate joints out of town. And then of course most of the manor houses and castle hotels have some good dining options for celebrations or special occasions. In Cork city you will find quite a few good Asian options. Also, if you are willing to take a drive, we cannot recommend Sage in Midleton or Ballymaloe House enough!

Cape to Cork South Africans Ireland Wine

However, as much as we wanted to sample as big a variety as possible, we have found that dining out is quite pricey here in Ireland, relative to South Africa. Think €60 for a basic lunch for two people. For us that is a main meal option, like fish ‘n chips, and a drink each at the local pub excluding dessert. It does get more expensive from there. Simply going out for drinks can a costly adventure too. You are looking at spending about €5-€6 for a pint of beer and about €7-€8 for a glass of house wine (don’t expect South African quality wine). A bottle of more drinkable wine can range anywhere from €40 to hundreds of Euros. Because we dined out regularly in Johannesburg and Cape Town, we simply changed our habits in Ireland to cut back on the number of times we went out. We made sure we found good, exiting Irish food and restaurant options for when we do dine out. This may not even be an issue for you, but for us its more about saving for quality dining than dining out more often.


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