One of the perks of working at an Irish publication is getting to see and experience the very best that Irish businesses have to offer. As a small island, we too often get caught up in following US or UK trends, or buying into big business and cheap produce — when really, the real quality is right here on our doorstep.
Ireland is known internationally for many things — literature, music, history, culture, being the best craic (and not just because I'm biased), and, not least, our food. Last year saw the highest ever volume of Irish exports to the rest of the world, with our agri-food exports valued at €13.6 billion, according to Bord Bia’s Export Performance and Prospects 2018/2019.
Our meat, dairy, seafood and alcohol exports are recognised internationally as being some of the best in the world, and they all come from this little island we call our home. The question is — why aren't we indulging in the sensational food Ireland has to offer?
The Sligo Foodie Tour
Anthony Gray, a restaurateur, former President of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, and proud Sligo native (he may have been born in London, but trust me, when you meet him, there's no doubt he's a Sligeach man), is doing his best to change that.
Having grown up surrounded by food, first with his father's butcher shop in East London (the corned beef was a particular favourite of the Kray Twins, so we're told), and then returning the family business to Sligo in his teenage years, Gray made the risky move to open his first restaurant in his hometown at the height of the recession.
His love for the community and his commitment to high quality, locally sourced ingredients launched Gray's business into the fast lane. He's now the proud owner of two of Sligo's most successful and awarded restaurants, Éala Bán and Hooked — both of which make appearances on Gray's other labour of love, the Taste of Sligo Tour.
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The tour, for a very reasonable €55 per person, brings tourists and food-lovers alike on a tour of Sligo and more, importantly, of its food. Patrons are brought around the town, sampling the freshest local delights from the Wild Atlantic Way, while joining in on Gray's enthusiasm as he shares his knowledge of the local cuisine.
Some of our favourite bites on the menu included a comforting batch of fish and chips; a fruity IPA from local brewery Lough Gill; award-winning chocolates from local bakery Le Fournil (which wouldn't look out of place as a backdrop in Amélie) and a well-deserved pint in the oldest pub in the city, Thomas Connolly's.
The biggest plus
The pull here, though, is not the food (although it is delicious) — it's the community. Every step of the way, Gray's genuine relationship with local producers is clear, and it makes the food taste that much better knowing it's been farmed, fished and made with love for the city. Being a Dublin native, and having every option of fast food and mass-produced grub on my doorstep means I often overlook the local, and often much tastier alternatives.
Sligo, with the help of those like Gray, does not have that problem. At every pitstop, I savoured the samples and knowing the story behind them left a sweeter aftertaste — even with the oysters (of which, I'll confess, I'm still not the biggest fan).
Where to stay
If you're already planning your weekend's activities, make sure to plan out where to stay too. Our recommendation? You can't go wrong with the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa on the way up to Rosses Point. Overlooking the water, the rooms themselves are the absolute perfect remedy to tired feet, with massive beds and relaxation galore. You get the chance to unwind in the spa (full body massage comes highly recommended), or take a swim in the leisure centre too. And we know you'll have spent the day eating, but it's worth noting that the hotel's own Classiebawn Restaurant serves beautiful meals too.
The hotel is currently running some great midweek specials for April and May, so now's the time to book if your taste buds are in need of a holiday.
- April Midweek Summer Special — Sunday to Thursday inc — €89 B&B and €137 dinner, bed & breakfast with a welcome drink on arrival
- May Midweek Summer Special — Sunday to Thursday inc — €99 B&B and €147 dinner, bed & breakfast with a welcome drink on arrival
The Wild Atlantic Way has so many attractions, from the scenery to the history to the art. But for your next trip to the Wesht, plan it around the delicious food and the fabulous people – and make sure you hit Sligo on the way.
To book your place on the Taste of Sligo Tours, contact the Hooked restaurant at [email protected] or call ++353(0)719138591. Tours start at 12 pm and 3 pm daily, Wednesday to Saturday, for €55 per person in parties of 8 or more (maximum of 20).