Carlow is an entirely brilliant destination when it comes to food and drink… Here’s why.
For a small county, Carlow is something of a game changer when it comes to food and drink. After all, this is one of the places where Ireland’s craft beer revolution first started back in the 1990s, with the pioneering O’Haras. Today, beer and whiskey purists are well served in bars and restaurants that offer craft options that go beyond the ordinary, while those seeking farm-to-fork dining will discover that this is a county that takes provenance seriously, with great local cheese, meats and fish. Carlow really does offer something for everyone on the food front – there are atmospheric old grocery pubs for casual options, there’s an abundance of excellent fine dining options in super-scenic locations, and there are laid-back local favourites from cheerful little cafés to acclaimed Carlow town restaurants. Dig in!
Mimosa Bar de Tapas, Carlow town
You’d better book ahead at this deservedly popular tapas bar in Carlow’s cultural quarter – given the legion of local fans it can be tricky to nab a table, especially at weekends. And there’s a good reason why – excellent plates of everything from mouth-searingly spicy fish tacos to Bloody Mary mini beef burgers, a great craft beer menu and genuinely friendly staff mean this is the kind of place you can linger all night. Best of all, the gorgeous garden in summer makes it a delightful place to sip a ginger mojito while ordering yet another round of sizzling garlic prawns.
Lennons @ VISUAL, Carlow town
This lovely, bright restaurant in the basement of Carlow’s contemporary art gallery, VISUAL, makes a great spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Using local suppliers, including cheese from Carlow Farmers Market, Goatsbridge trout from County Kilkenny and beers from the Carlow Brewing Company, the food is well crafted and inventive. Choose from evening dishes such as wild mushroom empanada or wild venison en croute, or keep it light with lunchtime favourites like spicy hummus wraps, ploughman’s boards and fresh poached salmon.
Le Fermier, Carlow Town
Just across from Carlow’s smart Town Hall and set within the restored Haymarket, Le Fermier offers French dishes underpinned by excellent Irish ingredients, thanks to the skilled hand of Chef Jurek Przybylski. Winner of the Restaurant Newcomer of the Year 2017 at the Irish Restaurant Awards, this great little spot has gone from strength to strength ever since. Choose from creative dishes such as slow-cooked confit duck leg, duck breast, braised red cabbage, cherry sauce and sweet potato. A winner all round.
Lord Bagenal Inn, Leighlinbridge
The wonderful art collection that covers the walls of the Lord Bagenal Inn is reason enough to visit this great little hotel in the pretty town of Leighlinbridge. And then there’s the food. Dating back to 1979, the Lord Bagenal Signature Restaurant is a local favourite and keeps punters happy with a crowd-pleasing menu featuring the likes of slow-cooked rump of lamb with chickpeas, tomato and basil and champ potato. The dessert list is particularly good, with tons of tempting options such as banoffee pie, raspberry cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding. Want something more casual? Make a beeline for the super-cosy bar, where you can contemplate the art while enjoying the catch of the day.
Clashganny House, Borris
Nestled down within a beautiful green valley close to Clashganny Lock and just outside the village of Borris, this delightful Victorian country house restaurant is an enormously satisfying spot, both for the quality of the food and the beauty of the location. The prime tables here are just next to the window, offering excellent views of the soft landscape outside, but pretty much anywhere in this elegant dining room is pleasing. Menu-wise, you’re in for a treat with delicately crafted plates that burst with flavour.
Step House, Borris
Hugely popular as a wedding destination, the Step House in Borris faces the gates of Borris House on the main street in town. It’s a lovely hotel, with two dining options to choose from, the 1808 Brasserie and The Cellar Restaurant, which is located in the old Georgian kitchens and boasts stone archways and vaulted ceilings. At 1808, mahogany and brass fittings provide a backdrop to a menu boasting dishes such as free-range pork with Kilmore scallops, celeriac, apple and fennel salad.
O’Shea’s Pub, Borris
O’Shea is a gem of a pub – a hardware shop in picturesque Borris that’s connected to the modern world thanks to a side entrance to Centra. With its red-and-white striped wooden bar and timeworn interior, it gives the feeling of being enveloped in a bygone era, especially in the pale afternoon sunlight. Shelves are tightly packed and hardware hangs from the ceiling, but none of it feels contrived or overdone, making O’Shea’s one of the most pleasant places in the area to have a pint and a sambo. Don’t miss it.
Sha-Roe Bistro, Clonegal
With a beautiful, sylvan location on the edge of the River Derry and sitting in the shade of the Blackstairs Mountains, Clonegal is a delightful little village with old stone buildings, a humpbacked bridge and a quiet, rural feel. Huntington Castle is the big draw here, but so is the Sha-Roe Bistro, a great local restaurant that boasts a Michelin Bib Gourmand. The evening dinner is a real treat, with everything from creamy risottos to seven-hour braised beef cheeks, but the satisfying Sunday lunch will leave you happy, too.
Mullichain Café, St Mullins
Sitting at a scenic curve in the River Barrow, the Mullichain Café could well be a contender for the most scenic place to have a cup of coffee on the island of Ireland! It’s a beautiful location – with mists hanging over the water and backed by an ecclesiastical village, you are surrounded with nature, greenery, birdsong. For walkers and cyclists who have travelled along the Barrow towpath from Graiguenamanagh, it also makes a welcome place to rest, relax and refuel.
Pomegranate Café, Graiguenamanagh
This small, friendly café in the centre of Graiguenamanagh is popular with locals who drop in to enjoy a line-up of tasty salads, soups and sandwiches. Bright and airy, it’s a perfect spot for a fuel-up either pre- or post-walk. Vegetarians and vegans are well-catered for, and there is a takeaway option if you’re looking to pick up some picnic treats.
Barrow’s Keep, Graiguenamanagh
A smart, beautifully lit and carefully designed dining room sets the scene for one of the most delightful places to eat along the River Barrow. Nestled into an idyllic spot just by the bridge at Graiguenamanagh at the start of the towpath, Barrow’s Keep is a hive of excellent cooking dedicated to using the very best local ingredients. Feast on Ballinwillin wild boar with cabbage, raisin and mustard mousseline, before treating yourself to a buttermilk panna cotta with apricot sorbet and fennel caramel.
The Green Barn, Burtown House, County Carlow
Located on the Burtown House estate, the Green Barn is a huge but beautifully designed space that has the space of a barn with the elegance of a beautiful restaurant. It might be hard to resist purchasing some of the art, crafts and woollens you’ll pass on the way to your table, but once you’re seated, you’re in for a treat – much of the produce here comes from the estate’s walled garden and in summer, the fresh, super-tasty salads are not to be missed.
Carlow Farmers Market, Carlow town
Perfect for getting a taste of the very best artisan produce that Carlow has to offer, the Carlow Farmers’ Market is one of the island’s liveliest and has been in operation for over a decade. Crisp apple juices, dry-aged meats, farm-fresh eggs and local jams and chutneys line the stalls, making it a lovely place for a leisurely browse and a great place to pick up picnic supplies. The market takes place every Saturday morning from 9am to 2pm at the Potato Market and Liberty Tree.