Savour the great local flavours of Lough Derg in waterside pubs, smart restaurants and buzzy little cafés.
Tables fill up fast around Lough Derg in summer, and there’s a good reason why. As well as having some of the most scenic places to eat on the island, it also has some of the best – relaxed, family-run bistros where everything tastes super-fresh; stunning scenic pubs that overlook the glittering waters; excellent little cafés that bring an Irish twist to Italian favourites. Local produce, from cheeses to chocolates and from high-grade beef to organic vegetables, dominate menus that mix classic Irish dishes with a global dash. In winter, savour velvety pints of Guinness by roaring fires in thatched-roof pubs and feast on Irish stews and creamy seafood chowders. In summer, take things outside with plates of tapas, gorgeous fresh salads and light, fresh bowls of pasta.
A Taste of Lough Derg
Now heading into its sixth year, A Taste of Lough Derg is looking busier than ever with a host of events that bring a real sense of fun to food around the lough. Set in some of the area’s most popular restaurants as well as hotels, country houses and cafés, the event amps up the entertainment factor with everything from chocolate-making classes, to celebratory brunches, to talks, tastings and high teas. The event runs right through the summer in June, July, August and September.
Lough Derg’s vibrant food scene is anchored by its farmers markets, where you can meet and talk to the region’s local producers. They’re a laid-back and flavoursome introduction to the area’s best local produce, and the perfect spot for picking up some picnic or BBQ supplies! Markets take place in Killaloe (Sun, 11-3); Nenagh (Fri, 8-1:30); Mountshannon (Sat 11-3); Portuma (Fri 8:30-12:30); and Scariff (Fri, 12-4).
Sitting snugly along the main street in Ballina, Tuscany Bistro is a popular local spot that’s busy right through the week. While it may not break any new ground, the cooking here is downright solid, which means you’re guaranteed a satisfying line-up of Italian comfort-food classics from pizzas and lasagnes to salads and sharing platters… Pleasant surroundings, friendly staff and good value seal the deal.
No matter how you get here – by boat, by car or on foot – you’ll be glad you made the effort, because Larkin’s is that kind of pub. Outside, it’s all white paint, red trim, thatched roof and blooming flowers; inside, you’ll find picture-lined walls, chunky wooden seating and a very friendly atmosphere. Book in for lunch in the snug, if you’re travelling in a group or relax outside with a feast that’s served a stone's throw from the water.
Lots of cafes these days have artfully strewn books and huge squishy sofas, but they can often end up feeling contrived and inauthentic. Not here. Ponte Vecchio is just what a café should be: homely, characterful, friendly and with great coffee, food and wine. There’s a music school upstairs which adds to the air of relaxed bohemia, and it’s a great place to just kick back, lounge around and hang out for a while, maybe even with a book or two.
The tiny village of Tuamgraney on the edge of the River Graney is pure charm. And whether you’re here to visit St Cronan’s Church – the oldest church in continual use in Ireland or the United Kingdom – the chocolate factory or the woollen mills, one place you won’t want to miss out on is Nuala’s pub. Star of RTÉ’s At Your Service, the pub has occupied its spot overlooking the village green since 1850, and is known far and wide for its traditional, cosy interior, welcoming atmosphere and great craic. Stop in for a pint, a toastie or take your time over a relaxed dinner.
The Derg Inn
Situated next to the remains of what was once a flourishing monastery, the Lough Derg Inn is a go-to for great food in the picturesque village of Terryglass. A good line of simple dishes featuring local and organic produce keeps this pub popular even on quiet winter lunchtimes, while live music, Saturday yoga brunches and match-day screenings rev things up at the weekends.
The Snug, Mountshannon
You can’t miss The Snug as you pass through the lovely waterside village of Mountshannon – it stands like a little foodie beacon on the edge of the road just across from the village park. Inside, the simple and elegant interior serves as a backdrop to a flavoursome array of tapas, salads and pizzas.
The Thatched Cottage, Ballycommon
Away from the water and just a five-minute drive from Nenagh, The Thatched Cottage is a bit of a local landmark – a beautiful restored, thatched building that dates back to the 1800s. The huge menu ensures there is pretty much something for everyone, with pizzas, seafood, pasta, veggie options and a selection of steaks, as well as a massive Sunday lunch. A soaring vaulted ceiling gives it an airy feel inside, while plenty of knick-knacks, curiosities and a thatched bar (within the thatched building!) add a dose of personality.
This picture-perfect old-style pub brings on the character with a flag-stone floor, white-washed walls, chunky stone, and dark wood panelling. It’s small, intimate and friendly, making it the ideal winter-weather destination where you can relax with steaks, seafood and traditional Irish dishes. In summer, grab a table out front overlooking the water, or head into the restaurant for a laid-back dinner.
La Bouche, Portumna
Portumna’s top spot for fine-dining, La Bouche opt for local, organic and homegrown ingredients where possible, and it shows through in the food. Husband and wife team, David and Siobhan Avrillier-Grange, steer a menu that ripples with French influences from cheese tartlets to boeuf bourguignon. It's a popular spot so book ahead, especially at weekends.
The Beehive Pizzeria, Portumna
The owner’s artworks line the walls of this friendly pizzeria in the heart of Portumna town, and when it comes to tasty downhome pizza, it’s just the ticket. Welcoming and well-priced, it makes the perfect go-to after a day on the water, hiking through Portumna Forest or exploring the Workhouse Museum.
The Ferry Inn, Portumna
Portumna is not short of friendly, welcoming bars, from Curleys to Hayes’s, but if you’re after a traditional little Irish pub packed with bric-a-brack, rustic wood panelling, fairy lights and roaring turf fires – The Ferry Inn is the place. Tucked in off the road just outside town, it’s as gorgeous on endless summer nights where the outdoor seating area help you while away the evening, as it is on cosy winter days when all you want to do is chill out fireside with comfort food and coffee.