Donegal is magical, majestic and full of mischief. My home county is the most beautiful in the country.
Of course I’m going to say that, but it’s true. You’ll find warm people, freezing North Atlantic waters crashing onto dreamy beaches, good food, cosy pubs, rich Gaeilge and the song and story that comes from it, and us. Then there are sights like Mount Errigal, Malin Head, Sliabh League and the magnificent Glenveagh National Park. Trust me, you haven’t lived until you’ve been warmed by a Donegal turf fire, its fizzing and crackly breath embracing you into the very heart of its mountains, its sea, its people and its soul. Grá mo chroí.
Here are some of my favourite restaurants:
Harry’s Bar and Restaurant
What can I say about Harry’s? I’ve written a longer piece here about this fine restaurant, but what makes it so special is how much they care. The owner Donal Doherty and head chef Derek Creagh are passionate about using local produce that comes from the surrounding area of Inishowen and across Donegal. In fact, you can buy certain local treats and products like the fine Kinnegar beers to go. Their food is creative, delicious, consistent and extremely reasonable. It breaks my heart that Donegal, with such a long and glorious coastline doesn’t capitalise on its abundance of fresh fish on every restaurant menu. Harry’s does. My favourite things include the duck liver parfait starter which is the type of dish you could marry, and their always brilliant fish and chips. I urge you to try anything that features citrus or chocolate if it’s on the dessert menu. Harry’s, I do adore you.
Harry’s Bar and Restaurant, Bridgend, Inishowen, Co. Donegal. T: 00353 (0)749368544
Glenveagh Tea Rooms
I grew up visiting Glenveagh National Park a few times every year when we had visitors, yet I never tired of its dramatic beauty and the sight of its proud and imposing castle overlooking Lough Veagh in the Derryveagh mountains. Every guided tour would offer a new nugget about the castle’s rich, sometimes painful and glamourous past. Greta Garbo stayed there once. I remember hearing that when I was seven years old and I’m probably still not over it. After taking advantage of the long walks through its pretty gardens and surroundings we’d have earned our tea and cake. The Tea Rooms have delicious hot food and home baking and are a shining example of how to treat tourists, with respect. Offer them good food that’s reasonably priced and you will have long queues and repeat custom for years to come. The scones alone are worth a visit.
Glenveagh National Park, Churchill, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 761002537
Nancy’s of Ardara
The tapestry of Ardara is much like its world renowned weaving industry, rich and colourful with something you can’t quite put your finger on that makes it very special. Nancy’s is a fantastic pub in the heart of it that serves tasty and reasonable pub grub with lots of fresh seafood. It’s a gorgeous labyrinth of traditional snugs and nooks to nurse your Guinness and the front bar often has a trad session or someone might just give you a song. Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick are frequent visitors during their holidays there.
Nancy’s, Front Street, Ardara, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 749541187
Lough Eske Castle Hotel
The only five star hotel in Donegal, Lough Eske Castle sits in 43 acres of forest and woodland by the banks of Lough Eske on the outskirts of Donegal Town. It’s been lovingly restored with many tasteful nods to its history and the location has spectacular views. Their menu is exquisite, taking proper heed of the season’s ingredients and presenting them in a creative and respectful way. A great way to try their menu is a weekend lunch, or their four course Table D’hôte is €55 per person and includes Donegal Bay oysters, Hereford beef and local fish dishes. Sumptuous surroundings and superb food? In a castle? I can’t think of anything a girl could love more.
Lough Eske Castle, a Solís Hotel and Spa, Lough Eske, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 749725100
This is the ultimate mecca for carvery lovers. Every Sunday Harvey’s Point does the best one day carvery in the country in their hotel. This four course extravagant lunch begins with a seat at a table (if you’re lucky to get one) overlooking Lough Eske. You will have your soup served to the table by the cheery staff, and then it’s on your marks to the buffet. Oh my, what a buffet. The starter table has every type of salad, pâté and seafood you can dream of. Then it’s on to the roast of traditional meats, spuds, vegetables and gravy. Even though you think there’s no room, there is room for their dessert table. Chefs make crepes to order with your choice of filling and there’s cakes, trifle and chocolate delights to pile your plate with. Oh and cheese, of course. All this for 29 euro for adults and 14.50 for kids. Just don’t eat before you go.
Harvey’s Point, Lough Eske, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 749722208
The Blueberry Tea Room
This buzzing little spot just off the Diamond in Donegal Town by Donegal Castle is perfect for cosy and wholesome daytime dining. You’ll receive a warm welcome from owners Brian and Ruperta Gallagher and the menu includes great quiches, soups and salads and a daily blackboard menu of specials. Their eye-catching traybakes, desserts and biscuits are all yummy and cleverly available for sit in or take-away. They know we can’t resist them.
The Blueberry Tea Room, Castle Street, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 749722933
The Lemon Tree restaurant is Letterkenny’s finest. Their early bird still astonishes me for its quality and value. Fresh fishcake starter with sautéed leeks and house tartar sauce followed by Slow cooked pork belly, pea purée and colcannon potatoes all for 16.50? Can it be? You can see the bustling open style kitchen come to life as the night progresses into their evening menu. It’s an absolute must if you are visiting Letterkenny.
The Lemon Tree restaurant, 39 Lower Main Street, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 74 912 5788
A sparkling gem in the Donegal food landscape, the Rathmullan House experience is sheer class from when you hear the crunch of the driveway underneath on your eager approach, to leaving with a very happy belly after their incredible breakfast. It’s kind of place you could happily stay for a week without never leaving the grounds, but do explore the locality where a few Earls once decide to flee from in 1607. The restaurant and their wine cellar both have superb menus. Their beef dishes are some of the best in the country, and the buttery potato mash will have you writing love letters. The only problem about going here is you might just want to stay forever.
Rathmullan House, Rathmullan, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 7491 58188
The Mill Restaurant
Dunfanaghy is one of the finest seaside spots in Donegal and has an exceptional cluster of great restaurants and cafés, The Mill being an extra special experience. I first went for my 19th birthday and I can still remember the taste of every dish. They use the produce from their own garden, truly local beef and seafood and organic vegetables. Run by Susan and Derek Alcorn, the original Mill building was bought by Susan’s grandfather, the renowned artist, Frank Eggington in 1949. In 1999, almost 10 years after his death the couple started work on making it into the restaurant, six guest bedrooms as well as their own home. It has views of the new lake and local landscapes which inspired Eggington’s delicate and beautiful paintings. Derek chooses ingredients with extreme care for his classic and seasonal menus. Oh, and the Guinness bread here is on my death row menu.
The Mill Restaurant, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal
T: 00353 (0) 749136985
A lovely offshoot of the Dunfanaghy’s grande dame Arnold’s hotel, Café Arnou overlooks Sheephaven Bay and is a stone’s throw from the unforgettable Killahoey beach. Highlights here are their great brunch menu with melt in the mouth hand-carved ham with their Eggs Benedict. They offer a good selection of wines and when they try to twist your arm into ordering their Wild Atlantic Way cocktail don’t be foolish enough to argue with them.
Café Arnou, cocktail and wine bar, Arnold’s hotel, Main Street Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal.
T: 00353 (0) 749136208
The Rusty Oven
This rustic pizzeria serves supreme pizza in a magical secret garden at the back of Patsy Dan Devine’s bar on the Main Street. They’ve also just opened an enclosed wine cave this summer if you’d prefer something a little more intimate than the outdoors. They serve up delicious wood fired homemade pizzas with well sourced ingredients for a reasonable price and you can eat it in the bar. Perfect when there’s a music session on.
The Rusty Oven, Main Street, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal.
The first time I’d ever seen a poppy seed never mind taste one was at my Aunt Caitlín’s wedding which was the first wedding held in Danny Minnie’s in the early 1990s. I still remember the sight of the poppy seed ice cream encased in a cage en caramel and the rush of cracking through it, I’d never experienced anything quite like it in my nine years on the earth. This restaurant has been in the O’Donnell family for generations building up a loyal clientele who come from the Rosses and beyond for their food.
Danny Minnie’s, Annagry, Co. Donegal
T: 00353 (0) 74 9548201
The Village Tavern
Tucked into the back of an unassuming pub in the main village of Mountcharles, lies a roaring fire and delicious food that far surpasses any pre-conceptions of rural pub grub. The menu is a triumph. Try the excellent Signature Seafood Tasting Board starter (you can also have it as a main course) that has the best fish finger I have ever had. The owner, Enda O’Rourke, has created a restaurant that is championing local, seasonal, fresh ingredients, including our island’s jewel of seafood, without a sniff of white vans or sausage and chips. O’Rourke does not compromise on food or quality despite the time of year, which can devastate a lot of restaurants. He is sticking to the principle of consistency all year round which will always draw a diner back, and that must be applauded. And, on top of that, it is all for exceptional value. For full review click here.
The Village Tavern, Mountcharles, Co. Donegal
T: +353(0)74 973 5622
The Counter Deli
Oh how my heart skipped a beat when I first walked into ‘The Counter’ in Letterkenny. The first proper cheese counter I had ever seen in the county. The Counter opened last year and has been going from strength to strength ever since. They have a fine wine shop and deli with an excellent selection of Irish gourmet products with local gems like Kinnegar beers and Scarpello bread and some fantastic international goodies. Their coffee shop is the closest to feeling like you could be in Manhattan in Letterkenny and their menu is small but perfectly formed with delicious and wholesome sandwiches, soups and glorious cakes. What is clear here is that the owners are passionate about food and have put a lot of care into sourcing and consistency. There is no pretension here, everything speaks for itself. I just pray for the day it might turn into a late night eatery.
The Counter Deli, Canal Road, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal
T: (074) 912 0075