Estragon Press, €10 each
The 2006 editions of 'The Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants' and its sister publication, 'The Bridgestone 100 Best Places to Stay', mark the 15th year that these entertainingly opinionated and independent guides to the best places to eat and sleep in Ireland have been published.
John and Sally McKenna have eaten and slept the length and breadth of the country in their tireless quest for the best of the best. The fact that they pay their own way is reassuring, as is an introduction in the '...Best Places to Stay' that declares war on "4-star joints that sit high on the top of a hill, without a tree in sight...lavishly tarmacadamed up to the door with a brightly lit fountain that doesn't work, inappropriate decking beside the heli-pad, and PVC windows".
Instead they celebrate the kind of host and hospitality that Ireland should be famed for - Patricia Farrrell at Iverna Cottage in Spiddal who doesn't write a breakfast menu but invites people to "have what ever they want, and they usually have everything!" from a spread of fruit, cereals, fish and breads; the Mahers' "beacon of hospitality" at Hollywell Country House in Carrick-on-Shannon; Grove House's Katarina Runske - "I want everyone to feel comfortable, at ease and welcome"; Maureen Griffith's charming Carriage House in Co Down and Pam Mulhaire's elegant Knockeven in Cobh where she makes people feel "not merely welcome, but extra-welcome, double welcome, triple welcome."
Their writing in the '...Best Restaurants' Guide is similarly subjective. The introduction pays little heed to the current obsession about value for money in Irish restaurants, instead stating that "value lies in paying money for real food cooked by creative people". That's not to say that it is all the expensive end of the spectrum. Dinner at the quirky China House on Parnell Street starts at €20 (dinner prices calculated for an average three-course menu, without wine) and many of the venues mentioned also have early bird menus. They revisit some old favourites - Longueville House in Mallow, Cork's Café Paradiso, Ballymaloe House at Shanagarry - and new entries include Town Bar & Grill and Mackerel in Dublin, Waterford's 33 The Mall and Aroma in Donegal.
While the prose sometimes seems a trifle overblown - and admittedly it must be difficult to write about the best places to eat and stay without resorting to hyperbole - the Bridgestone Guides are a great resource for anyone planning a special night out or weekend away.