When I worked in Killarney Tourist Office in the early ’90s, I was a human Google—at least on the subject of Killarney. You could have asked me or any of the other fetchingly be-scarfed staff anything about our town and its environs, and we would have recited the required information in virtual ballad form. There was one question that dominated all others, however. Any day that offered even a hint of damp or a smattering of grey clouds (i.e. almost every day) sent tourists scurrying to the desk to enquire, “What can you do in Killarney when it rains?”
In those days, we would send them to Muckross House, the vintage car museum, or their hotel swimming pool (hey, sometimes we got desperate). Today I would tell them to go and get stuffed. The quality of food on offer in my town has definitely improved in the past decade, but what draws me to my favourite spots is not always the edible stuff. There follows, in no particular order, a list of my favourite places to go for lunch:
Dyne, New Market Lane, High Street
Tucked away in a lane way between Quills and O’Connor’s Pub on High Street, DYNE started life as a wonderful social experiment called Pay As You Please. Along with quirky mismatched furniture, old movies projected onto one entire wall, and soup served in bread bowls, Pay As You Please asked you to leave as much as you felt your food was worth. No doubt they got burned and overpaid in equal measure, and I know that some people felt uncomfortable with the entire concept.
Suffice to say, they have repackaged the same delicious brunch and dinner fare as DYNE—with prices on the menu this time. It’s mainly pizza, salads and hearty vegetarian dishes. I have my eye on the latest addition to the menu: buffalo milk burrata with grilled asparagus, mint and toasted almonds.
Avoca, Moll’s Gap
The address is officially Kenmare, but I’m prepared to claim Avoca for Killarney because the food is just gorgeous. It is fresh and delicious and tasty and all those things you want in the middle of the day, but it is also simply beautiful to look at. The colours of the salads are straight from the rainbow, and they add lovely little touches to everything—think pots of herbs on the tables and water jugs packed with fresh mint. For dessert, try to resist roulades oozing with fresh strawberries and whipped cream or succulent slabs of fruit cake. And the views out over the Gap of Dunloe and Carrauntoohill are an aptly stunning accompaniment, even in the midst of drizzle.
Noelle’s is like a cosy blanket that you can wrap yourself in and forget about the grey skies outside. Duck in out of the rain and into the comforting interior, twinkling with cabinets of old crockery and knick-knacks and a giant aquarium of jewel-toned fish. The staff are friendly and the food is fresh and interesting, with delicious salads and quiches and chunks of home-baked cakes and pies to insulate you against the cold. What I love about Noelle’s is the way it is laid out in a sequence of little anterooms so that you can always find a quiet table to have a chat or people-watch on the sly. And, should the rain disappear, there is a delightful little sun trap of a courtyard outside.
The Lane Café Bar, Ross Hotel, East Avenue
With its pistachio and magenta stripes and a window that takes up almost the entire front of the premises, the Lane Café Bar at the Ross Hotel is a world away from Noelle’s. This is a place to go on a good hair day. Sit at the bar and order one of their Mojito Royales, if it is going to be a long kind of lunch. Or lounge in one of the comfy couches by the window and watch the world go by. As a Libran, I can never make up my mind, but I don’t have to with the tapas platter. It’s full of good things like tiny naan breads, mushroom bruschetta topped with prosciutto, and a gorgeous little smoked duck and blue cheese samosa. You get little home-baked biscuits with your coffee too, which really pleases my inner six-year-old.
Food has very little to do with my choice of the Deenagh Lodge as a top place for lunch in Killarney. The fare is grand: Soup, sandwiches, and pre-prepared wraps of chicken or tuna are usually on the menu; there are lovely big mugs of coffee; and there is always some kind of sticky cake or apple tart to tempt you. The proceeds go to the local branch of Down Syndrome Ireland, and many of the staff are adults with Down Syndrome. What makes Deenagh Lodge special, however, is that it is the closest thing to Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house that I have ever seen. And it’s plonked right in the middle of the national park. Grab an outside table on a sunny day and watch the world and his mother wander past on foot, bicycle, pram and jaunting car. Yes, we do have sunny days in Killarney…