Destinations, Ireland

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle

October 14, 2012

Descending the pass toward Dingle revealed lovely views of water and greenery. The roads here were even more twisting than the ones up the mountain. The bags on the backseat slid back and forth, whacking into each other and against the car doors with a thud-whump-thud kind of cadence. It was one of those moments that cracks you up at the time, but I couldn’t explain to you now why it was so funny. Must have been all that mountain air.

We kept craning our necks out the windows, wondering when we’d see Dingle. It snuck up on us, and, all of a sudden, there we were with lovely harbor to one side and cozy-colorful buildings on the other, variegated shops and pubs marching around and over the hilly downtown streets.

Our B&B was about 5 minutes’ drive uphill from a bright yellow pub at one edge of the town. Pulling in, we were impressed: it was definitely the largest B&B we’d stayed so far – perhaps a bit of a cross between a B&B and a boutique hotel.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

Pulling up to Pax House in Dingle. Not pictured: the whole
rest of the B&B (which was quite impressive), off to the left.

In spite of its size, it still managed to feel personable. Once inside, the host helped us get settled in and we took some time to decompress in the sitting area with tea and shortbread.

It was easy to just want to stay here. There was an incredible view of the water, and a green peninsular outcropping beyond. The room was practically all windows, with lovely weathered wood floors and a tasteful, cool-toned palette; evocative of the sea outside.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

Too bad it wasn’t sunnier – this is just a
small part of the deck outside the sitting room.

Coffee tables were scattered with interesting books and seashells, and binoculars on the windowsill invited us to see if we could spot the local celebrity dolphin Fungie in the bay. A small sightseeing boat wheeled slowly around in the water with the same goal in mind. Jason claims that he saw Fungie splashing around the boat (though, as I never got to see him, I remain a lighthearted skeptic.)

We ended up talking with some of the other B&B lodgers while we were there. One group of men were there from Norway – they’d invested in a small time distillery in the area and were now here to check in on (and perhaps christen) their keg of whiskey as it began its aging process. Another group were there from the US.

Dinner was on all of our minds, and we passed around the B&B’s book of handwritten restaurant recommendations from past guests. Our host had his own recommendation: for a delicious meal with good value, he said, a little restaurant tucked called An Canteen couldn’t be beat.

Peering outside, we evaluated the weather situation: cold, rainy, and hinting at early dark. Walking wasn’t in the cards. (Though the B&B does provide reflector jackets and flashlights for those who decide to make the relatively short downhill trek to town.)

So, we took the car down the hill (which had not one, but three stop signs at the bottom – meaning you should really-really stop) and parked next to the bright yellow pub.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

The corner pub’s cheery color stands out, even at night.

On our way to the restaurant, we ducked into Murphy’s Ice Cream: it was one of the places recommended in the handwritten B&B restaurant book. One glance told us all we needed to know: we had to come back here for dessert. Sea salt, Guinness, brown bread, and honeycomb caramel were just a few of the ice cream flavors. It’s never too cold for ice cream, right? (…Right?)

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

We’ll be back for you later!

But first: dinner. We found An Canteen tucked away on a small side street whose narrow sidewalk might be more fairly classified as a curb. Intriguing menu; not bad prices, either. Out of curiosity, we wandered closer to the harbor, looking for another restaurant which was also highly recommended: The Chart House. Its high ratings came at a price, though – similar menu items to An Canteen, but significantly more expensive. Feeling more budget-conscious this evening, we went back to An Canteen and didn’t regret it one bit.

Warm, small, and cozily lit. Just what we needed after a blustery mountain pass drive. Glasses clinked in toast as we unfurled from our rainjackets and settled into the booth. Adjacent to our seats were, funny enough, some of the folks from the B&B, clearly also here per the host’s recommendation. We smiled and waved, but left them to their meal.

One thing that immediately jumped out about An Canteen was the wonderful unpretentiousness of it all. It had the feel of a nice restaurant crossed with a romantic bistro. Our waiter pulled up a chair and propped a handwritten specials chalkboard up on it for us to peruse.

According to the restaurant description on the menu, the restaurant was founded by two brothers with the goal of offering simply prepared, delicious, affordable food. Add to this an emphasis on supporting local agriculture and an enticing list of Irish craft beers, and the restaurant was an absolute win for us.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

If you get the opportunity, try Stonewell Medium
Dry cider. You won’t be disappointed.

Jason opted for a local cider and I for a traditionally brewed ginger beer – both of which were the best of their kind we’ve ever had. Fresh brown bread dotted with nuts and seeds and paired with the usual rich Irish butter arrived. Mmm, perfect.

Then, for starters: seafood chowder in a light tarragon broth – not too heavily creamy, chock full of fish – and a warm salad of bacon, butternut squash, seeds, tomatoes, and greens.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

For our entrees – sea bass for Jason, and 16-hour braised beef for me.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

All in all, a phenomenal dinner. I could see returning here – the food is simple, hearty, and comforting. It’s the kind of place where you could settle on just one menu item and return to have it again and again, feeling almost as though you were going home for a treasured family recipe. (And, as if you needed more encouragement, it’s also one of the highest rated restaurants in Dingle, per TripAdvisor. A great recommendation on our host’s part!)

We pleaded fullness when asked about dessert, though the offerings looked outstanding. I regret not trying the Bailey’s cheesecake, but another place was still calling my name: Murphy’s.

Pushing back into the chill night air, we wandered the orange lamp-lit streets, allowing dinner to settle a bit before making our way to the ice cream shop. Just in time, too, as they were about to close at 9 pm.

Local to Dingle, Murphy’s make their ice cream fresh daily, and the inventive flavors were really a treat. The sea salt ice cream, though it sounds strange, was quite delicious. As the name implies, it’s like a lightly salted sweet cream.

The peppermint comes off as very herbal and sophisticated – a grown up flavor compared to other mint ice creams, as it has bits of actual peppermint leaves in it. For chocolate lovers, there’s a Valrhona chocolate and an even darker chocolate as well. As for the brown bread, well, it’s a textural delight and is exactly what it sounds like: brown bread crumbs swirled into sweet cream ice cream. Sounds odd, but tastes great.

Clearly we had our fair share of samples before settling. The final verdict: Jason had brown bread and crunchy peanut butter; I opted for Guinness ice cream (and good lord is it fantastic), paired with honeycomb caramel (which has bits of crunchy caramel in it and steers well clear of the cloying sweetness that many other caramel ice creams fail to avoid.) The mixture of sweet and crunchy caramel with the rich Guinness flavor – this, this is the stuff ice cream dreams are made of.

Ireland Day 8, Part 2: Arrival in Dingle | Destinations Ireland

Dear Guinness ice cream: I dream about you every night. Love, me.

Additional positives to Murphy’s (if “it’s absolutely fantastic and I’d visit Ireland again just to come back here” doesn’t cut it for you): they don’t charge extra for a cone versus a cup, and, unlike with most ice creams, I didn’t feel lousy after eating it. You know how you sometimes feel really gross after eating ice cream? None of that here! Testament, I think, to the high quality ingredients (and a little love put into the making of it can’t hurt, either).

Now officially too full for a nightcap, we bypassed the pub scene and headed back to the bed and breakfast. There would always be time for the pub tomorrow. For tonight, at least, a little extra relaxation and sleep would be very welcome indeed.

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