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Editor's Choice 2016 - Leslie Williams

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

Thinking back over a year of eating and drinking for a living to pick out the best bits is a daunting task, so I'll try to keep this short and free from excessive hubris!

Best meal of the year was at Heron and Grey where the balance of flavours and focused ingredient combinations left me almost breathless. Andrew Heron's wine list is in perfect harmony with Damian Grey's food and, if you are lucky enough to get a booking in 2017, do listen to Andrew's advice.

The closest competition was probably a four-hour marathon meal in Aniar, in early February, where every tiny course had its own integrity. The two meals were so different I could never really compare them but I can say that these are the only two meals I have ever rated 9/10.

Some other flavours that linger in the mind – the duck skin and the super noodles in Hang Dai; the chicken lollipops in Pickle; the sherry matching menu in Brioche; the foie gras in 41; the delightful 'Quay Cottage c. 1985 Salmon and Cream Cheese Balls' in the Idle Wall in Westport (not to mention the amazing Cluasíns); the whelks in Old Town Chinese on Capel Street; the deconstructed patatas bravas in Boqueria; everything I ate from Miyazaki in Cork; the wonderful sourdough boule from Gaillot and Gray on Clanbrassil Street; the batter on the fish in Fish Shop; the lardo toast in Luna.

My other hat is as a drinks writer so first we should mention Cider which is one of the joys of living in this country (yet still treated by our tax system as something you drink warm in field). Rós Rhubarb Cider was one particular highlight form the ever on-form Stonewell – this deservedly won 'best-in-show' at Blás na hÉireann (with joint second place going to the excellent Tempted Elderflower cider and McIvors Plum and Ginger Cider).

For Beer I took particular pleasure from the Rascals session beer released for the Euros (and commissioned by Molloys) called “All Night Long” after Shane Long. Rascals have a similarly excellent Christmas Beer out now also: hunt down the Faitry Ale of New York in Molloy’s wine shops. O'Haras are in their 20th anniversary year so produced many an interesting flavour, and the wonderful consistency from the crafy brewers such as Dungarvan, 8 Degrees, and Metalman continues to please.

For wine I can only boast unfortunately as I do get to taste a lot of nice things but I will pick out my trip to Charles Heidsieck Champagne and my trip to the Douro in September where I visited Quinta do Noval and some other properties and tasted some of the most extraordinary tawny ports (some over 100 years old). Memorable tastings included the full Produttori Barbaresco range (from Karwigs) and an excellent South African tasting.

For events I of course need to mention Electric Picnic where Theatre of Food was the best yet, but my favourite festival moment was the Oyster tasting at the Burren Slow Food Festival. Comparing Flaggy Shore dainties with Hartys sweeter ones with Kellys' ozone and brine flavours and Carlingford and Achill robust offerings. Matching these glories with Burren Stout and various wines was my job and it was a truly joyous couple of hours. (Next year's festival – 12th to 14th May - will focus on gin, by the way).

For 2017 I'm looking forward to drinking more Sherry (especially from Equipo Navazos and Bodegas Tradicion, available from Dublin’s Celtic Whiskey Shop), more Port (from everyone), more wine from obscure Spanish regions and lots of Vermouth (try Lustau Vermut or Antica Formula from Fernet Branca). Beaujolais is making a comeback and so is Germany where the Spatburgunders can match much of Burgundy and also watch for the fresh focused Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch wines of Austria.

One more thing to mention for 2016 and that is the simple daily joy to be had from my Fingal Ferguson knife which I finally acquired in 2016 – get on that waiting list now is my advice for 2017!

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Where To Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way
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