This post isn’t so much a review as it is a lesson in being a savvy traveler when it comes to dining out and taking part in tours.
I do not have first-hand experience with extremely bad food in Ireland. I am always championing the good food that is found all over the country, especially when other visitors stubbornly insist there is no quality food to be found. However, I believe one of the main problems lies within the tourist industry.
If you’re touring Ireland with any sized company – big coaches or glorified vans – and eat where the company suggests, you may be setting yourself up for a horrible stereotype.
I don’t know what the kick-back is for the guides in recommending a particular place, but my top guesses are parking and mutual advertising. Case in point: My Ring of Kerry tour, which I took with a company I no longer have praise for (for a number of reasons). Our driver made the lunch time stop in Waterville, County Kerry, along the Iveragh Peninsula with the Currane River giving a sweet, salty breath in the incredibly fresh air. Though a small village, Waterville sees tourists barraging through their town morning, noon, and night all year ’round. The impressive Butler Arms Hotel keeps money coming in from visitors who want more than a day trip in fair County Kerry.
Our driver, Paul, kept talking up this one place for lunch. It had the best fish and chips in all the land, apparently, because of the pub’s proximity to the water.
Proximity to the water? Don’t look now, Ireland, but water has you surrounded.
Paul would not let up about this place’s fish and chips – and oh, the lovely tartar sauce, the gorgeous chips, yes, indeed the BEST in County Kerry, nay, in Ireland!
I was skeptical and already formulating a backup plan. I did, however, want check out the place to give them the benefit of the doubt. The first bad sign of this place was our guide overselling it, the second was the plethora of gigantic coach/bus tours parked in its car park. Giving the interior a quick once over, my eyes spied the paper place mats with a set menu of expected Irish standards, a disconcerting lack of locals, and the allegedly “lovely” sauces were big-company brand individual packets on an already-set table, as the manager said he had been waiting for us. It had Tourist Trap all but spray painted above their doorway.
I decided to leave immediately, taking along a girl from Quebec as she she was inclined to go elsewhere, too. I invited others to make their bid for freedom with us, trying my best to stealthily gather my belongings and make for the door. It was no use; Paul had entranced them with his tall tale and promises of the best fish known to the human palate.
My French-Canadian companion and I walked along the main drag when I spotted a pleasant looking middle-aged man running an errand. Approaching him, I asked if he was a local.
“Local enough,” he replied.
So I inquired after a good place to eat and he pointed me in the direction of The Fisherman’s Bar, an alcove pub adjacent to the Butler Arms Hotel. He was, in fact, headed there with his children himself.
We meandered our way back to the Butler Arms Hotel, snapping some photos along the way.
Her priority was photography, while mine was good food, so we parted ways at the entrance to Fisherman’s Bar. Looking at the menu, I cannot recall what I was debating against the baked crabmeat gratin but lamb shank or seafood pie. Either way, I asked the barman for his recommendation and without hesitation he said the crabmeat gratin.
Baked Crabmeat Gratin with side salad and brown bread (€12.95)
There wasn’t a single aspect of this lunch I found fault with. Quite the opposite; this was one of the most delightful meals I ate on the road, and easily one of the best crab dishes I have ever eaten. It was simultaneously light and filling with decadent, creamy texture and a perfectly golden-brown crisp topping for contrast. No greasy, oily or stick-to-your-ribs after effects here; just an unrelenting hunger for more. The side salad was a appreciated gesture, too, especially with the light sherry-vinegar dressing.
Realizing my time in Waterville was about up, I paid and left the premise satiated and confident in my ability to defy the stereotype of American Tourist going blindly along with whatever a tour guide getting kick-backs from some quantity-over-quality business suggests.
Oh, and incidentally? The “best fish and chips in all of Ireland”? Turns out they did not live up to the hype.
Now, it ought to be said that I’ll not be naming this place as I don’t want to be outright slanderous; just concern yourself with getting to the Fisherman’s Bar and avoid the restaurants with no locals.
The Fisherman’s Bar
Butler Arms Hotel
+353 (0)66 947-4144