The town of Howth has a range of eateries to tempt and satisfy any appetite, writes Ross Golden-Bannon Few capitals boast as many seaside excursions as Dublin does, with an extraordinary string of charming towns and villages along the coast. Sadly they are often neglected by us, though streams of overseas tourists make a beeline for them. From the fishing village of Howth to charming Malahide, packed with great restaurants, and on up to Skerries with its sweeping views up the coast and cosy pubs with creamy pints, there’s lots to be explored. As a day trip, or even part of a major holiday-tour, Howth offers so much that it can be tough to leave. The fishing village is nestled at the foot of Howth Hill, itself an impressive sight when travelling out from the centre of the capital. It is well serviced by public transport too, and the Dart delivers you right to the end of the West Pier, though my favourite journey has always been by bus, sitting on the top deck – if you can nab the front seat there’s an astonishing panoramic view towards the Hill of Howth and Sutton as the bus makes it way along Dublin Bay. There was a time when you’ d struggle to find a decent eatery in Howth except for the smart King Sitric and, at the other end, the fish and chip shop. That’s all changed now. There’s ample opportunity to blow your weight-watchers’ points with an abundance of eateries, cafes and restaurants that sit on the budget range between a big treat and watching the pennies. Travel Outdoors But there is one major drawback to hanging out in Howth for the weekend – there are not enough meals in two days to cover the great places to eat. I kicked off on a Friday night in Ella Wine Bar which is on the main street in Howth village (Abbey Street); the restaurant has a huge front window so you’ll get to do some people watching too.
The menu is modern, but they don’t skimp on portions and they’ve just launched their autumn menu, which includes two courses for the price of one. Keep an eye out for treats like lasagne of Irish crab and roasted red peppers, and loin of pork schnitzel with wild mushroom and marsala cream sauce.
A key part of any trip to Howth needs to include a brisk walk or indeed a serious hike. This will ensure you’ll either walk off the dinner from the night before or build up an appetite for the upcoming meal.
There are a number of walks created by Discover Ireland (www.discoverireland.ie), all of which start at the town’s Dart station.
The simplest is to walk to the end of the pier and gaze out at Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island beyond – you can visit the former but, alas, not the latter from Howth. If you’ve a rod with you, you could join those fishing at the end of the pier or perhaps walk in the footsteps of King George IV’s visit in 1821 (a cast was made in concrete and can still be seen towards the end of the pier).
More enthusiastic walkers can take the trail around the cliff walk, through the gorse and heather to the Baily lighthouse and Red Rock, then on up to the Ben of Howth, with more spectacular views across Dublin Bay and the Earl of Howth’s former racing track, now the suburb of Sutton that links the peninsula to the mainland. You then return to Howth village along the old tramline, possibly with your tummy rumbling.
There are any number of eateries along the West Pier, from Octopussy and the Oarhouse to the smart Aqua Restaurant, located in the old Yacht Club that sits right on the edge of the water. The wrap-around glass wall on two sides of the dining room offer the drama of the sea from where their great seafood comes.
You can also stock up on fish for your fridge in Wright’s, Beshoff’s, Doran’s and Nicky’s Plaice. Newbie or nervous cooks can hone their skills at Nicky’s Plaice in cookery classes run by Greg O’Rouke (www.gregorourke.com). Down the road you’ll find The Kitchen in the Castle Cookery School (www.thekitcheninthecastle.com) – the setting itself in Howth Castle is inspiring, as are the magnificent Georgian kitchens.
On a fine day a packed lunch makes for a sensible budget option. Check out House in the village, where Karl Dillon’s modern kitschy-chic eatery also does takeaway sambos, soups and boxes of fine artisan Irish cheese and cured meats.
In fact, it seems like a bit of a shame to just grab a sambo and run, such is its charm and dedication to sourcing.
Other temptations nearby include The Country Market, a family-run deli stocked with a cornucopia of unusual cooking ingredients. A little further along the street you’ll find Ray Colliers butchers, where Ray is well versed in proper butchering knowledge as well as the local Baily beef, which is now in season.
With your lunch packed and your sturdy shoes tightly laced, there are any number of cunning ways to exhaust hyperactive children or adults, from a meander around Howth Castle and the Transport Museum to the Martello Tower which houses Ye Old Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio.
Pat Herbert, the curator, has an extraordinary amount of knowledge on the world of radios (did you know the tower used to be a Marconi station linked to Holy-head in Wales?) and the space is filled with every imaginable type of radio with recordings on CDs so you can hear what they were like.
If you’re a tad nervous the kids might damage the delicate recordings you can always have your picnic on the lawns surrounding the tower which overlooks the harbour. If you’re lucky an elegant regatta from Howth Yacht Club will be gliding across the seas.
Ensure you leave room for dinner at the chic and modern Ivan’s Oyster Bar & Grill. The smart interior still manages to feel warm and the floor to ceiling windows give views onto the hard working harbour, where their spanking fresh seafood is landed. The bisque is superb, as is the indulgent seafood platter.
There is no finer place on a Sunday than Howth, with gulls circling like flutters of hopeful confetti, and the promise of a fine lunch at the King Sitric. Chef Aidan MacManus has been ably treating food lovers with his classic take on flawlessly sourced food for 40 years, and many make the journey all the way from the southside on the Dart – imagine that.
The dining room overlooks the harbour, and if you don’t get waylaid by the astonishing wine collection you can meander down the East Pier to the lighthouse and see if you can spot the tiny fisherman’s church on the way.
If you prefer a long walk with a stick, there are two golf clubs to choose from – Howth Golf Club (www.howthgolfclub.ie) and Deer Park Hotel (www.deerparkhotel.ie/golf ). The Deer Park Hotel also has a spa attached, meaning the men folk can relax with special treatments after a hard week’s work and the womenfolk can take in a round of golf.
At the start of the last century Sutton and Howth were holiday destinations for Dubliners and visitors from across Ireland. Sadly, foreign holidays and the growing size of the capital put paid to that. However, we could learn a lot from the chatter of European languages on the Dart and bus to Howth.
Our continental cousins love its unique charm, so it’s about time more Irish found themselves beguiled by its magic, and filled up on some superb food too.
- Fabulous Food Trails organises a Howth Tasting Trail which includes stops for tastings at local restaurants, as well as an introduction to the village; details at www.fabfoodtrails.com.
- Details on the Bog of Frogs trail are available at www.discoverireland.ie/Activities.
This first appeared in The Sunday Business Post 9 October 2011.