Lucinda O'Sullivan: ‘Solas Tapas & Wine bar features small plates that are delightfully local yet eclectic’

I was watching the movie Ryan’s Daughter recently and was absolutely blown away by it. Made in 1969 by the great film director David Lean, it was the film that put Dingle on the international stage. Tourists, captivated by its raw romance, followed in its footsteps for years.

Starring Robert Mitchum, John Mills, Trevor Howard and Sarah Miles, it was a tale of love, lust, the British occupation, the narrow-minded mentality of the time, and, inevitably, murder. Lean – who also made Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai and subsequently A Passage to India – weathered Dingle’s storms and hardship for months on end, while exquisitely capturing its astonishing, dramatic, wild beauty.

Fifty years later, Dingle is a place for all seasons, with, in recent years, the fame and drawing power of its beloved aquatic mascot, Fungie, being matched by the town’s thriving foodie scene. The annual Dingle Food Festival – spearheaded in 2007 by Martin Bealin of the superb Global Village restaurant – and Artie Clifford’s Blas Awards, draws artisan food producers from all over the country.

It’s now a town of diverse craft shops, galleries, bars and restaurants, including Jim McCarthy’s Chart House, which held on to its Michelin Bib this year, and Julian and Katia Wyatt’s Land to Sea, on whose doorstep I’d arrived five minutes after they’d received news of their new Bib.

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We dined in Nicky and Ann Foley’s Solas Tapas & Wine bar, a relative newbie, which has been reeling in the locals and tourists alike for its great buzz and food. We quickly discovered the beat on the street was right – there are tapas bars and tapas bars, and then there’s Solas Tapas!

We weren’t the only ones hanging out for Foley’s food, with three top chefs – Michelin-starred Derry Clarke, Jess Murphy of Kai in Galway, and the one and only Neven Maguire – all in attendance on our visit. Among other high-end venues, Foley, originally from Waterford, was six years with Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s in London.

Tapas nouveau

When we say tapas, we think of traditional Spanish plates, and of course there are those influences, but Foley’s small plates are delightfully local yet eclectic.

Cahillane’s of Killorglin braised pork cheek was served with harissa potatoes and steamed Swiss chard; while sirloin of grass-fed beef came with wild mushrooms and spinach; and Tom B’s line-caught pollock ceviche was accompanied by west Kerry grapes, lemon and parsley.

Passing on cured meat boards, (€16/€26), we stuck to sharing small plates, wanting everything we saw. Perfect popcorn squid (€12) was served with mouthwatering peppered west Kerry honey. Spiced grilled Atlantic prawns (€16) with braised chickpeas were finger-licking fabulous; while two substantial dillisk and wild mushroom croquettes (€10) were crispy, tasty, instant tummy-pleasers.

I wasn’t quite sure about the octopus carpaccio (€16), but the rondelles of Spain’s favourite nobbly cephalopod, served in lemon and lime with a shellfish aioli, turned out to be one of the stars of the show.

Moving on to meat, a square of pork belly (€14) served with braised gem lettuce, spiced carrot, pea and sesame, was crisp on top, but succulent and silky in the middle; while perfectly pink French-trimmed spring lamb chops (€19), pictured below left, were given a Moroccan twist with hummus, sheep’s yoghurt and the acidity of pickled cucumber. Heaven!

We finished up sharing a clean-tasting deep hedgerow blackberry & lime mousse, with honeycomb, and blackberries (€7.50); and 24-month aged Manchego cheese (€12) which came with crispbreads, quince jelly, olives and gherkins – a Spanish combination that I just adore.

The dedicated Spanish oenophile may want to splash out on Alabaster by Sierra Cantabria (€275) or Pinea DO Ribera del Duero (€230), but, for the rest of us, there’s a superb selection, with an entry level at €29 and lots of wine by the glass. So, with a bottle of Pionero Macerato Albarino (€36), our bill with service, led by the charming Ann Foley, came to €156.50.

We stayed at Helen and Brian Heaton’s sublime Castlewood House, overlooking the water, which has the most lavish breakfast in Ireland.

Solas Tapas,

Strand Street, Dingle, Co. Kerry.

Tel: (066) 915-0766

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