So hubby, baby and I arrived in Ireland today for a two-week stay. After a somewhat rocky start out of Indianapolis due to ice storms, we finally managed to arrive into Shannon Airport this morning after layovers in Detroit and Newark. The trip was long, but uneventful and we got in safe and sound, which is always the most important thing.
This being my sixth trip to Ireland, I’ve grown fairly familiar with some of the customs, culture and cuisine. I know what I like foodwise, and I know where to find it. As far as airport food goes, Shannon Airport has a pretty darn nice cafeteria breakfast, I must say. When we arrived at 5:30 a.m. local time with body clocks that had no idea what hour it really was, we decided breakfast sounded like a good idea. The airport cafeteria offers up a traditional Irish breakfast, a topic I’m sure I’ll cover in greater detail in a future entry, and my hubby can never pass it up if given the opportunity to partake. He loaded up on eggs, sausages, baked beans, fried tomatoes, toast, and I’m not sure what other artery-clogging goodies.
I’m a nervous flier. I rarely eat anything during a flight and usually don’t eat much before I get onboard either. With a nervous stomach like mine, I figure better safe than sorry. This means I’m often ravenous by the time I get to my final destination. When we land in Shannon, my first craving isn’t necessarily a standard Irish “fry” breakfast; instead, I seek out my favorite hazelnut yogurt. And, hello! Yoplait! Why, oh why, can’t we get this stuff back in the states? With a scone, some juice and coffee, it’s darn near a perfect early morning meal.
After loading up, we headed northwest three hours to Sligo, where my hubby is going to be crashing (no pun intended) the Rally Ireland tomorrow to make some business contacts. Hubby didn’t paint a very appealing picture of Sligo, so my expectations were low. I’m ashamed to say I’d written it off as an industrial backwater sort of place before we’d even arrived. I must retract my words and say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
For starters, our hotel is the most modern building I’ve been in anywhere in Ireland. The Glasshouse Hotel seems to pride itself on innovative architecture and outlandish color schemes, and it overlooks the rushing Garavogue River below. Our room is decorated in a neon orange decor, if that tells you anything. Not that this is bad, it’s really a very nice place, and the staff was great to accommodate us with an early check-in.
After hubby lugged all the bags up to the room and we took a solid two-hour family nap, we were ready to go exploring. Sligo isn’t a huge town by any means, but it’s certainly well-appointed. We took a stroll through several pedestrian shopping streets and, realizing we hadn’t eaten anything since our Shannon Airport breakfast nearly 12 hours ago, suddenly realized we were hungry.
For our first night back in hubby’s homeland, our first thought was to look for a traditional Irish pub dinner. However, a place called Bistro Bianconi proved intriguing. The handpainted rally-themed mural on the window was what initially drew us inside, but the enticing garlicky tomato aroma that hit us as soon as we walked in the door and huge wood-fired oven we spied were what convinced us to stay. Although they weren’t due to open for another half hour, the staff was more than accommodating and even let me enjoy a glass of delicious Valpolicella while we waited the requisite 30 minutes.
Our son usually garners us a little extra attention, and the lovely servers made a much-appreciated effort to make sure we had plenty of room at our table for a high chair and the stroller. The menu was classic Italian, another pleasant surprise. This is the first time I’ve seen an Italian restaurant anywhere in Ireland, and I was hoping for the best. I’m thrilled to say Bistro Bianconi delivered the goods, and then some.
As soon as we were seated, our server dropped off a bread basket and a ramekin of garlic-marinated black and green olives that we couldn’t eat fast enough. We emptied that baby in record time and our server, bless her, offered us a refill of the addictive little orbs that we drained just as quickly. Hubby ordered up his first Guinness of the trip. For the meal, we split a Caprese salad – this being Ireland, I apologize, but I have never had a decent tomato here. I’m spoiled by those juicy, flavorful end-of-summer Indiana beefsteaks and nothing else compares. The mozzarella and the fresh basil were lovely.
For our main course, we split a Bistro Bianconi specialty pizza – a thin crust version topped with cheese, thinly sliced little coins of ham, mushrooms and olives. Although the pie could have used a little more sauce in my humble opinion, (what can I say? I’m a sauce girl), the flavors were a delicious combination. The server told us that the restaurant has won awards in international pizza competitions and was voted best pizza in Ireland in 2006.
She then tempted us with dessert. In a role reversal, I said no and hubby said yes. I conceded that I would eat a bite or two, and he went for for the first option the server recited – a chocolate fudge cake that turned out to be Chocolate Sex, Part II. This being Ireland and not America, we figured the serving would be smaller than we’ve grown to expect stateside. Nope. This was a full plate that took in a slab of sinfully rich chocolate cake slathered with hot fudge, a blossom of whipped cream and a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the side. Even the baby got to partake of a little bit of this chocolate nirvana. The doctor did say it was time to start introducing him to table foods…
We rolled out of there, full, tired and happy. I heartily recommend this place if you’re ever in Sligo. According to the brochure we picked up on the way out, there are also Bistro Bianconi locations in Galway and Dublin as well.
I’d like to write more, but jet lag is overtaking me… much more material to come I’m sure in the next two weeks we’ll spend here in Ireland, then it’s on to Paris!!! For now, though, may the road always rise up to meet you.
The Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo – http://www.theglasshouse.ie
Bistro Bianconi – http://www.bistrobianconi.ie