Guinness and oysters are traditional Irish fare, best enjoyed in the hubbub of a pub on St Patrick's Day. For something a little more haute cuisine, try the hearty mix of neck of lamb, potato, onion and seasoning of an Irish stew. London's Irish restaurants are a diverse, often overlooked, bunch and this is the ideal time of year to try them out.
Toucan is not so much a restaurant as a tiny, atmospheric Irish bar. Having grown out of its minuscule basement into the bar upstairs, it's always cramped, and come St Patrick's Day crowds of carousers will be overflowing into the street, all the way down to Soho Square. There is a spectacular collection of Irish whiskeys, including a little known blend called Henry Downes No 9 - all the way from Downes pub in Waterford. They also mix a fine list of delicious Guinness-inspired cocktails. Nowadays every pub and his dog is serving Magners cider, but The Toucan goes one better and sells it on tap. This is certainly not the place to come for a quiet bite to eat, and not for those who don't like small dark spaces. On St Patrick's Day it will be utterly enjoyable, smile-inducing pandemonium. The place to come if you want to combine drinking, dancing, revelry and a bite to eat.
This gastropub venture from Tom Conran isn't strictly an Irish restaurant, but they serve perhaps the best combo of chilled oysters and Guinness in west London. While much of the menu tilts steeply into the ocean with a delectable fresh selection of fish and crustaceans sourced from local Notting Hill fishmongers, the dining room also serves some excellent traditional British food. The Cow is hugely popular with locals, and it's easy to see why. Wonderful, seasonal food comes in huge, steaming portions, the service is friendly and efficient, there's an impressive wine list and happy faces all around. For a gastropub it really is rather expensive but everything about this place is spot on. Early booking essential.
Irishman Richard Corrigan already has two Michelin stars under his belt and, with this smart Mayfair eatery, he certainly looks set for a third. His first Michelin star was awarded at Stephen Bull's Fulham Road restaurant in 1994, the second at Lindsay House in Soho in 1997. He's also responsible for the popular Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill but Corrigan's Mayfair is an altogether more elaborate dining experience, appealing to Mayfair's moneyed diners. It's a long way from farming country in County Meath where Corrigan grew up, learning an intrinsic understanding of seasonally changing ingredients. The game-y menu tugs at his Irish country roots; mains like grouse pie and roe venison come with sides of things like earthy cep mushrooms and pickled cabbage. Serious dining and all done with the flair for which Corrigan is well known.
Located just off Piccadilly Circus and hidden in the lobby of Holiday Inn Bloomsbury, Callaghan's offers surprisingly genuine Irish hospitality. True to the traditions of those friendly folk from the Emerald Isle, they serve up smooth Guinness and tasty Irish cuisine, both seasoned by a good helping of Irish music and sport on the big screens. They are staunchly, and quite rightly, proud of their Irish stew. It's also worth sampling their fresh seafood and mouth-watering grills too. On St Patrick's Day you can wave, whistle and whoop at the parade, throw your Guinness hat in the air while doing an Irish jig and then retreat into the cavernous depths of this very authentic Irish restaurant for the afternoon and on into the evening. When you've finished eating, there will be a whole host of rosy-cheeked Paddy's Day punters to share a pint of the black stuff with and party till the small hours. It may be a little chaotic come but that's all part of the merry Irish fun.
"We'll be serving mainly Guinness," says the barman at Mulligans of their St Patrick Day's celebrations. It's very fitting that this cool little Irish restaurant is found on Mayfair's Cork Street. The place resolutely retains its affinity with the Emerald Isle. It also upholds a pretty smart reputation, attracting the cream of Mayfair into its hallowed Celtic caverns. Very trendy Guinness guzzlers sit alongside Champagne sippers, lounging on the rather plush leather sofas that are peppered across the first floor. Its dark wood panelling and polished timbered floors give the place a certain Irish charm while also preserving the more refined appeal the restaurant is so famous for. It's their menu however that betrays their tenacious loyalty to Ireland. It offers a wide selection of exquisite Irish cuisine. For starters you can choose from Guinness rarebit, lamb's kidneys on soda bread or Irish salmon. For mains, the house specialities are Kildare rib-eye steak, Mulligans Irish stew, sausages with Guinness and onion gravy and of course fresh oysters. All rinsed down with a creamy pint of the black stuff. Mulligans will be busy over St Patrick's Day so it's worth booking a table.
Set over two floors, this restaurant is an absolute gem. Yet another creation from true Irishman Richard Corrigan, the celebrated chef who also runs Corrigan's Mayfair, it's a fun and authentic place to dine come St Patrick's Day. If you do have a partiality for the odd oyster this is the best place in town. Enthusiastic diners can have the full works - the ritual with chopped onion and Tabasco, the gentle squelchy slip down the throat and the saltwater aftertaste followed by the obligatory gulp of Guinness. The Oyster Bar downstairs is alive with a vibrant buzz and general joviality. Incidentally, the infectious noise and merriment is pretty much restricted to the Oyster Bar. The marble, wood-panelled room is full of rowdy, oyster appreciating folk - it's great craic. The grill upstairs is a completely different experience. Serene, sophisticated and elegant the stately Edwardian veneer of the interior is made up of beige wallpaper and black and white pics. The waiters are in tails and the seating space generous. Up at the grill there is a good balance between fish and meat dishes. No doubt, folk will also welcome the element of foreign influence visible in parts of the menu. The Thai crab soup is a big hit. If you're resolutely determined to eat only Irish produce, the menu lets you know exactly where your smoked salmon originated from. The whole place has been restored by Corrigan and the menu is his brainchild. It's a very popular venue over St Patrick's Day - booking is advised.
Did you know??The apparent aphrodisiac powers of oysters have yet to be proved. Scientific tests have revealed the molluscs have a high zinc content and this is perhaps one of the reasons why they have gained a reputation for boosting bedroom energy levels - with the mineral improving not just sexual performance but overall health and vitality.
St Patrick's Day in London 2010
The Irish have observed St Patrick's Day as a religious festival for thousands of years. Thought to have been born in the tiny Wel...History
The official London celebrations - that's the ones that don't revolve around pubs, Guinness and more pubs - take place on Sunday 1...The Parade 2010
London's events calendar is always crammed with a raft of diverse entertainment but this St Patrick's Day London is joining in the...Events 2010
London's shopping industry offers a colourful mix of global influences on our high streets. With Ireland's rich heritage in fashio...Irish Shopping
Going to mass on St Patrick's Day is a tradition that has spanned decades. Many of the Catholic churches in London ...Catholic Churches