Serious focus on quality and taste has elevated Ireland's cooking scene to undreamed new heights over the last three decades.

If you haven't been back in recent years you are in for a truly pleasant surprise the next time you travel.

The first thing I always like to do when I return to Dublin is order a full Irish breakfast at Bewley's Cafe on Grafton Street. 

When I took a picture of the fabulous breakfast spread, featuring eggs so perfectly poached they looked like Roman buratta and brown bread made with Guinness stout that had a treacle-like richness, it went viral on Twitter almost instantly.

I’m in Ireland for about an hour and I’m already ⁦@bewleyscafe⁩ for a full Irish. The bread has stout in it. The butter is rich as Croesus. I’m so happy to be home. @TourismIreland @Failte_Ireland #StPatricksDay #loveireland

— Cahir O’Doherty (@randomirish) March 16, 2022

Evidently, lots of people already know just how good Irish cooking and baking really is, even when it comes to formerly homespun offerings like our traditional Irish breakfasts.

Indeed food is becoming a major factor in return bookings to the country where cravings for the taste of Ireland drive repeat visits to our shores.

The dramatic change can be explained in three words, Ireland is delicious. To appreciate just how good Irish cooking and baking really is, I took the time this trip to stop in and sample some places that have stood the test of time for me as well as newer offerings on the dining scene.

Let's start with that old constitutional. Bewley's Cafe, with its grand open fireplace, stained glass windows and its big welcoming high-backed red sofas is a love letter to a more elegant age. You can order anything from fresh scones to smoked salmon there and know that it will be among the best things you eat this or any month.

The Full Irish Breakfast, which I ordered and happily devoured, includes Bewley’s Sausages, Clonakilty black pudding, bacon, free ranged poached eggs, slow roast tomatoes, rosemary buttered portobello mushroom, Ballymaloe relish and some stout and treacle brown soda bread for 15.00 Euro, all in. 

Once upon a time, it was the clattery cafe that James Joyce spoke of, but these days it's a much more elevated experience with table seating and baristas. If you remember the old stay all day and read books as you people-watch version, the new fine-dining vibe might throw you off a little as it did me, but the quality which is their hallmark remains.

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Ask around Dublin about the best places to eat and you'll get as many opinions as there are people. One suggestion I took to heart was to return to the fabulous The Winding Stair (yes, it's named after a book of poems by W.B. Yeats).

Once it was a landmark book shop with a little cafe attached, but now it's the reverse and I can't say I minded. 

With an iconic view of the Ha'penny Bridge (possibly the most famous Dublin landmark of them all), it sets the scene for some equally iconic old-fashioned Irish cooking, featuring seasonal and locally sourced Irish produce.

I ordered the ten-ounce Pat Mac's Rump steak with Gaelic Escargot (yes, home-farmed Irish snails!) baked bone marrow, black garlic aioli chips, and wild mushroom and was astounded by the richness, freshness, and flavors. 

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

With their perfect combination of both subtle and hearty offerings, I hardly had room for the chocolate and stout mousse, peanut praline, and raspberries – and yes I also ordered the banana bread served with a caramel sauce I will probably dream of years hence.

The Winding Stair is one of the first places to bring a friend who asks what is Irish cooking? It will give them an instant vocabulary and a range of experiences that answer this question with some enthusiasm, including the unforgettable flavor and style.

Across the Liffey and out of this world is Cleaver East, the upscale restaurant located within The Clarence Hotel, which is owned by Bono and The Edge, where celebrities like Sean Penn and John Rocha regularly mix it up with mere mortals. The attention to detail in this sumptuous restaurant begins with the cocktails, which elevate the entire experience and add to the already glamorous ambience. 

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Restaurants like this one – and Dublin is now full of them – are the result of decades of world-class Irish chef training, a governing philosophy that sources the best ingredients from local and minimally processed Irish suppliers, and the discerning new dining culture that has grown up in Ireland over the last three decades especially. It's a nationwide velvet revolution that needs to be experienced to be properly understood.

I was wowed by the perfectly mixed Bellini, which was composed of white peach puree, orange, schnapps, and prosecco, which meant behind its elegance it carried a punch, which is how you want cocktails to be.

For dinner, I ordered the ten-ounce dry-aged Hereford rib-eye steak which was meltingly tender and served with possibly the great peppercorn sauce I've ever been served, alongside slow roast tomatoes and hand-cut chips. It was the most consoling meal imaginable, a hug on a plate. Dessert was a homemade apple and cinnamon crumble served with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream. I could have floated home.

One restaurant that sets the scene for Dublin is Fade Street Social, located on same the street that bears its name. Featuring gorgeously lit interiors that set the tone from your arrival, the place is either hopping or laid back (tell them which you'd prefer, the place is cavernous) and it's probably the coolest place to meet up with friends in the city. 

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Run by former Michelin-star celebrity chef Dylan McGrath, Fade Street Social is already a monster hit on the city's social scene, where it started off pre-covid as a tapas place but has graduated into pizza, steaks, fish, towering burgers, and some tasty vegetarian options. 

I ordered a burrata and beetroot salad that was, I'm not joking, life-changing and as good as anything offered at the famous Roscioli in Rome. My main course was Rib Eye Steak served with celeriac and truffle remoulade, watercress, and skinny fries and it was so perfectly cooked and presented I'd have awarded them another Michelin star on the spot. (Do not sleep on the Milk and Honey Soft Serve Ice Cream dessert, by the way, it's worth coming in for on its own).

Dublin does informality better than almost anywhere, so you won't have to break out the starched shirt to enjoy dinner at venues like this, which after a long flight you may really appreciate. That's not to say that Face Street Social isn't stylish, because it certainly is, just that it offers a more broadminded welcome to one and all, the way the city itself does.

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Meanwhile, those who know Dublin know that the very best Victoria sponge cake is baked at served at the award-winning The Queen Of Tarts, on Cow's Lane. Boasting layers of whipped cream and a fresh raspberry filling, it's the kind of baking that will make you get on a plane and fly six hours to re-experience. 

Others baked in Ireland with a French twist are the Ham and Cheese baguette served at Le Perroquet restaurant and cocktail bar on Wicklow Street.

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

Dublin's food offerings - and cafe culture - are simply world class

A return visit to Dublin necessitates a return to Leo Burdock Fish and Chips emporium in Christchurch (they now have another outlet – with seats - in the heart of Temple Bar).

Still going strong since 1913, all the Dublins you remember will merge with the Dublin of 2022 when you stop by and discover some of the best things in life actually don't change.