Few people outside of Ireland saw this one coming, yet the entire island has slipped quietly into a new role as a must-visit destination for food-lovers from all over the world.

Champagne corks were popping in restaurants across the country when the latest batch of Michelin Stars were awarded. Ireland now has seven Michelin Star restaurants. The two new additions to the fold - Mint Restaurant and Bon Appetite in Dublin - both managed to secure the coveted status within 2 years of opening which is an indication of how truly dynamic and vibrant the Irish culinary scene has become.

In Northern Ireland, Restaurant Michael Deane maintained its outstanding record and received the illustrious accolade for the 12th year running.

The style of food obviously varies greatly at these restaurants but what they all have in common is the warmth and individuality that has always been at the heart of Irish hospitality - and, no matter how diverse the courses, the basic building blocks are the excellent raw materials for which Ireland has a wonderful reputation.

The famous pastures make for a wide range of fabulous products, notably beef and lamb, while their rivers and seas provide an abundance of fresh fish and seafood. Local produce is a point of pride in the best kitchens everywhere and a growing interest in specialist production is reflected in the availability of products like hand-smoked fish and meats, baked goods and preserves plus a wide range of organic vegetables and fruit, many of which are sold at local farmers markets.

As well as sampling their fine dining restaurants, a visit to a cookery school is a major part of the Irish culinary trail.

Ireland’s most famous cookery school is run by Chef Darina Allen in the lush, rolling countryside of East Cork. At Ballymaloe, you might find yourself spending a half day learning how to make the most of fish from nearby Ballycotton Harbour or you might simply like to take the mystery out of jams and preserves.

The most important ingredient of the Irish Cookery School experience is to learn in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, as can be found at Elizabeth Kennedy’s school in Belfast. Students are taught classic or creative modern cookery in a homely setting that leaves you always wanting seconds.

The final cog in the Irish culinary wheel can be seen at some of the stunning luxury hotels popping up across the island. These wonderful properties are only too aware that along with beautiful lodgings they must provide outstanding cuisine to match.

The Merchant and The Culloden in Belfast, and The Dylan in Dublin – are all examples of hotels that have embraced this approach. They have invested in Chefs with years of international expertise and they are reaping the rewards of providing the ‘total hotel package’.

Their kitchens, like many others throughout the island, have taken Ireland’s ‘homegrown’, sprinkled in a dash of ‘exotic’, and now offer a dining experience to rival anywhere in the world.