Your guide to summer's hot tables
Stumped about where to take your friend for her 40th, your boss, or the family for lunch – including the hipster nephews? CATHERINE CLEARYtakes the pain out of picking a place to eat
I GET ASKED TWO questions on a regular basis. “What’s your favourite restaurant?” The answer to which is, “It depends”. The second is a typical text along the lines of, “Where would be good for my sister’s cousin’s 42nd birthday lunch, with a coeliac, a hipster nephew, a vegan teen, the family dog and a non-drinker?” Okay it’s rarely that complex but when people are planning a special meal they like to try new places with the comfort of knowing they will like them when they get there. In that spirit, here’s a guide to the occasion places I would recommend to friends and family, the places I would spend my own money. You will all have your own favourites. These are mine.
THE FAMILY OUTING
It takes more than a cup of broken crayons to make a family-friendly place. It needs to be somewhere with room for smallies to snooze in buggies or larger ones to be comfortable in high chairs or at the table. Most importantly it should be good enough that people without children should also want to eat there.
At Electric in Cork, chef-owner Kevin O’Regan cooks simple staples of fish and chips, steaks and chicken. It’s a large roomy place that can take a buggy or two. One disadvantage is that it’s lunch or a very swift early bird only. Children not allowed after 6.30pm as the building has a bar on site. Electric, 41 South Mall, Cork, tel: 021-4222990.
In Belfast, Sam Spain’s Ace is a hit with families thanks to a tasty menu with grown-up kids’ food such as sliders (a pulled pork speciality), slaws and an all-day brunch. It’s roomy and was a Gourmet Burger Bank. Open seven days but they don’t take bookings. Ace, 20-22 Belmont Road, East Belfast.
Consistently good and recently reinvented (slightly), Alexis in Dún Laoghaire, south Dublin, is a great spot for a large group with a mixture of ages. There’s a €24 set Sunday lunch with dishes such as road ray wing with brown shrimp and artichoke. Alexis Bar and Grill, 17/18 Patrick Street, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, tel: 01-2808872.
The free pump-your-own cone machine in Camden Street’s Neon has proved a big hit with the family crowd in this cheap and cheerful place. It’s uber-casual, an Asian takeaway with shared bench seating and bowls into which you tip your takeaway. Neon, 17 Camden Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4052222.
A little more for the posh occasion (you might reach for the elasticated bow tie for this one), Seasons Restaurant in The Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin does special family menus with dishes aimed at younger diners. Four Seasons Hotel, Simmonscourt Rd, Dublin 4, tel: 01-6654000.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Group dining can be stressful for people on a budget so The Tea Room in Dublin’s Clarence Hotel, has taken the white knuckle feeling out of it by offering set dinner menus of €28 for three courses for groups of 10 or more people. The room is lovely, the cooking good and it’s a slightly forgotten venue. The Tea Room, The Clarence Hotel, 8 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4070813.
Chef Temple Garner’s San Lorenzos has the buzz of a busy new restaurant serving good higher-end Italian cooking. You will love or loathe the bus seats/deck chair seating and pared-back minimalist decor but there’s not a lot to complain about on the plates. San Lorenzo’s, South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4789383.
Cork’s Isaac’s Restaurant is a comfortable roomy place with good service and restaurant staples done well. Isaac’s Restaurant, 48 MacCurtain Street, Cork, tel: 021-4503805.
Tasty cooking with well-sourced Irish ingredients is served in comfortable above-a-pub surroundings in The Sussex on Leeson Street. You can order drinks from the bar and enjoy them at the table before dinner if the birthday gathering is of an age that doesn’t enjoy standing in a packed bar. The Sussex, 8/9 Sussex Terrace, Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4, tel: 01-6762851.
Ronan Ryan’s Bite restaurant has been packing them in since it opened recently. Yes it’s trendy but it’s also serving clever sides, good reasonably priced mains and plenty of cocktail options. Bite, 29 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6797000.
THE FRIENDS’ NIGHT OUT
Not so long ago L’Gueuleton was so revolutionary there was a queue down the street till the doors opened. It’s still a brilliant place to eat with good, well-priced bistro food in a great atmosphere. L’Gueuleton, Fade Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6753708.
Coppinger Row, on the tiny street of the same name, does imaginative, earthy Mediterranean dishes with tables outside for warmer evenings so you can shut your eyes and pretend you’re in Barcelona. Coppinger Row, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6729884.
A new kid on the increasingly busy block of South Great George’s Street is John Farrell’s 777. It’s higher-end Mexican, has a wall of tequila, hip decor and lip-smacking food. 777, 7 Castle House, South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4254052.
On Galway’s docks with a view of the sea, Eight Bar and Restaurant is a minimalist restaurant with well-sourced food cooked well. Eight Bar and Restaurant, Dock Road, Galway, tel: 091-565111.