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‘People are constantly surprised when I tell them my favourite’: Our food writers reveal where they dine when off-duty

From Michelin-starred saviours to midlands hidden gems, there is something for all occasions and budgets here

Irish Times food writers reveal their favourite places around the country to eat and drink

Ever wondered where food writers like to go out to eat when they’re off duty? Corinna Hardgrave, Mark Moriarty, Russ Parsons, Marie-Claire Digby, Lilly Higgins, John Wilson and Joanne Cronin spill the beans


A casual bite with a pal

Fish Shop, 76 Benburb Street, Dublin 7

People are constantly surprised when I tell them that Fish Shop is one of my favourite restaurants in the country. “What? Fish and chips?” But it is so much more than that. Start with a gilda, then calamari and squid on toast and follow with spectacularly fresh fish, steaming hot in a light golden batter. The wine list here is a treat, so you can have sherry by the glass (very good with gildas), go for a Jura chardonnay, or splash out on grower Champagne. Seating is on high stools only, along a counter, so it’s a spot to go to with just one pal, or at the most two.

A great lunch

Assassination Custard,19A Kevin Street Lower, Dublin 8

Gwen McGrath and Ken Doherty design their menu around what is available from McNally’s organic farm and intuitively conjure up the most delightful plates of food that are simple but totally delicious. Somehow, getting a seat in their 10-seater restaurant feels subversive, like you’re skipping off school and having the best time while the world deals with the drudgery outside. Get there before midday and maybe avoid Fridays.

Special occasion

Allta, 1 Three Locks Square, Dublin, D02 A5W7

I have always loved Niall Davidson’s food, his way with flavours and the precision with which he cooks meat and fish over fire. Now he has a shiny new restaurant in the docks, which is a wonderful place to visit for a special night out. Pasta has always been a strong point, and the barbecued rabbit with ricotta cavatelli is a must-order item if it is on. The menu changes regularly, but there will always be plenty of dishes cooked over the custom-built Rhys Allen grill, from skewers of squid and suckling pig to six-year-old ex-dairy cow beef and turbot.


Weekend gourmet break

Homestead Cottage, Luogh North, Doolin, Co Clare

Robbie and Sophie McCauley’s Michelin-star restaurant in a 200-year-old cottage in the Burren must be one of the most perfect places to visit for a weekend getaway. It feels special without being formal, and it is a bit magical. The room, with its flagstone floor and high ceilings, is comfortingly beautiful, the food is grounded in what is available locally – from Burren beef to vegetables from the couple’s small holding – and the cooking is sensitive, delicious and skilful. It’s a special pocket of loveliness.


Midweek treat

Solas, Unit 1, Strand Street, Dingle

Nicky and Ann’s newly bibbed tapas restaurant in Dingle is the ideal hideaway midweek. I’ll often be down in Ventry working, and on the rare occasions I can’t be bothered cooking, we will spin into Solas for an early dinner. The warm room is the perfect tonic when the weather is blowing, and the menu is full of Spanish comfort cooking with great local ingredients. What I love is that the menu offers dishes at various price points, allowing you to choose how to manage your budget without ever compromising on flavour. A great restaurant.

Family meal

Oliveto, 9-12 Haddington Terrace, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin

Oliveto at Haddington House is the perfect neighbourhood restaurant for me. The beautiful room overlooking Dún Laoghaire pier is packed with charm, atmosphere and is always busy. The food is Italian inspired, with zero fuss, and there is a great drinks list. They have everything from wood-fired pizzas to classic pasta dishes and a range of small plates. This is a place you can drop into for an hour or stay for an afternoon, with clientele of all ages and plenty of happy families. A timeless classic.

Special occasion

Dede, Baltimore, Co Cork

Ahmet Dede’s cooking is special, and the location on the road to the ferry in Baltimore feels like travelling to the end of the world. I would travel to the end of the world for this: the best of Irish ingredients painted with unique Turkish spice and flair. It is served in a room that screams house party as opposed to two-Michelin-starred restaurant. This is some of the most original food in the world and my wife’s all-time favourite (and she is an extremely tough critic).

Friday takeaway

Spice Cottage, 1, O’Rourke Park, Sallynoggin, Co Dublin

Since we moved house, Spice Cottage in Sallynoggin is just outside our delivery zone, so it involves a 30-minute round trip to collect. No problem for me: this is the best value and quality when it comes to Indian takeaway. With a range of meal deals to choose from, it offers something for everyone, and the lamb achari is off the scale.


Midweek treat

The Cove Bar, Dunmore Road, Waterford

After a long, hard day, when you’re too tired to cook or even hold a decent conversation, there is nothing better than a pub dinner. And my favourite pub dinner in Waterford is at the Cove. The bar is gorgeous dark wood and stained glass. The atmosphere is soothing but still buzzy with other people’s chatter. Service is friendly and prompt. But most importantly, the bacon ribs – served with mashed potatoes, braised cabbage and parsley sauce – are the best I’ve found.

Family meal

The Stables Cafe at Mount Congreve, Kilmeaden, Co Waterford

There is no better way to spend an afternoon than taking our two grandchildren to Mount Congreve for lunch and a long walk. After a long rehabilitation, the garden is splendid and even has a terrific little playground for kids. The Stables restaurant is now managed by the Cliff House group. Food is served cafeteria style, so choosing is easy – the smoked salmon on brown bread is particularly good, as are the various salads. And after your walk among the snowdrops, camellias and rhododendrons, there are wonderful baked goods and a pot of tea.

Special occasion

Everett’s, 22 High Street, Waterford

Waterford is spoiled for choice these days when it comes to great restaurants – Union, Emiliano’s and Cafe Momo, as well as Beach House in Tramore. But when our family has a special celebration, we inevitably head to Everett’s. Peter Everett’s delicious cooking is classically French without being fussy and is designed to celebrate the best of Irish ingredients – almost every dish name-checks a great producer. How he is able to achieve this when a three-course menu costs only €52 is something of a miracle.


Midweek treat

Cellar 22, 22 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2

When you want an interesting glass of wine, and something tasty to eat, this is a great choice in Dublin city centre. The atmosphere is buzzy, the food is delicious – and you can order as much or as little as you want. Prices are fair, and the music is excellent. The must-orders are the large charcuterie board, 80 per cent of which is made in-house, and the Jerusalem artichoke agnolotti with ricotta and hazelnut. Finish off with an affogato unlike any other.

Family get-togethers

The Purty Kitchen, 4 Old Dunleary Road, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin

The Purty Kitchen on the edge of Dún Laoghaire has played host to many family meals for us over the years, in both its current and previous incarnations. The food is reliable and delicious. Moules-frites (Galway Bay mussels in white wine and cream, with skin-on fries) is my regular order, but there would be a riot if they ever took the Wicklow Wolf ale-battered haddock fillets off the menu. The salt and pepper chilli calamari starter is excellent too; they marinate it in milk to tenderise it, and the crisp coating is featherlight.

Special occasions

Chapter One, 19 Parnell Square North, Dublin 1
Big Mike’s, Rock Hill, Blackrock, Co Dublin

Special birthdays decades apart, an 18th and a 60th, have been celebrated in splendid style in Chapter One, and we would be there more regularly if it was easier to get a table. But perhaps that’s part of what makes it special, together with warm, perfectly judged service and amazing food. In the absence of foresight to make a reservation at Chapter One, we have celebrated many times with more fish and shellfish than we could decently eat, and a top-notch St Aubin, at Michael’s in Mount Merrion, and more recently Big Mike’s in Blackrock.


Casual family dinner with kids

Wabisabi, 90 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork

My kids absolutely love Wabisabi. The age-gyoza, squid karaage, spicy tuna roll and kimchi soup are all favourites. The staff are so friendly and welcoming, and there’s a constant flow of complimentary green tea. Don’t skip dessert: the rainbow crepe cake is fun and delicious while the cloud cake is a dreamy finish to a really wonderful, good-value meal.

Nourishing takeaway

My Goodness, English Market, Cork

My Goodness creates food to make you feel good: amazing fermented products, sprouted beans, award-winning kefir and kombucha made from harvested rainwater. The menu consists of a range of raw cakes, raw wraps, broth, a range of Mexican-inspired probiotic rich chipotle, “notchos”, tostada and “rawchos”. My kids love their raw flax crackers. Everything is so tasty and you really do feel invigorated after eating it. It is a zero-waste business and its sister nonprofit organisation, Cork Urban Soil Project, composts any waste to make soil to grow more crops to create a closed loop system.

Special occasion

Terre, Castlemartyr, Co Cork

Terre, a two-Michelin-star restaurant by Vincent Crepel, is a little bit of heaven in east Cork. The staff are incredible, the atmosphere is relaxed and the music choice completes the experience. The furniture is bespoke Modet from Kinsale, with Fermoyle pottery and handmade knives from Broc in Armagh and carved spoons from Hewn in Westport. The menu is equally connected to the land, with exquisite, intricate dishes championing Irish produce where it can. I love their dark corridor leading to the kitchen lined with shelves of ferments. It all feels very much like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, although you’ll be planning your next visit by the time you get to the brandy trolley in the lounge.

Weekend dinner

The Glass Curtain, Unit A, Thompson House, McCurtain Street, Cork

If you love seasonal Irish produce, this is the place for you. A relaxed atmosphere paired with great staff and an open fire in the kitchen for grilling seafood and meat, make this place feel special. I would go there for the bread and butter alone. It offers extensive menu options and the vegetarian offerings are fantastic and so creative.

Lunch with friends

Izz Cafe, 14 George’s Street, Cork

Izz Cafe, a Palestinian cafe in Cork, is owned by Izz and Eman Alkarajeh. Everything is made in-house, from the hummus to the creamy labneh. I love the traditional Palestinian coffee that is gently infused with cardamom, and Eman makes the most amazing cinnamon rolls. I always bring them home for my kids. The restaurant has recently been extended so there’s lots of room. Izz has so many inventive ways to educate and inform his customers, with QR codes on the menu so you can read up on some history while you wait for your food. I always buy amazing products here too, such as za’atar, olive oil and the famous soap from Nablus.


Local restaurant

Grapevine, 26 Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin

Still a wine shop, but concentrating more on food these days, thanks to a new chef, the menu has improved greatly, and the wine list is very reasonable. This is the perfect place for a casual local dinner with friends or family.

Holiday destination restaurant

McGrory’s, Culdaff, Donegal

Culdaff on the Inishowen peninsula has been a favourite destination of mine for many years. A swim on the amazing beach followed by fish and chips with a pint of craft beer or glass of wine in McGrory’s and you know the holiday has started.

A bite and a glass of wine

Ely Wine Bar, 22 Ely Place, Dublin

The original Dublin wine bar. A great place for a glass of wine with a friend. One of the best by-the-glass-wine lists and nice nibbles too.

For a splurge

Dax, 23 Pembroke Street Upper, Dublin 2

Dax is a celebration destination with great modern French/Irish food. Chef Graham Neville has taken the food to a new level. Favourites include scallops with coral bisque and loin of venison. Front of house, run by Olivier Meisonnave, is unfussy and friendly, but always professional. Nice wine list, too.

Family celebrations

Chakra, Meridian Point Centre, Greystones, Co Wicklow

Chakra in Greystones has been a family favourite since it first opened 25 years ago. Many birthdays, graduations and other milestones have been celebrated here, but it is also great value for a quiet midweek early bird. The room is fantastic, the staff always friendly and the food almost always impeccable. I find it hard not to go for the succulent, spicy pounded Wicklow lamb. It has changed over the years but remains a favourite, as do the scallops to start off.


Midlands pit stop

Thyme, Custume Place, Athlone, Co Westmeath

John and Tara Coffey’s midlands favourite continues to go from strength to strength. Over the years Thyme has consistently showcased the very best of regional produce, and is regarded by many Irish chefs as a personal favourite. The menu changes with the seasons, but there’s always a version of John’s showpiece crispy egg starter to enjoy.

A place to speak Irish

Pota Cafe, Tulla, Riverstown, Co Galway

This gorgeous cafe from Diarmuid Ó'Mathúna, close to the TG4 studios, is the perfect spot for a casual lunch while travelling the Wild Atlantic Way, and it also provides a rare chance to order your food as Gaeilge. The chowder made using fish from Ros a Mhíl is super stuff, as are the tóstaí (toasted sandwiches).

Where to brunch

Arán, 8 Barrack Street, Kilkenny
Léas at the Glucksman, The Glucksman, University College Cork, Cork

Enjoy brunch from one of Ireland’s best bakeries and Blas na hÉireann award winners at the cosy and friendly Arán, where some dishes come with a Filipino twist.

Walk through the gates of UCC in Cork and you will find downstairs a buzzy cafe at the modern Glucksman art gallery. Léas sources from suppliers all over Cork. It has an outdoor terrace that will be a real treasure in the summer.

Weekend dinner

Spitalfields, The Coombe, Dublin 8

A former local boozer, Spitalfields is now an internationally recognised modern Irish restaurant that still manages to retain that local feel. There’s a retro feel to the dishes at times, such as devilled eggs, or a take on a Super Split ice cream. Look out for the eye-catching cock-a-leekie pie with its golden latticed pastry lid.