13 fabulous Irish restaurants for a special occasion

From The Irish Times’s 2018 guide to the 100 best foodie destinations across Ireland

Nowhere gets on this list of Ireland's best occasion restaurants – part of our 100 best restaurants, cafes and places to eat in Ireland 2018 – through anything other than a commitment to great food. These are the places we have loved, that made us swoon, grin, relax, and feel hopeful, awed and, above all else, happy.

We've marked this year's newcomers and used a to flag every place that serves a main course for less than €15.

This is a restaurant that does the conjuring trick that all restaurants should. Locks underpromises and then overdelivers. The menu reads like a set of fairly familiar ideas, but the dishes are much more creative in the flesh. Always a lovely room, Locks now has a seriously impressive kitchen, taking it into the league of the best unstarred cooking in the capital. CC
Locks, 1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8, 01-4163655, locksrestaurant.ie

Five years since it opened in what everyone saw as one of the lowest points in Belfast's restaurant fortunes, Ox was the start of the upturn. Inspired by the French three-star chef Alain Passard, a mentor to chef Stephen Toman and front-of-house maestro Alain Kerloc'h, Ox has developed a distinct personality. When Passard came to celebrate their birthday earlier this year there was no noticeable difference between the three-star chef's dishes and Ox's own. CC
Ox, 1 Oxford Street, Belfast, 048-90314121, oxbelfast.com


The Lady Helen
Mount Juliet has added a new casual-eating restaurant to its stable on the estate with The Hound restaurant in its new Hunter's Yard area. Executive chef Ken Harker continues what he does beautifully in the older sister operation, elegant old-world dining, where great ingredients are teased into exquisite creations with taste always the bottom line. CC
The Lady Helen Restaurant, Mount Juliet Estate, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, 056-7773000, mountjuliet.ie

Chapter One
Visitors might notice things getting a bit wilder in the basement restaurant in the coming months, according to chef-owner Ross Lewis. Wild plants such as gorse will replace tamer flower arrangements to bring the Irish landscape into the rooms, resonating with an Irish food scene that Lewis believes is better than ever. They're also planning an earlier pretheatre sitting, to accommodate those 7.30pm curtain-ups. CC
Chapter One, 18-19 Parnell Square North, Dublin 1, 01-8732266, chapteronerestaurant.com

Kilkenny has the cultural life of a city and the feel of friendly town. Garrett Byrne's 10-year-old restaurant has become part of that happy blend. Upending classics is not his shtick, but there's nothing staid about Campagne. It's one of the few restaurants in this range with a small vegetarian menu, possibly to balance Byrne's "another day in paradise" tweet last year when asked for a free meal by a vegan blogger. CC
Campagne, 5 The Arches, Gas House Lane, Kilkenny, 056-7772858, campagne.ie

Dax Restaurant
This basement restaurant was a reliable workhorse of the expense-account lunch and postwork crowd. Then, last year, Graham Neville arrived from the kitchen of the now-closed Restaurant 41 at Residence, the St Stephen's Green club, and things got more creative. By now the summer ingredients should be on its plates. The courgette flower stuffed with prawns is a dish that marks the seasonal shift as delightfully as the first sound of swifts in a summer sky. CC
Dax Restaurant, 23 Upper Pembroke Street, Dublin 2, 01-6761494, dax.ie/restaurant

Running their Dungarvan restaurant, cookery school, West Waterford Festival of Food and lively social-media accounts make Paul and Máire Flynn the power couple of Irish food. The heart of it all remains the restaurant, where cheffing finesse is only ever used to dial up the tastiness of what's on the plate. If it looks beautiful, too, then so be it. CC
Tannery, 10 Quay Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, 058-45420, tannery.ie

The Greenhouse
The Greenhouse is a restaurant that has made others up their game, a halo effect that improves the restaurant culture of a city. Mickael Viljanen has a restless approach to food and cooking, which means the menu never gets old and each visit is a new adventure. CC
The Greenhouse, 21 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, 01-6767015, thegreenhouserestaurant.ie

Enda McEvoy is itching to go out with a fisherman who's catching sea urchins, spider crabs and pollock off Inishbofin. His seafood is so brilliant that the chef-owner would like to see him at work. Loam's tasting menu follows the rhythm of the seasons with fresh, dried and preserved elements. Last month they harvested nettle tips to be dried for the tea that goes into their house-made kombucha. CC
Loam, Geata na Cathrach, Fairgreen, Galway, 091-569 727, loamgalway.com

Etto € (lunch)
The trickiest challenge at Etto is picking just one starter and one main. So you should bring a crowd of adventurous (and generous) eaters. That way you can get to snaffle from everyone's plate to see if they all taste as good as they sound. And they will. CC
Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2, 01-6788872, etto.ie

Canteen Celbridge NEW
Some people assume small town means small ideas. James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert's elegant take on a small restaurant does none of that. Surprising and delicious things are sprinkled through their menus, such as cured goose ham, smoked sheep cheese and "crushed Queens", the world's best potatoes at this time of the year. CC
Canteen Celbridge, Main Street, Celbridge, Co Kildare, 01-6274967, canteencelbridge.com

Heron & Grey
When your room is tiny and demand is enormous, things can get hairy, so chef Damien Grey and front of house Andrew Heron now take bookings a month at a time. At 10am on Saturday the list will open online for July. Instead of a menu, diners get an exhaustive list of that month's ingredients. The kitchen will turn this into a memorable night. It all looks very serious, but Heron & Grey is a place where big food fun happens. CC
Heron & Gray, Blackrock Market, 19a Main Street, Blackrock, Co Dublin, 01-2123676, heronandgrey.com

The Muddler's Club €
Head chef and owner Gareth McCaughey brought some Michelin skills from his former job at Ox to his city-centre restaurant, delicately handling great local produce without any pretence. This is food for a special occasion served in a gloriously laid-back setting. AMcE
The Muddler's Club, Warehouse Lane, Belfast, 048-90313199, themuddlersclubbelfast.com