How to get the most out of outdoor eating as the weather cools down

Where to eat, what to wear and what dishes to order, to make outdoor eating work in autumn

Afuera,  777’s  dining space off George’s Street, Dublin

Afuera, 777’s dining space off George’s Street, Dublin

 

We may or may not be heading into an Indian summer, but for now, as the chill hits the fan, the focus has moved to indoor dining. But that doesn’t mean that we need to pack up the picnic tables and concede the outdoor dining land grab that got us through the past 18 months.

There are some who still prefer to dine and socialise in the great outdoors, and some establishments clearly favour this option also – in some cases still not offering an indoor option. When you look at how the Danish live, embracing rather than dreading the cold, there is much to be said for gearing up and extolling the life enhancing virtues of hygge. Here are our top tips on how to do it.

Where to eat

We’ve all been there, taken the video, and laughed it off, but flimsy gazebos and umbrellas on the sides of busy streets simply don’t cut it when it comes to gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Not all outdoor dining spaces are created equally, so it’s worth doing a bit of research.

The best covered options can often be found at hotels, which have the budget to invest in serious kit. The InterContinental, the Merrion, the Shelbourne and the Grayson in Dublin have seriously good outdoor areas; Nóin at the Twelve Hotel in Barna is a Galway favourite, and the Red Bank Restaurant in Carrick-on-Shannon has installed a cosy new Bank Yard outdoor area.

Outdoor dining on the terrace at the InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Outdoor dining on the terrace at the InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4

For a city that has the alfresco scene totally wrapped up, head to Cork, where Princes Street is under a vortex covering, which can be zipped together, and is now cosier than ever with the installation of heaters.

If you want Michelin-star dining, head further south to Baltimore, where Dede restaurant is cosy and atmospheric, with a wood-burning stove, Athena pyramid flame heaters, sheepskin rugs and blankets, with half the area under a large Perspex roof cover.

Dede in Baltimore, west Cork
Dede in Baltimore, west Cork

Sure bets are the places that already had robust outdoor dining spaces before the pandemic hit. Asador on Haddington Road in Dublin, and Suesey Street on Fitzwilliam Place have retractable roofs, plenty of heating, and cosy blankets. Fade Street Social on Fade Street has an all-weather winter garden, and you can work your way through a serious selection of Irish craft beers at Urban Brewing on Custom House Quay.

Urban Brewing on Custom House Quay, Dublin
Urban Brewing on Custom House Quay, Dublin

If you’re looking for a casual burger, Peggy Kelly’s in Dublin’s Harold’s Cross is the place to be: their cosy outdoor cabins will withstand the worst of weather, and Ashton’s in Clonskeagh has invested big bucks into its outdoor area, and it’s great place to head with a larger group.

To get a sense of escapism, the new outdoor dining area at House Dublin on Leeson Street packs a serious Miami vibe; and, off George’s Street, 777’s Afuera dining space – afuera means outside in Spanish – has dramatic cantilevered awnings, which provide plenty of cover while you tuck into taquitos, and margaritas from the Airstream cocktail bar.

The Saba Secret Garden on Baggot Street, Dublin 2, is suitable for all weathers, with an electric canopy and heaters to crank up if there’s a chill while you work through the Thai menu. For great Chinese food, head to Hang Dai’s Gold Bar terrace on Camden Street, and for one of the most atmospheric terraces in Dublin, there’s Piglet in Temple Bar, with its Italian classics and great wine list.

Roots at Slane Castle in Co Meath
Roots at Slane Castle in Co Meath

Roots at Slane Castle in Co Meath is a wonderful dining experience, with a large marquee, great tacos and cool sounds.

If it’s more about the buzz, and cocktails are your thing, head for Dublin’s rooftop terraces, Sophie’s at the Dean Hotel, Layla’s at the Devlin, the Nurserie Terrace at the Dylan Hotel and Lenehans in Rathmines, which all have luxe alfresco areas with all-weather cover.

Lenehans in Rathmines, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Lenehans in Rathmines, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

How to book

While most restaurants require reservations, and some a deposit per person, there are plenty that hold a few tables for walk-ins, but you shouldn’t depend on this. It’s more likely to be an option on a weekday or when the weather has lost its reason and there have been cancellations.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or send a direct message on social media to the restaurant you want to book. Enquire about outdoor heating. Is it overhead, and if so, do all the heaters go on at once? Unless you like rotisserie chicken levels of heat, you may want to avoid the table right under the heater. Ask about the roof, is it retractable, a stretch tent, or a yacht-quality Tuuci umbrella with lighting and heaters built into it?

Think about what’s most important to you. How exposed is the dining area? Ask how many sides are open. Some “outdoor” areas are more like zipped up plastic bags. Do you want to be as close as possible to airflow at the edge of the dining area, or are you looking for the cosiest table available, where you may have tables on all sides?

It is, as we all now know, possible to book for, ahem, up to 200 people. So if the number in your group is more than six, you can book multiple adjacent tables. Nominate a lead booker who will deal with the restaurant, provide all the information needed on numbers and allergens, pay a deposit if required, and keep the restaurant informed if there are any changes to numbers. And remember, with current restrictions, there is still no socialising between tables.

What to wear

Check the weather apps (golden rule) not just for rain, but also for wind; scan the sky for marauding clouds before you head out, and remember, we’re heading into the time of four seasons in one day: sunny spells, squally showers and gale-force winds, with the possibility of hail.

Dress like an onion, and bundle up with layers you can peel off. Overcompensate. Start with merino base layers, maybe even a turtleneck, and add a stylish jumper – if you have any cashmere in your wardrobe, this is the time for it. It will be another layer of warmth without the bulk. Top all of that off with a long coat, preferably a puffer, and a hat.

And don’t forget your feet. Sitting outside for a couple of hours can result in ice-cold tootsies. Utilitarian boots are just the thing to pop over a pair of thick cosy socks.

If it’s looking a bit more arctic, break out the ski gear, the heated gilet you got as a present last Christmas, rechargeable hand warmers, air-activated foot warmers and any nifty camping gizmos that you have lurking around. Remember that there might be a downpour on your way to the restaurant, so avoid denim jeans, which morph into cold, damp cardboard when they get wet, and refuse to dry. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Bring a large bag with a blanket if you think you may need it, and it’s also handy to have on hand as you peel off your layers. You could find yourself right under a particularly hot heater. And don’t forget your face mask. Even though you’re outdoors, you’ll still need to wear it for moving around the dining area.

When to eat

Autumn evenings cool down quickly. Consider lunch instead of dinner, or get there early for the first sitting in the evening. Check out what pubs with outdoor seating are nearby. Chances are you’ll have to vacate your table for later diners, so if the weather’s playing ball and you want to extend your evening, head to the pub for the chats.

If you want to go when it’s less busy and there are likely to be fewer diners, avoid weekends and book on a weeknight, although many places don’t open earlier in the week, so the first night might be Wednesday. If dining out is a last-minute decision, don’t presume that everywhere is booked solid. It’s worth checking if there are cancellations or availability for walk-ins.

What to order

If there are hot cocktails, like mulled wine or hot ports, well, they are a no-brainer to start you off. When it gets to food, you may want to pace your ordering. Your server won’t like this, but rather than incurring the trauma of a load of dishes piling up in front of you and going cold, work your way through the menu as slowly as you can. Maybe stick with small plates.

I’m hoping that this will be the year when we finally see fondue appear on menus around the country, but in the absence of that, go for dishes that you know will be served very hot. The French onion soup at Chez Max is just the thing, also beef bourguignon, stews, braises and anything that sounds wintry and warming. Go for a red wine rather than a chilled white , and maybe something a bit more full-bodied.

And for dessert, it goes without saying, that sticky toffee pudding and chocolate fondant will truly come into their own in the cooler months.

And please…

Go with the right attitude. Embrace the spirit of adventure and vibrancy of being outdoors. Turn up on time, be nice, tip well and vacate your table when it’s required back. If you have to cancel, give as much notice as you can, and whatever you do, do not be a no-show. It’s someone’s livelihood that’s at stake.