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…

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.


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.


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.


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.


It’s a different feeling to a weekday lunch. During the best ones time goes deliciously slowly and you get to breathe a bit more deeply. Kiwi chef Jess Murphy’s Kai has upped the game for casual eating in Galway with her ingenious cooking. And the place is a quirky hobbit hole of recycled delights. Kai Cafe Restaurant, Sea Road, Galway, tel: 091-526003.

The lunch menu at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is the price you will pay to get your fingers on a bread basket in most two-star Michelin restaurants – €38 will get you two courses. Go an extra €12 for the three courses. Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, 21 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6764192.

The Farmgate Cafe at Cork’s English market is a heaven for food nerds. Their Midleton restaurant regularly has queues through the shop as people wait for a table. Farmgate Cafe, Cork English Market, Princes Street, Cork, tel: 021-4278134.

Work up an appetite on a blowy sea walk and then relax in this beautiful restaurant over lunch. The House in Howth offers meaty, cheesy plates and fresh salads for excellent prices. The House, 4 Main St Howth, Co Dublin, tel: 01-8396388.

Bibi’s in Dublin 8 is where Maisha Lenehan cooks spectacular soups, toasties and sweet things. It’s been a huge addition to the quiet redbrick neighbourhood. Their bags of house-made granola to take away are pricey, but you’ll eat it straight out of the bag instead of waiting for your next breakfast. Bibi’s Cafe 14B Emorville Avenue, Dublin 8, tel: 01-4547421.

Andersons Food Hall is that great neighbourhood asset, a good cafe in a small row of shops off Glasnevin’s Griffith Avenue. There’s a wine store and food shop too. Andersons Food Hall and Cafe, 3 The Rise, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, tel: 01-8378394.

The two Kevin Byrnes (who share a name, a business and a home) opened Union Square recently beside their wildly popular Mayfield Deli and Eatery in Terenure. One of the reasons for the expansion was having to turn away so many weekend brunchers at the smaller venue. They’re dog-friendly too, with a lovely outdoor square. Mayfield Deli and Eatery and Union Square, Terenure, Dublin 6, tel: 01-4926830.


Heston Blumenthal has put their brown bread cheese crackers on the cheeseboard at his London restaurant, Dinner, and the Sheridan brothers continue to be heroes of the Irish food scene. Their winebar in Galway is a little bit of a secret. It’s upstairs from the cheese shop on Churchyard Street and you can kick back with a glass of something good and a cheeseboard, meat board or fish platter to go with it. Sheridans Wine Shop Upstairs, 14-16 Churchyard Street, Galway, tel: 091-564829.

Joe Macken has cornered some of the market in this with his city centre restaurants Skinflint, Crackbird and Bear and he’s due to open a city centre Jo’Burger in Castlemarket any day now.

A recent arrival in Capel Street, Musashi Noodles and Sushi Bar is the quintessential casual-bite place. The food is good and excellent value and you can bring a bottle for a modest €4 corkage. Musashi Noodles and Sushi Bar, 15 Capel Street, Dublin 1, tel 01-5328068.

In Belfast they do casual good fish at the city centre Mourne Seafood bar. There’s an oyster bar with a two-course set menu for £12 (€15) including salt and chilli squid and a hearty sounding hake, chorizo and bean cassoulet. Add just £3 (€3.75) for dessert and your spur-of-the-moment decision turns into a great night out. Mourne Seafood, 34-36 Bank Street, Belfast, tel: 028-90248544.


A tricky one this. The truly lovestruck will be happy to gaze at each other over a plate of microwaved nachos. But there are some ingredients that bring out the romantic in old-marrieds.

The Winding Stair was reborn six years ago under the stewardship of Elaine Murphy and specialises in presenting ravishing Irish ingredients on simple plates of good food. And despite this it still feels like your own secret place. It’s the only place with a view of the river Liffey where the food does the view any justice. The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay Dublin 1, tel: 01-8727320.

Another watery location is Locks Brasserie, where French chef Sebastian Masi is keeping this beautiful two-roomed restaurant running smoothly. The upstairs room is even more lovely with windows on three sides and that golden canal light. Locks Brasserie, 1 Windsor Terrace, Portobello, Dublin 8, tel: 01-4543391.

Having a lanky, larger-than-life English chef shouting in a small, slightly chaotic kitchen while you sit in what is a sandwich bar by day may not sound very touchy-feely, but Rigby’s is romantic in the sense of pan-to-plate cooking of good ingredients. It’s BYO, so you have to lean in close to hear each other as the wine-fuelled decibel level rises. He has opened a second branch, with a no bookings policy. Rigbys, 126 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4, tel: 087-7939195 and 65 Dame Street, Dublin 2.

Sitting over the €25 lunch in Thorntons as the Saturday shoppers (or better still the Friday office workers) wander on the pavement below feels like a step off the conveyor belt onto a velvet chaise longue. There was a time when it was full of suits, but the restaurant now feels more like a food-lovers haven. Thornton’s Restaurant, The Fitzwilliam Hotel, 128 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4787008.

The closest Ireland might get to Dabbous, the London restaurant that has sent food critics swooning, is a very different place in Galway. It’s a small, almost-chintzy, cafe space with painted chairs and chirpy blackboards. But it shares the same philosophy: honest and inventive food at reasonable prices. Noma-trained chef Enda McEvoy opened Aniar here, and gives us the romance of new flavours and childhood tastes together on a plate. Aniar Restaurant, 53 Lower Dominick Street, Galway, tel: 091-535947.

Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen may have migrated east to Dublin but the dining room at Gregan’s Castle is still a magical place to eat, especially on a summer’s evening. David Hurley, a former head chef from Paul Flynn’s Tannery restaurant, has taken over the kitchen and, with dishes such as Jerusalem artichoke with smoked pear and beetroot and sweet bread nuggets with Gabriel cheese mayo, it looks like a good bet. Gregan’s Castle Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, tel: 065-7077005.


Ross Lewis’s Chapter One was, for years, the haunt of lawyers who booked weeks in advance for end-of-term lunches. It’s a serious place where seriously impressive food can be eaten and ties can be loosened for a visit to Lewis’s amazing kitchen at the end of the night. Chapter One, 19 Parnell Square North, Dublin 1, tel: 01-8732266.

After a recent dip into examinership (out of which they emerged recently) the restaurant at Fallon and Byrne has become a good venue. It can get noisy on busy evenings, so might be one for a social business gathering rather than in-depth discussions of end-of-year figures. Set menus for groups range from €28 for a three-course lunch to €38.50 for a three-course dinner. Fallon and Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-4721000.

Nick Munier’s French restaurant Pichet gives the business customer what they tend to look for: consistency. It’s better than good, every time, without fail. It’s professional to its core and its chairs are the comfiest in town. The diver-caught scallops are divine. Pichet, 14/15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6771060.


Outlet shopping centres are not known for their food offerings but The Outlet, near Banbridge on the main Belfast to Dublin road, has a Simply Deanes, one of Michael Deane’s ventures, serving good soups, pasta, sandwiches and fish and chips for hungry shoppers. The Outlet at Bridgewater Park, Banbridge, Northern Ireland, tel: 028-40627220.

Avoca on Suffolk Street in Dublin 2 has done an old-style revamp of its top floor restaurant recently, with mismatched chairs and a mix of bigger, old tables making it feel a little roomier. The staff here make a special effort with children, which is a relief to buggy-fatigued parents. Avoca, 11-13 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6774215.

In Galway, Aoibheann McNamara’s Ardbia at Nimmos is a world away from shopping queues and hassle. Fresh, inventive and delicious food is served at vintage shop tables and you can watch the Corrib flow by. Watch out for the cafe’s first cookbook by McNamara and food writer Aoife Carrigy, which is due out in July. Ard Bia at Nimmos, Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, tel: 091-561114.

Proving small is beautiful, the Pepperpot Cafe in Dublin’s Powerscourt Centre is a lovely pit stop for shoppers. The first-floor tables give a view over what is still Dublin’s most gorgeous shopping centre. The roast pear, bacon and Mount Callan cheddar sandwich (€5.80) is an obligatory order. The Pepperpot, Powerscourt Centre, Dublin 2, tel: 01-7071610.


There are some evenings when you want to put on your best gear and have a memorable dinner, to mark an occasion, catch up with someone special, or just celebrate being alive.

Mickael Viljanen is a magician and his food is probably the most intricate cooking in Ireland at the moment. Lucky Dubliners now have him at The Greenhouse on Dawson Street, where you need to make it a long leisurely meal to take it all in. The Greenhouse, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6767015.

Oliver Dunne is doing memorable food on a budget at his Michelin-starred Malahide restaurant, Bon Appetit. A six-course surprise tasting menu costs €45 on Wednesday and Thursday nights, making it worth shelving the TV remote and changing into those to going-out nights clothes. Bon Appetit, 9 James Terrace, Malahide, Co Dublin, tel: 01-8450314.

Innovating, networking, filming and still keeping the basic idea of running a good restaurant in a small coastal Irish town, chef Paul Flynn and his wife Máire are Irish food stars. The Tannery in Dungarvan has been sending its baby chefs (Mickael Viljanen and David Hurley both worked there) out into the big world. The restaurant is a wonderful place to eat food you will remember and smile about later. The Tannery, 10 Quay Street, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, tel: 058-45420.