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Seventeen great Irish restaurants for winter 2021 to go with friends

Our food experts Corinna Hardgrave, Lisa Cope and Ali Dunworth reveal their favourites

It is so wonderful to see restaurants back open – and, dare we say it, feel some normality returning, as we head out to meet friends and enjoy the conviviality of a good night out with great food. All the places to eat in this list come from our new guide to 100 great restaurants for winter 2021, which also includes new openings, great places to dine with friends and family, where to go for a special occasion, the places that are doing amazing vegetarian and vegan dishes, the places with clever wine lists, and where to eat outdoors as the days get cooler. Things will continue to change, so be sure to check details with the restaurant when booking. Corinna Hardgrave

51 Cornmarket
51 Cornmarket Street, Cork; 083-0102321,
If there's a better French toast in Ireland than 51 Cornmarket's we haven't heard about it. Crispy on the outside, soufflé-like in the middle, dripping with honeycomb butter, butterscotch and bacon, it's an illustration of how chef owners Anne Zagar and David Devereaux do everything – better than you've ever had it. Slivers of pickled daikon radish hide within a rich crab crumpet; "brunch chips" arrive topped with a poached egg, hollandaise and a bacon crumb; eggs royale come with house cured trout and caviar. This is food deserving of a captive audience, and they've got it. Lisa Cope

Ard Bia 
Spanish Arch, The Long Walk, Galway; 091-561114,
The cavernous interiors of Ard Bia at Galway's Spanish Arch, with candelabras, wooden walls and mismatched plates, set the tone for a meal filled with unusual combinations, global flavours and lots of locally sourced meat, fish, cheese and vegetables. If your wallet is feeling the pinch, their famous brunch is a more purse-friendly option to experience what they do. LC

111 South Circular Road, Dublin 8; 01-4737409,  
We have always been huge fans of Barry and Claremarie FitzGerald's Leonard's Corner restaurant, where the low-key decor belies the quality of the food. From day one, it has had a Michelin star feel to it, with carefully sourced produce cooked inventively and with precision. It is tasting menu only, €68 for seven courses, featuring dishes such as poached oyster with elderflower and tomato dashi; grilled celeriac with hen of the woods' mushrooms, and lamb neck with pointed cabbage and sheep's yoghurt. Corinna Hardgrave

Big Fan 
16 Aungier Street, Dublin 2; 01-5388886,
Big Fan is serving some of the most original, eye-popping Asian food in the country. Head chef Alex Zhang, originally from Dalian in northern China, cooked in some of Dublin's best Chinese restaurants, before owner Robert Hayes lured him away. The dong po style pork bao are benchmark level, the enoki mushrooms with garlic chilli sauce will have you scraping the plate, and the wagyu cheeseburger dumplings sound like they could be there for shock value, until you taste them. Provenance of ingredients, particularly meat, is very impressive, a backdrop of hip hop creates the perfect soundtrack, and the whole place is just fun from start to finish. LC

Unit 5, Norseman Court, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7; 01-5282003,
Pasta is made fresh each day at this buzzy Italian restaurant which is one of the top places to head to with a group of friends. The food is Calabrian, and the flour used for the pasta is made from an ancient grain called Senatore Cappelli. There are a number of new dishes on the menu, including cappellacci di melanzane – ravioli stuffed with aubergine, with buffalo mozzarella cream, cherry tomatoes and crispy aubergine – that put this restaurant right at the top of our must visit again list. CH

538 South Circular Rd, Rialto, Dublin 8;
Daddy's has taken the dull, predictable breakfast menu found in most cafes and turned it on its head. Turkish eggs, croissandwiches, and mashed organic eggs in a cup are a few of the dishes they've become famous for, and their 'big breakfast' is a who's who of the country's best egg, bacon and pudding producers. Lunch-time sandwiches are jaw-droppingly inventive, and the sweet and savoury tarts are worth getting there early for. LC

Hang Dai 
20 Lower Camden Street, Dublin 2; 01-5458888,
Hang Dai can be summed up in two words – flavour and fun. The buzzy, music-filled restaurant on Camden Street was made to look like a flouro subway train, and the food is loud enough to compete with its surroundings. Expect dishes like prawn sourdough toast with yuzu mayo; Iberico pork secreto char siu; and their signature whole roast Skeaghanore duck, served as a broth with pickles, with pancakes and cherry hoisin sauce, and in duck yuck sung with oyster sauce. The gold room upstairs is ideal for more intimate gatherings. LC

16 Lisburn St, Hillsborough, Co Down; 0044-28711-61467,
In the small town of Hillsborough, Co Down, two former Chapter One chefs have created a neighbourhood restaurant that quietly goes about its business feeding diners Durrus puffs, rabbit turnovers and duck terrine with sweet pickled rhubarb. Roz and Andy Turner's Hara is relaxed yet serious when it comes to food, and the warm-natured staff will be delighted to see you. LC

Kai Restaurant
22 Sea Road, Galway; 091-526003,
Jess and Dave Murphy's Kai is one of the most exemplary neighbourhood restaurants around. Delightful lunch and dinner menus change daily depending on what's available, in season and what the chefs are inspired by. Jess's Antipodean influences are executed deftly, with Irish ingredients at the core, but most paramount is that everything is really, really tasty. There's the stunning cake display too. Everyone will find something to love here. Ali Dunworth

Kin Khao Thai
Abbey Lane, Athlone, Co Westmeath and Greenfield Shopping Centre, Maynooth, Co Kildare;
There are now two equally excellent outposts of Kin Khao Thai – the original in Athlone and a newer restaurant in suburban Maynooth. Both offer bonafide Thai cuisine with many dishes leaning towards Isaan Thai and its strong, gutsy flavours. The breadth of options on the menus means they are great spots for eating with friends with a mix of dietary, and maybe heat, requirements. AD

Las Tapas de Lola 
12 Wexford Street, Dublin 2; 01-4244100,
This buzzy Wexford Street restaurant ticks so many boxes for friends' nights out – plenty of choice, splendid flavours, vegetarian options and a great drinks list to boot. The menu is full of classic Spanish tapas such as croquettes, garlic prawns and padron peppers, with Irish suppliers and imported artisan Spanish ingredients sitting side by side. AD

1 Windsor Terrace, Dublin 8; 01-4163655,
Andy Roche, formerly of Aimsir, joined this canal-side restaurant to take over as head chef, and there's been a steady stream of chefs checking out the food here ever since. Skilful and refined, dishes have included ox tongue on tiny waffles, dotted with micro herbs and pickled girolles; dry-aged beef tartare with smoked marrow; and Castletownbere lobster with burnt onion. All diets, including vegan, are catered for, so great for a group. CH

Restaurant 1826
Main Street, Adare, Co Limerick; 061-396004,
Nestled in a row of much-photographed thatched cottages in Adare you'll find Wade and Elaine Murphy's popular Restaurant 1826. This spot is a stalwart on Irish eating lists for good reason as it offers top-notch modern Irish cooking and wonderfully warm service. The menu has a nice emphasis on local and seasonal, whether it's Korean fried chicken or grilled wild turbot, so there's plenty you'll want to try. Group bookings are welcomed. AD

Solas Tapas Restaurant
Strand Street, Dingle, Co Kerry; 087-9932116,
The "plátaí beaga" on offer at Solas are a great way to eat with friends and a chance to sample as many of chef Nicky Foley's creative combinations as you can. A weekly changing menu here is led by what's available from their own kitchen garden and local suppliers, but you might expect Annascaul black pudding empanadas or croquettes stuffed with local seafood. Closed in January until the end of February. AD

The Legal Eagle
1/2 Chancery Place, off Inns Quay, Dublin 7; 01-5552971,
This smart, lovingly restored pub is particularly good for groups and get-togethers thanks to an extensive menu that, as a bonus, really celebrates Irish food. Much of the cooking here is about elevated pub grub and nose to tail cooking but they always make sure to have interesting vegetarian and vegan options available. Happily, the drinks list matches the extent of the food. AD

The Universal
9 William Street West, Galway; 091-728271,
A pub with excellent food that's not a gastropub. Somewhere to drink brilliant wine and eat interesting small plates that's not a wine bar. It's hard to put The Universal into a box, because there's nowhere else like it, but there should be. The long, dimly-lit, charm-filled room spills out to on-street tables, where a rollicking crowd eat confit shallot and goat's cheese tarts, and whole turbot on the bone with caper brown butter, washing it down with some of the best natural wines around. LC

Vaughan's Anchor Inn
Main Street, Liscannor, Co Clare; 065-7081548,    
Flaggy Shore oysters with coriander and Vietnamese dressing is just one of the truly delicious dishes on the menu of this classic seafood restaurant. The fact that you can add a taster flight of three different Taittinger Champagnes for €19 makes it all the more special. The menu is predominantly seafood, with Liscannor Bay lobster, Galway langoustines, and local fish. There are also a number of meat options, so perfect for a group of people. CH

Jump to: 
Thirteen great places that are new and noteworthy
Fourteen great places worth a special journey
Twelve great places with iconic dishes
Fifteen great places for special occasions
Ten great places for vegetarians
Six great places for families
Six great places for all-weather outdoor dining
Seven great places with tempting wine lists