While indoor dining has been delayed to July 19 at the earlier, we still have a wealth of dining options to choose from around Munster.
The meal kits were a godsend and every pony in the country will be off to the farriers, hooves worn to the bone, all horseboxes long since converted to food trucks. But, ultimately neither truly matches the real thing and I fancy I’m not alone in longing for this return (of sorts) to the type of Irish hospitality we’ve so badly missed.
Of course, outdoor dining leads to the lottery of location: unfortunately some restaurants simply do not have the infrastructure or access to even contemplate an al fresco offering — a novel idea for most until the pandemic — and have to wait that bit longer again to throw out the welcome mat.
But those who can have injected a massive dose of innovation into their offering and are set to move outdoors. The good burghers of Cork city’s Princes St, led from the front last year when they took to the street and Cork City Council has embraced the concept with commendable vision, pedestrianising 17 streets to facilitate outdoor dining which will have a profound improving impact on Leeside’s municipal ecosystem, perhaps making it the Irish counterpart to Pontevedra, in North West Spain, the international poster child for the myriad benefits of a car-free city.
Our enormously capricious climate will as ever have its say and, indeed, is the primary reason so many restaurants and cafes are only now moving outdoors for the first time, driven by necessity rather than desire. Equally, there are other ‘old hands’ who’ve been proving it can be done here for some years and are only itching to lead from the front. And it can be done, even in bad weather. I have dined outdoors in Amsterdam in snow and Paris in sub-zero rain and both were eminently pleasant experiences; it’s all about preparation, by both diner and restaurant.
The reason the weather grows ever more wildly unpredictable is down to climate change so, acknowledging the desperate straits of the hospitality sector, please don’t rock up in your flipflops and kaftan expecting outdoor heating cranked up to levels that has polar bears floating past on icebergs by the time dessert arrives. Top marks to any venue managing to cosset customers in truly sustainable fashion (rugs, windbreaks, coverings, wood stoves etc).
As any experienced camper will tell you, a gorgeous day can turn into a very cold evening, so come prepared, scarf and woolly hat to hand. It may flatten your ‘do’ but you’ll be doing a small something for the planet. As those hardy Nordic types are wont to say: there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.
And, remember, most importantly: you may have pined for that vital social tonic of communal gathering, essential to mental wellbeing, a meal out with family and friends pretty much its quintessential expression; but the people serving you have spent their lockdown fearing for their very livelihood and, in many cases, will struggle for a long time to come.
So, play nicely: have a good time, pamper yourself, certainly, but also treat those serving you up finest Irish food with all the love, gratitude, and respect they deserve. Bon appetit!
A most exquisitely located dining spots, in the gorgeous gardens of the Nano Nagle Centre, an inner-city oasis where the GDD team serve a fine menu of locally sourced produce from their innately stylish garden restaurant, and gazebos elsewhere in the garden. Popular brunch and lunch dishes including Big Kiwi Burger, Kai Moana Fish Tacos, with natural wines from Le Caveau, Irish craft beers and exceedingly fine confections.
Dede at the Customs House, Baltimore, West Cork
The BBQ courtyard was planned long before the pandemic, essential to enormously talented Michelin-starred chef Ahmet Dede's Turkish take on superb local West Cork produce. Last December, we passed a cold afternoon of dining with nary an electric or gas heater in sight (rugs, wood stove) proving it is can be done without draining the national grid. Some of the finest food in this country will include: BBQ Cape Clear lamb (with bulgur wheat, mint, parsley, smoked yoghurt, black pepper, cardamom) and if you spy lobster kebabs (with spicy lobster soup, potato flat bread, preserved lemons and watercress) on the menu, do whatever is necessary to procure this dish.
This old stager can recall sitting in the sun on a sloping patch of bare grass alongside their microbrewery to the rear of the Fran Well when it first opened — but that was a rare sunshine pleasure. In the intervening years, it has transformed into a year-round Leeside take on a Munich beerhall: a magnificent area for drinking, eating and carousing. Few pleasures can match pairing a crisp pale ale with pizza bianco, one of the superb pizzas from wondrous in-house Pompeii Woodfired Pizza. w
franciscanwellbrewery.com & pompeiipizza.ie
Arundel’s by the Pier,
Mother Nature does the heavy lifting in furnishing Arundel’s with a stupendous waterside location on stunning Sheep’s Head in West Cork. The Moloney brothers, Michael and chef Tom, offer a menu strong on hyper-local produce, including superb grower Tim York, fish/seafood from local boats landing in sight of the pub, and meat from excellent O’Donoghue’s craft butchers in Bantry. Look out for mussels (moules marniere or nduja), lobster, open crab sandwiches, fresh pan-fried mackerel.
Canny chef /proprietor Kevin Aherne was already converting his fine dining super-locavore restaurant into a more casual offering and a bustling courtyard casual dining space with a large covered dining ‘barn’ opened in 2017. Further improvements during this lockdown include new pathways and weatherproofing frontage. Alongside an always cracking wine and craft beer list, look out for barrel-smoked beef brisket, fermented cabbage, Mac’n’Cheese, house hot sauce and fried cauliflower with rayu.
Entirely reinvigorated under a new ownership regime, this stately treasure with exquisite gardens and ground (and artist James Turrell’s magnificent Sky Garden), might finally realise its enormous potential — an additional boon for the town of Skibbereen. With former Celtic Ross head chef, Alex Petit, freshly installed as head chef, he is sure to deliver on his passion for Irish seafood with a simple and contemporary menu of fine West Cork produce, most especially from their own walled garden overseen by resident horticulturalist, Sally Ann Lenehan. Breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner including Castletownbere crab fritter; monkfish and prawn taco; charcoal cooked Wild Atlantic John Dory; Free Range Rosscarbery Pork Belly. lissardestate.ie
Legendary fish smoker, Sally Barnes, has created a charming wooden structure alongside her smokery, from whence to sip natural wines, nibble on tasting platters of her divine smoked fish and enjoy glorious sunset views across West Cork to Kerry. Wed & Thurs, 5pm to 7pm, a unique Irish food experience and ideal pre-dinner activity, at nearby Liss Ard Estate, perhaps? (available for private group bookings.)
With 17 streets and plazas being entirely pedestrianised, Cork’s potential is limitless and and it was the hospitality practitioners of Prince’s Street who led the way turning the entire thoroughfare into a ’single restaurant’ with a very large menu indeed. The Coal Quay is another public space suitable for extended outdoor dining.
Prince’s Street: Nash 19, Quinlan’s Seafood, Clancy’s Bar & Restaurant, Ristorante Rossini, Burnt Pizza, Oak Fire Pizza, Yuan Ming Yuan and Pearl River.
Coal Quay: Corn Store, #51 Cornmarket, Rising Sons Brewery, Bodega (the latter two, part of progressive publican Benny McCabe’s will be joined by all the other outlets in his Leeside ‘empire’.)
No bookings or table service, just walk up and takeaway or grab a table outside for Ali’s fine and comforting fare and some of the most delicious cakes and pastries around. aliskitchencork.com
The outdoor beer garden space in this beloved Carrigrohane spot is among the finest in the country. The covered decking area overlooks the River Lee and is a gorgeous spot for a barbeque or lunch.
For when you forget to pack the picnic at one of the country’s most popular and treasured locations for family outings.
Quality fish and chips stars on a varied menu from The Field Kitchen, served up in a vast, family friendly beer garden with ample coverage from a retractable ‘roof’. blackbirdballycotton.com
Two outlets, Hamlets and The Blue Haven will open hot on foot of the hotel’s June 2 opening. The menus featuring seafood as expected in a fishing port like Kinsale but much else besides from the fish and chips truck, wood-fired pizza oven and BBQ grill.
Set to be a big smash in coming months, this wonderfully located and set-up organic family farm produces most of the produce served up on the plate by chef Bob Cairns who has developed an intimate empathy with West Cork since first re-locating there some years ago.
Also part of the Market Lane group, Castle Cafe in Blackrock Castle courtyard perched over a bend in the River Lee is one of the most splendid outdoor dining locations in the country on a good day and the CC team has invested heavily in further protections from the elements. castlecafe.ie
Food truck-style dining that continued to trade through the winter and is most eager to reprise last summer’s great success Rosscarbery, West Cork
This one has been primed and waiting since just before the current lockdown, where Sinead Doran takes her ever fine fare out to the gallery’s bijou garden space.
Gorgeous views with a seriously revamped menu strong on local produce. Dog-friendly.
With a hugely popular riverside lounging space outside their front door, Electric will never be short of custom, especially when they unveil their brand new Asian-style menu.
Fine fish and chips with benches and plenty of additional nicer ‘sandy’ perches along the strand.
Does this really need much explanation other than it comes from one of the ‘gardens of Eden’ of Irish food?
cookingisfun.ie & facebook.com/gardencafetruck/
A double whammy from Jacques with two entrances to work from on, Oliver Plunkett St entrance and Phoenix St, where they will be joined by Crane Lane Theatre, Canty’s and Counihan’s for a backstreet mini-fiesta.
Fabulous covered beer garden with guest food trucks, this summer including Bia Rebel, the Belfast-based ramen and noodle bar.
The ever-popular Market Lane mothership and fleet takes to the street with sublimely outfitted dining setups (also spreading onto Beasley St and Orso, on Pembroke St).
marketlane.ie & elbowlane.ie & goldie.ie
Family-friendly keystone of one of West Cork’s most popular beach destinations, including food truck pizza and fish and chips.
Gorgeous garden and excellent menu featuring superb local produce. Good cocktail list.
Until regulations allow for full indoor dining, this gorgeous option of dining on the terrace, weather permitting, will only be open to residents—which is a pretty fine excuse to book a night away in the park.
Opened just prior to the pandemic, this genuinely stunning building in an equally stunning location, on bay’s edge, looking out at the Skelligs—you’d eat the view alone! Currently delivering a smart, simple menu, evolution involves delivering sustainable local fish, seafood, including bycatch from the charcoal grill.
Lovely boutique hotel with menu featuring charcuterie from their own free-range pigs in one of the founding towns of the modern Irish food revolution.
An outside terrace along The Flaggy Shore with a view so fine, you’ll never miss ‘inside’ ever again, even when restrictions lift. Lovely fresh simple seafood.
The Michelin-starred boutique hotel and restaurant takes to the garden with an upmarket take on al fresco dining including lobster, crab and other seafood.
Beautiful Georgian restoration houses this divine hotel overlooking the park but their own walled garden makes for an equally fine outdoor dining venue.
Wade Murphy had been toying with the notion of a more casual approach—The Covid has convinced him as he now switches to a daily changing blackboard menu with dishes including Korean Fried Friendly Farmer Chicken, Devilled Sexton's Doonbeg Crab, Confit Skeaghanore Duck & Rice Noodle Salad, and Cod Finger BLT.
With luxury a byword, even the picnics are sumptuous. And for those of a more genteel disposition not inclined to recline on the green sward, The Lavender Terrace at the Carriage House serves up a fine casual menu.
While we continue to hold our breath for the reopening of the Cashel Palace Hotel, Mikey Ryan’s gastropub has a splendid little garden room and a very tasty menu.
Breaking your fast on a summer’s morn overlooking magnificent Ardmore Bay from which you have just emerged, newly invigorated and with a mighty hunger, should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Was fast developing a reputation for its superb casual seafood fare in a gorgeously outfitted old building before The Covid came to town. A return should see that reputation rise ever upwards.
After a very popular launch in late 2019, chef Tom Walsh is keen to return with a casual street food style in the marquee and something a bit more upmarket for the very gorgeous terrace, including tortelloni of lobster, pappardelle of chicken with cep sauce and truffle, and ravioli of oxtail.