Paolo Tullio: Where to eat out this christmas
With Christmas just a few short weeks away, the wise among us will no doubt have their plans already made. But what of the rest of us? I'll bet that, like me, you're still trying to work out who's coming to your house, whose houses you are visiting over those festive days, who gets a present and who gets a card, and what on earth the Christmas Day menu is going to consist of.
There's something truly satisfying about a traditional Christmas feast with family and friends.
It's the sort of ideal Christmas Day that we're conditioned to want, the image that's portrayed in those endless festive advertisements. And yet, cosy picture that it is, it's not for everyone.
There are many among us without large extended families; there are people who hate to cook; visitors to the country; people who simply don't have the room for large gatherings and people who, quite frankly, want nothing more than to say 'Bah, humbug' to the whole Yuletide extravagance.
What of them, a fairly large minority? The answer, of course, is to eat out on Christmas Day.
As a general rule, restaurants tend to close on December 25 but hotels and their dining rooms are open for business.
There's a major benefit to eating out: no one gets lumbered with all the cooking and clearing up while everyone else overeats and drinks themselves into a stupor -- a fairly major counterbalance to the loss of the home-fire experience.
When my children were small we had a couple of Christmas dinners with the extended family in the Killiney Castle Hotel, which I enjoyed, although these days Christmas Day is usually spent with friends at home.
So if you're one of that group who wants to eat out on Christmas Day, what's on offer? There's at least one restaurant that's open in Dublin City and that's Chameleon in Temple Bar. If you're looking for something that's not your usual Yuletide offering, this might be it.
What Chameleon does is rijsttafel, which is Dutch for 'rice table' -- a way of presenting Indonesian food. It's been a few years since I ate there, but it's a restaurant that gets consistently good reviews.
There are several rijsttafel menus with different dishes, running from €25-€35 a head.
That may not be ideal for anyone with small children, but if you're in the Dublin area you could consider The Westin Hotel. This Christmas they are offering a gourmet buffet in the Banking Hall, which is priced at €130 per adult, €30 per child between the ages of five and 11, and complimentary brunch for children younger than five.
There is only one sitting for this brunch and it's at 2pm. There's a Champagne and mulled wine reception as well, which starts at 1.30pm in the Atrium lounge.
My advice, if you choose to go here, is to arrive with a big appetite. The Christmas buffet menu is huge: there's a seafood display, there's sushi, nine starters, two soups and five main courses. And since it's a buffet, gourmands can make several trips to fill their plates with goodies.
What might just enthuse younger diners is that Santa Claus has promised to visit the Westin on Christmas Day.
Staying in Dublin, you could avail of a special offer for 'Independent' readers. Quote the Indo if you're booking lunch in the Conrad Hotel's Alex Restaurant and lunch will cost you €109 per person, including a glass of Champagne. Subject to availability, this offer will last until the end of the month.
There are two lunch sittings here, one at 12.30pm and one at 4.30pm, which should give you enough time for a leisurely lunch, despite the long menu. You start with an amuse bouche, then a choice of five starters, then a butternut squash and truffle soup, then a choice of seven main courses -- including a whole roast partridge -- followed by desserts, petits fours and coffee or tea.
For a Christmas blow-out, consider The Merrion Hotel -- beautiful Georgian drawing rooms, open log fires and a five-course dinner by chef Ed Cooney for €150. If you really want to go into full celebration mode, you could avail of their offer of Christmas dinner and an overnight stay for €290 per person.
On a budget, you could book into Jimmy Chung's on Eden Quay. You can choose from 19 starters, 22 main courses and eight desserts, and there's a full bar as well. Christmas buffet-lunch runs from 1pm to 5.30pm and will cost a very modest €24.90 for adults and €15 for children.
Outside Dublin, the picture is similar; the number of hotels that are open far outnumber the restaurants. In Kilmessan, The Station House Hotel has a four-course Christmas dinner on offer for €80 a head. There are plenty of choices, and among the main courses you'll find the traditional turkey and ham, as well as a roast sirloin.
Up north in Donegal, the excellent Harvey's Point is offering a four-course lunch with coffee and petits fours for €69 per adult and €35 per child from 12.30pm-4pm. There are some good fish choices as well as the traditional Christmas fare, plus you have the spectacular views over Lough Eske.
In Ballybunion, the four-star Hotel Teach de Broc has a Christmas Day menu in its Strollers Bistro which costs €69 per person, and it includes a glass of Champagne on arrival. They also seem to have a unique offering: you can order your Christmas lunch as a takeaway and pick it up on Christmas Eve. Do this and you can have Christmas at home and do no cooking.
I've enjoyed a couple of stays in Kinsale's Blue Haven, and this year they're doing a Christmas lunch starting at 2pm and going through to 6pm. It's €100 a head for adults and €65 for children. In Fenit, Tralee, The Tankard is celebrating its 10th year of Christmas lunch.
The contact book
The Chameleon: 01 671 0362
The Westin Hotel: 01 645 1000
The Conrad: 01 602 8900
Merrion Hotel: 01 603 0600
Jimmy Chung’s: 01 874 0888
Station House Kilmessan:
046 902 5239
Harvey’s Point: 074 972 2208
Teach de Broc: 068 27581
Blue Haven: 021 477 2209
The Tankard: 066 713 6164