Life Food Reviews

Friday 22 August 2014

Paolo Tullio's top alfresco dining experiences

It's hard to beat dining outside on a balmy summer evening and here are some great restaurants where you can do just that.

Paolo Tullio

Published 21/06/2014 | 02:30

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House in Leeson Street.
Harvey's Point
Brasserie Le Pont

I know, it's optimistic, but we might get a good summer. By my reckoning, we get one every seven years or so, and this could very well be one of them. With some sun shining on the streets, we could really get settled into our version of cafe society.

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Hot weather changes many of my established habits. When the sun is blazing, I go looking for shade, and that doesn't happen very often in Ireland – normally I'm looking for the sunny bit. I find myself drinking rosé wines, or perhaps a Campari and soda instead of big, hearty red wines. Hot days have me adding sparkling water to white wine and 7 Up to red wine. I eat more fish, more salads, less red meat.

But the biggest change in habits is eating outside. There's a huge pleasure in that – it puts you in communion with nature when you feel the sun on your face and a gentle breeze cooling you. I swear, food tastes better al fresco.

For the most part, restaurants in Ireland are not designed with the sun in mind, but there are a few that have pavement terraces and a few with gardens.

On the N11 going south from Dublin you come to Kilmacanogue, where you'll see road signs for Avoca Hand Weavers. There's a good restaurant in this outlet called The Fernhouse, but there's also a cafe with a terrace that looks over the fine arboretum and gardens. On a fine day, this is a good place to eat.

If you're in south Co Dublin or north Co Wicklow, not far from Kilmacan-ogue is Enniskerry and Powerscourt. The grounds of Powerscourt have stunning views over the valleys to the Sugarloaf Mountain and Avoca have another outlet here. Again, on a fine day you have 47 acres of parkland to explore before – or after – you've eaten. This kind of garden exterior clearly isn't going to be found in the city centre, but instead there are pavement tables that allow you to watch the world passing by.

Earlier this year I reviewed Mayfield in Terenure, where they have quite a large outside seating area. Mayfield is open all day, so it's a good place to enjoy your morning coffee outdoors or even a full breakfast.

Once you get into Dublin city centre, space gets harder to find. Perhaps the biggest garden that's available as a place you can drop into is House in Leeson Street. This is two Georgian houses that have been combined, so at the back there's a double-sized garden where you can enjoy tapas sitting under orange and lemon trees. Oh yes, and elderly olive trees as well.

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A similar, but smaller garden area belongs to Residence on Stephen's Green. Residence is a members' club, but the dining areas are open to the public. It's a pretty building, probably the prettiest on the Green, and chef Graham Neville's food is superb.

For more than 20 years I banked on Baggot Street bridge, but the building is now a branch of Milano. There's a terrace at the back that overlooks the Grand Canal, a good place to sit, drink a coffee and watch the ducks bickering.

Follow the canal up-stream and you come to Leeson Street bridge, where you can find Brasserie Le Pont. They have a large outdoor area that  seats 30 and it's heated, so even if the weather isn't so clement, you can dine in comfort.

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Moving farther into the city centre, space is even more at a premium, so it tends to be tables on the pavement. There's an exception, of course. The very top of Dylan McGrath's Fade Street Social has a roof garden with fine views over the rooftops.

Between Fade Street and Grafton Street you can find Coppinger Row, where there's a good restaurant of the same name. It has tables outside which really come into their own when the Coppinger Row food market takes place. At the top end of Coppinger Row is Castle Market, where a few places have outdoor dining, including La Maison and The Bistro. La Maison has a roof and side shields for shelter, should the weather turn and rain come down.

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Moving towards Grafton Street, the nearest place to that thoroughfare to sit down and enjoy a drink and a snack is one of Dublin's best-known pubs, the Bailey. It has a large outdoor seating area on Duke Street, some 50 yards from Grafton Street.5

On the corner of Duke/Dawson Street, you can find Carluccio's, where you can take an Italian-style espresso or macchiato the way Italians do – at a pavement table watching the world pass by.

Marco Pierre White's first Dublin venture has an outdoor dining area on Dawson Street, something it has in common with its sister restaurant, the Courtyard Bar & Grill on Belmont Avenue in Donnybrook.

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Other al fresco options around the country include Harvey's Point, Lough Eske, Co Donegal; The Lodge at Ashford Castle; Moran's on the Weir, Galway; Aghadoe Heights Hotel, Killarney, Co Kerry; Lough Erne Hotel Resort, Co Fermanagh; Lyrath Estate, Co Kilkenny; Castlemartyr Resort, Co Cork; Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore; Carton House, Maynooth, Co Meath; the Limerick Strand, Limerick and Kelly's Resort, Rosslare, Co Wexford.

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All of these places really come into their own when the barometer climbs.

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