The shops are decorated to the hilt, you can't escape the Christmas jingles – we are now seriously into Christmas shopping time! December 8 was traditionally the big day for people to come to Dublin for present buying.
When my boys were small we had – and we still do – that special shopping day which involves a family lunch, though in our case it wasn't on the 8th. The department stores have convenient cafes and restaurants but you might also like to try something different on your visit. This year there are many new eateries in Dublin city centre offering diverse dining experiences from French to ethnic, contemporary Irish to tapas and tasting plates, high-end dining to the traditional turkey dinner.
The Dublin 2 area from Temple Bar to the Creative Quarter encompassing South William Street and South Great George's Street is awash with restaurants. One of them, is Zaragoza, on South William Street, of which the former deputy leader of Fianna Fail, Mary Hanafin, is a director. Airy and spacious, it offers a tapas tasting-style menu with prices from €6 to €13.90. So, you can eat as lightly, or as fully, as you wish from dishes such as pan-fried scallops, caramelised onions and Iberian ham, to Paella de Marisco, or 'mini pig burgers' with teriyaki sauce. There is also a Cava bar and great cocktails. www.zaragozadublin.com
The nearby Coppinger Row is a very popular spot for an easy lunch with dishes such as warm chorizo, roast tomato, mozzarella salad or organic pulled pork on sour dough toast. Prices run from €5.95 to €19.50. An afternoon menu operates from 3pm to 5.30pm with antipasto platters; crab and crayfish on sour dough toast; open meatball sandwiches and so on around the €11/€12 mark. www.coppingerrow.com
Brown Thomas has installed a smart new in-store dining venue called The Restaurant. Ensconced in a large glass box, protected from the busy world you feel rather special sitting at white draped tables. Soup, salads, and 'plates', such as crab cakes, rib-eye steak, pasta and organic omelettes range in price from €6 to €21.50. Kids can have a special menu at €8.50 for a main dish, drink and a dessert. Even if you are too thin and beautiful to actually eat, you can just sit at the bar here and indulge in a glass of champagne and a mince pie. www.brownthomas.com
Across the street, The Restaurant at Marks & Spencer has its Christmas menu – three courses and a glass of wine, sparkling wine or a soft drink, is €21. However, dishes are also priced individually. Starters include ham hock terrine or crab and prawn cocktail whilst mains sees the ever popular traditional roast turkey carvery dinner with all the trimmings at €14; mushroom and Stilton Wellington at €13; salmon and watercress parcel at €13.50 or a turkey, cranberry and bacon bloomer melt at €12. Follow up with a mince pie with brandy cream, or Christmas pudding. www. marksandspencer.ie
On Clarendon Street, at Saba Thai and Vietnamese eatery, try Pho Bo, a rice noodle soup with beef and sweet basil at €9.95. I also love Saba's Saigon Vermicelli noodles with prawns, pork and egg Vietnamese style. Saba has a great two-course 'express lunch' for €13.95 from 1pm to 4pm seven days a week. www.sabadublin.com
How about Nepalese food – a cross between Indian and Chinese cuisine – at the Kathmandu Kitchen on Dame Street? You will get a two-course lunch for €9.99 from Monday to Friday, 12.30 to 2.30pm and at weekends it does a Saturdays/Sundays Feast from 1pm-7pm at €16.99. The 'Feast' menu includes Butterfly prawns, which are delicious, as is the Himalayan lamb cooked in spices with coriander and yogurt. www.kathmandukitchen.ie
On Parliament Street, Corfu, a very popular Greek restaurant, is a cheerful spot with great value food. Monday to Friday from 1pm to 5pm, it does a two-course lunch menu at €9.95 including a glass of wine! The most popular dishes on this menu are Feta pie followed by the all-time Greek favourite – Moussaka. There's also a very reasonably priced a la carte menu. www.corfurestaurant.ie
Bang Restaurant, Merrion Row, offers a one, two and three course lunches at €16.95, €22.95 and €27.95 with delicious food including Fivemiletown Goats Cheese with local beetroot, spiced pear, and sunflower seed praline, followed maybe by Wicklow Mountain Venison Loin. www.bangrestaurant. com
Along the street, the newly opened Etto has a fabulous range of nibbles, charcuterie, small and large plates. Try deep-fried oysters at €12.50 or pork belly and smoked eel croquettes at €3.50 each. www.etto.ie
Another popular newbie is the Bunsen Burger on Wexford Street where it's all about New York-style burgers. There are just two varieties in two sizes, a hamburger or a cheeseburger with classic toppings and priced between €6.95 and €9.45. Lash on some handcut, shoestring or sweet potato fries, prices from €2.95 to €4.95 and you have the experience. www.bunsen.ie
If you fancy real Spanish tapas cooked by Spaniards, on Wexford Street you will find Las Tapas de Lola www.facebook.com/lastapasdeloladublin and, on South Richmond Street, Viva Tapas Bar and Restaurant. www. facebook.com/vivaespanatapas
Davy Byrne's, on Duke Street, embodies the best of Dublin pubs, oozing history, class and atmosphere. You'll find everything from oysters and a traditional Irish stew, to gourmet bangers and mash, posh fish 'n' chips or even posher sandwiches. Prices run from €4.20 to €11.95 with an 8oz sirloin steak and onions for the trencherman being €16.50. www.davybyrnes.com
North of the Liffey, Clerys, Arnotts and Boyers have cafe restaurants. On Ormond Quay, the fab Winding Stair serves lunch from 1pm-5pm and brunch from 1pm-4pm on Saturday and Sundays. There's really good Irish artisan produce here cooked with style. Try Doran's skate wing with fried baby spuds, kale, capers, cider soaked sultanas and nutty butter. www. winding-stair.com
Down the street is Bar Italia, where it has a great Cicchetti menu of nibbles such as gourmet salami with Barolo, truffle and fennel, or tempura courgette flowers stuffed with creamy mozzarella and anchovy. www.baritalia.ie Another great spot handy for Henry Street is Conor Sexton and Conor Kilkenny's great Koh Asian Restaurant. Lunch runs to 5pm. Light bites from €5, curries, stirfry and grill dishes from €10 to €11. I love the Peking duck and the crispy scallop and prawn wontons. Great cocktails too. www.koh.ie
101 Talbot is another great spot where you can enjoy Dublin Bay prawns in garlic butter with saute potato and side salad for €13.50 or just have mushrooms on toasted brioche with Parmesan shavings at €7.50. www.101talbot.ie
Take a wander down Moore Street and you will find some very different all-you-can-eat ethnic eateries. Look out for the Chill Out Cafe 'Kuchina Polska' run by sisters Karolina and Sabena Butt. www.facebook.com/chilloutbreakcafe
Capel Street and Parnell Street are also where you will find a wide variety of ethnic eateries serving everything from Korean to Vietnamese, and African to South American food.